With New Eyes
It had been a rotten week in a rotten month in what was rapidly proving to be a rotten year. My father told me that you were the decision maker in your life, but there are times, like now, when it's taken out of your hands and you just have to roll with the punches.
I was inbound from a month in Paris. Some folks would wax poetic about spending spring in Paris, but I just wanted to get home. It wasn't that New York is so fabulous in April, but I was tired—tired of dining out every night, tired of entertaining lovely Mademoiselles every night and tired of sleeping in strange beds. I hungered for my own front door and the sight of familiar faces, especially one certain guy.
Now I know what you are thinking—Napoleon Solo, wasting away for a man? Hardly, but Illya is not like most men. From the minute we became partners, there was a sort of... well, a connection between us. Waverly has many talents, but matching up people to form the perfect partnership was by far his top talent. He could look at a room full of men and just know which ones would work well together as a team.
It certainly worked with Illya and me. He's great company and always ready for an adventure. He's talkative when he needs to be, but not threatened by silence. He's smart, with a wicked sense of humor. Illya is also the first person who I think really gets me. He understands the man Napoleon Solo and he's in no hurry to try and change me. I like that. Women are always trying to sneak in, saying first that they love me and how perfect I am and then doing their damnedest to change everything about me.
I walked into reception and grinned at the familiar face behind the desk. "Ah, Vanessa, my treasure! How are you?" I leaned in so she could pin on my badge, inhaling her Eau de Toilette happily. I also noted that Illya's badge was gone. My day was getting better by the minute. That meant he was somewhere within the confines of UNCLE HQ.
"Now that you are home safe and sound, I'm fine, Mr. Solo." She couldn't hide her smile from me. Nor could she hide the troubled look in her eyes.
"Didn't they tell you that frowning would cause wrinkles?" She sighed and I smoothed the line between her eyes with a gentle finger. "Ah, that's better. Now what's wrong?"
"It's... Mr. Kuryakin."
Panic began to churn up in my gut. "What's wrong with him?"
"He's... it's just that... it's not just me."
"It's not just me what?"
"He's acting weird, Napoleon. Ever since he came back from Austria, there has been something a little off about him."
"He let me pin his badge on."
That was a little strange, but nothing to get nervous about. "Perhaps he was just feeling a bit flirtatious that day."
"He's also wearing aftershave." She looked down at her fingers as they fiddled with a pencil. "He doesn't wear aftershave."
"He doesn't?" Now it was my turn to frown. I worked side-by-side with the man and I'd never noticed. Of course, I don't make it a habit of paying attention to how men smell, only women. It would make sense that women would notice though. "Well, perhaps it was a gift from someone and he didn't want to hurt her feelings." It sounded like a lame excuse to my ears, but it was enough for Vanessa.
"You're right, of course. Thanks, Mr. Solo."
"Just part of the service I offer to my favorite girls."
She giggled and I hurried off. Still, the bug had been set. It wouldn't be the first time THRUSH had tried with a double. They'd very nearly gotten hold of some pretty sensitive materials when they tried a switch with me. More worrying was that if a pseudo Illya was here, where was the real one?
It took me a full fifteen minutes to make it from the elevator to my office. Several folks stopped along the way to chat with me. No one else mentioned anything odd about Illya. Maybe it was just Vanessa.
I walked into the office we shared and there behind the desk was Illya. He was propping his head up with one head and tapping his finger on the sheets of paper spread out before him. His desk looked as if a stationery store had exploded somewhere nearby and he looked as if he was searching for survivors. He glanced up over his glasses to see who the intruder was and then started to grin.
"Napoleon!" He was on his feet and in front of me before I could say a word. But there was something wrong... I couldn't put my finger on it. He pressed a small button on the side of his desk as he passed it. "Napoleon, you're back!"
"Yup, did you miss me?" I can be glib in the worst situation.
"You have no idea." Then Illya Kuryakin, a man I know better than I know myself, kissed me. It's not as if I haven't kissed a man before. UNCLE asks us to do quite a bit in its name and it's not as if I haven't been around the horn a few times. An agent has to be comfortable in all situations and I was... with most, but not this. Besides, I'd seen Illya kiss a dozen women and he didn't do it like this. He was more cautious, even in the heat of passion and he very nearly always let the kissee make that last little move.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Don't worry, Napoleon. I knocked out the cameras. God, it's good to see you."
