Return To Innocence
Return to Innocence
That's not the beginning of the end
That's the return to yourself
The return to innocence.
Don't be afraid to be weak
Don't be too proud to be strong
Just look into your heart my friend
That will be the return to yourself
The return to innocence
If you want, then start to laugh
If you must, then start to cry
Be yourself don't hide
Just believe in destiny
Don't care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don't give up and use the chance
To return to innocence
That's not the beginning of the end
Thats the return to yourself
The return to innocence
Don't care what people say
Follow just your own way
Follow just your own way
Don't give up, don't give up
To return, to return to innocence.
If you want then laugh
If you must then cry
Be yourself don't hide
Just believe in destiny
The dingy little hotel room was lit by a single bulb overhead and a candle on the small table around which the four men from Russia gathered to talk. Three in their late twenties, not nearly so young and green in the field as the fourth. Yet for all his youth, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin was probably smarter than the others combined, a fact that irritated the older agents.
"You're going about it the wrong way," Illya interjected into the others' conversation. "They want a man on the inside. That is why I was sent on this assignment."
"Shut up," Grigori snapped at the young upstart. "We don't have time to try and slip anyone in as a nuclear physicist looking to buy the technology he has to sell, let alone one who looks like a boy. We need another way."
Yuri rubbed the bristly growth of beard on his chin. "The only thing men here want fast is food and sex."
Sasha laughed. "You're wrong about that. Slow. Long and slow. They think of food and sex as if it were one thing. Maybe we could send him in as a cook."
Grigori rolled his eyes and then focused back on his group. "Let's get back to being realistic. Those stolen missiles are here in Naples. We know the base is somewhere on the coast near here. We have to get a man in and sabotage the guidance system before our enemies get hold of the technology. A cook will not get us where we want to go."
Yuri sat back and a smile slowly spread over his face. The others began focusing on him, sensing he had just come up with something.
"Spill it, Yuri." Grigori would entertain just about anything at this point.
"You want a fast way in. I think I may have one." He unfolded his arms and leaned forward again. "Hear me out. It may sound strange but..."
"But what?" Grigori asked harshly.
Illya sat silent. Here comes another stupid suggestion. All they needed to do was send him out to meet Klaus Ockley or one of the other suspects on their list of buyers. He'd be in so fast it would make their heads spin. Finally he had to speak up.
"All I have to do is meet Dr. Ockley by chance and talk to him. I'll be inside before you sit down to tea," Illya declared.
"No. Our KGB superiors have made a mistake. You are far too young to be accepted as a scientist. We have to find another way," Grigori stated and then looked back to Yuri.
A hideous smirk crossed Yuri's face and he downed his shot of vodka. Illya shifted uncomfortably. He felt Yuri's idea wouldn't bode well for him.
"They have parties. Rather wild ones on a regular basis. Marco Olivetti provides the entertainment. I have no doubt that Illya Nicovetch could slip in that way. We'd have the information we need in days. A couple weeks perhaps."
Illya was pleased that they were still planning on sending him in. After all this was what the Motherland spent so much time and money to train him for. A musician wasn't exactly the plan he expected, but he could play several instruments and had done some amateur theatre. It was less direct but still acceptable. It was unfortunate he didn't know who Marco Olivetti was when he spoke up. "I could manage that, too. What instrument do I have to play?"
Sasha let out a guttural laugh. He'd spent evenings in the cantina with Yuri. He knew of Olivetti's business. "You just have to play the pipe. I think you'd do well."
Grigori was going to reject the idea outright but paused to think about it as he studied Illya's fresh youthful face.
"Pipe?" Illya looked at their leering faces suspiciously. "What kind of pipe?"
"The fleshy kind, of course," said Yuri. "Signore Olivetti is what the Americans call a pimp. He deals in human merchandise."
Illya's eyes widened. "You want me to be a prostitute?"
The others' laughter had a hard edge to it.
"For someone who's supposed to be such a genius, it took you long enough to figure it out," sneered Yuri.
Illya shook his head. "No, absolutely not. I don't see how it would get me near those missiles, anyway."
"Ockley is a known homosexual," Yuri said. "He likes very young men, especially pretty blond ones. He often pays for one to stay with him the entire time he's in a city and takes him everywhere. All you have to do is make sure he chooses you when he comes to Naples."
"But I'm not a homosexual," Illya insisted.
The others looked at each other and laughed. "If you say so," laughed Grigori. "You'll know how to please a man by the time Olivetti is finished with you, though. From what I've heard, he has the absolute best prostitutes, especially the boys."
"Our superiors will not agree to this plan!" Illya persisted.
Yuri slammed his hand onto the table, sending the candle skittering dangerously close to the edge. "Our superiors gave me," he growled, stabbing a finger into his chest. "ME free rein with this mission. Colonel Sarkov told me I had carte blanche with whatever I wanted to do to get this done. They will pat me on the back and say, 'good job' when my plan completes this mission to their satisfaction."
Illya vehemently disagreed, but he had nothing to fight with. Andreov would back him up, but his adopted uncle was only a major and a subordinate to Colonel Sarkov. He had no more say in this than Illya himself did. No, Illya was stuck and he knew it.
He said no more, his expression on the outside remaining impassive and blank. Inside, though, he screamed in frustration and terror. This would change his life forever.
Chilled boot heels clicked on the cold floor as the three men shook the snow from their collars. The tallest man removed his fur cap and brushed the icy crystals off before tucking it under his arm. All three pulled out their identification cards and paraded by the security checkpoint.
A stone-faced man nodded at the men and the gate was buzzed open. Many important and high ranking officials of the party were coming in. He suspected a meeting was to take place soon.
"The air is warm today Andreov," Sarkov growled. "I have never seen such mild weather."
"I am sure you will change that at the meeting," Alexei stated with the air growing icier between them.
"I hear the Premier has plans to join this U.N.C.L.E. organization." Sarkov remained neutral as he tried to pry information on Andreov's position out of the man. "This could be good for us. If we had a spy in an organization such as that it would be easier to infiltrate the United States and elsewhere."
"This is not a spying operation Sarkov. You know that as well as I," Andreov replied to the weasel of a man, his disgust and despise growing with each breath he had to share in the same room. "You will have your chance to make your case in there the same as I but do not assume to make me an ally in your cause."
Sarkov frowned. "Perhaps you do not feel as strongly for the Motherland as I."
Alexei squared his shoulders and stood, his full 6-foot height towering above the shorter Sarkov. "Never question my love for Mother Russia." The look on his face intimidated the other man enough not to push things in the hallway any farther. At one time, Sarkov outranked Andreov. Since that fiasco in Naples, however, things had changed. Now he was the subordinate and Andreov the ranking officer.
More men arrived and stripped off their great coats in preparation for a conference of importance. They filtered into the meeting room where the debate would begin on sending a representative to fulfill an agreement whereby they would be a part of The U.N.C.L.E. and therein receive information on the operations of THRUSH. The meaning of THRUSH's name was unknown, but its actions became a threat even within the Soviet Union.
Over the next thirty minutes the rest of the committee arrived and took seats around the large rectangular table. The chairman took his seat and everyone quieted as the meeting was called to order. It was the last civil word before all the debating began.
Chairman Yashin stood up and addressed the group. "The Premier has decreed that we send an agent, preferably male, to the organization U.N.C.L.E." He raised his hand to call an end to the chatter that broke out. "The debate about joining U.N.C.L.E. has ended. There will be no more discussion on that subject," he said in a raised voice. "We are here to decide who that person shall be and nothing more."
The grumbling subsided reluctantly.
"The candidates have been reduced to three," the chairman explained. "Piotr Vasillovitch Borishnishski, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin, and Anitolay Ivanovetch Tchekov."
Immediately Sarkov slammed a hand on the table to gain attention. "Kuryakin should not even be on that list. He has not finished his training."
A voice from across the table responded, "He is too young in any case. An agent with more experience is called for here."
Down the row from that one another spoke up. "We don't want to waste one of our best agents in such a menial assignment as this. There is little to be gained having a real agent there on our behalf. They would suspect him of being nothing more than a spy in any case."
"True," Alexei agreed seeing this as his chance. "He has not had the conventional training and is unreliable in the field, at least for our purposes. For the purposes of the U.N.C.L.E., however, he might be the perfect candidate."
"Not so!" Sarkov yelled. "I was not finished with him. I need more time!"
"Time? You have had him since he was eleven. In fact you may be responsible for his perversions," Alexei argued back. Forgive me Anna, my dear sister. I know you think of him as your son, but it's the only way I know how to save him. "We need to get rid of him and it will be to our advantage. U.N.C.L.E. will get a qualified candidate, and we gain something from a failed project."
And that was how it began. From that point the meeting got more heated and louder. In the end, Alexei prevailed and he saved his sister's foster son from his Soviet Union fate.
Waverly finished the debriefing, and agents Solo, Kuryakin, and Dancer were on their way out when the head of U.N.C.L.E. New York picked up on a call holding for him.
As usual Napoleon stopped at the secretary's desk to chat, his undeniable charm hanging thick in the room.
Illya rolled his eyes and was about to say something cutting to Napoleon when a familiar name caught his attention. It came from the room they'd just left and sent a chill down his spine. He turned to face the big door slowly sliding closed and heard Waverly's voice.
"Antonio Vicente is an incredibly wealthy man. If he's financing THRUSH activities there, our European interests could be up against...."
That was all Illya caught before the rest was cut off by the door separating them from the other office.
"Are you coming, Illya?" Napoleon asked.
Illya for once looked like he was caught off guard. "What?" He recovered quickly. "Oh yes. It's about time you finished your standard flirting."
The sourness in the response kept Napoleon from asking any embarrassing questions as they walked back to their office.
Illya was grateful for Solo's self-absorbed personality at times like this. It allowed him the privilege of privacy even in the CEA's presence. Illya sat down at his desk and stared at the open report with eyes that would not focus on its words. In his mind one name echoed over and over from a distant place and time. Antonio Vincente.
Last time he heard that name he was mired in the worst mission of his life. All those since, all THRUSH cells, paled in comparison. Not because of what he'd had to do, even though being a prostitute in Olivetti's stable in order to find the missiles the Soviets lost was not something he enjoyed. Not exactly, anyway. It was what he discovered about himself that made it such a difficult time of his life.
The only exception to that had been Antonio Vicente. The man Waverly spoke of simply could not be the Antonio Illya knew. His Antonio had a heart as big as the muscular chest that housed it. Bigger, even, than his considerable bank account. Generous, giving, thoughtful, caring. These were the hallmarks of the Vicente he knew. He would never bankroll an evil group like THRUSH.
Neither Vicente nor Antonio were uncommon names, at least not among Italians. The one Waverly mentioned had to be someone else. He worked to put the name and the memories out of his mind. At least for the moment. He could think about Antonio again later in the privacy of his own bedroom, just as he'd done for the last ten years. Now he had work to do.
Napoleon took his usual seat in the office and leaned back in his chair. He put his feet up on the corner of the desk and drew his mail closer to peruse its contents. The one labeled "You may already be a winner!" he discarded without opening.
As Illya flipped open another report to read, the corner of his eye caught the unopened mail in Napoleon's trash. "Don't you think you should read that? It looks like it may be important."
"Why do you say that?" Napoleon replied as he glanced over his shoulder to the waste paper basket.
"Maybe the large red letters that say 'Important'," he replied innocently.
Napoleon frowned. "Junk mail."
"How do you know? You haven't opened it," Illya replied.
"You can open it if you want to," Napoleon said and then reached over to pick it out. He tossed it across to Illya. "Maybe you'll be lucky."
Illya looked at the envelope. "I cannot open this."
"Why not?" Napoleon asked while trying to focus on a letter from one of his enamored femme fatales from a few months back.
Illya held it up and pointed to the front. "It has your name on it. It is quite obvious that it is addressed to you in person."
"Which is why I know it's junk mail," Napoleon insisted. "Don't you ever get junk mail?"
"Certainly not." Illya was adamant in his reply. "The mail carrier would never put junk in my mail box."
Napoleon decided not to say what was on his mind at that moment. He had a vision of Illya chasing the postman down the block shooting at his heels. Knowing Illya well though, in real life it would probably have been dead center in the back. "I see. Well, if you're that concerned about it and don't want to take my word for it, go ahead and open it for yourself."
"I don't want to open it, but I think you should."
Giving up, Napoleon took in and released a long breath. He tucked the letter he'd been reading into his pocket and said, "I'll see you later. I've got some... uh... research that needs doing."
Illya looked back down at the reports to fill out. Go call your latest conquest. I don't care, he thought in the hopes of convincing himself it was true. From their lowered position he let his eyes follow Napoleon's shadow out of the office and waited for the door to close before sitting back up in his chair. The irritation he kept hidden from the world around him gnawed quietly at his gut.
The briefs of the THRUSH activities in Naples Waverly requested were being compiled for his review. Until they came in, he had a couple of hours, a rarity, free to take care of some personal business of his own.
Waverly left U.N.C.L.E. to return to his home, where a housekeeper had called to leave word that the special package from an unnamed party had arrived. Once at home he entered his study, closed and locked the door behind him, and went straight to his desk where the sealed padded envelope sat perfectly placed.
From years of use, the large leather chair behind the desk was contoured like a glove to fit the senior man. It made a small muffled squeak when Waverly settled into it. He bypassed his usual routine of lighting up his pipe first, wanting to see the envelope's contents instead. It was quite a surprise as nothing of this kind had ever happened before.
There was a small hissing sound of cut paper as Waverly tore the top with the engraved letter opener. He spread the opening wider and grasped the small, leather bound book inside. The obvious age of the documents showed in its tattered edges and discolored appearance. Cyrillic writing gave away its origins as Soviet. Waverly knew he would need the help of a translator, but he could not trust anyone from U.N.C.L.E.. The contents were too explosive for that judging by the short note in English attached to the front cover. This was something he would have to trust to a dear and long time friend with no associations to the U.N.C.L.E. organization. A professor from the university Waverly knew from the time he was twenty-five.
He reached for the phone and dialed a number from memory. After three rings, the other line was answered. Ten minutes later he hung up having made arrangements to get the file to Professor John Stillwell the very next day.
He sat back for a rare minute of relaxation, pleased with the afternoon's productivity. It wouldn't be long now before he would have an even better understanding of what made Illya Kuryakin tick.
The file was from Alexei Andreov, a former mentor of Mr. Kuryakin's. The man had already discussed past problems Kuryakin had with psychiatrists when Kuryakin first joined the U.N.C.L.E. Andreov had left a file with him then. Waverly had not felt the need to read it then since he and Andreov had met face to face and discussed the problem. It wasn't until recently that he'd really read the thing, which included many details Alexei had left out. That had been bad enough. He wondered what horror stories this new folder would tell him. More worrying, why had Alexei decided he needed to send it now?
Before he could ponder the questions further, the call came from headquarters. The Vicente information was in and he had to return.
Napoleon sighed in disgust as he read the love letter. He felt nothing for this woman. Less than nothing. Yet he would call her just as her letter suggested. They would go out. Have dinner. Dance. Have sex.
God, it was all so meaningless anymore. Ever since he realized he had a craving for Illya, his liaisons with women left him cold. But what choice did he have? Illya didn't want him in the same way. Not anymore.
He thought about what it felt like to have Illya's hard, muscular body beneath him rather than the soft, yielding one of a woman. He had to admit he'd enjoyed sex with Illya in a way he never had with anyone else in his life. Not because he liked sex with a man. No sir. Napoleon Solo was no pansy. The reason he loved sex with Illya was because there was something more to it. Something he couldn't quite name.
To prove his point to himself, he went to find a free phone. He'd use the one in his office, but he didn't want to arrange for a date in front of Illya. Illya may no longer want him, but he thought making a date in front of him would hurt him and Napoleon didn't want to do that. At least, not anymore.
When Illya first broke off the physical part of their relationship and started seeing other men, Napoleon had purposely made dates within earshot of his estranged lover. He enjoyed seeing the jealousy there. Once he'd realized how much he must have hurt Illya by running out on him right after fucking him, his need for petty revenge turned to ashes in his mouth. Now he dated on the sly as much as possible, although, for appearances sake, he couldn't do so completely.
Before he could make the call his communicator whistled. "Solo here," he answered.
"Hi, Napoleon. Mr. Waverly wants to see you right away."
"Ahh, Lisa, my sweet. Do you know what he wants me for?"
"He's not in the habit of telling me his plans, but I'm willing to bet it's an assignment."
"I'll be right there," he crooned.
"I'll be waiting," she promised in a throaty tone.
He grinned as he turned his communicator back into a pen. Maybe sex with women hadn't lost its luster, after all. All he needed was the proper companion. He vowed to make a date with Lisa before the meeting. If anyone could make him forget what Illya's body felt like, it would be her.
"Antonio Vicente," Waverly announced when the picture of a man appeared on the view screen.
The man looked exactly the same as the last time Illya had seen him. Olive skin. Dark, curly hair. Dark eyes. Not handsome but attractive. Very attractive.
"A self-made man. Almost frighteningly wealthy by all appearances," Waverly continued. "He seems to be the money behind the THRUSH operation in Naples."
Oh, Antonio, Illya thought with dismay. How did you get mixed up with THRUSH? Whatever it was, Illya was certain Antonio didn't know what THRUSH was all about. He couldn't know! Antonio just wasn't like that!
"You want us to take this Vicente out of the picture?" asked Napoleon.
Waverly nodded. "Determine exactly what Mr. Vicente is paying for and shut him, and THRUSH, down. Mr. Kuryakin, you will go in undercover as a driver. We have managed to arrange for this."
Illya stared at Waverly like a deer caught in the headlights. Go in undercover on Antonio's estate? He might be able to get onto the estate, but it certainly couldn't be clandestine. Antonio knew him all too well.
Illya knew the only way he could get it would be to reprise his role as Angelo. Yuri and his other Soviet companions during that disastrous Naples KGB mission had given Illya's prostitute persona the name Angelo, thinking it funny to call their fellow agent "angel." Fallen angel was more like it.
He wondered how Antonio would react to seeing Angelo again. Was the handsome Italian still in love with the young man he thought was a prostitute? Or was he still hurt and angry about how Angelo had left? Unfortunately, he was going to find out all too soon.
"Mr. Solo, you will be posing as a wealthy businessman interested in antiquities. Mr. Vicente makes a good bit of his money from the antiquities business."
"Sounds simple enough. My Aunt Amy has a few as a matter of fact," he replied as he studied the image on the first page of the folder. "Looks like this fellow lives the good life," he commented on the well dressed image. He glanced over at his partner, expecting to see his lips pursed in distaste. Illya had a thing about people who not only had great wealth, but abused it.
Napoleon frowned when Illya did not look over like he usually did. As a matter of fact, the Russian sat strangely silent throughout the briefing.
"Looks like he has quite the estate," Napoleon said dismissing it for the moment. He'd find out what was going on in that head later. "Is THRUSH working out of the house?"
Waverly put down his pipe and pursed his lips as he thought it over. "There is construction going on at the estate. We believe it houses a hidden complex where the real work of THRUSH is going on. That will be your job, Mr. Kuryakin."
Illya raised his head to look at Waverly. "Sir?"
"As a member of the staff you can wander about the place. Find the entrance and determine what is going on there."
Illya swallowed and then nodded.
Napoleon closed the folder. "When do we leave?"
30,000 Feet Up
"Napoleon, I don't think this is going to work," Illya said after sitting silent for a long time.
"Why not? You've been gardeners, handymen, and all kinds of tradesmen before. It's a simple thing for you." He looked at Illya with curiosity.
"It's complicated. Antonio Vicente is already acquainted with me. I'm sure he'll remember seeing me before. He has a sharp memory." He knew he couldn't go into details. Wouldn't want to, either.
"Where does he know you from?" Napoleon asked.
Illya shook his head. "It was a long time ago. Before I was with the U.N.C.L.E. The mission is classified, but I can tell you that was how I met him."
Napoleon raised an eyebrow and took a sip of his drink. "So what were you at the time? Door to door salesman or something?"
Illya took a deep breath. He couldn't lie because the one person who could see through his lies was Napoleon. He couldn't tell the truth because...because he just couldn't. "I looked very young at the time. I was fresh out of school and undercover. He thought I was a teen, down on my luck, and needing a job. He hired me."
"That makes it easy then," Napoleon said with a confident grin. Then he thought of Illya's effect on people. "Or did you piss him off?"
"No." Then Illya thought about it a little more. "Well. Not really."
Napoleon's brow furrowed and he leaned a bit in his seat. "Not really? Are you going to be able to handle this assignment or do we need a replacement?"
"I can do this Napoleon. I just have to approach it a little differently than Mr. Waverly has planned. Just trust me on this, all right?"
"We can always trade off for Mark. I think he's in France right now," Napoleon suggested.
Illya objected to that idea. Anyone else, even Mark, would go in assuming Antonio was guilty and might see just what he wanted. Antonio kept his business to himself and would never be open with a new driver. Illya wanted to make sure Antonio was investigated fairly. Only he could do that. He met Napoleon eye to eye. "That is not necessary. Getting in will be easy as long as I go in my way."
"Your way?" Napoleon asked suspiciously.
"Do you trust me or not?" Illya challenged.
"Of course I trust you."
Illya relaxed at the speed of the response. After everything that had happened between them recently, he'd been worried about this very question. Apparently, worried for nothing. He nodded at Napoleon. "Thank you. Just follow my lead once we get you checked into the hotel." He turned to look out the window.
Napoleon stared at his friend. "You're not going to tell me what you want to do now?"
Illya shook his head.
"Why didn't you say something before?" Napoleon snapped.
Illya shrugged. "I didn't think it would make a difference. After consideration, however, I believe otherwise."
Napoleon waited for more but scowled when it became obvious Illya planned to say nothing else. What in the world could Illya be up to? True, they often changed cover identities or tweaked a plan when circumstances proved it to be prudent. But they hadn't even started the mission. Not really. Yet Illya already wanted to change things. Why?
He took a page from his partner's usual book and brooded about it the entire flight over the ocean.
Napoleon made Illya nervous. Has partner had not said a word since Illya asked him to trust him. Instead Napoleon uncharacteristically ignored everyone and sulked the entire trip. Well, too bad. Napoleon would just have to get over it. Illya knew his change of plan was for the best.
Once they were in the hotel in Rome, he sat down on the bed and assembled his communicator. "Channel D open," came the instant reply. "What can I do for you, Mr. Kuryakin?"
"Please connect me with Monica Price," he instructed. Monica had a bit of a crush on him and would do anything he asked. He seldom used her feelings against her, but was not above it when he really needed to do so.
"This is Monica," came a cheerful voice after a minute. "What can I do for you, Illya?"
"I hate to ask this, Monica," said Illya, voice edged with a touch of shyness.
"Ask away, Illya. I'll do anything I can to help you."
"Well, um," he made himself stutter. "I need you to change Napoleon and my cover identities for our present mission."
"Oh. Okay. I can do that," said Monica. "What do you want them changed to?"
"Napoleon will be Philip Simpson. Philip is the owner of a wildly successful construction and blasting company. He's been in business twenty years and he's a single man, married with a couple of kids. Lives on Park Avenue in New York City. Please make sure his cover can withstand an in-depth investigation."
"Got it. And your cover?"
"Angelo Renatto. Give him an address in a less wealthy neighborhood as Phillip, but not too far from it. Has worked for Philip's company for the last ten years where he learned demolitions and became an expert in that field."
She laughed. "Figures. Okay. I have it. I'll send someone over from the local office with the new licenses and other papers and certificates. They should be there by morning. Will that do?"
"Yes, Monica. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Illya. Maybe you can take me for drinks after you get back to show your gratitude."
"I will be happy to." He liked her well enough that a couple of drinks with her wouldn't be a hardship. "Kuryakin out." He turned his communicator back into a pen before looking over at his partner.
"Philip Simpson?" Napoleon asked as he exited the room's small bathroom, towel around his neck. "You going to tell me what my new cover is all about or do you expect me to go at this cold?" His tone was not quite hostile, but it wasn't the usual warm friendly one he usually used with his partner.
Illya cleared his throat. "You own a construction and blasting company out of New York. I've been your employee for the last ten years, during which time you taught me everything you know about explosives."
Napoleon grinned. "It's about time you admit to my superiority in such things."
Illya rolled his eyes. "Of course. That's why you almost blew your hand off when I let you prep the charges that time last year."
Napoleon scowled. "That was a fluke. I know plenty about how to blow things up. I just don't enjoy it as much as you do."
Illya shook his head. "You know enough to convince Antonio . . . Vicente that you are who you say you are." He hoped Napoleon had not noticed the hesitation. He'd almost left off Antonio's last name. That would have clued his partner in on just how well he knew their target. Illya didn't want that. Not yet. And he never wanted Napoleon to know just how close to intimacy their acquaintance had come.
"Well, we don't head to Naples until tomorrow, so since all we can do is wait until then, why don't we take advantage of the gym in the hotel?" Napoleon suggested. "You still need some toning up."
"Me? It is you who was under the doctor's scrutiny last if I recall correctly," Illya countered.
Napoleon shrugged. "So you caught me there. I guess there's nothing wrong with your memory. Now do you want to spar in the gym before dinner or not?" he asked again.
Illya nodded and went to his suitcase for a change of clothes. He hoped perhaps it would get his mind off the thought of seeing Antonio Vicente again.
Half an hour later both agents, wearing shorts and t-shirts, were in the work out facilities downstairs and practicing hand to hand combat maneuvers.
Napoleon, taller and heavier built than Illya, appeared to have an advantage but years of working together gave him something better. Intimate knowledge of how Illya moved and what the smaller frame could do in that situation. Any ordinary person coming up against him was in for a surprise, but Napoleon understood his own size could be a disadvantage.
It never ceased to amaze him how Illya's small, lithe form moved. The poetry and grace, smooth transference of balance and energy, the liquidity, all blended together in a dance of life and death. Napoleon knew it was a good thing they were both on the same side. He didn't like to think of the possibilities.
Where Illya had the flawless execution of timing and movement, Napoleon had unpredictable change of attack and unexpected defensive patterns. An unstated competitiveness existed between them when they worked out together.
Sometimes when they felt tense and stressed, the competition would get the better of them. The punches wouldn't be pulled as they should have been. This time was one of them. As Illya lunged and spun on an attack, Napoleon sidestepped the opposite way from what he appeared to be moving. Napoleon's hand came up and caught Illya hard on the right cheek and knocked the blond man off his feet.
Napoleon was apologetic as soon as it happened. He reached forward out of concern. "Gosh. Illya, I'm sorry," he said while checking to make sure there was no damage.
The impact caused a bright flash of light before Illya blinked a couple of times and wiped away the moisture from his watering eyes. "It's all right. I should have seen that coming," he scolded himself.
"Are you okay?" Napoleon asked. He knelt down next to his partner, who was sitting on the floor.
"I'm fine. You just caught me off guard." He reached up to feel the side of his face. The sting was apparent but the skin wasn't broken. He could tell by the pressure that it would start to swell slightly and probably bruise. For what he had in mind though, that could work to his advantage. "Best two out of three?" he asked.
Napoleon offered a hand and helped him to his feet. "You're on."
The two of them sparred for almost three quarters of an hour. Illya poured on the pressure causing Napoleon to get more offensive. A few extra bruises would lend credence to the story he planned to fabricate. A plan he didn't dare explain because he really didn't want to go into the past.
OFFICES OF U.N.C.L.E. ROME
Lucinda Giovanni pulled her naturally curly dark hair behind her ears and tied a blue ribbon around it. The brown-eyed beauty pulled a shawl over her shoulders and checked her appearance in the mirror. She looked exactly like the simple peasant girls heading to the market each morning.
"Going to do your shopping while you're there?" a fellow agent teased her.
Lucinda laughed and flashed her sparkling expression. "I let my momma do that. She wouldn't have it any other way."
He walked over and glanced at the things on the table. "Courier?"
She packed the basket with the two envelopes of false papers, and licenses. Then she covered them with a cloth giving it a double lining with the dossiers sandwiched between them. "I'm meeting an agent from America. Rush cover change," she explained. "It's a simple exchange."
"Bring me some nice fruit for my lunch," he told her as he left for his own duties.
As Napoleon came out of the bathroom from his morning routine, he looked at the two rumpled beds and solemnly wished they had shared instead of sleeping separately. He looked over at Illya and winced at the bruises he'd left on his partner's face. He shouldn't have been so rough during last night's workout. He didn't say anything because it would just irritated his friend. "It's free if you want to wash up for breakfast," he told Illya.
The blond shook his head. "You'll be eating alone," he replied and tugged a striped t-shirt over his head and then shoved his arms through the sleeves. "I have an errand to run."
"Where to?" Napoleon asked tugging on his cuff to straighten an arm of his shirt.
Illya placed a blue beret on his head at a jaunty angle and looked like any young Italian native. "I'm going to the market for some bread and cheese." He scooped up a basket lined with a checked napkin and then went to the door. "You can wait till I get back if you want to eat like the locals," he said but didn't wait for an answer.
A simple courier exchange didn't worry Napoleon, but he was more of a meat and potatoes man. The restaurant downstairs had options more to his liking and he chose to eat there while Illya was out.
Early morning was when the vegetables and flowers were at their freshest. The cooks from the best restaurants always did their shopping first thing to decide their menus for that day. That is also when all the women of the house did their shopping.
Illya didn't like the hustle and bustle of crowds, but that was also a good way to hide. He wasn't worried about trouble on this trip though. It wasn't likely that anyone would recognize him here. Naples might be another matter. He forced his mind away from the thought of what lay ahead for him.
As Illya browsed the stalls looking at the fresh fruit, vegetables, and other offerings, he kept an eye out for a dark haired young lady with a blue ribbon in her hair. She was supposed to have a near identical basket. He found her by the cheeses.
"Hello. Is that a cheese you buy often?" he asked of the piece she was sampling.
Lucinda smiled and handed him a piece to try. "It's one of my favorites. The blue cheese is good, too, but my brother cannot stand it."
"He doesn't know what he's missing," Illya replied to the prearranged code. He set his basket down on the ground by his feet to try the cheese.
She set hers in front of his. "There is a farm a little north of the city where they make the most wonderful cheese. You should go there and try some," she told him.
"Perhaps if you give me directions I will," he said and then chose a cheese and asked for a wedge to take with him. He picked up what was her basket and put the cheese in the bottom feeling the hidden package between the linings. "Thank you. I will see you soon," he said with a smile.
Lucinda picked up the agent's basket and went the other way to buy the fruit her co-worker requested.
Illya went to the baker's stall next and bought a nice small rustic loaf to go with his cheese and bought some fruit to take back to the hotel.
When Napoleon returned from his breakfast, he found Illya already back and chewing on a chunk of bread. "Smooth exchange?"
Illya offered him an apple. "Fresh from the farm. It's delicious."
Napoleon shook his head. "No thanks. I just finished eating downstairs."
"This is very good cheese. Goes well with this bread, too."
Napoleon raised an eyebrow. "Do you intend to stay dressed like that for the trip to Naples?"
"No, but I wanted to eat first. Our papers are between the liners. You should look yours over."
Napoleon pulled the first napkin out and looked at the two envelopes. He opened the one with his name on it and went through the contents. New York driver's license. Six credit cards. Explosives permit. Even a family photo. He recognized the woman who was supposedly Philip's wife. Maggie in Communications. He grinned. He knew her as a man would know his wife. The two kids were Waverly's grandchildren.
He read through the background for his alias. Pretty much as Illya told him earlier. A little more fleshed out, but essentially the same. It was missing a vital part, though. It didn't tell him exactly what part his character played in this little charade. Hopefully Illya could fill him in.
He set the packet aside and glanced towards the bathroom where he could hear Illya showering. He peaked at the papers for Illya. Angelo Renatto. New York license. Okay. One credit card.
Napoleon's brows furrowed. The name on the card was not Angelo Renatto. Instead it said Philip Simpson. His alias. Interesting. Illya had said Angelo worked for Philip, so maybe it was a company card. He nodded. That must be it.
Not much else in Illya's papers. An explosives permit as he had. At least this was in Angelo's name. No pictures. Angelo was obviously much like Illya himself. No family. Not even any friends he cared enough about to carry their picture.
Did Illya carry a picture of him in his wallet? Napoleon's heart lurched as the most likely answer to that question came to him. No. Of course not. Why would he? They were partners. Friends, too, but if Illya's recent actions were any indication, nothing more. Not only were their days of being lovers over, Illya acted as though they had never happened.
Napoleon hardened his heart against the pain. If that was how Illya wanted it, Napoleon refused to beg or force himself on his friend. There were plenty of women out there that would do anything in order to gain his attentions. They weren't Illya, but they'd been enough once, and they would be enough again.
He ignored the little voice in the back of his mind that whispered no one else would ever be enough again. They'd be good enough, then. They would have to be. Illya had taken that choice away from him.
He looked around for a background sheet on Angelo but found none. Of course not. This was a persona Illya resurrected from what was obviously his KGB days. He would not only be unable to give U.N.C.L.E. details, he would know the alias better than anyone at Headquarters would.
The shower faucets squeaked as the shower was turned off and Napoleon quickly reassembled Illya's packet and slid it back into the napkins. By the time Illya emerged from the bathroom, Napoleon was placing his new identity into his spare wallet.
"So what do you think?" Illya asked, rubbing his hair vigorously.
Napoleon didn't look up, afraid that Illya wouldn't be completely dressed and knew his resolve not to beg his former lover to come back to him would dissolve. "Philip Simpson, at your service," he said, a bit of the Bronx in his voice.
Illya smiled. "Perfect."
"The background sheet doesn't tell me exactly what I'm supposed to be doing in this little scenario."
A grimace crossed Illya's handsome face. "I know and I'm sorry. I'm afraid you're just going to have to trust me enough to follow my lead."
"You know I do," Napoleon chided.
Illya smiled. "Good."
"So what do you want me to do? Sit around here until you give me a sign?"
Illya rifled through his papers and then placed them in the pocket of his leather jacket. "For the moment. In a couple of days I'll need you to start asking around for Angelo Renatto. Take a picture of me so you'll have one to show around."
"I, uh, I already have a picture of you." He refrained from adding, unlike you.
Illya raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You do?"
Napoleon shrugged nonchalantly. "It's from that last mission. I needed a picture for you. I just never remembered to take it out of my wallet." Illya wasn't the only one who could lie convincingly. He'd kept it because he had wanted to keep Illya close to him at all times. Having it wasn't a good idea for a spy, he knew, but he just couldn't help it.
"Oh," said Illya. "All right, then." He placed his Special and his favorite knife into a false bottom in his suitcase and then repacked with his selection of turtlenecks, pullovers, jeans, and worn trousers. The bag of a man who didn't own much.
Napoleon frowned. "I don't like the idea of you going in unarmed."
"Angelo wouldn't be packing, Napoleon," Illya replied.
"So wear your backup in the ankle holster. I know you brought it under the false bottom of the case."
Illya closed the latches on his bag then grabbed the jacket and put it on. "I can't have a gun on me, Napoleon. It wouldn't be right for my persona."
"At least strap the knife to your ankle," Napoleon persisted.
"Don't worry about me, Napoleon. I can take care of myself, even without weapons."
Napoleon held his hand up in surrender. "I know. I just hate it when I can't be there to back you up."
Illya's expression softened. "You are here to back me up."
"Not really. If you get into trouble, I won't know until it's too late."
"Napoleon, it's not like this is a new thing."
No, it wasn't. It was just that once they'd become lovers, no matter how short that had lasted, Napoleon found the thought of losing Illya not only daunting but also completely unacceptable. He couldn't tell Illya, though. His friend would eviscerate him for thinking such a thing. Napoleon knew Illya could defend himself better than just about anyone else, but he couldn't help worrying about him. He cared about what happened to his friend more than he cared about anyone, or anything, else. More than U.N.C.L.E. Even more than saving the world.
Napoleon stifled his impulse to tie Illya up and take care of this whole mission himself. Illya would just kill him the minute he got loose. He smiled and waved a hand. "Go forth and conquer."
Illya smiled back. "I'll be in touch."
Napoleon stared at the door for a long time after he left.
Illya paused a half block away from Antonio Vicente's Naples office and warehouse. His nerves were getting the best of him. He felt alternately excited and terrified to be seeing the man he'd seriously considered having an affair with so long ago.
When he'd been with Laheeb, he got through a lot of it by fantasizing about Antonio. Maybe that was why he'd enjoyed it, at least to a degree. Since then he'd thought more and more of the big-hearted Italian, especially after accepting what he was and that he couldn't be with Napoleon. Now, suddenly, here he was, about to walk back into the life of the man he'd thought about becoming lovers with once before.
Stop it! he berated himself. This was a mission. Just like last time. Also like last time, Illya knew he would have to leave Antonio behind yet again. The thought of causing his fantasy lover even more pain squeezed at his heart.
He wished he didn't have to do this. No choice, though. No one else would care about what happened to Antonio. Anyone else, including Napoleon, would assume Antonio Vicente was guilty, the villain, and would likely not treat him with the fairness he deserved. Illya believed Antonio was innocent, that the Italian businessman was being used by THRUSH as they used so many others.
Yes, Antonio had done some shady things in his past, but he was a good man. He would not knowingly and purposely hurt innocent people. THRUSH had to have used all their means to convince Antonio their intentions were honorable, or Vicente would have nothing to do with them. Illya knew this. If he wanted to make sure everyone else did, too, he had to do things this way. If it hurt Antonio it, so be it. At least he would still be alive and free.
He took a deep breath and walked the rest of the way to the warehouse and went inside.
"I expect that shipment here by next Tuesday," said Antonio Vicente, the naturally commanding tone of his baritone voice letting the person at the other end know there would be no negotiating.
A satisfied smile settled on Antonio's face, assured the supplier wouldn't be stalling any longer. "Thank you. Goodbye." Antonio hung up the phone and made some notes in his calendar.
His intercom beeped and he reached for the toggle with his left hand as he continued to write notes with his right. "Yes, Consuelo?"
"There's a Mr. Renatto here to see you, sir."
He stopped writing and looked up with a frown. "I don't believe I know a Mr. Renatto. If he's from a charity, make an appointment with him for..." he glanced through his book. "Next Thursday."
"Hey!" came Consuelo's voice over the intercom. "Get away!"
Antonio was about to get up and see what was going on, throw the thug out if he was a solicitor bothering his receptionist, when he heard a voice from out of the past come over the speaker.
"Antonio, it is I. Angelo."
Antonio was quiet, in shock. It couldn't possibly be the Angelo of so many years past.
"Let go!" Consuelo demanded as she tried desperately to pull the phone back from the blond man. "I'm going to call the police."
"Please. I must speak to him," Illya pleaded. He didn't even need to act nervous. The thought of seeing Antonio again was enough to send his insides quivering.
She picked up a letter opener and raised her arm to stab him when the door to the inner office slammed open.
The two in the reception area froze in surprise as the massive curly-haired man stood in the doorway.
Antonio was older than Illya by about fifteen years. He had dark hair and eyes accenting his tanned olive skin. Broad shouldered and well muscled from his constant regime of exercise so his healthy appetite would not overwhelm his body with excess fat.
Illya's heart skipped a beat. His tongue caught in his throat. This was a sight he never thought he would see again. The soft meek voice of the scared street youth he portrayed came back all too easily. "Antonio... Please Antonio. I need to talk. I need help and you're the only one I could think of."
"Consuelo," Antonio said.
"Yes, Mr. Vicente," she replied relaxing now that he was there taking charge of this intruder.
Antonio nodded to her that things were all right. "Make some fresh coffee and send out for some sandwiches." He looked at Angelo. "Come in. You don't look good," he said.
Illya could feel the pressure of the bruised face, slightly swollen and scuffed. "I'm okay. I... I needed somewhere to go. Somewhere safe."
Stepping aside Antonio gave Illya passage into his private office and then closed the door behind them. He offered him a seat on the sofa and then sat down on the other end twisting slightly to face the young man.
Illya looked forlornly at his suitcase before setting it down and with the expression of a man beaten down by the world, he settled onto the sofa. He could hardly bring himself to look Antonio in the face, knowing that he was about to lie to the man. Normally lying came easily. Not this time. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, forcing himself to do it anyway. "I shouldn't be bringing my troubles to you. You must hate me after I left."
Antonio thought of his disappointment and then took a deep breath to cleanse the memories. "Let us not go over that right now. Tell me how you got this," he asked brushing the longish hair back to examine the injury. "Have you been fighting or did a customer do this to you?"
Illya shook his head a little. "No. I... I haven't been working the streets. It..." He paused to take a shame filled breath. "It was Philip."
The big man's eyes narrowed as he thought back to years ago. "Philip? Wasn't that a Philip you left Italy with?"
The blond head nodded and stayed low. "I tried Antonio. You told me to learn a good trade and stay off the streets." He went silent a moment and then added, "At least I didn't go back to selling my body."
"So what did you do?" the older man asked. "You have been with this Philip since?"
Raising his head, Illya looked Antonio face to face. "He said he would teach me to use explosives and I could work for his excavation and construction company. I thought it would work out. I could make some money and... well maybe go to school. Get that education you always told me to do."
"And did you?" Antonio asked.
"Sort of," Illya replied sheepishly. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a paper to show him. "I am qualified and licensed."
Antonio looked at the information. He nodded. That was something good, Angelo having taken his advice. He always knew the boy was too smart to be working the streets, selling his body to strangers for a few dollars just to have it taken by the evil men who peddled the young flesh. "Okay, but that still doesn't explain the bruises and why you are here."
