The Black, White and Lavender Affair
The two men sitting across from Napoleon Solo shuffled through the papers on the table in front of them, consulting their notes. They smiled across at Napoleon who considered them thoughtfully before returning their smiles with a neutral one of his own. “Mr. Solo, as you know we are here talking to all the members of U.N.C.L.E. We've already spoken to the people in sections 3 and below and now we are speaking with Section 2 personnel.
Actually it was strictly the result of Mr. Waverly's strong personal influence that it had taken this long for them investigate U.N.C.L.E. at all. Despite the fact that U.N.C.L.E. was an independent, international agency, members of Congress had sensed danger and votes in pursuing communists and sexual deviants beyond the confines of government agencies and offices and pushing for U.S. standards of behavior in international organizations to which Congress provided funds. The U.N. had been under scrutiny for years, but now U.N.C.L.E. was under the microscope. Everyone was being questioned and while some felt that the review was long overdue, most felt unnerved and vulnerable, regardless of what they did in the agency.
“We've been going over your file and overall we're quite satisfied with what we see,” said the man on the left, smiling tightly.
“You have quite a reputation, Mr. Solo. Apparently you have quite a history of conquests within and without the agency.” Napoleon permitted himself another small smile, but didn't volunteer anything, waiting to see where this conversation was headed. He found it most interesting that the two men had neglected to introduce themselves. The conversation continued in this vein for quite some time, discussing various women with whom he had had relationships, which he carefully portrayed as casual and, as far as the employees of U.N.C.L.E. were concerned, as chaste as he felt he could make believable. The prudishness of the committee investigators was well known. More than one woman had lost her position for engaging in sexual relations with men that had not led to marriage and Solo didn't want to compromise companions he cared about as people, if not as lovers. Although the two men pursued this line questioning for quite some time, Napoleon sensed that their real interest lay elsewhere. While he was careful with his responses, he felt like he was waiting for the real point to emerge.
“But,” said the man on the right, with a pregnant pause, “you have another reputation as well.” He stared at Napoleon like a snake charming a particularly plump bird.
Napoleon waited with carefully schooled unconcern.
“Your colleagues tell us that you and your partner are practically inseparable.”
“Ah,” thought Napoleon, “the heart of the matter.”
“Well, we are partners, much as you two are, doing a job that forces us to depend upon one another all of the time, much as you and... I'm sorry, I didn't catch your names.” He smiled disingenuously into the dark brown eyes of the man on the right.
“Kuryakin,” the man began.
“Really?” Napoleon intervened. “That's my partner's name as well!”
“You think you are funny don't you Mr. Solo? I don't think you're funny at all.” The man on the right's voice had dropped to a dangerous hiss.
“Perhaps you lack the necessary sense of humor, Mr. Kuryakin,” Napoleon said genially, leaning back in his chair. “Personally I find both of you very funny.”
“See if you find this funny, Mr. Solo. We are investigating your relationship with Mr. Kuryakin. We have a great many doubts about Mr. Kuryakin – a Soviet citizen privy to so many vital secrets? A known communist engaged in international “peace” missions? A physicist and former KGB agent?
“And then there's the issue of his sex life.”
“What sex life?” Napoleon asked. “I've never known anyone who demonstrated less interest in sex.”
“And you know this how?”
“As you said, we spend a lot of time together. I have my recreational interests. My partner doesn't. It's that simple.”
“You're asking us to believe your partner doesn't engage in sex?” The incredulity in Left's voice raised it half an octave.
“And yet you consistently share a room while on assignment.” It wasn't a question.
“Because your bosses consistently see fit to give us pennies and yet insist we undertake worldwide crime-solving operations. Considering that its hard to count bullets in gunfight, we have to cut the budget in other ways. Believe me if Mr. Waverly would o.k. it, I'd take separate rooms any day.” The moment he said it, he wondered if it was true.
“Because you are uncomfortable sharing a room with Mr. Kuryakin?” Right probed.
“Because he snores like a pig and stays up too late reading and makes it hard to sleep,” Napoleon snorted, silently apologizing to his partner for slandering his invariably courteous behavior, even in sleep. “Besides, then I wouldn't have to depend upon my … companions to provide accommodations.” He shot Left his most Man-of-the-World smile as he shifted in his chair to address him.
Left and Right exchanged glances, obviously considering this additional information. Napoleon glanced surreptitiously at his watch. A quarter to five. They wouldn't have time to tackle Illya today. His neck relaxed. He hadn't even realized how tightly he'd been holding his shoulders until that moment. He could prepare Illya for his interview.
“Mr. Solo, we are done with you for the moment, but please keep yourself available. We'll probably want to talk to you some more tomorrow,” Right said. “We expect you to keep our conversation today between ourselves. If we get any sense you have discussed it with your … partner … that will reflect badly on you in our report and you may find yourself seeking new employment.” He seemed to enjoy the prospect.
“Have a pleasant evening, Mr. Solo.” Left said.
“I always do. Gentlemen.” Napoleon pushed back his chair with a particularly irritating screech and departed, closing the door quietly behind him.
Walking with apparent nonchalance, and laughing off the concerns of agents and staffers who knew where he'd been, he nevertheless made surprising speed to the office he shared with his partner.
Illya was, as he anticipated, doing the paperwork he himself had been avoiding.
“Just in time, I see,” Illya said sardonically, “at least if going home is what you had in mind.”
Napoleon smiled and said, “Of course, that's why I'm the lead agent.” But as he spoke he caught his partner's attention and signaled to him with gestures that belied his casual tone. He pointed to his ear and then pointed up and around in a general fashion.
Illya recognized this sign that their conversation might be bugged. He nodded and fed Napoleon a line. “So, I suppose you've got plans for this evening?”
“As a matter of fact I have. I'm taking Stephanie out for dinner. I thought I might take her to that place at the Plaza, Trader Nick's.”
Illya nodded almost imperceptibly even as he corrected Napoleon in a sarcastic tone: “Vic's, Napoleon, not Nick's. The place with those awful rum drinks.”
“Ah, yes, Vic's. And they are called Mai Tais, and Stephanie loves them.”
“Whatever they're called, I do not drink drinks with leaves and fruit in them.” Illya pointed to his watch and raised his eyebrows quizzically.
“You don't drink anything that wouldn't strip the paint off of an automobile,” said Napoleon dismissively, “And you insist on swilling it as well, which is why I never buy you anything good. I figure Stephanie and I will go eat early and maybe be able to squeeze in dancing before 10.” Illya nodded. “You don't mind staying and finishing those for Mr. Waverly do you? He was most anxious to get them before tomorrow.” Napoleon grinned in an enigmatic fashion intended to leave Illya uncertain as to whether this last part was playacting or not and slipped out the door with the Russian agent cursing softly in his wake.
Stephanie chattered on about something, but Napoleon had no idea what it was. As a point of fact he had no idea what she had been talking about for quite some time. One of his gifts was the ability to make people feel as though he was totally absorbed in their conversation when he was really thinking about something totally different.
Such was the situation now. He knew she had begun with her concerns about her interview with Left and Right, who he had learned were actually named, rather unbelievably, Black and White. Could that really be their names he'd wondered, on learning them, or was that some twisted bit of gamesmanship on someone's part? Napoleon had reassured Stephanie that he felt confident her interview had been fine, but she evidently felt the need to re-enact the whole experience question by question.
While Stephanie nattered on, Napoleon took a sip of his mai tai. He realized he agreed with Illya's assessment of drinks with fruit and leaves. It was too sweet. Adopting a technique from his partner, he drew down the rest of the drink in two long swallows.
The subsequent feeling of warmth and buzz tuned him into Stephanie in time to hear her say, “Rhoda told me that they asked her about Illya too, and that when she told them 'Wasn't it a shame to waste so much gorgeous on a man who didn't seem to care much about women,' they just kept asking her over and over what she meant. Weird, hunh? I mean it's not like Illya never goes out with anybody or anything. He's just more selective. And, well, he's not like the rest of you guys, you know? You go out with him and he's nice and polite, kind of formal even. Funny too if you get his kind of humor, but he's kind of quiet, doesn't talk about himself like most guys do. And he doesn't make a girl feel like, well, a piece of meat or anything.”
“Oh, I forgot you and Illya have gone out before haven't you?”
“Yeah, he's taken me to a couple of clubs in the Village to listen to music he thought I'd like. I think he's funny. Some of the girls think he's stuck up, but I think he just gets bored by people whose only topics of conversation are pop stars and fashion.”
“I'd say it's a fair that neither is one of Illya's chief interests,” Napoleon smiled.
“But to jump to the conclusion that some people are, that he's a queer. That's just plain silly.”
Stephanie was still talking and Napoleon was continuing the conversation, but his mind was locked onto one word: “Queer.” Was Illya queer? He waited for the visceral sense of revulsion that usually accompanied the word in his mind. It wasn't there. Somehow linking the term with Illya's name made it alright.
They had been partners for nigh on three years, had done every non-sexual thing two men could do together. Seen one another through extremes of agony, degradation, fear and exhaustion as well as joy, laughter, hope and recovery. He trusted Illya more than he trusted any other human being. When anything good happened, it was Illya he wanted to tell; when something upset him it was his partner he called for support.
Did Illya prefer men? He'd never seen any sign of it. Had he? They'd shared a bed on more than one occasion. When the situation first came up, it was Illya who had originally offered to sleep on the floor, even though he said that in the Soviet Union it was common for people to share sleeping accommodations. Would he have done that if he liked men?
Unless, of course, he had reasons for not wanting to sleep with his partner. Illya constantly criticized Napoleon's apparent need to woo every woman that crossed his path. He didn't understand the way Napoleon thrived on the chase. Would his feelings on this point keep him from having any interest in his partner? For a moment, Napoleon was struck with the bitter irony of it. Illya might lose his position and be forced out of the country on a charge of having a sexual relationship with the one man in whom he had no interest.
This last thought crossed Napoleon's mind accompanied by a wave of pain. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.
“Napoleon, darling, are you alright?” Stephanie's face crinkled attractively with concern. Napoleon looked at her and thought what a sweet, kind person she was and that she deserved better than he was able to offer her this evening. She deserved a proper evening out with him devoting his full attention to her.
“Stephanie, I hate to ask you this, but would you mind terribly if gave you a rain check for another evening? It's just that I've got the most awful headache coming on.”
“Oh you poor dear! Of course not. You don't worry about me. If you'll just drop me at the corner near my building I can pick up some chop suey and I'll be fine. You take yourself home and get some sleep and you'll probably feel right as rain tomorrow.”
“You're an angel, Steph. Thanks for understanding.”
Illya breathed deeply of the cool night air and tucked his hands deep into the pockets of his worn brown leather jacket. His black watch cap was pulled down low, concealing the telltale gold of his hair, except a few tufts out at the sides and back. His stride was easy and long. He'd been walking for some time, all the way from his apartment building to where he was now, in this seedy area near the East River docks. He enjoyed walking, especially at night. It gave him an opportunity to think and he found the isolation of city streets at night soothing rather than lonely. Besides walking along streets with long lonely blocks was a good way to be sure no one was following you.
Napoleon, he knew, would not have walked. He spotted his partner's car parked on a side street. Not that there was a lot of competition for parking in this particular area at this hour – the buildings consisted of warehouses and a few shabby office rentals. At ten o'clock nothing was open because no one was around.
Illya stopped at one of the shabbier lease offices and unlocked the building door with a key off his ring. Slipping in quickly, he closed the outer door and made his way down the hall in the dim illumination provided by a single light at the far end of the corridor. He stopped at the first door on the right. A small plaque next to the door read: Oslo and Nikolas Trading Co. Glancing over the door, he spied, barely visible in the low light, the tail end of a match projecting past the edge of the frame. Selecting another key from his ring, he opened this door as well and slipped into the dark room within.
He locked the door behind him and then latched a special double deadbolt inaccessible from the outside. For such an apparently non-descript office in such a shabby building, Oslo and Nikolas was surprisingly secure. The one small exterior window had bullet-proof glass and the main door was reinforced with steel.
Crossing the room, which contained only the most generic office furniture – a desk and chair, two client chairs and small filing cabinet – Illya went to the rather narrow door on the left wall. He rapped on it using the prearranged signal pattern both knew as well as their own names. The internal lock released and opening the door, Napoleon said, “Welcome to Oslo.”
