The Arctic Nights Affair
by
Rosemary

 

"Perhaps if you tried using your head for something other than a hat rest, Dolan, we might get through the course in the foreseeable future," Napoleon Solo snapped with an atypical lack of control. "The computer's rejected your program again. Next time, pay closer attention to your typing. We'll punch in a new set of cards tomorrow. Class dismissed."

All eyes, save one pair, gaped at the handsome American at the outburst. All gazes were averted just as quickly lest the senior operative take issue with them.

Only Illya Kuryakin's cool blue gaze lingered. He noted his partner's reaction with surprise, watching along with the others as Napoleon all but stalked from the computer center. Illya's perplexed gaze lingered on the empty doorway, concern and a shade of guilt sparking through them.

He'd seen his friend face torture without losing his legendary cool. This was Napoleon's third explosion in as many days. Something was definitely amiss.

"Christ!" the unfortunate Dolan remarked once the door was safely shut behind Illya's well-dressed partner. "What's his problem?" Dolan's round, baby face was almost as red as his hair.

Wondering the same thing himself, Illya quickly put an end to the younger man's inappropriate commentary. It was one thing for he himself to privately question his partner's behavior, but to have this junior operative publicly criticize Section Two's top enforcer's decisions was completely unacceptable.

"Mr. Solo has little tolerance for inefficiency. In the field, there will be no room for sloppiness. You will be on a strict time schedule. If you make these types of errors while attempting to infiltrate a THRUSH lab, you will get yourself and your partner killed. Perhaps if you devoted your energy to perfecting your program instead of this idle speculation, Mr. Solo would have more patience with you. Now, if you'll excuse me."

Treating the younger man to the icy glare that had quelled assassins, Illya gathered his own program together. He would have liked to have stalked out as his friend had done, but his nearly-healed injuries forced him to rise slowly. Even with the cautious movement, his recently-broken leg still sent a burst of raw agony shooting through him when he put his weight on it. They'd removed the cast just yesterday and he was still experiencing quite a bit of discomfort.

Gathering his dignity about him, Illya hobbled to the door.

Once safely outside it, Illya took a quiet moment to compose himself. They were all finding this assignment difficult. The twelve-week instructive stint that every good field operative drew once every three years was bad enough in itself. But, normally, the training course took place at U.N.C.L.E.'s Survival School in the Caribbean. No matter how difficult the students, the instructors could usually console themselves with tropical sunsets and midnight beach swims.

But this new U.N.C.L.E. complex was located in the snowy wastes of northern Canada, five degrees above the Arctic Circle. Survival took on a whole different meaning up here where simply stepping out of doors without proper protection could prove instantly lethal. Two hundred miles from the nearest igloo, a bad situation quickly became unbearable. The inactivity was getting to them all. Gym workouts simply could not replace the thrill of field work, and being trapped underground for such an extensive period of time was making them all snappish.

Napoleon was finding it especially difficult, Illya knew. By pure chance, all the future operatives assigned for this training mission were male.

Not knowing where else Napoleon would go, Illya returned to their shared room. The chamber was empty, its two single beds standing pristine in their neatness.

The chest of drawers which Illya had claimed as his own looked as though a library wing had collapsed upon it. Dozens of books stood in disorderly piles atop it, while Napoleon's bureau seemed to look on in uncluttered disapproval.

Sighing, Illya dropped his armload of printout on the foot of his bed, toed off his shoes, then lay back to relax. He was irritated by how grateful his body was for the reprieve. His leg stopped throbbing almost instantly. He hoped it would heal soon. He was tired of feeling like an arthritic old man.

Folding his arms beneath his head, Illya stared up at the ceiling, doing his best to ignore how his upraised arms pulled at the whiplash scabs on his back.

It was quite some time before the door cracked open and Napoleon slipped inside.

"Hello, Napoleon," Illya greeted, surreptitiously checking the other man's mood.

"Hello. Did I wake you?" Napoleon asked almost contritely as he stepped into the room. Tall, sleek and well-groomed, his partner looked his normal, urbane self. No trace of his earlier ill mood lingered.

"No, not at all. I was merely relaxing."

"These training courses are draining," Napoleon commented as he took a seat on his own bed.

Illya was relieved that the next question out of his partner's mouth was not the almost customary how do you feel. There were times when he was sure he'd snap at one more well-meaning inquiry.

In his neat blue suit, Napoleon seemed terribly overdressed in the austere little room. "I wouldn't blame you for calling it an early night. The most excitement going on around here tonight is Casablanca in the rec room."

So far, Illya himself had seen the film six times, and he was hardly ever in the recreation room.

"Again?" Illya inquired, watching the signs that told him Napoleon was unwinding. The indications were very subtle; a lessening of the tense set of his partner's smooth brow, the most minuscule reduction in facial tension that told Illya that his friend was no longer primed to defend himself from attack. To his knowledge, he was the only one entrusted with this last. Even on his dates, Napoleon Solo normally maintained his guards.

"Precisely my point." Napoleon's gaze roamed the little room like a penned panther's.

"Would you care for a game of chess?" Illya suggested, wanting to distract his friend.

"No." Napoleon's adamant refusal was tempered by an instant flash of regret across the handsome features. "No, thank you. I, ah...I'm afraid that I'm not very fit company tonight." Napoleon stared down at his neat, black leather shoes for a moment before looking Illya straight in the eye. "I'm sorry about that incident with Dolan before. My outburst was totally uncalled for."

"It's of no matter," Illya dismissed. "Mr. Dolan is proving extraordinarily dense for a future U.N.C.L.E. agent. Besides, I am hardly the one owed an apology."

"You defended my poor behavior, didn't you?" Napoleon questioned.

"Have you taken up mind-reading now, Napoleon?" Illya smiled, hoping it would ease the tension vibrating through the other man. His partner was strung tighter than a drum's skin, just waiting for another opportunity to snap.

"No. I went back to patch things up with Dolan, but the class was already halfway down the corridor. I heard them talking. I'm a prick, and you're utterly inhuman," Napoleon informed.

Illya chuckled. "Familiarity does seem to breed contempt, after all. Six weeks ago, you were Superman to them."

"And you?" Napoleon challenged, making a visible effort to fall into their easy banter. "Batman, perhaps? Or maybe the Boy Wonder?"

Illya gave an enigmatic arch of his brow. "I? I am always the same – inhuman."

Instead of laughing the stereotype off as Napoleon was normally wont to do, a puzzled frown crossed his chiseled features. "They may have a point. Nothing gets to you. It's six weeks that we've been here and you're as cool and composed as the night you arrived. How do you do it?"

"Superior genes," Illya joked.

"No. Seriously, Illya, I need to know. How do you keep it from getting to you? We've got another six weeks of this and...I honestly don't know if I'm going to be able to hold it together that long."

This being the closest his supremely confident partner had ever come to admitting a weakness, Illya slowly sat up, dropping all traces of humor. "You do not have to be here, Napoleon. I am the one who was assigned restricted duty. If you call Mr. Waverly, I'm certain he will..."

"No, I'll be all right. I don't want out, at least, not alone. It's just...of all of us, you seem to be holding up the best. I'm asking you how you cope."

Illya considered his reply. "So far, there has been very little with which to contend. I served on a submarine in the Baltic for over eighteen months. By comparison, this complex is luxury accommodations. I have my books, my studies..."

"I'm afraid that my main source of entertainment has been seriously curtailed. That hot date with Wanda I've got set up for the night we get back seems further and further away every minute. And exchanging sweet nothings over the communicator just isn't helping anymore," Napoleon said. Jerking his tie loose, he crossed to the closet to hang up his jacket. His troubled eyes trailed back to Illya's face. "I, ahh...I've never been isolated from women for this long before."

"That's nonsense, Napoleon. You served in the war..."

"I was Colonel Morgan's top aide," Napoleon cut him off. "As such, one of my duties was transferring the injured to the mobile hospital units. Even at the height of the war, I never went without female companionship for more than a month, Illya. For the past six years, it's never been more than a couple of weeks."

"I see." Illya hadn't realized how extreme a hardship this was for his friend. He still didn't comprehend why Napoleon had insisted on subjecting himself to this. His partner's inclusion had been strictly voluntary. When Waverly had first broached the topic, it had been Illya alone who was scheduled for tutorial duty. Until the doctors certified him fit, teaching and lab work were the most strenuous duties he was permitted to perform. It still irked him that he wasn't allowed to partake in the field trips. Even an unbroken wasteland of snow and ice beat staring at the complex's walls day in and day out. At least up above, there was frostbite to distract from the boredom.

"May I ask you...something personal?" Napoleon's gaze shied uneasily away.

"You may ask," Illya allowed, his tone implicitly stating that he might not choose to answer.

"When you were stuck on that sub, how did you...deal with the...enforced celibacy? If you don't mind my asking..."

"I don't mind. It was not...that large an issue with me," Illya admitted. "I was very young, Napoleon, highly...inexperienced in such matters."

"Yes, of course." Napoleon looked away again. "And now that you are no longer so young and inexperienced?"

"The fairer sex doesn't hold the same mystery for me that it does for you," Illya lamely explained.

"But you're still a man, with the same...drives. How do you...manage?"

Staring into the serious eyes of the sole test of his previously impenetrable controls, Illya was hit with a sudden burst of exasperation. "I imagine that I manage the same as all men in similar situations." Realizing that this wasn't helping a man whose automatic response to threats to his mental integrity was think of girls, Illya damped his own irritation. Compassion gentling his attitude, he suggested, "If you'd care to have the room to yourself for a few hours, I could go watch `Casablanca' with the others."

"What?" Napoleon stared at Illya as though he had just made the suggestion in his native tongue.

Thinking that no one could be this dense, Illya spelt his solution out in the plainest English of which he was capable. "Generally, a little privacy will help relieve such...tensions."

"Thanks for the offer, but you needn't bother," Napoleon said. "I'll just take another cold shower."

"But...why not?" Napoleon's refusal seemed a total non-sequitur to him.

Napoleon shrugged. "Too lonesome, I guess. I suppose it's foolish, but...that would only make me more irritable. I just thought that if there were some way to...turn it off for a couple of weeks..."

"No, Napoleon, I'm sorry. Other than that one tried and true method, I know of no magic cure for the problem."

The smile Napoleon gave him was warm and genuine. "Thanks anyway."

"My pleasure." Picking up the open book on the nightstand between their beds, Illya feigned interest in the written word while his partner disrobed in preparation for his shower. It was almost with a sense of relief that he watched Napoleon enter the bathroom. Their conversation had left him strangely restless.

Only after the door had closed behind his friend, did Illya begin to wonder about the course their conversation had taken. Despite Napoleon's proclivity for womanizing, he was at heart rather bashful when it came to discussing sexual matters. His partner had no trouble engaging in the pastime; he was simply hesitant about discussing it. That Napoleon would bring the subject up at all, even in response to such long-term distress, was highly...unusual.

And what had Napoleon hoped to gain by introducing the topic in the first place? His friend was almost a decade older than him, and far more experienced. Napoleon had to know what a man did to relieve sexual tensions in a situation such as this.

Of course, Napoleon knew, Illya realized. All men above the age of puberty were aware of the only three options in situations like this: celibacy, masturbation, or...

The open book dropped from his abruptly unsteady hands.

Napoleon couldn't have been suggesting that they...

The mere concept sent Illya's heart pounding against the wall of his chest like a jackhammer. He cursed his own lack of sophistication. Could he have missed such an offer?

By its very nature, the suggestion would have to be cloaked in euphemisms, more left unsaid than actually spoken. By saying that masturbation was too lonely, had Napoleon been tacitly inviting more?

After all, Napoleon couldn't come right out and say it. Were his partner to make such a proposition and were Illya himself to react adversely, their partnership would be ruined. Had Napoleon been testing the waters, as it were?

Illya wondered if he were such a bumpkin to have missed the chance of a lifetime.

No. Illya calmed himself. Napoleon Solo was the most enthusiastically heterosexual man that he'd ever encountered. He hadn't missed anything because there had been nothing to miss. It was all just wishful thinking on his own part, he told himself.

And yet, the doubt still lingered, eating away at him as he listened to the shower hiss in the other room.

Napoleon emerged from the bath a short time later. Above the tightly-closed white terry cloth robe he wore, Napoleon's skin was a bright pink. The result of an icy shower, no doubt.

"Good night." Napoleon forced a smile as he approached his bed. "With any luck, I'll be in a less foul mood tomorrow. Sleep well, Illya."

"Napoleon?" Illya called on pure impulse.

"Yes?" Napoleon paused, no doubt stopped by Illya's urgency.

Illya's mouth dried up as he stared at his partner. They'd worked together for nearly five years now. He'd seen this man in every state of being possible – sick, drugged, drunk, happy, grieving, aroused – but at this moment, it was as if he'd never laid eyes on Napoleon before, so taken off guard was he by the man's intense physical beauty. He felt as though Michelangelo's David had just come to life and spoken to him. At the peak of physical condition, his friend had never looked better. The simple terry cloth robe seemed to accentuate the breadth of Napoleon's shoulders as well as his trim waist. Even the thick hair on his bare, powerful legs seemed to fall in artful patterns.

"Illya, are you all right?" Visibly concerned, Napoleon turned towards him.

Illya shook himself out of his daze. "Yes."

"You're not in pain?" The worry was startling.

"No. I'm...fine."

Like a deflated balloon, the tension seemed to seep from Napoleon's coiled muscles. "Was there something you wanted to say?"

"I...yes. I wanted to ask you something, but..." his insides fluttered in dread, "but I'm not sure how to approach the subject."

"The subject?" Napoleon prompted, endearingly mystified.

"I'm afraid that I'm not...the most sophisticated of individuals. Did I miss a level of our conversation before?"

"A level?"

Unable to tell if his friend was being purposefully obtuse or if Napoleon truly did not understand, Illya steeled his nerves and plowed ahead. "It just occurred to me that you might have been suggesting the third option to your...problem and in my denseness..."