Mistake Number Three for whoever this was. Illya, the real Illya, my Illya, would know that if you knocked out a camera, even one not in use, it triggered a silent alarm.
The phone rang and I looked at it. With a sigh, Pseudo Illya reluctantly stepped aside and I snatched it up.
"Mr. Solo." Waverly's voice was reassuringly familiar. "Is there something wrong? Security informs me that the camera feed to your office has been disconnected."
"Yes, sir... I'm sorry about that, sir. I'll be right there." I cradled the phone quickly, cutting off Waverly before he could ask me anything that might require more of an answer.
"Are we in trouble?" Pseudo Illya was looking at the camera.
"For that, not yet. I promised the Old Man that I'd check in with him when I arrived. He's anxious for the debriefing. He was wondering what was taking me so long." I hated myself for doing it, but I reached out and ran a forefinger down Pseudo Illya's cheek. "Keep that motor running. I'll be back... And turn the camera back on before we have Section Four pounding on our door."
"Right..." Pseudo Illya's eyes were all soft and his voice was a seductive purr. "I'll be waiting, Napoleon." That's when it hit me. Pseudo Illya was saying my name right. He, the real Illya, always put extra emphasis on the second syllable, a way to get back at me for purposefully mispronouncing his name.
I got out the door and took a deep breath. This was very bad, but I was willing to bet Waverly would be just the person to help me figure out what to do.
Waverly had a 'you better make this good' look on his face when I entered. Not a surprise, considering our latest phone call.
"Welcome back, Mr. Solo. You've no doubt noticed the change in Mr. Kuryakin." That's Waverly—right to the point and no punches pulled.
"I have noticed... one or two things... sir."
"One or two?"
"The receptionist said he was acting strangely and just a couple of minutes ago, he... er..." I sort of let the sentence die. While it wasn't against the rules to be a homosexual in UNCLE, things could get tricky if word of this got out. "He made a pass at me," I mumbled quickly, hoping the Old Man wouldn't hear.
"A pass? Mr. Kuryakin?"
"I have heard the rumors about the two of you, of course, but I had no idea they were that far reaching."
"Pardon me, sir?"
"You aren't aware of the stories that follow you, Mr. Solo, of you and Mr. Kuryakin being more than just good friends? Good God, man, and you call yourself an agent?"
There is was then: that ugly little accusation, lying on the floor panting and squirming like some over-anxious dog. I was quiet for a moment, trying to collect my thoughts. Illya and I were close, as close as two men could be. The fact that most agents, at least the senior ones, had to be willing to do just about anything to get what they needed and that occasionally meant bedding their own sex was just part of what made up the requirements for being an agent. It didn't mean anything beyond that for the most part.
The thought of taking him to bed was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I'd seen what he'd done to others who'd made that um assumption. There wasn't enough left of them to use a regular size envelope to mail back the remains. While he didn't take women to bed as often as I did, I knew he had had his way with a few of them or they him, I was never really quite sure which. I needed to say something, anything.
"Sir, there has never been that sort of relationship between us."
"I'm well aware of that, Mr. Solo. THRUSH, however, apparently is not. The question is, what are you going to do about it, man?"
I opened my mouth to answer him and a claxon of alarms started blaring, drowning out anything I might say. We had an intruder! Every able UNCLE agent was out the door, gun drawn at that sound.
I, instead, raced to a console, saw where the intruder was coming in and I pulled my communicator out.
"Attention, all channels, intruder is attempting to enter through the caves!"
By the time we arrived, there was a cluster of men around a figure and they appeared to be rendering him aid.
"What are you doing?" I demanded.
"Helping," snapped a junior agent.
"Since when do we aid the enemy?" Then I gasped. The man sitting before me was thin and bore a medley of bruises, cuts, and from the way he was holding his arm, at least one damaged limb. The hair was matted, dirty and crusty, but even with all of that, even with the bruising, I recognized my partner. "Illya, what are you doing here?"
"Never mind me here, why I am there as well?" A trembling forefinger pointed in the direction of the Pseudo Illya.
If we'd been alone, I'd have made some crack about keeping one as a spare, but this was not the time for jokes.
"Surely THRUSH is trying to sneak a duplicate of me into headquarters," Pseudo Illya argued.