Napoleon was still wearing the exquisite bespoke tailored suit he must have worn to dinner. Black and elegant, he looked trim and graceful as an otter with his perfectly groomed hair and slender, yet powerful build enhanced by the cut of jacket and pants. Illya found himself suddenly impaled by Napoleon's shrewd, too intelligent eyes. Wit, his usual shield against the world, seemed to slide away like scales of ice melted in a moment under the heat of that gaze and he found himself unable to speak. Unable even to breathe.
Napoleon looked away. Illya found he could breathe again, could swallow. He leaned against the door, latching it behind him. “Those clothes don't exactly blend in down here, Napoleon,” he said, desperate to be saying something, to hear that his voice hadn't been sucked out of him like his breath.
Napoleon chuckled. “I considered that. And I realize it is most unlike me not to be dressed appropriately. But I thought it would be better if they were watching our building if I didn't come home and then go out again rather than simply came by to pick up something more seedy.”
“Do you own anything seedy?”
“Well there was that problem as well.” Napoleon grinned. “There's a box of pizza in the oven if you're hungry.”
The room they were in was, in fact, a small apartment, complete with a double bed, basic kitchen facilities along one wall, a small table and chair, a safe, a steel box, and another tiny door leading off into a miniscule bathroom. This was their bolthole. Early in their partnership they had put it in place as a location that only they knew the location of in case of emergencies. It contained a stash of money and weapons that could be retrieved by either, as well as simply a place to lay low if such was necessary. Concealed as one of the numerous, vague “trading companies” in the shipping districts, they paid the rent to a manager who was such a soul of discretion that changing the hall light would be a major event.
Illya sniffed. “Sausage?”
“Um-hum.” Napoleon was getting himself a plate from the cupboard. Illya joined him, having stripped off his jacket and hat.
“In the fridge.” Illya smiled happily, distracted from his discomfiture as he located a chilling bottle of vodka.
“You've been here a while,” he said as he poured a glass from the cool bottle.
“I dropped Stephanie off a while ago.” Napoleon tried to make the comment casual. He glanced at his partner and this time it was his turn to be on the receiving end of a blaze of scrutiny. How had he never noticed just how blue Illya's eyes were? He swallowed and looked down at his pizza.
“Didn't you already eat?”
“Damn,” thought Napoleon. Why did his partner have to be so observant, and then smiled slightly realizing the idiocy of that thought. “Never try to fool a spy,” he remarked drily.
Illya raised an eyebrow and waited.
“I wasn't very hungry, so I pleaded a headache and sent Stephanie home early. I've been here since eight.”
Illya pushed his plate away. A first. “Napoleon, what's going on?”
Napoleon studied his partner's face. The clean strong lines of his jaw, the large, slightly tilted eyes that paradoxically combined both ice and tropical warmth, the sensitive lips and topping it off, that golden mop of silky hair. Illya was so alive, so beautiful. How had he never seen that? Perhaps because even though they risked their lives Napoleon never really feared losing him until today? A certain sense of invulnerability was necessary to do the job they did, just as was a degree of fatalism. It had taken two weaselly pencil pushing gossip eaters to make him see the folly in his own existence.
“Is this about the men from the Committee?” Illya asked, distress more evident in voice. “You seemed fine before you met with them.”
Napoleon nodded numbly. Somehow even articulating his fear, which had grown over the evening, seemed more likely to make it real.
“I am a target of their investigation,” Illya said. It was a statement, not a question. Illya had followed closely the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee since he'd arrived in the U.S., knowing that his position as a Soviet citizen “on loan” to U.N.C.L.E. put him in a vulnerable position as a U.S. resident. “Lieber tot als rot.”
Napoleon looked at him quizzically.
“'Better dead than red.' The Nazis were fond of saying that. I heard it as a child. Recently some of your own leaders have picked it up. Good propaganda never dies.” Illya smiled sadly. “It was foolish of me to think I had left this sort of thing behind me. Americans are so afraid of Communists, and yet most of them have never met one and wouldn't know what being one meant.” He glanced at Napoleon. “I don't suppose it would help to explain to them that I'm more of a Socialist than a Communist?”
The slightly hopeful tone in his voice made Napoleon's heart tighten. “I'm afraid not, tovarisch. They probably wouldn't care about the distinctions, and that's assuming they understood them, which is a rather large assumption. You could say you were a capitalist and the fact that you bled Russian red might be enough in their eyes to make you a problem.”
Illya looked at him helplessly. Reluctantly he waded into deeper waters. “But I don't really think that's the most serious problem. If it was just that, I think Mr. Waverly could keep them at bay with the contractual agreement.”
Napoleon noticed that Illya had gotten very still. Whether his partner was waiting for the blow to fall or already knew what was coming, he couldn't tell. Illya wasn't looking at him, but was staring at a point on the table.
“In fact, they actually seemed more interested in our sex life.” Napoleon had chosen his words deliberately to obscure their exact meaning, wanting to see Illya's reaction. He hadn't thought it was possible for his partner to get any more still than he had been, but some how he did. It was as if he did, in fact, become “part of the furniture” as he often encouraged people to respond to him. If Napoleon had not known Illya had to be alive, he'd have thought perhaps he wasn't – for a fraction of a second he wondered if perhaps his partner had actually stilled himself to death. Then he satisfied himself that the Russian was breathing, but so slowly and shallowly that he seemed not to exist.
“Illya?” Napoleon made his voice soft, as if he was gentling a wild animal. He reached out to touch his partner's hand, where it rested on the table, but to his shock Illya drew it back before he made contact, hugging his hands under his armpits so that he was tightly coiled up, untouchable. Illya continued to stare at the point on the table, but his eyes had moistened, forcing him to blink once or twice and he swallowed silently.
Napoleon knew he had to continue. There was no going back. “They apparently had heard some stories about my various relationships.” He paused and felt overwhelming relief to notice the tiniest twitch of smile tug at the corners of his partner's mouth. “I can't imagine where,” he added and was rewarded with the hint of real smile.
Illya drew a real breath. “And they wanted to know how I was occupying my time.” Again, a statement. “And you said?”
“I said you didn't.”
Illya snorted. “And they took your word for that, did they?
“In fact,” Illya swung around so suddenly to face Napoleon and spoke so harshly that the older agent felt as though his partner were tearing the flesh from his face, “They wanted to know if we were buggering each other in all those cozy shared hotel rooms didn't they, especially the ones with a single bed? Well don't worry, I'll make sure they don't think you were involved with me.”
Illya's response stung, but Napoleon wasn't sure exactly why. So he grasped at a point he did understand.
“What are you talking about? We weren't. And you weren't. Just tell them the truth.”
Illya stared at him, then slowly shook his head. “You Americans amaze me. This faith you have in 'truth.' Do you think it really matters what has or has not happened? It only matters what they think happened, what appears to have happened, what people tell them happened. Most importantly, what they CHOOSE to believe happened. Appearances ARE reality.”
“I don't want them to think you weren't involved with me.”
For a moment the double negative seemed to confuse them both. The words came out of Napoleon's mouth before he'd thought them through. Now he seemed to see them in the air before him.
“What?” Illya was staring at him.
“I … I … want them think we're involved.... I want to ...” Napoleon struggled for words, only to find himself trapped in Illya's gaze. Lost in a deep blue sea.
“Don't be a fool,” Illya said, but he spoke softly, as if his heart sank at the words. “You've no idea what you're saying.”
“Probably. But whatever's coming, I want to do it with you. … Unless of course, you have personal objections. I know you don't always approve of the way I … do things,” he ended awkwardly, unable, he found, to look Illya in the face.
A soft, choking, hissing noise drew his gaze upward. Illya was laughing. Not loudly, almost silently in fact, only making soft sounds as he gasped for breath. But his eyes were filled with kindness as well as merriment.
“If someone had told me 5 minutes ago that I would find anything to smile at this evening, I would have thought they were crazy,” he said, “but now I can't decide which is funnier, your most unfortunate, and I'm certain, unintentional pun, or the fact that you are afraid that you might somehow fail to appeal to me on moral grounds.”
Napoleon would have been irritated except that Illya's eyes overflowed with kindness and good humor.
Illya gathered up his friend's hands in his own. “I may not be a Christian, but I have always believed that Jesus' words regarding the behavior of those who live in glass houses was sound. I remark on your relationships because that is my way, but I also understand that you act the way you do because that is your way. It is who you are. And if I did not care for who you are would I keep going to so much trouble to save your life at considerable to risk to my own skin?” He grinned, but affection still marked his expression.
“No more than I do you, when you keep getting in deep water up to your little Russian neck,” Napoleon grumbled, but a smile teased at the corner of his mouth as well, and he squeezed his partner's long, strong fingers in his own broader hands. Impulsively he pulled the hands up to his mouth and kissed one gently while he held the other to his cheek, all the while watching Illya's face. He breathed in the scent from his partner's skin, so newly close to his face and felt pleasantly intoxicated.
Illya swallowed slowly, breathed shakily, and said, “Don't,” even as he clung to Napoleon's hands with a grip that suggested his life depended upon it. He pulled back from Napoleon's mouth, but retained his grasp on his friend's hands, returning their clasped hands to the table.
“Why? You want to. I want to. No one knows where we are. What's to stop us?” The smile on Napoleon's face was both beguiling and tender.
Illya felt his resolve wavering and pulled his hands out of Napoleon's and stood up to put distance between them. He crossed his arms firmly across his chest. “When I said I'd make sure that they knew you weren't involved, it was because I wanted to protect you. I believe you want to … take the next step,” he said gently. “I also believe that the feelings you have for me are real, in part because I myself have wondered several times over the last year if maybe your feelings had … changed.”
Napoleon looked at him quizzically. Illya smiled. “Well, it was a little over a year ago that you began...” He paused, “Well, touching me … a lot. Fixing my clothes, rubbing my shoulders, ruffling my hair. ...
“At first I thought you had found out that I was a homosexual and were engaged in some sort of game intended to draw me out or expose me. But gradually I realized you weren't even aware of what you were doing. So I just kept quiet and, well … enjoyed it.” His smile was surprisingly shy and embarrassed. “You see I thought it might well be all I would ever get. Now I'm sorry I didn't stop you. Call your attention to it. I've probably put you at greater risk because of my own selfish behavior. I hope you can forgive me, my friend.” Illya looked somber in the way that only the Russian could.
Napoleon was staring at him, as though seeing him for the first time. “Forgive you? I only wish you'd made me realize what was going on so that we could have sorted this out at a time when you didn't feel so desperately that it was your responsibility to protect me. I'm just frustrated with the time we have wasted.”
Illya smiled slightly, the left side of his mouth tugging up. “So, as I was saying, I do believe your feelings are real.
“Nevertheless, I am sure, certain even, that you have no idea what it would mean for you. I do. And because I care for you I want to protect you from that.”
“You and I have shared every kind of trouble in the past. Why should this be different?”
Illya sighed. He uncrossed his arms, put his hands into the pockets of his jeans, and leaned against the wall. “Napoleon, aside from me, how many homosexuals do you know at U.N.C.L.E.?”
Napoleon paused for a moment and then said, “As far as I know, I don't know any.”
“You know four. You also know two lesbians and one man who is essentially a heterosexual but, in a situation rather like yours, had a long-term relationship with a man. There are also others who in particular circumstances had one or two-off relations with same sex partners.” Napoleon looked nonplussed. Illya smiled ruefully. “My point is that you work with these people everyday and you had no idea.”
“How is it you know?”
“They told me.”
“Who are they?”
“I can't say. They told me in confidence. Just as I wouldn't repeat anything you told me tonight I can't repeat what they said to me. You think that as a spy you live a secret life now. But at least at U.N.C.L.E. you can speak relatively freely and honestly. Imagine that you have nowhere that you can relax. Everywhere you go, whomever you talk to, every word you say must be guarded, every gesture you make must be premeditated. You must err on the side of caution at all times. Where someone else might exchange a casual hug with a friend, you must be remote, cold even.”
Napoleon heard in his head the comments people made about his partner. “He's unemotional. He's like a machine. He doesn't care about people. He's only interested in work.” He himself had known for a long time that there was more to his partner than people credited, that he was sensitive, and caring, and also far shyer than people thought. Now he had a further view of the complexity of his friend's life.
“Your life would be especially complicated,” Illya continued, “because you would have to maintain your present lifestyle in order to avoid drawing attention to yourself. You have a reputation to to protect, quite literally.” His eyes twinkled slightly. “Not all aspects of that deception might prove unattractive to you.”
Napoleon smiled slightly at that. “Does it make my suggestion any more appealing to you to know that I kept finding myself thinking about you recently when I was out on dates?”
