The Hound and Hares Affair

by Mishka

One of the bunnies was rather pointedly looking the other way. Napoleon smiled. He would have recognized that tanned back and barely clad, tight, muscular ass anywhere.

Napoleon turned to his companion, Mrs. Renate Gifford, husband long since deceased, who he was escorting to the salon of Madame Luciano. "Do you see one that you like, my dear?"

"It's so hard to choose. They are all so ..." Mrs. Gifford seemed at a loss for words.

"How about the little one with the golden hair?" Napoleon suggested.

"Oh, yes. He is rather cute, isn't he? Let's have him! And such a cute little tail too!" The "little one" must have heard. Napoleon could have sworn the blond bunny grew an inch in indignation alone.

Napoleon smiled enormously. A cute little tail indeed. "We'll take the rabbit with blond hair, please," Napoleon told a young man awaiting their selection. The maitre' de, for lack of a better term, nodded and showed them to an alcove with a plush divan. He then departed to fetch their server.

Madame Luciano joined them. She was the wife of a top official in Thrush, and this salon was her way of keeping herself occupied. While his time was consumed with world domination, hers was taken up with domination of another sort. In the wake of Hugh Hefner's hugely successful Playboy Clubs, Madame Luciano had chosen to create her own version for her wealthy female friends. She had gathered a collection of attractive young men to entertain her female friends at afternoon salons and evening dances. Her "exotics," as she termed them, were chosen to entice, to stimulate, and to arouse her friends' appetites without fulfilling them.

"Renate! You've made a selection?" Madame Luciano gathered her friend in one of those female kisses that touches only air and never mars the makeup. She turned her attention to Napoleon, favoring him with a predatory smile and a gaze that took in both face and form.

Napoleon felt oddly disconcerted. Used to being the gazer, not the gazee, he forced her attention with a comment, "Madame Luciano, this is quite a unique ... event you have created."

She smiled more familiarly. "Mr.?" She cocked her head politely.


"Mr. Solo, you would fit in quite well in so many respects. You could almost be one of my 'exotics' if your English wasn't so refined," she raked him with her eyes again. "I'm quite impressed with Renate." She glanced at her friend, who took Napoleon's arm proprietarily.

"Hands off, Catriona. Napoleon is mine."

"Now, now ladies. No fighting! Two arms, no waiting." He gestured to the divan and they all settled, a woman on either side of him.

A coffee cart arrived. But the cart, attractively and heavily laden though it was, was not the center of attention. Napoleon would have given everything he owned to have a camera at that moment in order to record the sight of Illya wearing bunny ears and a fluffy bunny tail. . . and not a whole lot more. A black bow tie, an extremely tight pair of black swimming trunks that left nothing to the imagination and a pair of black sandals. He was deeply tanned and his eyes shown in his browned face like tiny pieces of the sky, elusive and unknowable. His blond hair was bleached almost white, shining like captured sunshine on a sand dune. His muscles were more defined than when Napoleon had seen him last, and he looked leaner, as if there lingered no fat on his body. He took Napoleon's breath away, somehow managing not to look silly despite the rabbit ears on his head, just sexy as hell.

In the brief second before the women took him in as well, Illya skewered Napoleon with a flash from those blue eyes. The look reminded Napoleon of their mission, of what Illya might well have been through the last three weeks, and spiked his desire so sharply that he had to shift position in order maintain both comfort and decorum.

It was over in a moment and Illya was speaking in his most Russian-inflected voice to the two women, flashing a smile so dazzling that it reduced Renate to incoherence. He appeared uncertain about how to behave around such gracious women; shyly asking what they would like; kneeling down; brushing casually against them; blushing and ducking his head; and then glancing upward out of soulful eyes at Renate in an endearing way, like a clumsy puppy in need of reassurance and love.

Napoleon wanted to knock him down, but he didn't know why. When Illya got around to asking him what he wanted, in a much more ordinary and less endearing fashion, he had to work to keep his voice pleasant. Surely Illya could play his part without acting the dumb blond. "I'll just have black coffee, thank you," he said coolly. "Can you direct me to the Men's Room?"

Illya nodded and stood. He turned to the ladies and smiled, "I be back in moment."

"Don't be too long, dear. We'll be waiting," Renate cooed... to Illya, ... having apparently forgotten Napoleon entirely.

Illya led Napoleon out of the salon and toward a hallway, while two pairs of eyes watched the bewitching sight of his fluffy bunny tail twitching out of view. Illya sensed Napoleon's anger. As soon as they rounded the corner, he caught Napoleon in his arms and roughly pushed him against the wall. He kissed him hard and hungrily, devouring his partner's mouth, manhandling him in a fashion that assured that he remembered each contour of his body like farmer knows his own field. Abruptly Illya pulled free, "Just so you know there is no ground for concern," he said huskily, working to control his breathing, among other things.

Napoleon, whose own breathing was as ragged as his now disheveled clothes, asked, "Must you play the idiot out there?"