"You would think they'd have sent in someone in better shape." That was Hennessey and I could have kissed him for that.
I pointed at my fake partner. "Put him in the brig under Section Three watch." I indicated my real partner, dripping blood on the cool tile. "Get him to Medical and I want two agents on him constantly as well." That should cast just enough doubt in the double's mind to think he had a chance.
First things first, though, I made a report to Waverly and told him of my actions, my suspicions, and my course of attack.
That finished, I headed down to our holding cells. Dr. Godfrey was coming out of an exam room, peeling off a pair of gloves. I figured Pseudo Illya was inside, since there were two Section Three agents outside it.
"Whacha think, Doc?" I joined him as he walked away.
"I will give you this, he's tenacious. And if that man's a duplicate, then we need to talk to the folks in charge over at THRUSH and figure out how they did it. They have everything, and I mean everything, perfectly replicated. I couldn't imagine a man willingly going through something like that for the sake of an assignment."
"We do what we're told to do, Doc." The nagging itch was back. "Do you think it's possible that it's really Illya and I'm wrong?"
"To answer that, I'm going to ask you something and I need for you to be perfectly honest with me."
"If it puts this whole affair to bed, shoot."
"When was the last time you had sex with your partner?"
"What?" I sputtered, perhaps just a bit too indignantly. "Never! Illya and I aren't... that way."
"Then that man is a fake."
I almost sighed out loud. My lord, I didn't want to be wrong about this. "You are sure?"
"Trust me. That man has consensual anal sex on a regular basis. From what I've seen of Agent Kuryakin, the other Agent Kuryakin, there is no sign of it, although there is some scarring."
"THRUSH will try anything to make us talk," I muttered. I had some scarring of my own received in that way.
"He was also telling me that he should be afforded better handling, with him being your lover and all."
I covered my face with one hand and sighed. We hit the elevator and went up. "And Illya? The real Illya?" I avoided calling him 'my' Illya, just to be careful.
"They didn't do him any favors, but most of the injuries are superficial. He has a greenstick fracture of his left radius and I've put it in a soft cast. Some bed rest and plenty to eat and drink and he should be ready for light duty in a week."
"Can we keep him on ice until then?"
"You mean confined here? Sure, as long as you tell him that. My life is worth more than that."
"You're a funny guy, Mel. I like that in a doctor."
Both men were sitting in the conference room, both still under guard. My Illya, while not very happy about it, understood. He'd remained in bed, resting, eating, and doing some stray paperwork that might have filtered down that way until today. He still looked like hell, but better. He had a sort of glassy look to him, not in the way that he might break, but his skin looked almost translucent.
The Pseudo Illya, however, had degenerated into this paranoid, demanding mess. He paced and muttered in his cell. He made bold accusations to anyone who would listen and his guards listened very closely and reported everything back to me. I had a feeling, when it came time, he wouldn't be very Illya-like at all and crack like an egg dropped from a third story window.
I walked in with Mr. Waverly and his secretary in tow. Pseudo Illya was on his feet the minute he saw me. I'd avoided dropping in on him since his captivity.
"Napoleon!" His voice was joyful and that of a man in love. I could barely look at him. My Illya sat quietly, gauging the situation. His hands, folded, were resting in front of him, waiting, just waiting. I avoided looking at him too closely, lest I reveal that I already had my answer.
"We have a bit of a problem here. You see, there is only one Illya Kuryakin and I don't think the world is quite ready for two." I glanced over at Waverly and smiled. "One is more than a handful. Obviously one of you is a fake, so I'm going to ask you both one question and to do one thing that will answer the conundrum of which is the real Illya Kuryakin.
"Illya, are we lovers?"
The fake Illya had the good grace to blush and he glanced at Waverly, then back at me.
"It's all right, Illya, Mr. Waverly knows."
Pseudo Illya then nodded shyly. "Yes, ever since Terbuf. That night, she went back to her husband, stupid cow, and I helped you to forget your grief."
That was almost eerie, for Illya had spent that night with me, but it was listening as I raged and railed against an unkind world. It was idiotic for I no longer loved Clara and yet my ego smarted when I thought of the risks I'd taken, we'd taken, to help her out. Illya had been sympathetic and a good listener that night, but nothing else. The thing is, had he made a pass, I would have taken him up on it, anything to have placated the emptiness I felt in my soul at that moment.
