In Plain View
There is something freeing about being able to wander around headquarters and have no one recognize you. Anyone who met him thought he must be from one of their other offices, possibly Europe or the Middle East. His skin was dark, as were his hair and eyes. Lifts in his boots gave him a good three inches over his normal height. He kept his eyes in constant motion, marking him as a man who was nervous or concerned about his surroundings, a stranger among strangers. The people who saw him either ignored him entirely or looked right through him.
It was exactly what Illya Kuryakin wanted. If he could fool his own fellow agents, THRUSH wouldn't have a chance. He'd even walked by Waverly without a glimmer of recognition in the old man's eye. This was a disguise worth keeping.
Illya was giving the outfit the last big test. He walked into the canteen and after a few moments of feigning confusion, he picked up a tray and went through the line, pausing here and there to study the various dishes being offered. He made careful choices, items that no one familiar with American culture would make. Normally he hated wasting food, but this was a special occasion.
Carrying his tray to a small table, he sat down and began to regard his choices, as if still trying to decide what was edible. Illya was disappointed that sweet and sour pork was the special today. It was one of his favorites, but it wouldn't do to have someone appearing Middle Eastern to be seen eating pork.
Two women sat at the table next to his. Cheryl smiled at him and then immediately broke eye contact. Illya barely kept from grinning. He'd gone out on a date with her last weekend and yet she didn't have a clue it was him. Shelly was with her. Likewise, she dismissed him without even a second glance, not that that wasn't her style. She was a good secretary, but made no secret of her dislike of Napoleon's and Illya's partnership. Illya wasn't exactly sure why she harbored such a grudge against him—Napoleon had only cancelled out on her a time or two so that they could respond to a THRUSH threat. Why she blamed Illya for THRUSH's interference with her love life was beyond him.
"So, did you hear the big news?" Shelly was a well known collector and distributor of office gossip.
"What big news?" Cheryl looked clueless, it was her usual defense.
"Where have you been hiding all morning? It is all over the secretarial pool."
"I've been down in Files trying to purge a million years of stuff. Napoleon thought it was time. Why do you ask?"
"I figured you'd have to be in Timbuktu not to have heard this." She glanced around and leaned forward to whisper something to Cheryl, who abruptly sat back, her eyes wide.
"I don't believe it! Not... Napol..."
Shelly clamped a hand over Cheryl's mouth and looked around, smiling hesitantly at Illya, the stranger, then back at Cheryl. "Shh! Don't use his name in here!"
"...Not... him. That's impossible."
"Uh huh..." Shelly sipped her coffee delicately, made a face, and reached for another sugar packet. "He is out of the closet and in a big way."
"I don't... I can't believe it." Her voice dropped to a soft whisper, but was still audible to Illya's acute hearing. "I've gone to bed with him and he wasn't... that way. I mean, he did everything the way a man is supposed to." She smiled at the memory. "And then some. How...?"
"Apparently one of the Section Three agents was scheduled to get a physical right after him and caught sight of the doctor's report. There were notes made of certain signs of his latest indiscretion."
"He's a field agent. THRUSH will stop at nothing to make them talk."
"But he hasn't been on assignment for a month. And guess who he's been hanging around with an awful lot lately? That new guy and one look at him and you can just tell."
"Not... oh my God, do I need to get a shot or something?"
Illya pushed his tray away and closed his eyes against the churning in his stomach. It didn't take much to put two and two together and come up with Napoleon. He'd been assigned to HQ for the past month. As CEA, he'd been knee deep in the annual review of the field agents.
And the new guy, Kendall. Napoleon and Kendall, a new transfer from Paris, had been burning the midnight oil for a week now. Illya had felt a stab of jealousy and infinite sadness, but he wasn't exactly sure why. Certainly they were partners, but it wasn't like they were joined at the hip.
Yet, all week long it had been, "Hey, Illya could you finish up these reports? Agent Kendall and I are headed down to the range." "Illya, I'm going to have to take a rain check tonight. I promised Agent Kendall that I'd help him get settled in his new place. Illya, can you head up this morning's meeting? Danny and I, Agent Kendall, that is, have an appointment downtown."
All week long Illya had been covering for Napoleon until even he had gotten to the end of his patience and disappeared into Section Eight—the one place Napoleon would never come looking for him.