"Dense? You? You're sharper than a razor's edge," Napoleon countered, continuing, "But what are you talking about? What third option?"

Realizing that Napoleon truly did not understand, Illya tried to backpedal. "Nothing. I...it's not important. Good night, Napoleon."

"Now you've intrigued me. Did you know that your ears are turning pink?" Napoleon grinned. "Come on, it can't be as bad as all that. Tell me, what were you talking about?"

"In reference to the...er, problem we were discussing before..."

Some of Napoleon's mirth dimmed. "Yes? I don't recall our mentioning more than one solution, let alone three. Would you mind elucidating?"

Illya drew a deep breath and emptied his face of expression. "Generally, when a man is faced with that particular problem, there are only three ways to deal with it – either he ignores the problem completely and practices celibacy, handles it himself, as we mentioned before, or..."

"Or?" Napoleon prodded, infuriatingly unenlightened.

Cursing his own stupidity for broaching this topic at all, he reluctantly signed his own death warrant. "Or he finds someone to...handle it for him."

"But we already established that there were no women...oh..." Dawning comprehension seemed to leave the normally articulate Napoleon speechless. After a prolonged silence, Napoleon stammered, his astonishment a near- palpable entity, "You thought that I was suggesting that we...good heavens, Illya. I...I'm sorry."

Frozen by the scope of his error, Illya waited for the inevitable atomic blast of wounded machismo. Napoleon would kill him for this. Any man would. Their partnership was ruined. Everything that mattered to him in the world, lost for the sake of a moment's weakness...

But Napoleon didn't explode. In fact, he didn't even fizzle. There were no screams of outrage, no self-righteous indignation. To the contrary, Napoleon appeared worried. "That wasn't my intent. I swear it. I'm sorry if I...gave you that impression. If you want to thump me, be my guest. I've got it coming."

"I-I don't want to thump you," Illya assured once he could be sure of his voice.

"You don't?" Napoleon seemed as startled as Illya felt.

"No." Illya shook his head.

"If you didn't want to pop me one, then why did you bring the subject up again?" Napoleon asked, much more himself as he relaxed enough to sit down on his bed.

The lie died on Illya's lips. He'd never told one to his partner yet. Tempting as it was, he wasn't about to start now.

"Illya?"

"There were two possible reasons, Napoleon. You've eliminated one. I'm going to get ready for bed now. Excuse me." Grabbing hold of the pajamas neatly folded beneath his pillow, Illya fled to the dubious sanctuary of the steamy bathroom.

"Illya? Illya?"

He closed the door on his partner's confused call, not wanting to witness Napoleon's reaction once he figured out what he'd meant.

It was perhaps too much to hope that Napoleon would be asleep, Illya thought when he at last exited the bathroom to meet those familiar brown eyes. Strangely enough, there was still no accusation.

"You don't usually run from problems," Napoleon commented with studied casualness. Illya knew it was affected, for his friend hadn't moved an inch since he'd left the room, as if Napoleon had been frozen by shock.

"I don't usually commit a faux pas of such magnitude," Illya answered in kind. Taking a seat on his own bed, opposite his partner, he buried his damp head in a towel to hide his nervousness.

"Is that what you call it – a faux pas?"

Illya shrugged, not emerging from the towel. The pleasing scent of June rosebuds told him that Napoleon was applying the lanolin-and-rose-oil concoction necessary to keep one's skin from turning to leather up here in the ultra-dry northern air. Even with U.N.C.L.E.'s space-age heating and air circulation system, the polar land's air was still so dry it sucked all moisture from the skin.

Eventually, Illya had to leave the fluffy white shelter of his towel. Not surprisingly, his partner was still watching him. The room suddenly seemed smaller than a broom closet to Illya as he mentally squirmed under those eyes. He would have felt better if there had been a scene, he realized. This non-reaction was worse than any explosion.

Needing to fill the awkward quiet with something, Illya haltingly reminded, "I am not a sophisticated man, Napoleon. I lack your...polish in such matters. Forgive me for appearing...uncouth. I did not...intend to offend."

"What did you intend?" Napoleon's handsome, chiseled features were atypically somber as he softly questioned. "Were you seriously offering to...help me handle that type of problem?" Napoleon didn't appear able to get past that one fact.

Realizing that Napoleon was not going to simply allow this matter to drop, Illya gave a cautious nod of assent.

"Why would you want to do something so...repugnant?"

Illya sighed. "Repugnant is hardly an adjective that applies to you. As to why? I imagine I offered for much the same reason that you cleaned the vomit and excrement off me when you found me chained in that THRUSH cell two months ago – to ease discomfort. Six weeks is a long time to suffer, Napoleon."

Napoleon seemed to digest the comparison for a moment. "It's not quite the same thing," he said at last.

"No," Napoleon's lack of fury made it possible for Illya to dare a shy smile, "what you did for me was repugnant."

Although the ghost of an answering smile sparked in those dark, watchful eyes, Napoleon did not allow himself to be sidetracked by their usual banter. "You would not find such a prospect...disgusting?"

Realizing what he'd be admitting by answering that question honestly, Illya tried to evade the issue by offering the least emotive truth. "Above all else, I am a scientist, Napoleon. What we are discussing is a physical act, no more or less disgusting than doing it for one's self. The act...has no more significance than that which we place upon it."

In spite of his highly traditional upbringing, Napoleon was intrigued; Illya could tell by the pucker between his brows. They both knew that there wasn't another man on this earth other than Illya with whom Napoleon would even engage in this particular conversation. The level of trust which allowed them to discuss this topic without angry recrimination reassured Illya's worried mind. He hadn't been sure at the onset, but he knew now that their partnership would survive. If Napoleon could accept this much in stride, then the discussion would simply become just another of their frequent cultural exchanges.

"And what would you get out of such an...experience?" Napoleon asked. "You might fool the rest with that dispassionate scientist routine, but not me. No one's that...distanced. Not from this particular subject."

"What would I get out of it?" Illya repeated, thinking fast. Only a fool would offer the unadorned truth here. So, once again, he offered a lesser truth. "I'd get my partner back."

"That's it?" Napoleon gaped at him, pole axed by the simplicity.

"Napoleon, this is a very small room. Six weeks is an extraordinarily long time to be penned with someone who is snappish and out of sorts. If twenty minutes' effort on my part will...alleviate the situation, it's worth it to me."

Watching those eyes, Illya could see the battle raging inside his friend. In many ways, he knew this man better than he did himself. Three months apart from the society of females was not an unendurable hardship to most agents, but Napoleon wasn't like most agents. To his friend, that handful of weeks must have been as good as a life sentence. His partner was the most eminently sexual person Illya had ever encountered. The suave American dated almost every night that they were off duty, and slept with just about every single one of those women. The fact that Napoleon had lasted even six weeks without completely cracking was a testament to his will and self-control. But now, it was clear that Napoleon had reached his limit.

Illya could see his friend debating, weighing a lifetime of inhibitions against the uncomplicated release now offered to him.

With uncharacteristic uncertainty, Napoleon asked, "Touching me...that way...really wouldn't disgust you?"

"No, Napoleon," Illya quietly assured.

Illya watched his partner's Adam's apple bob in a strained swallow. Napoleon bit his lower lip, more nervous than Illya had seen his friend in the face of probable vivisection. "Just what did you have in mind? What would I have to do?"

Tenderness washing through him at this confident man's uneasiness, Illya gently answered, "All you need do is take off your robe, lie down on your back, close your eyes, and think of girls." Illya smiled, promising, "I will handle the rest."

Gulping, Napoleon nodded, then stood up to undo his robe.

Illya watched the white terry cloth fall away from his friend's body, for the first time allowing himself to openly indulge his appreciation of the other man's pleasing form. Napoleon was power and grace embodied in human flesh.

That flesh was goose-bumped in nervousness now, Napoleon unable to meet his eyes at that moment, but already Illya could see the other man's excitement. The rest of Napoleon's body might be telegraphing his fear, but the wine-red cock rising in an arrogant tilt from between those corded, dark- downed thighs told another story entirely.

Not wishing to add to his friend's distress, Illya waited until Napoleon had pushed aside the covers and lain flat on his back before he dared approach. He studied the handsome figure which lay still as a corpse. Napoleon's eyes were clenched shut, his fists gripping the fitted white sheet, a slight, visible trembling running through his tense limbs. But Napoleon's erection rose like it had a mind of its own from his fear-racked body. Sensing how much it had taken for Napoleon to come even this far, Illya felt a new respect for his partner's raw courage.

Cursing his own physical awkwardness, Illya did his best not to hobble as he approached the bed. He wished...he wished that he wasn't a collection of half-healed bones and gruesome scars. More than anything, he longed to be as attractive to Napoleon as his partner was to him. He wished he could have brought grace and smooth flesh to this union, but recognized that attentiveness would have to suffice in their absence.

"It is all right, Napoleon. It is only you and I here," Illya whispered, carefully seating himself beside a pale hip.

Napoleon dragged in a ragged breath at his nearness. Illya could practically feel the fear and tension vibrating through his partner's powerful form.

"Relax, my friend," Illya cooed, stroking down the center of that broad, well-defined chest. Napoleon's body hair was softer than goose down beneath his tentative fingertips.

The turgid flesh at Napoleon's groin jerked in response, deepening in color, growing in size as the circumcised tip flared in reaction at that one simple touch.

Illya's fingers brushed over Napoleon's left nipple, taking it between his thumb and index fingertip as it hardened to a pleasing brown pebble. Illya carefully squeezed the tiny nub, eliciting a sharp gasp from Napoleon.

"You will like this, Napoleon. I promise," he assured, his other hand stroking over the strong jaw, then down the bony, white neck while he continued to manipulate the hard little nipple. Illya would have loved to have kissed his partner's gasping lips, but he had no idea how Napoleon would respond to such an action.

Come morning, a hand job could be easily dismissed. There was so little true contact involved. All Napoleon would have to do was lie back and have it done to him, while Illya's part would require little more than masturbation.

But a kiss, that was another matter. It implied too much sharing, was rife with deeper connotations that could not be so easily cast aside.

His heart heavy with regret, Illya had to be content with trailing his finger over Napoleon's parted lips. Then he moved on to investigate the mole on his partner's left cheek. Meanwhile, Illya's other hand wandered over to give the as-yet-untouched nipple the same attention the first had so enjoyed.

Feeling Napoleon's nervousness seep away at these unthreatening touches, Illya's right palm ran down the washboard musculature of Napoleon's ribs and abdominal muscles while his left index finger toyed with the hyper-sensitive flesh behind the ear.

Napoleon had such tiny, round ears. Illya would very much liked to have sucked them, but was once again halted by his apprehension of Napoleon's response. For both their sakes, he had to keep this contact as impersonal as possible.

When his stroking palm ran over the flat belly, Napoleon's hips thrust demandingly up at him.

Though eager to explore previously forbidden regions, Illya was nonetheless loathe to move too fast, aware that once this was over, it was over. Napoleon smelt and felt so good. He wanted to prolong the experience as long as possible.

Reluctantly abandoning the upper regions, both Illya's hands wandered down the athletic body. Laying his palms on both Napoleon's hard thighs, Illya stroked down towards his partner's knees, his fingertips lightly skimming the softness of inner thigh, ruffling the thick velvet down of body hair.

Napoleon actually whimpered then. "Please, Illya...please..." he begged, the hungry cock thrusting instinctively up at Illya's face.

"Soon, my friend, soon. Enjoy for now," Illya urged, his feathery, teasing touch toying between those wide-spread thighs, touching everywhere save that one perfect place.

Napoleon's breathing was fierce and erratic, his erection a hungry, living thing.

Looking at that flaring phallus, Illya was struck by its remarkable dichotomy. How could something appear so threatening and yet so inherently vulnerable at the same time?

Napoleon's thighs stretched ever farther apart, desperate in his need.

Unable to resist the lure, Illya lowered his head to give his friend what the hungry body cried out for. Still unsure of the reaction he might expect, Illya cautiously licked the tender area of Napoleon's inner thigh, prepared for anything, up to and including a punch.

Napoleon groaned, his hands coming up to grip Illya's shoulders. "God, yes...please...yes..."

His own shaft going rock-hard at the musky, soap-clean olfactory bouquet of Napoleon's nearby genitals, Illya greedily ran his tongue along the athletic thigh, feeling the fine grain of body hair as a sleek glide beneath his taste buds. Napoleon was too freshly showered for there to be much in the way of flavor, but the sweet-scented flesh surging above promised so much more. If Illya dared take that chance.

But should he?

A hand job, even this little bit of licking, could still be dismissed as beginner's luck, but fellatio implied a good deal more of experience than Illya was certain he wanted to own up to possessing.

At any rate, the question was taken out of his hands. Napoleon's grip on his shoulders tightened until it became acutely painful, digging into the just- healed whip lashes that started on his shoulder blades and covered the better part of Illya's back.

"Come here, you." Napoleon gave a throaty growl, pulling Illya down onto the bed with him.

Illya barely held in the yelp of pain as his various injuries protested the rough treatment.

"Napoleon, what...?" His startled question was cut off by a pair of highly determined lips. Then Napoleon's blanketing, naked warmth settled on top of him.

Napoleon didn't simply kiss him. He owned him with the gesture, Napoleon's passion and expertise overwhelming his less active body. Illya might have more experience with sex with his own gender, but when it came to kissing, Napoleon was a master of the art.

His head swimming with sensation or want of oxygen, Illya opened his mouth to the tongue pressing against his lips.

Like a sensual octopus, Napoleon's adroit hands seemed to be everywhere: carding through his damp hair, undoing his pajama buttons, stroking the skin revealed, unfastening his pajama pants. Before Illya knew what was happening, he was as naked as his partner, and nearly as excited. The astounding part was that not once during the entire disrobing did Napoleon break the kiss. The man was a true artist, accomplished at lovemaking the way another might excel at music or art.