"It is a long story." Illya took the papers back and stuffed them into his pocket.
There was a knock on the door and Antonio and opened it, taking the tray of food from Consuelo and smiling to let her know everything was okay. "Cancel my afternoon appointments. Take messages. I don't want to be disturbed," he instructed her.
"Yes sir. Will there be anything else?"
"Yes. You can leave early today when you're done. I will see you tomorrow as usual."
Consuelo glanced warily at Illya but nodded and left without another word, closing the door behind her.
Antonio brought the tray over to the small table in front of the couch. "I have enough time for a long story,' he stated. "Tell me what happened."
Over the course of the next two hours Illya told his tale. He began at the point he was trying to leave Antonio at the end of his covert KGB assignment. The story began with the truth. Truth always gave fiction just enough of a boost to make anything that followed plausible.
"You remember what happened the last time I saw you ten years ago . . . "
"You can stay here," Antonio pleaded. "I can see to it you go back to school. You can get a good job and have a real future. A good one."
Illya as Angelo smiled and moved into Antonio's embrace. Illya allowed himself the thrill of having the big man's arms around him. Those arms offered love, protection, and prosperity. A lump formed in his throat when he had to turn him down.
"Philip's promised me a job. He said he'd train me and I could work for him. It's a good chance for something better for me," Angelo explained. "I have to start fresh. Too much of my history is here. I could never gain respect in this city."
Antonio understood that prostituting one's self left scars and made it hard to gain honest work where people knew you. "But you know nothing of this man."
"No. I do," Angelo replied. "He's a regular. He's paid for me several times and he wants me to go to America with him," he said in an excited tone. "He has his own business and will train me. I think he really wants me."
The man's head was shaking. "Things like this never work out."
"But it will," Angelo insisted with enthusiasm. "I will be in New York where no one knows me. I can learn and work. Philip is very good to me. He is giving me a great opportunity. If I am to straighten out my life like you want, I have to do this. I promise. I will keep in touch. I'll make you proud of me," he said full of happiness.
Antonio couldn't stop the young man and gave him another hug. "Never forget, I will always be here if you need me. Just call."
Angelo's eyes grew watery. "I... I will," he lied.
The next part of the story was just that. A story.
Illya described how Philip kept him in a small apartment in the city. He would come over to visit often and fuck him. Each time Angelo would ask when Philip would train him for a job. There was always some reason or excuse why it had to be later.
Months passed by and still nothing came of the promises. Angelo threatened to leave, but Philip got angry and beat him. He threatened him and said that Angelo owed him for all the money spent setting him up in the apartment with all the furnishings and the food that he'd been supplying all along. The clothes he'd bought him and so many other things.
Angelo was humiliated and would back down trying to think of what to do. Eventually he found that Philip was married and had a couple of young children. Still he felt that he owed Philip so much that he stayed and let the man fuck him whenever he came by, which was often. Over time Philip kept his word to teach him about explosives and excavating. It was in little bits and piece,s but over the years he eventually learned enough and then went for his licenses. The money to get them came from Philip so Angelo now owed him for that as well.
Antonio sat through the story listening to every word. It broke his heart.
"Anyway," Illya continued. "I finally stirred up the courage to ask him about the money he'd been putting away for me. He just got angry. I didn't dare ask him again."
"Has he always been... physical with you?" Antonio asked trying to be compassionate.
Illya nodded. "But it's never been this bad before. The worst was when I finally made up my mind to leave him. I told him that I wanted to make my own living and not have to rely on him. That was when he got angrier than I've ever seen him before." The guilt rose up through Illya's gut at the lies. He hated to deceive Antonio like this, but he had no choice. Helping to prove his innocence was the only way Illya could pay the big hearted Italian back for everything.
Antonio furrowed his brow. Sadness filled his eyes. "He gave you those bruises?"
Illya nodded. He bit his lower lip and then put down the sandwich he'd been nibbling and pulled his jacket open. Feigning reluctance he took a deep breath and then pulled his shirt from his waistband and raised it up to his armpits. The evidence of Illya's and Napoleon's last sparring duel marked his slender frame. A large purple spot spread down the side of his ribs and another marked the right side of his chest disappearing up under the fabric.
Gingerly Antonio reached out to touch but held back fearing he would cause the man more pain. He thought how he would like to kill the man for hurting Angelo like that. "I will take care of him. He won't ever hurt you again."
"NO!" Illya shouted anxiously. "Please." He took a moment to settle himself. It was not all an act. He knew it would be difficult to keep Antonio from getting so angry at Philip he would have him killed. "No. I just need a place to stay. I spent the last of my money getting back to Naples. I didn't know he would follow me. He has a family, Antonio. Children. I don't wish to take their father away from them, even if he is the devil himself. He will go away soon if he can't get to me."
Napoleon checked into his hotel, a nice place with a perfect view of the famous volcano, Vesuvius. It was a sleeping giant known for destroying the nearby cities in ancient Italy. Right now it looked green and inviting. Tourist trails still wound up the side and around the crater. It was a beautiful mountain yet Napoleon knew it was a bomb waiting to go off.
"But not today," Napoleon said as he stared at the mountain and thought of Illya making first contact on his own. It was rare that he talked to himself. He unpacked and checked the cameras and bugs for proper functioning. His first order of business would be figuring out how to get onto Vicente's estate so he could plant them. Second order of business involved contacting Illya. They needed to arrange a private place they could meet to transfer information.
Professor John Stillwell opened the envelope in his private office, away from the prying eyes of his secretary and any students who might wander in to discuss class work. Alexander Waverly entrusted this to him with specific instructions not to share its contents with anyone else.
The two men went back a good number of years. They both hailed from England where they met in school. As young men they traveled around Europe together in the summer and teased each other about who could catch the prettiest girls. They drank together as comrades in the Second World War and cried together over the loss of their friends. They were as close as two men could be without being brothers. It was no surprise that Waverly would come to him with a job like this.
Stillwell pulled a book out of the envelope and read the loose page stuck between the cover and the first page of Cyrillic writing. The sloping script suggested the hand that wrote it was unused to the English letters.
I thought you might be able to make use of this information. Illya Nicovetch kept a secret diary during his time in our program. Since the KGB has furnished you with the basics of Illya's training, this will not divulge anything you don't already know concerning the classified aspects of that training. It does, however, give details as to Illya's mental and emotional status at the time.
Please do not tell Illya I sent you this. He would feel like he would look weak in your eyes if you knew. From what I've learned of you through our now long and mutually respectful relationship, I believe he would be wrong. You are an honorable man, Alexander, and I am sure you know better than to use this information against him, but would rather use it to help yourself understand him better and, as a result, help him.
The accompanying outline explaining the contents of the file made his jaw drop and his eyes bulge with surprise. This was bigger than he imagined and he got right to work. After taking out a notepad and pencil he started the serious work of translating the passages. He opened the book and translated at the first entry.
With Antonio's hand in the small of his back, Illya allowed himself to be escorted to the Italian man's car. Antonio unlocked the passenger side of the sleek black Mercedes Benz before moving to the driver's side. Illya settled into the plush leather seat and leaned his head against the headrest.
This was going to be a tough mission, perhaps the toughest one of his life. His conscience poked at him from the lies he'd already told Antonio. How much more would it bother him as the lies piled up? It's to help Antonio, he reminded himself. It didn't make him feel better.
"Tired?" asked Antonio as he started the car and pulled into traffic.
Antonio reached over and took Illya's hand. "I'm not surprised. You went through a lot to get here."
Illya twined his fingers with Antonio's. He tried not to think about how nice it felt. "Thank you for taking me in."
"When you left. I told you I would always be here for you. I meant it."
Illya lowered his head as though feeling defeated. "I know. I . . . I just didn't know if you would still mean it now."
"I do," Antonio assured him softly.
They rode the rest of the way in a comfortable silence. Illya marveled at how easy it felt to slip back into his role of Angelo. Not the prostitute aspects. He might have to sleep with Antonio, but no one else. He shied away from the fact that the possibility didn't bother him in the least. He also tried not to notice how his body reacted favorably to the idea.
They passed through a couple of security checkpoints to reach the villa. Security here wasn't bad, but Illya saw a few things that could be improved. Maybe after the mission he could make a couple of discreet suggestions.
Illya pulled his bag from the trunk of the car and followed Antonio into the house. They entered through a back door and into a mudroom. A door to the left led to the kitchen. Heavenly scents wafted in, taking Illya back ten years to the events that led up to the first time he'd stepped into this house.
Getting pulled into Olivetti's harem of prostitutes was easy. Illya played the poor, hungry, and cold runaway Angelo to perfection. Olivetti lured the young man into his clutches and trapped him there as he had so many others before Angelo.
Angelo serviced both men and women alike, although mostly men. Well-to-do and well connected men that had a taste for the tender flesh of young men that they simply couldn't satisfy in their everyday lives. Most came from other town and cities. They would venture to Naples periodically, supposedly on business but really for the purpose of having Olivetti send one of his pretty young boys to their hotel room so they could fuck him.
In the course of the mission, Illya had to service a good number of these men. Angelo was a popular choice. His blond hair, blue eyes, and waifish good looks appealed to those whose tastes ran to the exotic. He had to do it all. Sucking them off, using his hands to bring them to orgasm, allowing them to penetrate his body for their own pleasure.
He hated it. Hated being touched by strangers. Hated having to pretend he liked their attentions. Hated being used for the pleasure of such selfish men. Hated it all.
Except the sex. He never admitted it to himself, but he'd enjoyed the few times a client cared as much about his pleasure as they did about their own. It didn't happen often, but it did happen.
Then the day came when a client insisted Angelo accompanied him to a business luncheon. The man his client met in the hotel restaurant was a somewhat big man. Almost six foot with dark curly hair and eyes the loveliest shade of brown Illya had ever seen. The man intrigued him. Extremely observant by necessity, Illya could tell the elegant, and very expensive, Italian suit hid a well-muscled and well-kept body.
"I am Antonio Vicente," he introduced himself to Angelo's client.
"Guido Pascal," the client said.
He didn't bother to introduce Angelo. Illya wasn't even sure why the man had insisted he come with him.
Illya felt Antonio's appraising gaze rake over him. Rather than make him feel soiled and disgusted as this kind of inspection usually did, Illya felt a tingle of excitement. He couldn't help smiling slightly at the big man. Not the seductive smile of the prostitute Angelo, but the enigmatic one that was a trademark of Illya Kuryakin.
Antonio smiled in return and held out his hand to Angelo. "Antonio Vicente," he repeated. "And you are?"
Illya could tell it was more of a slight to Vicente's colleague rather than patronizing to Angelo. "Angelo," he said in the soft voice he cultivated for his Angelo persona. He took Vicente's hand in a grip that was firm but conveyed a touch of shyness.
All through lunch, Illya felt Antonio's eyes on him. The next day, Olivetti ordered him to get into a Volvo driven by a large man that looked at him with utter suspicion. Illya did as told and the man drove him to a huge estate a few miles out of town.
The car was met at the garage by none other than Antonio Vicente. "Hello again, Angelo." The baritone voice seemed to caress his name. "Welcome to my home."
Illya stared at the villa, suitably awed by the old but well maintained and stately house. "It's beautiful."
Antonio looked fondly at his home and smiled. "It is, isn't it? Want to see if you like the inside as much as the outside?"
Illya realized that for the first time since he'd taken on the persona of Angelo, he felt a thrill of anticipation instead of the usual apprehension at the thought of servicing yet another client.
Antonio took him into the house through the back door. He led him through a room filled with foul weather gear and into the warmth of a kitchen filled with the odors of fresh baked bread and marinara sauce. Illya's nose twitched and stomach sat up and took notice of the enticing aromas.
"Maria," Antonio's voice boomed as he talked to the short stocky woman bustling about in the kitchen. "This is the young man I told you about. Angelo, this is Maria. This is the dear woman who takes care of me as if she were my own mother."
"Hello, Angelo," she said, beaming at him She surprised him by kissing him on both cheeks. "I'm so glad to have you here for the weekend."
"Weekend?" Illya croaked. He had naturally assumed Antonio only wanted to fuck him for a couple of hours. He'd never anticipated he'd do so for an entire weekend. He was a little confused to find the idea appealed to him.
"Antonio!" Maria admonished the big man. "You didn't bother telling him how long he'd be here?"
Illya was surprised to see a sheepish expression settle on Antonio's face. "I assumed Olivetti told him."
Maria scowled at the mention of the pimp. "I've told you never to mention that man's name in my kitchen."
Antonio inclined his head. "Of course, dear lady. I apologize."
Her expression softened. "I forgive you." She turned to Illya. "I hope you're hungry, Angelo. I'm making ravioli and I baked a fresh loaf of bread in honor of your visit."
"I...um, thank you," Illya stammered. He didn't really have to act much to sound like Angelo at the moment. He really was completely flabbergasted at the turn of events.
The weekend had been a relaxing one. It turned out Antonio had not paid Olivetti the cost of the weekend with the young prostitute in order to have sex with Angelo. He did it to give Angelo a reprieve from the horrors of his life in Olivetti's stable.
Antonio paid for his company many times over the following weeks. Illya had no doubt Antonio would have paid Olivetti for every day and night indefinitely if Olivetti had been willing to let him. Unfortunately Olivetti and Antonio hated each other and Angelo's pimp refused to allow his whore to be exclusive to one client. He actually used Antonio's interest as a marketing tool to demand a much higher price for Angelo's services.
Interestingly enough, Antonio never bedded Angelo. They talked about books, played chess, swam, walked the gardens. And kissed. Only a few times, but Illya remembered them vividly throughout the following years. The one thing they never did was fuck. Illya conveniently ignored the fact that he felt disappointment about that whenever he left the villa.
Illya forced his mind back to the present. It was hard to do since, as before, he followed Antonio into a kitchen that still smelled of fresh bread and marinara sauce. Maria, looking a little older but otherwise the same, bustled about preparing the next meal.
She looked up at their entrance and her eyes widened in shock. "Angelo?"
"Signora Maria," he greeted her respectfully.
The woman wiped her hands on the little towel tucked into her apron strings and hurried around the counter to welcome him. "Oh my! Angelo," she gasped and embraced him in a motherly hug. "Angelo! Is that really you? I thought I would never see you again." Her eyes were full of life and animation as she looked him over. "Why, you are as skinny as ever." She reached up and brushed a finger lightly over the bruises on his face. "And who has done this to you? Do you need a doctor?" She turned to look at Antonio. "Antonio. Call the doctor to come see Angelo."
Illya was taken aback by her overwhelming concern and compassion. A tightening went through his gut as he tried to fight his own emotion at the genuine caring the woman had for him. He swallowed hard to contain the feelings and smiled at her as he reached up taking her hands in his. "Please, little mother," he said, using his nickname for her, one that Antonio always used. "I will be fine. No need to worry."
Antonio took Maria by the elbow. "He will be all right now," he said to calm her. "Why don't you get him something warm to drink while he and I talk a bit in the library?"
"Poor thing. He looks like he could use some good food, too. I will make an early dinner today and I will have some snacks for you in a few minutes," she insisted.
Illya couldn't help the smile that spread across his face. Maria would mother the world if given the chance. He followed Antonio through the splendid villa to the library. The house hadn't changed from what he remembered. It was still a warm and welcoming place and yet so remarkably tasteful in its décor. He didn't have to be shown the way.
They walked into the library and Antonio slid the door closed behind them. "You must be tired after your travels. Have a seat."
Napoleon glanced at his new ID to memorize his new name and occupation. Philip Simpson. He looked at his own face in the mirror and wondered just who this Philip Simpson was. After a good long look he turned to stare out the window at the old city lying out across the slopes of Vesuvius. There were two thousand years of history in this place, and he couldn't imagine the tiny part Illya played in that.
With a big breath to get started, Napoleon turned around and tucked his new ID into the inside breast pocket of his jacket and then slipped it on. He tugged the sleeves to straighten them and then adjusted his tie. Satisfied after another look into the mirror he then smiled at himself and went to the door. He gave a last glance around to make sure all their equipment was hidden away from the prying eyes of the housekeeping staff. Since all was in order he left and headed down to the lobby.
The rental car was brought around front and Napoleon tipped the valet. He got directions to the country road of Antonio's villa under the guise of a nice touring drive in the rural scenic areas.
He got lost in the confusion of the winding old streets of Naples. After half an hour of going in circles, he finally found the road out to the countryside that he was looking for. Even as far away as he was Vesuvius dominated the scenery. He recalled black and white newsreels he'd seen during the war when it erupted and lava flows slowly rolled into one of the surrounding towns. A thick craggy wall of tumbling rock crushed buildings and buried roads and yet the people always returned. These days most of the old countryside was taken up by the urban sprawl of the city. Towns ran into each other leaving no space between them anymore.
The main part of the estate was on a hill northwest of Naples. West of that were several ancient calderas and just south of those the town of Pozzuoli. The place was a mecca for people seeking healing mineral waters and volcanic mud baths. Most didn't even realize the place was a seething caldron of volcanic activity and those that did just prayed to Jesus every Sunday that he would protect them and their homes, which He seemed to be doing so far. One day maybe they wouldn't be so lucky. Pompeii was a perfect example of what could happen.
Napoleon drove along the main road until he saw the sign marking the private road up to the villa. Trees blocked the view of the gate from the road, but he knew it was there. Walking up to the front gate and asking to plant bugs and cameras wouldn't be terribly effective, so he drove on and circled around the estate to the back side.
Fifteen minutes more and Napoleon was in a small rural community on the north side of the estate. He parked near a market in the quaint little town. Farmers would bring their produce in the mornings and the women would sell the fresh seasonal bounty along with rustic breads, cheeses, and home made crafts. The Vicente estate was close so he imagined that some of the wares would be coming from there. Perhaps if he located the right people, he could get a free trip onto the grounds and do some snooping around of his own.
John Stillwell was on his third pot of coffee. The morning light was now fully illuminating his study, and his faithful dog whined softly at his feet for attention after being ignored for most of the night. Smiling at Tucker, he reached down with a tired hand to rub the mutt's head. He had no idea what breeds made up his beloved pet. Golden retriever seemed to be in the mix, though. He had the coloring and was about the right size for one. His hair was a bit shorter, though, as was his snout. His ears, on the other hand, were shorter. Stillwell thought him a beautiful dog if a rather odd looking one
"Sorry old boy," he apologized to the dog. "I guess I haven't been fair to you. Want to go for a walk?"
With that the dog leapt to his feet and dashed out of the room. A few moments later he was running back with his leash between his teeth. John laughed at the eager anticipation in the body language. Because he'd been up all night a walk would clear his addled brain, too.
After tucking the file away in a locked drawer the professor got up and rubbed the dog's head. "Come on, Tuck. Let's go."
As Stillwell walked along the boulevard he couldn't help but think of the disturbing reports he was translating for his old friend. Reports. The note had said this was a diary, but he just couldn't see it. It read more like a debriefing than anything.
Most likely it was the diary scientists seemed to keep on the progress of their experiments. Medical records and psych reports on a subject identified only as Subject 437. The details of physical torture and drug-induced interrogations were horrendous. He wasn't sure what the purpose of the experiments was yet. It was still too early in the translations to tell what they were trying to accomplish. It was apparent that 437 was a person who was neither a free man nor a prisoner. It appeared to be a person who belonged to the Soviet Union, a member of their own military who had committed no crimes against the state. He never could understand how a government could do such atrocities to its own people.
The initial note had mentioned the diary writer would not want to look weak in Waverly's mind. Could Alexander be harboring a scientist that had a history of experimenting on unwilling human subjects? Surely not, yet the letter seemed to point in that direction.
Much work translating lay ahead but as Stillwell rubbed his red rimmed eyes he knew sleep must come first. The walk would refresh him enough to have the breakfast that his housekeeper would have ready when he returned and then a nice solid sleep in his bed. Hopefully the images conjured up in his head from what he'd been reading would not keep him up.
Burke glanced out the window at the patchwork of earth down below. As the plane descended, he could make out the vineyards in the countryside outside the city of Rome. "Ever been to Italy?" he asked his companion.
Saunders leaned over to look out the window and see what Burke stared at. "I lived here for a little while when I was a kid. My dad was a general in the Air Force and we were stationed at Aviano Air Base for a few years."
Burke stared at him in surprise. "Yeah? So you speak Italian?"
"Ma naturalmente," he answered.
Burke screwed up his face in suspicion. "Did you just call me something bad?"
Saunders laughed as he settled back into his seat. "If I'm going to call you something ba, I'll do it in English."
"Ha, ha," muttered Burke as he looked out once again. He looked for the Coliseum and other famous landmarks. This was his first trip to Italy and he was looking forward to it. Especially since he . . . well, and Saunders . . . was here to be Solo's . . . well, and Kuryakin's . . . backup for their mission in Naples. "No offense, Saunders, but I don't think our partnership is going to be for very long."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"The reason we're being sent to Rome instead of a different team is because Mr. Waverly is still trying to put me as Solo's partner. Napoleon's just resisting him a bit, but I'm sure Mr. Waverly is letting him get used to relying on me instead of Kuryakin."
Saunders sighed. "Oh, please, Paul. We were sent because we were the closest non-European team. And because we're new enough and under the radar enough that THRUSH doesn't know who we are yet."
Burke snorted. "You believe what you want to and I'll believe what I know."
With a roll of the eyes, Saunders gave up. "At any rate, don't forget our main goal is to research Mr. Vicente in his backyard. Apparently he has business dealings in Rome as well as Naples."
"And we're supposed to monitor the situation in Naples. Don't forget that. We're Napoleon and the other guy's backup."
Saunders grimaced. "You can't even bring yourself to say his name if you don't have to, can you? I like being your partner, too," he grumbled.
"You're a fine partner, Grant, and if it wasn't for the fact that Napoleon needed me, I would be very content in our partnership."
"Whatever you say, Burke." Saunders thought the man delusional but decided it wasn't worth arguing the point any longer.
Two hours later they were in the Rome office of the U.N.C.L.E. A handsome man with the classic coloring and patrician features of a Roman came out from behind his desk and shook their hands. "Mr. Burke, Mr. Saunders," he greeted. "I am Luigi Sorrento, Divisional Head of this office. Welcome to Rome." His English was perfect and with just a slight accent.
"Thank you, sir," responded Saunders. He sat down in one of the chairs arranged in front of Sorrento's desk while Burke sat in the other.
"I know you're here to research Antonio Vicente. Our resources are at your disposal. I've already taken it upon myself to gather as much information we have on the man, but if there's anything else you can think of that you might need, feel free to ask."
He stood and waved towards the door. "I'll show you to the office you'll be using while you're here. When you're ready to leave, just let Sophia know, and she'll have someone take you to your hotel."
Burke and Saunders rose and followed Sorrento to an office equipped with a phone and a computer station hooked up to the large mainframe in a nearby room. A microfiche reader was set up, ready to go through the numerous past and present newspapers and magazine articles about Antonio Vicente as well as information on his financial institutions, friends, and business associates. A young woman with dusky good looks smiled at them as they entered.
"Hello," she said in a low, raspy voice. "I am Sophia. I will be, uh, aiding you in your work." Her accent was much thicker than Sorrento's and harder to understand.
Burke didn't care if he couldn't understand her words. Her body language was a delight to read. "Paul Burke," he introduced himself with a smile that showed off his pearly white teeth. He took her hand and touched his lips to it.
She smiled in pleasure at his manners. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Burke."
"Grant Saunders," Saunders broke in before Burke took her into his arms and kissed her senseless. Burke learned a lot from Solo all right, and not only the good things. He tugged on Burke's shoulder. "Come on, Paul. Let's get started."
Burke nodded and sat down, all business once again. Saunders had no doubt he would be hitting Sophia up for dinner and more once they knocked off for the night. He didn't suppose it mattered as long as Burke kept his mind on work while on duty.
They started going through the reams of information, building a profile of the man named Antonio Vicente. It was almost dinnertime when Burke sat up straight, an odd expression on his face.
"What is it?" Saunders asked him, leaning over to see. Burke had been going through some surveillance photographs taken a number of years earlier. It was U.N.C.L.E. policy that anyone of a certain wealth would be periodically watched for the very reason they were interested in Vicente now. THRUSH tended to approach men of wealth and convince them to bankroll their endeavors. Sometimes this was done in a way the rich man didn't know what they were supporting. Most times, though, the wealthy benefactors knew exactly what they paid for.
Burke handed him the photo. "Recognize the kid in this picture?"
Saunders studied the image and understood what Burke meant. Antonio Vicente opened the door of a sports car for a young man many years his junior. Although he was much younger in the photo than he was now, not to mention much thinner and a little less healthy looking, there was no doubting the identity of the young man with Vicente.
Burke gave the name before Saunders could get over his shock. "Illya Kuryakin. The bastard already knows Vicente."
Napoleon hated not looking his sartorial best no matter what his mission. Sometimes, though, he simply couldn't come up with a reason to wear a suit when an undercover stint came up. This was one of those times.
His nose wrinkled in disgust as he looked down at himself. He'd managed to bribe a group of people who worked the vineyards on the Vicente estate to let him go in with them. They gave him some local clothing so he could blend in, so he now looked like a peasant. His usual sartorial splendor was replaced with a work shirt and sturdy pants. He let his hair just fall naturally, not bothering to comb it into its regular sleek look. At least his build and general appearance blended in. He had the right skin tone and coloring to be a native himself. He knew enough Italian to get by as well.
Luckily he wouldn't have to wear the outfit for long. All he had to do was separate from the others for awhile and plant a few cameras and listening devices wherever he could. Once he did that, he could go back to wearing his beloved suits.
Napoleon rode onto the estate with the others sitting on the sides of the back of a pick up truck. Everyone was joking and laughing as they went, just another typical workday for the crew. A lot of natural woodland backed the main villa which they passed on their way to the vineyards. On a sunny hillside grew row on row of grapes.
Although there was security at the gate and a small ground patrol, the estate was no prison camp. It was easy for Napoleon to make his way unnoticed from the vineyards through the woods to the back of the gardens near the villa. It was obvious from their neat and tidy appearance that the owner liked a beautiful view.
Near the back of the elegant plantings was another spot of interest. Ancient ruins of what was probably once a Roman period villa that stood on the site a thousand years ago. The site looked as if it was being preserved as it was. The garden did not infringe on the fallen pillars, and the weeds and trees were kept at bay, probably by the same workers who looked after the garden.
Napoleon didn't want to risk exposing himself or he would have used that as one of the hidden camera locations. It was better to stay among the trees and set up several to cover most of the areas of the villa from there. He only had a short period of time to get things done and return to the workers so they didn't get suspicious of his activities. He'd told them his parents had once worked on the estate and he wanted to see the place where his parents met and fell in love up close. They decided he looked harmless enough, and they didn't seem to mind a few extra lira in their pockets.
He made a mental map as he walked around the perimeter of the villa and its grounds. Besides the ruins that occupied the back quarter of the area before the forest, there was a structure with a vaulted roof that looked like a copy of some ancient building. From the outside he wasn't sure what its use was, but it had a clear area of compacted soil in a circle near the entrance. For some reason it was not carpeted in grass like the other areas of the garden. Closer to the villa was a pool richly tiled with mosaic patterns and beyond that a courtyard that connected to most areas of the villa surrounding it. Although the villa was completely modernized, Napoleon could tell it was originally built at least a century earlier. Maybe more.
After he finished setting up the cameras, Napoleon headed back to the vineyards through the woods. He found the crew packing up to return to the truck. His clothes were dirty enough to look like he'd been working with them. His body was coated with the sweat of exertion just like theirs. Napoleon climbed into the truck with the others, and they all shared a couple bottles of wine as the truck drove out the way it had come. No one on the Vicente staff was aware that anything out of the ordinary had taken place.
Dinner on the Vicente estate was a little slice of heaven. Illya had forgotten the wonderful way Maria cooked. The smells and textures were so delicious and the epitome of Italian perfection. It was Illya's first chance to relax after telling his long series of tales to Antonio all afternoon.
Illya found it charming the way Maria pushed seconds of everything on him. He saw Antonio's eyes twinkle at his embarrassment. He made sure the food didn't go to waste though. It was almost too much for him when dessert was finally served. The fullness in his belly didn't stop him. The simple vanilla cake with fresh berries looked too good to turn down. He had to pass on the after dinner coffee. There was not a bit of room to squeeze anything more down.
With the dishes cleared away and the kitchen cleaned up, a task that took half the time of normal since Illya insisted on helping, Maria got her coat and purse.
"I am going to Lucia's this evening. If you want anything more, you make sure to help yourself. There is plenty of cake left and there is milk in the refrigerator."
Illya smiled. "I remember, little mother," he replied helping her with her coat. "Thank you for a wonderful dinner. You always made me feel so welcome." He gave her a simple kiss on the cheek to wish her a pleasant evening.
The warm fuzzy feeling that tickled at his insides surprised Illya. Of course it would be impossible to dislike Maria, but he always tried to bury any emotional sentiments. He watched her go out the door and swallowed hard to try and force the warmth he was feeling back down. It was so much easier to deal with the icy hard heart that felt nothing.
A few minutes later a warm booming voice called out, "Angelo?"
Illya broke free of his reverie and turned toward the hall doorway. "Coming." He walked to the living room where Antonio waited in the big armchair.
The big man got up. "Come on. I'll show you to your room," he said. "You could probably use a hot bath and a decent bed tonight."
Illya followed him. "I really appreciate this. I'm sure in a few days he'll just get tired and go home."
Antonio stopped in the hallway and turned to Illya. "Look, Angelo. You can't run forever. If this Philip is bothering you, you should confront him. Tell him in no uncertain terms that he has to leave you alone. I'd do it for you but you should be the one to tell him."
Illya lowered his head. It was so easy to slip back into Angelo with this man and he didn't quite know why. "I... I don't know if I can do that."
"I'll go with you," Antonio said and put a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "I'll make sure he knows you're serious."
"No, please," Illya said. "Confronting him is a good idea but I... I need you to..."
"To what?" Antonio asked. "Anything. Just tell me."
"Could you... Could you be there for me," Illya said. "Not with me really," he explained. "Just nearby."
Antonio's expression was puzzlement.
"I just know I'd be so much more confident if you weren't right there with me. If you were in the background somewhere. I'd feel safe."
Antonio liked that idea. He thought it would help Angelo build confidence. A slight smile spread over his handsome face. He put an arm around Illya's shoulders and guided him into the guest room. "I can do that. I think that is a grand idea."
Illya smiled. He was genuinely touched by Antonio's generosity and support. That warm fuzziness was growing inside him again.
Antonio reached in front of Illya and opened the door.
Illya was pleased at the memories that the room brought back. As he stepped inside he looked around. It hadn't changed much since he'd last seen it. The bedcovers were new. The pale yellow ones had been replaced with a light cool green and new paint covered the walls. A green area rug covered the center of the room. It would be warm in the morning on his bare feet. The beige tile floor was still the same as he recalled. The view from the windows had changed little except for the trees, older and larger. He just knew that bed would feel as soft and safe as the last time he slept in it.
Antonio gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Tomorrow we will go find this Philip Simpson and set you free."
Illya smiled at him. "Thank you. You don't know how much I appreciate this."
Antonio left to go to bed across the hall in the master bedroom.
Illya felt a little disappointed that Antonio had not tried to kiss him. He mentally shook himself. That was absurd!
The door closed behind Antonio, leaving Illya alone in a room he was intimately familiar with. It was no surprise when he walked across to the other door to find the big walk in closet. He hauled his suitcase inside and set it on the luggage rack. Then he opened it to hang his clothes. He didn't know how long he'd be there, but he had to make it as if he were going to stay.
Once done in the closet Illya took his shaving kit to the bathroom. It was the same polished marble he remembered. Luxurious but so tastefully done it was inviting and quite homey. The shower was the most decadent thing. Big enough for two with room to stretch your arms out and hot water that would never run out. It would feel good on his aching, bruised body tonight.
A huge tub set into a marble deck squatted in the opposite corner. An array of shampoos and soaps stood at attention in one corner as a convenience for visitors. Next to the tub, a bay window made of frosted glass let natural light in while keeping prying eyes out. A bath sounded good, but Illya was too tired and didn't want to fall asleep in it.
He opted for the shower but it was no less luxurious. It was rare for Illya to take his time in the shower but it brought back such good memories. He wasn't sure if it was just the hot water or being in Antonio's home in general that gave him the sense of peace that enveloped him. Whatever it was, when he dried off and went to bed, it was as if he had sunk into a cloud. He didn't think even the worries that he would have to face tomorrow could invade the comfort he slept in tonight.
Burke scooped extra sauce onto his spaghetti and licked his lips. "Nothing like this back home," he commented and then had the waiter grind a good helping of the real Parmigiano Reggiano on top.
Saunders shook his head in amusement. "You said you were raised on spaghetti and wieners."
"Yeah but not this great. Makes this assignment worthwhile," he replied and twirled a big forkful on a spoon. "Sorry Mama. Nothing personal," he said, eyes upward as if talking to an angel.
"She's not dead, is she?" Saunders asked.
"No," Burke replied. "But you know mothers have their spies everywhere."
Sanders grinned. "Just wait till I tell her what you've been doing then," he threatened in jest.
"Well, Napoleon Solo won't find it so funny when we contact him and show him a double agent."
"What double agent?" Saunders said practically dropping his fork to his plate of ravioli.
"Kuryakin, of course. I'll bet you he still works for the Ruskies too."
Saunders pointed his fork at him. "Don't jump the gun, Paul," he hissed. "You've done that a couple of times too many already. That picture was obviously taken a long time ago. We have no idea what was going on at the time. Solo most likely already knows Kuryakin is acquainted with the target. Those guys know everything about each other."
Burke smirked coldly. "Bet he doesn't."
"I'll take that bet." Saunders set his fork down on his plate and dabbed his mouth with a white cloth napkin. "How much?"
Burke's eyes widened. "Twenty bucks?"
Saunder's eyebrow quirked. "That much? Okay. You're on."
They shook hands across the table to seal the deal.
He was wrong. Illya did not experience a dreamless sleep. Finally the disjointed images woke him. He turned on the bedside lamp and glanced at the clock. Four AM. He flicked the light off and lay on his back staring into the darkness.
The evening he spent with Antonio wore on him. The lies, the deceptions. Normally those things didn't bother him but when he did it to someone he liked, especially on such a massive scale, the conscience so many mistaken people believed he lacked niggled at him constantly.
This time it poked at him more than usual. The idea of luring Antonio into a false sense of security while under orders to possibly destroy him made Illya want to throw up. It reminded him of . . . He shook his head, trying to dislodge the memories before they gained purchase in his conscious mind. Those memories were best left buried.
His eyes drooped, sleep finally starting to take him into its embrace once more. The memories hadn't quite dissipated by the time slumber overcame him and the dreams began where they had left off.
Ten o'clock in the morning, Stillwell sat at his desk yet again. He'd managed to sleep a little over three hours before he awoke, his mind itching to get back at the translations. As disturbing as the diary was it was also quite intriguing. At least it was before this latest revelation.
The diary was not written by some bystander watching the things done to Subject 437. It wasn't ABOUT Subject 437; it was BY the Subject himself.
That discovery alone was enough to make the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. What kind of man would write a diary about his own life in the third person? Write it as though he were divorced from whatever happened to him? One which had first-hand experience with the atrocities Stillwell had read about, of course.
He'd just started translating the next entry when his stomach clenched and rolled. Disturbed him enough to make him run to the bathroom and deposit his breakfast in the toilet. The words on the page swam before his eyes.
October 29, 1948
Today is Subject 437's fourteenth birthday. To celebrate the birth of Subject 437, Comrade Colonel Sarkov handed him his first real assignment. He gave the Subject a file to read. Once finished, he drove the Subject to the heart of Moscow. In a small park, he pointed out the man whose picture had been in the file.
Subject 437 identified the man sitting alone on the bench. "Vassily Turniev."
"Yes," replied Comrade Colonel.
Subject 437 kept his eyes on the target but remained silent. Comrade Colonel did not like too many questions. He would tell his charge what he wanted when ready.
"You will use all the tradecraft we have taught you thus far and observe this man for the next few days. Make note of his interests, where he goes, what he does, even what he eats. Nothing is to be ignored. I expect a report on his activities daily. Do you understand?"
Subject 437 nodded. "Yes, Comrade Colonel. I will do as you say."
Comrade Colonel gave Subject 437 a cold smile. "Of course you will. You know what will happen if you don't."
The Subject blinked but said nothing.
Comrade Colonel laughed, a hint of sadistic pleasure in it. "Happy Birthday, Illya Nicovetch."
Subject 437 is not sure why Comrade Colonel Sarkov found this funny. It was not a birthday present or celebration of any sort, but it was far better than some of the other training the Subject had experienced.
The ice that has settled in the pit of my stomach suggests there is more to this assignment than mere observation.
Stillwell's eyes widened in shock as he realized just what he had here. He sat back and brought his coffee cup to his lips, his hand shaking so much some sloshed over onto his bright, white linen shirt. He put the cup back down on the desk, the stain blooming on the snowy brightness ignored. He supposed what he just realized shouldn't come as a shock to him. He'd read the note, after all. Rereading it now, he couldn't help but see what had faced him in black and white this entire time.
"Illya kept a secret diary during his time in our program. Since the KGB has furnished you with the basics of Illya's training, this will not divulge anything you don't already know concerning the classified aspects of that training. It does, however, give details as to Illya's mental and emotional status at the time."
Sarkov had said happy birthday to Illya Nicovetch, which was obviously the name of Subject 437. Just as obviously, Illya wrote the diary about himself but in the third person. After reading the previous posts, Stillwell couldn't blame the boy. He probably had to distance himself from what had happened to him or it would have overwhelmed him. A useful coping mechanism, Stillwell decided. Yet, just how mentally stable could anyone be that could so completely disconnect from his own life?
Stillwell wasn't sure, but he thought this was the very reason Alexander was so anxious to have this translated. This was explosive stuff, especially since, from the note, it sounded as though Alexander had a personal relationship with the man who called himself "Subject 437."
Stillwell looked down at the sound of a whine. Tucker wagged his tail enthusiastically when he saw his master's gaze on him. He trotted to the door then whined again.
"I can't take you for a walk right now, Tuck," Stillwell explained to his antsy dog. "I've got to finish this as soon as possible and I don't have time to leave it right now." He got up and opened the French door that led from his study to the small patio in his postage stamp sized backyard. "Go out back for now. I'll take you for a walk later."
Tucker's tail drooped and he gave his master a baleful look as he slunk out the door. He stared in through the glass of the door, but his master just returned to his chair and sat down, his adoring gaze no longer fixed on his beloved dog. Tucker waited a few more minutes, but when Master continued to ignore him, he trotted into the grass to do his business.
"I have found where your Philip is staying," announced Antonio at the breakfast table.
Illya looked up. "Already?"
Antonio smiled. "I have good people. Don't worry, Angelo. I will be with you as we discussed." He folded his napkin and placed it neatly beside his mostly empty plate. "There is no time like the present to take care of this. If you are finished eating, we shall go to my office, and you can call him to set a time to meet face to face."
Illya put his fork down, dropping his napkin into the plate. Angelo wasn't the only one who'd lost his appetite at the idea of setting up a confrontation with "Philip". This was just one more deception. One more lie. One more step in the trap he and Napoleon worked to set up in order to ensnare a man to whom Illya truly believed he owed his life.
He decided the grimace he wanted to make would be appropriate for Angelo as well as himself in this situation. "All right. If you think it is best."
"I do. And you will only be the stronger for it," Antonio said hoping to bolster the man's confidence. "He cannot hurt you with me and my men nearby."
"Men? Promise me you won't hurt him," Illya asked with a lump in his throat at the thought of harm coming to Napoleon. "We can really do this without an army."
Antonio saw the look in Illya's eyes. That look always melted his heart. With a sigh he shook his head. "Very well. I'm sure I can handle this Philip," he practically spat the name, "should any trouble arise."
Illya smiled shyly. "You have always been so good to me."
As they headed toward the garage Antonio put an arm over Illya's shoulder. "Angelo. How would you like to drive today?" he asked, pulling some keys from the rack by the door. Then he pushed open the door and gleaming in the morning light sat a beautiful red Lamborghini.
Illya's eyes lit up. There were two other cars in the garage, but he couldn't see past the spectacular speed machine.
Antonio laughed. "You like that one?" He watched Illya take a breath in silence and then Antonio said, "Here." He jingled the keys in front of Illya. "Just take it easy until you get used to her." He opened the passenger door and slid down into the low slung seat.
Illya stepped around the car in awe. This was something he could only dream about.
Napoleon wasn't surprised when he received a call from Vicente Enterprises. The woman on the other end of the phone was a pleasant sounding person making what seemed to be a standard business appointment. Consuelo was, by the tone of her voice, someone he'd like to meet someday. Today was not to be it though. At 10 he was to meet Angelo Renatto.
Napoleon looked at the notes he'd made. He was to try and convince Angelo to come back to New York with him. Phillip had apparently taken young Angelo under his wing some years ago and now tended to act like a big brother rather than an employer. Be stern, demanding, and irate. He wasn't sure how this was supposed to help them gain access to the estate and Antonio's personal business dealings, but Illya knew what he was doing. Napoleon HOPED Illya knew what he was doing.
At the appointed hour Napoleon, carrying his ID as Philip Simpson, sat in the lounge of the hotel. Construction and blasting. A self made man in his field. Napoleon liked the thought of that and ordered a drink to celebrate his good fortune and status.