Illya knew Napoleon had also been forced into his mandatory physical that morning. The only one who hated physicals more than Illya did was Napoleon, but even he had run out of excuses and finally reported. Had it been not so much dislike as it was trying to buy time to give himself a chance to heal after an encounter? Agents were such adrenaline addicts that they frequently participated in life-threatening activities, so the doctors were duty bound to report anything out of the ordinary.
The fact that Napoleon might swing both ways didn't really surprise Illya. Most of the agents had to be willing to do whatever it took it get the job done and that occasionally meant offering one's self up as fodder. There were also times when only another man's touch could adequately relieve the itch, at least in Illya's experience. He'd just never seen anything in Napoleon's personality that had indicated it. Guess what they said about not being able to see what was right in front of your face was true.
What shocked Illya more was that Napoleon had never told him. They were closer than most agents and Illya had supposed there were no more secrets between them, just some unspoken truths. If Napoleon asked, Illya would answer, but he never volunteered. Perhaps this new information fell under that codicil.
Illya withdrew back into the depths of Section Eight and removed his disguise. He carefully folded the clothes and repacked them. He pulled the wig off and set it back onto its stand and wiped away the makeup. Yet, even as he went through these steps, his mind was elsewhere, wondering how best to approach this.
Certainly, as Napoleon's partner, it was his responsibility to warn Napoleon that his secret was no longer that. If Shelly knew, then so did the entirety of the secretarial pool. Illya wouldn't allow Napoleon to venture into this mess without being forewarned.
Then Illya stopped. What if it wasn't Napoleon the report had been about, and Shelly had just assumed it was Napoleon? That would be slander and Illya most certainly wouldn't permit that to continue.
A half an hour later, Illya emerged from the room that a dark skinned Arab had entered. Deliberately, he grabbed a pile of folders and headed to the secretarial pool. As usual, his presence sent a ripple through the department, but he sensed more than a few women were reluctant to meet his gaze today. Before today, it was usually the other way round.
He approached Shelly's desk and she glanced up and then back down quickly, focusing upon the document in front of her. "Mr. Kuryakin, what can I do for you?"
"I was wondering if you could look over this report. I've been staring at it for so long I can't see the numbers anymore." That wasn't exactly a lie and she couldn't really refuse him. He had a habit of never pestering the secretaries, not like the other agents. He did most of his own reports and filing. It wasn't that he didn't trust them, he just preferred to not leave things to chance.
"Sure, just set it on the pile and I'll get to it next." She waved to a stack of reports left by other agents, then hesitated when he didn't move off. "Is there something else?"
"I don't know, Shelly, is there?" He crossed his arms and studied her. The woman fidgeted beneath his gaze and her cheeks went a pretty pink.
"No, I don't think so."
Very well, he'd given her the chance to come clean. The next time would be in a formal hearing if he had any say in the matter. "Thank you, Shelly. I appreciate your help."
As he walked away, it felt that all the women were watching him with a sense of pity, but it could also have been his imagination and Illya was never one to have much imagination.
Illya approached Napoleon's apartment and frowned at the odd feeling in his stomach. It felt exactly the way it had when he'd been called into Waverly's office for the first time. Napoleon had been a stranger then and Illya scolded himself. This was Napoleon, his partner, a man he trusted more than anyone else in the world. So why hadn't Napoleon trusted him?
The tiny curl of anger chased the butterflies away and Illya resolutely knocked on Napoleon's door. He waited and tilted his head. There was noise on the other side of the door, a pause as his identity was being verified, and then the sound of the locks being disengaged.
Napoleon opened the door and had obviously not been expecting Illya to be on the other side of it. His dress was very casual, but also sending a clear message. Napoleon was a man in pursuit of someone, but it most certainly wasn't him, not from the expression in Napoleon's eyes and the way the smile dropped from his lips.
"Uh... Illya, I wasn't expecting you." Over his shoulder, Illya could hear soft music playing, the lighting was low and he caught just a glimpse of an ice bucket sitting beside the couch. "Is there trouble?"
"No, this was more social than business, but I see you are busy." Illya nodded and he swore Napoleon blushed slightly as he darted a look back over his own shoulder.
"I am... but... you can come in."