As his senses and rational mind swam under the sensual deluge, Illya at last understood why perfectly sensible women would jump through hoops at this man's bidding. God help him, did he come to understand it. At that moment, had Napoleon asked it of him, he would have gladly walked through fire or given his partner his still-beating heart on a golden platter. Anything to keep that sweet delight coursing through him.

While their tongues played a wet, intimate game of tag, Illya snuggled into a comfortable position, most of him against his friend. Marveling at the wonder of it, Illya ran his hand down his partner's warm, sleek side. It had been so long since he'd been close to someone this way and never before had there been such...joy in the touching.

Although Illya knew himself to be the latest in scores, perhaps hundreds of bedmates, Napoleon didn't make him feel as if he were just another body or a convenient substitute until the real thing came along. Each one of Napoleon's touches reflected a tenderness, a care, that Illya's slender string of one night stands had never shown him. There was no furtive rush to get it over with as fast as possible. Napoleon took his time, making a thorough job of it as he kissed, stroked, and nibbled Illya's face, neck, arms, and chest until Illya was a quivering pool of helpless protoplasm. The most incredible part was that Napoleon made it feel as if every one of those touches were intended just for him.

Illya's lonely heart sucked up the affectionate attention like a thirsty sponge. He'd never known such pleasure or such generosity.

"Napoleon, what...?" He almost cried as Napoleon broke suddenly away. "Is everything all right?"

Not understanding what had happened, Illya's looked up towards his partner's face, only to find Napoleon staring down over his own garishly-scarred back.

Napoleon's fingers almost fearfully touched the nearly-healed whip lashes. "Did I hurt you when I pulled you down before? I wasn't thinking..."

"You didn't hurt me," he assured, touched by the worry.

Belatedly realizing that his own performance had left much to be desired, Illya trailed a line of kisses down his friend's long, elegant throat, sucking on the swell of Adam's apple. As he'd hoped, that distracted Napoleon from his lurid injuries.

Napoleon was apparently as susceptible to pleasure as he was skilled at dispensing it. His partner's body arched up at him like a cat's, sleek and sensual in its delight.

"Oh, God, Illya..." Napoleon groaned, the powerful pelvic thrust he gave nearly propelling Illya over the edge.

So far, all Illya had felt of his friend's erection was an insistent prodding against his hip. But Napoleon's next move mashed their lower bodies together.

Napoleon's hands gripped Illya's butt, pulling him sideways so that their excited organs crushed together. Facing each other on their sides, the position was a little awkward. Napoleon maneuvered a bit so that he was slightly on top. But it was still damned inconvenient trying to thrust this way. Even so, the resulting feelings were like nothing he'd known before.

That meshing of hard flesh was perhaps the most transcendental sexual experience of Illya's life. Like a fusion reaction, the delight mushroomed out from his groin, billowing through him in its atomic heat, leaving only singed neurons in its wake.

"Napoleon..." Illya moaned, almost bewildered by the passion exploding between them.

Unsure how Napoleon would respond to so aggressive a move, Illya laid his palms on his partner's broad shoulders, exerting gentle pressure to urge Napoleon flat onto his back. He wondered how Napoleon would feel about giving up the dominant position of being on top, uncertain if his friend would even consent to it.

At any other time, Illya himself would have lain back and pulled Napoleon on him, but the tender, newly-formed skin on his back made such an act intensely painful.

A second's indecision flashed through Napoleon's heated, dark eyes, but then the fever seemed to win out. Without a whisper of further hesitation, Napoleon lowered himself back into the mattress, moving with extreme care due to the narrowness of the bed they were sharing.

Moved by the show of trust, Illya shyly lowered his head for a kiss, still uncertain about being too forward with this sentimental gesture that several of his former male lovers had rejected entirely.

Once again, Illya found that he needn't have worried. The gesture appeared to reassure Napoleon, who seemed inordinately fond of the open- mouthed sharing favored by the French. Illya drank deep of that sweet fountain, avidly returning Napoleon's playful tongue swipes.

His stunned mind could barely credit how generous a lover Napoleon was. When Napoleon had pulled him down onto the bed and moved this encounter onto a more personal level, Illya had expected little more than good technique of his friend. He'd always imagined Napoleon to be very single-minded in the pursuit of his own pleasures, but his partner was anything but self-centered.

Napoleon seemed to need to please more than be pleased. Illya could sense how difficult it was for his friend to lie there on his back while Illya did all the running, but as he had made it plain that this was how he wanted it, Napoleon was indulging him. Even so, every time the opportunity presented itself, Napoleon's hands petted and stroked him, as if unable to get their fill of him.

Like now. While Illya was once again busy sucking the firm nub of nipple, Napoleon's thumb and index finger were rubbing a lock of captured gold hair between them, Napoleon's other hand skimming carefully over his scarred back.

"You're so soft," Napoleon murmured, "like silk and satin all over...except here. Does it hurt when I touch you?"

His heart a tight ball of hurtful emotion in his throat, Illya gave a mute shake of his head. Napoleon was so gentle with him.

"They really hurt you bad last time out," Napoleon whispered, stroking Illya's cheek as though he were something precious and fragile that would shatter at too firm a touch. "When I found you...saw all that blood...I-I was sure you were dead. Then, when you weren't, I didn't think you'd ever get better again. But look at you now. The scars are almost healed already. Soon you'll be soft as velvet again. You already feel like satin."

Illya raised his head from Napoleon's chest to stare into his partner's eyes.

"You don't have to tell me pretty lies, Napoleon," Illya protested once he found his voice. He was almost afraid of what Napoleon's words were doing to him inside. He'd never felt this much before, never had someone take this kind of time with him or lavish such affection upon him. In his past experience, sex with other men had been a mutually selfish race towards completion, not this melting sharing.

Napoleon didn't realize it, but he was destroying him. By showing him how good sex could be, his friend was shattering every false illusion that had allowed Illya to tell himself that he could live without touching another, that he didn't require sex. But this...his aching soul needed this more than he did air.

The words Napoleon uttered might be sweet nothings to Napoleon, but to a heart as barricaded behind its walls of loneliness as Illya's, they were catapults to disaster. So, rather than risk what believing those words might do to him, Illya put cold steel in his voice and insisted, "We both know that I am scrawny and all bones."

Perhaps he would have fared better had he avoided those eyes. For a moment, the heat of arousal receded from Napoleon's gaze, compassion softening them to warm chocolate. "Nonsense. You're svelte as a hunting cat, a big golden cougar."

Illya's pride insisted that he not fall for the line like some simpering secretary, willing to believe her eyes "black Babylonian pearls," whatever they were. So Illya challenged, "The adjective `big' is not applicable in my case."

The tender light did not leave Napoleon's strangely transformed face. If anything, his features seemed to soften even further at Illya's prickly response.

"I beg to differ," Napoleon said, boldly reaching his right hand out to cup Illya's genitals, for all that it visibly required every ounce of his nerve to do so. "`Big' is the only adjective that applies, my friend."

The heat and strength of Napoleon's grip blasted through him, leaving Illya almost faint with desire.

To his horror, Illya felt his cheeks warm in embarrassment at the forward gesture. But, then, the smile glinting in Napoleon's fond eyes removed most of his self-consciousness and in the next breath, they were both chuckling like school boys.

Laughter. That was another thing he was unaccustomed to in bed.

"Oh, Napoleon..." Illya sighed as they calmed, truly lost.

Napoleon dragged him down into another kiss that Illya sensed was meant to reassure, but it only left him worse off.

Every gentle touch, each kind word stripped his soul bare and left him bleeding. Illya wanted, no, needed this as a full-time part of his life so badly that he could hardly credit surviving this long without it. Knowing that this was just a one night stand, that tomorrow they'd go back to being just friends, hurt more than Mother Fear's riding crop had when she'd tortured him with it. He'd offered to get Napoleon off to ease his best friend's discomfort and steal a brief taste of forbidden fruit; instead, Illya had found his entire world realigned, every dream shattered by life's bitter realities disinterred, resurrected by this living proof of what love could be.

As he gave himself over to the juicy joining of their mouths, Illya allowed the feeling to carry him away. Deep down, he knew that it was wrong to lose himself so, that he would pay for this brief pleasure as he had no other joy in his life, but there was no resisting the lure of Napoleon Solo's body.

The hand cupping Illya's genitals did little more than hold the organs at first. The reflexive squeeze that Napoleon gave as the kiss deepened sent such a rush of sensation swirling through him that Illya was forced to pull his lower body away.

"Hmmm...what are you doing?" Napoleon protested as Illya put some space between them.

"I'll...finish if you continue that way."

"I kind of thought that was the idea." Napoleon's smile wasn't his normal one, that of the brash seducer. Rather, it was a softer, endearingly tentative glow. It infected Illya as much as it scared him.

"Not yet. Some feasts should be savored."

"Is that what I am to you?" Napoleon appeared surprised. "A feast?"

Knowing that it was a mistake to give this man any more leverage than Napoleon already possessed, Illya nonetheless found himself answering honestly, "To one thirsting to death in the desert, you are everything."

"And you accuse me of pretty lies," Napoleon countered, his voice husky, his hand not quite steady as he reached out to ruffle through Illya's hair.

Giving into impulse, Illya kissed the mole on his partner's left cheek, going on to lick down to the cleft chin. For such a handsome man, Napoleon actually had an extremely sharp profile. Up close like this, it almost seemed like a crescent moon.

Napoleon's groan seemed to be wrenched from the depths of his being as Illya continued, kissing his way down the sleek neck, over the broad, artfully downed chest, onto the flat belly. Illya paused where he had before, right above the thick patch of Napoleon's dark pubic curls, frozen by the same fears that had paralyzed him such a short time ago.

He devoured the sight of Napoleon's distended genitals, his for the taking, if only he dared reveal such expertise. Illya knew he mightn't be able to match Napoleon's track record when it came to the sheer number of sexual partners, but this he knew how to do, and do well.

His rational mind insisted that he not take the risk. So far, he had been no bolder than his partner. They were equal in this. If Illya moved to the next level, the previously heterosexual Napoleon was bound to question his skills.

And yet, Napoleon had been so good to him, so incredibly affectionate, that he wanted to give this gift to his friend.

He glanced at Napoleon's face, now contorted in need, and tossed caution to the wind.

"Ah...God...yes..." Napoleon sighed as Illya took his partner's straining shaft in hand.

For a moment, Illya cradled the springy flesh in his palm, breathing in its arousing bouquet. Napoleon was beautiful here: long and thick, a deep wine color that contrasted quite pleasingly with the softer pink of his balls and the midnight-dark dusting of curls.

It had been so long since he'd touched another man sexually that just the feel of Napoleon sent a thrill through him. His own breathing as ragged as his partner's, Illya eagerly lowered his head.

"No, Illya, you don't have to..."

Illya glanced up to judge the cause of the protest. The way Napoleon's flesh surged in his palm told him that his partner made the objection only on Illya's behalf. "I know that I don't have to. I want to. With your permission, I will continue. Yes?"

"You...you really want to...?"

The smile that took Illya's mouth felt strange to him. He was so accustomed to cynicism edging his part of their interplays that the expression of tenderness felt totally alien on his face. "Yes, Napoleon, I really want to. May I continue now?"

Astonishment overshadowing even his arousal, Napoleon sighed, "Please..."

Illya lowered his head to his service. Sucking in that mighty tower of flesh was almost like a homecoming. In a strange way, it was. It had been so long since he'd done this, and never before had he felt this much for the person he was pleasuring. In his lonely string of nameless strangers, there had never been anyone he fully trusted, let alone called friend.

Napoleon's salty, musky flavor sizzled along his nerves like wildfire, exciting him as much as another's returning the favor might. His jaw stretched to its limit to accommodate his partner's impressive bulk, Illya fell into the suction rhythm he'd mastered so long ago.

"Illya...dear God, Illya..."

Napoleon's right hand tangled in his hair, urging a faster pace while the left dug into Illya's bare shoulder like eagle talons, fortunately, just above Illya's healing scars or Illya would have been too uncomfortable to continue.

Napoleon was loving it, Illya realized, glad that he could bring this worldly adventurer such pleasure.

What sucking Napoleon was doing to his own body was an unexpected boon. Every bob of his head over that tasty flesh seemed to send a sympathetic wave of delight surging through his own loins. He was on fire and Napoleon had barely even touched his sex yet.

Eagerly anticipating the salty gift his labors would soon earn him, Illya slurped happily away. He could feel the tension gathering in his partner's sweat-sheened body, knew he'd drink of Napoleon soon.

What seemed mere seconds before the imminent explosion, Napoleon grabbed hold of his shoulders and pushed him away. "Illya, stop, please..."

"What?" Illya blinked, irritated by the interruption. He'd been so close to tasting Napoleon. "I didn't hurt you..."

"No, no, of course not..."

"Then, why?" Illya short-temperedly demanded.

While Napoleon's hand gently stroked back the sweaty blond hair from his brow, the fingertips of Napoleon's other hand lightly petted Illya's cheekbone. "Because I don't know how to reciprocate and it's always been my firm belief that...first times should be together."

"Together?" Illya was startled. He'd thought Napoleon too far gone to think of anything but his own release.

"If you wouldn't mind." The courtesy was pure Napoleon. His partner could be marched before a firing squad and still maintain his infamous, smooth charm. That Napoleon could do so at the peak of passion surprised Illya not at all. "If you come back up here, I'm sure we can work something out." Napoleon opened his arms, his expression eager and beseeching.

Admitting that this man could lure him past the gates of Hell, Illya carefully eased himself down on top of his supine friend.

The heat of Napoleon's flesh blazed through him, his mind swirling dizzily as their aroused organs nestled together in the purest of ecstasy.