I looked over at the real Illya, whose mouth was hanging open.
"Illya, I will ask you the same question. Are we lovers?"
He swore softly in Russian and then managed to choke out, "What the hell are you talking about?"
Opposite ends of the spectrum, just as I thought it would be. Even if we had been lovers, Illya would have never admitted it in a roomful of fellow agents.
"Excellent!" I slapped my hands together and looked from one to the other. "Now I have one thing I want you both to do."
"Of course, Napoleon," Pseudo Illya purred. I wasn't sure what he was expecting. Maybe he thought I was going to ask him to kiss me or, hell, even bend over and take one for Mother Russia. My simple request surprised him.
"I'm sorry. What did you say?"
"Run. Up and down the length of the room, as fast as you can."
He complied and I had my answer right then and there. When Illya was a child, he'd broken his leg or his hip or something, he was always a bit vague, the way Illya could be at times... most times. It never healed properly and because if it, he ran with a slight, well, mincing, but a very masculine sort of mincing, way, favoring his leg or hip. I had been betting THRUSH hasn't gone that far back or been quite that thorough.
Still I wanted to create the illusion of not being sure. "And you?" I looked over at my Illya and he stood with a grunt.
"I'll do the best I can."
He started to trot, obviously with effort. "Illya, I said, run."
He glared at me and set his chin in that 'go to hell' manner of his and took off at a dead run, surprising his guards so much, that one of them even pulled his weapon.
I held up a restraining hand to the agent and smiled, looking over at the now fidgeting fake-o daddy-o Illya. "Why don't you put that weapon to use and escort our THRUSH guest to the brig?"
Pseudo Illya struggled as two pairs of hands clamped on him. "No! What are you doing? I am Illya Nichovetch Kuryakin! Me, not him!" He glared at the real Illya, who wasn't paying him the least bit of attention, too busy with his own discomfort to notice much of anything. "Let me go."
"And there's another mistake you made," I added. "Illya would have just decked them and not said a word."
I went over to where Illya was bent over hands on his knees, in obvious discomfort. "Was that truly necessary?" His breath came in short pants, making his speech choppy.
"Not really, but absolute power and all." I held out a hand to him and he took it, using it to straighten.
"What was that display all about? And that question—are we lovers?"
"Have you ever heard anything so stupid or ridiculous in your life? Us? Lovers? Apparently, the rumor is all over UNCLE and THRUSH to the point of where THRUSH was dumb enough to actually believe it." I started to laugh and thus missed the color change in Illya's eyes. That can tell you a lot about him and it took me many years to learn how to read it. If I'd been watching, truly watching, I'd have seen them go from blue to light gray—a sure sign of annoyance. But I was feeling very smug and celebratory about my detection. "I mean, you and me lovers! Have you ever heard of anything more unlikely or more laughable in your entire life? I mean, you and me... what sort of sick individual could cook that crock up?"
"Go to hell," Illya suddenly muttered and limped from the room. A moment later, a nurse, Nellie, I think, caught up with him and he shook her helping hands away.
Waverly followed a moment later, a look of glee in his eyes. I had a feeling that Pseudo Illya was in for a very bad day. It wasn't often that the Old Man got to play agent and when he did, well, no man could resist his will.
"He is," LaRue said, after a moment. He'd been one of the men I'd assigned to watch over Illya. I looked over at him with a question in my eyes.
"Illya swings both ways. Didn't you know?"
The things you hear when you are stone cold sober...
I wasn't mad. Okay, I was mad, but I wasn't hurt. Well, all right, I was a little hurt and really annoyed. For once, the Solo charm had let me down. I could not get Illya's personal, as opposed to personnel, file from Donna. I had sweet talked, promised her a night on the town, dinner, dancing and whatever else she wanted. You don't know Donna. She doesn't get many offers, but I have to hand it to her. She was remarkably committed to her job.
I went back to my office and sat, trying to decide my next course of action. Then I saw something, something out of place amid the numerous assignment and report folders. It was Illya's personal file. These things are Eyes Only for Section Ones. I'd been willing to risk my career to try and cajole Donna out of Illya's file and here it was on my desk. She really had been telling me the truth when she said she couldn't give it to me... I'd just not stopped to listen.