Illya knew the difference between genuine desire and politeness. He shook his head. "No, forgive me, my friend. I am interrupting. I will talk with you later."
Before Napoleon could say anything, Illya turned on his heel and walked away. It certainly wasn't the first time in their history he'd caught Napoleon on the precipice of romance. He'd just not expected it to be with a member of their own sex.
Illya waited for the elevator, moving aside as it arrived and the car wasn't empty. Kendall stepped out and looked at him, studying him. It suddenly struck Illya how much the same they were. Kendall was about Illya's height, the stranger wore his blond hair a little long and his dress was very casual.
"Evening." Kendall spoke automatically as they passed and Illya detected a slight British accent.
"Mr. Kendall. Napoleon's apartment is the third on the right."
The man looked as if he was going to ask Illya how he knew he was looking for Napoleon's place and then smiled. "Right, Section Two."
"Napoleon's partner." He didn't know why he said that, it was just the first thing that came to his mind. Illya was only partially surprised as he watched his partner greet Kendall with a warm embrace. Apparently Shelly wasn't speaking out of turn after all.
Illya sprawled out on his couch, grunting as a spring poked him in the back. He really should have some pride and find another one. This one had come with the apartment and had been ready for the trash heap at that point. Two more years of abuse from Illya hadn't improved it.
He sat up for a moment to pick up his mug, but it was empty and he lacked the energy to make another cup of tea. He left it on the end table along with a collection of other glasses and resumed his contemplation of the ceiling. Illya really did need to collect all the dishware from the apartment and haul it into the kitchen to be washed and put way, but another night, not this one. Tonight, he felt strangely depressed.
The evening had really called for vodka and a lot of it, but Illya had an early Section Two meeting in the morning and no desire to go in with a hangover. It was going to be hard enough to look Napoleon in the eye without wanting to vomit at the same time. Even now, the tea churned unhappily in his stomach. There were times when he just couldn't win.
A Coltrane tune was playing on the radio and Illya closed his eyes—the minor chords vibrated against his nerves tonight, almost to the point of pain. Some nights jazz hurt more than others. It segued into something soft by Ella. That hurt even more.
There was a knock on his door and he thought about ignoring it. This late at night, there could only be one person on the other side and he really didn't want to talk to Napoleon at the moment.
Illya didn't know why he felt so betrayed. Certainly Napoleon had the right to be with whom he wanted, love who he wanted without having to clear it with Illya. Otherwise, Illya would have never sat still for Angelique sharing his partner's bed. But that was women and Illya didn't care about the women, not like he did the thought of his partner being with a man. The thought of Napoleon and Kendall made the strange lump in his chest ache. It wasn't fair that he'd never even had a chance to win Napoleon's favors.
The second knock was more insistent and Illya lifted his head off the back of the sofa to say something, then let it fall back. He didn't know what to say or how to say it. It was bad enough that Napoleon had invited that man into his apartment, but then to have him be a near replica of Illya, it cut deep, almost too deep. Maybe it was his fault for having kept his feelings about Napoleon so carefully hidden. Perhaps he'd driven Napoleon down the only path left open to him. Or, just maybe it was Napoleon's own stupid, pig-headed, ignorant fault for not seeing what was in front of him and acting upon it.
Granted Illya had never approached his partner as a lover. Even though they'd shared rooms, beds, even women, Illya had kept his preferences to himself. He stopped and realized that he was just as guilty as his partner of hiding in plain view. Life was strange.
The last knock told Illya he had a couple of seconds before Napoleon was going to come barreling into the apartment and demand an explanation. Grunting, Illya got to his feet and walked to the side of the door.
"Illya, let me in." Napoleon's voice filtered through the wood to him.
"Then I'll do it myself and I won't be happy about it." The tone promised delivery and Illya sighed.
That would make two of us then. A fast check proved that it was indeed Napoleon and he unlocked the door.
"What do you want, Napoleon?"
"I could ask you the same thing." Napoleon looked around the apartment from the doorway. "Tucked away in your bedroom then?"
"Who?" Illya turned to look back into his apartment. Like Napoleon's, the lights were low and music was softly playing, there were glasses galore and a couple of empty bottles that hadn't quite made it to the garbage pail yet. It did look as if he'd been entertaining.
"Whoever you were with before I got here."