Napoleon's hands rose to cup Illya's face, Napoleon's hips bucking suggestively up as his partner drew Illya down into an open-mouthed kiss.

Answering the silent command, Illya rocked back and forth, skyrockets exploding inside him at every subtle motion.

The pleasure was unreal, like nothing Illya had never known. Considering the simple position, the sensations shouldn't have been much more intense than masturbation. But he was trembling like a malaria victim.

Just knowing that it was Napoleon beneath him, clutching him so tight, Napoleon grunting and groaning as his partner attempted to suck Illya's internal organs out through that dazzling kiss, made all the difference to him. He'd never felt this alive, this sensitive to another's touch. For the first time in his somewhat reclusive life, he felt like a sexual entity, living for the pleasure of the moment and nothing more.

In the back of his mind, Illya knew that this was the gravest error he'd committed to date. That this hour of stolen passion would eventually cost him his career or worse was a given. Yet, none of the future pain mattered, not while he shuddered with joy in Napoleon's arms. Fate could claim whatever price it would from him. He'd have this hour, consequences be damned.

All too soon it was over. As the waves of pleasure reached that inevitable apex of ecstasy, his body convulsed with sensation, shooting burst after burst of burning seed out, even as Napoleon froze below him and matched him spasm for spasm. As on a mission, they were perfectly attuned, in perfect harmony.

Their mouths broke free as climax claimed them. Gasping in lungfuls of cool, dry air, they clung to each other for dear life as the unexpected passion they'd unleashed between them attempted to rip them apart.

Aware that he might never experience joy like this again, Illya tried to hold onto the moment, to make it last forever. But like every other moment that had come before it, this, too, passed.

The spirals of dancing delight reached their farthest helix and dispersed, transforming from the miracle of active sensation to mere memory. His body drained, penis deflated, orgasm fled, leaving an aching hollow in its place. So good...never before, never again...

Illya definitely did not welcome sanity's return. Abruptly, he became conscious of their positions. He was lying on top of his immediate superior with the sticky evidence of what they'd just done drying between their crushed bellies.

Napoleon was still as granite beneath him. Mortified, no doubt.

Unable to even conceive of the proper thing to say at such an embarrassing moment, Illya rolled guiltily off his partner. There was no place to go, however. The bed was so narrow that his back immediately hit the icy wall, which was quite a physical shock after Napoleon's astounding warmth, but he needed to put as much space as possible between them...to protect himself against the forthcoming rejection.

Illya had slept with one previously straight man in the past. The bitter recriminations that had accompanied that horrible parting still stung his soul like acid. He could only imagine how much more hurtful those same words would be coming from this man whom he respected above all others.

The silence stretched. The air seemed to thicken, congealing as water would in the arctic freeze outside the protective, two-foot-thick concrete walls of the U.N.C.L.E. complex around them. Illya wished that he were outside those walls right now, a protoplasm ice pop lost among those endless mountains of white snow.

"Illya?"

There was a tentative note in Napoleon's voice that Illya could never recall hearing before.

The breath caught in his chest, his blood seeming to solidify in his veins as he bluffed his usual aplomb. "Yes?"

"I...I'm sorry..."

This not at all the self-righteous fury he'd expected, Illya drew his wits together and attempted to salvage the situation. "There is nothing for which to apologize."

Absurdly, Illya found himself wishing that his lower body were covered, that he wasn't lying here with his limp penis out in the air and drying semen glistening on his belly and pubic hairs. He didn't even know whose semen it was. Just looking at the damning evidence of what they'd done made him want to cry for the closeness they'd lost. In real time, only a handful of moments had passed since they'd clutched each other at the peak of orgasm, but that instant of incredible sharing felt eons away right now. He couldn't even look straight at Napoleon for fear of what his perceptive partner might read in his face.

"This...this was a little more...intense than the simple hand job you intended," Napoleon softly explained. "I know that you didn't plan on..."

Napoleon was behaving as though Illya were the offended party. Unable to credit his partner's decorum, he glanced up, daring the other's gaze.

The worried visage and ashen features told more than this articulate man's stumbling apology ever could. Napoleon appeared as scared as Illya felt.

Fear not something he was used to seeing in his friend, it took some getting used to. Even so, Illya found himself strangely comforted by Napoleon's reaction. There was no trace of hate, no anger...only this inexplicable apprehension.

Feeling less anxious, Illya gently interrupted the nervous flow of words. "Pleasure such as we shared is rare, Napoleon. A gift to be thanked, not apologized for."

"You're not angry?" Napoleon asked.

"How could I be?"

That appeared to satisfy his companion's doubts.

They fell quiet again, but this time the silence was less heavy. They both seemed almost shy with each other now, their gazes fluttering around nervous as their thoughts.

At last Napoleon shattered the stillness with a hesitant, "May I ask you a personal question?"

Knowing what that question would be, Illya nonetheless found himself nodding, his apprehensions allayed by the warmth of those bottomless dark eyes. "Of course."

"This – this wasn't your first time, was it?" Napoleon forced the words out in a rush. "I mean, with another man?"

"No, it wasn't," Illya succinctly replied, going on to ask somewhat defensively, "Does that bother you?"

He wasn't expecting Napoleon's earthy chuckle. "In light of what we just shared, that would be more than a little hypocritical; don't you think? I've been called many things in my time, but never that, my friend." Napoleon shifted, relaxing closer to him. "I just wanted to know."

Illya waited for the inevitable questions that generally followed such an unveiling, requests for all the embarrassing details, but Napoleon remained silent. "Aren't you...going to ask anything further?"

"This isn't an inquisition. With the kind of past I've blazed, do you really think I'd throw any stones?" Napoleon stretched, a long, sensuous affair that started at his shoulders and rippled down to his toes like a big, contented cat. His next words seemed to confirm Illya's assessment of his partner's physical state. "I feel great."

"I'm glad." Illya blinked in surprise, nearly weak with relief.

Perhaps things would be all right, after all. Napoleon was truly an astonishing individual. As much as he had always respected his partner's unshakable confidence, not even he had suspected that it ran this deep.

But then he realized that Napoleon's calm could be just the contented glow of aftermath. Chances were, come morning, not even Napoleon Solo's incredible cool would be enough to accept what they'd done in stride.

Till then, Illya decided that it was best that he take nothing for granted and remain on guard. Morning's light could still bring disaster...or what passed for morning light behind two feet of solid concrete.

Still, it was difficult to maintain such distance, especially while lying so close to Napoleon, with the stringent, musky scent of their sex tingling through him with every breath.

There was a cure for that, Illya realized, gathering his resolve like a shield around him. "I trust you will rest well, Napoleon. Good night."

"Huh? Where are you going?" Napoleon questioned, grabbing hold of Illya's forearm as he made to clamber past him.

"Back to bed."

"Why?" Never had Napoleon sounded so much like a confused child.

Illya stared at his partner as though Napoleon had taken leave of his senses. "What do you mean – why? To sleep, of course."

"You can do that here. The alarm's set for seven; housekeeping won't be in until after ten. We're the only two people who've set foot in this room other than the cleaning staff for the past six weeks."

Illya was stopped by the open appeal on his friend's face. "You mean that you want me to...spend the night here in your bed?"

Napoleon's smile was tentative, oddly bashful. "May I make a confession?" At Illya's nod, Napoleon continued, his eyes watching almost nervously as if to judge his reaction, "I, ahh...like a cuddle afterward. Go ahead and laugh if you want. I know it's ludicrous..."

Illya, who'd thought his partner might have been joking, killed his smile. Napoleon's worried expression told him that his partner was completely serious. "No, it's not ludicrous," he quickly assured. There weren't many men he knew who could admit such a need, especially to another man.

His partner's obvious self-consciousness motivating him, Illya carefully settled on his back in the limited space beside Napoleon. The bed was so narrow that the experience was rather like trying to cram two ears of corn into a single husk.

Their eyes gauged each other as they hadn't had a need to do since their very first days together, when each was attempting to determine how far the other could be trusted. Apparently, they still hadn't found any limits to that particular question. Neither of them had ever come to a point and said "trust this far and no further."

But what happened between two men in a bed was quite a different experience from what passed between them in the field of action. Everything was new again here, tentative.

Sensing that Napoleon was still ill at ease, Illya hesitantly offered, "I am...not a man who inspires much affection, Napoleon. If I appear cold or insensitive, please don't..."

"Cold? I didn't say..."

Illya took a chance and reached an index finger out to still Napoleon's protest, settling it on Napoleon's reddened lips. "Not you. My last...companion complained that holding me afterward was like trying to embrace a polar icecap. If I should seem...distant or disappoint you..."

Now it was Napoleon's turn to hush him, only his partner did it with his mouth, a soft, friendly kiss that seemed intended to reassure rather than arouse. Napoleon was an artist when it came to the use of his mouth, Illya acknowledged.

"You're the only warmth I've experienced up here," Napoleon murmured as he withdrew. "So, let's not have any more talk of icecaps, all right? The only thing that would disappoint me is if I were to offend you with my...slobbering sentimentality. I know that you don't care to be touched."

The last was a question. "You must have noticed that you are the exception to that rule."

The quick flash of smile made Illya glad he'd spoken.

"Yes, I had noticed." Napoleon seemed to come to some type of decision. "Do you mind?" Napoleon asked as he settled his head against Illya's hairless chest.

Taking a moment to assimilate the weight, the rough brush of beard stubble, and shivery fall of moist breath against his sensitive skin, totally stunned by it all, Illya slowly shook his head. "No...I don't mind at all."

Feeling rather awkward, Illya laid his hands on the silken warmth of Napoleon's back. Unable to resist, he ran his right palm across the broad expanse.

"Mmmm...you're a mind reader, Illya, an absolute sorcerer..."

Smiling at the contented purr, Illya decided that there were far worse ways to end a night than having a sated Napoleon Solo wrapped around him. He was still rubbing Napoleon's back and contemplating the strange sensation of all that trusting weight blanketing him when sleep finally claimed him.

Illya was not surprised when he awoke alone in Napoleon's bed the next morning. The hiss of the shower in the adjoining bathroom revealed his partner's whereabouts. Due to the room's lack of windows, it was impossible to judge the time of day. Of course, the arctic light being what it was, windows wouldn't have helped much. Even so, after six weeks Illya still found it disconcerting to wake up in a room without them.

The empty bed beside him seemed to glare its accusation up at him.

What in the name of sanity had he been thinking of last night, Illya wondered as fear gripped him. Napoleon was not only his closest friend and partner, but his immediate superior as well. His career at U.N.C.L.E. was over. He'd be drummed out of the service in disgrace, shipped back to Russia on the first available plane, where they'd stick him in some gulag that would make this complex look like a Caribbean health spa...

The bathroom door swung open, interrupting Illya's grim chain of thought. Wreathed in a cloud of steam, a whistling Napoleon emerged from within, wrapped tight in his white terry cloth robe.

Illya's mouth ran dry as he met those dark eyes, His heart seemed to slam to a stop. He was deafened by the roar of blood in his ears, so extreme was the emotion that lanced through him.

Napoleon's whistling ended on an off-key note.

This was the moment of truth, the moment that Illya would find out precisely how much his rash action had cost him. Their friendship, his partner...perhaps his very life. All could be forfeit, depending on Napoleon's mood.

"Good morning." Napoleon's smile flashed as bright as his greeting.

Taken aback by the other man's cheer, Illya searched for his voice, finally managing a weak, "Good morning."

He watched Napoleon rub a towel through his wet hair, bustling around the room in his normal, early-morning flurry of clothes gathering and grooming...as unconcerned as if last night had never happened at all.

Wondering if that were how Napoleon wished to handle this, Illya watched and waited.

Eventually, the quality of the silence behind him seemed to register with the occupied American. At the closet, in the process of matching tie to suit, Napoleon paused to look over at him. "Are you all right?"

Try as he would, Illya could find no trace of resentment. Deciding to get everything out in the open and over with as quickly as possible, he worridly confessed, "I need to know how you wish to play this scene, Napoleon. I have...little experience with...mornings after...providing that there was a night before..." he floundered.

Illya had never faced this before, another man at daylight. Without exception, his male paramours had always vanished soon after intercourse. And never had any of them been someone he knew, someone he...cared for.

To his astonishment, it was sympathy which flashed through those familiar eyes, not irritation with the uncouth bumpkin.

"There was a night before," Napoleon answered, softly adding, "A very fine night before." Napoleon concentrated on the task of choosing a tie, seeming to take the moment to gather his thoughts. His question was subdued, almost worried: "Do you regret what we did?"

"No," Illya answered instantly, "I thought that you would..."

Napoleon let go of the tie rack and crossed over to sit on the opposite bed across from him. "You saved my sanity last night. The time for wounded machismo is long past. I could never...berate someone for...giving me pleasure."

Unable to meet that dark gaze for what it did to him, Illya looked away. "I suppose you must think me quite...foolish for precipitating such a scene..."

Illya jumped as a warm hand cupped his cheek to guide his gaze back up. "I think that you've been hurt in the past. I've no intention of adding to it."

Illya gulped, very conscious of his nudity beneath the blankets. Gentleness was the one approach he had no defense against, never having had much truck with it in the past.

Napoleon's fingers continued to stroke his cheek as the dark gaze dug past their Illya's guards.

Illya did his best to ignore the shiversome tingles that look aroused in him.

"For heaven's sake, Illya," Napoleon gave an exasperated smile, "you are the offended party here, not me. It was I who...involved you in my problem."

"But my suggestion which..."

"Saved my sanity." Napoleon cut him off in a no-nonsense tone, the distracting hand dropping to Illya's bare shoulder.

Only slightly less distracted by the new touch, Illya objected, "You exaggerate, as usual."

"Perhaps," Napoleon grudgingly allowed, an unusual softness transforming his features, "but that's how it felt to me. Because of your...kindness, I can hold on now for the next six weeks."

Illya tried, but there was no way to hold back the smile inspired by Napoleon's altered expression as he absorbed the time span.