Illya looked amused. "It is the job, Napoleon, you know that."

Napoleon did know. He just didn't like it. It had been three weeks since Illya had gone undercover, since he had last seen him. And to see him for the first time like this... in this silly, and yet tremendously arousing costume. He inhaled Illya's distinctive scent and felt the slight intoxication it always brought on. He tried to draw his partner into his arms.

"Ah, ah, ah," Illya's eyes sparkled. "Rule Number One," he said, reminding his partner of their agreement regarding sex, or rather the decision not to have it, while on assignment. "Besides I am uncomfortable enough already, do not make things harder."

Napoleon grinned. "Usually you like that. Besides, you started it."

Illya gave a soft snort of amusement, "You know that was not what I meant. And that was for the sake of the mission," he said a trifle primly, "to help you focus on the job better. Napoleon looked skeptical. Illya's expression darkened. "Do you think I enjoy this?" He waved his hand down to indicate his costume, what there was of it. "It is humiliating, having old women pinching and groping me. Just get what we came for and then I can get out of here."

"So the plans are here now?"

"Yes. Monsieur Luciano brought them back two nights ago. I memorized them last night, but of course I had no way to actually copy them, and I wouldn't want to have to rely solely on my rendering of the distances and angles. The office is down that other corridor, at the end." He indicated the directions while he spoke. "They are in the map cabinet, in the top drawer." He paused and grinned, "Even you should be able to pick the lock."

Napoleon ignored this last for a more interesting point, "You memorized them?"

"Believe me, it has been the most intellectually challenging thing I have had to do the last three weeks. If you don't get me out of here I will kill someone out of boredom. It is too boring to even cheat these men at cards. I went into the library one night to find a book to read and Madame found me. She took it away. She told me she didn't want me tiring my pretty head. It was a novel!" This last outrage, smothered for expediency. "That's all she has—romance novels—this was at least a good one, Wuthering Heights." He moaned softly. "I have nothing to do except swim and lift weights all day."

The look that accompanied this story was so anguished that Napoleon would have laughed except that he could tell how miserable his friend was. He opted for distraction. "That explains these," Napoleon said, feeling his partner's well muscled arms. "Which are very nice, by the way. Alright, go play the dumb bunny and I'll see what I can do about getting you out of here."

Illya straightened his bunny ears, which were askew.

"I like them the other way," Napoleon remarked. "They give you a rakish air."

"The mad march hare?" Illya grinned, "No doubt much more appropriate." He tilted them ever so slightly sideways, gave his partner one of those equally tilted rare half smiles that made Napoleon's heart beat faster, and went back to work while Napoleon went to the restroom.

"We thought something had happened to you, you bad boy" Renate chided Illya when he returned to the table. Madame Luciano was gave him a sharp look.

He ducked his head. "I sorry. I ... um ..., "he blushed and mumbled to silence, allowing them to draw their own conclusion that he had taken the opportunity to use the facility himself.

"It's quite alright, dear boy. Catriona has been telling me that you are the most marvelous dancer. Make even the worst partner look like Ginger Rogers. How about it? Will you be my Fred Astaire?" Illya smiled and escorted her to the floor. As he took her in his arms, he felt her hand slide down and squeeze. He sighed to himself. Why did they always grab his ass?

Napoleon returned to the salon to find his companion in the arms of his partner. He settled on the divan to drink his coffee and consider how best to slip away in order to photograph the plans for the new Thrush satrapi that had been the point of Illya's mission.

Madame Luciano engaged his attention. "Mr. Solo, how is it that you know Renate?"

Napoleon smiled at her. "We met at my aunt's. I thought she was a charming woman and so I invited her out to lunch. One thing or another and we have gone out to various events since then. And you dear lady—how is that your husband doesn't object to your surrounding yourself with so many handsome young men?"

Madame Luciano laughed, showing slightly too many teeth for comfort. "Oh, Mr. Solo, we have an understanding. I ignore his relationships with various young ladies and he pays no attention to my handsome young 'exotics'. It is all very sophisticated."

"So I gather."

"You are skeptical."

"I just have never known any man who was immune to jealousy in relation to such a beautiful woman."

"A man may be immune to a particular woman's charms."

"Only if he is a fool."

"You think my husband is a fool?"

"If he leaves you to this lot of fluffy headed, muscle-bound rabbits, he is."

"I assure you he is not a fool."

"So he doesn't leave you to them..." Napoleon gestured to various men in the room, starting with Illya, whom he gave a rather dirty look to demonstrate his personal irritation. In fact, he was amused to see that Renate was making herself familiar with certain areas of Illya's anatomy that he also found particularly distracting, forcing the Russian to constantly maneuver her back into more decorous positions and behavior.

Catriona laughed her carnivorous laugh again. "No, he does. He is just not a fool in other respects."

"Well let me prove that I am not one," Napoleon said, "By asking you to dance." He stood and extended his hand to Madame Luciano. She accepted and rose gracefully. Illya noticed as they joined the other couples on the floor. If Napoleon got tied up with Catriona, he would have more difficulty disappearing for a period of time. Illya frowned.