"That would be no one." Illya turned on his heel and walked back into what passed as his living room. With an apartment this small, everything sort of blended into everything else. "But if it would make you feel better, search the place."
For a moment, it looked as if Napoleon was going to take him up on it, but instead he stepped in and shut the door behind him, locking it out of habit.
"What do you want, Napoleon? It's very late and I'm very tired."
"I wanted to talk to you about earlier, explain what was going on."
"There is nothing to explain, Napoleon. I met Kendall coming out of the elevator and managed to put two and two together finally. It just would have been nice for you to have told me. Finding out second hand... well, I'd expected better from you."
"Illya, Agent Kendall is my cousin. My real flesh and blood cousin. He is just back from spending a year in Europe. He joined UNCLE while he was there and then got transferred here without either of us knowing about it. I sort of felt that it was my responsibility to take him under my wing for awhile until he got settled. We were having a fast drink and then going to pick up our dates when you showed up." Napoleon lifted a stack of magazines out of a chair and sat down. He paused and gave Illya a sly look. "You thought I was waiting for him to what...?" Napoleon started to laugh, then sobered. "Oh, Illya... what made you think that Danny and I were... a couple?"
"Ah, say no more. She found some report that said I wasn't as attracted to girls as I was to boys, is it?"
"After a fashion."
"You do know the old saying, "Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned?"
"You're paraphrasing, but yes."
"She wanted me to take her on a date. More correctly, she wanted me to take her to the most expensive restaurant in town and then to the hottest show. Not that she was interested; she just wanted the bragging rights. When I declined, I suppose she decided to get even with me and embellish. If I didn't want her, then she was going to make sure no other woman wanted me."
"She referenced a medical report." Illya returned to the sofa, but his eyes never left his partner.
"Couldn't be mine then. I got called out of mine at the last minute and spent the afternoon making nice with an Iranian shah and coaxing him off a ledge in Hong Kong. Could have used your help, but no one knew where you were."
"The one place I wouldn't think to look. I guess I have been running you pretty hard this past week. Sorry about that." Napoleon looked sheepish. "It was just such a shock to find a member of my own family in UNCLE, liberating even."
"You didn't deduce it from his name? And you call yourself a spy."
"An enforcement agent and he changed it to avoid anyone connecting it back to his parents."
"You were never concerned."
"I just figured THRUSH would assume that Napoleon Solo was a name you'd change from, not to."
"Hiding in plain view."
Napoleon chuckled again and leaned back. "So according to Shelly, I like boys."
"And she's spreading the word, is she?"
"To anyone who will listen." Illya smiled a little. "And to a few of us who would rather we hadn't."
"Well, she's not exactly telling a lie." Napoleon's expression turned serious. "Does that surprise you?"
"Not really. The fact that you didn't tell me..."
"I wasn't sure how you'd feel about it."
"I wasn't pleased to be caught flatfooted."
"That I've figured out. I was just afraid if you knew, it would change the dynamics of our partnership."
"From what to what?" Illya ran a hand through his hair and shook his head slowly. "Napoleon, have you ever considered that perhaps you are not the only one with secrets?"
"What exactly are you saying, partner mine? That we are similarly inclined?"
"That would be one way to describe it."
"And we call ourselves spies—" Napoleon started to say, but Illya interrupted.
"Enforcement agents," Illya corrected and Napoleon began to grin.
"Then let's really give her something to talk about, shall we?"
Illya was sitting back where much of his trouble had started, same table, same chair in the canteen. And true to habit Shelly and Cheryl were back at their table as well. Both kept casting glances in Illya's direction, neither of them quite sure what to make of the marks peeking out from beneath Illya's collar. He adjusted his sitting position a time or two as if sitting was an uncomfortable proposition for him.
He looked up and grinned as Napoleon approached. Napoleon, one handed, pulled a chair around, wincing as he sat. He was carrying a package, neatly wrapped and tied with string, and set it down upon the table in front of Illya.
"Just a little sore. You?"
"The same. It was a long night."
When he was sure they had an audience, Illya reached for the salt just as Napoleon did and their hands met, lingered for a brief second and then parted.
Napoleon looked around as if worried someone had seen and then leaned forward. "Last night was good." His voice was soft, but gauged to carry.