"Well, I'll be of bearable temperament for four out of the six weeks," Napoleon amended, unhanding Illya completely as he sat back onto his own bed.

"Three weeks would be a more accurate assessment," Illya corrected, his partner's crestfallen look removing his last traces of self-consciousness.

"I was that bad, really?" Napoleon asked, surprised.

Illya gave a grim nod. "I'm afraid so."

"Oh." For once his friend's glib wit seemed to fail him.

"Napoleon?"

"Yes?"

His sensible side screamed that this was his last chance for sanity, but the part of him that had been awakened by Napoleon's touch and was still hungry for more leapt boldly into the breach. His heart hammering like a captured dove against the wall of his chest, Illya tried to maintain a normal tone as he remarked, "If what we did last night does not disturb you, you needn't wait six weeks or even three."

"You mean you..."

Encouraged by the eager light in those bottomless eyes, Illya shyly admitted, "You were not the only one who enjoyed last night."

"I kind of hoped that was the case." Napoleon smiled at him a moment or two before a serious cast once again claimed those chiseled features. "You don't think this could be...dangerous?"

Knowing precisely what his partner was getting at, Illya repeated the word as if he'd never heard it before. "Dangerous?"

"Such..." Atypically awkward, the articulate American seemed to search for the exact phrasing, "...involvement could complicate our working relationship. As pleasant as it would be, I wouldn't want to endanger what we have."

Illya nodded. "I, too, would be reluctant to risk our working relationship. Yet, it need not, if we are careful. We are both men of the world, Napoleon. If we agree up front that this...aspect of our friendship will last only as long as we're trapped up here, it could work."

Napoleon appeared startled as he commented, "You really want this; don't you?"

Seeing no sense in hiding or denying the truth after last night's intimacies, Illya confessed, "Such opportunities are rare for me."

He could see Napoleon's temptation vying with his partner's common sense. They both knew that this was a disaster in the making. But last night was obviously still as vivid for Napoleon as it was for him. Instead of the sensible, gentle refusal that should have been voiced at this point, Napoleon asked, as if testing the waters before diving in, "After...having sex with me for six weeks, you could put it down and walk away from it, just like that?"

For all of Illya's snipes about his womanizing partner's lack of mores, he knew that his friend actually had a very strict code of ethics when it came to sex. Napoleon did not despoil innocence or misrepresent his intentions. Whenever Napoleon suspected a potential paramour was not up to his casual approach to romance, he moved cheerfully on to his next conquest, leaving fragile hearts unscathed.

Knowing himself perilously close to that last fragile hearts category, Illya did his best to convince his partner of his durability. "On our last mission a whip took nearly every inch of skin off my back. I was chained naked in a freezing cellar and left without food or water for five and a half days. I can do whatever is required of me, Napoleon, with no ill feelings or recriminations," Illya swore, hoping he hid how much more difficult walking away from Napoleon would be than the ordeal he'd sustained.

At the reminder of Illya's last, near-fatal mission, Napoleon visibly paled. His eyes lowered, shadows seeming to claim him even though the bright florescent lights overhead never varied. "I know that you can take whatever's dished out to you. I just...don't want to be the one doing the dishing out. You've been through so much lately. Sometimes at night, I still see you hanging there in that cell..."

Illya started. The uncharacteristic thrashing and mumbling from the other bed had told him that his partner's sleep had been disturbed these past six weeks. Never had Illya dreamed that he could be the cause of it.

Illya's own memories of the dramatic rescue to which Napoleon was referring were hazy at best. After five days of non-stop suffering, his only clear recollection of the event was his partner's strong arms freeing him from his chains and carefully easing him to the ice-slick floor. Never had it occurred to him that it would be his super-cool partner who would be haunted by that event. "All that is in the past now, Napoleon. I am almost totally recovered. In a few weeks, even the scars will fade. Don't think of me as fragile, for I am not."

"I know your strength," Napoleon quickly assured. "I also know that you can be hurt. My track record..."

"Napoleon, I am not proposing marriage or undying fidelity. I am not some starry-eyed female. I know the score. The...arrangement we are discussing is a temporary one, one of mutual convenience. Six weeks in duration. It ends the moment we return to New York. No strings, no commitments. You go your way, I go mine, as if it never happened. You have my word on that."

"Put that way it sounds so...cold," the master of romance remarked, but Napoleon appeared less troubled.

"I am cold," Illya countered.

Napoleon shook his head. "Fool the rest of the world if you want, but I know better."

Illya shivered as the other man reached across the two feet separating their beds. From the way Napoleon moved in, Illya expected a kiss, but Napoleon simply cupped his cheek, a thumb fingering his stubbled jaw.

"You're not cold. You're not even cool. Not where it counts," Napoleon contested.

Illya was not used to being so transparent, but after five years, Napoleon knew him better than he did himself.

"Does this mean that you approve of the arrangement?" Illya asked, trying to appear unaffected by Napoleon's touch. The fluttering it caused in his stomach only seemed to reinforce Napoleon's warning of the danger involved here.

"I approve, only..."

"More reservations?" Illya quizzed, the solemn slant of the handsome face making him wonder if he were pushing his partner into this.

"Not exactly." The distracting hand freed him as Napoleon sat back on his own bed, something like self-consciousness settling over Napoleon. "It's been some time since I've had to make this type of admission, but...you may have to teach me a thing or two."

Ambushed by an odd sense of melting when he realized how much it must have taken for this worldly lover of women to make such a confession, Illya gently assured, "I'm certain the practice will be mutually beneficial. What you lack in knowledge, I lack in...shall we say, field experience."

Napoleon's smile was bright enough to melt the polar ice cap. "Somehow, I suspect we're both going to be fast learners. However, right now we have a roomful of slowpokes to pound into shape. If you want to have some breakfast, we'd best be moving."

And so it began, as easy as that.

*~*~*


The day was a blur to Illya. Normally, his scientific mind could distance himself from any emotional issue by totally immersing himself in the job, whether it be a full-scale operation or something as unexciting as his present task of training new agents. But on this particular occasion, concentration was useless. He was plagued by nervous anticipation, hardly able to keep his mind on the task at hand. By the time evening rolled around, he felt like a virgin bridegroom. It was not a feeling he enjoyed.

Presently, everyone was gathered in the complex's recreation room, as was customary after a day of hard training.

His sunny self again, Napoleon was the nucleus of a cluster of laughing young agents. His partner was currently demolishing the masochistic youngsters in a game of darts.

As was his custom, Illya sat apart from the rest, his nose buried in a book. Ostensibly. So far, he hadn't been able to get past the first paragraph. His gaze kept straying back to his partner, as it had for the better part of the day.

Last night's release had caused a dramatic change in his friend. Gone was the snappy, tense man who'd driven his students to distraction. Napoleon was positively glowing today, nearly incandescent with bonhomie. It would have taken anyone else days to get back into the younger agents' good graces after the last week's bursts of temper, but Napoleon had accomplished it in minutes with a few choice one-liners.

Watching the younger operatives flock around Napoleon, Illya was struck with an intense sense of uneasiness. Napoleon's main weapon was his charismatic personality. Where Illya relied on his intelligence and other men their physical strength, Napoleon depended upon his charm to win in all situations. Few people were immune to it, including their enemies. Illya couldn't count the number of times he'd seen his partner practically mesmerize the opposition with nothing more than a winsome smile. There was simply something about this man that everyone wanted to get close to, an irresistible je ne sais quoi that everyone ached to touch and own, if only for a little while. That swarmy appeal had lured many an opponent to their destruction.

And now Illya himself had fallen prey to Napoleon's allure, after years of successfully combating it. He would have his allotted six weeks before joining the hundreds of hopefuls in his partner's little black book.

Of course, by the Solo timetable of romance, a six-week affair was a veritable epoch. Most of the others got only a few days of Napoleon's less- than-constant attention before his friend moved onto greener pastures. Illya calculated that he'd have Napoleon to himself for forty-two nights. As he'd never dreamed even a single night possible, it was a gift beyond estimation.

The price he would pay for those forty-two nights was equally dear, Illya knew. If he had one true friend in his life, it was his philandering partner. As much as he'd claimed that he could simply walk away from what they did up here, Illya knew he was lying to himself. He was already dangerously vulnerable to Napoleon. After forty-some odd nights of the kind of sweet loving they'd shared the previous evening, he feared he'd be eternally addicted. Cold turkey withdrawal at that point might prove fatal.

His best bet was to make a clean break now, to forbid this insanity from progressing any further. Napoleon would not hold it against him if he were honest. Napoleon would...

The dark, perfectly-groomed head in the center of all those laughing young faces gathered about the dart board suddenly turned and looked Illya's way. True as the trajectory of a heat-seeking missile, in an instant Napoleon's gaze found Illya's own.

The brash, arrogant player's grin that Napoleon wore to hypnotize strangers dropped away. In its place, a softer smile blossomed, a smile flavored with the near-fraternal fondness that normally shone there, as well as a newer, shyer light that nearly melted Illya's bones with its carnal promise.

All thoughts of making a clean break died at that instant. In fact, all thought died completely as Illya's heart was captured, transfixed by the unfamiliar warmth he found there. He actually had to remind himself to breathe, so complete was his abstraction.

That Napoleon seemed equally ensnared did little to alleviate his plight. He was not accustomed to being this...open to manipulation. His mind, heart and will had always been his own. That Napoleon could do this to him after only one night was...terrifying.

At last, Napoleon appeared to shake himself free of the spell, the action releasing Illya as well.

Unable to believe how badly he was trembling, Illya looked down at his open book and struggled to collect himself. Was he insane? Or just suicidal? How was he ever going to disguise these feelings?

"Ahhum..."

Illya glanced up guiltily at the familiar throat clearing. Napoleon stood beside his table for two, a tentative expression on his face.

"Hello, there," Napoleon greeted, not quite his casual self.

Feeling as if he'd swallowed his tongue, Illya gulped and managed a strained, "Hi."

"How's the book going?" Napoleon politely inquired.

Unable to recall so much as its title, let alone the plot, Illya shrugged. "It is less than riveting."

"You look a little peaked. Do you feel all right?" Napoleon asked, seeming genuinely worried.

As Napoleon had managed to curtail his mother-henning through the majority of his recovery, Illya spared him the acerbic snap that sprang instinctively to his lips, answering with more care, "A little tired, perhaps."

Napoleon's cheeks actually flushed before he seemed to recover his equanimity. "Are you ready to call it a night?"

Was it just his imagination, or did Napoleon seem as nervous as he, Illya wondered.

Napoleon was dressed casually this evening in an argyle cashmere sweater and black wool pants. Staring up at that sleek, trim form, Illya felt his heart thud to a halt, his body reacting in near-fear to this sensual tempter.

"I..." Illya stammered, atypically tongue-tied, "yes...I'm ready."

"Good." Napoleon grinned, the open affection in his gaze soothing Illya's tension in spite of himself.

"Are you leaving so early, Mr. Solo?" a disappointed young voice called from behind them.

Both senior agents started in surprise. It was clear they'd both of them had managed to forget the crowd behind them.

Beginning to see a whole plethora of unanticipated dangers, Illya turned with his partner to stare at the speaker.

Gerald Wong was one of their most promising novices. The young Asian had aced both the technical and marksmanship courses, and placed second in hand-to- hand combat.

The fact that Wong stood a full inch shorter than Illya was a source of joy to him. For once, he wasn't the shortest man on the gym mats.

"I'm afraid so, Gerald," Napoleon smoothly replied. "We old timers need our beauty rest to keep up with you young whippersnappers."

"That will be the day, sir," Wong laughed. "I'm still aching from that survival hike you took us on this afternoon."

"What? That little stroll?" Napoleon practically cooed.

Illya did his best to suppress his smile, very aware that Napoleon had been suffering all afternoon from the rigorous outing which Illya's half-healed injuries had prevented him from attending. His partner had never favored arctic weather, the tropics being much more to the sybaritic American's liking. Napoleon didn't even care to ski; although he was damn good at it.

"Stroll? It was twelve miles, Mr. Solo," young Wong protested.

"We've done that in a morning while on a mission. You young pups had all day," Napoleon bragged. "You'd better toughen up if you plan on U.N.C.L.E. as a career."

"Twelve miles in a morning? Is he serious, Mr. Kuryakin?" the new agent asked.

"Entirely, I'm afraid," Illya agreed, almost laughing outright at the younger man's expression of dismay.

"But...are you really going to bed at a quarter after eight in the evening?" Wong had the horrified air of a man who was staring his future in the face, his future being a bedtime a half-hour earlier than the one he'd had at age six.

Illya was about to backpedal and say that they'd stay a while longer – they really couldn't be seen stealing away together at such an early hour – when Napoleon used his charm to smooth over the awkward moment.

"Actually, the chess master was about to teach me how to mate in two moves. One, if I'm lucky." Napoleon grinned the winsome smile that had won him entry into hundreds of boudoirs.

Annoyed by that unconscious arrogance, and self-honest enough to recognize that it was his own susceptibility that irritated him so, Illya decided to knock that confidence down a notch or two. "More like five moves. He is a little backwards in some things."

"Backwards, ey?" Napoleon quizzed with the faintest trace of hurt showing.

Regretting his hasty jibe, Illya relented. "In some areas, but a quick learner in others. We'll see you in the morning, Gerald," Illya said, closing his book and rising before he could further incriminate himself. For the youngster's sake, he added, "Come, Napoleon. Let us see if you can figure your way out of the corner you backed yourself into last night."

Appearing genuinely disappointed, the wiry Asian smiled, "Good night, sirs. Enjoy your chess game. Perhaps sometime I could watch? Chess is a passion of mine."

While Napoleon feigned a coughing fit to mask his reaction, Illya replied without missing a beat, "Yes, perhaps you could play the winner." Then, to add a bit of realism, Illya continued in what he knew to be his most aggravatingly snide tone, "It has been some time since I've had a real challenge."