What I was looking for was buried on page three about halfway down. There it was in black and white. I read the answer and sighed. I didn't know, I swear I didn't know, but we didn't really discuss these things, even drunk. I never asked and Illya never told. Apparently THRUSH knew more than I did about my own partner, either through design or good old-fashioned dumb luck.
I hightailed it back to Medical, stopping at the front desk. "Where's Illya?"
"You missed him by about an hour." The nurse wasn't someone familiar to me. "He called Agent Slate and went home."
"Mark? Why would he call Mark instead of his partner?"
"I don't know. He muttered something about Solo being a..." She tried to get her tongue around the word, mispronouncing it even worse than I would. It didn't matter though. I knew what she meant. "I'm not sure what he meant."
"I am." And it wasn't something that I had ever thought I'd hear my partner call me.
"If you'd like, I'd be happy to leave a message for you, Agent...?"
"Solo, my dear, and he's already left one for me, loud and clear."
Staking out my partner's apartment—not something I ever thought I'd be doing and yet here I was, with some hideously vile coffee eating its way through a miserable paper cup, staring at the stoop of Illya's brownstone.
I couldn't make myself go inside and confront him... at the same time, I couldn't leave things as they were. Yeah, okay, so we weren't lovers, but that didn't mean I didn't love him. I did, more than anyone I'd ever been with before, more than Clara, more than Sammy, a fellow soldier I'd been very close to, more than anyone ever. I'd shared things with him that no one else was privy to. We'd bled, laughed, cried, raged with each other, and if that wasn't love, I didn't know what was.
So, maybe THRUSH was smarter than we were. I know that they are smarter than me at times. You see, they were right; it wasn't just that I loved Illya. The truth was that I was in love with him- Incroyable as the French would say.
So what kept me from rushing in there and telling Illya the truth? Mark hadn't left. He'd been there for nearly five hours and his little sports coupe was still parked perilously close to a fire hydrant. As each minute ticked by, my mind conjured up images, each one worse than the one previous.
Mark was English and Illya had spent some time in England, both before and during his first year with UNCLE. Mark didn't make any excuses for his choices of bedfellows—man or woman, he wasn't fussy when the need was upon him. Illya, well, it would appear that the need never was, although I'd been pretty sure there had been times. We often shared a hotel room, even the same bed. I'd seen the marks that only had one explanation and now I wondered, a woman or... Mark?
A spark flared in the pit of my gut and I frowned as a proprietary surge went through me. On other occasions, I'd had similar sensations, but had always put it down to something else. Illya would get ready to kiss a girl, I'd step into the way and redirect her. I'd told myself it was senior agent privilege, but the reality was I didn't want anyone else kissing Illya when I could do something about it.
The front door opened and Mark stepped out, turning up his collar against the night air. I didn't have a plan, which is against my nature. I was out of the car and walking towards Mark without even being conscious of it.
He slowed until his eyes were able to identify me as friend. He lowered the hand that had been creeping up along his lapel, in preparation of drawing his weapon.
"Oi, Napoleon, I wondered when you'd be showing up."
It took every bit of control I possessed not to punch that smug look, that look that told me, "I've got something you don't and you never will, stupid."
"Evening, Mark, I thought I'd just check in with the patient."
"Probably not a good idea, mate. He was sleeping when I left." Mark hesitated and I saw 'fight or flight' flash across his face. "Napoleon, what's wrong?"
"One of the first things you are taught in spy school is how to read people and, Napoleon, you are broadcasting a story of something, not nothing."
"I was just a little confused as to why Illya called you for the lift home."
"I have to admit being a little surprised myself." At least he was honest. "He told me he wasn't sure you had your car with you." Or not, as even a junior agent could have pegged that lie. He saw it in my eyes and took a step away from me. "Anyhow, I got him to take a pain pill."
"From that little stunt this afternoon."
I felt a twinge of guilt, but told myself it had been a necessary demand. Then I realized that Illya probably hadn't taken any pill, he was just blissfully asleep in a post coital slumber. "It did the trick," I snapped.
"Well, it did one on him. If I were you, I'd check in with him tomorrow as tonight you aren't going to get much."
Not if you've already taken it, I thought as Mark walked quickly away and climbed into his car.