"Correction, last night was great." Illya sat back with a wince and patted his pockets. He found the one he wanted and pulled Napoleon's tiger's eye ring from it. It was something Napoleon rarely took off. "You left this on the sink." Illya passed it over and watched Napoleon slip it on. "I thought you might be missing it this morning."
"Must have taken it off just before I got you all... ah... wet... I have something for you as well." He pushed the package towards Illya. "I had Del Floria's take care of it. Nothing stained."
"Are you sure I can't...?" Illya reach for his wallet and pulled out Napoleon's money clip instead. "How did I get yours... wait, did you pay with mine?"
Napoleon held out Illya's money clip with a smile. "Not a clue. And I'm sure we can count on his discretion in this. I wouldn't want stuff like this to get out." Illya watched as Shelly leaned closer to Cheryl to whisper something in her ear, then practically dragged Cheryl to her feet and out the door, nearly barreling into Mr. Waverly as he entered the canteen, looked around and spotted Napoleon and Illya.
Conversations trickled off, jokes paused and backs stiffened as Waverly approached their table and both agents got to their feet.
They sat and Waverly said conversationally, "Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin, I just want to say again how much we enjoyed having the pair of you to dinner last night. It was very good of the two of you to do all those dishes. Your ring was returned to you, Mr. Solo?"
"Yes, Illya gave it to me."
"I do apologize for that sink hose again, Mr. Kuryakin." The hose had split, drenching Illya's pants and shirt before the water could be turned off. Napoleon pleaded innocence, but Illya wasn't so sure.
"Not a problem sir, I should know by now that Mr. Solo and water were not meant to be. Del Floria's was good enough to take care of it."
"Make sure that goes on my tab, Mr. Kuryakin. Splendid, well, my wife certainly had the time of her life last night."
"As did we, sir." Napoleon was nothing than gracious.
"We shall have to do that again. Carry on, gentlemen."
They watched Waverly walk off and Napoleon held up his cup to Illya. "What do you think?"
"I think Shelly got what she needed."
"What happened to your neck by the way?"
"Had to babysit a THRUSH who didn't want to take no for an answer last night." Illya held up his glass in a salute. "I had to explain things to him, right after he tossed me onto a pile of rocks and tried to strangle me."
"And did you explain things?"
"I did, but he's now somewhere where very little will matter to him any longer." Illya set his glass down and picked up his fork. "So what do we do about Shelly?"
"Give her enough rope to hang herself. I'm thinking the way she operates, that should take two or three hours tops and then we go from there."
"How was your exam this morning?"
"I think Dr. Schroder takes far too much pleasure in certain aspects of his job." Napoleon readjusted his position again and grimaced.
Illya walked into the locker room that afternoon and slammed to a stop in front of his locker. There was a folded sheet of paper taped to it. He plucked it off and flipped it open, making a face at the heart drawn around his and Napoleon's initials.
"Just for the record I think you two will make a lovely couple," Renicky said from his position on the bench and someone snickered.
"Excuse me?" He crumpled the paper and turned to face the small group of agents.
"Hell, Illya, it's all over the building how the two of you danced the light fandango last night."
"And what did Mr. and Mrs. Waverly do in the meantime? Hold up score cards and shout encouragements to us?"
"What?" Burrick, Renicky's partner, nearly choked at that.
"We had dinner at their house last night. At ten, I left to rendezvous with Hutchins for a pick up. You can confirm with him if you don't believe me. If you want to ask the THRUSH about how we spent the night together, he's down in the morgue, third drawer from the left. I suspect he'll be reticent to say much, but you can confirm with the medical examiner his ToD."
Illya yanked his locker door open and pulled off his jacket. He hung it neatly and loosened his tie, draping it around the hanger as well. That accomplished he unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged it off. The bruising around his neck was nothing compared to the other scrapes and bruises that had blossomed over his torso. He muttered something very derogatory about the THRUSH agent and replaced the white shirt with a tee shirt.
"Then what is all the gossip about?" If he listened, Illya could swear he could hear gears grinding in the heads of his fellow agents.
"I suspect someone overheard some comments we made in the canteen this morning and totally misinterpreted what was going on. It's very interesting how damaging a completely innocent comment can be when someone decides to twist it around to suit his or her purpose. I think perhaps a better question is, why were you so anxious to listen? Have not Napoleon and I been at your side during gun battles, fought beside you, rescued some of you from almost certain death and yet here you are. All anxious to embrace the slander and make it worse by supporting it. In my country we have a saying. Loose lips sink ships."