"Is that so?" Napoleon drawled in his most dangerous tone.

"Looks like I've gotten you in trouble, sir," Wong said, obviously well enough acquainted with Napoleon to recognize that voice.

"Perhaps it will sharpen my friend's game." Illya played out the scene they'd enacted dozens of times in their partnership. They'd learned years ago the valuable smokescreen a little friendly competition could be. Normally, they employed such moves on a case. There were people in this world who wanted very badly to see Russia and America duke it out. Using this microcosm of global politics could often allow one of them to worm his way into a sympathizer's confidence. Employing such banter for cover in their private life came with surprising ease. "If you're agreeable, you can play the winner tomorrow evening."

"I'd like that, Mr. Kuryakin." The younger man practically glowed with enthusiasm.

"Good. I'll meet you after dinner, then." Napoleon winked conspiratorially.

"We shall see, Napoleon, we shall see. Good night, Gerald." Illya nodded as he and his partner turned to leave.

"See you tomorrow," Wong called enthusiastically before returning to the midst of his raucous colleagues.

"No real challenge, ey? Have me backed into a corner, do you?" Napoleon challenged as soon as they were alone in the empty corridor. The long, rounded, cream-colored hall gave one the impression of walking through a tunnel of snow.

Judging the other man's true mood with a quick glance, Illya relaxed. Napoleon was joking with him. "Perhaps I exaggerated." Taking a chance, Illya tentatively offered, "Perhaps it was wishful thinking."

Napoleon's hand touched his shoulder, a non-sexual gesture that still managed to form a bridge of physical communication between them.

Illya was surprised by how sensitive he was to even that simple act.

"Your wish is my command, my friend," Napoleon said softly. "And, just for the record, I happen to like the corner I found last night. It was a very...pleasant place to be. In fact, it was pretty much all I could think of today."

"It was?" Why that should surprise him so, Illya couldn't say. Of their pairing, Napoleon was the one more addicted to pleasures of the flesh. It was only natural that the other man would be absorbed by any such activity. And yet, somehow it never occurred to Illya that sex with him would have the same effect on Napoleon as intercourse with his friend's other paramours did.

"I have to tell you, I've always envied you your cool, but never more so than today," Napoleon said. "You were incredible. I couldn't even tell what we'd done last night from looking at you, and I was there. I felt like it was written all over me. I could barely glance at you for fear of embarrassing myself," Napoleon admitted as they turned the corridor that led to their room.

Although his partner's words pleased him, Illya felt compelled to disillusion Napoleon. "You flatter me, Napoleon. I can assure you, I was plagued by the same...apprehensions."

"You were?" Napoleon's surprise was genuine.

"Of course."

"You didn't show it."

Turning on the lights as Napoleon firmly locked the door behind them, Illya shrugged.

As he entered the austere little chamber, Illya could feel his partner's gaze on him. Trying not to favor his bad leg, he crossed the room to add his book to the towering pile on his dresser. Sensing an unspoken question in his friend's eyes as he turned back, he inquired, "Was there something you wanted to say?"

"I just wondered...you said you'd done this before...is that why you weren't...overtly nervous?"

Realizing that Napoleon's question wasn't motivated by idle curiosity, Illya gave a negative shake of his head. "I am rarely...overtly anything, Napoleon. But to answer your question, no, previous experience had little to do with it. Actually, you're probably far more familiar with such scenes than I."

"Huh?" Napoleon blinked.

"I've never been in this situation with someone I know before. In the past, such encounters have always been with strangers who disappear before dawn. There has never been...a repeat performance, shall we say?"

Napoleon's entire expression seemed to soften. "They were fools, every one of them," his partner declared, coming up close to Illya, but not quite touching.

"Fools?" His gaze dropping to his scuffed shoes, Illya tried to seem unaffected by the proximity, but even he could hear the husky note enter his voice.

"You're not...something easily put down or forgotten, Illya. Even after one night, I can feel that. You're something...quite special..."

"More pretty lies, Napoleon?" Illya tensed.

"You don't take a compliment well; do you?" Napoleon complained.

"It is...self-protection," Illya explained. "Please don't distort this from what it is – an arrangement of convenience. If there were a woman – any woman – among the trainees, you would not be here with me this way, saying these things..." Illya said, more to remind himself than accuse his friend.

Napoleon was quiet for a moment, perhaps angered. Just when Illya was certain his abruptness had ended everything, Napoleon broke the silence. "Maybe if there were a woman here, we never would have...done what we did last night. That would be a shame, my friend. But I give you my word, if one had walked in here this afternoon, I'd still be here with you tonight, Illya. You're all I could see today...absurd as it may sound."

It was the note of self-consciousness that drew his doubtful blue gaze back to the other man's too-handsome face.

Napoleon continued, each word slicing into Illya's heart like a stiletto, "I know you don't want me to hand you some tired line I'd use with a stewardess. But that last bit about your being special to me happens to be true. You're not just a stand-in till the real thing comes along. You're my partner and I care about you. We may have agreed that this is a relationship of convenience, but that doesn't negate anything I might feel during the interim. You were kind to me last night. You didn't just...ease my suffering, you gave me great joy. Strange as it may seem, I...I'd want more of the same...even if there were other alternatives available. There isn't another man on this planet I'd consider entering into such...an arrangement with, no matter how long I had to go without. So, please don't belittle what we do together." Finally, Napoleon appeared to run out of steam, falling into an awkward silence.

How did someone resist something like this, Illya wondered as he stared at his partner, his insides twisted in knots. Napoleon knew precisely what to say, the exact words to make everything all right. The fact that Napoleon appeared to mean every word he said only made it all the worse. He had no idea how to protect himself against this...how to prevent himself from falling hopelessly in love, for it almost seemed that that was Napoleon's intent.

Those worried brown eyes digging straight into his soul, Napoleon asked with an uncertain smile, "We still friends?"

Feeling like a willing participant in his own destruction, Illya cleared his throat and gave a cautious nod. "Always."

"Do you still want to...make love?" Napoleon asked, showing every indication that he was braced for a negative response.

Napoleon had said 'make love', not 'have sex' or 'do it'...

Too numb by the distinction his partner made to even think, Illya gave another nod, then forced his raspy throat to voice the reassurance those uncertain brown eyes seemed to crave, "I would very much like to...make love to you, Napoleon."

With an endearing air of hesitation, Napoleon reached out to lay a hand on Illya's shoulder.

"Are you sure that you want to, Napoleon?" Illya questioned. He'd never seen his friend so...cautious in a seduction. Once Napoleon knew his attentions were welcomed, he was normally all over the woman like an amorous pup.

Napoleon chuckled. "I want to...I'm just not sure how to."

"What?" Despite himself, Illya smiled at the sheepish admission.

"Like I said, you're not some stewardess. I don't want to come on too strong and end up with my teeth in a jar."

Seeing that his partner was entirely serious, Illya made a conscious effort to relax his own guards, aware that his own prickly behavior was partially responsible for this.

Taking the initiative, Illya reached out to cup Napoleon's smooth cheek, his other hand rising to play through the soft hair above Napoleon's ear. "Your teeth are safe, Napoleon. But as for the rest of you..." Napoleon gave a long, drawn-out moan as Illya's mouth fixed on the sensitive spot behind his ear, "...that is debatable."

"Ahh...Illyaaa..."

Like the night before, with the first consciously sexual touch, they seemed to fall under a spell.

Napoleon's arms closed around him, His partner seemed transfixed as Illya's mouth and lips feasted on his neck. Savoring the feel, scent, heat, and taste of the flesh his mouth sampled, Illya did his very best to drive his more experienced partner crazy with delight.

For a time, Napoleon allowed him to have his way with him. Then, Napoleon's hands moved to cup his face, that lethal mouth moving in for a kiss.

To Illya's despair, once again reality seemed to swirl around him as their lips opened to each other. Napoleon drank deep of him, his tongue boldly charting every slick millimeter, sharing both breath and saliva. No one had ever known him this deeply, this intimately. Simply kissing Napoleon felt like more of a union than sex usually did.

Seeming to gain confidence with each passing second, Napoleon's fingers moved to deftly undo the buttons on Illya's plain white shirt. Since his back had been hurt, Illya had stuck to simple button-downs, as donning and removing his usual turtlenecks put too much strain on the healing whip lashes. For the first time, he was grateful for the shirt he'd previously resented. It did make undressing less complicated.

Air becoming an increasingly desperate issue, they parted for breath.

With the smooth artistry for which he was infamous, Napoleon bent to shrug his way out of his grey-and-white argyle sweater. He tossed the expensive cashmere in the general direction of his own bed, then quickly stripped off his white cotton undershirt.

Taking the hint, Illya moved to follow suit. The inevitable barrage of pain as he moved too fast and pulled the stiff scars on his back stopped him cold. Twice now, he'd reopened those wounds by being too rough. Silently cursing, biting his lower lip against the pain, he slowly tried to fight his way clear of the suddenly strangling cotton.

"Here, allow me..." Firm hands stilled his struggles.

Calming, Illya felt his partner untangle the undershirt, then carefully peel it up and off him.

"Thank you." Illya turned to embrace his friend, only to be halted by that steel grip.

"Hold it. I want to check those cuts."

"They're all right, Napoleon," Illya snapped, sounding like a peevish child to his own ears.

"Of course they are. You'll humor me, though; won't you?"

Illya silently acknowledged that he'd hand Napoleon the knife and inquire as to which vein Napoleon wanted opened if his partner asked it of him in that particular tone. "As you wish," he grudgingly conceded, turning to lean his front against the nearby, book-crowded dresser so that Napoleon could look his fill.

"So kind." Napoleon's tone and the chuckle that accompanied the comment brought a smile to Illya's face. "That's better," Napoleon approved, maneuvering behind him to get a better view of the damaged back.

Illya's entire body tensed as Napoleon's gaze seared his scarred flesh like a branding iron. He'd caught flashes of what those scars looked like in the mirror. Close observation of the garish battle tokens was hardly conducive to passion.

Napoleon's fingertips tentatively touched the half-healed rills covering Illya's back like snake prints in desert sands. "They didn't reopen."

"I didn't think they had. Now, can we please..." he begged, intensely uncomfortable at this type of scrutiny at the best of times. When his back looked like a failed experiment from Dr. Frankenstein's lab, he was positively phobic about it.

"They really did some job on you."

Napoleon's tight-voiced comment on the obvious bit into him like acid. Illya stiffly replied, "I am painfully aware of the job they did. Please, Napoleon, ignore them. In time..."

In time – what? They'd fade? Both of them were experienced enough to know those mementos would be with him for the remainder of his life. And, even if the blemishes did fade by some miracle, they certainly wouldn't do so in the prescribed period of this relationship.

"Ignore?" Napoleon repeated, visibly confused. "What's wrong, Illya? You've gone stiff as a board..."

"I...please, can we not move on to a more...pleasant topic?" Illya requested, staring awkwardly over his bare shoulder to meet the taller man's gaze.

"You're angry at me again," Napoleon determined, still sounding completely bewildered.

"Not angry...but...this makes me uncomfortable."

"Uncomfortable?" Napoleon asked in an infuriatingly cretinous tone.

At that moment, it occurred to the less experienced Illya that this near- perfect physical specimen that was his partner was rarely anything but utterly confident in a sexual situation. How did a mere human explain something so petty as insecurity to such a being?

Both irritated and embarrassed by the necessity of explanation, Illya snapped, "Yes, uncomfortable. I'm sure you've heard the word, Napoleon, even if you aren't personally acquainted with the definition. It means `causing discomfort or annoyance, feeling discomfort, uneasy...'"

"I know what the word means, thank you," Napoleon cut him off, his careful diction telling him how tight a rein Napoleon was keeping on his temper. "I'm just trying to understand its context. What did I do wrong?"

Reading the genuine bewilderment, Illya sighed. "No one likes their...shortcomings highlighted this way..."

"Shortcomings? Are you insane?" Napoleon demanded, even his irritated frown striking Illya's besmitten heart as endearing.

"Very likely," Illya muttered.

"What?" Napoleon blinked.

"It's very likely that I've gone insane. That would be one explanation for...our present circumstances."

"And what does that make me, I wonder?" Napoleon asked, his index finger reaching out to playfully tap the tip of Illya's nose.

The affectionate gesture brought a reluctant smile to Illya's lips.

"That's better," Napoleon smiled. "Now, would you mind telling me just what you're talking about?"

Hearing the note of exasperation, Illya did his best to make his friend understand. "I know that I don't...conform to your usual standards in bedroom partners, Napoleon. The gender issue is a large enough stumbling block without...all this extra baggage." Illya gestured at his back and left leg.

"I'm afraid that I'm still not understanding what you're trying to tell me," Napoleon said. "I thought we'd settled the gender issue quite satisfactorily last night."

Illya felt his cheeks warm. "It is...a question of pride."

"Pride?" Napoleon blankly repeated.

"I suppose I just...wish that I were at my best for this. I feel...very...unattractive right now." Illya had never admitted such a thing to another person in his life, and felt like an idiot for doing so now.

But there was no derision in Napoleon's face. Instead, instant understanding replaced the confusion. "Because of these?"

Illya shivered as Napoleon stroked an index finger down his spinal column. Giving a tight nod, he felt his flush deepen and looked away. "I am not usually prone to such vanity...or this ridiculous..."

"It's not vanity and it certainly isn't ridiculous," Napoleon instantly protested. Moving in closer, his powerful arms closed around Illya's bare chest to hug him from behind.

It was amazing how much comfort he could derive simply from this man's proximity, Illya acknowledged, relaxing despite himself. Napoleon's lightly- furred sternum was a burning presence against those hideous marks, the searing heat somehow healing for all its fire. Illya tried to ignore what the press of Napoleon's lower body against his butt and thighs was doing to his lower regions.