“Napoleon trust me, making it more appealing is not the issue.” He paused, raising an eyebrow. “You did?”
“Yes. It made things rather difficult if you must know the truth.”
Illya smiled broadly. “Ah, that is a sensation I am familiar with.”
Napoleon stood and Illya watched him warily, knowing his partner well enough to keep distance between them. Napoleon was a man used to getting what he wanted. Physically smaller than his partner, Illya depended on his quicker reflexes, greater dexterity and inventiveness to keep them equal when they sparred in practice. At the moment, however, the stakes felt exceptionally high and Illya studied Napoleon's body language with the finely tuned instincts of one whose life depended upon it, all the while appearing to continue leaning casually in the same position.
“What I don't understand,” Napoleon began, pacing slowly, “Is why you insist on trying to protect me. I accept that I don't fully comprehend the risks I would be assuming, but they are my risks and if I am willing to take them, shouldn't that be enough? I appreciate your concern, but in my view it is your risk that is more of an issue. It was you they were asking about after all.”
“As the saying goes, it takes two to tango, Napoleon. If they set their sites on me, you are in danger by proximity. I cannot permit that.”
“And what I'm saying, tovarisch, is that it is not up to you to permit it or not. It would be if the it was a case of you not being interested in me, but you admit yourself that that is not the problem. Tell me something, my friend, you have imagined what it would be like, haven't you?”
The flush that crept up Illya's face even as his eyes dropped to the ground answered Napoleon's question.
Napoleon's voice dropped as leaned gently against the wall. “So have I.” Illya's eyes flicked up and met his, hungry for confirmation of what he said.
“But it's one less lie I have to tell,” Illya said softly.
“One in a life of how many? At what point does it stop mattering? Besides, you yourself told me that it doesn't matter what is true, but only what they think is true. By your own logic,” Napoleon smiled, pleased with his own argument, “It doesn't matter what we do, only what they decide we have done. Wouldn't it be a shame to be convicted of something you've always wanted but never were willing to risk?”
Napoleon was in no way prepared for the explosiveness of his partner's reaction. Illya launched himself from across the room and pinned Napoleon against the wall in almost a single movement, his hands clasped his partner's while his elbows trapped his upper arms. His jeans-clad hips pressed hard against Napoleon's in their exquisite tailoring. Illya looked deeply into his partner's eyes, “Napoleon, do you ever shut up?”
“Not until I get what I want.”
“Well you've got me, God help you,” Illya said, breathing huskily, “But then you always did. I just hope you like what you get.”
Napoleon felt as though the air had gotten thinner. How it was that Illya, who was smaller, seemed to overwhelm him, he didn't know. All he knew was that he was seeing, hearing, feeling and breathing Illya. He was drowning in Illya and it was how he wanted to die, enfolded in the sensation of safety and … love? that was his best friend.
Illya was kissing him. But not the fierce, ravishing kiss he'd expected. The kisses were firm, but gentle. Illya's tongue seemed bent on exploring, taking its time, savoring the experience. He'd released Napoleon's hands and had taken his head in one strong hand, and slipped the other behind him to draw his body against him in a tight embrace. Illya kissed his face as well as his mouth, tasting his skin, his lips, his eyelids, his jaw and neck. He inhaled deeply as if he couldn't breathe in enough of the way Napoleon smelled, and kissed some more.
Napoleon abruptly realized that he had never been kissed, but has always been the kisser. After a moment's astonishment at the discovery, he attempted to assert control but found himself thwarted by an abrupt growl from Illya and gave a startled gasp as his partner snaked the hand that had held him in between them and grasped his cock and gave it a sharp, disciplinary tug, instantly taking it from firm to rock hard.
“You wanted me,” Illya growled, “You've got me. But you get me on my terms. I have waited a long time for this. Watched you pursue a world of women you didn't truly care about. Tonight I am going to savor what I have waited so long for and make you appreciate what you have been missing all this time.”
He paused, studying Napoleon for a long minute. “Take off your jacket. It is beautifully made, and you look beautiful in it. It would be shame for something to happen to it. You'd best give me your trousers and vest as well.” He grinned at the look of discomfiture on Napoleon's face.
“Give, give,” he waved his hand impatiently when Napoleon didn't move, “Or I shall be forced to remove them another way. I wonder how sharp the pizza cutter is? No matter, I'm sure there is a knife in the kitchen.” He feigned starting to move and Napoleon quickly began removing his suit.
“As a show of good faith I will remove my flannel shirt as well,” Illya said, suiting the action to the words and tossing it casually aside on the floor. The result was to make him look more svelte in his black turtleneck and jeans. Casually he ate a slice of pizza while he watched Napoleon remove the parts of his suit and hang them neatly on a hanger in the room's small closet. He brushed crumbs from his mouth and poured himself another glass of vodka. He gestured toward Napoleon's glass and raised an eyebrow.
Illya poured his partner a drink from the bottle of scotch on the counter and carried it to him. He could sense Napoleon's nervousness.
“To my dearest friend,” he said softly and touched his glass to Napoleon's. “Thank you for everything.” He tossed back his vodka, waiting a moment with eyes closed as it hit his stomach with a satisfying warmth. He opened his eyes and smiled at his partner.
Napoleon watched his partner's face as he drank and his tingles of fear seemed to melt away. He realized he no longer felt vulnerable, even though he was still standing there in only a shirt, socks and underclothes.
Setting his glass down, Illya drew Napoleon back into his arms and looked into face. “We will do nothing that you don't want to. And we will stop anytime you want to. But,” he smiled, “I will take my time because doing so will increase both of our enjoyment and because ...”
It was Napoleon's turn to see fear in his friend's eyes. He pulled Illya tightly to him and held him. He felt just a momentary shake and then that unearthly stillness came over Illya again. Napoleon recognized it as terror response. He stroked Illya's hair and breathed warm air on his neck. Unconsciously he began rocking back and forth as he had when he'd held his younger brother when he was a baby. As he felt Illya begin to relax slightly he drew him toward the bed and they sat together.
“I'm sorry,” said Illya. “I'm afraid certain realities forced their way back in. It was a nice moment while it lasted though.” He smiled ruefully.
“Give me a minute,” Napoleon said. He got up and turned off the lights after first turning on the small bedside lamp. Then he returned to the bed. He knelt in front of Illya and carefully removed his partner's shoes, looking up into his face as he did so. “Don't think I'll be making a habit of this.” He was rewarded with a small, but genuine smile.
“I shall bear that in mind.”
“Move over,” sitting on the bed, Napoleon nudged Illya to get him to shift to the other side. They both lay on top of the cover, Napoleon on his side studying his partner, “Tell.”
Illya lay silently staring at the ceiling, retreating into stillness.
“Stay here with me.” Napoleon hauled his partner into his arms, rolling back onto his back and pulling Illya on top of him. He began stroking Illya's hair again, struck by how it looked like silk inside a newly peeled ear of corn. He inhaled. It even seemed to share something of its sweet smell as well.
Illya seemed to come back from far away. He drew a slow breath.
“What will happen if you are found guilty?” He didn't want to ask. Didn't want to know. But he knew he had to know because this was Illya and the fear of it shadowed the dark corners of both their minds and poisoned everything.
“I would be sent back to the Soviet Union.” His voice was so low and soft that Napoleon practically stopped breathing to listen. Napoleon kissed Illya's head gently but said nothing, waiting for the more that he knew was coming. When he spoke again, Illya's voice was so soft, it was as though a whisper was whispering. “If I was lucky, the KGB would retain me to use as a prostitute.” He took a ragged breath. “Otherwise I would be sent to Siberia, to the gulag. Perhaps the KGB first and then the gulag for whatever is left.
“If anything, homosexuality is less acceptable in the Soviet Union than here, so not surprisingly the methods for dealing with it are … more extreme. Within the gulag there is a hierarchy. Let me leave it that the place of homosexuals on that hierarchy is not one to be envied.
“As it would be regarded as a major embarrassment for me to be sent home for that reason, I would anticipate the latter, although it wouldn't be out of the question for me to simply disappear. For many reasons, that would be my preference.”
Napoleon felt Illya shaking and hugged him so tightly he squeezed the air out of him. “I won't let that happen. U.N.C.L.E. won't let that happen.”
Illya hugged him in return and then twisted himself so he could look up into Napoleon's face. “And how exactly do you propose doing that? U.N.C.L.E. cannot cause an international incident on my behalf. We are each, as Mr. Waverly never ceases to remind us, expendable. In my case this has just taken on an unusual meaning. Besides, I would never do anything that would embarrass Mr. Waverly. He has been exceedingly kind to me and taken great risks on my behalf. I will not expose him to any more dishonor than I can help just to make things easier for myself. Such is not the behavior of a gentleman.”
“Illya, Mr. Waverly would not expect you to surrender yourself to a life of horror just to spare him inconvenience.”
Illya's face took on that stubborn expression that Napoleon knew so well – furrowed brow, projecting lower lip, jutting jaw. Napoleon's heart melted. In one swift move he rolled them both over so he was on top, looking down into Illya's face. Caught off guard, Illya glared up at him. “You are one stubborn Russian, but I love you anyway, so somehow I'm going to save you from yourself and your noble intentions.”
Illya narrowed his eyes. “I am not stubborn, I am persistent.
“And what do you mean you love me?”
Napoleon seemed somewhat nonplussed by what he'd said himself. “I mean … I love you.” He shrugged his shoulders, as well as he could while pinning his partner down, and smiled somewhat sheepishly. He leaned down and kissed Illya. This time it was his turn to linger and explore, to taste and enjoy, and Illya relaxed beneath him, permitting him to choose his own pace and simply responding as seemed fit. Napoleon had his arms pinned so instead he wrapped his oh-so-flexible legs around his partner to hold him tightly in a different sort of embrace and arched his back so as to bring their bodies tightly together. He held them that way, suspended, relying on his strength to support them both. Illya relaxed his back and they both came up for air, gazing into one another's eyes.
“We seem to be back where we started,” Napoleon said as he leaned down and let his lips brush his partner's rough cheek and ear, causing Illya to draw in a sharp intake of air.
“Not quite,” Illya said. And now it was his turn to roll them over, assuming the superior position and then sitting astride Napoleon. “Ah, yes, that's better.” He reached down and skinned off his black turtleneck and undershirt, revealing his well-muscled torso with its light dusting of golden chest hair. Napoleon saw too the familiar scars, some from his years in U.N.C.L.E., some, more troubling, from the years before.
He reached down and loosened the bow tie Napoleon rather incongruously still wore. “This needs to go.” He drew it off in a leisurely motion as his partner watched, and then tossed it somewhere toward the edge of the room.
“That will wrinkle you know,” Napoleon said.
“You should take better care of your clothes then,” Illya chided. “I did warn you, remember.”
“You did not say anything about my tie.”
“You're a smart man. You were expected to draw the necessary inferences,” Illya said without the slightest sign of repentance.
He began to work on Napoleon's shirt. “You should hope that I do not find these buttons too much trouble.” Napoleon quickly began to assist.
“Ah, ah … persistent.” Illya stopped working on the shirt and dropped down on his hands so his face was inches from Napoleon's. His studied Napoleon's face, the blue eyes moving slowly over each feature as if memorizing every minutiae. “I love you too, Napoleon,” he said softly. He kissed him with exquisite gentleness, his lips brushing Napoleon's like a bird's wing. He rested on his lower arms, and kissed his partner with gentle intensity.
Napoleon reached up and pulled him close, whispering, “Make love to me, tovarisch,” and heard the hungry purr that came from Illya's throat in response.
“With pleasure,” Illya began nipping and licking his way down Napoleon's jawline, reveling in his lover's moan as he did so. He continued down his partner's throat, kissing and nipping in the hollow and then pulling open his collar and making his way along Napoleon's collarbone.
“I believe your shirt may be in serious danger, Napoleon,” Illya murmured into his partner's neck. He felt Napoleon fiddling with the last of his shirt buttons beneath him and smiled.
“This needs to go.” He hooked a finger into the collar of Napoleon's undershirt. He sat back on his heels. He pulled Napoleon up so he could get his shirts off. He pushed Napoleon's linen shirt off his shoulders, only to find the cuffs were still fastened. His partner struggled to undue the buttons before they came off as Illya continued to tug at the shirt. Miraculously Napoleon rescued his dress shirt but was only able to toss it aside before Illya was up on his knees pulling the t-shirt over his head.