"Oh Eeeeleeeya, my boy, is something wrong?" Renate looked at him with concern.

"I sorry" he apologized. "I not feel so good." He retreated to the tried and true trick of ducking his head and then looking at her sadly from under a floppy forelock of blond hair.

"Oh my poor boy. What can we do for you? Would you like to sit? Or have something to eat or drink?"

"Eating maybe help." Soulful puppy eyes. Eating would definitely help. Illya spent most of his days feeling vaguely hungry because Madame believed in the efficacy of something she referred to as protein shakes; thick, rather unpleasant tasting drinks that constituted the largest portion of their diet. Illya noted that Madame did not extend this faith in protein drinks to herself, as he frequently saw her enjoying flutes of champagne and exquisite meals topped off by rich chocolate desserts.

As a result, he had developed the trick of getting the women he danced with to feed him. He took advantage of his small size, making himself appear even smaller and more pathetic and inevitably they ended up piling up enormous plates of food. He would explain that he wasn't allowed to get any for himself, and end up sitting with his head in their laps and being fed morsels of food. They would be having such a delightful time that Catriona didn't dare interrupt. None of the other "exotics" cottoned onto the trick and so she let her little Russian be, because he had almost immediately become the most popular of her pets among her friends.

Illya went through the explanation and they proceeded to the groaning buffet. He held Renate's plate while she piled it high with food. While doing so he watched Napoleon, waiting for an opportunity to catch his eye. Illya's job was supposed to be to occupy Renate. That was well in hand. Would he need to occupy Madame Luciano as well?

He was amused to see that Catriona was making herself familiar with certain areas of Napoleon's anatomy that he also found particularly distracting. Napoleon kept maneuvering her hands back into more decorous locations, which made him look oddly as though he were performing the dance of the seven veils. For this reason, it took Illya a while to get his partner's attention. When he did, Napoleon looked decidedly harassed and put out. Served him right. He could enjoy the pleasures Illya had been treated to for the past three weeks. Illya smothered a grin. He sent Napoleon an inquiring look and received a glance that mixed frustration and determination in return. Obviously Napoleon was trapped by his own charm, well his charm and his admittedly attractive ass.

Illya considered the problem as he settled down on the floor at Renate's feet, leaning comfortably against her lap while she fed him pieces of meat, cheese and fruit. Each bite took him one marvelous morsel farther from the morning's less than marvelous menu of protein shake and high-fiber dry toast.

After a few moments thought, it occurred to him that this was the time for Pepe. Pepe was Catriona's dog, a small white animated mop of an animal with large black eyes, a yappy voice, and the manners of an unsupervised two year old. Illya detested him. This meant that Pepe, in turn, adored Illya. Illya was frightened of large dogs but he merely disliked small dogs on principle. He disliked Pepe because since his arrival Pepe had made a point of following him about, staying just out of kicking range except when Catriona was around, and then hopping up onto the furniture next to him and snatching food on those rare occasions when Illya actually had anything worth taking or trying to drink out of his glass when he had anything worth drinking. Even Pepe wouldn't touch the protein shakes for love or dog biscuits. Catriona naturally thought it was adorable that "Dear Pepe" loved her "Little Russian" and brought him with her every time she came by to check on Illya, a blessing he could well have done without.

During salons, however, Pepe had to be locked up in Catriona's bathroom because he could not be trusted to behave anywhere remotely close to either the buffet or punch bowl, never mind the women's dresses. Yes, this was definitely just the job for Pepe. Illya pardoned himself and slipped away on avague excuse about the music and quickly made his way to Catriona's suite. He heard Pepe yapping nonstop in the bathroom. No doubt he'd been doing so since being incarcerated there an hour and a half earlier.

Illya had palmed some cubes of cheese from the plate Renate was sharing with him when he got up. He now moved up quietly to the bathroom door and released the lock. Pepe had stopped barking, obviously listening attentively to the activity outside the door. Illya stepped as close to the hinges as he could, twisted the knob firmly and yanked the door open wide, concealing himself behind it as he simultaneously threw the cubes of cheese out into the hallway. He heard the dog's claws skitter on the clay tiles of the bathroom as it sought traction and then become soft thudding footfalls as he galloped across the thick carpet. Pepe's tags jangled as he bolted down the chunks of cheese. Then Illya could almost hear the double-take as the sounds of the party registered on him. This discovery was followed immediately by the soft thunder of his paws as he headed off to join the fun.

Illya emerged from concealment, a grin on his face. For once, the thought of Pepe's arrival filled him with delightful anticipation. He quickly followed, knowing he needed to be clearly visible if possible at the moment Pepe came to everyone's attention in order that he wasn't immediately blamed for the dog's release and so that he could orchestrate the prolonging of Pepe's adventures as much as possible. This salon promised, suddenly, to be the most entertaining afternoon he'd had in three weeks.