Napoleon hooked his chin over his shoulder and tightened his hug before kissing the tender spot behind Illya's ear.

Trying to suppress the resultant shudder, knowing that as close as Napoleon was, Napoleon would feel it as though it ran through his own body, Illya asked in a hoarse exhalation, "No?"

"For heaven's sake, Illya, you were tortured and left to die, hurt so bad that it's taken you nearly three months just to get mobile again. I know you don't like to admit it, but you're hurting all the time. You spend all your energy fighting the pain, and keeping up the pretense of being fine. How could anyone feel...at their best or sexy under such circumstances? I probably shouldn't even be inflicting this kind of stress on you until you feel better..."

Trembling in every limb, Illya released a long, shaky breath. "Napoleon, there was no stress in what we did last night. Only pleasure."

"That's all I ever want to bring you," Napoleon vowed, rubbing his cheek against the side of Illya's head in an oddly feline gesture. "You've no need to feel...uneasy about those marks. Remember, I've got more than my share of battle scars, too. It's you I want to get close to, not just your body."

The lump of emotion in his throat so big and tight it threatened to choke him, Illya hugged the arms banding his chest tighter to him. The cynic in him tried to insist that Napoleon would be whispering the same promises to any warm body willing to ease his frustration, but his heart was having none of it.

"May we continue?" Napoleon requested.

Still not daring to meet those eyes, Illya nodded.

"Can I...touch you back here?" Once again Napoleon's finger skimmed Illya's spine.

"If you wish."

"Oh, I wish, all right. What did you do with the cream the doctor gave you?"

Illya started. "Cream?"

"The one you adamantly refused to allow me to rub on your back six weeks ago, remember? The cream that's supposed to keep those scars from getting too tight. Where did you put it?"

"In the nightstand drawer," Illya reluctantly answered. "Why?"

"Maybe you'll feel better about them when they start to feel better about themselves," Napoleon said in a perfectly reasonable tone. "Now, come on and sit down on the bed while I find that jar."

"Napoleon, you don't have to...I'd much rather...do what we were doing before..."

"Don't worry," Napoleon assured as he moved to hunt through the drawer in question, "we'll get back to it."

Not liking the fuss and certain that he'd killed the mood, Illya grudgingly took a seat on the edge of the nearest bed, which was Napoleon's. Absently, he retrieved the bunched-up argyle sweater from where it rested in a ball at the bottom of the bed and carefully folded it. Only slowly did he realize that he was under observation.

"What now?" Illya asked, unsettled by the strange expression on Napoleon's face as his partner stood at the top of the bed with the large white jar in his hands. Illya was highly conscious of his bare chest. For some reason, he felt fully naked under those eyes. Maybe it was because they saw through so many of his smokescreens.

Napoleon seemed to debate answering before slowly shaking his head. "Nothing."

Reassured by the fond smile twisting those thin, yet sensual lips upwards, Illya silently accepted the evasion. At the other man's approach, his hands tightened in the soft wool of the sweater folded in his lap.

Napoleon paused by the bed to dim the lights before scrambling in behind him.

"It would help if you tried to relax, you know," Napoleon observed, bending to kiss his shoulder.

Shuddering at the brush of warm, moist breath and lips, Illya gave a noncommittal, "Mmmm."

Napoleon withdrew infinitesimally, though Illya could still feel the wall of living heat that told him how close Napoleon knelt.

There was the sound of fumbling as Napoleon opened the jar. Then, nearly a full minute later, Napoleon delivered a healthy glob of the cream to his back.

Illya had been braced for the cold, icy shock of the cream...the daily horror that had made him reject his partner's offer this last month and a half. But, unlike the overworked nurses in the hospital, Napoleon had taken the time to warm the cream between his hands before applying it. Moved by that small kindness, he sighed, then murmured, "You are very thoughtful, Napoleon."

"Huh?" Napoleon asked as his flat palms began to carefully spread the faintly medicinal scented cream over the damaged area, which was most of Illya's back.

In spite of his reservation, Illya had to admit that the very touch of that smooth gel seemed to ease the hurt.

"You...you warmed the cream."

"Didn't your nurses?"

Illya gave a negative shake of his head. "I'm afraid that I was a less than pleasant patient. Doubtless, the nurses wanted to get through their task as fast as possible."

"Is that why you wouldn't let me do this for so long?"

Beginning to think that he was destined to feel the idiot any time they were together, Illya shrugged. "At first, the cuts were too sore, then...I didn't like the cold."

"What am I going to do with you, ey?" The soft kiss Napoleon placed on his neck belied the gruff question.

Thinking that Napoleon could do anything he liked with him, Illya relaxed into the massage. As in most pleasures of the flesh, Napoleon was proving to be a master at this art as well. Though painstakingly thorough in their smooth rubbing, at no time did the pressure of his partner's hands or fingers threaten to rip open the vulnerable new flesh that had taken so long to grow over the deep gouges.

"You really should have allowed the doctors to stitch these things closed," Napoleon observed.

"They weren't that deep," Illya protested.

"No? It's been almost three months. They still look sore as hell," Napoleon observed.

"They feel better now." Illya practically purred with satisfaction, leaning his head back so that his crown touched Napoleon's sharp chin, interrupting the other man's concentration.

"You're impossible, you know." Napoleon chuckled, kissing the nearby hair as Illya had intended.

Napoleon continued the therapeutic massage until every millimeter of the tight scabbed flesh was tingling in pleasure. Only then did the quality of Napoleon's touches change.

Napoleon's head lowered to nuzzle the shivering Illya's throat as those skillful, oiled hands skimmed his front. Napoleon rubbed across the flat, muscular plates of his breast, taking each nipple in turn between his index finger and thumb and squeezing until they peaked into tight buds.

Illya didn't even try to contain his moan.

"You were right last night. Some things do feel the same." Napoleon's observation was whispered directly into Illya's ear, adding a different type of shiver to the quicksilver delights trembling through him. "Did you know that you've got the softest skin I've ever felt? You're like living velvet all over."

"Except for my back," Illya mumbled, leaning the area in question against Napoleon's chest as his bones turned to jello.

"Yes, well...that will heal. We'll do the cream again tomorrow night, all right?"

Illya nodded, stunned by the sensations churning through him by what was basically tame foreplay. He hadn't even removed his trousers yet and he felt ready to explode.

As if reading his mind, and for all Illya knew, perhaps his partner was indeed that sensitive to him, Napoleon's right hand stroked down to the border where the edge of Illya's black pants interrupted his smooth belly. After only the most minuscule of hesitations, Napoleon stroked over the pronounced bulge beneath the heavy black wool.

"Aaaahhh..." Illya cried out as every neuron he owned seemed to explode with pleasure.

"Perhaps we should remove these?" Napoleon suggested with an unfamiliar catch in his voice, those competent hands hovering over Illya's fly as if reluctant to make too forward a move.

"Of course, I'll..." Illya fumbled for enough clarity to coordinate his fingers to work the fastening.

"No, allow me, please...?"

Illya couldn't identify the emotion in his partner's voice, but whatever it was, it sent a thrill of pure, carnal desire through him.

Illya nodded his assent, watching those long, perfectly formed fingers undo his top button, then carefully unzip his fly.

"Lie back?" Napoleon requested, moving out from behind him to stand beside the narrow single bed so that Illya could assume a horizontal position.

Illya eagerly settled against the neatly-made bed. He'd never felt so aware of his body. Every pore seemed hypersensitive. From the rough feel of the woolen blankets against his damaged back to the heat of Napoleon's hungry gaze upon his bare chest, every sense felt unnaturally enhanced. Lying there staring up at Napoleon, Illya swore he could even smell the subtle scent of his partner's sweat and sweet body musk beneath the more pronounced aroma of expensive aftershave. He heard Napoleon's gulp quite clearly as Napoleon looked down at him.

"Cold feet?" Illya questioned as calmly as he could manage, having no idea what he'd do if Napoleon balked at this moment. His erection was a living, painful beast throbbing beneath his suddenly too-tight trousers. If Napoleon bailed out on him now, he'd die.

Another jump of the elegant Adam's apple, then Napoleon shook his head, seeming to start out of his daze. "No, just the opposite, in fact. I never thought...Illya, you're beautiful...like a Monet watercolor, all pastel pinks and whites and golds..."

About to deny the absurd statement, something in Napoleon's eyes stopped him cold. Twice Illya had upset his friend by dismissing such sentiments. Napoleon appeared earnest...and, who knew, perhaps he truly meant the words. Sex lowered so many barriers, who was to say that at this moment of intense arousal, Napoleon wouldn't find even his partner's scrawny body attractive?

Knowing he'd face vivisection before he'd risk destroying the mood again, Illya allowed the exaggeration to pass. Stars knew, the way Napoleon was looking at him right now made him feel like the precious treasure to which his friend had compared him.

With a touching trace of shyness, Napoleon finally reached out for the waistband of Illya's trousers, snagging the elastic top of his white cotton briefs as well.

Illya watched the play of expression across those lethally handsome features as Napoleon peeled the lower garments from his body. Illya's own smile sparked at the consternated smile that flashed on Napoleon's face when Napoleon realized that he'd neglected to remove Illya's shoes and socks beforehand.

"It takes years of skill and practice to execute such a smooth maneuver this well," Napoleon remarked as he sat down at the foot of the bed to untangle his handiwork.

His hungry erection bobbing up between them as Illya stared down at his friend, he remarked in a mock-serious tone, "As ever, your expertise leaves me envious."

Napoleon chuckled. "I think I'd prefer you breathless at a moment like this," Napoleon mildly remarked, then proceeded to live up to his words by stealing the breath from him as he stooped to lick the inside of Illya's knee.

"Napoleon?"

"Mmmm?" One-handed, Napoleon stripped the tangle of shoes, socks, trousers and briefs from where they were bunched at Illya's ankles, his mouth busy delivering sumptuous licks and nips to the tender spot behind Illya's knobby knee.

No one had ever done that to him before, his normally restrained body was totally unprepared for the nuclear reaction that strange offering set off. The sensations were unreal, sharper than when other men had performed fellatio on him...and all Napoleon was doing was kissing his knee.

Soft fingers stroked up Illya's inner thigh, playing with the thick blond fuzz there.

Before Illya could even wonder if the lady-loving Napoleon was put off by his hairy legs, Napoleon murmured, "So soft, like kitten fur..."

Illya groaned, a long, tortured affair as Napoleon's mouth followed the trail his fingers had blazed, kissing and nipping up his inner thigh towards territory Napoleon had barely dared touch last night. Apparently, Napoleon had gotten over his inhibitions, for there was hardly any hesitation at all tonight.

Napoleon gathered Illya's flaring cock into his palm as if he'd done it every night of his life.

Illya's exclamation was more cry than moan as that warm heat squeezed him. Perfect...so good...

The fingers of Napoleon's free hand moved to complete the tender torture by acquainting themselves with Illya's balls.

"You're so blond..." Napoleon muttered, petting the sparse gold pubic curls at the base of the cock he was driving insane with those rhythmic squeezes.

"Napoleon...please...I haven't even seen you yet..." he begged, reaching for his partner's expensive wool trousers with a breathless, "May I...?"

"Anything." Napoleon's reply was hoarse, rift with need. His partner's hands didn't seem to be able to give up their hold on Illya's genitals.

Doing his best to work around the thunderstorm of passion raging through his blood, Illya's shaky fingers hastily pulled Napoleon's warm white cotton shirt clear of his pants. He tried to undo the buttons, but he hadn't the patience. A desperate tug sent the tiny white plastic buttons flying off in a dozen directions.

Stunned by the violence of the gesture, Illya muttered, "I'm sorry, I..."

Napoleon's chuckle was one of sheer delight. "No need. Carry on."

Illya tried to follow his friend's order, but Napoleon once again gave Illya's hungry cock another of those perfect squeezes, derailing all thought.

Frantic to get at his partner, Illya fumbled Napoleon's pants open, retaining just enough presence of mind to be careful lowering the zipper. A tug and both trousers and briefs pooled around Napoleon's ankles.

Like an addict eying the needle that would deliver his sacred fix, Illya hungrily appraised his friend...or tried to. Shirt tails and the bottom of Napoleon's cotton undershirt blocked most of his view.

If he'd been just a little clearer, Illya would have removed the obstructions, but all he could do was impatiently push them up the flat belly.

As he lifted that final veil, the tip of Napoleon's springy flesh flared at him like an arrow. Clear, preseminal fluid was already weeping from the tiny hole dead center of the elegant tip.

Frozen by the sight of that powerful erection, Illya could only stare for a long moment. Napoleon was so...perfect. The engorged cock straining from its nest of thick, dark pubic curls was the apex of male beauty. Its deep wine color made Illya's mouth water for its harsh flavor. Just the memory of Napoleon's unique taste, bitter and salty as a mouthful of sea water, made his own cock jerk in anticipation.

Or perhaps it was what Napoleon's fingers were doing to him there that caused the physical reaction, it was difficult to tell. All Illya knew was that his world was on fire, only the thick spray from that organic fire hose could douse this inferno.

There was no thought to his next move. Illya's mouth sucked Napoleon in with the frantic need of a nursing calf.

Napoleon's resulting groan and the slurpy sound of Illya's sucking seemed to shake the room. So good, so raw...

"Wait...wait..." Napoleon ordered.

Too far gone to heed that caution, Illya allowed Napoleon to maneuver him. Strong arms pushed him backwards. Even as he fell, Illya kept sucking on that salty length, his hands grabbing Napoleon's buttocks, pulling Napoleon with him as he went down.

He should have ended up with a knee in his face, but Napoleon was apparently no stranger to carnal acrobatics. A little hectic maneuvering and Napoleon ended up straddling Illya's head, a knee on either side of his ears, Napoleon's fallen trousers and briefs resting against Illya's forehead, his penis still buried deep in Illya's mouth.