Through the tinted windows of the lounge, Napoleon saw Illya arrive with a big man. Antonio Vicente looked exactly like his picture, but it didn't do justice to his size. The man was tall and barrel-chested with a well-toned physique. He obviously didn't let wealth make him soft. Equally obviously he knew Illya rather well.
Napoleon watched as the two men shared words just outside the lounge before coming in. He watched the reflections in the mirror as they entered and saw Antonio take a seat at the bar just behind the booth Napoleon occupied. Then he looked up as Illya walked around beside him and Napoleon shifted over with a smile.
"It's about time you showed up, but I must thank you," Napoleon grumbled. He shot his partner a look that he knew only Illya could interpret. What is going on?
Illya pretended to look nervous but didn't give Napoleon an answer to his unasked question. Napoleon shifted over and Illya sat in the spot just vacated.
"You went to a lot of trouble following me all the way to Naples," said Illya.
Napoleon signaled for a round of what he was having. He didn't give Illya the chance to order a drink of his own choosing. "You didn't give me much choice."
"I wish you hadn't," Illya said as a beer was set before him.
Napoleon took a drink of his and pushed Illya's closer to the blond man's hand. "Drink. You know how I hate to drink alone."
Illya reluctantly took a sip. "I'm not fond of beer."
Napoleon had to repress a snort of amusement at that. He'd seen Illya drink a huge glass of the stuff without blinking. Apparently Angelo doesn't drink it, though, so he just acted annoyed. "You never appreciated anything I did for you, did you?" Napoleon grumbled. "But never mind. You've come to your senses now, so we can go back home."
Antonio glared at Illya. He made a motion with his drink to say what he'd come to say.
Illya shook slightly and then nodded a little. "Uh..... Philip. I.... I only came to talk. I'm not going back with you."
Napoleon smiled as if that statement had been a joke. "Don't be silly. Of course you are. I've invested too much time and sweat training you. You're coming back whether you like it or not."
Antonio signaled Illya more insistently. He mouthed. ~Tell him. Tell him or I will.~
Illya swallowed a big gulp of the bitter beer. Then he spoke again. "Philip. You've been riding my ass long enough. I need to move on."
Napoleon pretended to grow angry. "After all I've done for that worthless ass of yours, this is how you repay me. You owe me big time. I'll take it out of your hide one way or another."
"My ass doesn't belong to you and your company. I'm my own person, and I don't have to go anywhere with you." Illya thought Napoleon was doing a good job with this. Of course he was very manipulative when it came to people and that was what Illya found to be one of the biggest downfalls in the relationship they once had. But for their present purposes, it was most useful.
Napoleon slammed his fist on the table, making the glasses jump and some of the liquid splash out. "I own that ass of yours. I bought it and it belongs to me. As poor as it is, I have plans for it and so help me, I'll whip some sense into you if I have to. I've done it before and I have no problem doing it again."
There was a feral bitterness in his tone. One that could generate fear into an enemy, and if Illya didn't know him as well as he did, he might have feared for his life at that time. Even so, he felt part of Napoleon's anger was very real and directed towards him.
Antonio made a move to get up and intervene.
Illya signaled him to wait with a shake of his head and slightly risen hand. "Philip. I've finally found the courage to tell you I'm my own man. If you wait around here, you'll just be wasting your time. I'm going to find work and stay here."
Napoleon let out a hearty HA! "You're nothing without me! I promise you won't make enough to put a decent roof over your head."
Illya pretended to accidentally knock over the remainder of his beer into Napoleon's lap.
Antonio almost burst out laughing at the phony apology as Napoleon attempted to sop up the mess on his trousers.
Illya leaned close but said, loud enough for Antonio to hear, "Next time it won't be beer. It will be gasoline and you'll be doing a fire dance."
Napoleon's eyes seemed to get larger. If he didn't know Illya, he might have believed him. Once again he found himself fervently hoping his friend knew what he was doing.
Illya drove himself and Antonio back to the estate after the confrontation. Antonio praised Illya for his courage in facing Phillip. Illya accepted it feeling somewhat ashamed for such trickery on the man he believed did not deserve this kind of betrayal.
"I don't know if he will leave right away but thank you," Illya said with gratitude. "If not for your support, I don't know that I could have faced him down like that."
"You were a good lad, and now you are a good man," Antonio told him proudly. "He has to respect that."
Illya shrugged. "I still have nothing to show for myself. No money. No job."
"I have more money than you will ever need to borrow. Just ask." Antonio offered without hesitation. "You can get any job you put your mind to..." he said but let the words trail off as something came to mind.
Illya looked up into Antonio's eyes. He was puzzled by the pause. "Mind to?" he asked encouraging Antonio to finish his thought.
Antonio licked his lips and broke out into a smile. "I have the perfect solution."
"To what?" Illya asked.
They were interrupted as Lorenzo Giordano, a dark-haired little man, walked into the living room from the back end of the house. "Oh? Sorry, Mr. Vicente. Am I interrupting something?"
Antonio waved Lorenzo back. "Have a coffee in the kitchen. I will be there soon."
Illya wondered who the man was in connection to Antonio but before he could ask the big man continued.
"I have the perfect job for you. And you are more than qualified."
"Pardon me?" Illya said wanting to know more.
"I am building a winery on the estate. Various business interests have approached me with the idea, and to make a long story much shorter, we are working on the second phase of the construction now. You would be perfect for the job."
He put his arm around Illya and escorted him to the breakfast nook in the kitchen. He dropped his arm just before entering. The man Lorenzo sat at the table sipping coffee.
"Ah, Lorenzo. I have solved the problem we talked about yesterday."
Lorenzo's dark brows lifted. "The explosives man that quit?"
Antonio nodded. "I have just the man to replace him."
"Oh?" Lorenzo's gaze flicked to the blond at Antonio's side. Great. The queer found a new piece of ass and wanted to make him feel useful.
"Angelo here is licensed in demolition. It's from America and he'd have to get a license for Italy, but that should prove to be no problem. I know the people to talk to in order to expedite things."
Lorenzo pasted a smile on his face. "Wonderful. I'll have to clear it with my boss first, of course." That would give him an excuse not to hire the little twit.
"Naturally," agreed Antonio. "Angelo, why don't you tell Lorenzo about your experience. I have a little business to discuss. Then we can go have a picnic up by the lake. You remember the lake?"
Illya gave him a genuine smile. Antonio knew how he'd liked to go to the lake to relax and feel a bit better about his life. "Of course I do, Antonio. I'd like that."
Antonio nodded and left them to chat. His first phone call would be to Roberto, Lorenzo's boss.
The beer in his lap had been an unexpected embarrassment, but he took it in stride as part of the role. The waitress who'd come over with a towel from the bar was very helpful in tidying him and the table.
Napoleon returned to his room to change. He donned dark garments suitable for skulking around in the brush. With the planned confrontation behind them, it was now time for the surveillance to begin. Napoleon was determined to have Illya's back.
The drive up to the back side of the estate was familiar now. The scouting he did when placing cameras and talking to the workers gave him a basic idea of the area. He was sure he could find his way on his own.
Just as Napoleon reached the access road all the employees who lived off site used, he saw a fast moving cloud of dust on the unpaved route to the villa. He quickly pulled off behind some high brush. Through the branches he saw Vicente's Lamborghini with Illya at the wheel. He wondered if Illya talked the man into taking him to the THRUSH satrapy already.
Good thing I rented an old car, Napoleon thought as he pulled up to the guard shack. The man looked at him suspiciously, then brightened. "Bonjorno," the guard—Rudolpho if Napoleon remember correctly—said with a smile. "Good to see you again."
He smiled at the man. He'd known charming him the day he'd come here with the others would pay off in some way. "I believe I left some tools on the estate and I need them for a side job I must do," Napoleon said in flawless Italian. "Do you think I can see if I can find them?
"Oh, of course." Rudolpho opened the gate for him and waved him on.
Napoleon pulled through and quickly found the road he'd seen the Lamb go down. Luckily the dust trail was still enough to guide him to their destination.
Vicente had some beautiful real estate. The secluded lake Napoleon followed them to was simply gorgeous. Pine forest untouched by human encroachment surrounding a placid little lake that reflected the brilliant Mediterranean skies was awe inspiring. Napoleon stopped before exposing himself but could clearly see Illya and Antonio through binoculars. He spotted them on a small green meadow at the edge of the lake on the far side. They seemed to be resting. Napoleon wished he could hear what they were talking about, but he hadn't set any listening devices or cameras in this remote spot. He could at least move closer. The woods should provide him with adequate cover while allowing him to get close enough to possibly hear their conversation. He quietly closed the car door and moved cautiously into the forest.
Illya lay on his side propped up on one elbow, facing Antonio. The picnic basket lay open between them. As Antonio reached in to get the wine Illya helped himself to a nibble of the cheese. "I'd forgotten how good the local cheese was," he said with a smile on his face.
Antonio held another chunk up to Illya's mouth, pushing it gently between his lips. "Is that all you've forgotten?"
Illya chewed the cheese in silence, trying to figure out what to say. The truth was he'd forgotten almost nothing else. Should he tell Antonio that or would it be better to pretend that time with him hadn't meant as much as it had? Which would further Angelo's purposes better?
He looked into Antonio's beautiful dark brown eyes and melted. Thank goodness Angelo would probably remember because Illya knew without a doubt he would tell Antonio that particular truth whether it was best for the mission or not. He simply couldn't hurt Antonio anymore. The betrayal he already perpetuated on the man was too much.
He gave Antonio a slow smile. "Nothing important."
Antonio flushed with pleasure as he refilled their wine. "And what do you consider important?"
"The time we spent together." Illya avoided thinking about how much truth was in that statement. "The chess, the walks, the conversation. The kisses. Especially the kisses," he purred invitingly. He held his breath in anticipation of Antonio's kiss, assuming a man he knew desired him desperately would take action.
He frowned slightly when nothing happened. "Something wrong?"
Antonio pulled his glass from his lips. "Not a thing. Why do you ask?"
"I, um . . . well, I thought you'd like to, uh . . . I thought you wanted me," Illya finished softly. He blushed, surprised at the pain of rejection in the pit of his stomach. What was going on? He'd spent the majority of his life keeping such emotions as love and desire in a block of ice and buried so deeply in his psyche few things and people could bring them to the surface. The only person who had managed for many years was Napoleon. How was it that Antonio could do it, too, from such a short time together?
"Oh, Angelo." Antonio cupped Illya's cheek in one big hand. His thumb moved gently back and forth over the younger man's soft skin. "I want you so much it hurts. I cannot act on those feelings, though."
Illya unconsciously leaned into the caressing hand. "Why not? I gave you the perfect opening."
Antonio moved his hand down and intertwined his fingers with Illya's. "Angelo, when you first came, I wasn't sure I wanted to go down that road. When you asked for my help, I decided I would do so whether or not you were sexually interested in me. After you told me just how much Phillip hurt you . . ." He cleared his throat. "If I kiss you or try to move our relationship to another level, you'll think that is my price for helping you. I want you to know without a single doubt that is not the case. I will not make a move on you in any way."
Illya stared at him in amazement. In one short speech Antonio completely changed the dynamics of the mission. He had expected sex to be an expected and necessary aspect. Now that he knew that was not true, he realized he felt disappointed. On one level, he'd wanted that part of it; wanted to be able to say he'd had no choice.
He did have a choice. He could keep true to the mission without selling his body for the good of U.N.C.L.E..
"Then why don't you give it to Antonio for your own good?" a voice whispered through his mind. Why not, indeed? After his experiences since Arabia, he could no longer convince himself he wasn't a homosexual. He was at the very least bi-sexual. The last few days made it apparent he found Antonio attractive. Extremely so. Why couldn't he act on that?
No reason. No reason at all. Illya leaned forward and kissed him, tentatively at first, then again with more passion. Antonio responded by moving closer and wrapping his arms around him.
Illya's natural reaction should be to remove Antonio's clothing and take possession of his body. If Antonio were a woman, he'd do exactly that. But all Illya's experience with men had meant suppressing his natural urges and let the other man do whatever he wanted to him.
Napoleon settled in to see how Illya intended to extract information now that he'd gained Vicente's trust. His vantage point wasn't the best, but he was glad it was far enough away that the gasp of surprise escaping from his lips could not be heard by the ones he spied upon.
"My god..." Napoleon muttered under his breath to himself. "What does Illya think he's doing?"
After a few minutes of kissing that elevated in passion and expressed need with each passing second, Illya realized Antonio truly meant what he'd said. He would wait for Angelo to make the first move. Kissing was a wonderful promise, but it wasn't necessarily an invitation.
Illya sat back and quickly unbuttoned his shirt, shrugging it off his shoulders as his nimble fingers made short work of his trouser button and zipper. He lay back in blatant invitation. No mistaking or misreading this.
Antonio groaned and took Illya's cock into his mouth. Illya gasped in surprise and then let out a long, drawn-out groan of his own. He hadn't thought his cock could get harder, but it managed to now. It was all he could do not to ram it down Antonio's throat.
Just as Illya thought he couldn't hold back any longer, Antonio straightened up, a question in his eyes.
Illya nodded. "Fuck me," he moaned.
Antonio reached into the basket and found the little pats of butter Maria had packed. He rolled it between shaking fingers to melt it slightly then pressed it into Illya's passage. Taking another pat of butter, he coated his cock and held it to the slicked up entrance. He bent and put his mouth next to Illya's ear. "I will not fuck you," he whispered. "I will make love to you." He marked his possession with one long thrust, then stroked in and out with confidence but without causing pain to his younger lover.
Illya howled with the onslaught of pain and pleasure—the pleasure quickly out-weighing the pain—and arched into Antonio's movements. It felt good. Incredibly good. Illya wrapped his legs around his Italian lover, the lover of some of his fantasies over the years, and enjoyed the ride.
Napoleon returned to his hotel feeling an ache in his gut. He couldn't understand Illya's motives for this mission. Now that it was underway he couldn't exactly call it off, but when watching Antonio shoving his cock up Illya's backside Napoleon couldn't help wishing that it was he once again dominating his powerful partner.
It had been weeks since he shared his body with Illya. He still couldn't figure out what was wrong between them. The sex had been great. Illya seemed to enjoy it at the time too. In fact Illya seemed desperate for it at times.
Dusty and dirty and really not caring about his appearance, Napoleon went into the lounge for a drink... or three, and the chance to think. This was putting the whole mission in a new light.
Lucia approached Philip Simpson and she could see the sadness in his eyes. "You look like you have lost your best friend," she commented. "A drink?"
Napoleon smiled up at the pretty waitress. The twitch in his groin now had a purpose. "Please, if it's not too late," he replied.
"You have time. We are open for another hour," she said. "The same as earlier today?"
He was pleased that she remembered him and his order. "Yes. And the pleasure of your company if you're not busy," he said noting that there weren't many customers at this hour.
By closing time that night both Napoleon and she were getting along more than well. She was completely enamored by him. Also the memory of Illya being humped by the Italian played over and over in his mind, driving him over the edge both mentally and, judging by the tightness of his trousers, physically. A night of rough lustful sex was sitting right across from him and she wasn't saying no.
Stillwell put aside the latest sheet in the growing stack of translations. They seemed to be reading like a mystery novel or even a dark thriller and he would have been gripped with intrigue if he didn't know the story was being lived by the author. Psychological and physical torture, deprivation and degradation. How the subject lived through this type of hell was beyond belief. He wondered how stable a person would be after all that. The scariest thought was that Alexander Waverly might just have to find out.
The click of feminine shoes in the hallway broke the intense silence as Stillwell checked some spellings in his Russian dictionary. His cook and housekeeper rapped lightly on the library door before stepping inside with the tray.
"I've brought your dinner, Professor. You don't seem to come to the table to eat these last few days. Is everything all right?"
"Yes.... I'm just busy with an important task." He looked at the tray and his stomach growled, but it was hidden by the small whine of the dog drooling beside him. Stillwell smiled at his faithful companion and reached down to give him a pat on the head.
"Thank you for thinking of my stomach when I haven't been," he joked to the housekeeper. "I didn't even realize I was that hungry, but now that I can smell it....." he took a big whiff. "Mmmm.... I'm famished."
She slid the tray into place as he moved his papers aside. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"No. I'm afraid it is beyond you, but the fact you have kept interruptions away has been immensely helpful."
He placed the napkin in his lap and sliced off a small piece of steak and dropped it down for the dog. "There you go, fella. See. I haven't forgotten about you."
Lorenzo hurried to his company's office to talk to his boss, Roberto Bianci. "Is he in?" he asked Bella, Bianci's secretary.
"Yes, but I don't know if he wants to talk to you."
She stood and teetered on the highest heels Lorenzo had ever seen. Women's fashion these days. However, he must admit those heels made her legs look like they went all the way to her neck. He decided he liked that particular fashion trend.
She opened the closed door slightly, her coifed auburn hair barely moving as she stuck her head in. "Lorenzo is here to see you, Mr. Bianci."
Lorenzo heard a muffled response. Bella turned with a sneer on her face. She never did like him although Lorenzo wasn't sure why. Women usually fell over each other to get their hands on him. They liked his straight, slightly long dark hair. His come-hither dark brown eyes. The dark olive of his skin. His straight white teeth. They waxed poetic over all those features. The absolutely gorgeous Bella—his equal in every way as far as looks went—just despised him. One of these days he'd find out why. But not today. He had more important things to deal with at the moment.
Bella's heels tapped back to her desk and she sat down. "He says for you to go in," she snapped without looking at him.
Lorenzo put her out of his mind and went into the big man's office, closing the door behind him. Bella was beautiful but she was also devious and an eavesdropper. "Good morning, sir."
"What is it, Lorenzo?" Bianci barked.
"I have a bit of a problem, Roberto. Vicente asked me about the explosives position our Guido left vacant."
Roberto leaned forward, an intense look of alarm on his face. "You did dispose of his body well enough it will never be found, didn't you?"
"Of course!" Lorenzo exclaimed in indignation. "I know my job, sir."
"Yes, yes. Of course you do." Roberto sat back, toying with a pencil. "So what does this have to do with Vicente?"
Lorenzo grimaced. "He wants me to hire his catamite for the job."
Roberto's eyebrows lifted into his hairline. "He what?"
"Has demanded, couched in a request as it was, that I hire this Angelo Renatto."
"The man is Vicente's lover?"
"If not, he soon will be."
Roberto flipped the pencil through his fingers as he thought. "We can't hire him if he doesn't know anything about demolitions."
"He has a license from America."
Another lift of the eyebrows. "Does he really know his stuff?"
Lorenzo sighed. He really hated to admit this. "Yes. After talking to him, I'd say he knows it better than Guido did."
Roberto's lips pursed in a mew of disgust. "That's not saying much. Guido was pretty worthless."
"This guy doesn't seem to be. As far as the demolitions go, Renatto would be a great addition to the crew. He's not one of us, though."
Roberto shrugged and tossed the pencil on the desk. "Go ahead and hire him. We need to keep Vicente happy. If he's happy, his money will keep flowing. We're managing to keep him in the dark about our true motives. I'm sure we can do the same with Renatto. We will just make sure neither of them ever hears of THRUSH."
Napoleon watched the lovely Lucia gather her clothes up after their night of fun and games. Of course their interlude was only a slight distraction. Once their coupling ended, his mind turned to Illya. The blond man was the last thing on his mind when he went to sleep and the first thing when he woke up.
It still reeled. What in the hell was Illya up to? He really hated being left in the dark like this. Not a first but it never sat well when Waverly did it to him. For his partner, and subordinate if he wanted to push the matter, to do so sat even worse.
Although the Italian morning bloomed brightly through the curtains, Napoleon was in a pensive mood. He didn't like Illya on the inside out of contact with him, especially after what he saw at the lake. With his surveillance cameras set up, at least he could get within range and he'd be able to see what was taking place up there on the hilltop villa. Although he had a damned good idea what that might be, the image of Antonio fucking Illya once more pushing its way into his mind. He shook his head to clear it. No time for that now. The best thing would be to concentrate on the mission. His partner would answer to him about that other little tidbit afterwards.
He was also interested in the construction taking place on the estate. He heard from the workers that they were building an estate winery. That was fairly common in places that grew grapes. From what he could see on the drive by, it was still in the early stages. Being the CEA with U.N.C.L.E. in New York, Napoleon still found that intriguing. Hopefully Illya would hear of it and investigate. It would be more awkward for Napoleon to go poking around there after their make believe confrontation yesterday.
A hundred things seemed to be running through Napoleon's mind as he bid Lucia goodbye. Already the passion of the night before had faded, not only from his mind, but his body as well. The small kiss as they parted didn't even faze him. Even the scent of her perfume disappeared under his cologne.
Once he was alone, it only took a few minutes to shower and dress. He skipped the usual natty attire in favor of some simpler clothes. From the bottom of his suitcase he pulled out a tracking device so he could pinpoint Illya's position as long as the man kept his beacon turned on.
Illya lingered in Antonio's bed. He stretched, alternately enjoying and fearing the feeling of his completely sated body. Enjoyed it because the sex with Antonio was wonderful. Feared it because he had liked it far too much and not only physically.
Sex with Antonio was so much more than mere fucking. Antonio put his entire heart into it, worshipping Illya's—Angelo's—body with his own. Every touch expressed emotions for which Illya only recently became aware that he needed. He found himself wanting such emotion. Craving it. Fearing it more than he ever had.
Napoleon was to blame for that. The first couple of times they went to bed together there was such a sense of . . . something. He wasn't sure what, but it was in Napoleon's every touch. Every look. Every kiss.
For the majority of his life, Illya existed without love or anything like it. Oh, he'd had tastes of it here and there. His parents and siblings had loved him and he loved them in return. But they died when he was young. Uncle Alexei had cared deeply for him, but because of the circumstances, he could seldom show it. Mostly it came out in the form of chocolate bars to help lessen the pain of the most grueling and cruel tactics his trainers used on him. For his part, Illya cared very much for Alexei but, there again, couldn't show it. Eventually it just became easier, less frustrating, and certainly less dangerous to bury those feelings for his adopted uncle. He allowed respect to stay, but every other thing Illya felt for the man was strangled and shoved, mangled and bleeding, into that special dungeon of ice where Illya put all his dangerous emotions.
Alexei's sister, Illya's foster mother, Anya, and her husband, Sergei, had loved him. He never doubted that. But he'd been pulled from her side just as he'd finally started to trust her so his own feelings had never had the chance to ripen. Even those small saplings of love were frozen and buried.
Somehow, though, Napoleon had managed to touch that part of Illya's cold and unfeeling heart. Melted a small patch of the ice. Made what had lain underneath the layers of frost struggle back to life. Napoleon brought spring back to the frozen tundra that was Illya's heart.
Napoleon's ultimate and, if Illya were truthful to himself, inevitable betrayal should have killed it. Should have ripped it out by the roots and put a stop to such nonsense. Unfortunately, given the taste of life, it refused to die again, no matter what Illya did. It wanted to grow. To live. To love.
The desire, the need, ate at him these days. If only Napoleon had wanted the same thing, maybe things would be different. Illya didn't blame his friend. Napoleon was as inept at the ability to love as Illya himself. Good thing, he supposed. No Napoleon, no sunshine to keep the ice melting.
At least he thought so until yesterday. Antonio breathed new life into his heart. Worse, Illya liked it. The desire to feel even a little of what Napoleon had brought up in him burned through his veins. God help him, Illya wanted more.
Illya knew this entire situation could be more explosive than one of his bombs. He needed to run far and fast from the big-hearted Italian and to never look back. He would, too, if not for this damned assignment. He was stuck here and had to figure out a way to juggle what he needed to do for the mission and this hard to resist desire to see where this relationship might go. The situation he found himself in terrified him, yet a piece of him was glad he had to stay.
"It's Angelo Antonio cares about, not you," a voice in the back of his mind sneered.
True. Maybe if he kept that in mind, he could do his job and keep his perspective. He tried not to think about the idea that had popped up over the years, usually during his bouts with loneliness. That Angelo was not just the skin and persona of another person he put on when needed and took off at the end of a mission. Angelo WAS him in another timeline.
If the war hadn't happened or his family hadn't died, he sometimes thought he would be very like Angelo. Angelo enjoyed reading and music of all kinds and had a quick and inquisitive mind. His opinions mirrored Illya's. He and Angelo were one in the same yet they were nothing at all alike.
Illya sighed and covered his eyes with his arm. It was all so convoluted and who he was and who he pretended to be swirled through his mind, merging here and there in a most uncomfortable way.
Enough! He threw off the covers and got up, stomping angrily to the bathroom. He was NOT Angelo. Angelo was NOT him. Never would be; never could be. Illya Kuryakin was who he was and there was no alter-ego out there in some alternative universe. Such things did not exist. Never mind it was one of the concepts that had attracted him to quantum physics in the first place. In this instance, it didn't exist!
This whole "love" nonsense was the perfect example. He didn't understand the emotion. Hadn't experienced it since he was a child. That was the reason he thought Angelo was like him. In order to pretend to be the emotional being Angelo needed to be, Illya drew on the love he remembered feeling for his parents, brother, and sister. It felt personal because he had to take from one of the most personal aspects of his life to make Angelo more real. That was all there was to it.
As far as his sudden, ridiculous desire to love and be loved, that was just because he had to take on Angelo's needy persona. Had to cloak himself with Angelo's more loving nature. How in the world could he possibly think he was anything like Angelo? They were nothing alike. Nothing.
He needed to get this mission back on track. If he couldn't keep the proper perspective while merging himself with the emotional Angelo, he would have to keep from having sex with Antonio. He would tell Antonio he felt a relationship at this time would be a mistake and that they simply couldn't repeat it. Perhaps he could hint that something in the future might be possible. That would probably be enough to keep Antonio on the line without compromising himself.
Illya's gut twisted at the idea of betraying Antonio even more than he already planned. He angrily shoved the guilt aside and got ready for his day.
"Sophia, my dear," Burke cooed to the U.N.C.L.E. beauty helping them with their research. "Could you possibly get me everything we have on Illya Kuryakin?"
Saunders groaned and put his head in his hand as Sophia's eyes widened in disbelief.
"Signore Kuryakin?" she repeated. "But why? He is an U.N.C.L.E. agent!"
Burke smiled charmingly. He'd studied Solo's technique closely. "Oh, I just need to know more of his background so that I can help him relate to Vicente better." His lying was getting better, too. If Grant ever really went to Burke's mother to tell her what her little Paul had been up to, she would have a heart attack.
Grant Saunders gripped Burke's coat sleeve below the level of the counter as a warning that he thought his partner was going a bit too far. Burke ignored the warning and continued.
"I like to be as prepared as possible for every contingency," Burke cooed at her.
The pretty dark haired beauty blushed at what seemed such flattering attention. Her reluctance melted away. "I... I suppose that makes sense. Whatever will help with the assignment."
Burke's smile broadened. "I think you and I are going to get along just fine."
Saunders rolled his eyes skyward and let out a frustrated breath. He whispered to his partner, "You're on your own with this one."
As expected, the breakfast Maria provided was a spectacularly tasty provincial treat. Illya ate like there was no tomorrow. When the meal was done Illya had to prepare to meet the foreman at the worksite of the new winery buildings. He returned to his bedroom, although he had not slept there last night, to shower and dress.
Outside the villa a car ambled up the driveway. The engine, somewhat out of tune, knocked a bit when it came to a stop in front of the main doors and idled. Through the open window Illya heard the sound of many boots running on the graveled surface of the road. He knew it had to be the security men.
After he pulled on his shirt, Illya went to the window and stood to the side so he could look out from the edge after lifting the curtain slightly away from the wall.
A greasy weasel of a man got out of the car, leaving another sitting behind the wheel as the security personnel took up key positions. Their guns weren't drawn but hands were held at the ready. Antonio came into view and walked confidently down the three steps to the curb but he didn't greet the man in a friendly way. The scowl on the greasy man's face was clear.
With the breeze in the trees Illya couldn't make out too much of the conversation but he watched with interest. These people could be THRUSH or Mafia or just plain crooks from the look of them.
The wind shifted and Antonio's strong baritone voice cut through the rustle of the leaves. "I told you I would settle for nothing less. If you wish to satisfy your debt to me my terms were..."
"I know what your terms were," the scowling man growled in a grating tone. "I want your promise that this is it. No more!"
"I am a man of my word, Casraghi. Besides you are in no position to bargain. You had your chance before you decided to double cross me. If you wish to live, you must pay my price."
Illya wondered what Antonio had on the man. This sounded like blackmail. Not to mention the implied death threat.
After scratching his unshaven chin and possibly thinking things over one last time, Casraghi slowly turned and eyed each guard one by one. Finally he seemed to have made up his mind. He signaled someone in the back seat that Illya hadn't noticed. A boy of about 12 to 14 years of age stepped out of the car. A gust of wind blocked what was said next but from the gestures made it couldn't have been flattering. When it died down, Illya heard a sneered expletive accompanied by some inflammatory hand gestures.
"Go ahead and keep the boy. I hope you enjoy him in your bed of shame!"
The greasy man spat at Antonio's feet as the skinny boy stood nervously facing the big Italian. Casraghi tossed a ragged suitcase onto the ground and got back into the car, frowning the whole time.
The guards stood more alert now and parted enough to let the car pass through, obviously ready to shoot if necessary. In a shower of flying gravel the car accelerated down the drive toward the main gates and left the estate.
Illya made a mental note to see if he could learn who the man was.
"Angelo.....ANGELO!" Maria's motherly tone rang out down the hallway.
Illya went to the door and poked his head out. "Yes?"
"Angelo. Rafael has come for you. He will take you to the work site to show you around."
He glanced back toward his window and then looked back at Maria. "Thank you. I shall be right there."
The more Napoleon thought about driving over to snoop around the estate, the more he wondered about Antonio Vicente's background. U.N.C.L.E. had the official version. Their research department was very good, but there were always things to learn about a person from the people around them that you couldn't find in records. It seemed to him a good idea to find out more about the man from the locals.
Looking down at his clothes Napoleon decided that he looked as good, if not better than, all the tourists in their casual wear. He could visit some of the local gathering places and learn quite a bit if he asked the right questions. A smile spread over his face as he thought that was the best way to start out the day.
Illya would be just starting his sleuthing around now. The estate was a big place judging by what Napoleon had seen the day before. It would take Illya the whole day to explore it. That was if the skinny blond could tear himself away from Vicente's bed. Napoleon frowned. Definitely a topic for their next conversation.
Napoleon drove the little car into the village closest to the estate and parked near the market. That seemed the most logical place to start and, as always, he was in luck.
He met a couple of older gentlemen playing a card game and sharing a pitcher of wine. He approached them casually and inquired about the game and, finding them amiable to chat, joined them. He started out as the typical tourist asking about the local area, which was a good way to lead into the Vicente Villa and estate.
Emilio was a man of about 70. He was well built from a life of steady hard work but was showing the signs of indulgence now that he was in his later years.. His friend Frederico was older but not by much. Both men had close cropped salt and pepper hair, and Frederico sported a well groomed mustache. And they both liked to talk.
"So you say that the big estate on the hill above town is Villa Vicente?" Napoleon said as if surprised. "Rich, eh?"
Emilio nodded. "But he was not always so. He grew up near here. I knew his mama. A pretty woman. I had a crush on her when I was young."
Frederico laughed. "She would not even look at you. She was too good for the likes of you."
"Maybe so," Emilio said. "She was a good woman, and that Giacobbe won her heart. I liked them both."
"Giacobbe?" Napoleon asked.
"The boy she married," Frederico stated. "I went to school with him. A little one room school closer to the beach. It is not there anymore. The earthquake made it too dangerous and they tore it down."
Napoleon nodded. He didn't care about the earthquake. "They were rich back then too?" he asked.
Emilio frowned. His head shook side to side. "Nobody was rich back then. We were all country folk who lived off that land. They owned a little place where they raised their food and had a couple of goats. Antonio and his older brother... Oh what was his name? Frederico, I cannot remember the brother now."
The other man thought back as he stared up into the blue cloudless sky. After a moment he finally spoke up. "Mah... Marcello. Yes. It was Marcello. He was the smarter one of the two of them. Good grades in school. Antonio didn't like school much."
Nodding, Emilio added, "Yes, but the war had a lot to do with that. I think Antonio only got eight or nine years in by the time the war interrupted everyone's educations."
"He would read a lot. I always saw him reading when he wasn't taking care of his mother," Frederico said. "After his papa got killed in the war, he worked twice as hard taking care of the place and her. Said it was his duty."
Emilio made a sad face. "Si. They had it bad for awhile there. Marcello drowned about that time too, didn't he?"
Frederico nodded. "The month after that. Yolanda was heartbroken, but little Tony wouldn't let her sulk. He'd tell her that he needed her to look after him even though it was the other way around."
"Sounds like he had it tough." Napoleon was glad to have found these two and listened keenly to what they were reminiscing about.
"Everyone had it tough. The war spared no one," Frederico said proudly. "But we are Italians," he said as if that made all the difference.
Napoleon smiled. Perhaps some of his ancestors felt the same.
Emilio leaned forward as if sharing a secret. He motioned for Napoleon to do the same. "Antonio was young and to make his way in the world from nothing and to take care of his mama, he would steal and con whoever he could just for a few pennies. Never any of us, but he had no problem picking the pockets of the people who would try to fleece the rest of us. And he never did it to make himself rich. He made sure his mama came first and then whoever needed help, he was there to help."
The expression on Emilio's face and the strong gestures of pride showed Napoleon just how much people liked the man and these two, if they were any example, seemed extremely loyal. "Maybe so but he is rich. Look how he lives." Napoleon commented.
Frederico spoke up to explain that. "He didn't like school but the boy had brains. Determination. He has never forgotten his roots or the people around him. Look at what he has done for all the children."
"Children? What children?" Napoleon asked, surprised. He hadn't read anything about children in the files given to him.
"Antonio has had lots of children," Emilio said. "He has raised many orphans and taken in some right off the streets. He sees that they are well fed and gives them good educations. I think he wants them to have what he didn't."
"Maybe," Frederico said considering the hypothesis. "Maybe it's because he cannot have his own."
"Why not?" Napoleon asked.
Emilio glared at his friend.
Frederico shrugged. He whispered. "Well you see Antonio is different. He... uh... he does not like the girls." He held up a hand with outstretched fingers and wobbled it side to side a little.
Napoleon pretended to look shocked but then smiled. "Nah... A guy like that probably has women falling all over him."
"Perhaps God will let him into heaven anyway," Emilio said flipping his hand in the air over his head. "He shares what he can with everyone who needs help. No one is ever in danger from him as long as you don't try to cross him. Whether he likes the ladies or not, he is a saint."
Frederico nodded. "A better man you will not find."
Napoleon talked to several other residents and heard the same stories told with the same fond tone. He returned to the hotel, his mind whirling. Vicente did not have a squeaky clean past, but if the locals were to be believed, he was a damned saint. Would a saint with a shady past be involved with the likes of THRUSH? If so, would he know who he was in bed with?
The image of Vicente huffing and puffing over Illya the day before popped into his head. His lips thinned and he mentally shook the pictures away. So he was in bed with Illya, but whether or not he was knowingly involved with THRUSH remained to be seen.
The car ride to the winery construction site was a silent one. Illya had no clue why the driver said nothing and he didn't really care. That left him alone with his thoughts which, at the moment, mulled over the little scene he'd watched between Antonio, the man, and the boy.
Surely the man was mistaken in his assumption Antonio wanted the boy for sex. Antonio was too honorable for that. The handsome Italian had refrained from touching him—well, Angelo—last time because Antonio thought him too young. He just wouldn't consider having sex with a child.
Would he? Illya wouldn't think so. That was in the past, though. No telling how Antonio changed in the ten years since Illya saw him last.
He shook his head in disbelief. The man who'd touched him last night . . . that just wasn't the touch of a pedophile. It did not feel like Antonio thought of someone else while they were together. No, he had experience with those who liked children. His lover just wasn't one of them.
Illya's eyes widened. No, no! Not lover! Antonio was not his lover, per se, but a-a target . . . No, that wasn't right, either. Antonio was not a mere target to him. Even he had to admit he regarded the Italian as much more than just a means to an end. If he wanted to be perfectly honest with himself, his main goal was to prove Antonio wasn't involved with THRUSH, at least not knowingly.
He sat back in the cushy leather seat. Interesting, but not in a good way. He was here to find out what Antonio's part in all this was, whether it show the Italian to be a good guy or one of the enemy. Illya licked his lips, remembering what Antonio's sweet kisses felt like. He grit his teeth and closed his eyes in dismay. He couldn't help it. Even in the face of what he was doing, he still cared more about proving his lov . . . Antonio's innocence than he did in finding out the absolute truth.
He was saved from his thoughts by the car stopping at the construction site.
Rafael put an arm across the back of his seat and looked at Illya over his shoulder. "Mr. Vicente said for you to call the house when you're finished and someone will pick you up."
"Thank you," Illya mumbled as he fumbled for the door handle.
"Good luck." Rafael showed bright white teeth as he smiled at him. "You'll need it. I've met that Lorenzo."
A smile quirked the corners of his lips. "So have I. I think you're right."
Rafael laughed and turned back around and roared off after his charge exited the car.
Illya stood a minute as he brought his mind back to the job at hand, forcing himself to regard everything with the eye of a scientist and an agent.
Illya turned to see Lorenzo striding towards him. With him walked a squat, bandy-legged man. Next to the tall, thin, dark, and handsome Lorenzo, the other man looked pretty much like a troll.
Lorenzo's smile didn't reach his eyes as he shook Illya's hand. "Angelo, this is Mr. Morello. He'll be your supervisor."
"Pleased to meet you," said Morello gruffly as he gave Illya's hand a single pump before dropping it.
Illya didn't think he sounded too pleased, but he kept the observation to himself. "Thank you very much for giving me a chance. You won't regret it." Unless, of course, they were THRUSH. Then he'd give them a reason to not only regret meeting him, but to regret bringing Antonio in on it.
Stillwell found the diary and accompanying pages fascinating. He found himself wishing to know more, but somehow he knew that this would be all he would ever know about subject 437. He glanced down at Tucker, the dog sleeping at his feet, and sighed.
"That poor soul never even knew the simple pleasure of a companion like you, boy," he said softly and reached down to scratch the dog's head fondly.
The dog raised its head and looked up into its master's eyes with total loyalty.
John Stillwell thought how lucky he was in life. The horrors he was translating for Alexander put his own woes in sharp contrast. Subject 437 had no one to trust. Nothing to count on and nothing to call his own. Even the "jailers," for his lack of a better term for the beasts running the experimental training, couldn't be trusted for even the most basic necessities. From his translations, food, water, even a safe place to sleep weren't always provided. The evil, the horror, the depravity, surrounding subject 437 would drive any man into madness as far as Stillwell was concerned and to think this was all happening to a boy. They had to be monsters. Was 437?
The grandfather clock chimed in the hall. Stillwell checked his watch. 8 AM. He still had much to work on, but there were things he needed to get done for his classes tomorrow, too. Although he hated to stop working on the diary, it was time to take Tucker for his walk. One last task before the dog, though.
Stillwell picked up the phone and dialed a private number. Moments later Alexander's warm, rich, and dignified voice came on the line.
"Alexander. I'm glad I caught you this early today," he began.
"John? Ah yes.... How are you coming along on... our project?" Alexander asked.
"I have done quite a few pages. " He paused. "Alexander. Do you have any idea what this was all about?" he asked.
"I have some idea," Waverly stated, always sounding like he knew more than he actually did.
As usual when it came to Waverly's business the man played things close to the vest. Stillwell sighed. "I've got to take Tucker for his walk. Are you free to meet?" he asked.
"Where did you have in mind and when?" Waverly asked.
"The park near the college. You know the place I always take Tuck."
Waverly nodded as he said, "Yes. I'm familiar with the place."
"Good. We'll be there if you can get away now." Tucker sat up and his tail wagged back and forth vigorously.
"As a matter of fact, I could use some fresh air myself," Waverly replied.
"See you there then, old friend." Stillwell hung up and smiled at the happy dog at his feet. He reached down and ruffled the fur on the animal's neck. "You're too smart for my own good. Yeah. It's time to go."
The dog ran ahead of his master to the door and looked up at the small table where his leash was kept. He knew the routine by heart.
Illya looked around while Morello gave him a tour of the site. He recalled the natural woodland that stood there from the first time he visited the estate many years ago. It was a large site so they obviously intended to make it a fair sized winery.
"There," Morello pointed out. "The cellars are going to be over there. Room for two hundred and fifty barrels has already been blasted and the framers are building the racks now. The other two cellars are to be excavated next. Both will be a thousand barrels each."
Illya raised an eyebrow. "That is ambitious. Antonio... er... Mr. Vicente doesn't have the grapes to fill that many barrels on his estate though."
Morello shrugged. "Many growers around here. He will buy what extra he needs. Besides the wine will need to age. They will need the room to store it."
Illya nodded. He spotted some new buildings and pointed at them. "What are those there?" he asked.
"Offices. Labs. I'm not sure if they will put in a sales outlet there or not." Morello said.
"Labs?" Illya repeated pretending he couldn't understand why they would need a lab.
"Wine is getting very high tech nowadays," Morello said. "But that isn't my area of expertise. I'm a builder and you are here to help with that part of things, yes?"
"Yes. They are trying to fast track my license to work here in Italy." Illya said. "I have a license to work in America, though. I am thoroughly trained."