"That's one of our slogans from World War II."
"We were allies then—where do you think you got it?"
"Who did this?" Burrick had come to stand beside his partner, his face very serious. Much of their world depended upon secrecy and being able to trust people and to not be able to trust one of their own was no game. "How can we help?"
"Napoleon and I are attending to the leak. As for your part in this, I would rather you correct any misinformation when you hear it. This will not be doing Napoleon's reputation any good."
"Are you kidding?" Renicky muttered. "Women love to hear stuff like this—they see it as a challenge to 'bring guys back,' as it were. Napoleon will be knocking them off with stick from here on out."
"Excellent, even more reason for him to palm his work off on me."
"Won't hurt your love life either."
"Wonderful, just what I need, more helpful women wanting to take me home to their mothers."
"It's true, Monica. I swear I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears." Shelly was on the phone when they approached her, unseen, and Illya swore he could see the phone smoking. Illya leaned in and waved a piece of paper in front of her face. Shelly jumped and hurriedly cradled the receiver. She started to glare at him and then noticed Napoleon lounging on the other side of the desk. She snatched at the paper. "What's this?"
"It's your transfer, effective immediately," Napoleon leaned in to whisper confidentially.
"I didn't put in for a transfer."
"No, we did it for you. You see, Shelly, being a gossip monger isn't a good thing and when you start making stuff up just to malign people who annoy you, that's even worse."
"We think you did." Napoleon smiled, looking around at the other secretaries who were trying hard not to listen to his every word. "You took a few innocent sentences, spoken between partners and spread them around, twisting them to cause as much damage to us as possible. If you'd limited it to me, that would have been fine, but when you spread your net to include Illya... well, I'm afraid he's not as forgiving as I am."
Illya's smile was feral. "I'm funny that way."
"I'll go to Waverly about this," Shelly said, starting to stand.
"I'm sure I will be delighted to hear what you have to say Miss Steiner, by way of an explanation." Waverly was using his special 'I am not amused' tone, usually reserved for sloppy field agents and, in this case, gossipy secretaries. "In this job, your discretion is relied upon and you have shown yourself to be exceedingly unreliable. I do hope you will be comfortable in your new post in... my word, good choice, Mr. Solo, Fairbanks Alaska."
"Make sure to try the whale blubber," Illya suggested. "It's delicious."
Illya closed his eyes as Napoleon's finger slowly carded through his chest hair. He managed the strength to bring one hand up to pull Napoleon's hand away. His skin felt as it was electrified and he needed no more additional stimulation at the moment.
"Problem?" Napoleon's voice was sultry, so close to his ear Illya could feel the warmth of Napoleon's breath.
"I think you hurt something I might need in the future."
"Back? I tried to warn you not to arch like that."
"My left ventricle—I think I broke it."
Napoleon leaned down and kissed Illya's chest. "You'll never have to worry about that being broken when I'm around." He began to work his way back up to Illya's ear, leaving little wet kisses behind. "You know, we really should send Shelly something. If it hadn't been for her, we never would have—"
Illya's mouth caught Napoleon's, working his tongue past eager lips, his hands seeking Napoleon's. Finger entwined, Illya lifted them over his head, then with a fast twist, he was suddenly on top, sitting astride a dazed Napoleon.
"How did you do that?" Napoleon lifted his head from the pillow Illya's had just vacated as Illya shook loose his grip.
"But don't you like this?" Calloused finger tips skimmed the soft skin of Napoleon's inner thigh.
"You're asking me to think in this position? What...?" Napoleon's voice cracked as a thumb found the tip of his penis and slicked its way through the preseminal fluid. Eyes half closed, Illya brought the thumb to his mouth and licked off the moisture. "Oh, God, Illya..."
"I'm not a god, Napoleon, but I will be more than happy to make you see him." As Illya dropped his mouth to delicately lave his tongue over Napoleon's penis, he decided that probably Napoleon was right. They should send Shelly something by way of a thank you gift, but it was going to have to wait. He smiled as he felt Napoleon's fingers find and tangle their way into Illya's hair. It was going to be awhile though—a good long while.