Napoleon, amidst small talk and eel-like maneuvers designed to force Catriona's hands to remain as politely positioned as possible, had observed his partner depart the room, intercepting a glance that let him know that Illya had something in mind. As a result, he wasn't surprised to spot an animated ball of white hair dart into the room and disappear under the buffet table, where it was concealed by the long tablecloth. Nor did he feel any pressing need to mention the fact. He also observed Illya's return moments later. Again, they exchanged a glance, this time with Napoleon flicking his eyes toward the buffet and Illya raising his head very slightly as he headed back to Renate's table.

A moment after Illya was resettled and discussing how thoughtful Renate was to care about him, pandemonium broke loose. One of the other guests had just come up with her afternoon's companion to the buffet table and was preparing to help herself to the caviar when she found herself looking down into the small white face, big black eyes and roe-covered whiskers of an equally startled Pepe, indignant at having his appetizer interrupted. She let out a shriek. Gregor, her companion, roared, "Pepe!" in a deep, Germanic voice, and Pepe, concluding that perhaps the time for appetizers had passed, disappeared beneath the table again, cleaning his whiskers as he went.

Catriona stared dumbfounded at both her guest and her buffet, let loose a cry of"Pepe!" that was most unladylike in its combination of reprimand and fear, and flew off toward the center of the conflict. Napoleon, noting that all eyes except Illya's were firmly fastened on the doggie drama playing out in the dining area, slipped out of the room.

Napoleon hoped he wouldn't run into any servants drawn by the uproar, which was rising in volume, but he would just have to risk it. Illya's diversion looked to be a good one. Yes, that was definitely the sound of breakage. He didn't dally but walked as quickly as he could to the room Illya had indicated. Fortunately he met no one and was able to slip into the room unobserved.

Light from a window provided sufficient illumination for him to locate the map cabinet and he raised his foot and removed the lock picks hidden in his shoe. Not the most convenient location, but the one least likely to be discovered by the casually straying hands of a female companion. The camera could be concealed in a cigarette case. The picks, in their assorted sizes and bent ends, required slightly more complex concealment. It was the work of a few moments to twig the lock and he was in, pulling out the large flat drawer and seeing the plans held in place by the padded bar. He lifted it and removed them, laying them on the table. He quickly opened up the camera and began to take his pictures, illuminating the plans with the small desk light.

Back in the salon, Illya was relishing the chaos of the hares and the hound and growing fonder of Pepe by the moment. The small dog had proved an expert at eluding capture, at least capture by the male bunnies. Aside from Illya, all of the "exotics" were large men, heavily muscled and anything but light on their feet. Illya felt that they made up for this, to some extent, by being light in the head, a feature that was much on display as a ten-pound dog that resembled nothing so much as a dustbunny, consistently bested them in a battle of wits. Pepe easily dodged and darted so as to both avoid capture and make the occasional successful foray to the buffet table.

"Oh stop him! Stop him!" Catriona's voice pierced the air. "He'll poison himself! My poor baby!" The poor baby was stuffing himself full of creamed herring and chocolate dipped cookies so fast it was difficult to see them move from platter to gullet. "Chocolate will kill him! It's deadly to dogs and he's such a slave to his appetites, just like his mummy! Somebody call a doctor to save my precious little boy!"

Renate and Catriona's friends, by this time, joined her in a sort of Greek chorus of wailing, crying "Poor Pepe!" and "Precious little doggie!" and "Get an ambulance!" or "Call the police!" Pepe appeared to be in no great hurry to be hauled off for resuscitation, but seemed intent only on consuming, if possible, every chocolate dipped cookie and scrap of herring, pausing only to chug down some vodka-laced punch to keep the cookies and fish flowing smoothly.

Illya felt he owed the little beast something for providing such an excellent diversion, so he dove into the fray. The "exotics" had cornered the little dog on the smooth floor on the large dancing area. Waiting until he gauged that Pepe was headed just right, Illya darted forward and grabbed the little dog, which none of the larger, clumsier men had ever managed to do.

"Whoops! Oww!" He "crashed" to the shiny floor, setting Pepe down with exquisite care and giving him a hard shove as he did so.

"Bow, wow, wow!" Pepe yapped happily as he slid past the wall of men and straight under the buffet table again like a fluffy hockey puck.

Moments later the little white face reappeared, gobbling herring furiously, and while Illya scrambled across the floor ahead of the other bunnies apologizing: "Sorry. So sorry!" while his eyes streamed with apparent embarrassment and frustration, but actually with barely concealed hilarity.

Pepe, anticipating the arrival of the bunny-eared men, ducked under the table. Illya did the same. Since the Russian had correctly guessed Pepe's movement in the direction of the cookies, he caught the dog by his round belly. Concealed by the tablecloth, Illya paused to curse volubly in Russian to the effect that the beast had bitten him even as he tousled Pepe's ears. Setting him down, he slid the dog, whose tail was wagging furiously at this new game, out the other end of the table.