"Good. This delay is costing us time and money," Morello said. "The investors don't like hold ups."
Illya thought this was a good opportunity to ask. "Who are the investors?" Perhaps this would lead to THRUSH.
Morello shrugged. "Who am I that they would tell me who the investors are? Men with money and who want things done. That is all I care."
Illya nodded as if he agreed. "Can I see inside?"
"What for?" Morello said since he didn't care. "They are already up and running in there. We are done with the place."
Illya really wanted a better look in there. Perhaps he could sneak over at night and take a look for himself. Until then it was better not to arouse suspicion. "Yeah. Let's move on."
"Now, young Stephano," Maria said. "This will be your room. I will have those other things moved out in a little while." She was talking of the few things and the shabby suitcase belonging to Angelo. It was Antonio's instructions that Angelo's things be moved over into the master suite.
"Yes ma'am," he answered her nervously.
She shook the young man's shoulders lightly. The boy was tall for his age and spindly, and could look the older woman eye to eye. "This is your home now. You may call me Maria. Are you hungry? You are nothing but skin and bones. You need a good meal. I will fix you something while you freshen up. The bathroom is in there. Put on some clean clothes." She chattered constantly as she moved around the room opening curtains and straightening up. "We'll need to take you shopping for some new clothes, too, by the look of it."
Stephano stood in one spot awed by the splendor of the room. He couldn't understand why they were being so nice to him after what his father had said.
"If this is someone else's room, I can stay somewhere else," he offered in a small voice.
"Don't be silly. This is to be your room. We have another room for other guests," Maria rattled on. "Now you clean up. I will have lunch for you soon."
Alexander Waverly in his well-dressed norm strolled the park by the college while eating fresh roasted peanuts from a little paper sack that he purchased from a nearby vendor. The weather was cloudy and rain forecasted but so far had not developed. A pleasant breeze rustled the leaves and birds sang from their perches aloft.
Down the sidewalk, Tucker happily trotted alongside Professor Stillwell. He ran from one bush to the next looking to smell who had been there before him. His tail wagged constantly and his ears flipped back and forth as he explored everything in his reach.
"Professor, how nice to see you again," Waverly greeted when they met up, acting as though this was not a planned meeting.
Stillwell shook Waverly's hand. "Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, too, I see." He knew of Waverly's position with U.N.C.L.E. and would follow his lead in how he wanted this encounter to progress.
Waverly glanced at the cloudy sky and smiled. "That's right. You like gloomy weather as much as I do. Mind if I walk with you for a bit?"
"Of course not. Tucker and I welcome the company."
The two men strolled in silence for a minute. Finally Stillwell spoke up. "Did you know the journal was written by a young boy?"
Waverly didn't say anything right away, deciding how much he could tell his friend. Did Stillwell need to know? Of course, the reason he'd asked the Professor in the first place was because of his excellent sense of discretion. "Yes, I know."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I assumed you would figure it out," said Waverly wryly.
Stillwell scowled. "Well, yes, of course, but . . . What else did you know about the journal?"
"Not much," Waverly admitted.
Silence ensued once more. Tucker stopped to sniff at a dead bird.
Stillwell snapped his fingers and the dog happily hurried back to his side. "They did horrible things to that child. Who was he? More importantly, who were the monsters that tormented him like that?"
"I can't tell you that," Waverly said, putting that tone of finality in his voice that always brought his agents back into line.
"I think you can," snapped Stillwell. Tucker looked up at his master and whined, tail tucked between his legs. Apparently the Professor had one of those tones, as well.
Waverly sighed. "John, you know I cannot discuss my organization's business with you."
"Look Alexander, you trusted me enough to ask me to translate this piece. You can trust me enough to keep the man's identity to myself."
Waverly considered John's argument. "What, exactly, did they do to him?"
"What didn't they do to him? I always assumed the propaganda about the Soviets was exaggerated. That's what propaganda is. But from what I've read in that journal, the propaganda is being kind." Stillwell visibly shuddered. "He must be a hell of a shot. If he's still alive, that is." He looked to Waverly to see if he would get an answer. At Waverly's curt nod, Stillwell went on. "The way they trained him to shoot was nothing short of inhuman. They actually held a gun to his head and told him if he missed, he was dead. He did miss once. They decided to take it easy on him. They shot him in the leg. Only in the fleshy part, of course. They wouldn't want to maim him, at least not at that point. After that, he didn't miss. In the journal he states he had no reason to believe they wouldn't shoot him in the head next time.
"Their psychologists constantly experimented on that child!" he hissed. "They tortured him and tested his psychological reactions. It was like they were trying to make him a robot in a boy's body." He shook his head. "I had to take a break when I came to an entry about his first kill. I-I just couldn't read anymore. Not yet." He put a hand on Waverly's arm to stop him. "Is this some serial killer? Do I need to worry about this man being on the streets?"
Waverly snorted. "Certainly not!" He hesitated then decided he could trust John with a little more information. "He's one of my agents." He started walking again.
"What?!?" Stillwell sputtered. He hurried after the old spy.
Tucker whined and pressed as close as possible to his upset master.
"You need not be concerned. My agent holds the ideals of my organization close to his heart. Perhaps more so than even I do myself. The very challenges he faced so young made him more determined to protect the innocents of the world in a way he was not protected."
"He had one man who cared what happened to him."
"Alexei," Waverly interrupted.
"Yes. That's the one. Everything this Alexei did for him had to be kept secret, though. That's no way to live. What do your psychiatrists say about him?"
Waverly didn't say anything.
Stillwell halted again and stared at Waverly in shock. "Please tell me he's under regular psychiatric care."
"Mr . . .my agent is perfectly stable," Waverly said using The Voice once again.
Stillwell shook his head. "I don't see how." He held up a hand to forestall Waverly's objections. "Maybe he has learned to cope. Maybe he has turned everything around in a positive way. I have a hard time believing he has no leftover scars from all that."
"You worry about finishing that translation quickly. I'll worry about my agent," snapped Waverly crossly.
Stillwell's expression clouded. "I'll do that, Alexander. But if you're smart, you'll make sure this man isn't a ticking time-bomb just waiting for the right catalyst to set him off." He spun and stalked off, Tucker right beside him.
Waverly watched them go. The dog had picked up on his master's distress and no longer ran about sniffing at everything. He was staying with his master in order to protect him if need be.
Did he need to take a lesson from the pooch? Illya Kuryakin was almost like a rabid dog himself when the subject of psychiatrists came up. Yet he seemed able to deal with the THRUSH psychiatric doctors that tortured him. Kuryakin once told him that was easy because he expected the enemy to treat him like that. When his own side did it, he lost his confidence and trust in those he served.
Waverly sighed. Damned if he did, damned if he didn't. He knew Mr. Kuryakin needed some treatment after Arabia. But would such treatment make him better or ruin him as an agent forever? Was there a way to get him the care he needed without destroying Kuryakin's trust in him or the U.N.C.L.E.?
A very pretty problem, as his Russian agent would say. One he would need to think on long and hard. He harrumphed and turned to walk back to the office.
On the ride back to the villa, Illya made his plans on how to check out the areas of the construction site they'd steered him away from. He was still deep in thought when he opened the door to his room and stopped short. The boy from earlier stood beside the bed, eyes wide with surprise and Illya thought a little fear. The boy had his pants pulled halfway up his skinny legs.
Illya's heart leapt into his throat as he glanced around the room for his things. Had Antonio or his security found the false bottom that had his gun and communicator? Surely not. If that had been the case, someone much bigger and meaner would be waiting, not this waif of a malchik. He relaxed a bit. "What are you doing in here?"
The boy yanked his pants up hurriedly and zipped them. "I-I'm sorry." He licked his lips and straightened. "The cook told me . . . ."
"Maria," Illya interrupted abruptly.
"Um, yes, Maria. Maria told me this was to be my room. She said you were moving into Mr. Vicente's bedroom."
Illya's eyebrows jumped up. "Oh?" He spun and stalked to Antonio's room. He opened the door without knocking and stepped inside. His bag sat next to a dresser he didn't remember being there when he left this room this morning. He pulled out the top drawer and found his few underwear and socks. The second drawer held his spare pair of trousers and the third had his spare tee shirt and two pullovers.
"After last night, I thought you would be more comfortable in here with me," said Antonio from the open doorway.
Antonio moved close and slipped his arms around his waist. "You don't mind, do you? Did I read the situation incorrectly?"
Illya heard a touch of distress in his voice and his anger at being moved melted away. He turned in Antonio's embrace. "No. I don't mind." His subconscious niggled at him, a part of him wondering why the idea actually appealed to him rather than repulsed him like such a scene normally would. He ignored the tiny voice in the back of his mind. "I enjoyed waking up in your bed this morning. The only thing I would have liked better was if you'd still been in it at the time."
A soft smile spread on the olive skinned face. It gave Antonio a kind and gentle appearance. It was easy to see why people warmed to him so readily.
"I am sorry," he said and put a light hand on Illya's shoulder. "I will wake you next time. I just thought after the long travel it took to get here, that you might want to sleep a little later."
Illya thought that typical of the man. He always seemed to be thinking of others' welfare before his own. This couldn't be a man involved with THRUSH. Although it was hard, Illya tried to think of his mission. In the meek tone of Angelo he said, while looking into the big brown eyes, "The winery is going to be huge. And you've done so much already. I'm amazed."
"Do you like it?" he asked rocking Illya side to side slightly as they stood arm in arm and belly to belly.
"It's going to be beautiful. I'm so happy for you."
"So when will you be put to work?" Antonio asked.
"The blasting? As soon as the license comes through. I was given a tour today. Tomorrow they are going to put a shovel in my hands to do some of the preparations while we wait."
Antonio made an 'ah-ha' expression and kissed Illya's forehead after lightly blowing the long strands of hair aside. "Good. It shouldn't be long. I have a contact that will push it through quickly for me."
"What about your partners? Do they approve of you doing this for me?" Illya hoped to open an avenue of discussion where he could glean more information about who Antonio was dealing with.
"You have no need to worry about them," Antonio said and gave Angelo a quick kiss on the lips before letting him go. "Right now I want you to put your things away. I have had some new clothes sent from town for you and young Stephano. Maria said they arrived at the gate a few moments ago. We will go to the living room and see them as soon as you are done."
New clothes? Stephano? The boy now residing in his old room? Illya had a million questions but this was not a suspect in an interrogation so he had to hold back. He forced himself to go put away his few things and asked out of seemingly idle curiosity, "Who is Stephano?" He used a tone that suggested he'd met the boy but wondered who and why he was at the villa.
Antonio sat on the end of the bed and watched Angelo put the few items in the walk in closet which remained almost totally empty. "He is my new ward, I suppose you could say. I am his legal guardian now."
"You adopted him?" Illya asked. He made sure the false bottom to the case was still firmly closed and locked as he tucked the case in at the bottom of one shelf.
"In a manner of speaking. I have many children, Angelo. Did you not know that?"
Illya exited the closet, an eyebrow raised in surprise. He didn't recall that in the files. "No. How many?"
"Hundreds," Antonio laughed.
Illya smiled. He believed the man was teasing him.
"I am founder of three children's charities, and I consider them all my children." Antonio explained. "In fact I have a youth group for teens to get them off the streets and into more respectable lifestyles. There are a great many things you have yet to learn about my business."
That comment sparked a bright moment. Antonio seemed willing to share personal information with him easily. Perhaps he'd even take him to the new lab set up at the winery site if he asked him later.
"Are you done?" Antonio asked. "We will gather Stephano and go see your new clothes."
It was already dark by the time Napoleon finished talking to half the people of the little villages around the Vicente estate. Besides finding out the small details of Vicente's youth and rise to his current position in the hearts and economy of the region, Napoleon had gained a good familiarity with the area. From now on his comings and goings could be less obtrusive and easier to manage.
For the thousandth time today he checked his communicator. There had still been no check in from Illya. That worried Napoleon. He didn't like being on the outside when Illya didn't keep in touch. It usually meant trouble. He made a decision that if he didn't hear from Illya by midnight, he would go in looking for the man.
Napoleon gave the rental key to the valet for parking and headed inside the hotel. As he crossed the lobby a pair of familiar faces approached him from the magazine stand. Though they didn't call out to him by name, Saunders and Burke exchanged nods as a greeting and they all headed for the elevator together. A little while later they were all in Napoleon's room where they could talk freely.
"Waverly said you two were on your way. What took you so long?" Napoleon asked as he helped himself to a drink from the mini bar.
Saunders gave Burke a last warning look to tell him to be careful about what he planned to say to Kuryakin's partner and U.N.C.L.E. New York's CEA. It was ignored as usual.
"We stopped off in Rome to get the lowdown on Vicente," Burke started. "He has quite the colorful criminal background."
Napoleon's eyes narrowed as he sensed there was more the man was itching to tell him. Saunders sat relaxing in a chair. Burke on the other hand was tense. He seemed wired and overly eager.
"Yes," Napoleon replied. "I spoke to the people who live around the estate today. Nobody seemed to be hiding it. In fact it was almost bragged about." He took a drink. "You seem to have more to say though."
"There is something else about that guy," Burke said sounding a bit repulsed by the topic he was about to mention. "He's a homosexual. As queer as a three dollar bill." He was kind of smug when he added, "And that partner of yours couldn't wait to get in there undercover."
The double entendre didn't go unnoticed but Napoleon didn't comment on it. "Did you find out anything I don't already know?" he asked dryly.
"He's a pedophile."
Saunders shook his head and rolled his eyes upward. "You're jumping to conclusions," he told his partner.
Burke frowned at him. "Well, he sure drags a lot of them home with him, and the law seems like they are too scared to touch him."
"You should stick to the facts," Saunders said.
Napoleon nodded. "Yes. I've spent the whole day talking to people who have known Vicente his whole life, and it seems he's been taking in young people from the streets and turning their lives around. Most of the people around here look at him like some kind of saint."
"So what is a guy like that doing in bed with THRUSH?" Burke asked.
Napoleon frowned. "That's what we're trying to find out." Although he had no strong liking for Burke, Napoleon had no liking for Antonio Vicente either. He was happy enough believing the guy was funding the bad guys and still didn't know what Illya was doing jumping into bed with the man.
Saunders sat forward and clasped his hands resting his elbows on his knees. "Have you heard from Illya yet?"
Napoleon shook his head. "He'd better report in tonight, though."
"Surveillance set up?" he asked.
"I have everything in place. I've got a map over here," Napoleon explained and walked over to the small table in front of the window. The other two gathered by him. "This is the main villa," Napoleon pointed and he described the place in detail to his two support agents.
Antonio was in a very good mood as the family sat down to their first meal together. He was pleased with the new clothing for Stephano and Angelo. Most of the things fit just fine. The three full sets of pants and shirts would tide them over until the weekend when he planned a trip into town with both of them to complete the wardrobes.
Even as Angelo lightly protested the gifts, Antonio responded with the firm statement, "Clothes make the man" and would hear nothing of not accepting the things. Angelo vowed to pay Antonio back and seemed surprised when the offer was accepted.
Illya hated to admit he liked the clothes. They were of good quality, something he'd learned to appreciate since coming to the West. Of course, Napoleon had a lot to do with that. Yet the clothes weren't ostentatious or too rich looking. Something that spoke to his socialistic heart . . . well, if he had a heart. Illya decided he looked nice without calling attention to the fact they were bought by someone worth hundreds of millions.
"Are you settled into your room, Stephano?" Antonio asked as he settled into his chair at the head of the table. Illya sat to his left. Across the six foot rectangular black walnut table was a place setting but the chair remained empty. Next to that sat the boy, Stephano.
Stephano stared at his still empty plate. "Yes, sir. It's a nice room, sir. Thank you, sir," he said softly.
The boy's voice trembled so slightly Illya felt he probably was the only one who noticed it.
"You don't have to call me 'sir'," Antonio admonished gently. "You can call me Antonio. I believe you've met Angelo here?"
Stephano's dark gaze flickered to Illya then back to his plate. "Yes, s . . . um, Antonio. I met him." He glanced at Illya again with an attempt at a smile. "I'm sorry I took your room. I'll move if you want."
Illya's lips quirked in a way he thought Angelo would under the circumstances. "No, no. I'm happy where I am." He looked to Antonio and realized this smile was completely genuine.
Under the cover of the table Antonio took his hand and squeezed it.
Maria and her helper, Lila, entered with the food. Bowls of spaghetti, tomato sauce, grated cheese, Italian sausage links, and bread were placed in the center of the table in an informal service.
Illya remembered that about Antonio. The rich Italian didn't stand on ceremony, at least not when it was people he considered family at the table. He'd always liked that about the man. Illya loaded his plate with some spaghetti, topping it with the gravy and a bit of Parmesan cheese. He nestled a sausage and a slice of bread next to the mound of spaghetti and handed the plate to Antonio.
Antonio blinked in surprise and accepted the plate. "Thank you, Little One," he said with obvious pleasure.
Illya blushed at the old term of endearment Antonio had called him when he thought he was a mere child. That was the only thing he'd never liked about Antonio. He could have come up with a less undignified nickname. Especially one that reminded him of the past. He kept his feelings to himself for the moment. He would bring it up when they were alone.
Or maybe not. Illya filled his own plate as he thought it through. One of his strongest defenses was the fact that he looked meek, mild, and about as dangerous as a friendly puppy. People didn't expect him to turn into a wolf, which was usually their undoing when he did just that. The added moniker of "Little One" would just perpetuate that image and give him even a bigger margin of surprise. He'd keep his thoughts on the nickname to himself for the moment.
Maria sat down in the chair next to Stephano. Antonio thought of her as a mother and, as such, insisted she eat with the family. She and Antonio tried to draw the boy into conversation but got only monosyllabic answers for their trouble.
As the conversation faltered, Illya decided it was a good time to bring up the winery and lab. "The winery is going to be something special," he said, putting just the right amount of enthusiasm in his voice. "Have you seen it yet, Stephano?" Making it look like Angelo was also trying to get the boy talking would earn him some points with the others.
Stephano shook his head but remained mute.
"I understand they also have a lab . . . ."
Stephano perked up. "A lab? What do they need a lab for?"
"To test the grapes and the wine," Antonio replied, shooting Illya a look of gratitude.
"Really?" Stephano asked, his interest obliterating his earlier reticence. "How do they do that?"
"I'm not quite sure. I'm not a scientist."
"I like science and experiments and stuff," declared Stephano. He took a bite of spaghetti. "Think I can take a tour of the lab sometime?"
Out of the mouths of babes! Everyone thought only Napoleon had this kind of luck but every once in awhile, Napoleon's main Lady smiled on his partner, as well. "I'd also like to see it," Illya chimed in. "I'm interested in all aspects of the winery."
Antonio's expression became thoughtful. "I don't see why not. I'll call out there in the morning and arrange it."
Easy enough. Illya looked up at Antonio. A warm flush spread through his chest as Antonio's gaze locked with his. The others faded away and all Illya knew for several long seconds was the tender affection he saw in the dark depths of those eyes.
Maria clearing her throat snapped him back to reality. "Are you two ready for dessert?"
Illya quickly tore his gaze away, trying desperately not to think about what had just happened. "Yes, please." He hoped his voice didn't sound as breathy to them as it did to himself. Suddenly he remembered why he'd been afraid of coming back to Naples and back to Antonio.
Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it! Grant tried to will his partner to keep his mouth shut. He could sense Solo's barely repressed disgust towards Burke. Unfortunately, although Burke could be an excellent agent, he was completely oblivious to how others perceived him. No matter how good the man was at other aspects of the job, that one flaw could mean the difference between life and death for not only Burke, but any ally, as well. It was the one thing Grant believed spelled doom for Burke's career in the field.
It was also why he knew Burke didn't consider not telling Solo about the picture himself instead of letting his partner do it. Grant knew he could break the news to Solo in such a way it wouldn't sound judgmental about Kuryakin. Burke, on the other hand, had a personal reason to want to make the Russian look bad and probably would present it in such a way as it would do just that. Solo would go ballistic.
When Burke's communicator had whistled, they both knew what it was most likely about. Burke had called in a request for information on Kuryakin's last visit to Naples. After much discussion, Grant had finally convinced his partner they needed to get all the pertinent information before showing Solo the picture of Kuryakin and Vicente together. The satisfied look on Burke's face told Grant that it definitely was Records returning with the information.
Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it! "Uh, Burke, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"In a minute," said Burke dismissively. "I just got the confirmation we were waiting for on the picture."
Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! "Agent Burke, I'm the senior agent in this team, and I would like to talk to you for a minute, first."
Burke glared at him but he started to obey the order anyway.
"What picture?" Solo's tone was mild but edged with unmistakable danger and a promise of violence if they didn't answer him pronto. "I outrank you both and I want to know what picture?"
Damn, damn, damn, damn, DAMN!
Burke's face lit up and he gave Grant a smug grin as he pulled the picture out of his pocket. "The one that shows your, um, partner..." He stressed "partner." "...knew Vicente before." He handed it to Solo.
The CEA's face didn't change expression as he studied the photo, but his body language told Grant how much the picture disturbed him. Grant hoped Burke would notice, too, but he wasn't going to hold his breath.
"Ten years ago Illya worked the streets as a prostitute, and Vicente was one of his regular clients," Burke announced smugly.
Grant shook his head. The idiot did not know just how close to violence Solo already was.
Solo's eyes lifted and glared a hole through Burke's forehead. As always, Burke was oblivious. "That's a bit much to learn just from this one picture."
"Of course it is!" Burke beamed. "That's why I asked Rome to double check what I'd learned through old fashioned investigation. They dispatched some guys to Naples with a picture of your, um, PARTNER."
"We believe Kuryakin was on a mission for the Soviets at the time," Grant jumped in before Solo decided he preferred to strangle Burke rather than listen to him. Grant wanted that pleasure for himself. Honestly, after what Solo did to Burke that one time, one would think the man would walk on eggshells around the CEA.
"Uh, yeah. That's right," Burke stuttered, finally picking up on the tensions rising in the room. "He entered the country with several known KGB goons."
Grant took over once more. "We believe he was on a mission with them because he managed to meet with them regularly. And not in the Biblical sense," he added, glaring at Burke lest he thought about saying differently.
"And Vicente sometimes hired Illya?" Solo looked a bit more at ease now that Grant was the one talking.
Burke snorted. "He must have liked Illya's um, services, because he often paid to spend entire weekends with him. In the end the man who ran the prostitutes was dead, his entire network dismantled. Vicente went on as usual after Illya and his pals disappeared back behind the Iron Curtain. I don't think Vicente had anything to do with the mission at all. Illya spent that time with him because he wanted to, not because he had to," Burke added with a touch of defiance.
Grant thought Solo's expression should terrify Burke. It certainly terrified him.
Napoleon was getting hotter under the collar and his face showed it by the tightness in his jaw.
"I've got it all here," Burke bragged and then dropped the biggest bombshell he had. From under his coat he brought out the piece de resistance. "This," he said, leaning forward to emphasize the moment's significance, is the actual police file on Angelo Renatto. I checked. The prints match Kuryakin's."
Napoleon snapped up the file and flipped it open while glaring at Burke. He didn't like the smug expression on the man's face. If they weren't on the same side, he would enjoy wiping the self-satisfied expression from that stupid face.
After letting out a long tense breath, Napoleon turned around and began to read the file. It was hard to tear his eyes from the youthful mug-shot with its innocent looking big eyes. He imagined how bright blue they were, and the pale blond of the hair, in spite of the fact that the picture was an old black and white.
While Solo reviewed the file, Saunders took Burke by the lapel and tugged him aside. "Burke," he said keeping is voice low but stern. "You're a good agent, but you lack one important quality. That's tact."
Burke was dumbfounded. "What do you mean?" he said. He pointed toward Solo. "That is damned good work there. Solo is impressed. Can't you tell?"
Saunders couldn't believe how dense Burke could be when it came to his undying goal of becoming partner to the CEA.
Alexander Waverly returned home from his visit with Professor Stillwell, their discussion preying on his mind. Illya Kuryakin's past was much more disturbing than he'd imagined. And he was sure there was worse to come from the rest still waiting for translation.
In his study Waverly sat back in his high-back leather chair and methodically packed his pipe. People that knew him well understood it was a habit, a time of serious contemplation.
In U.N.C.L.E. it was part of yearly physicals to do brief psychological tests. Kuryakin was always reluctant to participate and Waverly had always known. He hadn't had the particulars before now.
The general psych screens meant to weed out any problems before they arose were easily passed by the man. He suspected Kuryakin had defenses programmed in to get around those. Inevitably there would come a time when the random selection of full in-depth testing would come up. Agents were chosen at random or after serious traumatic incidence.
Pressure from some of his Section One colleagues to begin one was already starting after the kidnapping and slavery in Saudi Arabia. If Waverly hadn't intervened and managed to soothe those colleagues' concerns, the Russian would already be undergoing evaluation. Given the sampling of material revealed by Stillwell, that might be a good idea. There was no way to know what the man's breaking point or trigger was without a proper psychological profile.
Kuryakin was one of Waverly's best agents. He hadn't been with U.N.C.L.E. for long before proving himself. His record since then was impressive. The success rates of the Solo/Kuryakin team and that of the assignments the Russian did alone were phenomenal. He was a genius in the lab and he had an uncanny sense of the criminal element behind any job.
Waverly leaned forward and placed his elbows on the felt mat of his desktop. He braced his chin on his thumbs while interlacing his fingers. He wondered if this could be the end of Kuryakin's stay in the organization. Would psychological intervention help or destroy the man? How would U.N.C.L.E. react to this? Should they even be informed?
After running through various scenarios in his head for the next 20 minutes Waverly made a decision. He opened the top left hand drawer of his desk and pressed the hidden latch. There was a click and a small pop. Under the top span a secret shallow drawer dropped a few inches. Waverly slid it out and removed a small piece of paper from the items. It contained a phone number.
Antonio drove the Mercedes over the hill to the building site. Illya sat in the front passenger seat while young Stephano rode quietly in the back. They drove slowly but the roads were rural dirt surface and normally only traveled by vehicles that worked the land. And, more recently, construction trucks. Once most of the winery work was done, they planned to pave a driveway to the main road for access so the estate house and grounds would be bypassed.
Antonio stopped in front of the building that housed the lab and would eventually hold the store. Illya got out trying to stay calm and look humble being there with Antonio. Stephano stood behind Illya keeping him between himself and the big man. His curiosity was enough to keep him there for the time being.
Bianci spotted Antonio from across the site. He frowned. Vicente hadn't been too concerned about the construction other than to keep it away from the Roman ruins beyond the garden up near the villa. The last thing he wanted was to see him snooping around and discovering their plans.
After brushing off a worker complaining about materials left in the way by telling him to take care of it himself, Bianci rushed over to see what the big rich homo wanted.
Putting on his best sociable face, Bianci greeted Vicente half out of breath. "Signore Vicente. What brings you out here? Everything is going just fine and according to schedule." The fake smile was oily and forced, showing off his yellow tartar stained teeth.
"Bianci," Antonio said in a jolly tone. "I am bringing my friends here for a tour. I want to show them how we are going to make the best wine in the world. That we are using the latest technology to create it."
Bianci held on to his nervous grin. "But these two would have no idea of what is going on in there. They don't know chemistry. Wine making. It would be boring for them. Why don't you take them out to the ruins and give them a tour there instead?"
Antonio wasn't fazed, and for some reason he didn't appear to pick up on the nervous tension the man displayed. "We are all curious," he said ushering them all inside, including Bianci.
Illya refrained from smiling, but he was on the inside of the lab where he wanted to be. Because his cover persona didn't know chemistry, he acted as if he had no clue what he was seeing. To his surprise, not to mention his benefit, young Stephano did know chemistry and asked some very good questions.
"Most of this equipment is for medical research. Why are you using it for wine making?" Stephano piped up, his interest obviously overriding his shyness.
Bianci cleared his throat. "Well, uh, wine making is a scientific process and in order to make better wines, we equip the lab with the best, up-to-date equipment so we make sure we come up with the best wine possible."
Illya noticed Bianci hadn't actually answered the question. From the sour look on Stephano's face, he did, too. He glanced at Antonio. A slight frown line formed between the handsome Italian's eyebrows. Could that mean Antonio didn't know about what was going on in his new winery lab?
Lorenzo entered at that moment. "I heard you were here, Mr. Vicente. What brings you?" His smile was shark-like—lots of teeth and absolutely no warmth.
Antonio shook his hand. "My friends were interested in the winery lab, so I offered them a tour."
Lorenzo's false smile smoothly shifted to a small moue of regret. "I am so sorry, Signore, but I'm afraid you and your friends can't be in here. The insurance stipulates authorized personnel, only."
Antonio's expression darkened. "I believe that since this is my winery being built on my land, I am the most authorized person here."
Lorenzo's eyes widened. "Well, of course," he back peddled. "But I'm afraid your charges are not. You're welcome to stay, but I'm afraid they will have to go." His expression melted into its next incarnation, a very sorrowful half smile, half frown.
Illya rolled his eyes. The man belonged in theatre. He had those expressions down to a science.
Antonio wasn't happy but he relented. "I suppose you're right. Angelo, Stephano, I hope you have seen enough of the lab."
"Of course," Illya said with a smile. "It was very interesting." Very interesting, indeed. He'd see exactly how interesting later.
"Da," the warm deep voice on the other end of the phone answered.
"Alexander Waverly," announced in his most perfect British gentleman's etiquette. "I wish to speak to General Alexei Andreov."
"Speaking," the General replied. "I was wondering if you would call before I left the country."
Waverly had wondered why the number was a New York area code. "I didn't expect you to be here in the United States."
"Is this line secure?" Andreov asked.
"Yes. I am not in my office." Waverly explained. "Can you slip away for awhile? I can have my housekeeper make some tea before she leaves this afternoon."
"I will be there in an hour." The line went dead.
The exchange of the address was unnecessary. It was understood that Alexei already knew since he had the files couriered there.
The dark sedan waited for the housekeeper to walk out of the house and leave in another vehicle before pulling into the driveway. Alexei drove around the side and parked in front of the garage well-hidden by the mature trees and a six foot hedge. He approached the side door to avoid the exposed front façade entrance.
Alexander Waverly opened the door and invited the general inside. He'd been expecting the man and happened to notice him outside through the kitchen window.
"Good afternoon, Alexander."
"Come in," Alexander said exchanging a handshake with the general. "I must admit I was surprised to find you visiting New York, but I'm glad you left me your number."
"You almost lost your chance. I must leave the day after tomorrow."
The General had an accent but judging by his diction, Waverly had a good idea it was this man that taught Kuryakin his English. "Please join me in the library. We will be comfortable in there," he offered, extending a hand indicating the hallway.
The two men relaxed in plush leather armchairs, jackets folded neatly over the arms and a traditional tray of tea and crumpets on the small table between them.
Waverly poured. "Milk or lemon?"
Alexei raised a hand to wave it off but then shrugged. "Milk, please."
The Englishman prepared the tea. "Tell me, General..."
"Alexei, please. I know we have not seen each other for many years, but the friendship we formed then is still in place, is it not?"
Waverly nodded and passed the cup over to Andreov. "Of course. This is all unofficial. I think we can be informal."
"Yes. This can never be brought out in any official capacity. To be honest, I was shocked when I found it."
"The diary? Yes," Waverly said sitting back with his tea to let it cool slightly before taking his first sip. "Is that really a diary written by Mr. Kuryakin?"
There was a soft slurping sound as Alexei sampled his cup of tea. He nodded either with approval of the tea or in response to the question. "I suggested he write things down so he could help himself deal with the training, especially the parts he found hard to recall later. I expected that he would destroy them afterward. I thought he had. He must have had it well hidden."
"Scone?" Waverly offered.
"No, thank you," Alexei said and watched his host spoon some clotted cream on top of a crumpet with strawberry preserves. It looked very tasty.
"Surely he wouldn't have left it in his room. Once he left the Soviet Union, the KGB would find it."
"Definitely," Alexei agreed. "That is why he didn't. I don't know why he didn't destroy it, but he couldn't afford to leave it where anyone in KGB could find it. And he didn't."
Waverly bit into his crumpet and then licked a bit of cream from the side of his mouth. "He gave it to you?"
"We were very close," Alexei explained. He set his tea down and turned a little in his chair to face Waverly. "Did he ever mention that I was the one who found him, a dirty orphan, half starved and stealing whatever he could to survive?"
Waverly looked at Alexei and sipped his tea. He was interested in learning all he could in the short time they would have. "He's a very private man," he said as a simple reply.
"And very intelligent, too," Alexei continued. "Before he was entered into Sarkov's new program, my sister Anya and her husband Sergei took him in. It was almost like taming a wild animal at first, but she gave him a home and the simple comforts they could in tough times. Perhaps Illya has mentioned that he calls me uncle?" His eyes asked Waverly even more than the words.
Waverly cleared his throat. "Er... yes. I do recall him referring to you as an uncle figure. He speaks of you with respect and affection when he does mention it."
Andreov took comfort in the response and then continued his tale. "When Illya was young, he would go with Anya and Sergei to the dacha our family shares outside of Pushkin. He liked the country. It was a place he could run around and play and just be a kid although I suspect he grew up far too soon. His stay with Anya and Sergei was only a couple years or so, but I have always kept her up to date with how he is doing. She calls him her little boy. They could never have children of their own."
"I'm pleased to hear he had some good things in his youth," Waverly commented. "But surely he wouldn't have given them the diary."
"No," Alexei confirmed. "But he did go out there on his own before he left for America when he was given to U.N.C.L.E. as the U.S.S.R.'s contribution to the world organization. He must have had some reason for keeping the diary and wanting to save it. I went there about a month ago. It was purely by luck I chanced upon it. I would never have found it if I was searching for it the way it was hidden."
Waverly nodded and refilled their tea. "You must have been surprised when you read it. I have only had a bit of the translation, and frankly I was amazed that they would do such things to a child."
"There is worse to come as the diary goes on," Alexei said. He accepted the second cup of tea and this time helped himself to an oatmeal cookie. "I knew I could trust you with it, and it is best not left in the U.S.S.R."
Waverly paused as he contemplated what he was learning. "Why exactly did you send it to me?" he asked.
Andreov shifted to lean closer to Waverly's chair. His eyes softened and he said, "I've thought of Illya as my own family since I found him as a child. I promised my sister I would always look after him. Given the situation at the time, that was almost impossible, but I did my best and now I think that looking after him means I must turn to you."
"Me? What can I do?" Waverly asked.
"Illya is part of U.N.C.L.E. now. I worry for him that he has no one to confide in. In Russia he had me. I would hope you care enough about your agents to look after their best interests. There is no way to know how stable Illya is. What I read is worse than I imagined and even worse than what I already knew. It is in your hands to see that he gets the support and treatment he needs. Illya is too good a person for us to sit idly and watch him self-destruct."
Waverly narrowed his eyes. "What makes you think Mr. Kuryakin is about to self-destruct?" What did the old Soviet spy know about U.N.C.L.E. and, more importantly, how did he find out?
Alexei sighed as he put down his tea and partially eaten cookie. "I don't. Not really. But I found that diary . . ." He waved a hand as he searched for the right word. "...disturbing."
"From what I know of it so far, that's an understatement," Waverly commented dryly.
The General nodded. "There are things in there even I didn't know about. Sarkov often sent me off on some mission or another, and I would be away from Illya for a week or two. A few of those times seemed so unnecessary, I worried that Sarkov was doing something terrible to Illya. When I would return, Illya acted as though nothing unusual had happened, though, so I just wrote it off as my natural dislike and distrust of Sarkov."
Waverly couldn't help but smile a little with pride for his Russian agent. "Our Mr. Kuryakin is an excellent actor."
Andreov snorted. "So he is." He frowned. "In this instance, however, I believe it was my own desire to not see what was done to him. There was so little I could do." He rubbed the bridge of his nose in a gesture Waverly had seen his Russian agent do many times.
"We can't always protect them no matter how much we'd like to sometimes."
Andreov exploded out of his chair. "He was a child, Alexander! A child! It was up to me to protect him and I could not!"
Waverly observed the man as he brought himself under control. Again it reminded him of Kuryakin. Yes, this man had definitely been a big influence on the young man. He set his tea down, got up and moved to a side table filled with glasses, several bottles of liquor, and an ice bucket. "I think I would prefer something a bit stronger than tea," he said, graciously giving his guest an excuse to have a drink without losing ground. "Would you like something? I have vodka but I'm afraid it's not cold."
"Yes, thank you," said Alexei gratefully. He took the half-full highball glass Waverly offered to him and sat down again, staring into the clear liquid. "I would have laid down my life for him if I had thought it would do any good," he murmured then downed most of the vodka.
Waverly also returned to his chair and sat patiently.
"I did think about sending him someplace where they'd never find him but realized no such place existed. If killing Sarkov saved Illya, I would have done it no matter what they did to me, but I knew they would just replace Sarkov and continue as before. I finally understood the only thing I could do was to try to minimize the damage they did to him not just physically, but to his mind, as well."
"Good thing you realized that," Waverly said gently. "Otherwise he would have had no one to protect him even as much as you did."
"I know." Andreov threw the rest of the fiery liquid down his throat. "Doesn't make me sleep any easier at night, though." His jaw tightened and he slammed the empty glass on the tea tray. "So, he survived the ordeal. I've always known he wasn't completely stable, but then, what agent is? I believed he made it through with most of his mental faculties intact, but when I read that diary . . ." He shrugged, a very Kuryakin gesture. "Then with what happened to him during the mission to Italy." He shrugged again. "I just don't know."
Alarmed, Waverly set his untouched bourbon on the table and leaned forward, hands clasped. "What mission to Italy?"
"I can't give you all the details because it was KGB mission, but Illya was sent to Naples. While there, his mission leader, a Sarkov protégé named Yuri Nikitin, forced him to pose as a prostitute. Even then, however, Illya appeared relatively fine afterwards. I had hoped his adulthood and successful training would have spared him anymore of Sarkov's sadism, but apparently not. I was no longer under Sarkov, having been promoted and transferred to a different department and the Premier had recently asked for my recommendations for an agent for U.N.C.L.E. I knew this was my chance to finally get Illya out from under Sarkov's thumb, so I convinced the Premier he was the right man for the job."
Waverly smiled. "He was and the world owes you a debt of gratitude for sending him to us."
Andreov looked at his watch. "I must be going. I have an appointment with the ambassador soon." His eyes pleaded with the other man. "Please take care of him."
Waverly stood and escorted him to the door. "He's in good hands, Alexei. I will make sure he gets everything he needs." He thought he saw moisture in the Russian's eyes as he held out his hand. Instead of taking the offered hand in the Western tradition of shaking, Andreov gave him a bear hug and kisses on both cheeks in the Russian manner.
"Thank you, Alexander. Now maybe I will be able to sleep at night." He headed down the steps and got into his nondescript car.
As he watched the sedan drive away, Waverly pondered what Alexei had told him. Why had Kuryakin not mentioned his previous mission in Naples? Could be because of the whole prostitution aspect although Waverly didn't know why that should matter. Being asked to pretend to be a prostitute for a mission was bad, but certainly no worse than Kuryakin, or any agent for that matter, had found necessary to do in order to complete an assignment. They received training in Survival School precisely for this possible scenario.
Of course, Kuryakin was a private man and perhaps he just didn't see his past trip to Naples as being germane to his present mission. Waverly shook his head. Quite frankly, neither did he. He put that part of Andreov's narrative out of his head and sipped at his bourbon as he considered the rest.
"I'm afraid I have work to do this afternoon," said Antonio once they'd returned to the house.
"I think I'll just go for a little walk and explore the grounds a bit," Illya announced. It would be a good way to report in with Napoleon. "That is, if you don't mind?"
Antonio ran a caressing finger down Illya's cheek. "You may do whatever you wish. You're not a prisoner here."
Illya suddenly realized he'd closed his eyes and leaned into the caress. It was what Angelo would do, he reminded himself. Of course. That was why he'd done that. It was just that he'd done it so subconsciously, he worried about becoming the part too much. He'd need to watch himself. He smiled up at Antonio. "Thank you. For everything."
Antonio gave him a lingering kiss. "You're very welcome."
"Hey, can I go with you?" Stephano asked, breaking the moment.
Illya stepped back, more surprised at forgetting the young man's presence than at the unexpected interruption. Before he could figure out a way to discourage Stephano—couldn't call Napoleon if he had an audience—Antonio solved his dilemma.
"I'm afraid you can't at the moment, Stephano," the older Italian said. "I need to talk to you." He gave Illya a quick peck on the lips. "You should explore the ruins," he suggested then ushered the boy into his office and closed the door.
Illya stared at the closed door not liking the reasons that came to mind as to why Antonio wanted privacy with Stephano. He turned away, chest aching from a stab of some indefinable emotion. At this point, he wasn't sure he wanted to define it.
He hurried away from the house towards the ruins. Once he was certain he was alone and no cameras lurked about to record his next move, he took out his pen and assembled it. "Open Channel L." As CEA and the second in command, he and Napoleon rated a private channel.
Napoleon pulled out his communicator and answered the page. "Solo here."
Illya was confident Napoleon knew him by the sound of voice so he didn't bother with the introductions. He began with, "Can you meet me?"
Napoleon's eyes darted over to where Burke and Saunders sat at the small table in his room. He nodded his head in a "give me privacy" way. Saunders got up to go but Burke remained until grabbed by the back of the collar and hauled up to his feet by his partner.
"Okay. Okay. Geez," he complained as he followed Saunders out into the hall and back to their room.