Illya gave him no time to think but pushed him back down onto the bed and began kissing Napoleon's chest. He traced the lines of the muscles with the lightest touch of his tongue and the softest of kisses. “So beautiful.” The Russian's whisper reached Napoleon's ear. Instinctively he raised his head to kiss Illya's silky, sweet-smelling hair and wrapped his partner in his arms.
Illya found and nuzzled the brown circle of his partner's nipple, tickling it with the point of his tongue. He murmured with delight when Napoleon arched against him with a sharp intake of breath and moan as he drew the smooth surface to a hard responsive bud and nipped it gently with his teeth. Pausing, he got up on his knees again and regarded Napoleon below him.
“You are still wearing too many clothes, Napoleon,” he said glancing pointedly at his partner's boxer shorts. He reached down and snagged the waistband with the tips of his fingers and Napoleon hurriedly lifted his buttocks to prevent unnecessary damage to the item in question. Napoleon's cock seemed to shake itself free of the garment, and Illya eyed it with almost proprietorial interest. Nevertheless he took the time to strip the socks from his partner's feet.
“I have always liked your feet, Napoleon,” he said to his partner's astonishment.
“Yes. They are really quite handsome. Nicely shaped.” He stroked the skin on the top of the right foot as he spoke. “And you take good care of them. I've never said anything because it is not the sort of thing that comes up in casual conversation. Even between the best of friends.” He grinned. He raised the foot up and kissed it, then brushed the side of his face against it like a cat. “I suppose I notice because mine are not.”
Illya replaced Napoleon's foot on the bed and lay down on the bed next to his partner. He curled up easily, stripped the socks from his own feet and looked up at them sadly. They were sinewy and callused and contorted. Napoleon was startled to realize he had never noticed.
“Dancer's feet,” Illya explained, “I was schooled in ballet as well as gymnastics.” Napoleon had always suspected as much, but Illya had never volunteered the information, and it was not provided in the background U.N.C.L.E. had.
Napoleon sat up and caught one of his partner's feet as Illya rolled back to a sitting position. “I like them,” he said, massaging the foot in question. “They suit you.”
Illya regarded him with surprise. “Hard and horny?”
“Don't be crude, I'm trying to be sincere. Don't interrupt. I was going to say, hardened and rough on the outside, but inside amazingly adept and … vulnerable,” and with the last word he took a firm hold on Illya's foot and tickled it.
Caught completely off guard, a rare event indeed, Illya choked with laughter and squirmed and then grasped his partner. Instantly the two were wrestling furiously on top of the bed, muffled laughter mixed with choked threats. Illya was quicker and more flexible, and would slither from holds that would have trapped other men, while Napoleon was larger and more powerful and knew how to use that strength to the greatest advantage. Ironically it was the fact that Napoleon was naked that proved the deciding factor. Napoleon kept catching hold of Illya's jeans and wrestling him around using the material while Illya was forced to try and hold onto Napoleon's increasingly sweaty and slick skin.
Napoleon finally succeeded in pinning the elusive Russian beneath him. “Hold still, damn you, and say 'uncle.'”
“It is just what you say when you give up. Say it.”
A further brief but unsuccessful struggle. “Why should I say something I don't understand? That makes no sense.”
“Why shouldn't you say it? It doesn't cost you anything to say it and it may cost you something not to. Since you don't understand it, why should it bother you?”
Illya glowered at him.
“Fine. If you want to waste the entire night to prove that you are in fact as stubborn as I said you were, that's fine with me.” Napoleon relaxed his arms and put all of his weight on his partner's head and chest while still pinning down his arms and legs. Muffled noises came from beneath. “I'm sorry I can't hear you. What did you say?” He shifted enough to hear.
“Persistent, not stubborn”
Napoleon dropped back down precipitously. Furious wriggling ensued. Napoleon remained casually oblivious. He began to hum. The wriggling got more vigorous. Finally it subsided. Something that sounded like a word vibrated against his chest. “What?” He shifted and raised his weight and heard Illya draw a deep breath.
“That wasn't so hard was it?” A low growl. “Now take off your clothes. It's perfectly ridiculous you're still wearing them. You might have won if you weren't.” He rolled off his partner, who drew another deep breath, turned to glare at him, but then saw the laughter in his eyes and smiled instead.
“You're probably right. I am, what did you call me, oh yes 'adept', after all.” He sat up, undid his jeans and then lay back and wriggled out of them in a fashion that made Napoleon laugh.
“Is that how you get into them too?”
“Only if they've shrunk a little in the wash. They stretch once they are on.”
“I did wonder.”
Illya raised an eyebrow, “Did you?”
“It's hard not to notice someone who looks as though their pants are spraypainted on. Don't you find them a little, a, confining at times though?”
Illya smiled. “Generally it is not a problem. One aspect of my situation is that I have schooled my mind to control my reactions so completely that typically I can avoid such … awkwardness. Not always, however. Remember that time you fell into the vat of warm oil in that baking plant and we had to get you stripped off and cleaned up enough so you wouldn't ruin the car. I didn't insist on doing your back half strictly out of politeness.”
“You insisted on driving back with a window open as I recall. You said the smell of the oil bothered you.”
“It did, but that was perhaps the lesser of my problems at the time,” Illya grinned. “I thought the cold air might prove beneficial.”
“So you were willing for me to freeze to death.”
“I thought you might prefer it to the alternative.”
“My stopping the car and stripping off my jeans before I suffered permanent damage. I did not feel you were emotionally ready for that at that moment. The day seemed to have been exciting enough already.”
“You're probably right. I'm not sure I would have taken that too well. Now, on the other hand...” He suited the action to the words and rolled over and took Illya's cock in his hand, pushing back the foreskin and began to stroke it in a smooth, steady motion, flicking one finger across the tip as he did so. He rested his head on Illya's belly and simply enjoyed watching his hand give his partner so much pleasure, listening through the Russian's body as he moaned each time Napoleon's finger gave the teasing stroke across the top and swirled any cum out and around.
He had never held another man's cock in his hand and was somewhat surprised that it did not feel strange to do so. Illya's penis was somewhat more slender, and perhaps slightly longer. The pattern of the veins on the underside were slightly different, and of course he was not circumcised, but otherwise it was much the same. He did what he himself enjoyed, adjusting as he sensed that Illya preferred a slightly different touch or tempo, wanting very much to give this man, his dearest friend, the most pleasure he could.
He slid his hand down and gathered Illya's balls in his hand and was rewarded by his partner's sharp intake of breath as he gently rolled them in his fingers. They were smaller than his own, which for some reason he found a delightful point of difference. He shifted forward impulsively and gently sucked one and then another into his mouth and played with them on his tongue while Illya moaned out his name. He inhaled and felt again that sense of intoxication that his partner's scent seemed to produce in him.
Illya's hand found his own cock and began to stroke and Napoleon pushed it away, causing the Russian to groan in some unspeakable place between agony and ecstasy. Napoleon released Illya's balls and drew his tongue up the underside of his partner's penis in an agonizingly slow movement to the tip, which, when he got there, was glossy and slick.
He licked it, surprised at his own delight in doing so. Had someone told him that he, Napoleon Solo, would ever find himself so aroused at the thought of sucking another man's cock that he was practically coming himself, he would have laughed out loud. But it was true. He was rock hard. The slightest pressure made him feel as though he would overflow, losing his mind with excitement and pleasure, and all because he could sense that by taking Illya in his mouth it would be mere moments before his partner would experience something he had longed for for so many years.
He drew Illya into his mouth, surprised at how easy it was. A combination of saltiness and bitter flavors blended on his tongue as he adjusted until he found the most comfortable position. Always he was aware of Illya, who thrust against him in an agony of desire.
“Oh please, Napoleon...”
Napoleon, who had shifted between his partner's legs, looked up to see those blue eyes, dilated almost black, looking down at him. He plunged his head down and sucked the entirety of Illya's cock into his mouth and Illya's head fell back as his hips came up.
“Napoleon, I'm coming...” he gasped.
The Russian thrust again and again but Napoleon held on, sucking firmly and drawing him out and then, gently, down, his hands supporting his partner from below, until Illya fell back on the bed in an exhausted, sweaty heap.
“I'm sorry, Napoleon. I tried to warn you.”
“Shhh. I wanted to.” Napoleon smiled at his partner. “Alright for a first go?”
“More than alright. But I intended to do things my way.”
“Well, that will teach you to pick fights you can't win.”
Illya snorted. “As I recall, you were the instigator. No matter, I will just savor the second time. It is for the best. I will be more focused this way.”
“I thought you Russians always looked on the dark side.”
“No, we are merely pragmatic. You Americans just mistake that for pessimism.”
“Would you pass me my whiskey?”
“Of course. Are you implying that I left a bad taste in your mouth?”
“No. I merely believe that a good whiskey is always appropriate.”
“A wise response.”
Napoleon sipped his drink while they clasped hands.
After a few minutes, Illya turned on his side and rested his head on Napoleon's shoulder. He allowed his fingers to trace circles around his friend's nipples, one after the other.
“I believe I am in your debt and I always pay my debts.” He tweaked Napoleon's nipple, making his partner jump. He bent down and sucked Napoleon's nipple, at first leisurely and then with more energy, causing his partner to squirm and twist beneath his wickedly flicking tongue. He shifted position, kneeling by Napoleon's side, letting his finger's trace the American's ribs and muscles, touching him with delicate fingertips that walked the fine line between tickling and sensual pleasure.
Napoleon moaned, straining and arching his back as Illya moved down his side. Illya nipped the well-muscled thigh as he lifted one of Napoleon's legs sufficiently and settle himself on his belly between his partner's thighs. Grasping Napoleon's cock in his hand, he slid it into his mouth with ease. He sucked rhythmically, drawing Napoleon completely in and causing him to cry out in a voice not quite his own.
Just as he was on the verge, Illya broke the tempo, forcing Napoleon back from the edge. Instead he nuzzled Napoleon's balls, nestled in silken dark brown hair. He weighed them gently in his hands, before drawing one into his mouth and rolling it gently on his tongue, sucking and tugging on it with just enough pressure to make Napoleon curl his toes.
Napoleon ached for more. He started to reach for his cock but met Illya's hand, which clasped his firmly.
Illya moved forward on his arms and knees, allowing his belly to drag across and so stroke Napoleon's cock as he did so. Looking down upon his beloved companion, he rested his weight upon him. He spoke softly “What is it you Americans say? What goes around comes around?” He grinned wickedly.
Then he kissed his partner deeply and passionately, tasting the smoky flavor of whiskey in his mouth as well as the tiniest trace of something else … himself. Illya began to assault his partner's mouth, pressing his hips hard against Napoleon's, trapping their cocks together in a second kiss of velvety skin against velvety skin. His balls nestled against Napoleon's larger ones. He didn't rock or move, but just held them in tantalizing suspension, making their nerves tingle as he kissed his partner's mouth..
Illya held them still for a few agonizing minutes despite Napoleon's increasingly desperate efforts to move. He simply hissed, “Patience” every so often and used his flexible, gymnast's legs to hook around and lock down Napoleon's.
When he finally began to stroke with his hips, he wasn't sure how long either of them would last.
“Oh my God,” Napoleon moaned beneath him and Illya struggled with his own desire and successfully reined himself in, drawing a shuddering breath into his lungs while beneath him Napoleon groaned in frustration that verged on pain.
But he didn't intend for Napoleon to suffer further. He quickly slid down and sucked Napoleon's swollen member into his mouth, beating the head and lower side of the shaft with his tongue. As he sensed Napoleon's balls draw up, Illya drew the cock all the way into his mouth and felt the pulsing rush in his mouth as Napoleon poured forth his relief with a cry of ecstasy.
Illya meanwhile had taken himself in hand and was stroking himself to a rapid completion even as he continued to draw forth the last drops from Napoleon. Already on the verge, it was a matter of moments before, with a cry, he rolled to the side and felt the slick spatter of semen on his belly.
Illya lay still with his eyes closed. He supposed he should see if Napoleon was still breathing. He opened his eyes to find his partner looking down at him. Napoleon smiled a blissful smile, which was returned.
“Think you'll have an interest in encore performances?” Illya asked.
“Oh, most definitely.” Napoleon reached down and brushed hair back from Illya's face. “It's much more … ,” he struggled for a suitable word, “intense.”
“Exactly, although that doesn't seem to make sense, since they are both physical by definition.”
“But with me you don't have the same concerns about being too rough. Being too rough is part of the fun.”
“Because physically we are equal.”