Illya came out from under the table in time to see Pepe streak out the door and into the hall, the "exotics" in hot pursuit. He palmed a couple cookies from the platter. Everyone heard the clatter of paws and sandals enter the ballroom area as Pepe started to make a new circuit, the audience's heads turning involuntarily with the shifting sounds. Then Illya, alone, saw Napoleon re-enter the room and wink.

Illya hated to end his four-footed ally's fun, but knew he must. He indicated to his partner to follow his lead. Entering the ballroom, he took a bite out of one of the cookies. How that dog could make out the sound of him eating cookies over all of the yelling and crashing he didn't know, but apparently he could. Pepe's ears perked up. His nostrils flared. And suddenly he flew towards Illya, easily eluding Gregor's clumsy attempt to grab him, and headed toward his playmate, who held out the cookie temptingly.

Pepe leapt into his arms. Illya somersaulted somewhat painfully backward on the hardwood as though he had been hit by a cannonball, crying: "Fucking Dog!" in perfect, and perfectly loud English, even as he sent Pepe gliding safely across the floor toward Napoleon, who scooped up the dog, whose tail was wagging happily and who instantly began licking his partner's face.

Napoleon said, "Hey little guy, you've been causing a lot of ruckus! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" Tucking the unrepentant Pepe under his arm, Napoleon turned toward Catriona and said, "Does this little guy belong to you by any chance?"

"Oh Napoleon, you're wonderful!" Catriona cried. "Pepe! You bad dog! Mummy is so angry with you. Mummy was so scared. Did the big bad Russian rabbit scare you when he used those nasty, wast-ee words?" Madame Luciano looked passed Pepe and glared at Illya, then said to Napoleon, "It's a good thing that you were here. I think some people were more interested in trying to get revenge on poor Pepe than in trying to save him from himself. It's good you were here to save him."

"I'm glad to be of service. I know just what you mean. It's really hard to get good help these days!"

Illya frowned one of his mightiest Russian frowns at Napoleon, crossed his arms, turned his back on them both and stalked out of the salon to the room he shared with several other "exotics"... where he sat down on his bed and laughed until his sides ached.

The salon in ruins, Madame sent her guests home and decided she absolutely had to take Pepe to the vet and see whether he needed to get his little stomach pumped. Before she went she spoke to her husband, who in turn came and spoke to Illya.

"My wife has sent me to inform you that you are to pack your bags and be gone before she returns."

Illya raised an eyebrow.

"She believes that you were deliberately pushing Pepe this afternoon, rather than trying to save him, and she won't have anyone around enjoying her hospitality who would hurt her dog."

Illya considered protesting that he would never hurt Pepe, which was actually true. If he would hurt the dog, it would have happened long ago. Right now he probably had the kindest feelings he'd had toward any dog since he was a boy. But since this offered him a clean exit from the house he merely shrugged. "No like dog. Always follow and steal food."

To his surprise Monsieur Luciano grinned ruefully. "I'm just sorry you didn't push him a little harder, say out the window. I hate the little bastard. Sure you wouldn't like to hang around long enough to give it one more shove?"

Illya looked at him thoughtfully and then shook his head. "You fight Madame, not Illya."

Luciano smilled. "You're very wise, my friend, very wise."

Illya walked out the door a short while later, a rucksack over his shoulders with his few belongings in it. He resisted the temptation to hire a cab and walked down to the bus stop on the corner. A few minutes later he was on the bus headed to his apartment. He should probably go to headquarters, but Napoleon would have gone in with the photos and it would be good for him to file the report. Illya wanted to go back to his apartment, which he hadn't seen in three weeks, and stretch out on his own bed among his books with no one else watching him.

The surveillance was what had bothered him. Madame was a voyeur who liked to watch the men exercise and would come up and stroke them while they worked out. This explained Illya's strong preference for swimming. She didn't like to swim and so it kept a definite distance between them. The concession she had insisted upon was that he swim in the nude. He hadn't really minded, except that he got sunburned in the penthouse's rooftop pool. He didn't feel uncomfortable being naked in front of others. He found the bunny costume far more embarrassing than simply going about with no clothes on would be. So he had spent as many hours in the pool each day as he could stand, swimming lap after lap, many of them underwater so she had no excuse to talk to him either. He had significantly extended the time he could swim on a single breath as well as bested his own endurance swim record, which was also U.N.C.L.E.'s. He had had to work out in the gym as well, but he had kept that to a minimum and strove to do that as much as possible when he knew Catriona was otherwise occupied.

He arrived at his apartment, gathered the day's mail, knowing the rest would be upstairs where Napoleon would have left it, and made his way to the second floor. His apartment smelled musty, so he opened the windows and balcony door, standing on the balcony briefly and enjoying the satisfying feeling of being alone. Illya was a private person, and like anyone who had spent most of his life sharing their living quarters, he appreciated those moments when he was truly alone more than most. He went back inside and got the vodka out of the refrigerator and poured himself a glass. Picking up the day's paper, he headed into the bathroom and turned on the taps and began to run himself a bath. While the water was running he got out his communicator, opened it and said, "Open Channel D."