I waited until he'd pulled away and made the turn into night time traffic before climbing the stairs and going inside. The stairwell and halls of this building are always so fragrant. Many immigrant families lived in this building. I think that's one reason why Illya picked it over other nicer, but more sterile places. There were always toys, dolls, trucks, bikes, roller skates, etc. scattered about, the usual kid paraphernalia that made walking these hallways a menace for the uninitiated... or the drunk.
Carefully I weaved my way up to Illya's apartment and another conundrum faced me. Did I knock or just go in? If he was deep in a drug-induced sleep, he wouldn't hear it. If he was just dozing, he might. If he was awake, then he'd have the right to refuse my access.
I hedged my bets and unlocked the door with the key he'd given me so many years ago to use in a similar situation. I'd done the same. It demonstrated the level of trust that we had for each other... or not in this case.
I eased my way in and turned off the alarm before it had a chance to explode into life. The apartment was clean... really clean and then I realized that the Pseudo Illya had lived here for at least a couple of weeks and my temper flared again. The thought of an enemy agent being in here left me feeling violated and infuriated... almost as much as the Walther .38 pointed at my stomach.
I looked up and directly into the slightly muddled eyes of my partner.
"Um, I come in peace?" I tried to joke, lifting my hands into the classical surrender position.
"Whatever." The gun dropped and Illya swayed slightly in place. Mark hadn't been lying. Illya had taken a pain pill or this was the strangest case of after sex bliss I'd ever encountered.
Illya staggered back toward the bedroom, not bothering to see what I was going to do. Probably just as well because I didn't know what I was going to do, either. I collapsed down onto his couch, an ugly second-hand thing, and thought about my next move.
When I woke up, it took me nearly a minute to remember where I was and why I was there. I sat up, grunting as my muscles grumbled about the impromptu nap.
Note to self, no more naps on Illya's couch, I thought as I got to my feet and stretched. This thing was worse than THRUSH's best torture chamber. Looking around, I noticed that Illya's bedroom door was ajar, so I moved in that direction.
He was still asleep, his face slick with sweat, his hair dark and plastered to his head. I couldn't believe they'd released him with a fever, but Illya could talk just about anyone into anything. And they called me a gifted liar. In reality, I'd learned from the Master.
I walked into the bathroom, a small closet sized thing and winced at my reflection in the mirror. My hair was all mussed, my eyes were so bloodshot that I looked like I was about halfway back from an all-night binge.
Glancing around, I found a washcloth neatly hung by some towels—ye gods, the man cleaned in here, too. The porcelain surfaces gleamed in an almost unhealthy manner. Even the shower curtain was clean and it looked pressed. The man was certain thorough.
Anyhow, I wet a cloth and wrung it out, then went back into the bedroom where Illya was tossing and turning.
"Take it easy, partner." I spoke so that he would know it was me and not react with a right cross. I won't go into the details of how we are taught to wake up like that, but trust me, it wasn't fun.
I laid the cloth over his forehead. He made a face and got one eye open.
"What are you doing here?" He tried to lift one arm, wincing at the weight of the cast on it.
"What do you think I'm doing here? I'm looking after my partner."
"Didn't think you'd want to bother with a... Not with how you feel about them..." His voice sounded so pitifully weak, but I knew it was from the drug, not actual weakness.
"You know how I am, partner. I tend to run off at the mouth at times. This is no bother."
"For me either." The voice was eerily like Illya's and yet I knew my partner hadn't said anything. I turned slowly and there was a figure in the bedroom doorway. "I was wondering how I was going to track you down, Solo, and now you've delivered yourself to me, hook, line, and drugged-out sinker."
I moved my hand slightly and the Walther that Pseudo Illya held took a bead on me.
"How did you get away?" I was trying to play for time. Eventually UNCLE would come here, looking for this wacko or at least to warn us.
"I'm not stupid."
"I didn't say you were."
Illya moaned on the bed, tossing his head as if he thought this was all a nightmare. Maybe for him it was.
"I was hoping I'd at least have a bit of a challenge taking him out, but it doesn't matter. UNCLE will be down its two top agents and I've fed THRUSH enough information during my last few weeks to have this labeled a complete success."
"You'll be killed."
"Was there ever any doubt? This was a suicide mission from the minute I agreed to it. I knew that. However, you did throw me for a loop. You and he... you aren't lovers? Isn't that—"
Illya's bullet caught him midsentence and the impact knocked him backwards into the living room. I followed, in case, but he was down and out. I went to his side and realized that the double wasn't dead, but unconscious.