Once he had the room to himself, Napoleon returned to the call. "Where do you want to meet?" he asked tersely, the shocking news of Illya's arrest records still burning in his brain.
"There are Roman ruins in back of the villa beyond the gardens. Can you reach them without being seen?" Illya asked.
Napoleon was confident. "Fifteen minutes." He shut down his communicator fearing if he talked more at this point he'd say too much in the heat of the moment. He really wanted to speak to Illya face to face about this.
Although he wanted to put the pedal to the floorboards on the drive over, Napoleon did not want to attract attention to himself, especially when nearing the estate. Being familiar with the area now made the task much easier as well. He parked in the brush off the unpaved road to the east and made his way through the trees and over the wall to get to the ruins. He found Illya leaning against one of the last standing, although broken off, pillars that was probably part of a courtyard in an ancient country villa.
Illya's neutral expression turned to puzzlement as he spotted Napoleon. The man looked like he was gunning for bear. Illya had the sinking feeling he was taking the role of the bear.
"I don't like it," Bianci grumbled as he complained to his minion Lorenzo. "First that new fuck toy he brings in. Then that smart aleck kid. There are too many changes in that house and we don't know what's going on up there."
"You can't exactly keep them out of here." Lorenzo looked around the lobby space of what would be THRUSH's newest satrapy. "If he gets suspicious that this isn't just a winery and learns it is a lab making XD 51 to turn the world into obedient slaves for THRUSH it could side-rail us for months. Perhaps years."
Clenched teeth caused the soggy cigar stub in Bianci's mouth to break off and fall to the floor. He growled like a dog. "We have to get eyes into that house. When are the cameras to be installed?"
Lorenzo smiled remembering that the security was going to be extended from the winery to the villa itself soon. "That is supposed to be done the end of next week.
"Do we have them yet?" Bianci asked.
"No but the ones for the lab are being installed now."
"Put it off," Bianci ordered. "I want those cameras put into the villa now. Not later. I want to know if we have to get rid of a couple more bodies while we're still pouring cement in the storage vaults." The angry tension he began the conversation with turned to an anticipation of some fun. He pictured himself pouring cement over two bodies bound in a pit, expressions of terror in their faggot eyes.
"Is something wrong?" Illya asked innocently.
"Is there something wrong?" Napoleon snapped back in hushed but harsh tones. "Maybe this will give you a clue." He tossed the folder containing the arrest records and other information on the prostitute Angelo at Illya's chest. His partner barely caught it looking back puzzled.
Napoleon watched Illya open it and then saw his expression change to one of a kid interrupted stealing a cookie. "I went along with you because you said you had a way into the estate that was easier than U.N.C.L.E.'s cover. Why didn't you tell me about this? I think I had a right to know."
Illya's relaxed stature changed to more of an official stance as he closed the file. He only needed to glance at the first page to know what it was. "I couldn't tell you. It was part of a mission when I was with the KGB."
"Bullshit!" Napoleon snarled back. "This is a matter of public record here in Naples. You didn't have to divulge anything about your mission, but I deserved to know... no. I had a right and you had a duty to tell me this much. Just what else do I need to know that you've been keeping back from me?"
"Nothing," Illya replied. Perhaps that wasn't true. Maybe Napoleon should know about my emotional reasons for doing things this way. No. I'm not doing it for my emotions. I have none, he argued silently with himself. Antonio deserves the benefit of the doubt. He's a good person. I know it and I'll prove it.
"Well?" Napoleon demanded.
Illya, traditionally a man of few words, was now lost for them. "Uh..."
Illya shook his head. "Nothing," he again proclaimed. He shook the folder toward Napoleon to give it back. "Maybe I could have told you that much. At least now you know why I could not go in as a handyman or gardener."
"So you go in as his old fuck toy? You couldn't wait to jump into bed with the guy, could you? I saw you up at the lake if you want to know. Begging the buffoon to ram his cock up your ass. Is this you Illya? Or are you playing the old pro again?"
Napoleon's words stung. This argument was getting less about the mission and more about Illya.
"That is none of your business. I am here because U.N.C.L.E. requires it. Oh... and in case you've forgotten we have work to do here." He threw the file to the ground at Napoleon's feet. "I think THRUSH is here and that there is something nefarious going on with the new winery."
Napoleon wanted to go on arguing with Illya over his personal behavior but as CEA the mission did come first. The rest, no matter how upsetting he found it, could wait until later. He forced himself to calm down but the incident would not be forgotten. "So Vicente is cooperating with THRUSH?"
Illya shook his head. "I don't think so. It's a business deal. I think he's just provided the land and resources in the partnership. He is not involved in the construction from what I've seen so far. I need time to find out more though. I also have to sneak into the lab to find out more about it. Stephano and I were given a tour earlier today."
"What did you find in there?" Napoleon asked, the agent in him taking over once more.
"Whatever they are working on, it is more than to do with making good wine. I saw chemicals and catalysts that have nothing to do with winemaking. I have to get a closer look at the things."
"Who is Stephano?" Napoleon asked wanting to check him out.
"Just a boy. Some teenager who's come to live at the estate." Illya didn't want to tell Napoleon what he was there for though.
"You have a last name?"
Illya shook his head. "We haven't had a chance to talk. I'll find out more tonight at dinner." Illya's stomach growled at the mention of food. Normally he would ignore it, but since staying at the estate with Maria trying to fatten him up all the time, he found himself hoping she would have something for him.
Napoleon took in and slowly let out a long breath. "Okay. We still have stuff to talk about but that can wait. And Illya. I don't want to go two days between reports. Four to six hours. If I don't hear from you, I send Burke and Saunders in for a rescue. Do I make myself clear?"
Illya had always been treated as an equal and liked it that way. Those few times Napoleon pulled rank on him always irritated him. Unfortunately, if he rebelled too much it could mean being sent back to the Soviet Union, a prospect that never left the back of his mind.
His memory flashed back to when he hid the diary. The book where he recorded all his painful memories so that he wouldn't have to think about them. Symbolically it held the things he wanted kept deeply buried. He simply couldn't bring himself to destroy it before he left. If the book didn't keep his memories safely stored away, then he would have to hold them in his head. It was an irrational thought but one that helped him cope after the hideous youth training under Sarkov.
"Illya?" Napoleon asked after noticing the blond man's expression drift introspectively.
"Hmm?" Illya replied, brought back to the present.
"I said, do I make myself clear?"
"Yes," he hissed back trying to hold back his anger. He felt his emotions too close to the surface since returning to the Vicente estate. The place—the relationship—whatever it was seemed to be bringing back emotions he once had so freely as a child but had thought he'd expunged as an adult.
Illya tried to contain his anger as he stalked back to the villa. Napoleon was wrong. He had no need—no right!—to know about Angelo. It made no difference to the mission, not as long as it got done. How Illya accomplished it was of no consequence. His past as Angelo had no bearing whatsoever, and if Napoleon thought they would discuss it after this mission was over, he was wrong about that, too.
He was especially upset that Napoleon had observed his time with Antonio out at the lake. He'd enjoyed their tryst and the fact that they'd had an unseen audience seemed to sully it. The way Napoleon had described it, it sounded so tawdry when it was anything but. He gritted his teeth as he thought about Napoleon calling Antonio a buffoon. He didn't even know Antonio, yet the insufferable American had passed judgement on him. Napoleon had no idea how good a man Antonio was.
It took every technique Illya knew, but he managed to be back in control of his anger by the time he reached the house. He put a smile on his face and went inside. "Can I have a snack?" he asked Maria shyly.
His smile turned genuine when Maria hurried up to him and kissed him on both cheeks. "Of course, darling. You can have anything you want at anytime. You know that." She gently pushed him towards the small square table in the corner of the kitchen. "Sit down and I'll get you something."
"I can get it myself," he protested.
"Not in my kitchen you won't!" she insisted. "Sit, sit!" As Illya settled into one of the two chairs, Maria bustled to the refrigerator and pulled out some cold beef, cheese, and condiments. She cut thick slabs off some fresh, homemade bread then put together a sandwich. She brought it over and placed it and a glass of milk in front of him. "You want something to go with it?"
He smiled and shook his head. "This is good. Thank you, Little Mother."
She patted his cheek. "I will be out in the garden picking some fresh vegetables for tonight's dinner. Call me if you need anything else."
"I'll be fine. Go ahead."
After she left, he happily devoured the sandwich. It was amazing how his mood changed from pure anger to total contentment just by walking into this house. He loved it here, loved everything about it, especially . . . He put the sandwich down, suddenly losing his appetite. He didn't just think about love, did he? No, no, no. He liked these people, even cared about them perhaps a bit too much. But love? No. Absolutely not. He wasn't capable of the emotion. No. He'd picked up the annoying American habit of "loving" everything, such as loving vodka. That was all. Nothing more.
Convinced he still was as emotionally crippled as always, he finished his sandwich.
Stephano had heard Angelo come back in. He wanted to talk to him but didn't want to make it look too obvious so he waited in his room hoping Angelo would eventually return to his bedroom. He'd been so terrified when Antonio asked to talk to him in private. He was ready to do whatever he had to in order to pay his family's debt to Vicente, but he hadn't thought he'd be expected to do it so soon.
When he heard Angelo's light steps in the hallway, he peeked out his door. "Angelo? Could I talk to you for a minute?" he asked nervously.
Illya frowned but stopped as he remembered what he'd thought Antonio wanted with Stephano that afternoon. He felt the same stabbing sensation he had earlier when Antonio asked to see Stephano alone. Once again he ignored what that might mean. Since he wanted to find out just what had happened behind that closed door, he glanced behind him then slipped into the room. "Something wrong?" he asked, keeping his tone even.
"Um, sort of," Stephano stuttered. He bit his lip and stared at the floor.
It felt like someone squeezed Illya's heart between the jaws of a vice as he thought of the only reason he could come up with for the look on the boy's face. "What?" he prompted forcing himself to remain calm. What did it matter to him if Antonio fucked someone else? Illya was just sharing Antonio's bed for the good of the mission.
"Keep telling yourself that," a small voice whispered in the back of his mind. He ruthlessly stomped it down. Besides, this was just a boy. He'd never thought Antonio to be a pedophile. After all, he'd refused to touch Angelo when he thought he was seventeen. Stephano was younger than that. It was hard to believe the man he'd admired so much might have changed so drastically.
"I, um, well . . ." Stephano chewed his bottom lip another few seconds then looked up and blurted out, "Would you take my virginity?"
Illya's eyes widened. "Pardon?" He wasn't sure if he was more shocked at the request or at the fact that obviously Antonio had not spent the afternoon doing just that.
Stephano blushed but pushed on. "I know what my father expects me to do with Antonio and, well, I . . . I don't want to, but I have to, but he's so intimidating, I thought that, well, I thought that it might be easier for me if the first time was with you."
Illya stood rooted to the spot, still too stunned to say anything. Then something in Stephano's ramblings hit him. "If you don't want to be with Antonio, then why are you here?""
"I must pay back on my family's debt," Stephano said, seeming to gain courage from being on what he considered more solid ground.
"What debt is that?" The surprise fading, Illya motioned for Stephano to sit on the bed while he settled into a nearby chair.
"My father borrowed a lot of money from Antonio and, well, he lost it all on a bad investment. It is up to me to pay it back with the only currency we have right now."
Illya's eyes narrowed. "Your father expects YOU to pay back HIS debt with your body?" he ground out.
Stephano nodded, his brown hair flopping into his eyes. He swiped it away in a nervous gesture.
"Why doesn't your father let Antonio fuck him, instead? It's his debt."
Stephano's eyes widened in shock. "He's a grown man. He says he shouldn't be emasculated like that, but since I'm not quite yet a man, it won't ruin me like it would ruin him."
Cold rage flooded Illya's veins. What kind of man was Stephano's father to sell his son into what amounted to sexual slavery? And what kind of man was Antonio to accept such a thing? He shook his head. Antonio wasn't that kind of man. Or was he? Was Illya wrong about his lover? It just wasn't adding up.
"So will you do it?" Stephano asked again, breaking into Illya's angry musings.
Illya took a calming breath. "No. I can't." When he saw the fear flare in the boy's eyes he added, "I'll see to it that you won't have to pay for your father's mistakes. Just leave it to me."
When Illya left the room, Stephano was sitting on the bed limp with relief.
"Antonio, we need to talk," Illya announced as he barged into the big man's open office doorway. He stopped short and looked as Lorenzo, wearing a large tool belt, was just leaving through the courtyard door carrying a box of some kind of equipment. His concentration was broken a moment later with the booming voice of Antonio Vicente.
"You wanted something?"
If one didn't know Antonio, the tone would have frightened him, but Illya/Angelo knew the man was more of a teddy bear than the fearsome muscular figure the outward appearance presented.
Putting on the Angelo façade, which was all too easy, Illya paused and asked, "What was he doing here?" as well as pointing at the departing workman.
Antonio shook his head. "Nothing for you to worry about, Little One," he replied using the pet name he sometimes called Angelo. He had no way of knowing that Illya's mother used to call him that a lifetime ago.
Although pet names annoyed Illya, especially when Napoleon used them on his women and they on the dark-haired agent, he found Antonio's use of it somehow soothing. It seemed to take away some tension, some lingering anxiety that he always carried around. Instantly Illya's posture softened and he walked over to the huge mahogany desk. He perched his hind end on the corner of the desk and leaned slightly toward Antonio. "I'm sorry if I walked in on anything. I was merely curious."
Antonio smiled and leaned back in the leather high-backed chair "You are not interrupting anything. It is just part of the work being done on the estate. The cameras for the security system have come in. We were just discussing the work. Did you need me for something?"
Illya felt suspicious but he couldn't grill Antonio like a suspect. He filed the information away to pursue when he went over to investigate the lab later on in the evening. "Yes. I was talking to Stephano and...."
"Good," Antonio said. "I am trying to get the boy to talk more, but he doesn't say much. I am glad to hear that you two are getting to know each other."
Illya thought a moment before saying anything as he thought about how to ask why Antonio would want to have sex with children. Especially since he didn't seem to want to when he thought Angelo was still a boy. He mentally slapped himself for such an afterthought. "Is... is it true that he is here to pay off his father's debt?"
Antonio frowned as the conversation turned to a serious theme. "Yes," he said simply with no hesitation. "The boy belongs to me now."
Illya's brow furled. "But why? You have me. Why do you need to have sex with children?" he asked feeling strange inside. Was this jealousy? He thought it might be and shied away from the reasons why he would feel jealous.
Antonio grew silent, a stunned expression on his face. Then his eyes softened and his mouth grew a big smile. He began to laugh. "What did you say?"
Illya glanced at the open door and decided they needed more privacy. He went over and closed it flipping the lock at the same time. He felt Antonio's eyes follow him across the room as he went and closed the curtains blocking the view of them from the courtyard too. Then Illya returned to Antonio and turned the chair to face him. He knelt down between Antonio's legs and moved in close, resting his arms on the Italian's lap. "I said you have me now. Why would you want anyone else?"
As Illya reached up to the belt and unfastened its gold clasp. Antonio leaned back inviting the obvious intentions. Illya felt the heat rush up over his face as he pulled the zipper tab down and pushed the pants and underwear lower to get to Antonio's manhood. He brought forth the cock, already growing in anticipation at what he was about to do.
Bianci watched with fascination and disgust over the next three quarters of an hour. He never though that what was supposed to be a camera test would turn out to be a homosexual pornographic fuck fest.
First was the little blond creep blowing the Italian behemoth at the desk, and then they moved to the sofa where the blond undressed and lay down while Vicente fucked his brains out.
There was no doubt in Bianci's mind that the two were fruits, gays, homos, perverts. He grinned. There would be more of this and taping them would make good blackmail material for later use.
Antonio used the bathroom in his office to freshen up and then redressed while Illya washed up. He waited on the sofa where they just made love for Illya to join him again.
"That was lovely Little One. I will not like waiting for you to get home from the building site once you are working full time." Antonio called to him.
Illya found he didn't mind the use of the nickname as long as they kept it in private. In fact he found the use comforting and warming. There was so much that seemed natural and genuine in the emotions, not only that he was receiving, but that he too was feeling. It was like he was finding a part of himself that had been lost. A part buried for so long he didn't think it existed any longer. He thought if his life had progressed as a normal child's would, he might be very much like Angelo. Not a prostitute, of course, but more mild mannered and studious. It was a sobering thought.
Illya came out of the bathroom pulling up his trousers. He tugged his turtleneck on as he walked over to the couch and then he sat down close to Antonio snuggling into the big man's side and into the embrace of Antonio's muscular arm.
"You will only like this all the more if you have to wait for me," he said smiling. "A boy like Stephano would not give you what I can," he said softly.
"No, he wouldn't. Besides Angelo, I never fuck children. You know that," He replied, chuckling softly.
Illya looked up into the beautiful dark eyes full of amusement. "He said you took him as payment for his father's debt."
"I did," Antonio affirmed. "But not to have sex with the boy. To raise him. Send him to school. Give him a good start in life so that he may do great things in the future. I didn't want to see him wasted in the same criminal life his father is leading. He is too smart and deserves better."
"But you talked to him earlier. Why does he think you brought him here for sex?" he asked puzzled.
"I told you I was trying to get him to talk more. I didn't know that was what he was thinking. I told him of his schooling that will start soon. The places he could go on the estate. That he must take one of my men with him when he goes out to town. And that I expect certain things from him for all this, too, but we would talk later about that."
One corner of Illya's mouth crooked up into a grin as he imagined how the boy was taking all that. He probably thought he was a prisoner to be monitored at all times. "Why does he need to take a man with him to town?"
"He doesn't know the city and he cannot drive yet. One of my men will have to take him," Antonio explained. "I asked him if he had any questions about his living here, and he just shook his head."
Illya smiled with relief. Even the tingle of jealousy was gone. "I think he needs to know this. He is scared to talk to you, and his father had him convinced he was here to service your sexual desires."
Antonio turned his gaze upward and shook his head. "That man is bottom of the sea slime. The boy is better off without him."
"You should talk to him. Let him know all this."
Antonio sighed. "You said I frighten him. Maybe you should tell him since you can talk to him with less.... intimidation than I," he suggested.
"Perhaps if I were there, too, he might feel more secure but I think you should be the one to tell him these things," Illya offered. "I wouldn't feel right since this is your business."
Antonio let out a long breath. "You are right. I must be the one to tell him. After dinner we can talk in the living room."
"May 20, 1947," murmured Stillwell as he wrote the date down. In the margin he noted, "Subject 437 is fourteen at this point." He'd started doing this ever since his conversation with Alexander. He wanted to make sure his friend knew just how young his agent was at the time. Young and, he was sure, as impressionable and malleable as anyone at that age. He sipped at his coffee to give himself a moment to get ready to deal with on paper whatever horror this young man had dealt with in real life. Finally he got down to business.
"His name is Yosef Robinov," Sarkov said.
He handed the Subject a picture of a young man of about twenty with dark good looks.
"What has he done?" asked 437. Why else would Sarkov want him to get to know the recruit?
"Nothing, really. Get to know him. Become his friend." Sarkov's smile was the one that always made the Subject shiver. "Major Andreov has convinced me you need a friend closer to your age. Yosef here is very intelligent. Not as smart as you, I'll admit, but smart enough to give you companionship. He enjoys science and mathematics, just like you. I think you will like him."
A plethora of thoughts swirled through the Subject. Excitement. A friend? He was going to have a friend? He hadn't had a friend since he was a very young child. So long ago—a lifetime ago—he couldn't even remember what it was like anymore.
Relief. It would be nice to have an assignment that didn't involve physical torture, psychological torment, or abject fear.
And wariness. Definitely wariness. Nothing Sarkov did was all it appeared on the surface, and 437 wasn't sure what the hidden agenda might be. What he was sure of was that whatever it was, it wouldn't be pleasant. At least, not for him.
May 23, 1947 Yosef is wonderful! He's as smart as Sarkov promised. And he has a passion for mathematics, physics, and science! Subject 437 is pleased to have this new friend, but he still has the fear that Sarkov will ask for something more. He probably hopes 437 will find something subversive about Yosef. The Subject has had to do that before. Those times, though, Sarkov had told him exactly what he wanted 437 to find out. Those were training missions, however. Maybe this was like an exam. Only time will tell.
June 21, 1947 A month has passed since 437 first met Yosef. The Subject has not found out anything that could be considered subversive in the darkly handsome young man. He believes in Communism, believes in the Party whole-heartedly. He doesn't seem to have homosexual tendencies. Although 437 has given him a number of signals and clues he would be interested—in case this is a test, of course, not because 437 has those tendencies—Yosef never takes him up on it.
Subject 437 gets the feeling Yosef doesn't really like him. He was probably told to be the Subject's friend and so he is doing so. At least he's nice to the Subject and doesn't abuse him. A definite step up from the others living at this KGB training facility.
To top things off, Sarkov has not asked anything about the young man as of yet. Perhaps this really is what he said. Perhaps Uncle Alexei really has just convinced Sarkov Subject 437 needs a friend. He is relatively sure that is true. Why else would Sarkov not ask for reports?
July 10, 1947 Sarkov has revealed his hidden agenda. He has ordered Subject 437 to kill Yosef. To kill the only friend he remembers ever having. The idea that Yosef neither likes 437 much nor does he trust him makes the order no easier to accept.
When asked why, Sarkov just laughed. "Because I wanted to be sure you could follow my orders no matter what they were or how you felt about them." He leaned so close 437 could smell the sour odors of unwashed teeth and cheap Polish vodka. "I want to make sure you know how not to feel anything at all. Emotions are no good in this line of work. I want you to learn how to suppress them completely. This will help."
437 didn't think he needed help in that area. The other, older recruits thought he was the coldest fish they'd ever met. The Subject, himself, already felt dead inside. Or so he thought. When Sarkov delivered his order, it hurt. The Subject has no idea what to do. He can't kill a friend. He just can't.
Stillwell sat back and rubbed his eyes, not surprised at the moisture he felt there. Could this Sarkov not ever just let this boy be human? He wanted to run away from what he knew was coming, but he had to move on, no matter how difficult. In his own odd way he wanted to support the boy even if 437 had no idea that sometime in the future some old man would be crying for him.
"W-why Yosef? He has done nothing!" 437 screamed at Sarkov.
That smile again. That evil, ugly, twisted smile. Then he shrugged. "His grandmother was a Jew. He's not even completely human."
"He's more human than you could ever hope to be!" 437 wanted to shout. In the end, he didn't. What good would it have done? Sarkov would have just found something even more awful to do. In the end, 437 said nothing.
June 11, 1947 Subject 437 . . . .
"Subject 437" was crossed out, Stillwell noticed.
. . . .No. What just happened was the work of a man and a man must be willing to take responsibility for what he does. Most people would not consider me a man at 14, but killing one's friend only because one was ordered to do so makes one a man no matter what age. It is time I took Subject 437's actions as my own.
My name is Illya Kuryakin. I have blond hair, blue eyes, I am fourteen years old and I am now a killer. I just killed someone I felt something for not because he did something death worthy to me or even to the State. I did it because I was ordered.
Why did I not choose death for myself before I chose death for my soul? Perhaps because I have no soul. If I did before, I surely don't now.
Tucker whined and lay his head on his master's knee while Stillwell wept for the soul of a fourteen year old boy he'd never met.
Illya lay awake at 1:30 in the morning listening to the sound of Antonio's soft regular breathing. They spent almost an hour making love before falling asleep in each other's arms. He hated the thought of getting out of the nice warm bed, but he had to get into that lab and see what was going on there. When he was sure Antonio was sound asleep, he raised the sheets and slid slowly to the edge of the bed.
Antonio mumbled slightly and shifted position but remained deep in slumber as Illya stood up. He paused while thinking up excuses to be out of bed but none were required. Naked, he softly padded across the floor and over to where he'd hidden his skulking clothes behind the potted palm. He dressed quietly and quickly and then moved to the door. He checked to make sure the hall was empty. Finding it totally deserted, he tiptoed out the door into the hall.
Illya knew the perimeter of the estate had security, but the house was not wired for anything like that. It seemed that Antonio was just starting to install some, but he didn't explain the details. As Illya sneaked out through the kitchen to the courtyard, he couldn't see any alarm system so he felt relatively safe that he hadn't been detected leaving the building.
There wasn't much of a moon. The lights in the garden and the Roman bathhouse were off. In his black pants, shoes, turtle-neck shirt, and cap, he was almost invisible. He had no trouble eluding the random patrol as he sneaked away from the main estate to the vineyards and winery beyond the wooded area.
With the ease of a monkey, Illya climbed the chain link fence and dropped silently into the construction site. He froze and listened for any sign of people or guard dogs but decided he was alone when he could detect nothing.
As he made his way to the new sales outlet building and the connecting labs, he scanned the area in case there were patrols here too. Nothing intercepted his progress, and once at the door he picked the lock and slipped inside with the ease of anyone with a key.
Inside the store the shelves were empty and unfinished. The counter was complete with cash register, but the electrical still needed work. He hoped that meant the security was not all hooked up yet as well, but he took what precautions he could.
The hall that led to the lab was empty, and Illya couldn't see any cameras. He was comfortable that he was safe approaching the door.
Three locks barred the way inside. Illya managed to pick the first two, but as he was working on the third, a heavy hand landed on his shoulder.
Illya spun and made a move to grab the attacker, but it seemed as if the other person knew his plan and countered it before he managed to get hold of them. He tried another as he twisted away but that too was effectively blocked. In his momentary surprise at the larger man's skill, since THRUSH minions were usually inept and only able to overpower him by sheer numbers, he'd been pinned against the wall.
Suddenly the pressure against Illya's back and the strain on his arms lessened. A soft but deeper voice whispered, "Illya?"
Illya relaxed in the grip. "Napoleon?"
In harmony they both said, "What are you doing here?"
Napoleon released him and Illya turned around.
"I told you I was coming to find out what they were doing in there," Illya said with irritation. "What are you doing here? Don't you have someone you should be sleeping with tonight?"
Napoleon didn't like the remark. "I could say the same thing of you and that fat old man you've been screwing." The retort was regretted as soon as it was uttered.
Illya's jaw tightened. He took in a long deep breath to relax and considered punching him but decided they had a job to do. The punch could wait until another time. "Antonio is not fat. He's muscular," he muttered. He shifted away from Napoleon's imposing presence and focused on the last lock on the door.
There was a soft click and the door easily swung open. The light from the hall glinting off test tubes and beakers were like a thousand tiny eyes staring at them from inside. Illya slid in first, followed closely by Napoleon. They used their flashlights instead of turning on the room lights in case a patrol came near the building.
"I'll check out the desk. You see what you can find from the tables," Napoleon said.
"Of course," Illya replied. "You wouldn't have any idea what you were looking at anyway," he couldn't help sniping.
He tried to swallow his anger and went over to inspect the set up and the chemical labels. He was soon buried in the fascinating array of equipment as he tried to figure out what they were doing. Notes at each station were incomplete, and the whole thing wasn't making a lot of sense. What was clear was that they were making some sort of drug. It had most of the THRUSH trademarks when it came to their drugs, but it was definitely new and somehow it seemed incomplete.
After twenty minutes of poking around, Illya turned to Napoleon. "Are you getting anywhere there?"
Napoleon opened another file from the lock picked drawer. "I'm just photographing the last file," he said. "Come here. You might want to see this."
Illya carefully put the notes back down where he got them from so as to avoid any suspicion that they had been there. He went over to the desk and leaned over Napoleon's arm to see. Quickly reading while Napoleon flipped the pages, he found something interesting on the fourth page.
"Wait a moment." He picked up the paper and looked closer at the final two paragraphs. "This is the key."
"Key to what?" Napoleon asked.
"The formula they are distilling. I couldn't figure it out because it seemed incomplete, but this is the key."
Napoleon waited for Illya to explain but became irritated quickly at the delay. "We don't have much time. They might be here early," he warned.
Illya shoved the page back and let Napoleon finish. "Of course. The acidity in the wine is the final reagent. This is big, Napoleon. Very big." Illya had one of those "Eureka!" expressions on his face.
"And your bed partner is right in the middle of it." Napoleon wore a smug grin on his face.
The remark set off Illya's emotions again. "It may be his property, but I don't believe he is part of this. There is no proof of it."
"You're fooling yourself. Illya. He's as dirty as THRUSH. Open your eyes and look around here. I don't know what is wrong with you lately. You've been acting strange ever since we went to Guatemala."
"I have not," he denied. I know I have but I will be myself again. No one will ever know this side of me. I can't let them. Except maybe Antonio. The thought sneaked in and blindsided him.
Napoleon noticed a small flicker of light outside as a patrol stopped and lit a cigarette. He doused his flashlight and put the file away, relocking the drawer as he closed it.
Napoleon tucked the camera back into his pocket. He stood to the side of the window and waited for the guard to leave.
Illya was crouched down underneath the sash to stay out of sight in case anyone looked in.
"Antonio isn't involved in this. I'm going to prove that," he whispered.
"What's the matter with you?" Napoleon snapped back equally as quiet. "Since when have you ever been concerned about anyone else? Illya Kuryakin, the Ice Prince." The name had been used rather unflatteringly by a couple of the secretaries at U.N.C.L.E..
"It's none of your affair. I don't hurt innocent people for no reason." He felt a pang of guilt as soon as the statement left his lips. He had taken an innocent life, and for no good reason, too. He could still see the terror and accusation of betrayal in Yosef's eyes, a face he long thought irretrievably buried in his mind.
"I don't know what is blinding you to the truth here, but you need to open your eyes and look at this objectively, Illya. If not, you're going to get yourself killed."
The guard outside took a couple puffs and stubbed the butt out. He stuffed it in his pocket for later and then took one last look around before leaving.
Napoleon watched him walk out of sight and then signaled Illya it was safe to stand up again. "Time to move out."
The two headed back out locking the doors behind them. It was as if they had never been there.
Illya was relieved when he and Napoleon finally parted ways, so he could return to the villa. The tension between them seemed to turn more bitter each time they were together. He couldn't understand why Napoleon was so resentful of him spending time with Antonio Vicente.
He took the time to calm down and mentally align his emotions as he returned to the house. It upset him to feel things like this. It was so foreign after all the years he'd kept them under control; even denying he had such feelings anymore. These were thoughts he didn't want to admit even having. In some ways it was all too confusing. He didn't want to be craving these things, didn't want to like them, didn't even know what to do with them.
The villa was still dark and silent, and Illya was grateful for that. He crept through the kitchen and down the hall to Antonio's bedroom. The door to young Stephano's room was ajar. The boy must have gotten up for some reason, perhaps for a drink of water or a midnight snack.
Illya paused to listen at the door. The even breathing inside the room indicated the young lad was fast asleep, so Illya quietly closed the door. He didn't want to risk having to explain why he was up and dressed in the middle of the night, so Illya stripped off in the hall in case the noise would awaken Antonio. He slipped back into the bedroom and crept over to the bed.
Antonio slept peacefully as Illya slid into his side of the bed. Making slow gentle movements trying not to disturb the big Italian, Illya pulled the covers up to his neck. When Antonio stirred, Illya rolled toward him as if he'd been there all along.
Half sleeping, Antonio reached out and wrapped an arm around Illya. Without thinking, Illya snuggled in closer and kissed the bicep of the muscular man. He could feel Antonio's response as it pressed up against his buttocks.
At least the night would end pleasantly as Illya and Antonio made love for the second time since going to bed.
Lorenzo decided this wasn't so bad after all. At first, he was not happy Bianci had made it his job to review the camera tapes from the Vicente estate. The very first scene between Vicente and Renatto changed his mind, though. Lorenzo knew he wasn't a queer, but any hot-blooded man would get a hard-on watching those two go at it. The idea of shoving his cock into anyone's ass was beyond stimulating.
The rest of it had been pretty boring and routine. Until, of course, the two of them fucked again before going to sleep. Watching two such hot scenes in one sitting was having an effect on him. His cock was so hard it hurt. He decided to take the problem in hand. He left the tapes running, not worried about missing anything while he jerked off since the two men on the screen settled down for the night.
He verged on orgasm when out of the corner of his eye he saw Vicente's new lover slip out of bed and furtively get dressed. With a snarl of frustration he abandoned his cock in order to rewind the tape and watch it again. The little fag's movements showed a conscious attempt to be quiet and not wake his lover.
Lorenzo noted the time on the tape then put in the one for the courtyard. He fast-forwarded it to the same time frame as the other. There he was, sneaking quickly through the courtyard and vanishing into the night. What the hell was the little fruit doing out there after midnight? He could have just been taking a walk. Lorenzo's instincts told him otherwise. He pressed the forward button until Angelo came back into view. He'd been gone about an hour and a half. "Where did you go for that much time?" he murmured.
The door opened with a bang and he jumped in surprise. He glanced over his shoulder to see his superior. Oh, shit.
"Come with me," ordered Roberto. He spun and stalked away.
Relieved Bianci hadn't noticed his state of undress; he quickly stuffed his now flaccid cock back into his pants and zipped up. He hurried after his boss, following him to the lab where their lead researcher stood looking puzzled.
"What's wrong, Dr. Reich?" he asked the man, one of the best chemists in the world, even if he was German.
"I zink zomevone has been in my lab," the man replied in a thick accent.
His Italian was atrocious and hurt Lorenzo's ears, which was why it took a minute for the words to sink in. His eyebrows shot up, heart dropping. Was this where Renatto went last night? Or did he? Reich tended to make nothing into a big something. He looked around the lab. It seemed just as pristine as always. Reich ran a tight ship. "Why do you think that? Looks all right to me."
The German's arms flapped around. "It is nothing one can see!" he thundered. "It is felt! My laboratory feels not right!"
Lorenzo stopped himself from rolling his eyes. Like Vicente, Reich was someone Lorenzo despised yet had to keep happy. "Unless you can show me something tangible, I have no way of knowing if anyone was even in here, much less whether or not it's a problem."
Roberto scowled. "We'll look into it, Doctor. Lorenzo, let's let the doctor get on with his work." He motioned for his minion to leave with him. He didn't speak all the way to his office. He unlocked his office door and let Lorenzo inside before closing and locking it once more. "I wouldn't put much stock in what Dr. Reich said except the cameras and alarm systems in this part of the winery went down last night.
"They aren't up yet. You had me put the cameras into the villa instead," Lorenzo reminded him as his eyes widened. Now Angelo's little excursion took on new possibilities. "Renatto went somewhere last night."
Bianci spun around. "Where?"
"I, um, I'm not sure. He snuck out of Vicente's bedroom a little after midnight. He went through the courtyard, but he passed beyond our cameras' range and disappeared."
Bianci sat on the edge of his desk, a thoughtful look on his face. "Which direction was he going? Here? The lab, maybe?"
Lorenzo shrugged. "Towards the gardens, but he could have veered this direction after the cameras lost him. Or he could have just gone for a walk in the gardens. I just have no way of knowing."
Roberto stroked his chin. "It's possible it's just a coincidence, but I don't want to take any chances. Renatto's license will be in by the end of the week. Let's get him working on low priority things, so we can keep a better eye on him."
"Will do. I'll let him know he starts tomorrow."
The Vicente estate boasted two pools. The main one between the courtyard and gardens was for everyone. The other one was right outside the master bedroom and surrounded by a privacy fence.
Illya swam laps in the private one. It was smaller than the main pool but when shopping for clothes, Antonio had substituted a skimpy swimsuit for the regular trunks Illya had selected. He hadn't found out until too late. He didn't feel comfortable wearing the sexy little suit in the pool where everyone could see him, so he did his laps in this one. Besides, no one bothered him here.
The sliding glass door leading to the master bedroom he shared with Antonio opened and closed. The water in front of Illya rippled as Antonio entered the pool. Illya swam to him and stood up. He ran his hands over his hair to press out excess water. "Taking a break?"
"I wasn't planning to, but you looked so inviting I decided to join you."
Illya smiled. "You mean the water looked inviting."
Antonio put his arms around him and pulled him to him. "No, I meant what I said. I love the way you look in these swim trunks."
"You would," Illya laughed. "They show everything."
"I know. Why do you think I chose them for you?"
"You are incorrigible." He ran his hands over Antonio's torso. Solid, hard, muscular. Napoleon didn't know what he was talking about. The only fat on this body was the slight softness around the middle men in their forties tended to get.
Antonio nuzzled his neck. "That feels good."
"You have a beautiful body," Illya murmured, liking the feel of Antonio's lips on his skin.
"You should show me how much you like my body," Antonio whispered.
In response Illya started to kiss and nip his way down Antonio's neck and chest, finally suckling on his left nipple.
"Ohhhh," Antonio gasped. "I want to feel you so badly."
"You seem to be feeling me pretty well now," Illya softly replied moving to the right nipple.
"I . . . oh my . . . I want to feel you inside of me."
Illya stopped suckling the nipple and pulled back to look at him. "You want me inside you?" he asked awestruck.
"Please, Angelo. Please make love to me."
Emotions Illya had thought he'd lost long ago rose to choke him. He'd always wanted to experience sex with a man in that way, but none had ever been willing to indulge him. Not even Napoleon, the one person he would have thought would trust him enough to do so. Now this man was not only willing, but he wanted to give this amazing gift to him.
Illya took Antonio's mouth in a passionate kiss, pushing him up against the side of the pool. They explored each other's mouths for several minutes getting more heated with every touch of the lips. While they kissed, they divested themselves of their swimsuits.
Finally Illya could not wait any longer. This would not be the most comfortable way of making love, but he was too excited to care. He urged his lover to turn around.
Antonio reached for the towel he'd brought out with him. A tube of lubricant fell from the folds and he handed it over his shoulder to Angelo before spreading his legs, giving his lover better access to his body.
Fingers shaking with excitement, Illya stepped out of the pool enough to coat his hard cock with the lube. He threw the tube onto the side. "Move over a bit," he ordered breathlessly.
Antonio obliged and Illya pressed his cock to the puckered opening. He nearly came when Antonio slammed backwards and impaled himself on Illya's cock. He couldn't quite stop the cry of ecstasy that ripped from his throat at the incredible feeling of being buried to his balls in Antonio's beautiful—not fat!—body. He thrust over and over into his lover, moving and changing the angle in order to find that special spot he knew would put Antonio into orbit.
Antonio's responding howl of pleasure told him when he found his target, and he kept at it until the big man was writhing beneath him. The phenomenal feeling of having this powerful man moaning and begging for him to fuck him harder and faster overwhelmed him and he could hold out no longer
Antonio let out a loud groan, put his forehead onto the concrete, and stiffened as he came.
His lover's orgasm triggered Illya's. It started with a tingling in his toes and moved up to set his balls churning. He bit Antonio's back to keep from screaming his pleasure out to the world. They stayed in that position for a time, basking in the glow of post-coital satiation. Finally Illya lightly kissed down Antonio's spine as he slowly pulled out.
Antonio straightened with a groan and turned around to embrace his younger lover. "I don't think it's ever felt so good," he said, running his fingers through Illya's drying hair.
"It was phenomenal," Illya agreed, leaning into the caress. "Thank you."
Antonio chuckled lightly. "You don't need to thank me, Angelo. It was my pleasure." The muscles in his buttocks tightened. "Believe me."
"I'd always imagined being on that side of things would feel good, but I never imagined just how wonderful it would be."
Antonio regarded him in surprise. "You've never been the one to do the fucking?"
Illya shook his head. "No one has ever respected me enough to let me." And that was the crux of it, wasn't it? A matter of respect. Napoleon trusted him, but obviously he didn't respect him. At least, not in matters of sex. He knew now that his decision to put an end to that aspect of their relationship was the best decision he could have made. He'd almost wavered a few times in the last few months. Now he was glad he'd stuck to his decision.
"I respect you."
As Antonio leaned down to kiss him, Illya tried not to think about the thrill that shot through him when he thought he saw much more than respect in the big man's eyes.
It was still dark in the wee hours of the morning. Gentle spirals of smoke from the pipe rose up and swirled around Alexander Waverly's head as he pondered the translations he was reading over and over.
Even in the silence of the private study in his luxurious home, he could hear the pain and anguish coming from the writings. He knew Stillwell would not embellish the text so the descriptions within the sentences were even more disturbing.
The thing that bothered Waverly most was what to do about this controversial turn of events regarding one of his top agents. By agreement with the Soviets, he couldn't subject Kuryakin to a full psychiatric screening. As former KGB still attached to the Soviet Government, Kuryakin was technically on loan to U.N.C.L.E. The limited psychiatric interviews allowed by the Russians were most often deliberately missed by the agent and, when he did attend, met with such resistance that they were pretty much useless.
Chewing on the end of his pipe Waverly felt his hands were tied. He pondered just what kind of game Andreov was playing by passing this on to him.
"I want the two of you to stay here while I take this film to U.N.C.L.E. to have it analyzed," Napoleon instructed Saunders and Burke. "It looks like Vicente might be dirty after all, even though Illya doesn't seem to want to believe it. This," he said waving the small camera in the air at them, "might just prove it."
"Don't you think it would be better if we went and staked out the place to move in on it?" Burke said. He was growing anxious to see some action.
"I don't want anyone else near the place right now," Napoleon said. "Illya is on the inside. He'll call if he needs backup. Too many agents around might give us away."
Saunders nodded that he understood the instruction. Burke muttered disappointed.
"I mean it," Napoleon scolded the overeager man. "I'm going to be gone most of the day. We need... U.N.C.L.E. needs you to stay put and follow orders."
"I said okay already," Burke muttered back clearer.