"Illya!" The bright voice seemed delighted to hear from him.

"Hello Katya." Katya had been trying to get him to take her out for more than a year. Beyond the obvious, she was definitely not his type. Her favorite topic of conversation was television celebrities, something Illya couldn't have cared less about, and she kept insisting he should watch this or that and he kept reminding her he didn't own a television. "Would you connect me with Napoleon? And you can leave me on open communication now."

"Ok, Illya. Hey have you seen ..."

"Napoleon, Katya."

"Oh, alright."

"Solo here."

"Hello, Napoleon. Get the baby home safe?"

"The baby's pictures are lovely. You should see how cute he is."

"I will tomorrow. Tonite I'm going to bed early. Would you let Mr. Waverly know that I just needed some down time for a few hours?"

"Will do, partner mine. Anything else?"

"No. That is all. I will talk to you later. Kuryakin out."

Illya emptied his pack, putting up his things and then stripped off his clothes, glad to throw them in the hamper and slide into the tub, taking one of his physics journals with him. The warm water eased his muscles as he read and sipped his drink. He was beginning to feel more like himself each moment. He added more warm water. Gradually his eyelids drooped. He dropped the journal in a rack by the tub and lay his head back against the wall. He slid into a comfortable doze, happy not to have to wonder if he would be awakened by his employer dabbling in his bathwater.

Napoleon gazed at his drowsing partner, so lean and tan as he lay in his bath. Illya's fingers were loose, his head tipped back and to the side so that his hair, spread loosely around his face, which was more relaxed and open than anyone typically saw it. His lips, slightly open, looked soft and full. His ears, delicately shaped, balanced the strong jaw and large eyes, currently defined only by the surprisingly dark lashes and eyebrows. His graceful balance of muscle and line reminded Napoleon of Michelangelo's sculpture of David. The solidity of that image contrasted with the tenderness of Illya's browned skin, especially the velvety softness of his penis, which floated like a baby bird in its nest of blondish-brown curls. Napoleon felt himself harden as he stood gazing at his partner, taking in how beautiful he was and realizing just how much he had missed him, and how much he wanted him.

"Enjoying yourself?" Caught looking, Napoleon felt himself blush to roots of his hair even as he shifted his gaze back up to Illya's face. His partner smiled sardonically. "Hi honey, I'm home. Miss me?"

"Now and then. Hungry?"

"A bit." Illya licked his lips slowly.

Napoleon felt himself stiffen completely, mesmerized. He struggled to concentrate. "I brought Chinese. I knew you wouldn't have anything to eat here."

"Well I have been gone for three weeks," Illya smiled, "Enjoying protein drinks and bad bread."

Napoleon grimaced at the idea. "Sounds delightful. You'll just have to make do with egg rolls tonight. Maybe I can call Catriona and get the recipe."

"Do it and it will the last thing you do."

" How about I go and get dinner together while you get dressed?"

"If you insist." Illya purred seductively. His hand drifted down to his cock, stroking it slowly, making it jump to life in his hand as Napoleon watched, his desire growing. "Probably just as well. It is Thursday after all," he added, referring to his own rule against having sex during the week, a provision designed to maintain Napoleon's interest and guarantee that he, at least, got enough sleep.

Napoleon felt his temper flare momentarily, but then he smiled a lazy smile of his own and turned around. "I'll go put dinner out."

Illya narrowed his eyes with suspicion. Napoleon never gave up this easily. He sat up and washed his hair and face, listening for any sound of his partner as he did so. He stepped out of the tub, grabbed a towel and began drying off, rubbing his hair dry while keeping one eye on the door, half expecting Napoleon to return. But he didn't. Slightly disappointed and still slightly suspicious, Illya wrapped a towel around his waist.

"I hope Mongolian Beef and Chicken Fried Rice are ok," Napoleon called from the kitchen.

"Fine." Illya ran a comb through his hair and headed out of the bathroom. And was grabbed, spun around, pushed down and pinned to the bed by Napoleon.

"I'm afraid I can't accept 'no' for an answer tonight," Napoleon breathed softly, his face only an inch or two from his partner's. Napoleon's jacket was gone, his gun and shoulder holster removed, and his shirt undone at the cuffs and down the front, hanging open and enfolding Illya into a tent of Napoleon's rich, spicy scent. Napoleon bodily lifted Illya farther onto the bed and then crawled on top of him, biting and kissing his chest and neck.

"I thought ... you were in the kitchen..." Illya gasped, so incredibly sensitive that he shivered at the least touch of Napoleon's lips or fingers.

"Spy, remember?" Napoleon whispered, breathing into Illya's ear and thrilling to the moan of his response. "Sneaky is my specialty."

Illya arched his back and gasped, "Polya, stop! I ... I ... God ... no ... yes ... please!" and with an almost unearthly cry he thrust hard upward with his hips only to meet Napoleon's welcoming mouth. His partner held him tightly as he came, lowering him to the bed and smiling at his partner as he licked his lips.