"Why did you switch to sleeper darts?"
"Didn't know I had." Illya was sitting up and examining his pillow. There was a big hole through the middle of it and a shower of feathers was slowly drifting down towards the floor. "UNCLE owes me a new pillow."
"UNCLE owes you more than that." I took a deep breath and pulled out my communicator. There was going to be hell to pay back home for whatever agent let this fish jump the net.
Illya plopped back down. "Just have someone get him out of my apartment before I wake up."
I had an arm propped up behind my head and was reading War and Peace, written in its native language, which was slow going. The bedside light wasn't as bright as I'd like, but no matter. It was enough to make out the words.
I got an odd sense and glanced over to my right. Two blue eyes were studying me.
"Why are you in my bed, Napoleon?"
"Because your couch is nothing short of a torture rack." I rolled over onto my side and studied him. He still looked a little bleary, but his fever had broken just after midnight and he'd been sleeping fairly comfortably since then.
"You know what I mean."
"I do." I wasn't going to play games now. I'd been playing this game for so long I couldn't even remember when it had begun. "Illya..."
"Don't..." He rolled over and sat up, his back to me. "Don't go waxing poetic when we both know how you really feel. You could have chosen your words with a bit more care though." He pushed himself off the mattress and turned away from me. "Why didn't you send me back to Medical when you first arrived?"
"I figured you'd had enough of that place. You weren't going to get any better any faster there than here. We are going to have to do something about your apartment though. It has been thoroughly compromised."
"I know. It's a shame, though, as I like it here."
"I know." I looked around and then back at him. "You can always... ah... you know, bunk with me until you find something, if you want."
"I can't... it just wouldn't be... not now."
Now I did sit up and let my face grow very serious. "I want you to listen to me, partner, and listen well. When we were talking, in the conference room, I didn't mean that I found the idea of us... repulsive. It was bravado... it was a lie."
"I don't believe you." Illya's face was very grave and I knew I had just moments to make my point or lose the chance forever.
"That's your choice, of course. I just thought that you were a bit more liberal about some things... about me."
"Don't make me laugh, Napoleon. And if you have one ounce of respect left for me, don't treat me like one of your little balls of fluff."
"Wouldn't dream of it, but Pseudo Illya -"
"Your double, then, made me realize that I'd had feelings for you for a very long time. They'd been masquerading as everything but what they really were."
"I still don't believe..."
"And I'm not asking you to. Just... give me a chance. We have the perfect opportunity now. You need a place to stay and I have the space. We don't need to share a bed; you can have the extra bedroom. All I'm asking for is a chance to correct a wrong... several of them, in fact. I just want to try, Illya. Couldn't we do that, try, now that everything is out in the open, and see where it leads us? I think we owe our partnership, our friendship, at least that."
"What about Waverly?" The hard edge to his voice had softened... slightly. I couldn't believe he was actually considering it.
Yes, what about Waverly? I had no doubt who put that file on my desk. Waverly needed reassurance that we could still function as a team, his team. One of the things about Waverly, he didn't care about what game you played or how hard you played away from UNCLE. As long as it didn't interfere with your duties to him, he wouldn't worry about what we did. "What about him? He already thought we were..."
"Now that I refuse to believe."
"Okay, so he suspected." I reached out and traced my finger down Illya's cheek, just as I had his double. Under my fingertip, the skin was rough with stubble, but I felt a snap of electricity, something that told me this was very right. His eyes closed in response to my touch. Most people don't know just how tactile Illya is. I couldn't wait to touch him a little more.
Fully aware that I was taking my life in my own hands, I leaned over and kissed him. It was nothing wild or showy, just a soft touching of my lips to his. Hell, it was as chaste a kiss as I'd given in years. Unlike the other Illya's though, these lips were exactly right. They weren't as soft or full as a woman's, but that wasn't what I wanted. They were a little dry from his fever, and I won't say his breath was the bouquet of the gods, but it didn't matter. They were Illya's lips, my Illya's lips, right and sure.
I pulled back and studied him. One corner of his mouth curled up into the slightest of smiles.
"You do that again and you might get a lot more than you are bargaining for, Solo."
"Oh, I am fully counting on that."