“And because we trust one another, so we feel safe.” Illya paused and sighed. “At least as safe as we will ever be.”
Napoleon saw the flicker of darkness pass over Illya's face and his heart contracted. He got up and went to the bathroom and returned a moment later with a warm, wet washcloth. He began wiping off Illya's belly.
“I'm perfectly capable of doing that myself, Napoleon,” Illya said, but he couldn't work up the energy to sound grumpy.
Napoleon ignored him and washed in warm circles until Illya was clean. Then he took the towel he had also brought and gently rubbed his partner dry while Illya regarded him with amusement. Napoleon took a long intentional look at Illya and then threw the towel and washcloth over his shoulder into a corner of the room.
Illya laughed. “How hard was it for you to do that?”
“Only moderately difficult.”
“You really want to go and pick them up don't you?”
“No, I'll just make sure you take a shower first in the morning. Let's get under the covers.”
Illya sighed deeply. “Napoleon we can't stay here. In case our building is being observed, I need to be seen coming out of it and you need to be seen going into it, no matter how late, and then leaving it to go to work in the morning.”
He studied Napoleon's expression sadly. “This is what I meant when I said your entire life becomes a lie. But yours doesn't have to be that way. We can stop with what we have now. Tonight was a wonderful gift, one I will treasure for the rest of my life. One I can live on regardless of what happens. Let me do this for you, Napoleon. Take back your life now while you still can and we will continue as if nothing happened.”
“And what kind of life would you save for me, my friend. Never mind what you would be doing to yourself. Just taking it on your own terms, you seem to think that I can set aside tonight, or preserve it in a box. Perhaps you can, although I wonder if even you wouldn't crack under the strain of that
particular lie. But I know I'm not capable of it. To try and behave around you as though this night never happened would break me. I can lie to the rest of the world, my friend. But I cannot lie to you and I will not lie to myself.”
“So, where do we go from here?” he asked.
“You decide on a line of approach to use with Black and White, now that you know what's coming, and I go and talk to Mr. Waverly first thing in the morning.
“I'm not picking up the towels.”
Illya declined the partial ride home that Napoleon offered because he wanted to think and he did some of his best thinking while walking. He needed to figure out what tack would be most likely to work for his interview. It was while he was going back over one of the more painful parts of his conversations with Napoleon that an answer came to him. He'd declared, accurately, that the Committee did not care about the truth. But nevertheless the truth, suitably marked and underlined for their benefit, might just do the trick. He considered the probable rumors they had heard, the questions they had asked and then thought back, selectively, over his own history to identify moments and situations that fit the narrative he wanted to tell. By the time he approached the apartment building he shared with Napoleon, scrutinized the area for observation, and then slipped in through the rear entry to which he had obtained an unauthorized key, his plan was in order. Napoleon's car was back. He climbed the stairs to his apartment and went to bed, dropping off almost immediately and sleeping surprisingly well for someone in his situation.
When Napoleon checked in to headquarters the next morning, he found out that Illya had been in for more than half an hour. Even though he made his way to their office as quickly as he could, he discovered that his partner had already gone into his interview with Black and White. His stomach tightened. He'd wanted to see Illya before he'd gone in to face them, but now he was left to worry and wait.
He scanned the paperwork on his desk and decided, as punishment for not at least waiting long enough to say “Good morning,” to fob off the last part of the paperwork from their previous assignment onto his officemate. It was as good as any other reason he ever gave for doing the same thing. He gathered the couple of forms and tossed them into Illya's In basket.
Napoleon called Mr. Waverly's secretary and asked if it were possible for him to see the head of Section 1. Sheila told him that Mr. Waverly wanted to see him right away as well, so Napoleon said he'd be right up.
Illya had expected that he would be hearing from Black and White first thing in the morning, which was why he'd gone to the trouble of coming in early. He hadn't wanted to run into Napoleon this morning because he had a clear plan of what he was going to say – the story he needed to convey through his answers – as well as what he wanted to observe, and he knew he needed to be totally focused to do so.
And he knew that it would be best for both of them if they minimized contact for the moment. Not that he wanted to. A part of his mind, carefully boxed off for indulging in when an opportunity for any sort of emotional intoxication might be possible, still thrilled to every aspect. But he couldn't think about it now. This was potentially a life or death game, possibly for both of them, and he couldn't make any mistakes.
So he'd stayed away from their office, had himself paged for the interview and appeared promptly when summoned. As soon as he entered the interview room he began taking mental notes of what was in the room, but more importantly of the pair of interviewers themselves.
Illya had realized soon after arriving in the United States that he had an enormous advantage over most Western agents. His capacity for interpreting body language was exemplary. He had the skills that many observant, intelligent, shy people develop, which would have made him above average. But coming from a repressive regime that depended upon its citizens to spy and report upon one another and having grown up during the period of the Nazi occupation of Kiev, Illya understood the survival skill elements of how to interpret the things people don't say. You either understand the unspoken or you die. And for the same reason, you learn to control much more than others the “tells” that your own body conveys.
It was this innate ability to control his body language that was the real fact that people thought he was cold and unfeeling, although neither they nor he fully understood that. His body language was far more conscious and restrained than most people's. It was also for this reason, however, that he so readily disappeared into character when undercover. His understanding of body language translated into a gift for conveying character through subtle, almost unnoticeable, gestures that combined to create fleshed out people wholly unlike himself.
When he went into his interview, he put both sides of this talent to work, carefully studying the behavior and interaction of the two questioners while simultaneously creating the character of the “Russian experiencing America” that he wanted his interviewers to meet. He made his accent significantly more pronounced but kept his grammar essentially correct, because they would have his dossier and know his educational background.
He began by greeting them formally and adding, “I must apologize for any apparent nervousness gentlemen. In my country, when one is informed that one is to be interviewed by representatives of a government investigative committee, that can be a very frightening prospect. My partner keeps reminding me that I am not in the Soviet Union now, but some experiences are difficult to overcome.” He smiled, with just the correct blend of diffidence and nervousness, and then was respectfully silent. It never paid to offer too much information too soon.
“Mr. is fine. I'm not an active researcher, so the other is inappropriate.”
“Mr. Kuryakin, then. We are aware, of course, of your position here as a representative of the U.S.S.R.”
“Yes. The Soviet Union was somewhat late in joining U.N.C.L.E., and currently I am their sole contribution, as it were.” Again he smiled diffidently.
“How did you come to be selected for this position.”
“I am afraid I could not tell you. Those decisions were made by people higher up in the system than myself. All I know is that the final selection group was narrowed down to three and of those I was the one ultimately chosen.”
“Because you were KGB.”
“Possibly. But not perhaps for the reason you believe. U.N.C.L.E. was specifically interested in a candidate with significant field experience and language expertise in order to minimize training time. That narrowed the pool of possible candidates considerably. Then they looked for combinations of skills that would be most beneficial. I believe, but admit I'm not certain, that both U.N.C.L.E. and my country were involved in the final choice to some extent. [If by some extent, you meant U.N.C.L.E. asked, and my government decided what would be most advantageous to them, Illya thought to himself.]”
Illya engaged in the discussion regarding his selection and his identity as a Soviet citizen without excessive concern. These were essentially straight facts accessible in his file. They would either convict him on this basis or not, but he suspected that this was not their real aim. It would be a difficult case for them to make that an international organization shouldn't include a member of the other most significant country in the world. Besides, their manner of questioning was largely routine.
Presently he observed signs that a change in direction was in the offing. Illya disrupted Black and White's cozy questioning routine, interrupting them to request a glass of water. “I apologize,” he said, “The air, it is just so dry in here, and I have been talking so much.” He smiled. “I can go and get one myself,” he offered disingenuously.
“No, no,” White said hurriedly, rising. “I'll bring you one.”
Illya waited until White had left and then turned to the more taciturn Black and asked, “So you are both secretaries to a Congressman?” deliberately choosing a title he suspected would be demeaning.
“Congressional Aides,” Black said crisply.
“Ah, of course. Forgive me. I did not intend any offense. I still find administrative titles confusing.” He allowed some seconds to pass. “So you live in Washington? Does your work allow you to get to New York often?”
“Um..yes. Uh. Yes. I guess.”
“So you know New York well then? It has been one of the pleasures of being assigned to U.N.C.L.E. to live here. I would wish everyone would have a chance to spend some time here. Napoleon and I, we travel a lot, but I have to say I like New York better than most other cities.” White came in during this last remark.
“I like New York too, Mr. Kuryakin,” he volunteered. “I mean, naturally I like American cities better than others, no offense intended, but I'd take New York over most of them. I'm always glad to hear we're coming back to the Drake.” Black frowned slightly.
“You are from here, perhaps?”
“Yes. Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker.” White grinned. Illya suspected it might be the first truly honest emotion the man had shown.
He began to weave the next part of the story he wanted them to hear. “You know, everyone talks about how crowded the city is, but to me, it seems just the opposite. When I first joined U.N.C.L.E. here in New York, they set me up with an apartment. They handed me the keys and gave me the address and I asked what other agents lived there. They looked at me like I had an extra head.” He laughed. This story was true.
“In the Soviet Union, I had never lived anywhere by myself, ever. As a child in Kiev, I lived with my family. Whatever parts of it remained at any particular point.” He added more softly. “During the occupation I lived with a group of boys hiding out from the Nazis, and then in an orphanage where there were always several of us in every room and three or four of us in each bed. In the Soviet Union, everyone shares a bed. And everyone shares their room and their apartment. So when they gave me my own apartment it was the first time in my life I ever had a place of my own.
“I didn't know what to do with so much space. So I went out and bought a chair. My own comfortable chair where I could sit and read and that I wouldn't have to fight to get to sit in.” He laughed. “No utensils to cook or eat with, but I had a chair that was always mine! I was so proud!
“But a lot of the time I was lonely. When you are used to always having people around, not having anyone is a big change, especially if you are also from another country, a country that makes people nervous.” He stopped talking and allowed himself to become still, allowed isolation to creep into the room. He suspected both Black and White were rather isolated people who had developed a symbiotic relationship to make up for it. So he let the silence envelope the room. He was perfectly comfortable in silence because he regarded it as a precious commodity, but he had learned that most Americans became edgy if periods of silence became extended.
“You have since made friends among your colleagues, however,” White said.
“Yes, of course.”
“Any, special friends?” Black asked.
“I am not sure just what you mean,” Illya said, who knew perfectly well, “but I am naturally better friends with those such as my partner and the head of the research division with whom I work most frequently, as well as some who share particular interests I have, such as a taste in music.”
“Mr. Solo was not your first partner?”
“No. Mr. Waverly paired me up with three other men before that while he tried to find a partnership that he felt was successful. This is typical I believe. It is unusual for partners to be matched up immediately.”
“Why were you teamed up?”
“Our skills are largely complementary so that where one is not quite as effective the other can make up the deficit.”
“And your skills are?”
“Technical and scientific largely, as well as linguistic.”
“So in any given situation you are the one who comes out with the technical secrets?” Black asked.
Illya smiled. “Sometimes. But not always. Sometimes no one does. Sometimes the result destroys the technical secrets so no one may make use of them. Also, don't underestimate Mr. Solo's capabilities. Merely because I said we complement one another does not mean that we are deficient in those areas the other excels at.”
“Are you saying you destroy technology rather than keep it?”
“That is not typically the intent, but it does happen. It is seen as preferable to letting it be used by people who would put it to a dangerous purpose.”
Black and White exchanged glances. Illya knew this particular line was dangerous, but suspected it was more at the organizational level and had enough experience of bureaucracies to know they were good at holding their own once in place.
He could see that Black and White were trying to decide how to proceed, that he'd thrown sand in the works and they were no longer following their original script so he was satisfied. The story that they had originally been planning no longer seemed to be guiding them, but rather they seemed to be feeling around for what story could be told. This was, he thought, probably the best he could hope to do. He settled back to see what would happen next.
“Mr. Solo. I am most concerned about the possible results of this Committee investigation,” Alexander Waverly began.
“I am too, sir. I have a suspicion they may be targeting Mr. Kuryakin.”
“That is what I am concerned with as well, Mr. Solo. You and I both know that Mr. Kuryakin presents no security risk to U.N.C.L.E. or the United States. I entertain no concerns about his loyalty whatsoever.”
“Of course not, sir.”
“But unfortunately these gentlemen from the Committee may not be inclined to share our view on this point. And if they persist in that perspective, the results could be disastrous for Mr. Kuryakin. Do you know what would happen to him if they succeed in creating enough pressure that he is forced to resign his position with us?”