"Sorry. I forgot. It's Thursday."

Illya looked at him through slightly unfocussed eyes and then let his head fall back. Taking a lazy breath, he said, "I will excuse you this time. Just do not let it happen again."

Napoleon smiled slightly. He looked down at Illya's now flaccid cock. "If you're sure that's what you want."

Illya flushed. "I am sorry my friend. It has been a long three weeks. I had no privacy. So as a result ... uh ..."

Napoleon grinned. "Things were a bit pent up?"

"You could say."

"Really, no privacy?"

Illya nodded, "Open showers, nude swimming, even ... exposed toilet areas." He flushed. "Madame liked to watch ... everything."

Napoleon felt his skin crawl and involuntarily pulled Illya closer to him, rubbing his face against him in a gesture both possessive and protective, "I don't think I could have stood it."

"Most of the time I did not mind," Illya said. "Remember I grew up in much more public situations than you did and Americans are much more ... sensitive about nudity than Europeans. Although even I have limits." But as he said it, Illya wondered if it were really true. He hadn't realized how tense he had been until he came home and closed the door and felt, for the first time in weeks, truly alone. The feeling had been indescribably freeing, as though he had set down a massive load he'd never even known he was carrying.

Napoleon was watching him carefully, thoughtfully. "Come, my friend. Why don't we have some dinner and let you ... um, recharge ... and pick up where we left off after a while." He leaned down and gave Illya a gentle kiss on the forehead, letting his face rub against that of his friend, and then stood up. "Go ahead and put on something comfortable. I'll get the food." He stood and headed toward the door, but stopped in the entry, "Unless you'd rather have an evening alone. All things considered, I'd certainly understand."

"No, I am glad you are here." Illya lay still for a minute before he got up. He heard Napoleon rattling around in the kitchen. He considered briefly and then opened a drawer and pulled out some clothes and began putting them on.

Napoleon tested the food with his pinkie. "The food's gotten cold. I'm going to put it in the oven to warm up." He found two china plates and heaped them with the contents of the various cartons and placed them in the oven.

Closing the oven door he turned around to say something but forgot what it was when he saw Illya leaning against the doorframe of the bedroom. It wasn't so much that he was standing there as what he was wearing—the snug white swimming trunks he usually wore when they went sailing on the Pursang, the ones Napoleon particularly liked. He was also wearing the bunny ears, rakishly tilted to one side, and the fluffy white tail. Napoleon sucked in his breath sharply. "My God," he said softly, gazing at his friend, "You are so ... beautiful."

Illya gave an amused snort. "Not the first adjective I would have thought of."

Napoleon closed the distance between them. "Oh it is definitely the first one I think of." He ran his hand lightly up his partner's chest, enjoying watching the chills it caused. He closed his eyes and inhaled the fresh clean smell of Illya's body, and ached with an intensified sense of the longing he had felt for weeks. Too many weeks. He teased a finger inside his partner's waistband and slid it around, feeling Illya suck in his breath in response. "These seem to be getting tight already. I'm impressed."

"I told you. It has been three weeks."

Napoleon chuckled. "Perhaps I have something to thank Madame Luciano for."

"Very funny."

Abruptly he slipped his other hand up the back of his partner's head and tangled it into his golden hair, hauling Illya's head back and crushing his lips with his own, forcing him against the door in an act of uncharacteristic roughness that thrilled Illya with the desire clear in its brutality. Napoleon was mastering him, grinding against him, devouring his neck and face, forcing out the thought of anyone else until there was no world beyond the smell, the taste, the feel of Napoleon against his skin. When he opened his eyes, Napoleon filled his vision, those dark, toffee colored eyes fierce with possession and desire, and his ears crowded with the murmurs and growls of Napoleon satisfying his desire to own every inch of his partner's body.

Illya felt himself swept up off the ground and moments later was on the bed, somewhat uncomfortably because of the stupid tail, with Napoleon crawling on top of him, dragging him farther onto the bed like before, like a lion carrying its prey.

"Napoleon, please, let me get this stupid tail off." But Napoleon ignored him and in a moment he had forgotten about it, swept up as he was by his partner's passion.

Napoleon began to haul Illya's trunks off, the tail coming too, and threw them aside. Illya struggled with Napoleon's trousers and underwear, trying not to damage them out of respect for his partner's fastidiousness about his clothing, but Napoleon pushed his partner's hands out of the way and ripped them free. Even in the midst of his desire, Illya was shocked. Damaging his clothing? Napoleon was hard as a rock and Illya wanted him, wanted him now, wanted to give himself over to him, wanted to surrender and be taken, roughly, violently even, but possessively.