Three weeks later, Illya's cast was removed and his arms were entwined with mine as we rocked our bodies together. For three weeks, I'd laid beside him, felt his body grow used to mine as I grew used to his. I knew how Illya, my partner, felt. I even knew how Illya, my friend, felt, but Illya, my lover, that was completely new.
I'd wake in the morning and feel his dick, hard and demanding, in the small of my back, but he would roll away out of reach the moment I tried to embrace him.
"Not until I've got two good arms," he'd mutter with a soft kiss and then he was gone, presumably to finish what sleeping against me had started.
But no more. Tonight we were free of restraints and rules, free to do or try anything. And there was one thing I wanted very badly. The thought of feeling his dick, rock hard, rubbing against mine was sending little bolts of pleasure through my groin.
I was facing Illya and could see the passion coloring his eyes almost black, felt his breath short and trembling against my cheek as I'm sure mine was against his.
His mouth caught mine, demanding and brutal, sucking my tongue into his mouth, bathing it with his. I pulled away with a gasp and he went for my throat, kissing the sweating flesh at the base, then punishing it with his teeth. I'd complain, except he had a dozen similar marks all over his body.
We were moving in cadence now, but this wasn't what I wanted. It took me a moment to break his grip and I pushed him backwards onto my bed, my lovely king-size bed. In the past, it had proved to have just enough room for sex. Now, I wasn't sure. After all, I'd never had Illya in it, not like this.
Illya fell backwards, his penis jutting up and glistening. I didn't wait for a word of encouragement or protest from him. Instead, I latched one hand onto his penis and pumped. My mouth was a second behind. My free hand I placed on his abdomen to keep him from thrusting down my throat.
He entangled his fingers in my hair and groaned out my name again and again. Then he stiffened and I took him as deeply into my mouth as I could without gagging. My nose smelled the sweat and the musk of his pubic hair as he climaxed, shooting his ejaculate down my willing throat.
The need to breathe overruled everything else and I reluctantly pulled back even as a final spurt, bitter and thick, shot into my mouth. I flopped back, content in knowing that my work was finished here. Then I felt his fingers on my dick.
Nothing had ever felt so right. Men's hands are different then women's—I mean apart from the obvious differences. Men mostly figure what feels good to them will feel good to another man. That was certainly the case with Illya.
Those large thick fingers—they could be so gentle and skilled, as they stroked me, yet they knew just how hard to grasp and where. They found my balls and rolled them, applying just the right pressure, knowing just when to squeeze and when to release. As with so many other aspects of his life, Illya was very proficient in bed, but I still had a trick or two waiting up my sleeve for him.
His lips found the tip of my penis and he licked it like a kid would lick a lollipop. He sucked and ran his teeth against the sensitive skin, not hard enough to hurt, but wonderfully hard enough to make little skyrockets explode in my balls.
There was this weird noise and I couldn't quite place it until I realized it was coming from me, a whimpering needy sound. That was a little embarrassing. Usually I was the quiet one in bed. Still Illya kept on, licking and kissing me in the most intimate way possible.
His fingers moved from my balls to my dick, stroking up and down, each movement just a bit rougher than the one before it, as if knowing it was exactly what I needed and wanted.
Then he sucked in the head and upped the tempo. I couldn't hold it back any longer and came with a cry that encompassed both pain and pleasure. He took everything I offered and continued to suck, now more gently as I came back to my body, back to my senses.
"Holy Mother of God, Kuryakin." I brought a hand, trembling, to wipe the sweat from my face. "That was incredible."
"What makes you think I'm finished?" He sat up with a look of passionate intent in his eyes, a tube of lubricating jelly in his hand.
"It would look bad on your record if you kill me like this."
"Not kill, just make you very, very happy to be alive." He was tracing little circles around my navel with a forefinger, a finger that soon would, glistening and slick, find its way up my... My penis gave a happy jerk back to life. He smiled gently, almost in a frightening way.
"Relieved to hear that... I think."
"Besides, it's in my best interests to keep you alive. I'd have to do the paperwork and it is just as easy to fill out one form as another."
I laughed and managed to lunge enough to get close to a pillow. I waited for him to join me. I could still taste him in my mouth, still feel what he'd done to my body, still knew what I did to him. I sure as hell don't know if that's what love is, but I fully intend to die trying to find out.