“I'm not sure, sir,” Napoleon said, feeling it was best not to divulge anything Illya had told him the previous evening.
“He would have to return to Russia, and depending on the grounds, he might be returning in disgrace.”
“About that, sir.”
“Yes, Mr. Solo?”
“I'm not quite sure how to put this. But based on the types of questions they have been asking it appears that they are investigating Illya's …”
“Mr. Kuryakin's what?”
“Well, his personal behavior, at least as much as his politics.” Napoleon squirmed slightly in discomfort.
“Ah.” Mr. Waverly sighed. “I suspected they might go in that direction, but I held out hope that it might not. He is more vulnerable on that score because of his personality and situation as a foreign national as well. They are apt to label as 'perverse' or 'deviant' anything different from what they identify as 'normal', even if it may be perfectly normal in his home country. And it is precisely because of that that his situation in regard to being sent back is of such concern to me. If those were the declared reasons, it would be a public embarrassment for the Soviet Union, and they would not hesitate to take their anger out on him.
“He would almost certainly be sent to a labor camp in Siberia. He was in one before. I don't know if you knew that.” Napoleon hadn't. He visualized Illya in the blistering bitterness of a Siberian labor camp, the sole purpose of which was to work people to death, and felt his whole body tighten. “Fortunately it was for a very brief time when he was fairly young. He was saved by someone successfully pulling strings on his behalf. Had it been much longer, we probably wouldn't have the benefit of his services. I'm not sure he could go through that again, although he is, of course older and stronger now.
“Besides, it took me too long to get the two of you sorted out as partners. I don't want to try and get you sorted out again, Mr. Solo. So I want you to resolve this problem for me. I can't afford to let Mr. Kuryakin be sent back to the Soviet Union. He is to valuable to me. Take care of it, Mr. Solo. Whatever it takes.” And Alexander Waverly turned in his chair and began consulting papers on his desk.
“Yes, sir,” Napoleon said, glad of the order, if uncertain how to begin carrying it out.
Illya was out of his interview. They met briefly in a hallway and Napoleon studied Illya for clues to how his session had gone. Illya smiled and shrugged. He felt relatively relaxed about it. He sensed the hounds had turned off on another trail and Napoleon instinctively picked up that sense of relief and so smiled in return.
“Mr. Waverly ordered me to resolve the situation.”
Illya raised his eyebrows slightly in amusement, “But he did not say how.”
“No, that was left to my discretion.”
“Right,” Illya smiled, “Why make things too easy?”
“He appreciates that I am the soul of discretion.”
“It's how I always think of you.” Illya said with an exaggeratedly straight face.
Napoleon narrowed his eyes slightly. “I left you some paperwork to finish.”
Illya sighed. “I'm sure you did.” He turned to go. Napoleon touched his sleeve and he turned back.
Napoleon spoke so softly in the briefly empty hallway that Illya could barely hear him, “I meant what I said you know.”
Illya felt someplace inside him that had been tightly sealed crack open and warmth fill him, as if a tiny sun had risen. He closed his eyes for a moment to fully experience the situation before opening them and saying equally softy, but with one of his distinctive quirky smiles, “I know. So did I.” Then he turned and walked away.
Napoleon had gone back in for another interview some time afterward. Unfortunately, this second interview did not go as smoothly as the first, nor as smoothly as Illya's.
Black began with Napoleon's relationships with women. He started enumerating the ones he knew about. It was an impressive list, by any accounting, and Napoleon knew it was incomplete. Listening to it he began to feel uncomfortable, to have a somewhat better understanding of why Illya made the remarks he did, even though, to be honest, he didn't regret anything he'd done. He enjoyed the company of women and they enjoyed his.
“So, Mr. Solo, is it fair to say you like women?” White asked.
“I would think that was obvious.”
“What's obvious to us, Mr. Solo is that you are a man with some sort of sexual perversion.
“You seem to be obsessed with sex Mr. Solo, sex with women, and from what we can tell, men as well.
“You enjoy sharing a bed with your partner,” Black made it a statement rather than a question.
“But, I told you...”
“Oh, we heard you offer some story about your partner's snoring, and you're preferring a private accommodation, but we have it on good authority from other agents with whom your partner has occasionally had to share accommodations that he is, in fact, a quiet sleeper and immediately offers to sleep on the floor or sofa if only a single bed is available. This despite the fact that he grew up in an environment where sharing sleeping accommodations is the norm. We understand how his background makes shared arrangements relatively comfortable. He is a foreigner, after all, and even comes from a Commie culture where 'sharing' is what they force on people from the day they are born. But he seems to be embracing American ideals, Mr. Solo, whereas you, who ought to be the embodiment of them, seem to be demonstrating an unnatural attraction to your Commie partner.”
Napoleon was so caught off guard by this sequence of conclusions, and their shift of focus from Illya to himself, that for once his ability to talk his way out of things failed him completely. The only thing that went through his mind as Black continued to speak was, “You're right, I do.”
Word spread swiftly. Napoleon was being detained and taken into custody for further questioning although whether any charges would be filed or whether he would merely be pressured to resign remained unclear.
Illya was known for never swearing. But when he heard the news, although he spoke in Russian, a language no one within range understood, no one who heard what he said felt the need of a translation or disagreed with his assessment in the least.
Illya paced their office. He knew he should never have let Napoleon talk him into letting down his guard last night. Damn the man. Double damn the man. He knew that Napoleon had no idea what could happen and he'd let himself be sweet-talked into doing what his dick wanted instead of what his head knew he should.
Perhaps that wasn't entirely true. Perhaps it wasn't just his dick; it was his heart as well. He hadn't just done it because he wanted to get off, but damn, damn, damn, if he really loved Napoleon he wouldn't have set him up to be so distracted that he stumbled into the verbal traps that he knew Black and White had laid.
Illya knew how they worked. He'd watched them enough to understand. They were like interlocutors from his own KGB back home, setting verbal snares, suggesting things to gain information that people believed that they already knew, blending bullying with camaraderie with people's desire to be helpful. So easy to play people when you didn't give a damn about them and you already knew what the end in view was.
Soviets were harder to work that way, of course, because they grew up trusting no one. Americans, even ones trained not to trust like Napoleon, still did so at a fundamental level. They didn't even realize it. It was their Achilles Heel; but it was also their greatest asset, although he did not think his own countrymen appreciated it as such. It was the key to Americans' greatness, this ability to trust and work together. And it was a large part of what Illya liked about them, even though at times it frustrated him beyond measure. And it was a significant part of what he made him feel he had so desperately to protect Napoleon. Sometimes he thought of it as naivete, but he envied it, this essential trust, and it made him frantic to think that this precious quality might be stolen from his friend.
His communicator beeped. He spoke into it. “Kuryakin here.”
Mr. Waverly's voice came through clearly, and with a clear tone of agitation. “Mr. Kuryakin, report to my office immediately.”
“Yes, sir. Kuryakin out.”
As he headed for the office door he collided with a messenger from the research division. “Oh, excuse me, Mr. Kuryakin. I was just bringing these two research requests for Mr. Solo. … I'm not sure what to do with them. He said they were 'absolutely top priority' so we pushed them through, but I guess we weren't … um … fast enough.”
Illya's resentment at the situation started to boil up, but he closed his eyes and forced it down. It wasn't the research division's fault. “I'll take them. … Uh, thank you. Thank the department for rushing these.” He glanced at the top of the stack of computer generated information. It was a detailed profile of Black. So that was what Napoleon had been up to. He nodded thoughtfully and put the stack on his desk, heading off to meet Mr. Waverly.
“Mr. Kuryakin, this is a most unhappy state of affairs.”
“I can neither afford to lose Mr. Solo as my CEA or to have him wasting further time dealing with this pointless twaddle generated by these, and I use the term loosely, 'gentlemen'.”
He continued, “Mr. Solo and I had been under the misapprehension that you were their target, and I had asked him to prevent that happening. He has accomplished that, although certainly not in the way I intended. Now I'm ordering you to fix this mess. Let me make this clear, Mr. Kuryakin, as apparently I did not to Mr. Solo, I cannot afford to lose either of my top two agents.
“I have never inquired into the personal lives of my agents, and I do not intend to start, but for various reasons you and I discussed your own personal situation some time ago. It was why I was in a position to understand your situation now in a way that I might not otherwise have been. Fortunately for you, my history with Andrew made it possible for me to empathize with your position in a way many might not.” Alexander Waverly and Illya shared a moment of gentle reflective smiles.
“I do not know the precise nature of your off-duty relationship with Mr. Solo. Nor do I want to. But my own field experience leads me to know it would not matter. You have already 'given' each other as what Bacon termed 'hostages to fortune.' It is the inevitable fate of well-suited partners, as much as we try to pretend otherwise. It is my unfortunate responsibility at times to remind one or the other that the mission is the priority.” Illya nodded. This particular comment had been delivered to both he and Napoleon on more than one occasion. “To me that, rather than any blackmail possibility, would be the real risk of an agent in some sort of compromising relationship. And dealing with that situation is my responsibility, since it is an inevitable risk of the job. For that reason, I have had quite enough of these pointless investigations. I want this concluded.”
“Sir, my experience with people similar to the two who have been conducting these interviews gives me an idea of how we might proceed, but I'm not sure it would be a method of which you would entirely approve.”
“Mr. Kuryakin I approve of nothing that has happened so far, so one more thing of which I may or may not approve should make no difference. I am going to be very busy dealing with the absence of my CEA and I will have to leave this particular operation entirely in your hands. Use whatever personnel and resources you deem necessary. Just get the thing done, Mr. Kuryakin.”
Illya spent a good part of the rest of the day reading the files that Napoleon had requested and talking on the phone. The files were full background files on Black and White, which were, in fact, their real names, as well as the senator they worked for. They made for quite interesting reading.
One virtue of working for U.N.C.L.E. was that it had its own research and background investigative department, and wasn't dependent upon solely the F.B.I. or the C.I.A. It also drew upon other international investigative and espionage sources, with greater or lesser success depending upon the nature of the information.
In this case, agencies had been glad to provide what they had. Black and White, as it turned out, were known and despised by a great many people in a great many places, all of whom were glad to shed light on anything they could to the pair's discredit.
Certainly the two had succeeded in using taxpayer money to fund some comfortable travel expenses for themselves in some very swanky locations. Some of the information speculated that the pair were, in fact, a couple, but no evidence to support this was provided. Illya personally didn't believe it. He suspected that they were attracted to men, probably each other, given their virtual inseparability, mutual interests and political ambitions, and then despised themselves for feeling that way. The degree of attraction and self-loathing was so strong in them that it not only prevented them acting on their desires but drove them to the opposite extreme of seeking out any who did what they were unable to in order to destroy them.
Illya called Mark Slate and Sandra Browne. His instructions were precise. “Sandra, photographs. Every interaction, every contact, every person that passes within ten feet of them, but keep your distance. Mark, you were on assignment while Black and White were here, so you will be the traffic coordinator. I,” he said “Will coordinate and act as negotiator when the time comes. ”
“But exactly what traffic will I be coordinating, mate?” Mark asked.
“That's what I'm about to arrange,” Illya said, with one of his characteristic half smiles, “Go and become inconspicuous.”
“That takes her longer than me, I'm naturally boring.” Mark grinned.
“I'm sorry, were you saying something darling, I didn't notice you were there. I was trying to minimize my natural magnificence,” Sandra responded with a wink at Illya as she and Mark headed out. She paused a moment and squeezed Illya's shoulder. “Don't worry love, we'll get him back.”
Mark stuck his head back around the corner, “If you're sure you want him, that is. I mean he's really kind of a pain in the arse as partners go. I mean honestly, the man can sniff out any available single woman in the Sahara and take her away from anybody else and somehow he still gets himself knicked by the decency squad? Hell, and we probably won't even get any decent porn out of it.”
Illya laughed as Sandra gave Mark a shove down the hall. Mark, like Napoleon, had been one of the agents who had treated him decently from the moment he first met him, laughing with him instead of at him, and deflecting the cruelty of some others with his cynical British sense of humor, much closer to Illya's own. Only he could make Illya's fears and Napoleon's present reality seem funny.
Illya picked up the phone.
Stephanie had succeeded in getting permission to see Napoleon. They met in a room filled with tables with chairs on each side. Napoleon looked less than immaculate, which itself was a shock.
“Oh, my poor Napoleon.” Stephanie said sadly.