Satisfied, Napoleon pulled his jacket on snuggly over his broad shoulders and then left the room.
Once the door was closed Burke turned to Saunders. "We are qualified agents and we don't need to be treated like children." There was spoiled child petulance in his tone.
"Just leave it alone, Paul. You'll get farther with Solo following his orders than proving yourself a hero, you know." Saunders was growing weary of Burke's single-minded quest to be the best agent in U.N.C.L.E. He wasn't sure what the man had to prove to everyone. "Why don't we just get a good breakfast and do some brainstorming with what we have now?"
"That's just it," Burke snapped back. "We have essentially nothing. Kuryakin is barely reporting in. He's keeping everything to himself like he's something special. The guy doesn't know the meaning of teamwork. If he won't share what he has with us, then we have to go get something to go on ourselves. Even if Solo isn't willing to go along with us."
Saunders shook his head. He didn't want to go against Solo's orders, but he knew Burke was going to go charging in there like a bull in a china shop. He knew Burke wasn't seeing the whole picture when it came to working with Solo though. "Listen, Burke," he tried to reason with him.
"The time for listening is over. You saw Solo's face when he saw that police record. Neither of those two agents is in their right mind now. It's up to us to get this thing solved."
Once Burke had his mind made up, Saunders knew that there was no changing it. "Maybe we can do some scouting then. As long as we don't interfere," he suggested hopefully. He was Burke's partner and it was a partner's job to look after the other. He saw no other option but to go along if Burke had his mind made up.
A faint rattling around in the hallway traveled down to the library as Alexander Waverly's housekeeper brought in the morning paper on her way to him with his tea. Expecting her arrival momentarily, he tucked the files away in this secret drawer hidden within his desk.
As he waited for his tea, he silently pondered what to do. This new information regarding one of his best agents was perplexing and required action, but he didn't quite know what kind. He also wondered what Andreov's motives were by sending him this. He needed to talk to the man one more time.
A polite knock sounded on the big oaken double doors. The mature housekeeper opened the right hand door and carried the breakfast tray in. "Your morning paper and tea, Mr. Waverly."
"Thank you. Just put them on the table over there," he instructed her. It was the table where he and Alexei Andreov shared a drink not long ago.
She put down the tray and picked up the waste paper basket to empty as she started her cleaning.
"Would you please leave that until later? I need some privacy to place a call," he asked her.
She nodded and set the basket down again. With a smile she left, closing the door behind her.
Waverly picked up the phone and dialed. He hoped Alexei Andreov hadn't checked out yet.
A strong Russian voice answered. Waverly knew the voice as Alexei's. He greeted him warmly since, in spite of political differences, they had become friends, as close as friends could get under the circumstances. He knew the line was probably tapped, so he kept the conversation light and pleasant. In the end it was decided they would meet for a final tea together before Alexei headed for the airport. Waverly gave him the address of his gentleman's club, a private place where the guards would have to remain outside.
"You look tired today," Lorenzo complained to Angelo. "The boss. He does not like lazy people. We are behind schedule and need to make up for lost time since our last demolitions engineer left."
"No, no. I am fine," he said even though he was a little sleep deprived. "Just tell me what you want me to do."
"The wine cellar. We are working on excavating the place. Much work remains to be done to have it ready in time for harvesting. You saw the plans?" he asked.
Illya nodded. "Yes... but my license..."
"...is coming through. You can start preparing the site. It will be here in time for the blasting," he told him.
Again Illya nodded. That seemed logical.
Lorenzo shoved Angelo's shoulder to the left. "The trailer with the cellar plans is over there.
Illya kept his expression the eager, open, and not overly curious one he'd cultivated for Angelo. The agent inside him was pleased to have a chance to study the blueprints, however.
Lorenzo hurried Illya into the trailer where the meager desk was spread with a few papers.
Illya looked at the documents. "I thought there would be plans for the entire site here."
"All you need are the cellar plans right now." He smiled almost menacingly. "You don't want to be distracted with a lot of useless paper to filter through now do you?"
"Uh... I... suppose not," he said a little let down.
"Good," Lorenzo said roughly. "Then sit down and get to work. You have a lot of catching up to do."
He watched Angelo take his seat and pick up the plans for the cellar before leaving him alone to work. As he walked away, he kept seeing the video tape of the perverted little slut writhing under the constant pounding of the idiot Vicente. He could just imagine making him squirm under his own dominating cock, listening to him begging. It was making him horny just thinking about it.
It was time to visit the portable outhouse on the site now.
It was afternoon when Burke, reluctantly followed by Saunders, arrived outside the construction site. They stayed in the trees as close to the clearing as they could.
"This is a bad idea, Paul." Saunders again reminded the other agent. "We should have stayed at the hotel and..."
"Shut up already. I heard you the first million times," Burke said staring at the work going on. "This is too far away. We need to get closer."
"You're insane. It's broad daylight. Someone will see." Saunders warned him.
Burke smiled cockily. "Where there is a will there is a way."
Saunders reached out to grab Burke's arm but it was too late as the other agent moved toward the machinery not far away. He considered following but something told him it was for the best to stay right where he was.
Waverly stood up and reached out to shake Alexei Andreov's hand as the tall, well built, general entered the lounge of the New York Gentleman's Club.
Alexei shook the hand and then waggled his finger at the British man as they took their seats. "Ah, very smart of you, Alexander. My bodyguard was not too happy that he was to remain outside. His spying on me is once more thwarted." He laughed lightly.
"Yes. I am well aware of Soviet practices," Waverly admitted. "I think we need our privacy to discuss our present situation."
Alexei nodded and then ordered vodka from the butler who came to take his order.
Waverly sipped his tea. "I've been giving a lot of thought to the files you've given me," he began.
Alexei nodded. He had expected this meeting to be about that very topic. "Yes?"
"I'm not sure I understand your motives for giving this to me," he replied. "You indicated you thought of him as family and yet assuming you believe he needs psychological treatment, you do not want him to be returned to his homeland for this."
Alexei frowned. "I want what any parent," he shrugged, "or relative would want for his own. The best treatment possible. The Soviet Union in all its self-glorified wisdom uses that as a form of prison, mind control. They feel it serves the country best. Were I even to suggest such a thing, it would mean Illya's death." He leaned closer. "You, Alexander Waverly. You can do for Illya what I cannot now. You can give him a better life. See that if he needs help he gets it. Find a way," he implored him as his drink arrived. He accepted the vodka and downed half of it. "Do what you must. Go outside of U.N.C.L.E. and make sure Illya stays the human being that my sister, Anya, loved so much."
His gaze became sad. "I did all I could when he was in my care. I convinced Sarkov that Illya needed culture in order to blend in better. Thus I was able to expose him to opera, ballet, art. I hoped if Illya could see the beauty in the world, he could hold onto his humanity." He shrugged, a very Russian gesture. "It worked for the most part, but I have recently received letters from him that caused me some concern. Unfortunately, it was all coded so I could be deciphering his meaning incorrectly. I have no way of knowing. No way of talking to him in person about it." He leaned towards Waverly. "That is why I sent you the files. You are the only person who can find out why my Illya is hurting."
Waverly nodded and thought about the contrasts from the loving, bright child Alexei described and the emotionless monster in the self-description in the diary. Perhaps he could think of something that would work for all parties involved in this.
Illya walked back from the excavation pit toward the trailer with the rolled up specs beneath his crooked arm after inspecting how far the work had progressed. While he was out he memorized the plate numbers on a few of the cars driven in by workers in the lab. They could trace some of those for information as well.
His head rose at the sound of Bianci's voice.
"What do you think you're doing? I thought you were supposed to be working in your trailer." He was in a bad mood at the news they'd caught a spy sneaking onto the site about five minutes ago.
Illya held up the plans. "I was looking at the site to see how far they had come so I could carry on," he explained. "I know you are behind and I must work quickly."
The answer was logical, but Bianci didn't like him out on his own anyway. There wasn't much he could do about it at the moment though. "So you looked it over?" he asked.
Illya nodded as the shy Angelo would have.
"Good. Then get back to your desk and get things sorted out. I want to have that ready to start in the morning," he snapped.
Illya spotted two men manhandling a rather limp figure between them across the lot toward some sheds. He thought at first someone may have been hurt, but then he recognized the clothes and the haircut although the face was bleeding and bruised. Burke.
"What's happened over there?" he asked and moved to step around Bianci.
The foreman stepped in front to block his way. "Nothing to interest you. Just a trespasser who thought he might try and steal some equipment. We'll take care of it. You get back to work."
There was nothing Illya could do without sacrificing his mission. Reluctantly he headed back to his trailer. He thought it might be bugged, so calling Napoleon would have to wait until later. He mentally shook his head wondering what the hell Burke was doing here.
Mon du dieu my head hurts! Burke didn't move immediately upon regaining consciousness, listening to his surroundings just as they'd taught in Survival School. He could hear the hustle and bustle of construction outside but didn't hear anything inside where he sat cuffed to a chair. No movement, no breathing, nothing.
He could smell something, though. Paint, cleaning solutions, other toxic chemicals assailed his nose. The caustic mix clutched at his throat, making him want to cough. He held back, though, until he was sure he was alone.
He cracked his eyelids open until able to see what was directly in front of him. Just the buckets of paint, etcetera. Pretty sure he remained alone, he opened his eyes fully, thankful for the murky dimness of the interior of what was obviously a supply shack. Even this low light set his eyeballs to throbbing.
Everything hurt. His head, his face, his mouth, his stomach; he could swear his hair hurt, too. And he was really, really thirsty. To top it off, his bladder felt ready to burst. All in all, he was pretty damned uncomfortable. "That which you survive makes you stronger," he muttered in an attempt to keep his spirits up.
He couldn't believe he got caught. Napoleon would not be happy with him.
"If you realize just how easy it is to be caught, you'll be more careful," Napoleon had said to him on more than one occasion. Now that he thought of it, he said it almost everyday when they worked together.
Burke understood and agreed with Napoleon completely. He just never thought it would ever pertain to him. He was already extremely careful. He'd been careful this time, too. He'd moved quietly and stayed hidden.
He suspected that bastard Kuryakin might have tipped off the bad guys. The little twerp was still mad about the shoe incident and was looking for a way to get him back for swiping those prototypes.
More likely he'd gone over to the other side. He was in bed with Vicente—literally. It wasn't a stretch to believe he'd joined his lover's THRUSH friends.
Hanging around here wasn't going to help him prove that or bring Kuryakin to justice. His brain turned to figuring out how to get the hell out of here.
Grant Saunders raced back to the hotel room hoping like hell Solo was back. He slammed his hand repeatedly on the steering wheel as he drove. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" Whether or not he was berating Burke or himself he wasn't quite sure. Both, he supposed.
His tires screamed as he turned into the hotel parking lot and parked, jumping from the car practically before the engine stopped. He rushed through the lobby, ignored the elevator as taking too long, and took the stairs to their floor two at a time.
When he reached Solo's door he barely remembered to use the coded knock so he'd know it was one of them. He waited for only a few seconds before knocking again, the code sounding a bit frantic. No surprise there. He WAS a bit frantic.
The door opened before he finished the second knock and Saunders slipped inside, closing the door behind him. Solo rubbed his wet hair with a towel draped around his neck. "Where have you two been?" he asked. His tone was mild with only a hint of annoyance. "You should have ordered food in rather than go out."
Grant let out a sharp bark of a laugh. "I wish we'd just gone out to eat."
Solo heard the hitch and turned to him with a sharp look. "What do you mean?" His eyes narrowed. "Where's Burke?"
Grant ran a hand through his hair. "I tried to talk him out of it, Mr. Solo, but you know how he is. He wouldn't listen to reason."
Solo's lips tightened in contained anger. "Where. Is. He?" he asked through clenched teeth.
Saunders understood the feeling. Burke made him clench his teeth often. "He wanted to go keep an eye on the Vicente estate."
"I told you two to stay put and not go anywhere near there!" Solo exploded. "You could have compromised Illya's cover!"
Grant didn't blame him for the outburst but he wished Burke was here to take his half of the abuse. "I couldn't stop him."
"So he's there now? Did the two of you at least keep in communicator contact?"
Saunders cleared his throat. "Um, well, that's just it. I went with him."
Solo's grimace was filled with disappointment. "Him I expect to do something so stupid, but I thought you had enough experience and sense to know better."
"I do," he sighed. "I really do. I was just afraid that if I didn't go he'd do something really stupid."
"Yeah, well, you'd think so. He did something really stupid even with me there."
Solo's declining anger resurged. "What did he do?"
"He insisted on getting closer. Again, I told him not to, but..."
"He did it, anyway. Yes, I know how he is," Solo growled. "So where is he?"
Grant thought he saw a frisson of fear in his brown eyes. He understood that feeling, too, because his own heart thumped with the fear of what Napoleon would do to him at his next words. "He got caught."
"He what?" His voice was low and sounded mild, but the CEA's barely contained rage came through loud and clear.
Grant shook his head. "Last I saw of him they were dragging him towards that construction they're doing on Vicente's property. I tried to call you on the communicator but I couldn't get through. I think mine is not working properly "
"I'm sorry, Mr. Solo. I should have done more to stop him."
Napoleon sagged as the anger drained out of him. "No, Grant, it's not your fault. As you said, I know how he is. You couldn't have stopped him short of darting him. I'd say you should have but Mr. Waverly tends to frown on such things."
Saunders sighed in relief. "Yeah, that's what I thought. So what are we going to do about it? I mean, Paul's a pain in the ass but he is my partner. I can't leave him there."
"Yes, but we can't rescue him at the possible expense of MY partner."
"I know. Any ideas?"
Napoleon's musings were interrupted by his communicator going off. He assembled it. "Solo, here."
"What the hell is going on?" said Illya from the other end of the line. "I saw our friend Burke this afternoon. He is apparently the guest of Bianci and Giordano. Although I suppose I should be glad for his help in affirming those two are not what they seem, I'm not terribly pleased by the fact that he might undermine what I'm doing here."
Napoleon glanced at Saunders. "Grant, why don't you go back to your room and call the local office. Have them bring you a new communicator since yours might not be working."
When Grant was gone Napoleon turned his attention back to his partner. "Illya, you need to get out of there."
The long pause made him wonder if maybe Grant's communicator problem had been with the satellite and not with his unit.
"I can't do that. Not yet."
Napoleon blinked. "Why not? You've found out what we wanted to know."
"No, I haven't. All I've discovered is that Ant...Mr. Vicente's winery is being built by people who are probably not who they say they are."
"Illya, I got some info back on that Lorenzo character. We can't connect him directly with THRUSH, but some of the things that came up are highly suspicious. Couple that with those papers we found in that lab, and I'd say your fat-cat boyfriend is up to his degenerate Italian eyeballs in this mess."
The silence from the other end was deafening. "What proof do you have he's involved?" Illya said finally, his tone frigid as winter winds blowing over the tundra.
Napoleon thought of what he'd said and flinched but decided he would not apologize. It was all true. "He's bankrolling them, Illya," Napoleon snapped. "What more do you need?"
"A lot. How many times have we seen an innocent conned by THRUSH into believing they're legitimate? I'm sure that's what's going on with Antonio."
"Antonio is as much in bed with THRUSH as he is with you," Napoleon sneered. "The only difference is that with THRUSH, he's the one taking it up the ass." The moment the words left his mouth he knew he shouldn't have said them. Too late.
If he'd thought Illya's voice was cold before, the tone that came through now could have frozen Napoleon in a block of ice.
"I am not leaving until I've either got proof Antonio is a part of this or until I've cleared him," Illya snarled. "In the meantime, I suggest you come get that buffoon Burke before I kill him myself. Kuryakin out."
The line broke abruptly. Napoleon had barely recognized his friend's voice it was so filled with fury. A fury directed solely at him. He sighed. He'd never heard Illya sound like that, at least not at him. If he'd thought things were rocky between them before, he knew he'd just tossed another stone on top of the pile.
Waverly closed the folder that held the translated journal and picked up his pipe. He packed it tightly with tobacco, lit it, and sat back in his chair, the smoke swirling around his head as he puffed out his agitation.
It had been a difficult read. The things the boy in the journal went through shouldn't happen to the worst THRUSH agent. How young Illya grew up to be the thoughtful and relatively well-adjusted adult was a mystery.
Or had he? Mr. Kuryakin was his best undercover man. Truth be told, one of the best he'd ever had. The man was a chameleon. An excellent actor. Would it be so big a stretch to believe he could act as if he were stable...well, as stable as anyone who chose to be an U.N.C.L.E. Enforcement agent? How much of Kuryakin's stability was real and how much an act?
The young Russian was also the most ruthless of his agents. He could kill a man without blinking an eye and then go to dinner and eat without a change in his enormous appetite.
Waverly pulled his pipe out of his mouth as he thought about it. He had lost sleep over his Russian agent's coldness and ruthlessness. It was one reason he'd paired him with the charming and extraordinarily likeable Solo. His strategy worked. Solo managed to draw Kuryakin out. The young man smiled more—well, if one knew how to look for it. Waverly could look into the Russian's blue eyes and see something other than that...look. The blank iciness that had disturbed him so when Kuryakin first came to them.
He'd known some of Kuryakin's past long before now, of course. When Andreov had brought him to U.N.C.L.E. as the Russian representative, the older Soviet man had pulled the head of U.N.C.L.E. aside.
"The Soviet Union would like to change one aspect of the standard contract," Andreov had stated.
Waverly's eyebrows had risen into his hairline. "And what would that be?"
"For one thing, we are concerned for our own secrets that are residing in his head."
"I assure you we here at the U.N.C.L.E. are not interested in your secrets. That is not our job," Waverly objected indignantly.
Andreov held up a placating hand. "I realize that. I do. Unfortunately, my superiors are a paranoid bunch. I managed to convince them not to do the deep memory suppression they're so fond of."
Waverly shook his head. "The absence of such programming is explicitly forbidden in our contract."
"Yes, and that was a point they were going to contend. I convinced them otherwise, though. Not completely, however. They are willing to go along with it as long as we have your assurance Mr. Kuryakin will never be subjected to U.N.C.L.E. psychiatric profiling."
Waverly's eyes widened. "It is our policy to do such not only upon joining of the organization but also doing so twice a year at the least. We have good reasons for doing this."
Andreov nodded. "Yes and I understand what those reasons are. However, besides just the reasons of the State, I have a personal reason I would ask you to agree to the condition."
"Oh?" he asked, intrigued in spite of himself.
Andreov placed his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers together. "Illya hates psychiatrists." He then told Waverly of the horrors the young man had faced at the hands of Soviet shrinks.
After mulling over what Andreov told him, Waverly called in his new agent. "Mr. Kuryakin, it is my understanding that you have a problem with psychiatrists."
Metaphorical daggers flew from Kuryakin's icy blue eyes towards Andreov.
Andreov just smiled fondly at the young man and sat back. "Illya, he deserves to know of this weakness."
Kuryakin nodded sharply and returned his attention to his new superior. "Yes, sir. I find psychiatrists...distasteful." The sour expression on his face suggested he understated his dislike.
"May I ask why?" Waverly said mildly while packing his pipe. He often did that to put his young agents more at ease. He didn't know why it worked, he just knew it did, so he employed it with his more high-strung charges. This one looked ready to bolt. To his credit, he held his ground and his new superior's gaze, even though the subject obviously upset him.
"I find psychiatrists to be the most effective torturers." The softness of his voice contrasted sharply with the hardening of his eyes.
"I assume you don't care for torture?"
Kuryakin shrugged. "I would be a fool to like it."
Waverly regarded him. "You do realize that as a Section 2 agent, the risk of torture at some point in your career, probably at several points, is very high?"
"Yes, sir. It is not that I cannot handle torture. I can. Probably better than many of your other agents. Torture by enemy psychiatrists will not cause me undue problems."
Waverly noted the young man seemed to be only stating a fact he believed to be true, not bragging. Interesting. One word stood out, though. "You can stand up to enemy psychiatrists. How do you feel about friendly ones?"
Kuryakin's lips tightened. "It has been my experience that there is no such thing as a friendly psychiatrist. Sir."
Waverly sat back and regarded his new agent. With what Andreov had told him, it was no wonder the young man felt this way. "Would you pass a psych exam by one of U.N.C.L.E.'s doctors?"
For the first time since the questioning started, Kuryakin showed a flicker of emotion. It was too fast for Waverly to decide exactly what it was before the shutters in the windows to Kuryakin's soul slammed down and shut him out once again. He wondered if it was fear.
Kuryakin caught his gaze once more and held it steady. "No, sir. I don't believe I can."
"You do know we can't accept an unstable agent."
"It is not that I am unstable. " He gave him a rueful grin. A tiny one, but Waverly found it encouraging. "Not exactly. I . . ." He glanced at Andreov who nodded slightly in encouragement. "I have had bad experiences with psychiatrists that should have been on my side. I simply cannot bring myself to trust any psychiatrist, friendly or not. I probably could bluff my way through an interview, but..." He shrugged. "I'm not sure I could perform adequately enough that a truly gifted doctor could not see through it. He wouldn't exactly label me as unstable, but he very likely wouldn't pass me as fit for duty even if I am. I just can't open myself up enough for that."
If the sweat on the young man's blond brow was any indication, just opening up this much was already pure torture. Waverly could only imagine how an interview with a psychiatrist would affect him. He sighed and waved his hand in dismissal.
After Kuryakin left the room, he turned back to Andreov. He and Alexei went back a long way, having worked together a few times during WWII. He trusted the man to tell him the truth. "Is he able to function as an agent, Alexei, or is the Soviet Union trying to palm off damaged goods to me?"
Andreov leaned forward, his expression serious. "Make no mistake, Alexander. My Soviet masters believe Illya is a problem, but not one they can just kill off. If Sarkov did that, he would have to admit all the money, time, and manpower he used on his little experiment involving Illya was a total waste. He can't do that so, yes, he thinks he's handing the problem over to you. I don't believe that, however. I have a lot of faith in Illya."
"How can I be sure he's stable enough, Alexei? That was some story you told me and I must admit I find it hard to believe he is untouched."
Andreov snorted and waved a hand. "Of course he's not untouched! What he is, though, is loyal, brave, and courageous. I made sure he stayed human no matter how much Sarkov tried to make him his monster. He will do you, and me, proud, Alexander. I am sure of it."
So far Andreov's assurances had panned out. After reading this journal coupled with Kuryakin's somewhat erratic behavior lately, he was no longer so sure it was still the case. He needed to have his agent examined by an U.N.C.L.E. psychiatrist, but to do so would negate the contract he had with the Soviets. Now that Kuryakin had proven his worth as an agent so spectacularly, he had no doubt the Soviets would be more than happy to use that excuse to take him back. The only reason they hadn't so far was because of the contract.
After reading this journal, Waverly was more concerned with his agent than ever. Of course, the contract allowed for psychiatric care should circumstances called for it, and since his agent had some unsettling behavior since Arabia, he was well within his contractual rights to order Mr. Kuryakin's psychiatric profile. To do so, however, a Soviet doctor would have to be present. Waverly had a suspicion Kuryakin might be able to deal with one of their own doctors—now—but a Soviet doctor would probably send him spinning out of control. That wouldn't do any of them any good.
"Too bad we don't have a THRUSH psychiatrist he could trust," Waverly thought wryly. "Then I could get my psych exam without Mr. Kuryakin knowing it was for us. He thought about it. Was there a way to do it? Of course, there was no THRUSH doctor he could trust, but perhaps he could mold the idea into something workable.
He thought of Kopf. He wasn't that far off from a THRUSH doctor, at least as far as his bedside manner went. He was excellent and very intelligent and although Waverly found him personally distasteful, he was sure of the man's loyalty to U.N.C.L.E. He had been pressing him about Kuryakin lately and Waverly felt the man was on the verge of doing something impulsive and completely against the rules.
He doubted Kopf would actually step over that line and do something with his idea of taking matters into his own hands. If he felt U.N.C.L.E. might be compromised and there was no other way to make sure Kuryakin wasn't a menace to U.N.C.L.E. and the world, Kopf might just be manipulated into taking that step.
Yes. This could work. He could get his psych evaluation of Kuryakin's present frame of mind while keeping his Russian agent from going ballistic. If Kuryakin perceived Kopf as being rogue, he wouldn't place U.N.C.L.E. in the same category of untrustworthy organizations as he did the KGB and THRUSH. Waverly knew he'd have to keep an eye on things to make sure Kuryakin didn't kill Kopf, but he didn't see a problem with that.
Yes. This could work. He sat back and smoked his pipe leisurely, secure that his plan would work.
Saunders swallowed the lump in his throat fearing that it was too large to go down. He normally liked working with Burke. The man was funny, energetic, and genuine in his concern for the average working Joe. It was a different story when they had to work with Solo though. At those times Burke seemed to lose all perspective in his efforts to impress the senior agent.
Meanwhile Napoleon swore softly on the drive all the way over to the estate that evening. Saunders had a sneaking suspicion that if Burke wasn't already dead, Napoleon might just kill him once he had him out of there.
Saunders took note of the way up to the estate Napoleon was taking them. It was different than the direction he and Burke had gone. It was much less traveled and concealed their approach better. Even the place they approached the winery from provided more cover. He didn't feel as exposed as his previous trip that day.
Once out of the car, Napoleon kept low in the brush. Saunders crouched next to him to listen to Napoleon's instructions.
"I want you to stay here. You're going to provide cover for us when we come out. Which building was it they took him to?" he asked surveying the area.
Saunders pointed to the main winery store to be. "In there."
Napoleon nodded. He had been inside already and knew the layout. He reached over and pulled Saunders's pen from his pocket and thrust it into his hand. "Stay here," he said again, "and wait for Illya's call." Napoleon knew he couldn't afford to have his communicator come to life at an inopportune time.
In the shadows of early evening, Napoleon struck out alone toward the winery buildings.
Stephano was nervous as he approached the door to Antonio's office. Antonio was big and very muscular. His tone was intimidating and his voice loud but in spite of that he was starting to see how generous and kind the man was. A huge teddy bear in a grizzly bear suit.
He raised his hand at the closed door and hesitated. He stood there muttering to himself about whether he should even say anything or not.
Kuryakin, who had also decided to speak with Antonio, rounded the corner in the hall and stopped to see what Stephano was doing. He thought the boy looked confused. Illya paused to pull his meek demeanor together and walked over to the lad.
"Is something wrong, Stephano?"
The boy relaxed at the sound of Angelo's mild voice. "Uh.... No... well maybe?" he replied.
"Maybe? Are you still afraid of Antonio?" he asked.
He shook his head. "No... Not really. Not since you and he explained everything," he said. "But, but maybe he'll think I'm too nosey."
"Why would he think that? He's made this your home now. You should feel comfortable here." Illya knew that feeling well. Scared the hell out of him.
"I don't like what they are doing over at the winery. That is not the way wine is made," he said. "My grandfather used to make wine. I know. That stuff in the lab is for other things. My science teacher at school taught us..."
Illya was pleased to hear Stephano talk this way. It would make his challenge of convincing Antonio to look into it easier if he had support. "Why don't the two of us go talk to him together? I think there is more going on out there than anyone realizes."
Stephano smiled. He seemed to look more confident as he turned and knocked on the office door.
The booming voice from inside bid them enter.
Stephano opened the door and let Angelo go in first.
Antonio leaned back in his chair. He smiled at the sight of the two walking up to the desk. "Is dinner ready early?" he asked thinking that was why they were there.
Illya shook his head and rubbed his hand. "No. Maria just shooed me out of there."
Stephano's chuckle was almost hidden beneath Antonio's loud guffaw.
Illya let the humor mellow for a moment before continuing. His face turned serious. "Antonio. Something strange is going on at that construction site. Even Stephano can see that something is not right about it."
The boy nodded his head vigorously, grateful that he didn't have to explain.
Antonio's eyes grew stern. "What makes you say that?"
Illya explained the way the workers kept trying to keep him busy but away from everything going on at the same time. Then he voiced concerns about the lab equipment and what they were doing with it.
Stephano looked at Angelo surprised that he knew so much about it but he didn't interrupt.
Antonio seemed to be in a patient mood and listened to them although it didn't seem to set off any alarm bells with him at the moment. He pulled out the invoices and opened them to show Angelo how everything was on the up and up.
When Illya saw the paperwork he was even more convinced someone was duping the big-hearted Italian. "Those must be fake. That isn't right. I never even saw one of those," he pointed at the item, "in the lab. And that," he said pointing at another, "costs nowhere near that much."
A frown spread over Antonio's face. "How do you know this?" he questioned.
Illya wasn't about to explain his deception yet. He changed the subject quickly. "And what did the police say about that trespasser they caught today? I saw them drag him over that way. They must have beaten him pretty good."
Surprise formed in Antonio's eyes. "I was not informed of this. When did it happen?"
"It was about lunch time. The foreman Bianci would tell me nothing."
Antonio stood up. He tucked the invoice folder under his arm. "I will go speak to him. Tell Maria to hold dinner for awhile."
"No wait!" Illya said abruptly. He tried to catch Antonio's arm as he went by. "It's too dangerous."
Full of confidence, Antonio shrugged him off and said, "Nonsense. This is my land and my money. They would not dare cross me."
"But..," Illya tried to object. He was too late as Antonio marched out the door.
"Tell Maria to hold dinner," he repeated on his determined trek out through the courtyard.
Stephano was about to run out after Antonio, but Illya knew the dangers and grabbed the back of the boy's shirt. "No. Let him handle it," he warned the lad gently even though it took all his control to keep from running after Antonio himself.
"Mr. Waverly," Lisa Rogers said as she entered the office. "We've just received the report on all the photographs and documents collected by Mr. Solo on film. The results are disturbing."
He looked at her concerned expression as she placed the file on the desk in front of him. "Indeed. Has the THRUSH connection been confirmed?"
"Yes. Without doubt. Research indicates that Bianci was instrumental in building the labs within the Romanian mountains a few years ago."
"We still have not located the entrance to that yet," he agreed. "Let me review this. While I do I would like you to contact Miss Dancer and Mr. Slate. I believe they are finishing up their assignment in Geneva. Send them down to Naples to coordinate with the local chapter of U.N.C.L.E. I think we may be ready to raid the estate if what I suspect this contains is accurate."
"Yes sir. Do you want me to contact Senior Vito Vivaldi in U.N.C.L.E. Rome to update him?"
"No. I will take care of that myself," he replied as he took his time packing his pipe. "Has Mr. Solo reported in yet?"
"No sir. He is overdue," she replied.
"Who is with him?" he asked.
"Mr. Saunders and Mr. Burke."
The old man nodded as he recalled sending them. "Ah yes. They've both recently graduated their probationary periods."
"Try Mr. Saunders. I want an update on the activities there."
"Yes, Mr. Waverly." She moved over to the communications center in the office and began trying to contact the young agent.
Napoleon tugged on a work vest that was hanging near the entrance just inside the door. He found a hard hat on a counter nearby. As he expected, the few people he saw inside didn't take a second glance because the workers were such common sights around the place.
Finding Burke didn't end up being much of a chore. Napoleon dealt with THRUSH enough to know their typical modus operandi. Burke was exactly where he expected to find him, chained up in a dark basement storage room.
As Napoleon cracked open the door, after picking the lock, he could smell the acrid taint of stale urine before he saw the bruised pale face reflecting back the light from the hall.
Burke squinted trying to see the shadowy figure backlit by the bright lights. He tensed to spring into action if he got the chance.
"Okay. Time to go," Napoleon whispered as he began unfastening the chains holding the agent in place.
Burke could barely make out the sound through the swelling of the ear on that side. It was pure animal instinct that guided his actions at the moment. As soon as he sensed his arms were free, he lunged taking his captor by surprise and sent him reeling against the door. The man was stunned enough that Burke made it past and slammed the door behind him. He had enough presence of mind to shove a nearby rod through the handle to prevent it being opened from the inside and allow him time to make his get away.
As Burke dashed down the hall and up the stairs, he could hear the man pounding on the door. The noise was distracting the others so it made his exiting of the area even easier. He smiled at his quick thinking. Napoleon was sure to be pleased with him when he told him about the escape later.
Antonio strode unannounced into Bianci's office trailer. He pointedly threw the file folder of invoices and other papers onto the desk in front of the man. "You have some explaining to do!" His tone was determined and threatening, demanding of respect.
Bianci was surprised by Vicente's tone. His posture went tense, and he jerked back slightly. "I beg your pardon?" he said, a touch more nervous than he intended.
"This," Antonio said, slapping his muscular hand down on the file, "is full of lies, falsifications, and misleading information. I want to know exactly what's going on, and I want to know now!"
The construction boss swallowed hard and gave a weak smile. "I'm sure I have no idea what you are talking about. If you give me some time, I can check and see if there is anything amiss in your copy of the files," he said trying to sound truthful. "I assure you that everything is going totally as per plans and schedule though. You have nothing to be concerned about."
"Is that so?" Antonio said with more than a touch of sarcasm. "Then tell me what have the police said about this trespasser today?"
"Trespasser?" Bianci replied pretending to look puzzled. He shook his head. "There has been no trouble today."
The fact that Angelo had asked about it had completely slipped the man's mind.
"Again with the lies. You have one hour to clear out of here. I'm shutting this venture down until I get some answers." Antonio was firm on his decision. He was a decisive man when he took charge of a situation. It was what made him a businessman not to be trifled with.
All Bianci could do was sit there astonished and bluster nonsensical sounds as he tried to come up with something to say. Vicente vanished out the door before he could form another sentence.
Burke made his way across the yard to the woods where Saunders corralled him before a flurry of activity began to take place.
Saunders pulled Burke to the ground out of sight and slapped a hand over his mouth to silence him. "Where's Solo?"
Burke settled down once he realized it was his partner. "Solo? I haven't seen him."
"He went in to rescue you."
Burke preened. "I didn't need his help as it happens." He grinned excitedly. "You should have seen it! I was great! One of the THRUSH goons came in and thought I was out of it, so he started to take me down. Anyway, I came to life just as he finished letting me loose, threw him into the wall, and ran out. I put a rod in the handles so he couldn't get out and, well, you know the rest."
Saunders' communicator went off at that moment. He pulled it from his pocket and opened the channel. "Saunders here," he answered.
"Solo," came the dry reply. "Have you seen that idiot, Burke?"
Burke frowned. He didn't like the idea that Solo called him an idiot. That would change, though, once Napoleon heard about his heroic escape. "Burke here, Napoleon." He couldn't keep the pleasure in his own prowess from his voice. "You can come back. I escaped on my own." He snickered. "The THRUSH that cut me down didn't know what hit him. Now he's caught in his own trap."
Napoleon cleared his throat. "That was no THRUSH," he snarled with barely contained fury. "That was me. I was the one cutting you down."
"You?" Burke squeaked.
"We'll be right there to help you," Burke babbled. "I know just where you're at."
"No, you won't." Napoleon snapped. "I want you two to return to the hotel and call in backup."
"But . . ." Burke protested.
"It's your inability to follow orders that got first you and now me into this mess in the first place!" Napoleon barked. "I suggest you start following them now or I swear when I get out I will kill you myself."
Burke swallowed, hearing a note of truth in Solo's voice. He also saw his chance of being Solo's new partner stuck behind the same door as Napoleon. Following orders to the letter this time was the only way to salvage the situation. "Yes, sir. We'll go back to the hotel and call for backup."
"You do that. In the meantime, I'll see if I can get out of this. Saunders, if Illya calls, inform him of what's happened."
"Yes, sir," replied Saunders.
There was a slight pause. "Sounds like someone's coming. Go get the cavalry. Now."
The communicator went dead. Saunders stared at it as though willing it to come back to life. When it remained mute, he closed it down and slipped it back into his pocket. "Let's get back to the hotel."
"We can't!" objected Burke. "No telling what might happen to Napoleon! We have to go get him!"
Finally having enough of Burke's impulsiveness, Saunders grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket. "He's in there because of your stupidity. You heard what he said. You need to start following orders. Now get your ass to the car and drive to the hotel while I call for reinforcements! Do not make me knock some sense into you!" Saunders was an easy man to get along with, and the fuse to light his temper burned slow. Once his ire ignited, however, he was a force to contend with.
Burke saw all that in his partner's eyes. He nodded realizing this was one time he'd better not screw up. "You're right. Let's go."
Saunders studied him for a minute and then let him go, leading the way to the car. Once they were on their way to the hotel, he reassembled his communicator.
"One moment, please," the girl in Communications said when he'd explained the situation. She transferred the call to the appropriate party.
"Slate here." The British accented voice came over Saunders' communicator as clearly as if he was standing right next to him.
"Mr. Slate, this is Grant Saunders. We have a situation here in Naples. Napoleon Solo has been captured by THRUSH, and we haven't heard from Mr. Kuryakin today. Mr. Solo ordered us to call for reinforcements."
"That's what we're here for, mate. We're assembling a strike team as we speak. We'll be there within the hour."
"Thank you," said Saunders. "What would you like for Mr. Burke and I to do in the meantime?"
"Just stay put for the moment. I'll call you when we need you."
"Yes, sir. Saunders out." He capped his pen and sat back in relief. "I'm sure they'll be able to get Solo out of there."
"While we sit on our thumbs," Burke grumbled.
"Shut up and drive."
Burke scowled but he shut up and drove.
Bianci called in Lorenzo the moment the Vicente bastard was gone. "Vicente is getting suspicious. He's ordered us to shut down our operations until he can check things out. We need to do something to bring him back into line."
Lorenzo's eyebrows shot up. "What tipped him off?"
Bianci grimaced. "I'm not sure how he found out, but he knows we've been lying on the invoices. He also knows about that thief you found sneaking around."
Lorenzo's lips pursed in annoyance. "It's that little bastard Angelo. It has to be. He and that Stephano kid both questioned some of the equipment in the lab, and he saw the man being dragged away."
Bianci nodded, his eyes unfocused while he considered the options. "Hmm. Yes. Angelo and Stephano. Maybe we can use the little troublemakers to our advantage."
The satrap leader stroked his chin, feeling the stubble of the goatee he recently decided to grow. "Grab them and take them to the warehouse. When the ship arrives, load them into the cargo hold. If Vicente cares anything about his little catamites, he'll toe the line in order to keep them alive."
Lorenzo's forehead wrinkled in a frown. "We can't keep them indefinitely. Vicente acts meek and mild but believe me, that's a front. He doesn't suffer fools easily, and he has the security force to back him up. I think it could be a mistake to believe we can keep him doing our bidding for long. He'll either figure out a way to rescue his lover and the boy, or he'll eventually write them off as collateral damage. Either way, he'll only bow to us for so long before he reaches out and slaps us down."
"Do you take me for a fool?" Bianci snapped, eyes flashing. "I do not underestimate Vicente for a moment. He is a dangerous man. Snatching Angelo and the boy is just a temporary solution. Once we force Vicente into signing the vineyards and land over to us, we will kill them all and be done with them."
Lorenzo nodded although in the back of his mind, he wondered if he might be able to talk Bianci into letting him keep Angelo for himself. Not that he was a fag but after watching Vicente fuck the blond man, he'd been fantasizing about doing so himself. That didn't make him a fag. He wasn't about to let some man stick his dick down his throat or up his ass, after all. A real man could fuck a sheep and still be a real man. A hole was a hole and Angelo appeared to have a very tight one. Oh, yes. He would find a way to keep Angelo around. At least until he got bored with him.
Illya sat in the garden, still as one of the statues artfully arranged among the blossoms, waiting for Antonio to return. Hoping Antonio would return. The fact he had to force himself to appear calm disturbed him greatly. He always worried about the welfare of an innocent when he—or she, which seemed to be more common—got mixed up in their missions. But he usually felt it almost as a sideline. Complete the mission and hopefully keep the innocent from harm while doing it.
This time it was different. Right at this moment he didn't give a damn about the mission. Well, that wasn't quite true. He wanted to complete the mission successfully. That was the only way he could clear Antonio of any wrongdoing in the whole affair. Otherwise, this time the mission was the sideline. Keep Antonio safe, clear his name, and, oh, if he could stop THRUSH while he was at it, great.
Oh, no. Instead of his usual mild concern for the innocent, he was frantic for Antonio's safety. He didn't want to be sitting here, didn't want to be still. He wanted to move. To rush to the winery and kill Lorenzo and Bianci if they dared to try to harm the man whose bed he'd been sharing for the last few weeks.
Luckily Antonio arrived before Illya had to delve too deeply into the unfamiliar emotions roiling around inside him. He jumped up and hurried over to the car. He reached it just as Antonio opened the door to get out. "What happened?" He glanced over him anxiously to make sure he had no injuries.
Antonio smiled at him in surprised pleasure. "You were worried about me, Little One?"
Illya stared at him like a deer in the headlights. "I . . ." Illya glanced away, embarrassed by the fact that he wasn't acting at the moment. It wasn't Angelo checking Antonio over obsessively, but Illya. He forced himself back into the persona of Angelo, far too uncomfortable with the idea Illya could actually care that much about anyone. Napoleon, maybe, but that was different. This was different. He looked down, hiding from himself behind Angelo. He shrugged. "I don't trust them. I was afraid they might try to hurt you."
Antonio put a finger under his chin and tipped his face up so he could look at him. "I'm harder to hurt than you think. But, thank you. I don't think anyone has ever cared about me quite that much."
Illya blinked. He would not think about what that might mean. Not about Antonio, but about himself.
"Is dinner ready?" Antonio asked.
"I, uh, I'm not sure," Illya replied, thrown a bit by the sudden change of subject. "I don't think so."