"Make me yours, Polya, all yours," Illya's desire was almost a cry of pain. Napoleon paused, looking down into the sea of his partner's eyes, often so unreadable even to him. He took the lube from the side table and instinctively handed it to Illya, who took it and applied it to Napoleon's cock with a liberal hand, giving a soft moan of desire as he did so. He had barely applied some to himself before Napoleon pushed him back and leaned between Illya's legs and close to his face. Looking down into Illya's eyes, Napoleon said, "Who do you love?"


"No one else?"


"Who do you fuck?"

"You!" This last a growl, like a hungry panther.

"No one else?"

Illya's eyes flashed, aware of the irony even as his hunger raged within him, "Never!"


Illya looked at him blankly, suddenly uncertain how to answer this catechism.

Napoleon lifted his partner's his legs up over his shoulders where they could wrap around him, holding him as he entered slowly, their faces close, both breathing huskily with desire restrained. "Because you deserve to get exactly what you want." Illya was looking back at him, his eyes large, uncomprehending.

"What I want?" His voice was soft, almost shy. Not the assured cynical Russian the rest of the world encountered. Not even the Illya that Napoleon typically saw. This Russian did not put his own desires first. He was used to taking orders, putting the group before himself.

"Illy, what do you want?"

Illya looked up into the toffee eyes, warmed as they were with love, and groaned huskily, "You! I want you!"

"Thank God." Napoleon moaned and pushed into his partner, who responded with equal fervor, grinding into Napoleon to feel him drive as deep inside as possible, yearning to become one, if only for a moment.

"Drive the others away, Polya, the eyes, the hands, make me all yours," Illya pleaded and Napoleon did, thrusting roughly, with an animal intensity that Illya responded to with a sort of wild, possessed ecstasy that ended in an almost leonine roar as he released a sticky flood of cum on them both. This shuddering climax sent Napoleon over the edge, so that they rocked together in a messy, wonderful tangle of warm, velvety pleasure. Illya collapsed back onto the disheveled bed, his arms shaky and weak, his breath coming in long quivering gasps. Napoleon settled down on top of him, feeling the warm, hard muscles of Illya's body against his own with a kind of torpid arousal further fueled by the soapy scent of Illya's clean skin mixed with the fresh, salty tang of sweat from where they had brushed the Russian's skin.

His delicious Russian, so strong and powerful, so magnificently beautiful. Napoleon raised his head and looked at Illya, surprised to see that he still had the bunny ears on his head. He pulled them off, took careful aim, and tossed them into the trash can. Illya regarded him with surprise.

"I brought those home because you said you liked them," Illya said, puzzled.

"I thought I did. But you're not some little, helpless rabbit, my friend. That is how they saw you because that is how you wanted to be seen. But that isn't who you are. You are a Siberian tiger, dangerous and beautiful and much too wild to be anybody's plaything. If you stay with someone, it is because you choose to for reasons of your own. Why do you think people want to hold you and touch you? Watch what you do? Because we can't resist the call of the wild. And we want to try and tame the tiger."

Illya looked at him with mixed amusement and embarrassment. "You do not have to compliment me so much to explain why you want to get rid of the costume. I'm quite content to toss it out."

Napoleon sighed. "I thought Russians had Romantic souls. You are about as Romantic as a chemistry experiment. I'm trying to explain something ... something about how I feel and about how ..."

Illya pulled Napoleon's face down and kissed him, deeply and passionately, allowing his tongue to explore his partner's mouth while his hands traced the lines of his face like old friends and his fingers tangled in his hair. "What were you saying about my romantic nature?" he said after even he needed to come up for air.

"I forget," Napoleon smiled lazily. He looked down and brushed back the hair from the bronzed face. Then he began to recite:

"TIGER, tiger, burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Illya frowned, trying to remember. "William Blake?" Napoleon nodded. "Is that really how you see me?"

"Yes, in many ways."

"I am not sure that is entirely complimentary."

"I'm not sure it is either. At times, there's something rather terrifying about you. Terrifying but beautiful. You're like a force of nature, a beautiful, amazing force of nature that must be treated with respect."

Illya seemed unsure about what to say to that so he was silent, looking distinctly disconcerted and un-tiger-like. He never knew how to respond to compliments, if that's what it was. Suddenly he brightened. "I know one thing tigers and I do definitely have in common. I am almost always hungry. Do you suppose the food is hot?"

"Your stomach is definitely a force of nature at least." Napoleon said shaking his head and rolling to one side so Illya could get up to go and check on the food. He smiled as he watched his partner head toward the kitchen, glad that Illya's mood seemed lighter, the weight of the mission alleviated, even if he was moving with a certain degree of delicacy. He smiled as he watched Illya pop his fingers in his mouth, after burning them on the plates getting them out of the oven. The light from the oven shone though the wire rack, tracing a pattern of stripes on his tanned skin. Illya turned and the light flashed in his eyes as he gave Napoleon a sudden, dangerous, smile and waved to him to come and eat. Yes, this housecat was no paper tiger, but the genuine article, with the blood of Siberia running in his veins.

"Oh, the tiger will love you. There is no sincerer love than the love of food."

George Bernard Shaw

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