Napoleon smiled at her. But he looked worn. It wasn't being in custody that was wearing on him so much as the stress of the situation. Unlike all of the times when he had been held prisoner by THRUSH or some other enemy organization, when he'd been under an imperative to escape, or when he could at least anticipate the possibility of rescue, he was now imprisoned by his own country. Escaping was out of the question. For the first time he truly felt caged. The fear of what was happening was growing in his belly like a poisonous worm burrowing through his bowels that left him bereft of his usual reserves of strength and fortitude.
Stephanie gave him everyone's messages of encouragement, love from every woman in headquarters, and well wishes from several of the men. But she didn't offer one from Illya, which made him feel lonelier than before she'd come. He realized that Illya probably thought it was unwise to communicate anything of the sort, thought that it would only make his situation worse. But knowing that somehow didn't help.
He knew that his feelings for Illya were the reason he'd become vulnerable to these charges. Knew that they were planning on polygraphing him regarding his behavior and better appreciated Illya's efforts to prevent what they had done the night before. Part of him was furious, furious that he'd given in to that perverse desire. But every time that anger surged up, he would see his partner's face: the amused smile, the flop of sun gold hair obscuring one eye, the laughter in the other as Illya looked down into Napoleon's face, and it would fade away.
Stephanie asked if she could bring him anything. Then just as stood to leave, looking at him sadly since physical contact was forbidden, she said, “Oh, Illya told me to tell you that when this mess was cleared up, he'd see you in Oslo. I'm not quite sure what he meant, but he said you would understand and know where to go when the time came. I suppose you'll get the instructions you need tor the assignment when you get out of this awful place. Please take care of yourself sweetie.”
For the first time since she'd arrived, Napoleon felt his heart lift. Illya's communication was better than anything else he could have received. It was a promise. A promise of future, of freedom, and of Illya himself. For the first time since he'd been taken from headquarters, he felt his strength and hope return. He went back to his cell thinking about the future, and about his training regarding polygraphs.
The next morning, Illya was watching through binoculars from a position in an adjacent building as Black and White settled into enjoying their morning routine of coffee and pastry at a small cafe near the Park. The cafe was busy, busier than usual, although the two had not noticed. Nor had they noticed the woman with the long-range lens on her camera taking shots from various angles that captured the interesting population that had happened to choose that morning to breakfast at that specific location.
One danger of pinning your career on tarring people's reputations by association is that those people become the very tar that sticks to the brush that smeared it. Had Black and White shifted their attention from their morning newspapers and their comments to one another, they might have recognized some of the people sitting at nearby tables.
Or again perhaps not. Once they had done their damage, Black and White tended to erase people from their minds. Because as Illya had understood better than many others, they did not care about the people whose lives they destroyed. They barely recognized them as people. They were characters in a larger drama they were constructing in order to advance their careers and appease their personal demons.
So when the State Department official who had been forced to surrender his position because he had been seen in the neighborhood of a homosexual bar sat down at the adjacent table and then leaned over, tapped White on the shoulder and asked him if he could borrow the sugar off of their table, the Congressional aide barely noticed him, much less recognized the man whose career he had ruined. When the U.N. translator who not only lost his position, but had been beaten up and forced out of his apartment as a result, accidentally dropped his mail onto their table and apologized profusely in French as he and the men gathered it up together, neither Black or White recognized him. White did wonder aloud momentarily if they'd met before. The translator responded that he didn't think so, but perhaps the man used the gym on 10th?
Mark directed people in and out from a position not too far from the cafe's entrance, following instructions from Sandra regarding when to send in another, giving each instructions and props as needed. Once finished, each individual went on his way, knowing that while the desire to stay and watch the show was enormous, the success hinged on the “reveal” working as required. And that meant surprise.
By the time the pair got up to head out to have another chat with Napoleon, the evidence was well in the bag. Mark gathered up the film from Sandra and took it back to U.N.C.L.E. while she trailed Black and White to record any encounters they might have along the way.
Illya sat in a booth in a corner of the darkened restaurant where Black and White were eating lunch. Mark had brushed up against White on the street and attached a microphone to his jacket and now Illya ate a sandwich and listened to their conversation with interest. Mark had handed him an envelope prior to stepping off for his bump and brush with White.
“I just don't understand how he passed the test,” Black grumbled. “I can smell fairy dust with my eyes shut and that guy's covered in it. He wants that Russian commie's cock up his ass so bad he can taste it.” Illya smiled, thinking this a rather amusing confusion of anatomical possibilities.
“I agree. But he didn't pass the test, it was just inconclusive. That dick running the machine said the responses to the control questions were too inconsistent to use to assess what he answered to any questions we asked. We just need to test him again until we get better results. He is a spy after all. They probably train them to cope with lie detectors.”
“Teaching a bunch of queers to lie. Wait til the senator hears about that. He'll have a field day. You know, I wonder if that guy running the machine is a fucking perv himself. Probably screws the results to help his pals. I think we should check him out before we head back.”
Illya had heard enough, and besides he had finished his sandwich. He switched off the receiver in his briefcase, tucked away the small earpiece, and closed it. He switched on his communicator and said softly, “Open Channel D, Kuryakin here.” He put money on the table to cover his bill as he waited for a response.
“Yes, Mr. Kuryakin, we're ready.”
“Is Slate on call?”
“I'm here, Illya.”
“I'm going to have my little chat with Black and White now,” he said as he gathered up his envelope and case.
“I'm all ears, mate.”
Illya headed over to Black and White's table. 'Gentlemen, it's a pleasure to see you! Are you enjoying your lunch? What are you having?” He seated himself at their table without waiting for an invitation. He wondered how long it would take them to register that his accent was significantly less pronounced than the last time they had spoken.
White and Black seemed very unsettled by his sudden appearance. He'd previously given them poor marks for failing to notice his arrival or presence, although he wasn't terribly surprised. These two were really political animals, not spies, and their behavior all day had convinced him that he was correct about them not be lovers. Their total lack of discretion indicated that they didn't fear discovery because there wasn't anything to discover. Rather than act on what he could see was actual affection for one another, they spewed their fear of that affection outward in a form of hatred made dangerous by their political power.
He leaned over and took the edge of Black's plate, pulling it slightly closer to see it better. “Ah, chicken kiev! Aren't you afraid of being labeled a Red sympathizer for eating this?” He laughed. “But probably you know the dish is not really from Kiev, don't you?” Upping the ante on his impudence, he took Black's fork and popped a piece of already cut meat into his mouth. “Delicious!”
“What the hell do you think you are doing!” Black roared, his face turning a rather unbecoming shade of ochre .
“Smile, gentlemen!” Black and White turned at the honey-rich tones of Sandra's voice just as Illya, carefully positioned between them and with Black's plate still between he and the aide and Black's fork in his hand, wrapped his arms around both of their shoulders, pulling them toward him in a bearlike, Russian embrace. Simultaneously he turned his head and kissed Black on the cheek, ducking back just as the aide spun to swing on him.
“A dozen of those I think, delivered to the entire Committee,” Illya ordered, “Oh, and send one special delivery to the Senator. Sign it, Compliments of the KGB.” Illya's voice had taken on a harder edge.
Sandra scooted away before Black and White had recovered from their shock.
Illya was trying to recall which of those characters from the Looney Tunes shorts it was that Black reminded him of. It was the one who was invariably spluttering with unspeakable rage at Bugs Bunny. It would come to him later. He continued, with a dangerous-sounding good humor in his voice.
“Gentlemen, we have some business to conduct. You have something I want. Were this my country, I could, as a KGB agent, simply take it back from you in the name of the good of the state and the people and that would be the end of the matter. However, this is America, and in America one must pay for the things one wants. That is the American way. So now we shall negotiate.
“What I want from you is Mr. Solo. I have considered carefully what I think he is worth. He is a moderately good U.N.C.L.E. agent, one in whom the agency has invested a considerable amount of time and money. As a partner, he has proved useful, and it is certainly easier to work with a known quantity than to have to break in someone new.
“To you he is simply one more, in a long line of people you have successfully persecuted … excuse me, prosecuted, on charges of disloyalty and subversion.” He studied their faces for a moment. “A very, very long line.”
Illya opened the envelope that he carried and withdrew some photographs from it. He scattered the head shots on the table in front of Black and White. “Do you remember these people, gentlemen?” He studied their faces as they studied the photos and observed the slow process of uncertain recognition, and then noted their growing sense of disquiet. “They remembered you VERY well. And they weren't the only ones. These, in fact, are just a handful of those who volunteered to assist me.”
Black and White exchanged uneasy glances. Illya pulled out some more photographs from the envelope and scattered them on the table as well. These were the shots Sandra had taken in the cafe, the same people as in the previous pictures only now each photo showed them interacting with Black and/or White in various ways.
“You know your Senator is not a popular man in some parts of this city. The cafe owner was quite willing to let one of your former targets sub in for his regular waiter this morning once we had explained the situation to him.” He tossed a picture of the waiter and another head shot on the table. White sucked in his breath sharply. Illya smiled. “It is always wise to pay attention to one's waiter. Otherwise you never know what he might put in your soup.”
Black grabbed up the photos and began tearing them up. Illya gazed at him mildly. He pulled Black's plate directly in front of him and began cutting up and eating the chicken. “Surely you don't think that will accomplish anything? But perhaps it makes you feel better. You really should eat this you know, it is quite delicious. The owner is from Moscow.”
White shook his head as if trying to make sense of things. He finally grasped onto a detail, “I thought you said that wasn't a Russian dish?”
“It wasn't invented in Kiev. Kiev is in the Ukraine. You Americans have a very poor sense of world history and geography. From what I understand this was created by a French chef and popularized by cooks in Moscow early in the century,” He gave a shrug. “Who knows?”
Illya continued, “Here is my offer gentlemen. I will not send these photos to your employer if you release Mr. Solo. I am sending him the photo that was just taken, just to show you that I am serious. If you and he try to call my bluff after he receives the photos, I have the permission of the people in these pictures to send them to the press in a specific order. I will do so, along with an interesting account of what is going on in each, not unlike the sort of stories you told to get these people fired to begin with. And each of them will tell exactly the same story when questioned by reporters.
“You will both, along with the Senator, enjoy an engaging and interesting year in the spotlight of moral turpitude. I shall be most interested to see how you handle it. It requires great personal fortitude to withstand public scrutiny of one's character, especially when it is being unfairly attacked. It will be an excellent experience for you. I'm sure you will all be better men for it.”
He took the last bite of chicken and then tried the green beans. “Oh, these are delicious. They have put lemon on them. Did you try them yet?”
“You won't get away with this,” Black spluttered.
“Ah, but I think that you will find that I will.” Illya said, “In exactly the same way that you have gotten away with it. Character assassination is so easy. But of course you know that. And it is made that much easier when one has an entire enforcement apparatus at one's disposal to make it happen. You made a most unfortunate choice in Mr. Solo, gentlemen. He is both well liked and highly regarded. He is also critical to the organization.
“And unlike an organization as public as the U.N. and UNESCO, where you have been able to strong-arm other nations in a public fashion, in tackling U.N.C.L.E. you are taking on the policing and spying agencies of other nations. That was a serious strategic error. These are organizations used to operating in the dark, used to keeping information hidden, even from their own governments, much less the governments of foreign countries.
“You do not understand. What U.N.C.L.E. accomplishes it does through goodwill and mutual benefit, not through harassment and intimidation. Throughout the world there are agencies and people who simply need to be asked to assist in this effort should I find the need to pursue it farther.
“Right here,” he waved at the photos and bits of photos scattered around, “you are looking at a single day's effort using local resources. Just imagine what I can put together when I actually begin to try.” He smiled his most chilling KGB smile, the one where he put himself in the place of a particular KGB officer known as the Frozen Soul, the most feared interrogator of all. A story passed among recruits had it that the Frozen Soul had once scared a man to death with a promise.
White and Black had both gone so pale that he wondered casually if they would pass out. “So gentlemen, what do you say, do we have a deal?” The two exchanged looks.
“You don't leave us much choice, Mr. Kuryakin,” said Mr. White bitterly, “It would seem we may have underestimated you.”
“People often do. It is my genial demeanor. You will find, however, that I told you the truth throughout. I really do love this country gentlemen. I think perhaps, that I love it and appreciate it better than you do.” This earned him a glare from both. He smiled genially.
“So, when do we get the original film, Mr. Kuryakin?”
“That is not part of the deal, gentlemen. I promise I will not make the film public. You will release Mr. Solo and turn over your evidence regarding him. That is the deal.”