"Let's go see, shall we?" He took Illya by the hand and led him to the kitchen. "Maria, how long until we eat?"
"About thirty minutes," Maria replied. "So you two, shoo!" She waved a threatening spoon at Illya. "Especially you, Angelo! You always steal little morsels from me. Today, you wait."
"Yes, ma'am," Illya answered meekly. She knew him too well. That, too, scared the hell out of him. The only reason he could come up with for all this—at least, the only reason he was willing to accept—was the risk of becoming the person one pretended to be in situations such as this. It had never happened so quickly to him before, but perhaps because he'd been Angelo before it was different. He needed to get this mission done and get out of here before he lost himself to Angelo completely.
"We have time, then," Antonio decided. He pulled Illya with him as he left. "Come, Angelo. There's something I want to show you." He led Illya to the office. "Sit down on the couch," he instructed as he locked the door behind them.
With a small, puzzled smile, Illya did as he was told. "What do you want to show me?"
Antonio settled beside him and turned to face him. "I want to show you how much I care about you, too." He leaned in and kissed him.
It was gentle, lacking the heat and hunger of a kiss borne of passion and desire. Yet there was no denying passion and desire were a part of it. And something more. Illya had never felt so wanted, so cared for. So he shied away from it.
In a desperate attempt to bring this back to a realm in which Illya was more comfortable and familiar, he tried to change the tone of the kiss to one of physical need, reaching for Antonio's belt at the same time.
Antonio pulled away and stopped Illya's hand before it got anywhere. "No. That is not what this is all about. I want to show you how to make love without touching below the neck. Make love, Angelo, not fuck."
"But . . ."
"Let me do this, Angelo. It's the best way I know how to give back to you what you have given to me."
Illya swallowed hard. He needed to put a stop to this. Why, then, did he find himself nodding in agreement?
Antonio smiled and moved in again. He took Illya's face between his hands and kissed him again and again. They were not pecks, not mere touching of the lips. Antonio's tongue slipped between Illya's lips but instead of devouring his mouth, Antonio tasted him. Instead of their tongues doing a battle of passion, they slow danced with a sensuality Illya had never experienced.
A part of him responded strongly, beating at the walls of its icy prison he'd built around it. He could feel the barriers breaking and his rational mind knew he should shore them up. The part trying to crack the ice said otherwise. It was tired of being ignored. It wanted out, and it wanted out now.
He had to get out of here. Soon. Now!
Oh, god, he never wanted to leave.
"Gather the boys. Round up as many of Vicente's old guards as you can and put them under lock and key. We'll deal with them later. Then bring them to the garden and meet me by the ruins. We will take them right after dinner when that whore comes out."
"What if he doesn't?" Lorenzo asked.
Bianci reached out and slapped the minion on the side of the head. "Don't make problems. Just do as I say."
Lorenzo rubbed his face not at all surprised by the outburst. "Okay. Got it."
The foreman checked his watch. "You have thirty minutes to get those men out of the way. Move now."
Lorenzo didn't waste time. He dashed out the gather their forces.
Alone in the office now, Bianci interlaced his fingers and an evil smile broke out on his face. He laughed lightly at the thought of getting rid of Antonio Vicente. Perhaps he could move into the fancy house himself once the big Italian was out of the way. Their plans for the winery and the mind control drugs would certainly make him rich enough. He could be almost as big as the head of THRUSH. Perhaps one day become the head of THRUSH himself.
He licked his lips at the wonderful thoughts running through his head and then reached down to a drawer. From within he pulled out a beautiful shiny revolver. Yes, he thought. I will put the bullet through that idiot Vicente's head myself.
Burke paced the room back and forth wringing his hands nervously.
"Will you please sit down!" Saunders yelled. "You're driving me insane!"
"I can't help it," Burke complained. "We should be rescuing Solo. Not sitting around here waiting for Slate to show up God only knows when."
"You know what. I might just slap you silly before Solo does if you keep this up. Get some perspective man," Sanders said shaking his head. "Finish this mission right and he just may forgive you."
That seemed to sink in. Burke stopped pacing and sat down. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right. He'll thank me then."
Saunders rolled his eyes and settled for that. "Good. Now check over the equipment. We have to be ready to go when they get here."
Burke picked up the phone. "I'm going to order some food. They'll probably be hungry. You want anything?"
A slight sigh came from Saunders as he let out a breath. "Whatever. Why I put up with you, I'll never understand."
Illya's face was flushed and his brain muddled as he sat down to dinner. He was also hornier than he could remember. The kissing and mild petting between lovers who felt such emotion for each other was new and so utterly disarming. He didn't know how to handle the feelings.
Stephano looked at Angelo with a curious expression. He wondered if Angelo had been jogging or something like that. Antonio and Maria seemed oblivious to Angelo's strange look, but the boy noticed everything about everyone. "So what happened at the winery?" Stephano asked Antonio.
"Nothing for you to worry about," Antonio said wanting to ignore the subject at dinner. "I have taken care of things. They are clearing out as we eat."
"Clearing what out?" the youth asked. "Did they explain the invoices?"
Antonio put his fork down and leaned on the table looking directly at Stephano. His expression was kind but his presence was imposing. "I have given them one hour to leave before I have them thrown out. The rest will be taken care of tomorrow when I consider my other options. Now eat your dinner. Maria has put a lot of effort into your meal, so don't be rude. Eat up, boy."
"Yes, sir," Stephano replied. He turned to Maria. "Thank you. Maria. It is delicious." He began to eat again.
Illya was having trouble swallowing the lump of emotion in his throat along with the tasty food. He had never known a cook better than Maria though she had no formal training that he knew of. She once told him if one made food with love, it would always taste better than any fancy chef could come up with. In fact the love, warmth, and caring that filled this home was more than he'd known his entire life.
Illya took a deep steadying breath. I've got to get hold of myself. Clear my head. Napoleon. I have to think of Napoleon.
To keep Stephano's mind off of the estate situation, Antonio turned the conversation to the boy's schooling. The very wealthy guardian wanted to know every detail about what was happening and how he was doing.
It was apparent that any lack of effort would not be tolerated, but Stephano was not going to waste his educational opportunities. He explained the things going on in his classes and the things he was learning that he found particularly interesting.
Antonio listened with a pleased expression. The boy was smart. Much smarter than his father ever realized. With a little tutoring to catch up in certain areas, the boy could enter an accelerated class and, once he settled on one field, prepare himself for an elite career.
As Illya listened, he thought back to his little brother he lost to the demons at Baba Yar all those years ago. Vanya was smart. Maybe even smarter than Illya for his age, but the chance to find out had been taken away from him by the monsters who tortured and killed the innocent people of Kiev. An overwhelming sadness rose up in his throat. He swallowed hard again. The bitter emotions were long buried. He wondered what brought them out now. The cap on his feeling was recently twisted loose. Is that why he could feel Vanya with him now? Is that why he missed him so much as he listened to Stephano talk? He didn't want to lose anyone ever again. Especially Antonio who, even though it was a bittersweet game, he'd fallen for... dreamed of.... and craved to be with.
Illya looked up, his mental musings broken by Maria's sweet voice.
"You haven't finished your dinner. Are you saving room for dessert?" Maria asked him.
"Uh... No thank you Maria. It was delicious, but I'm just not very hungry tonight," the mild mannered Angelo replied. "I think I'll take a walk if you don't mind. I need a bit of fresh air."
Antonio glanced at Angelo. "Are you feeling all right?"
Illya smiled back. "Yes. I'm sure a bit of exercise will bring back my appetite. I'll have that dessert a little later if I may?" he said looking from Antonio back to the wonderful motherly woman.
She reached up and pinched his cheek. "Of course you may, darling," she replied and patted his butt shooing him on his way.
The last of the accessible old guards of Antonio's had been rounded up and disarmed. It took the overwhelming numbers in THRUSH's favor to do it though. The group were locked up in a small concrete cellar with barely enough space to allow them to sit on the floor. Bianci's thugs were now in almost total control of the estate.
In the ruins just beyond the garden, Bianci watched for Angelo as his men trotted up to join him.
Lorenzo sneered with pleasure at finally getting back into the physical brutality he loved so much as a minion when he first joined THRUSH. "Just the main gate and the monitoring room," he informed his boss. "We got everyone else."
"What about the trespasser you caught today?"
Lorenzo pointed over his shoulder as two men were taking the bound prisoner toward a waiting truck. He squinted as he saw the dark head of hair from a distance. He was sure the guy they caught had light sandy hair and different clothes. Before he could say that was a different person Bianci spoke up.
"Good. They have been told to lock him in the hold?"
Bianci was irritated with the vague answer. "Well what is it? Yes or no!"
"Yes. Yes. They have been told," Lorenzo answered more sure of himself now. The last thing he wanted was Bianci to be angry with him again.
"Boss, someone's coming," a minion with a rifle whispered to shush them all.
Bianci waved at his men to hide either side of the path among the ruins of the old Roman villa.
"Angelo," Stephano called out as he trotted along the path to catch up to the blond man. "Can I talk to you?"
Illya paused. He really wanted to be alone. To clear his head and formulate a plan but he had a connection with the boy and couldn't turn him away now. He gave a smile he surprised himself with being genuine. "Of course."
"Are you okay?" the boy asked, real concern written on his face.
"Fine," Illya lied. He was anything but fine. As a matter of fact, he would be more fine if he had a bullet in his gut than he was with the feelings roiling around inside of him. "Why do you ask?" Illya started slowly down the path once again. He needed to move or he thought he might jump out of his skin.
Stephano shrugged as he fell in beside him. "You seemed kind of flustered at dinner and you didn't eat very much."
Illya rolled his eyes. "Everyone else can not want to eat every once in awhile and no one says a word. Yet when I'm that way, everyone starts checking me for fever," he groused.
Stephano chuckled. "I haven't known you for long, but it seems like every time I see you you're eating."
Illya sighed, resigned once again to being foiled by the one thing he couldn't seem to change no matter how hard he tried. His over-active metabolism. "It's nothing."
"It's something or else you wouldn't be worried about it."
Illya stopped and turned to him, puzzlement creasing his brow. "What makes you think I'm worried about something?"
Stephano looked him square in the eyes. "It's obvious. At least to me."
The fact the boy could pick up on his concern over his feelings for Antonio made Illya more concerned about it. He didn't have a chance to try to redirect the young man's observations because of the barrel of a pistol that suddenly dug in behind his ear.
"Don't move, whore," Lorenzo's voice snarled into the other ear. "Or my trigger finger might just twitch a little too hard and mess up your pretty hair."
Illya froze. Did Lorenzo find out his connection to U.N.C.L.E.? He glanced at Stephano to see him in a similar situation. His automatic reaction was to try to salvage the situation by convincing them they were wrong in their assumptions. He anchored himself into the Angelo persona. "Wh-what's going on?" He put just the right amount of shakiness into his voice to portray a fear he didn't feel. Realistically he felt normal for the first time since he saw Antonio again.
His hands were yanked roughly behind him and secured with a pair of handcuffs. "That big oaf of a lover of yours tried to give us an ultimatum. We decided he needed to change his mind. You two are going to help us with that."
Illya practically sagged with relief. They didn't know who he really was. That made it even more important to keep up his Angelo impersonation. If they still believed him to be the meek, mild, and non-combative Angelo, they would be more lax in their security. He was relatively sure he would be able to get them out of this easily because of that. He tapped into the emotions he'd just been berating himself for letting out of their icy prison. Tears prickled his eyes. "Please don't hurt us! I'm sure Antonio will listen to reason if you promise to give us back unharmed."
Stephano stared at Angelo, his hero worship of the older man slipping somewhat. He liked Antonio's lover a lot, but Angelo was a bit of a wimp. Well, he wasn't and he decided he would not go quietly. "Let me go!" he yelled as he struggled to get free. Angelo calling his name was the last thing he heard before he felt a sharp blow to the back of his head and everything went black.
Burke snatched the door open the moment he heard the knock. He recognized the two people who sauntered inside. The slight man had sandy blond hair, stood about 5'10", and wore an absurd corduroy hat. He looked kind of stupid, and Burke was surprised the man could be an agent.
The woman was opposite in almost every way. The leggy beauty had gorgeous red hair spilling to her shoulders, and her dynamite body was clad in a fashionable mini-dress. Her hat was definitely not absurd. Burke's mouth fell open, but nothing intelligible came out.
April Dancer smirked at the young man's reaction. She was used to it, especially since she wore her sexuality for much the same reason Mark acted like a buffoon, Illya played up his small stature, and Napoleon pretended to think only with his crotch. To misdirect and misinform, so people would underestimate the abilities of the person in front of them.
Saunders had worked with the two before and had no stars in his eyes and, unlike Burke, wasn't blinded by their looks. "Miss Dancer, Mr. Slate. We're glad to see you."
Burke's mouth snapped shut as the words broke the spell. "Speak for yourself," he muttered as he closed the door behind the pair.
Mark turned and nailed him to the wall with a glare that negated the first impression of a goof-off. "Considering you managed to not only get yourself captured because you were doing something you weren't supposed to, then managed to capture Napoleon and leave him in your place, I should think you would be kissing our feet for coming here to bail your stupid arse out."
"Believe me," Saunders said, throwing a glare at Burke that told him in no uncertain terms to shut up. "We are very glad you came. Especially since they've moved Napoleon and we're not sure where."
"What happened?" April asked sharply.
Burke decided to set aside his irritation at everyone's impression that he and Saunders needed help with this. At least for now. At the moment, Solo's rescue took precedence to his own bruised ego. Later, though, he would be talking to Waverly about it. "Napoleon called us earlier and left his communicator open," he said, holding his own communications pen up. "A few minutes ago they came to get him. This is one of the newest communicators, so we were able to record it."
He pressed the pen button three times. The pen in his hand suddenly came to life. "Come on!" ordered a gruff voice in Italian.
"Where are we going?" asked Napoleon mildly.
Long pause. "Is it just me or does this guy look different than he did this morning?" said Gruff.
Another pause. "It has to be him," finally replied someone with a slight lisp. "Who else could it be?"
"Actually, you're right," said Napoleon in the same language. "I'm just a poor man. I was here to deliver some lumber when I heard someone yelling in this building. I come in to help and crazy person shoved me aside and ran out. I don't know who he was!"
A much longer pause this time. "What do we do?" Lisp finally asked.
"We take him," Gruff decided.
"But . . ."
"Look, if we show up with no one, we're going to have to answer to Lorenzo and Bianci You want that?"
"No!" Lisp squeaked.
"Sorry, signore, but you're not going to be home for dinner tonight."
Napoleon's protests started out loudly but were quickly muffled. The door creaked and closed once again. Silence.
Napoleon tested the manacles securing him to a pipe. Although flakes of rust fell from old pipes they didn't seem to have any give. "Of course," he muttered. "They have to make it look good, after all." They'd taken him on board a ship in a harbor not far from Naples and secured him—well, unfortunately—in the cargo hold.
He yanked at the bonds again in frustration. Damn that Burke! Napoleon just couldn't understand it. In so many ways, Burke had the makings of a good agent. The missions he'd shared with Sanders so far had all been successes. But when he got around Napoleon, the man turned into an imbecile. If he could just get over the idea that he could replace Illya, Napoleon really felt Burke could be a great agent. Maybe he would do better in another office. Napoleon decided he would see about transferring him. If he ever got out of here.
He pulled at the cuffs yet another time. If he got out of here. Saunders was a good agent. He'd make sure Illya knew. Illya would come. At least, he thought he would. Not long ago he wouldn't have questioned it. More recently, he wasn't so sure.
He shouldn't let himself think about the reason for that, but he couldn't help himself. God, he wanted Illya. When he'd had to fuck his partner at Laheeb's palace, he had thought he was just doing what duty demanded. But something happened between them that day. Something more than just duty.
He didn't know what it was, but he'd felt it. One look in Illya's eyes told him his partner had felt it, too. He'd craved that feeling again. It had scared the hell out of him. No matter how hard he tried to get away from it, how many women he buried himself into to try to either find it with them or forget it completely, the worse, the more the need became.
When he finally realized the only answer was to be with Illya at least sometimes, his would-be lover shut him down. No explanations, no anything. Just, "it was nice, Napoleon, but we need to stop now." Then Illya had gone back to the way things were in the first place.
How? Napoleon knew Illya had experienced it—whatever it was—too. How could Illya resist its siren call when Napoleon, himself, found resistance impossible? How could Illya act like it never happened?
Napoleon had no answers. He did know, though, that no matter how much he wanted Illya, how much he wanted to tie up the one person he desired most until the stubborn Russian agreed to try again, he cared about Illya Kuryakin far too much to force himself on him. So, he would step back and wait, holding onto the hope Illya would eventually come around and give him a second chance.
Dark, dank, and eerily empty. The freighter wasn't that large judging by the sound of the water lapping against the hull. The air was stale and humid. Rusted flakes of metal littered the floor.
It wasn't even a two star accommodation, Illya thought as he was cuffed to overhead pipes. He watched with sympathy as the young Stephano, whom he'd grown fond of, was literally tossed onto the floor in a heap.
Lorenzo let out a gritty laugh next to Angelo's ear. "That fat old bastard will soon sign over everything and then..." he made a long hissing sound through his teeth and drew a finger across his throat that said everything about their intentions to kill Vicente.
Illya grimaced as the hard metal of the cuffs cut into his wrists. Lorenzo seemed to like that. "You don't realize what you've done. If you give up now, I could get Antonio to go lightly on you," Illya said.
A perverse pleasure illuminated Lorenzo's face as a minion took some rope and hog-tied Stephano on the floor. The boy would be going nowhere when he awoke.
"Don't hurt him. Please. He's just a boy," Illya pleaded.
"As long as Vicente does as he's told, you and the boy will both live so you might as well save your breath. If he does not, then you won't have need to worry about anything anymore." Lorenzo turned and shooed the lackey out. Then he turned back and eyed Illya up and down before leaving as well.
Illya had a nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach after seeing the look on Lorenzo's face. Lorenzo obviously planned to have a bit of fun with Angelo before killing him.
The door slammed shut and the rusted latch ground closed leaving them in the dark.
Illya tested the cuffs. He wasn't going anywhere on his own anytime soon. He listened and heard the soft sound of Stephano's breathing. It seemed normal. Hopefully he wasn't hurt too badly. Now all he had to do was think of a way to get them out of this.
Bianci waited just outside the villa garden for word from his cohorts on the ship. He was actually glad the farce of pretending to be just a simple foreman was over and that now THRUSH was taking some real action. The lab was already set up and the first kegs of wine were almost ready to start aging. This was one of THRUSH's long-term plans with world wide applications.
U.N.C.L.E. had put a bit of financial burden on them in recent years, but even if it hadn't, luring Vicente into business with them kept them well under their enemy's radar and provided for easy money to get things done. It was the perfect place to set up their operations.
As Bianci eyed the villa he imagined living in the luxurious home himself soon. He might even let that old woman Maria live if her cooking was as good as local legends promised.
A static-filled sound came from his radio and he held it up. "What was that?" he demanded.
A clearer voice replied, "I said we have our bundles in storage. You can move out anytime."
Bianci smiled. He'd waited for this opportunity for months. "Sit on them till you hear from me," he ordered. "They aren't any good to us dead."
"Yes, sir," Lorenzo replied, pleased.
Bianci had no idea of the fun the man planned while Vicente was being backed into a corner.
April returned from her outing. As always when she entered a room, the two younger agents lost their breath momentarily and she was totally aware of the reactions though she pretended not to notice.
"I think I have a lead on our fellow agents."
Burke and Saunders were astonished. They were amazed at how quickly she could come up with information.
"Where? How did you find out?" Burke stammered.
"Simple. I went to the hamlet outside the villa and spoke with some of the young men who work the farms." She wore a pleased smile at how her charms easily got her what she was after. "There was talk of trucks leaving the estate by the back roads and heading toward the harbor. Looks like they were taking them to the docks, maybe even a ship there."
Burke grabbed his coat. "Let's go. We have to get to Napoleon before they do anything to him."
April grabbed the back of his collar on the way by. "Sit down. We're not going anywhere until we work out a plan. Nobody else is going to get captured because you can't contain your enthusiasm."
"Aye, mate," Mark agreed. "We'll need more than the four of us. I'm going to call in the local boys."
Antonio looked up in astonishment and outrage as the study door to the courtyard was forced open and an armed Bianci and three of his men barged inside. "What is the meaning of this?" Antonio ordered staring down the gun barrels seemingly unafraid.
It wasn't quite the reaction Bianci was expecting. He waved the gun a little as if trying to attract Vicente's attention with it. "The meaning is this," he stated with a bravado that was beginning to waver as he puzzled the big man's bold and fearless stance. "We have that little boy of yours as our guest," he said putting on a menacing smile hoping that would influence him even more. "And that piece of butt meat you've been poking fun at and if you want them to....well, stay healthy I suggest you sit down and listen if you give a rat's ass about them."
Antonio braced his hands against the desk contemplating taking him on, gun in hand regardless, but then he decided that subtlety would be the best course of action. He slowly sat down as his eyes burned their way through the back of the man's head intimidating the others behind him.
"That's better," Bianci sneered falsely thinking he had the advantage. "Now we can discuss terms like reasonable men." He walked up to the desk and helped himself to the imported Cuban cigars. He passed a couple to each of his men and then lit one up for himself.
"What is it you want?" Antonio growled at him.
Bianci took a couple of sweet puffs and savored the smoke before answering. "Well, it's like this, you see. I didn't like the way you talked to me earlier today. And I didn't like the demand for us to leave. After all, we are almost ready to get the mass production of wine underway."
Antonio smiled. "I said we were through. I'm not a part of this anymore."
"Now what is where you are right and wrong," Bianci said leaning forward. "You aren't going to be a part of this anymore because you are going to sign over the estate to the company."
"Don't be an ass, Bianci. I would never do that. I would die first than do something that stupid."
"No you won't die first," Bianci promised him. "That little boy you've been parading around town will die first. And then that bastard prostitute you dragged into your bed will die second. You will die third after having watched the other two beg you for their lives. I strongly recommend you lose the attitude if you don't want them to lose their heads."
Antonio pressed a hidden button on the lower lip of the desk that piped the conversation to the guard room near the gate. "You seem to have me right where you want me. What are your terms?"
"Now that's more like it," Bianci gloated. "I like you when you are cooperative like this. If only you'd been smart enough to stay that way."
Illya closed his eyes and tried to relax. He had one last trick up his sleeve. If he could calm himself to the point where he could manipulate his hand enough to slip the cuffs, then he could free himself and Stephano.
He took several calming breaths and cleared his mind. He tried to concentrate, but before he could attempt to slide his hand through the metal, he heard Stephano moan and try and twist around.
"Don't struggle," he said softly. "You'll make the bonds tighter and cut off your circulation."
There was another groan and then the boy turned his head. "Angelo? Where are you?"
"I'm over here," he said in the dark. "Just lie still. If they come back, pretend you are still unconscious."
"No buts," Illya warned him. "Trust me. I will get us out of here."
The lad groaned softly again wishing he could rub the stinging goose egg on his noggin. "How are you going to do that?"
How was a good question, Illya thought. "I'm... I'm working on it." he said hoping he sounded more convincing than he felt.
Footsteps echoed down the empty corridor outside. Illya's heart seemed to beat in time to each step until they stopped at the door. "Shhhh," he whispered to Stephano.
Stephano turned his head away and tried to hold back the pain thundering inside.
The latch creaked again and slowly the door ground open, leaving little flakes of rust that crunched as the person with a flashlight stepped inside.
Illya raised his head and squinted at the light trying to see who was behind it. It was the sound of Lorenzo's evil chuckle that gave him away.
He walked over to Illya and stepped behind him. Using the flashlight as if it were some form of feathery erotic tool, he ran the cold metal shaft along Illya's jaw.
Illya involuntarily braced himself. He had a bad feeling he knew what was coming next. Or, rather, who was coming next.
"Want some fun, little street urchin?" Lorenzo said. "I know about you and where you come from, Angelo. The police have a long file on you from when you used to sell your body for a few coins or a scrap of bread. Seems you like having men stuff that ass of yours, don't you?"
Angelo. Illya knew his cover was still intact. As bad as it was to let himself play the part, Illya once again delved into the meek love starved personality even though it meant getting in touch with the emotions that seemed to cloud his thoughts.
He wiggled his butt closer to the man's groin. "You know me too well. I can tell you want some of this, too," he whispered hoping that Stephano would forgive him for what he was about to do. "Let me loose and I will make it worth your time to find out."
Stephano squeezed his eyes shut tighter. He wanted to sob out loud as he listened to Angelo betray Antonio's love.
"I can do you right here," Lorenzo said and reached down for the belt on Angelo's pants.
Illya squirmed to keep his hands away from the buckle. "Please. Not in front of the boy. Is there not a bunk down here somewhere? I know some positions you will find truly wonderful. Let me show you," he said while again rubbing his butt against the man's groin.
Lorenzo laughed. "So, Vicente's little playmate isn't as loyal to him as Vicente is to him." He squeezed Illya's butt. "I think I can accommodate you." Why not? The kid was too much of a wimp to do anything but stick his ass in the air and wait for a cock to fill it. Angelo was a cum receptacle, not a fighter. He only hoped he'd see Antonio again, so he could tell him just how willing a partner his little fuck-toy was. With a pleased leer, he reached for the lock to the cuffs.
Napoleon yanked on the chains suspending him. The pipe looked old and somewhat rusty. Hopefully that meant he could break it and escape before the ship set sail. The idea of being held prisoner on a ship going to parts unknown didn't thrill him. The last time that happened to Illya, he ended up as a sex slave for a Saudi sheik's degenerate offspring.
A shiver ran down his spine. He wasn't sure if it was revulsion of the idea of having some man ram his cock up his ass or the thrill of the memory of his own cock nestled in the delectable ass of Sapphire, as the sheik's son called Illya. The former he never wanted to happen to him, the latter he wanted to do again. His conscious mind shied away from what that might mean before his subconscious had the chance to comment on it.
His musings were interrupted when the metal door to the small area he was in slammed open. Two men entered. One reminded Napoleon of a weasel. Same squinty brown eyes, same coloring. He wasn't even much bigger than a weasel. The overbite didn't help his image, either.
The other was the total opposite. Massive arms, massive chest, massive legs. Amidst all that massiveness, settled between two equally massive shoulders, sat a smaller than average sized head. It looked odd on such a large body.
Napoleon might have laughed at the sight of the two of them if Little Head hadn't been cracking the knuckles of his ham-sized hands while Weasel looked on in eager anticipation. Really didn't want to find out what excited Weasel so much since he thought it might mean bodily harm for himself.
He swallowed his fear and pasted on the urbane smile for which he was so famous. "Ah, you must be the bursar of this lovely ship. I can't say I'm pleased with the accommodations. The brochure promised a view of the sea."
"Lorenzo tell me to soften you up, Mr. U.N.C.L.E. man," said Little Head. The alto-verging-on-soprano voice would be sexy if he'd been a woman. Coming from a man, especially one with a body the size of a small tank, was just . . . weird.
Weasel's staccato snicker fit him all too well. "Go ahead, Paolo. Show him what we mean," he urged the big man.
Paolo smiled, showing a row of perfect teeth. Dentures. Had to be.
"Why don't you let me down and give me a fighting chance?" Napoleon said quickly. He wasn't as fast as Illya, but he felt confident in his ability to dodge Little Head, deck Weasel, and get the hell out of here as long as he was free.
Little Head thought about it then grinned. "Okay."
The grin gave Napoleon the willies. He had a feeling that had not been a good thing to say. When Little Head smashed a foot the size of a tree trunk into his knee, he knew for certain he should not have said it.
Reynaldo Giordano listened intently to what was happening in the big house. He threw an alarmed glance at his friend and fellow Vicente security man, Claudio.
Claudio's eyebrows had raised into his hairline. "Where are the house guards?"
Reynaldo shook his head. "I don't know."
At that point, the phone rang. "Giordano!" he barked into he phone.
"Reynaldo, this is Enrico. Have you been listening to what's happening at the main villa?" His voice showed his own concern.
"Yes. I was about to call you. Do you know where the other security people are?"
"No. Orlando and I were just discussing how odd it was that we hadn't seen anyone all day when the speaker came to life."
"We need to save Signore Vicente before we do anything else. Secure your gate and meet us at the barracks."
"What if they have someone waiting for us to leave our posts so they can get in?"
Reynaldo shook his head. "If that is the case, we would be more effective if we are fully armed and ready to meet them."
"Yes, sir. We'll be there in ten minutes."
"Careful, Enrico. They may have others around the estate keeping watch. Don't let them see you."
"Don't worry. We will not get caught."
The line went dead. Reynaldo replaced the receiver and looked at his fellow guard. "Did you secure the gate?"
Claudio nodded. "Let's go."
Bianci produced a sheaf of papers. "All you need to do is sign these documents giving me this estate."
"You do realize, of course," Antonio said, trying to buy time for his men to do something. "No one will believe I am giving this to you of my own free will. The surrounding villages know me. The authorities both there and in Naples are friendly with me. If I suddenly die and you are holding papers stating I have given everything to you, they will investigate."
Bianci scowled. "Let me worry about that."
Antonio's office chair squeaked as he relaxed into it. The man hadn't thought of that. Or, if he did, the order to vacate the premises came before he'd had time to implement it. Either way, Antonio felt he had at least a little leverage to work with. Not much, but some. "Perhaps there is another way."
Bianci stared at him warily. "I'm listening," he said finally.
"I can give you the winery and the land it sits on. My family and I will stay here, with my word that I will not try to stop you." If one of his men took it into his head to do something, he couldn't help that.
Bianci laughed coldly. "You must think me a fool."
Antonio smiled. "My personal opinion of you has nothing to do with this. My word is good. You can ask anyone. The authorities in Naples, perhaps."
Shots rang out in the front part of the house.
Bianci turned to the two men with him. "Who's up front?"
"Rizzo and Romano," answered one of his lackeys.
"Go find out what's happening up there."
The other two men in the room nodded and hurried out.
Antonio was a big man, but he was fit and much more agile than people would believe from a man his size. Bianci's momentary lapse in attention as he watched his men leave was all Antonio needed to move around the desk.
"Don't hope for a rescue, Vicente," Bianci was saying as he turned back around.
Antonio didn't give him the chance to finish his threat, shutting the man up with a fist to his mouth. He felt teeth crack and give under the power of that punch. Antonio grabbed the gun out of the surprised man's hand and slammed him in the face with the barrel.
Bianci went down like a ton of bricks just as Reynaldo burst into the room. He stopped and relaxed when he saw Bianci on the floor, blood and spit pooling under his face. A grin split his blood-spattered face. "Nice to see you still haven't lost your touch, my friend," Reynaldo said.
Antonio grunted. "Just my judgment, Reynaldo. In the old days, I would have seen his treachery coming."
Reynaldo put a hand on his boss' shoulder. "You have me for that, Antonio. I'm sorry I let you down."
Antonio patted the hand. "You didn't, Reynaldo, but it's not over. Where are the rest of my security men?"
"I don't know. It's just Orlando, Claudio, Enrico, and I here right now. We don't know where everyone else went. They must have taken them out." He grimaced at the thought of so many of his comrades dying.
"They still have Angelo and Stephano," Antonio said, fear for the two young men squeezing his heart. He was especially afraid of losing Angelo, for whom he'd developed strong feelings. "We must rescue them. but I don't know where they're at." He turned to the man who had stuck with him since they were the age of Stephano, clawing and scratching their way through the world. "Reynaldo, I know you still keep in touch with many of our friends from the old days."
Reynaldo nodded. "I can call on them to help us with this. Don't worry, Antonio. They will come if they know it is to help you. They all owe you the lives they now lead."
Antonio kicked at the man on the floor. "Before you do that, have Claudio tie up the survivors and get some smelling salts from the first aid kit. I'm sure I can persuade at least one of these vermin to talk."
"Do we know what's going on at the estate?" April asked as they planned their strategy.
Burke scowled. "No," he spat. "Kuryakin hasn't seen fit to report in on a regular basis."
Mark glanced at April to see if Burke's remark irritated her as much as it did him. The storm clouds gathering in her eyes said it did. "Have you ever been undercover?" he asked Burke, his mild tone belying his dislike of the man.
Burke stared at him. "Pardon?"
"Undercover? Have you ever done it?"
"Uh, no. What does that matter?"
Mark and April exchanged glances again. April turned away, rolling her eyes.
"Well, mate, you can't just tell someone, 'hey, mate, could you wait just a minute while I report into my boss. I'm a spy, you see.' I mean, you really can't do that at any time, but if you're undercover, it's even more so. You're a different person. Sometimes you have to go in with absolutely no weapon, no communicator, nothing. It's not always easy to give reports."
April sighed. "But it really isn't a consideration at this point," she interrupted. "We have to call Illya and find out what's going on in there. We can't really move until we know."
Mark nodded. "Agreed." He pulled out his pen communicator.
The shackles popped off Illya's wrists. and he rubbed feeling back into them. Lorenzo stood behind him, pressing the hard bulge in his pants into Illya's backside.
Lorenzo kicked at Stephano. "You make sure that idiot Vicente knows his little boy toy came to me willingly." He laughed at his own double entendre. "Came in every way possible."
Stephano glared at him, then at Illya. "Angelo, why are you doing this?"
"I'm sorry, Stephano," Illya said softly. "This isn't something I wanted you to see." At that moment, the whistle of his communicator went off.
Lorenzo's eyes widened at the familiar signal. "Wha . . ."
He hadn't gotten the first word of surprise out before Illya slammed an elbow into his gut. Lorenzo doubled over with a puff of pain. Before he could recover, Illya spun, pulled back Lorenzo's head by the hair, and slammed his knee into the now exposed throat.
Lorenzo had information Illya wanted, but he highly doubted the Italian man would be forthcoming. At least not quickly enough to make a difference. This way kept him quiet so no one else on the ship would be the wiser.
Unfortunately, Stephano had to witness it, something Illya hated. It just couldn't be helped, though.
Stephano stared in shock and fear as he watched Angelo change from the meek, quiet young man that loved Antonio into a cold-eyed, ruthless animal.
With an apologetic look at Stephano, Illya pulled his still beeping communicator out and assembled it. "Napoleon," he panted into it.
"No, mate. It's Mark. Napoleon's been captured."
Illya grimaced in disgust. "I saw them dragging Burke away, but not Napoleon. No doubt he was trying to rescue Burke and that ninny did something stupid that got Napoleon caught, as well."
Mark cleared his throat. "Ah, well, actually, Burke is free now, but Napoleon is in their custody."
Illya stared at the pen then shook his head. "I don't have time for the story right now. There are more immediate issues. I need you and the others to get over to the Vicente villa. He and everyone on that estate are in danger."
"Will do, Illya."
"I'll clean up Burke's mess and free Napoleon. You get to the estate." He wanted so badly to run to Antonio's aid, but he knew Mark would get there faster. Besides, he needed to start to distance himself from Antonio, no matter how much he didn't want to.
It sounded like Mark dropped his pen, then another voice came on. "It's Burke," said the green agent in a challenging tone. "If you hadn't been so busy playing footsie with that Vicente guy, Napoleon wouldn't be in this mess."
Illya stared incredulously at the pen, then his expression went iceberg cold. "Mr. Burke, I don't have time for a report on what happened right now. I will expect the report on my desk within 24 hours of your return to New York, however."
"I don't have to answer to some limp-wristed pansy," Burke said sullenly.
"I am Number 2 of Section 2," Illya reminded him, ignoring the insult. For now. "I outrank you. I suggest you give Mr. Slate his communicator back and shut up before I do more than just write up a reprimand on you." His tone suggested bodily harm could be part of that 'something more.'
After a long pause, Burke snarled, "Yes, sir," hatefully.
"We're on our way to the estate, Illya. You go get Napoleon," said Mark. "Slate out."
April, Mark, and Saunders stared at Burke as though he'd grown a second head.
Finally April shook her head in disgust. "You're either the biggest dumbass I've ever met or . . ." She just shook her head again.
"The bravest man you ever met?" Burke supplied.
"I think dumbass says it all," muttered Mark. He put in a call to the backup team and instructed them to head over to the villa immediately. "They're only five minutes away," Mark said when he hung up. "April, take Burke and go help with that." He held up his pen. "Saunders and I will track Illya and help him with Napoleon."
Burke started to object then thought better of it. He was good at his job, and he knew he could be even better if teamed with Napoleon. However, these two were senior agents, and he needed to impress them, as well, if he wanted to get there. If he could get the majority of the agents on his side, maybe he could get somewhere. He straightened and nodded. "I apologize to all of you. I-I can get a bit too eager sometimes. Please forgive me." He could play meek if necessary. He thought he would be good at undercover work.
Illya knelt down over Stephano. He put a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder. The way the boy flinched and the fear in his eyes stabbed at his heart. Empathy was a feeling Illya hadn't allowed himself in the past. It felt strangely natural and at the same time it scared the hell out of him. Opening up to Antonio had opened up so much more and he really wasn't sure how to deal with it.
After a hard swallow Illya said, "I'm sorry you had to see that, Stephano. I have much to explain, but now is not the time."
Stephano turned his head away, so he didn't have to look into Angelo's sad eyes. Somehow he just knew that no explanation would ever truly help him understand what was going on.
The bonds left bruises and indentations when removed. Illya quickly rubbed the injured flesh to restore some circulation. "I... I have a friend here. I must go find him. You must stay here. It will be dangerous."
Stephano shook his head and gripped Illya's sleeve. "No. Don't go out there. Antonio will come. He has many men who can take care of these people." he said.
Illya pulled the boy's hand away, his grip showing the strength he truly possessed. "I have to. Give me your word you will stay here."
After a few moments of silence, Stephano reluctantly lowered his head and nodded.
Illya grabbed Lorenzo's gun and then used the rope to tie the man up before he left. He doubted he would come to after the blow, but he wanted Stephano safe just in case he did.
Reynaldo felt as if they were in the old days, Orlando at the wheel, Claudio riding next to him with gun in hand. Antonio, he, and Nuncio in the back seat. In the car behind them, Rafael, Raul, Fabrizio, and Carmine. When the word went out, no one hesitated to answer the call.
The village was loyal to Antonio. He was a unique criminal who kept the law on his side. Sometimes through money or sometimes simply because, even as a criminal, he was on the side of the law. Vicente's unorthodox style of criminal activity came from growing up under the influence of a loving mother with good values and strong religious beliefs and also from the poverty and desperation of a childhood during the war.
The passion and inspiration with which Antonio led the gang bonded them all. Being a homosexual was never spoken about because of the pure presence Vicente possessed and the respect he created among everyone who knew him.
"The ship is near the warehouse," Reynaldo reported. Everyone knew Antonio exported antiques and replicas of Roman decor and where that was stored and shipped. "I called ahead. Rita in the coffee shop said something strange seemed to be going on out there."
There was an audible click as Antonio snapped the ammo in place in his gun after checking it. "No one takes my family and threatens us and gets away with it," he declared in an ominously serious tone.
Every man in that car knew Antonio would have said the same thing if it were they in that situation.
"When we stop, tell Raul and the boys take the North side of the dock. They can circle around the warehouse. We'll go up the south side and block Lorenzo and his cohorts. They will have nowhere to go."
As soon as the bonds were released Napoleon's injured knee gave out and he fell to the floor. A heavy foot in the stomach forced the air from his lungs in an audible gasp. He coughed trying to get a breath.
In the corridor Illya turned his head as his ear caught a sound. Was that Napoleon? He waited a moment to be sure. Another grunt told him that he was correct in his suspicions, and Napoleon seemed to be in trouble. Illya moved toward the sound. As he did so, he balanced the gun in his hand and made sure he had a firm hold of the grip.
Illya didn't take long to pause and listen. He quickly determined that there were at least two individuals in the room besides Napoleon. The rusty hinges set into the steel bulkhead let him know there would be no taking them by surprise. There was no choice but to take a breath and burst in, hoping for the best.
"Who is that?" April asked as they pulled up to the side of the warehouse in their car.
Burke stuck his head out the window for a better view. "That is Antonio Vicente and a couple of his men from the estate. I don't know who...ack!" he choked as Mark pulled the man back through the window into the back seat.
"Why don't you stick a yellow flag out the window and tell everyone we are here?" he snapped and then ignored him as he focused on April again.
Saunders tapped April on the shoulder lightly and then pointed over his shoulder to the car coming up the other side of the building. "He brought company."
"He's making his escape!" Burke announced jumping to conclusions.
"I don't think so," April said watching the people get out of their cars armed to the teeth. "Looks like they are in the middle of a raid if you ask me."
Mark lifted his communicator to his lips and paged the other team. "Pull around the building and wait for instructions. We have a situation developing here."
Just then the first gunfire shattered the silence.
As he predicted, the creaking of the old hinges announced Illya's arrival, but both goons were so focused on attacking the near helpless man on the floor that they failed to notice him. Unfortunately, Napoleon was too close to the line of fire so Illya tucked the gun into his waistband, and then he pounced like a cat on the first of the two.
Napoleon managed to glance up as Illya's face appeared on the shoulder of the hulk. With the little energy he had left he reached out and pulled the leg of the weasel out from under the man. In the buffoon's distraction it was easy to topple him.
Illya found himself spinning around in a circle with a chokehold on the giant. Thick fingers tried to pull him off by grabbing him by the ear, but the long hair seemed to prevent the guy from succeeding. Before he could choke the hulk unconscious the man smashed Illya into a bulkhead with enough force to dislodge his grip.