“What guarantee do we have that you won't release the film later?”
“You'll have to trust me.” Illya smiled his Frozen Soul smile again.
“Why would we trust a blackmailing Russian KGB agent?”
“Perhaps because your choices are somewhat limited?”
“What if we just keep your Mr. Solo and don't play your little game?”
“Suit yourself.” Illya got up. He pulled the Communicator out of his pocket. “Got all that Mark?”
“All recorded. The other materials are all ready and the U.N.C.L.E. plane is standing by ready to fly to D.C.”
“Right. I should be there in,” Illya glanced at his watch, “Fifteen minutes. Kuryakin out.” He mocked putting away his communicator but actually left the channel open.
He headed toward the door.
“Wait, Mr. Kuryakin.” It was White's voice. He could imagine the furious gestured conversation that had gone on behind his back, which he'd carefully turned so they could engage in it. “If you could just offer us something besides your word, some act of good faith, that that material would not see the light of day?” It was a request not a demand.
“Since you asked so nicely, I will bring the film to where we will exchange Mr. Solo. You will get 2/3 of the original film and I will retain only a third of it. That should satisfy you.” Black looked distinctly unsatisfied but Kuryakin suspected that White was in charge.
“That will be fine, Mr. Kuryakin. Where shall we meet for the exchange?”
“You may bring Mr. Solo to that cafe where you had such a nice breakfast this morning. The exchange will take place there, at 8 p.m. this evening. Good afternoon gentlemen. Oh, and make sure you bring the polygraph recording with you.”
Black and White sat at a table in the cafe with Napoleon beside them. They seemed on edge. He was relaxed for the first time in two days. He'd ordered a glass of wine when the waitress came to the table, indicating that Black would pay for it.
“Sorry, I didn't have any money in my wallet when you took me from headquarters,” he smiled none to apologetically. Black glowered as he handed the waitress a bill. “You should give her a good tip. I'm sure she deserves it,” Napoleon added.
Napoleon had a general idea of what was going on, but all Black had said was that they were taking him to his “faggot KGB boyfriend”. Something in the way he said it made Napoleon understand that Illya had played them sufficiently that they were frightened by him in some fashion, but he wasn't sure exactly what the game was so he said nothing.
Expecting Illya, he was surprised when Mark Slate appeared at the entrance and, spotting them, came over to their table. “Good evening gentlemen. Napoleon, you're looking reasonably well, old chap. Prison life must agree with you.”
Napoleon cast him an amused glance. “Not particularly, but I try to make the best of things.”
“Where is Mr. Kuryakin?” White asked, looking behind Slate.
“Ah, about that. He sent me along to take care of things but wanted you to know he had his eye on things. I see Mr. Solo, but I gather you are supposed to bring along the evidence against him as well. Let's see it.”
White set a briefcase on the table and pulled out an accordion folder. He handed it to Mark, who opened it and flipped through it slowly and methodically.
He chuckled. “Napoleon, I never knew about that one,” he glanced across at Solo and winked. Then he turned abruptly and looked at White, “Where's the polygraph?”
“Where's the film?” Black asked angrily.
“Ah, ah. Temper, temper, mate. The deal's off if the poly's not here.” Napoleon took a slow sip of his wine. He understood the process. He'd been a chip in the game too often not to. It didn't mean he liked it. But there was little he could do. He knew Mark was good at this sort of thing, although Illya was better. Why wasn't he here? Was he just so confident that he'd proceeded to Oslo and Nikolas without waiting to see the job done? Maybe he had been called away on an assignment and even if everything went as planned he wouldn't meet Napoleon at Oslo.
White and Black exchanged glances. “We've got it,” White said, “We just want to see that you've got the film.”
Mark seemed to consider this. “Alright.” He pulled a spool of film negative from his pocket. Then he pulled out a manicure scissors and cut off a short length and tossed it to Black. “See for yourself.”
While Black held it up to the light, Mark flagged over the waitress. “Hello, darling. Could you get me a glass of whatever this chap is having, and give him another if he'd like.”
“Yes sir, will the gentleman be paying again?” she asked indicating Black.
“That sounds like an excellent plan, love,” Mark said with his most killing smile. After watching her walk away, he turned back to see Black looking daggers at him.
“I am not here to foot you two's degeneracy,” Black growled.
Mark looked amused. “Degeneracy? I think your a bit mixed up, mate. This is just a drinks with friends. A basic living expense. If you want to pay for my degeneracy it's going to cost you a lot more.” Napoleon swallowed his smile by taking a drink
There was a brief delay while the waitress returned and Black grudgingly paid for two more drinks.
“Now, assuming you're satisfied, where's the poly? Otherwise I'll finish my drink and be on my way. Sorry old boy,” He said turning to Napoleon, “But you know how this works. And at least you got an afternoon out and a couple of drinks out of it.
“I'd best go advise Mr. Kuryakin of your decision. I don't expect he'll be pleased. I gather the last person who tried to cross him is sucking up mud in the Volga, but perhaps that's just a rumor. Then again, our boss always says only fools play chicken with the KGB.”
As Black and White continued to hesitate, Slate stood, knocked back his wine, and turned to Napoleon. “Don't worry mate. I don't see these two holding out long against our pal once he actually tries to make them squeak. He already spoke to several people in Washington and to others in Springfield, Ohio and Whisper Lake, Iowa. Whisper Lake, sounds lovely doesn't it? I'll probably get to go there. Have to nose around a bit. Illya said that the editor of the local rag was most interested to hear he had a story to give him about their hometown hero.”
Napoleon smiled inwardly as he saw the shocked expressions on White's and Black's faces.
“Mr. … uh … I'm afraid I don't know your name?” White said.
“That's right, you don't do you?”
“Here's the polygraph.”
“Anything else you might have thought it fun to hold back?” Slate asked, and deftly took the briefcase and looked through the rest of the files. Nothing pertained to Napoleon, but he found other material on U.N.C.L.E. personnel. “We'll just have these as well, I think.”
He took the film from his jacket and spooled off approximately two thirds of the roll. As he was was feeling around in his pocket for the scissors, Black grabbed the film, pulling it from Mark's fingers and dropping it into the deep glass candleholder on the table. All four watched it catch fire, flare up and vanish.
“Ha!” Black gloated. “Now you have nothing. You may have our evidence, but there is no way you can hold this over our heads. Take Mr. Solo and get out of here. I'd hate to be in your shoes when you have to face Mr. Kuryakin and tell him you've lost his little guarantee!” He practically cackled.
Mark looked alarmed. “Come on Napoleon. Let's go.” He headed toward the door, looking distinctly less cocky than when he'd come in. He turned at the door, “Oh, I have one final message I'm supposed to deliver from Mr. Kuryakin. He said to tell you that he enjoyed getting to know you so much that he would take special care to follow your activities with interest in the future to see if he could be of any further assistance to you.”
Napoleon looked at Black and White, “Gentlemen, I am afraid I can't say that it's been fun. Let's not do it again sometime, shall we.”
He caught up with Mark out front, who said, “This way, mate. I've got a car 'round the corner.”
“I thought for a minute there you really were going to leave me.”
“He would have.” Illya's voice. Napoleon looked around.
Mark grinned. “If you didn't believe me, they wouldn't have. I wonder if they'll realize that we simply make a copy of the negative roll?” He was taking his communicator out of his pocket. “Everything according to Hoyle,” he said speaking into it.
“I assume that Hoyle means plan. Great work, Mark. Thanks.”
“Glad to help a pal out,” Mark said, “Oh, and Napoleon too.”
They could hear Illya's snort of laughter over the communicator. “I'll go over the operation details with you later, Mark. Kuryakin out.”
For reasons he couldn't exactly pinpoint, Napoleon was annoyed that Illya hadn't bothered to talk to him at all.
They got into Mark's car. Mark handed him his U.N.C.L.E. special and holster. “So you won't feel so naked,” he winked. “I'll take you home, mate. Mr. Waverly will no doubt want to talk to you tomorrow, but I'll let him know you're out of the slammer and wanted to get a good night's sleep.”
“Thanks, Mark. Thanks for everything.”
“Not a problem. Sandra and I just did what we were told. Illya ran the whole thing. You should have heard him working Black and White. It was beautiful. Gave me chills when he made them realize he had them by the balls. Glad he's on our side.”
“So am I,” said Napoleon. He relaxed into his seat. He would shower and change and head over to Oslo. He decided Illya did not want seem too concerned about getting him back in front of Mark.
Mark sensed Napoleon's need to relax, turned on the radio to a music station and focused his attention on his driving.
Napoleon considered the situation. Illya had taken care of him. He always did. He felt safe even though his partner wasn't there. It was as though even in absentia he was wrapping him up securely and safely.
When Mark pulled up at his apartment building, Napoleon got out, thanked Mark again and went in. He picked up his mail and headed up to his fourth floor apartment. He turned off the alarm, opened the door and went in, switching on the lights, turning to close and lock the door and set the alarm.
He never heard the footfalls behind him. He just felt the barrel of the gun against the back of his head. “Hands up!” The voice was gravelly and low. He put them up and felt his special being removed from the holster and tossed far behind them. Then a hand pushed him roughly against the door and slapped the switch down, plunging the room into darkness.
Napoleon was in no way prepared for what happened next. Someone bit him on the back of the neck, hard, and chill bumps ran straight down his body through his groin and to his toes. He heard the gun that had been held at his head hit the carpet and felt himself being turned around. In the dim light that came in through sheer curtains he saw his partner's face, topped by a slightly eerie whitish halo of hair. But only for a moment. Then he was being kissed, powerfully and with an intensity that dazzled him. Any doubts or fears he'd had were burned out of him instantly. He surfaced, gasping to find Illya breathing slightly hard, but looking at him with amusement.
“Are you always going to be this much trouble, Napoleon? Only you could have a single romantic encounter with a man and manage to get yourself knicked on a career-ending morals charge,” Illya chided, pushing him back against the door again. “Do you realize how many personal favors I had to call in to get you out of this mess?”
Napoleon was smiling idiotically down at him.
“And do not get that sappy look on your face or I will put the magazine back into my gun,” Illya growled.
Napoleon tried to look repentant, but was not succeeding. “It's nice to know you weren't actually planning on shooting me. Why are you here instead of Oslo anyway?” he asked.
“Do not draw unwarranted conclusions. Perhaps I just forgot to put it in. And your apartment is more comfortable, but I was not keen on the idea of you shooting me full of holes. However, if Mark had not given you back your gun, either you or he would have wondered why.”
“You could have made the exchange with Black and White.”
“It lends to the aura I was trying to create to have Mark finish the play.”
“Ah yes, my killer KGB agent. I understand the last person to challenge you is at the bottom of the Volga.” Napoleon rested his arms on Illya's shoulders.
“The next one to annoy me certainly could be,” Illya glowered. “Remember, everything I have done I can cause to be undone, Napoleon.”
“Not quite everything.” Abruptly, Napoleon pulled Illya into an embrace and kissed him hard, pushing his head back and running his fingers through that silky hair.
“Some things you can't take back, my Russian friend,” Napoleon said between breaths as he released Illya's mouth.
Illya was breathing hard. His eyes met his partner's. “Some things, I don't want to.”
A historical note: This story is based on what David K. Johnson termed the Lavender Scare, a period in the 1950s and ending in the early 1960s when there was a zealous persecution of gays and lesbians in the federal government. This happened at the same time as McCarthy's pursuit of alleged Communists in “sensitive” government positions. Interestingly McCarthy himself did not take any significant role in the hunt for what would have been, at the time, referred to as “sexual perverts,” preferring to focus on “Reds” as a threat. In February 1950, at much the same time as McCarthy's list of 205 “card-carrying communists” in the federal government, John Peurifoy announced that 91 homosexuals had been dismissed from the State Department as “security risks,” a code phrase that would become synonymous with sexual depravity and perversion (ie., homosexuality as well as promiscuity for women) – the Lavender Scare had begun. Although most of the cultural memory of the Lavender Scare has disappeared, erased by a combination of factors, it was even more enthusiastically supported by the public than red-hunting. Several members of Congress during the period were avid supporters, and an effort was made to force international agencies and other countries to endorse U.S. cultural standards.
For an excellent history of this period (and in fact the only real history to date), read Johnson, David K. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the federal Government. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004. For the use of polygraphs to verify government employees answers to questions, I am relying on the report of a friend who was member of the NSA during the period and had to pass such a test.