Finally able to get a lungful of fresh air, Napoleon struggled to his feet and balanced on his good leg. There was nothing to use as a weapon in the empty cargo room so Napoleon had to resort to hand to hand combat.
Pulling back a clenched fist, Napoleon took aim at the right ear of the giant, but before he could make impact, the klutz backed over the fallen weasel and fell toward Napoleon. Lacking the agility to move out of the way quickly Napoleon cried out as his knee was twisted underneath him in the fall.
Hearing the cry of pain, Illya turned to see if Napoleon was all right. By that time the nimble weasel was rolling to his feet with a pipe in his hands. When Napoleon spotted him there was no time to warn Illya before the impact.
Burke was ready to leap from the car and rush in, gun blazing a trail, but April grabbed his arm.
"Sleep charges," she ordered. "We have evidence that Vicente is innocent. We don't want to kill anyone."
Saunders was quick to switch his ammo loads, and Burke listened to the car full of clicking as the new charges were snapped into place. Finally he too popped out the regular bullets and replaced them with the sleep charges.
"It's likely that Illya is aboard," April said. "Napoleon, too. We can sort out who's who when everyone is in custody."
Mark radioed the other car to pass on the orders.
The two groups got out of the cars and headed toward the gangway. Backup agents from the local office were at the same moment checking out the Villa and estate properties.
Gunfire intensified and grew closer. Napoleon was impressed at how, even dazed, Illya managed to karate chop their opponents out cold. He hissed, trying to contain his pain as Illya pulled him to his feet and threw an arm over his shoulder to support him.
"Is it broken?" Illya asked.
Napoleon shook his head. "I... I don't think so but it hurts like a son of a..."
Illya cut him off. "We have to hurry. I have to get back to Stephano and get the two of you out of here."
Napoleon took a deep breath and nodded. "Let's go." He grimaced and tried not to lean on Illya too much.
Illya checked the hallways. "It's clear." He pulled Napoleon along and they headed back to the first room to get Stephano. Halfway there, thundering footsteps raced toward them. From a side corridor Antonio Vicente barged in and saw Napoleon with his arms around Illya.
The Angelo in Illya knew what was going on in Antonio's head. Here was Angelo's former lover clutching him. They were in a ship full of enemies and Antonio would think Napoleon had orchestrated the kidnapping. When Illya saw Vicente raise the gun and point it at Napoleon he had to save him from making a fateful mistake.
"No!" Illya shouted as the trigger was squeezed.
Illya dropped Napoleon and leapt for Antonio, pushing his arm up just as the gun went off. The bullet lodged in the joint where the wall met the ceiling.
Antonio's gaze flicked to Napoleon then back to Illya. He stared at his lover with hurt anger. "What is going on here?"
"Antonio, it's not what you think," Illya said, the words sounding lame even to him.
"What? You are not getting ready to run away with your abusive lover once again?" Antonio spat.
"You don't think he really wants a big buffoon like you, do you?" Napoleon spat, the agony of his leg and the beating making him light headed and impairing his judgment. Otherwise he would have known better than to say such a thing to his partner.
"I do not leave him with bruises," Antonio shot back. "I do not take him for granted to treat him like a prostitute as you do!"
"Shut up, Napoleon!" Illya growled, glad he was stronger than he looked. It took everything he had to keep Antonio's gun hand down. Antonio's dark eyes spat fire, promising great bodily harm to Napoleon.
The door burst open once more and April, Mark, and Burke spilled inside, guns at the ready. Illya held a hand up to them lest they try to shoot Antonio out of mistaken concern.
"Is everything all right?" April asked, lowering her gun a little but ready to bring it back up again if necessary.
Illya nodded as Napoleon said, "No."
"Which is it?" Mark asked in confusion.
The moment Illya had most dreaded had arrived. Time to come clean with Antonio. What could he tell the man who had freely shared his home, his bed, his life with him? No matter what Illya said now, it would cause this good man pain Illya never wanted to inflict on him. He could see no way to spare Antonio, no matter how much he wanted to. What he could do for Antonio was to spare him at least some of his dignity by telling him the truth in private.
"April, there's a boy on the other end of the cargo hold. Could you please get him to safety while Mark and Burke get Napoleon to a medic?"
April nodded and started to turn away.
"My men have seen to Stephano," Antonio said gruffly. "He is safe."
"They did pretty much have everything in hand by the time we got here," April told Illya.
"Then get Napoleon to the medic. Something's wrong with his leg."
"I'm not going anywhere," Napoleon started to object.
Illya glared over his shoulder. "Get out, Napoleon!" He shot the look to the others. "Everyone out!"
"But he's holding a gun!" said Burke looking ready to attack Antonio for the slightest reason.
One look at Illya's expression was enough for Mark. "Right." He bustled to Napoleon's side and slipped under the arm on the side of the injured leg. "Let's go, mate."
Napoleon opened his mouth to object but April took his other arm. "Yes, Napoleon, let's go. You don't look too good. Burke, go check to make sure the boy—Stephano?" At Illya's curt nod she continued her instructions to the junior agent. "Make sure Stephano gets over to the medic, as well, so he can be checked out."
For a second she was afraid he was going to be stupid yet again and try to argue about it. But Burke took one look at Illya's dark and, face it, scary expression and even he figured out it would be unhealthy to do so. "Yes, ma'am," he mumbled before hurrying off.
"Come on, luv," April told Napoleon. "Let's give Illya his privacy."
"If you're not out in ten minutes, I'm coming back in here after you," Napoleon rasped as Mark and April hustled him out of the room.
The door was closed with a clang, and Illya was left alone with his bewildered lover. If Illya thought the betrayed expression on Stephano's face painful, the same look lurking in Antonio's beautiful brown eyes was pure agony.
"Angelo?" Antonio asked, his rumbling voice laced with emotions Illya preferred not to identify.
Illya shook his head. "That's not who I really am," he blurted. His natural disinclination to tell people about himself came to the forefront of his brain and he was unable to think of a kinder way to break the news to Antonio.
Anger sparked in the Italian's eyes, adding to the mix already there. "Then exactly whom have I been sharing my bed—and my heart—with?"
Illya rubbed his face with both hands then ran them through his hair. "My real name is Illya Kuryakin." His gut churned as Antonio's expression hardened, destroying any affections the man may have had for Angelo. To see his lover from the last weeks staring at him with such contempt hurt more than any torture he'd ever been through.
"Russian?" At Illya's nod, Antonio's jaw tightened even more. "And the other man? Phillip."
"My partner, Napoleon Solo."
"So. At least one thing you told me was true," Antonio said bitterly.
Illya's brow furrowed. "I don't think I ever told you Napoleon was my partner."
"Of course you did. You gave a false name, but you were certainly up front about him being your lover. Although I assume he's your current lover rather than your ex. How a man could allow his lover sleep with another man, no matter what the reason, I don't understand," Antonio spat with distaste.
"Lo . . .?" Illya shook his head. "No, Antonio. You have it wrong."
"Do not lie to me again!" the big man bellowed. "You and this . . . this . . ." he waved his hand around. "Napoleon! You are not lovers?"
"No! I mean, we were," he babbled. "But not anymore. Not for awhile," he hastened to add, suddenly wanting very much for Antonio to know he and Napoleon were definitely not an item.
"Then what do you mean?" Antonio demanded. "If he is no longer your lover, what kind of partner is he?"
"My business partner. We just work together."
Puzzlement flashed across Antonio's face. "Why would an American work with a Russian? What kind of business could you possibly be in?"
"We work for an international organization by the name of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement."
"U.N.C.L.E.. I've heard of it. So, you are a policeman of sorts," he stated flatly, eyes now completely cold and hard. "You made me fall in love with you . . . why?" The hurt returned. "Why would you do that? I no longer work on the wrong side of the law. I had gotten out of that sort of thing before I met you last time." His eyes narrowed. "What did U.N.C.L.E. want of me last time?"
"Nothing. That wasn't U.N.C.L.E.," Illya said. He didn't want to lie to Antonio anymore. He'd done enough of that for a lifetime.
"Then who was it?"
Perhaps his sudden attack of conscience was a bad idea. Unfortunately, he couldn't seem to stop himself from answering the question. "KGB."
Antonio's eyes widened in surprise. "Why would the KGB be interested in me?"
"We weren't. We were after Olivetti. You. . . . were just a happy coincidence."
"And U.N.C.L.E.? Another happy coincidence?" Although his voice dripped ice, it contained a note of hopefulness.
Illya bit his lip. "No. I was sent here to investigate you. Rather, we were here to investigate Bianci and his lot. They're members of a terrorist organization called THRUSH. They're bent on world domination and where they are at, there's going to be trouble.
"The people that bankroll their projects are often privy to their aims, but sometimes they are not. I was sent here to find out which category you fell into."
Antonio turned away and hung his head, leaning a hand against the wall to hold himself up. "Why?"
Illya knew he was handling this badly. Perhaps the clean, surgical strike he'd been avoiding would be kinder than this slow torture he was putting his lover through. "We needed to know."
Antonio spun, eyes glistening with unshed tears. "I understand that part!" he exploded. "You could have determined that without making me fall in love with you! Why did you play with my heart?" A strangled sound escaped from the big man. "What have I ever done to you to make you hate me so?"
Illya's hold on his emotions had been tenuous at best since coming here. What little control he had dissolved and the feelings this man had awoken in him threatened to overwhelm him. "Oh, Antonio," he said softly. "I don't hate you. Far from it." Without thinking, he reached for the man with whom he'd shared so much in so short a time, wanting to touch him one last time.
Antonio jerked away. "Don't touch me!" he hissed. He took a deep breath and straightened to his full imposing height. His face settled into the cold, calculating businessman Illya had seen when going head to head with someone he felt was cheating him. "So. What was your verdict? Are you arresting me?"
"Antonio, let me explain." Illya heard the pleading note in his voice. He didn't care.
"Are you arresting me?" Antonio repeated icily.
Illya looked away and shook his head. "No. I know you're not involved."
"Good. I will be taking what remains of my family and leave, then."
Illya flinched, knowing his own place in that family, a place he had come to enjoy, was no longer available. He caught Antonio's gaze. If he was hoping to see the affection and warmth he'd gotten used to recently, he was sorely mistaken. His heart constricted even more. "I'm sorry."
"If I ever see you again, I will kill you," Antonio promised, voice cracking with his emotions. He spun and walked away, the one leaving Illya behind this time.
Illya's heart constricted, shriveling once again to the small, hard, lifeless thing it had been before this mission. Illya mourned its passing even as he knew it was the best thing, for him and for Antonio. He took a deep breath, then spent a few minutes rounding up his rampant emotions. He shoved them down, entombing them in what was left of his heart. Once he felt sure of his control—well as sure as he could be under the circumstances—and thought Antonio had enough time to leave, he went out to join his comrades in arms.
The dock buzzed like a hive. Local police swarmed the area mixed in with U.N.C.L.E. agents, men in custody, and dock workers under supervision ripping open crates and packing containers of all kinds. The assignment was broken wide open now. Clean up was going to be a big job.
Illya looked around, hoping that his face was neutral and didn't display the emotional turmoil he still felt churning inside.
Walking down the gangway to the dock, Illya looked around for Mark and April. He finally spotted April's gorgeous red locks in a crowd of burly workers where she directed their activities. He made his way down to her.
"So where did they take Napoleon?" he asked when she seemed done.
April paused a moment to think. When she remembered the name of the hospital she carefully repeated it to him. "He might need surgery for that knee but the rest of the beating seemed pretty superficial."
Illya frowned and nodded. "Where are they interviewing Vicente and his men?" he asked looking around.
She didn't say anything at first. Then she said with a little hesitation, "They aren't. Local police let him and his men go. We couldn't prevent them. He's really got everyone behind him. I called Waverly. He said to let them go."
Illya looked down at the ground. "Someone has to clear the villa and the winery for evidence. Is Mark out there?"
April nodded. "He took Burke and Saunders with him. Don't worry though. There was enough to clear Vicente. Someone will debrief him later."
Illya went silent. He wanted to be the one to debrief Antonio. He wanted to try to explain to him . . . what, exactly? That it wasn't Angelo that had been in bed with him. As much as he wanted to deny it, he knew that every time he'd been with Antonio romantically, he had been Illya. The Angelo persona had never been there with them. He glanced up and noticed April looking at him like she was trying to read his mind but couldn't. Good thing. Finally he spoke up. "I'm going to go to the hospital and check on Napoleon." That was safe. "You don't need me here do you?"
She shook her head. "I can handle this with the local U.N.C.L.E. team. You go on ahead. If you need me to pick up your things from the villa I can..."
Before she could finish offering, he interrupted her. "I'll do it. I... I need to say goodbye to Maria and explain a few things."
Although a thousand questions filled her mind, she sensed this wasn't the time to ask any. She nodded. "Call me if you need a ride."
Illya headed toward the police cars blocking off the dock. He would be able to get transportation there.
Burke trotted into the office of the winery where Mark checked through drawers. "We found the rest of Vicente's men. Locked up in a storage room," he puffed.
Mark tried to ignore the bravado. He wondered how Burke would ever last as an agent. He couldn't understand how Saunders could stand working with him. "Do you know about the lake and the cabin up there that belongs to the estate?"
The younger agent shook his head. "No. Oh wait! Ms. Dancer said something about it earlier."
Mark nodded. "Yes. I want you and Saunders to go up there. Make sure there is nothing up there that pertains to the investigation."
"But this is where the action...." he began to say but then thought better of it. "Uh... Okay." He turned to leave as Mark opened another drawer and pulled out a video tape. Burke paused outside the door to see what was on it out of curiosity.
To see whether the tape was of any value, perhaps containing recordings of lab experiments or developing formulas, Mark walked over to the cabinet and slipped the cassette into the player. It was rare that people would have the machines as they were so expensive, but Vicente was made of money so it wasn't surprising he had them.
The tape was nothing like Slate expected. The first sign of that was the obvious grunting and groaning along with occasional panting. His eyes nearly popped out of his head at the sight of Illya having sex with Vicente. He had suspected there was more to the Russian than the short fling that went on with Napoleon after Saudi Arabia, but to actually see Illya in the act, and quite apparently enjoying himself, was a little startling.
In the hallway Burke smiled to himself before he slunk down the corridor to the door.
"Yes Antonio, I understand, but...." Maria said. "Surely you can come home and eat before you leave?" She could hear the upset tone in her employer's voice. She'd been with him long enough to think of him like a son, and the truth was he listened to her like she was his mother most of the time. Maria knew how much she was loved, only this time he didn't seem to be listening to her advice.
"Yes. I know." She slowly hung up the phone and stared down the hall toward the front door. Maria was sad no one would be coming in pleading for dinner tonight. With a heavy heart she returned to the stove and turned off the pot of pasta sauce. She hated waste and was already thinking of turning it into a huge lasagna for the church social in two days time.
Napoleon winced as the doctor prodded his knee and slightly raised his leg. "Does that hurt?"
Napoleon gave him a sarcastic smile. He was in no mood for any further irritation.
The doctor was a little nervous at the expression. He backed off a little. "The x-rays will tell us more. Just lie back and relax," he instructed his patient.
Rolling his eyes upward Napoleon leaned his head back and let the nurse dab more of the blood from the cut above his ear. It stung but not nearly as bad as his leg when it was moved. And a bonus was that she was very pretty.
He took a couple of calming breaths and then spoke up. "Thank you very much. You have a nice gentle touch."
She smiled bashfully at his flattering way of expressing gratitude. "You are American?"
"Yes," he said before a slight hiss of pain escaped his lips.
She pulled her hand back. "Oh, I am sorry."
He caught her hand and urged her to remain close. "No. You are not hurting me. Ii is my leg," he lied. He pulled her closer again. "Please continue."
She blushed and tried not to look into his eyes. "They said you were in a fight with a lot of bad men."
Feigning humility, Napoleon shrugged. "Part of the job."
She seemed to be lingering on the cut far longer than she needed when the doctor cleared his throat. "Nurse Contini, please clear the room. X-ray is here to get the leg and ribs."
She nodded. "Uh, yes, doctor." She quickly moved the tray away from the table to give the men room to work.
"You are coming back, aren't you?" Napoleon asked as she headed to the door.
She just smiled and giggled as she left.
Napoleon turned his focus to the doctor and the x-ray technician. "Okay. Let's get this over with. I think I may have a date tonight," he joked.
One hour later he had the news. No broken bones fortunately, but he did have one cracked rib and two bruised ones. The knee was intact but there was some torn cartilage and tendons. He would need surgery, but it wasn't life threatening nor urgent. That meant that he could safely return to the United States and see the specialists with the U.N.C.L.E. They were just moving him to a room, and the painkillers began taking effect when Illya arrived.
Antonio Vicente felt betrayed worse than he ever had in his life. Not even the heinous rivalry of Olivetti could compare to the way Angelo had toyed with his heart. It was all a lie and he'd never trust anyone like that again. He could barely think of anything else in the back seat of the sedan on the way to Genoa.
Business wasn't urgent but staying at home with everything reminding him of the love he'd mistakenly thought he had was more than he could bear at the moment.
He called Maria to explain that he was leaving town for a few days. Stephano would be in good hands with the overnight stay in the hospital, though the lad protested that he wasn't hurt. Mario Firenza, one of the top men on Vicente's security team and an old friend from his days on the streets scrounging around war torn Naples, would see to it that the boy was looked after until he returned. Mario had missed the excitement since he had been out of town for the day.
The local police never made any attempt to prevent Antonio from leaving. Most were beholden to him in one capacity or another. They knew Antonio Vicente would return and any details that needed to be taken care of with him could wait until then.
U.N.C.L.E. agents from the United States tried to stop him at first but when informed of Vicente's intention to leave the area for awhile, Alexander Waverly said not to interfere. Vicente had given permission for the teams to collect evidence from the estate freely.
Antonio never ran from a confrontation. Ever. This time, though, he just couldn't face seeing Angelo again. He shook his head. Not Angelo. He didn't exist. He was a role the man Antonio had shared his home, his bed, his life with for the last weeks. Not real. Just like the love and caring Angelo . . .Kuryakin . . . whoever his "lover" was . . . was not real.
Unfortunately, the feelings he had for the man he knew as Angelo were all too real. That was the main reason he didn't want to confront him. He was afraid he'd give in too easily. He wasn't sure he could look at the man and divorce himself from the emotions he'd developed for him over not only the last couple of weeks but for the last ten years
Years! Years of his life wasted wanting to rekindle a love affair that had been a lie from the beginning. Years of comparing every other man to a nonexistent person. The one long-term relationship he'd had in all that time had come about because of the man's resemblance to Angelo.
He felt such a fool. Another reason not to see Angelo. He was afraid he'd kill him. The anger, hurt, and betrayal might get the best of him and he might squeeze the life out of the bastard. It might satisfy his rage for the moment, but Antonio knew in the long run he would regret such an action.
For one thing, even though he'd ordered a few people's deaths over the years, he only did so as an absolute last resort and only to protect those he cared about. Angelo hurt him deeply, more so than anyone ever had, but it didn't warrant death.
He had another reason not to kill him, though. An even more personal one. He'd fallen in love with the young man, and no matter what Angelo had done to him, no matter how much he'd used a foolish man's affections against him, Antonio still loved him. It hurt. Tore at his insides, feeling as though he'd swallowed a rodent and it was trying to claw its way out. Yet no matter how shattered his heart, each minute, bloody piece still beat with love for the man who had betrayed him.
No. It was best he never saw Angelo again. If he did, it might be far too easy to forgive him.
A pretty young nurse exited the room Illya had been told Napoleon was in, her face flushed and an excited smile on her face. She was in another world, not noticing him as she glided by, floating on air. Illya scowled. He'd seen that very look on too many women's faces after they'd talked to his partner.
"Can I leave? I now have a date for tonight," said someone from inside the room.
Illya recognized the voice as Napoleon's. His eyes narrowed and jaw tightened. What was Napoleon's game, anyway? He played the jealous lover, acting like Illya was his and his alone. Constantly sniping at him about Antonio, talking derisively about the man Illya had been sharing a bed with even when it was proven Antonio had not knowingly thrown his hat in with THRUSH.
Normally, Napoleon would sympathize with the innocent person that got caught up in THRUSH schemes through no fault of their own. Told them personally how much the U.N.C.L.E. owed them, even going so far as taking the women out to dinner or sending a box of cigars to the men.
Instead he sneered Antonio's name, a look Illya didn't recognize on his face but one he thought was jealous anger. Napoleon acted as though Illya owed him the loyalty of a committed relationship and had no right to have sex with anyone else. At the same time, Napoleon's rate of dating—epic in normal times—had increased. As always, Napoleon had a double standard for his partner. Napoleon could do whatever he wanted, but he didn't afford Illya the same courtesy. What was the American saying he'd always found so stupid? Oh. Yes. "Do as I say, not as I do."
Illya had enough of that growing up. Now that he'd found some autonomy with U.N.C.L.E., he refused to accept the concept. Their tenuous personal relationship just took another huge hit. Illya doubted it would recover to quite the same level as before. But he had to try.
Illya clenched his teeth and swallowed his anger. Napoleon was an ass, but he was still his partner and no matter how much he wanted to spin on his heel and leave, he knew he had to be there for him in that capacity. He wanted to keep the friendship if he could. That, to him, was far more important then the sex they sometimes had, no matter how good.
Once his mild, bland expression was firmly on his face, he stepped into the room. Napoleon looked up and brightened. That irritated Illya even more. He supposed Napoleon figured if the pretty nurse didn't let him fuck her, he could talk his partner into letting him ram his cock up his ass. That was not about to happen. Never again. From now on Illya's fantasies would center on Antonio, a man who would be just as attainable, but who at least left him with memories of someone who wanted him for more than just sex.
"How's the knee?" he asked.
The narrowing of Napoleon's eyes told Illya he hadn't quite managed to keep the cold fury out of his voice. At least, not enough for his partner of many years not to catch.
The doctor, who had been checking the band swathing Napoleon's knee, looked up. "Who are you?"
"Doctor, this is Illya Kuryakin. My partner at the U.N.C.L.E. "
The doctor humphed. "I'm going to release you. I suggest you stay in town overnight. You'll be able to return to New York in the morning," the doctor declared.
"Thank you," Napoleon said graciously. The moment the doctor was out of the room, all civility was dropped. "What were you thinking?" Napoleon snapped at his partner.
Illya glanced over at him coldly. "About what?"
"Vicente. I hope they put that big oaf in a dark prison cell and throw away the key!"
"Antonio has not been nor will be arrested," Illya said through clenched teeth. "He is not guilty. He had no idea who the men building his winery really were."
Napoleon shook his head. "I don't believe it."
"There is proof otherwise, Napoleon."
"You're too close to the situation. What you see as proof is probably just Vicente's conmon slight of hand. He is involved with THRUSH up to his beady little eyeballs. I'm sure of it."
"Then he conned Mr. Waverly, as well, since he also believes Antonio is innocent of any wrongdoing." He tried to throttle back on his anger but it wasn't easy. "When did you stop trusting me? Not that I need an answer to that. I already know."
Napoleon blinked. "I don't know what you're talking about. I trust you with my life. I always have."
"No, Napoleon. You used to trust me. Used to trust my judgment with absolutely no proof to back it up. That stopped the day you started seeing me as just another of your 'women'."
"What are you talking about?" Napoleon seemed truly perplexed.
Illya had no doubt Napoleon didn't realize the difference in the way he treated his partner. That didn't make it a less bitter pill. Illya moved close so no one would hear him even if they stood outside the door. "Since the day I allowed you to fuck me, you have treated me as if I were some delicate, innocent flower that you had to protect and couldn't trust to return the favor."
Napoleon's expression hardened. "You don't know what you're talking about. You've spent too much time as Angelo and are just having a problem coming out of it like you sometimes do."
"No. I was never fully involved with Angelo. I dropped him easily." Okay. So that wasn't completely true. But Napoleon didn't need to know just how much Angelo resembled the young man he thought he would have been if his parents had lived and the KGB had never gotten hold of him.
"Oh, then it was you and not Angelo that let that Italian pig sweat and grunt over you as he shoved his cock up your ass."
Illya's eyes narrowed. "You're jealous of him."
Napoleon looked away, a sure sign Illya had nailed the biggest part of the problem. "I'm concerned for your safety, that's all," he lied. "You barely know him yet you allow him into your bed. Don't you realize how dangerous that is?" He turned back and sneered. "And you wonder why I treat you like a flower in need of protection."
The barb didn't hit home since Illya knew it as a lie. He laughed bitterly. "Oh, that's rich coming from you. How well do you know the nurse you just made a date with?"
The guilt that flashed across Napoleon's face was all he needed. "Goodbye, Napoleon. I'll check on you in your hotel room later. Or maybe I should wait until tomorrow in case you let the nurse you barely know into your bed." He spun around and left before he strangled his partner.
Illya's pen whistled as he got into the car one of the Rome U.N.C.L.E. agents had lent him. "Kuryakin," he answered.
"Ah, Mr. Kuryakin. I assume you've seen to the care of our Mr. Solo?"
Illya grimaced. "Yes, sir." Sort of. Enough at any rate. "He'll be able to travel tomorrow."
"Good. I'll have Lisa book him a flight back to New York. In the meantime, I want you to oversee the cleanup there. And don't forget to retrieve your things from the Vicente villa."
Illya's heart leapt at the idea of seeing Antonio again. To explain, if he could, as best he could. "I'll head over there now."
"See to it. I don't want unnecessary charges to your expense account."
"Of course not, sir. I should be able to retrieve any equipment I left at the estate."
"See that you do." The line went abruptly dead as was the usual way of Mr. Waverly.
Illya smiled as he capped his pen. He tried not to think about the fact that he welcomed any excuse to see Antonio one last time, no matter how much the man may now hate him. He also didn't think about how hard it was going to be for him to actually leave Antonio yet again.
His pen went off again before he finished closing it. "Kuryakin," he said with a puzzled frown. Did Waverly forget something?
"Illya, I have something here at the winery office I need you to look at."
The line between his brows deepened. "What is it, Mark?" he asked, holding his breath.
"It's . . . you just have to come see for yourself, guv. How long til you get here?"
"About thirty minutes."
"See you then. Slate out." The pen went silent.
Illya's heart pounded in his chest. What the hell did Mark find? Did something in the offices that implicate Antonio after all? Illya shook his head. Even if he did, Illya was sure it would be just subterfuge on THRUSH's part and not on Antonio's.
He drove at breakneck speed to the winery, heart thundering in his ears. When he arrived, he walked quickly but calmly to the office. Mark sat waiting for him.
His heart sunk as he saw the look on his friend's face. "Mark?"
Mark glanced at him with an expression of chagrin. "Close and lock the door and turn out the light, mate."
Illya stared at him a second then complied. His hand slid on the doorknob as he closed the door, hand sweaty from nerves. Something was obviously wrong. Something personal. What did Mark find? He gathered his courage and turned back when he knew his blank mask was firmly in place. He raised an eyebrow in question.
"I think you might need to sit down for this one, Illya," Mark said as he reached for one of the new video tape machines on the table. "If you can," he muttered under his breath.
Illya broke out in a cold sweat as he dropped heavily into a nearby chair. He'd known Lorenzo had most likely planted some bugs and cameras around the estate. But where? The office was a definite.
He and Antonio had made love in the office.
More than once.
At the flip of a switch from Mark, the screen lit up with a scene of the bedroom. The bedroom? They had a camera in the bedroom?!? Well, of course. Why not? THRUSH didn't observe any kind of courtesies. Neither did he, for that matter. Not when it came to THRUSH so he supposed he shouldn't be surprised.
His heart contracted in fear. Having sex with Antonio in the office he could probably explain away. He was trying to see some sort of information while bent over the desk or something like that. The bedroom was a bit harder. He supposed he could still explain it. It was just something he had to do to get the mission done. No one would know what the lovemaking sessions with Antonio had really meant to him.
That thought disintegrated into smoke as the scene in the bedroom played out. One part showed a nude Illya standing before the mirror with an equally nude Antonio standing a bit behind him. Illya remembered the moment. Their eyes met in the mirror and he remembered feeling more naked then he ever had in his life. Something about this man stripped away his defenses. Made the ice around his heart melt. At that moment, Illya thought he might know what it felt like to be in love.
Oh, he loved Napoleon. Had for quite some time. The sexual addition to their relationship held such promises of so much more, but Napoleon made it clear he didn't want more. Besides, their love was so . . . complicated.
With Antonio, it was pure. Bright. Freeing. And terrifying as hell.
And it all showed in his eyes, there on the screen, for everyone who watched it to know.
Illya muttered a particularly foul Russian curse.
"My thoughts, exactly, mate," said Mark sympathetically. "You know, these bedroom tapes aren't really relevant to the case, so I don't see why they have to got back to Headquarters." He hesitated, then added, "There are a couple of places in the office that might be a bit more difficult. I thought maybe you should watch them and decide which ones might be important and which ones can be mislaid."
Illya stared at Mark in shock. He counted Mark among his friends, but he hadn't realized just how good of one he was until now. His usual cold expression warmed. "Thank you, Mark. I won't forget this."
Mark stood to leave. "No problem, mate. I think you'd do the same for me." As he passed by Illya, he stopped and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I know you're not much of a talker, but if you ever need an ear, I'm here."
Illya looked up at him. "Thank you, Mark," he said, genuinely touched. "I'll keep that in mind."
Mark patted his shoulder and then left him to view the rest of the tapes in private.
Illya postponed his return to the villa for as long as he could. It took him the rest of that day and most of the next to go through all the tapes. He did some creative editing of some of the tapes—he doubted Mr. Waverly would think much about it; they often ended up with tapes the bad guys had edited for whatever reason—cutting out the incriminating parts.
He left some of the sex scenes. Napoleon knew he'd slept with Antonio, so he assumed Waverly did, too. It would have seemed too strange that none of that ended up on some tape. But the ones he kept didn't show his face clearly enough to see the raw emotions there.
Those emotions rocked him to his core. He knew he felt something for Antonio. Something he fought hard not to let loose. He thought he'd managed to keep it under control, but the tapes showed him otherwise. Obviously, when in the throes of passion with Antonio, he held nothing back. Absolutely nothing.
Even with Napoleon he knew he'd not freed the emotions bubbling beneath the surface. Not completely, at any rate. But with Antonio . . . Frankly, it was terrifying.
Worse, he knew he'd liked it. He'd liked the feelings Antonio had released in him. At the time he could convince himself it was Angelo feeling all that, that his Angelo persona was falling for the handsome Italian, not Illya. After viewing the tapes, though, Illya found he could no longer lie to himself. Angelo never accompanied him and Antonio into the bed. When they made love, Illya had to admit, if only to himself, that it was him there, not Angelo.
So Illya dragged his feet as long as possible before he had to go to the villa to clear out his things. He wanted so badly to see Antonio again but, after seeing the tapes, he was afraid to. Afraid of what he might do. What he might throw away just to be with him again.
It had been difficult to tell Antonio "no" last time he asked him to stay. That time they'd shared no more than a few kisses. This time, though . . . If Antonio asked him to stay, the desire to quit U.N.C.L.E. just to be with this man would be almost impossible to ignore.
Only his unending devotion and loyalty to the ideals of U.N.C.L.E., to Mr. Waverly, and most especially to Napoleon, could keep him from shedding his former life to explore these new feelings.
Not that Antonio would ask him. Not after learning of Angelo's betrayal. Illya snorted in derision. He might be a lovesick fool, but no doubt Antonio wanted nothing more to do with him.
On his way to the villa, he wrapped the familiar ice around himself once again, adding extra layers around his heart. Letting Antonio go would cost him. Although, no more than Angelo's duplicity had already cost the big-hearted Italian. It was better this way, at any rate. Better for him. For Antonio. Even for Napoleon.
Antonio had wanted Angelo, not Illya. It was the gentle, meek boy Antonio fell for, not the independent, cold-blooded killer that was Illya Kuryakin. He had to face the fact that Illya Kuryakin was no good to anyone except for who he'd been molded to be: a hunter of men, a ruthless agent, a killing machine. That was all he was good for and all he should aspire to be.
He ignored the scream of anguish from his newly released emotions as he ruthlessly buried them in their ice prison once more.
By the time Illya arrived at Antonio's villa, he was once again the coldly efficient agent that everyone knew as Illya Kuryakin. The guards at the gate gave him the evil eye, but they let him through. He drove to the villa without a backwards glance at them.
Since Antonio hated him, he felt sure he could get in, get his things, and get out without too much of a scene. So focused on that idea, he forgot about one major, and formidable, stumbling block.
The front door of the villa opened as he pulled up in front of it and Maria stood there, eyes flashing, rolling pin in hand.
Illya stopped at the foot of the stairs, suddenly not so sure of his ability to get out of here unscathed. He gathered his courage and walked up the stairs. "Hello, Maria."
What he'd thought were eyes shining in anger turned out to be eyes swimming in tears.
"Angelo, what have you done?" she asked plaintively.
Anger he could have handled. An icy demeanor was easy in the face of someone's rage. But this visage of hurt on the face of this dear woman was almost too much to bear. "I'm so sorry, Maria. I never wanted to hurt you. Or Antonio. It was just . . ." He made a gesture of helplessness. " . . . my job," he finished lamely.
"Your job?" she said, the tears spilling over onto her cheeks. "To play with mine and my Antonio's affections—even Stephano's—this is your job?" She wiped the tears off her cheeks only for them to be replaced by fresh ones. "I think you need a new job."
Illya sighed and took her into his arms. He should have known he would not have been able to maintain his icy resolve here. He should have sent Mark, instead. But he'd wanted to see these people one more time. He'd hoped seeing the hatred in their eyes would give him the incentive he needed to let go. No such luck.
"Times like this I would agree with you," he murmured into her hair. "But, unfortunately, there is a need for people like me. If I hadn't come, I shudder to think what might have happened to Antonio once those men had gotten what they'd wanted from him. I couldn't let them hurt him, Maria."
She pulled back and looked at him imploringly. "So you hurt him, instead. He is a sensitive man. The physical hurt they may have caused him he could handle much better than the emotional one you have given him."
Illya winced. "I know I've caused him a lot of pain, Maria. But I stand behind my decisions. They would have taken all his money, all his property, and, probably, his life. They would have killed you all just to get their hands on what he had. I would rather know Antonio hates me for the rest of his life because that would mean he's still alive. His safety, his life is more important to me than my own selfish desires."
She blinked in surprise. "You-you truly desire him? It was not all a-a-a lie?"
Illya sighed and shook his head. He didn't want to cause her more pain by not being honest. "But it doesn't matter, does it? He hates me now. And I don't blame him. He's safe, he's alive, and that's what's important. He can move on. Find someone truly worthy of his love."
They say the eyes are the mirror to the soul. Maria believed in that with all her heart and she looked into the eyes of the young man before her. She saw a bleakness there that she realized she'd seen all along. She always dismissed it to the not so pleasant aspects of Angelo's past. Since that past was now known to be a sham, she couldn't help but wonder what put it in the eyes of this man. This . . . "What is your real name?"
"Illya Kuryakin," Illya replied, looking a little surprised she even cared to know. He spent the next few minutes teaching her how to say his name properly.
"You are from America?"
He smiled slightly. "In a way. I live there now, but only because I work for U.N.C.L.E. I'm actually a citizen of the Soviet Union."
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You are Communist?"
He grimaced. "The paperwork says I am, but in my heart . . ." He sighed. "I suppose I'm a Socialist, but I'm not sure I'm Communist. U.N.C.L.E. is an international organization. Ideologies don't usually come up. We're a peacekeeping organization, Maria."
She nodded. Somehow she could believe that. He seemed like that kind of man. But, still . . . She frowned. "This U.N.C.L.E. doesn't seem to mind using children to do its dirty work."
"Excuse me?" Illya said, eyebrow arching in surprise.
"Last time you were here. Last time you play Angelo. You were just a boy. A child. Anyone who would use a child that way are not good people." She put a hand to her heart as she thought of something. "You did not really have to sell your body, did you? Please tell me that was all a ruse, as well."
Illya bit his lip. "No, that was real. It was what was needed to complete the mission."
Her blood boiled with indignant rage on behalf of the boy she knew so long ago. "This is not a good organization for you to be in! To-to expect that from anyone is terrible. To expect it from a child is unforgivable!"
Illya grasped her by the shoulders. "Maria, calm down. First of all, I wasn't a child. I was twenty-two. Secondly, I wasn't with U.N.C.L.E. then. That was with . . . another organization." She'd probably freak out if he mentioned the KGB.
New tears sprang forth as she saw dark shadows cloud the young man's eyes. What else had this man done in his young life? He seemed able to slip into the role of prostitute so easily, no one believed otherwise. What kind of life must he have led? Even twenty-two was young to be an agent in an organization that expected so much from their people.
She pulled him into her arms and hugged him tightly. "You look hungry," she said when she finally released him. "Come in and let me make you something to eat." For an Italian mother, feeding her children was the best form of comfort. No matter what he had done, this Illya was still one of her children.
Illya blinked. "You'd feed me after I lied to you?"
She caressed his cheek. "It was something you had to do, yes?" At his nod, she smiled. "Then I forgive you. I will cook you something while you gather your things."
"Thank you, Maria." He hesitated before entering the house. "Is Antonio here?" He wasn't sure if he wanted the answer to be yes or no. He wanted to see him again as much as he was afraid of it.
Her expression changed to sorrow. "No, my darling, he is not. He just couldn't face you. I am sorry."
Illya couldn't quite believe how disappointed he felt at the news. Was he so far gone he wanted to see the man even though he knew all he would get from Antonio was derision and hatred? Obviously.
"Well, I'll just get my things together," he said.
Maria looked at him with kind understanding. "I will tell him what you said. Maybe, in time, he can forgive you."
He smiled slightly. "I hope so."
Antonio arrived home with a heavy heart. He dreaded stepping into the villa, which was now only one person lighter yet felt so empty for the loss. No matter how hurt, how angry, or how much he wanted to hate the man who had called himself Angelo, his heart had other ideas.
He loved the young man. Had fallen so far and so hard even betrayal couldn't destroy the feelings he held for him. Angelo . . . Illya . . . no matter what name he went by . . . had taken up residence in Antonio's heart and remained a warm, if bitter, spot there.
Antonio couldn't hate him. He wanted nothing more to do with him, but he couldn't make himself hate him.
He knew Angelo . . . Illya! . . . had been here while he was gone. He could feel it. He blinked back bitter tears. He might not be able to hate him but he refused to grieve over him! He hardened his heart against the love he still felt for the young man and headed for his bedroom. The bedroom he'd shared for such a short time with the one man that had ever truly owned his heart. Maybe he should move to another room, at least until the memories faded and the pain went away.
His lips tightened in anger and he shook his head. He wasn't going to let the duplicitous, lying bastard force him from his own bedroom. He would redecorate. Make sure everything that reminded him of his lying lover would be removed and destroyed.
He stopped dead in his tracks when he stepped through the door. On the bed was a stack of tapes. He moved slowly towards the bed as though fearing the tapes hid a snake waiting to bite him. If this was from Angelo, there was a distinct possibility.
Atop the tapes was an envelope addressed to him in Angelo's—Illya's—hand. With shaking hands, Antonio opened it, his need to read it overriding his desire to tear it into pieces.
I'm sorry for hurting you. If you watch these tapes, you will see it was not all a lie. It was not Angelo that went to bed with you, it was me. If I had a heart, it would be yours.
As Antonio watched the tapes, he wept for the love they lost.
They'd transported Napoleon back to New York a couple of days before Illya was ready to leave. Illya was both grateful and disappointed in that. Grateful because he didn't really want to listen to Napoleon snipe at him about Antonio. Disappointed because that would have at least distracted him enough to keep him from feeling the distance growing between him and Antonio with each passing mile the plane flew from Naples. Not to mention help keep him from thinking about what had happened to him while there.
But Napoleon wasn't here and he did think. He remembered Antonio's every look, every touch, and berated himself for wanting more. He knew he needed to get this into perspective but it was proving rather difficult.
If the persona of Angelo had been radically different from himself, he might be able to convince himself the feelings were just a by-product of the impersonation. He couldn't, though. The first time he'd played Angelo, he was not so practiced in the art of slipping into another's skin and he'd drawn on far too much of his own personality to flesh him out.
Most people wouldn't believe that. After all, Angelo was sweet, caring, open. And innocent. Something Illya had not been for a very long time, even at twenty-two.
THRUSH and co-workers alike would scoff at the idea that Illya Kuryakin had ever been innocent, but he was once. He even remembered seeing things through the innocence of a child's eyes. He'd managed to maintain at least some of that innocence through the abduction of his father; the war; the disappearance of his mother; even through the deaths of his siblings and his time as one of the feral street children.
Through everything, he'd held onto a part of the wonderment and innocence of a child. The day Sarkov made him a protégé of the KGB was the day that ended. The day the innocent child died and the trained killer began.
He'd never really noticed the loss except for two times since then. Both times he was known as a young man named Angelo. Angelo returned him to that innocence because he fully believed if his life had followed a more normal course, Angelo was very much the person Illya would have become.
Last time it was difficult enough to go home after experiencing the almost déjà vu of the impersonation. The Quantum theorist in him thought it felt like living in two lifelines at the same time.
He had to wonder: if given the choice, which life would he choose? A small part of him thought it entirely possible his choice would not have been as an U.N.C.L.E. agent.