At first Illya was puzzled by the position, then Napoleon bent forward and everything became clear.

Illya lay very still as his partner approached his groin, unsure as to what Napoleon had planned. Another delicious hand job like last night would be wonderful.

He shivered as those knowing fingers collected and explored him. Napoleon's palm gripped him just right, the pressure and rhythm of the stroke a fantasy come true.

Illya kept up his steady sucking on the engorged cock in his mouth as he felt Napoleon re-familiarize himself with his body. So absorbed was he in his efforts that Illya didn't see his partner's head lower. His first indication was the brush of moist, strangely cool breath against his steaming groin.

He groaned around his mouthful as a tongue tip tentatively swiped across his foreskin, a billion nerve endings exploding like Roman candles in response. The hesitant way Napoleon's open mouth settled around his shaft revealed the other man's complete inexperience, Napoleon's profound nervousness. Despite his friend's lack of skill, Illya found himself loving Napoleon all the more. He simply couldn't believe that Napoleon would want to do this for him.

He let go of Napoleon's succulent flesh for a moment and lifted his head to see. Due to the odd position, his view was blocked by Napoleon's dangling shirt tails. All he saw was a curtain of white. Pushing the obstructive material aside, Illya caught sight of the point of Napoleon's cleft chin, which was visible beyond the shirt-clad chest. It wasn't much, but even that glimpse sent his heart hammering double-time. Napoleon was really sucking him...

Illya jumped a little as Napoleon's steel-hard shaft brushed his cheek, silently beseeching he continue. It was no hardship. He'd thirsted for this man's taste his entire life.

Hollowing his cheeks, Illya eagerly sucked the flaring phallus back into his mouth. Feeling past the trailing shirt ends, Illya's hands settled on his partner's warm, firm buttocks, urging Napoleon's hips into action. Throat wide, he accepted the powerful thrust.

His own body longed to rip loose in a similar fashion, but Illya was too conscious of Napoleon's beginner status to allow passion free rein. Napoleon's daring to go even this far was truly amazing. Illya knew that a single, careless thrust on his own part could turn this fantasy into a choking horror for his inexperienced...lover.

Illya felt his heart glow at the term 'lover'. Just having the right to think of Napoleon that way gave him boundless patience. So, he held back, allowing Napoleon to take only as much of his shaft as the amateur fellator was comfortable absorbing.

And, stars knew, even that small bit was enough to send his senses whirling. What Napoleon lacked in experience, he made up for in enthusiasm and ingenuity. Unable to take Illya's entire length in his mouth, Napoleon's fist surrounded the remainder of the distended cock, pumping the hungry length while Napoleon persistently sucked its flaring tip, his other hand rolling Illya's balls with a skill born of self-knowledge.

Between the delight of what Napoleon was doing to him, and the wild carnality of the cock barreling in and out of his gaping mouth, his reserved heart was overwhelmed. The delight ripping through him was so sharp, so unbelievably intense that Illya really felt it might kill him. As never before, he was part of a perfect pleasure circuit, Napoleon and he seeming part of the same orgasmic entity. The delight pumped in from one end, spiraled through to return to source through the other end, like a stylized snake feeding on itself.

Napoleon's thrusts became wilder, more erratic, Napoleon's sucking mouth more insistent, as if trying to pull the response from Illya. It wasn't exactly an arduous assignment. Illya was so responsive to this man's drives that all Napoleon really needed to do was order him to come and he'd be helpless to refuse.

Their mouths far too busy for such verbal commands, all that final push took was Napoleon's own capitulation to the inevitable. The instant Illya felt the convulsive shudder claim his other half, felt the monster cock in his mouth jerk and bathe the back of his throat with its hot, acrid gift, Illya's own body exploded.

Not quite as adept at handling the outpouring, Napoleon sputtered, instinct no doubt causing him to pull back from Illya's wildly-thrusting cock.

Around his own frantic sucking, Illya heard his partner gasp, knew that Napoleon had no doubt just gotten a faceful of sticky semen.

The ecstatic shudders seemed to go on forever. Like a marionette on a mad puppeteer's strings or a galvanized frog, Illya's body jerked and surged of its own accord. Spurt after spurt of fiery liquid was pumped out of him, the orgasm seeming intent on wringing every last iota of sensation from his nerves that he was capable of feeling. When that last ecstatic shiver released him, Illya fell flat onto the bed, completely drained.

Napoleon, too, appeared similarly affected. Seemingly boneless, his partner rolled onto the bed beside Illya, nearly tumbling to the floor for his troubles. Illya felt his legs frantically grabbed, then Napoleon's slick, sweaty heat settled down his side as both men crammed into the narrow twin bed.

Illya couldn't keep the sappy smile from his lips as he stared at the dark socks covering his partner's ankles and the handsomely tooled, black leather wingtip shoes that encased the long, skinny feet which were resting beside his right cheek. His friend hadn't had the time to remove a single article of clothing. Napoleon's trousers and shorts were still pooled around his knees.

"My God," Napoleon gasped after a prolonged bout of rushed breaths, "we're going to kill each other at this rate. I never felt anything like that in my life."

"It was good, then?" Illya found himself quietly asking.

"Good?" Napoleon echoed. "Take a look at me. I've still got my clothes on, for heaven's sake."

Illya had to chuckle at the aggrieved tone. Napoleon made it sound like the earth had stopped spinning or something of equal significance. "I take it that is not part of your normal mating habits?"

"My normal...?" Sitting up to stare down at him, Napoleon also found a chuckle. "No, Illya. Generally, I have the presence of mind to undress beforehand."

Trying to stifle a smile, Illya watched as the other man dragged himself up to do so now. Napoleon looked totally wiped out. What with the exertions of the day's survival hike and their extra-curricular activities, Napoleon certainly had the right to be, Illya fondly conceded.

Illya was somewhat surprised at himself. It wasn't in his nature to be optimistic, but tonight he didn't even question where Napoleon would be sleeping. Illya waited until Napoleon had neatly hung up his trousers, folded his sweater and put the rest of his underclothes into the laundry hamper in the bathroom. When the naked Napoleon returned to the bedroom, Illya wordlessly shifted closer to the icy wall, making room beside him.

His shivering partner climbed speedily in, pulling up the covers and cuddling close.

Still stunned by this exuberant acceptance, Illya lay there for a long moment simply absorbing the other man's warmth, breathing in the scent of his lover's flesh.

Napoleon loosed a strangely contented sigh. "Good night, Illya."

"Good night, Napoleon," he whispered back, kissing the soft brown hair atop the head which lay pillowed on his chest.

The cynic in him wondering how long such perfect happiness could last, Illya's arms closed protectively around his precious bedmate as he reluctantly gave his exhausted body over to sleep.

*~*~*

The nights sped by like the glittering mirrors on an amusement park carousel ride. Every minute of every day, Illya kept expecting things to change, for this beautiful new reality to shatter around him.

He knew Napoleon. Napoleon never stayed constant to one lover for more than a week. Despite the lack of competition, Illya's common sense insisted that it would only be a matter of time before his partner became bored with him.

But the days melted into weeks, and each and every night, Napoleon continued to eagerly climb into bed with him. The sex was unreal, like nothing Illya could ever have imagined possible. Their encounters ran the full gambit of possibilities, from playful tenderness to teeth-rattling lust. Illya had never known such intimacy, such freedom. Gone was the guilt, the furtive fumbling to completion followed by the inevitable slinking away into the night. Napoleon spent so much time with him, lavished so much open affection on him that Illya's entire pessimistic view of romance was beginning to change. Loving Napoleon was fun. Their room rang with the sounds of laughter as often as passion.

At first Illya feared that they would jeopardize their partnership with such intense overexposure, but their friendship grew closer than ever. These days, speech was barely required. It seemed they need only look into each other's eyes to judge each other's mood or thought – in bed or out of it. In some ways it was almost frightening how well they blended.

Illya didn't know what he'd do when his forty-two nights were up. He'd grown accustomed to waking up in the stranglehold a sleeping Napoleon kept on him.

Like now. God, how he loved the feel of Napoleon plastered all over him.

As his eyelids groggily parted, Illya became conscious of the powerful arms tightly banding his chest, the firm body moving sensually against him. Normally, Illya was the first to rise. He'd squiggle out of Napoleon's hold and silently dress before the enchanter could lure him into another bout of earth-shaking sex. But this morning he'd left it too late.

Illya's partner was pressed tight to his back, snuggled closer than a pair of matching spoons in a drawer. He could feel the strength of the man, Napoleon all hard muscle and primal power as he moved in that most ancient of dances. Considering the way Napoleon's hips were rocking against him, Illya could barely miss the other's arousal, what with the iron-hard erection grinding against his ass as it was.

As Napoleon's angle changed just slightly, his partner's poker-hard shaft slid between his cheeks, lightly grazing the puckered entrance hidden there.

Illya gasped at the sensations that flared through his loins at the unexpected contact. In the three weeks they'd been loving each other, not once had either of them dared explore that particular area.

"You awake, Illya?" Napoleon muttered, his subdued tone tight with suppressed need.

"Mmmmmm..." Illya murmured, filled with a sleepy sense of wonder. This touch had never felt...pleasant before.

Normally, all a man had to do to turn Illya's body to solid, terrified ice was to run a single finger between his buttocks. But the feel of Napoleon riding his ass like this was causing the sweetest, most exquisite shudders he'd experienced to date.

Remarkably, there was no fear. The visceral repulsion that immediately turned Illya to stone at so threatening a position was completely absent. He didn't clamp up inside and go cold all over. There was no surge of vomit at the back of his throat, no shakes or cold sweat. Nothing but the familiar, sweet singing in his flesh that Napoleon's touch always inspired.

Maybe it was because Napoleon had woken him up this way, taken Illya's body, which was predisposed to responding to Napoleon's touch. to instant arousal before his brain had a chance to kick into gear and remind his wary heart of just why this particular position was forbidden. Or perhaps it was simply the knowledge that it was Napoleon behind him, thrusting against him so forcefully, that made the difference.

Whatever the case, for the first time in longer than Illya could remember, he was not alarmed by the feel of another man's cock sliding between his cheeks.

"Thank God! I thought you'd never wake up," Napoleon grunted, his hips thrusting faster, his shaft expanding.

Napoleon's right hand moved over Illya's smooth chest, fingertips expertly squeezing Illya's left nipple to a pert bud of sensation. Then the hand dropped lower, stroking his concave stomach, toying with his belly button. Gathering Illya's half-awake penis, Napoleon brought him to full arousal with a few tugs on the burgeoning flesh.

Panting for something he'd never needed before in his life, Illya's hips thrust back against his partner's huge shaft. A fresh sheen of sweat bathed his skin as he felt Napoleon's considerable bulk, his heart pounding like the engine of a runaway train at what he was contemplating allowing to happen.

Was he insane? Napoleon was as big as a stallion. If he'd thought the others bad, Napoleon would be...

He stopped the panicked thought right there.

It would be all right. This was Napoleon, his partner and friend...the most tender man he'd ever lain with, the only person he had ever dared call lover. That made a world of difference.

His over-wide gaze catching sight of the jar of skin moisturizer lying on the night stand, Illya reached out to snag it.

"Here, you'll need this," he said softly, passing the jar over his shoulder.

"Huh...what?" Napoleon didn't seem to understand what he meant.

"We'll need a lubricant to do this," Illya patiently explained. "Otherwise, you'll hurt me."

Napoleon stopped moving behind him. "You mean that you actually want me to...?"

Mouth running dry, Illya nodded.

He could feel Napoleon's muscles tense behind him. It was amazing to him that Napoleon hadn't been planning on penetrating him from the first.

"Have you ever done this before?" Napoleon asked in the same non-judgmental tone with which he'd accepted all of Illya's previous experience in this area.

"Not voluntarily." Illya forced his voice to remain steady.

Those two words seemed to hit Napoleon like physical blows. Napoleon drew back a little, his hands moving to guide Illya flat onto his back.

As he steeled himself to meet his partner's eyes, Illya's hand balled into a death grip around the jar of moisturizer.

Illya couldn't credit the suffering in the brown eyes that gazed down at him. Sounding almost afraid of the answer he might receive, Napoleon cautiously questioned, "And what about involuntarily?"

"Twice."

"Twice?"

Touched by his abject horror, Illya reached up to stroke the mole on Napoleon's left cheek. "It was a long time ago, Napoleon. Do not trouble yourself over it."

"How long ago?" Napoleon persisted, looking guilt-stricken, of all things.

With a sigh, Illya recognized that he was going to have to tell his friend. "The first happened back in Russia. I was...something of a prodigy back then, young and far too arrogant for my own well being. The KGB was looking for a hold over me. You know how they are always there to keep exceptional people from defecting. One of my guards was convinced that I was a homosexual." Illya gave a wry laugh. "At that point, I really wasn't anything."

"You mean that you'd never been with a woman...or a man when..." Napoleon whispered.

Illya gave a tight nod. "This particular guard kept taunting me, telling me that sooner or later I'd slip up, that I couldn't fight my own nature, that when I did, they'd get pictures. I'd be theirs for life after that.

"I was young and foolish then. In anger I bet him that he'd never get such evidence. That night he and a friend broke into my bedroom. The friend took pictures while the KGB guard...sodomized me. My face was the only identifiable one in the pictures."

"My God, what...what did you do?" Illya had never seen such an expression in the handsome American's features; horror, fury and guilt, all combined as one painful grimace.

"There was nothing I could do, except flee," Illya finished.

"I always wondered why you'd left Mother Russia," Napoleon admitted. "Somehow, you just never seemed the sort to defect."

"You never asked my reasons before." The statement came out as a question. Illya couldn't help it. Almost without exception, whenever he was introduced to someone, even at U.N.C.L.E., his reasons for leaving Russia were usually the first topic of conversation. That Napoleon had never asked that particular question had greatly endeared the man to him, even while it puzzled him.

"I've seen how you react to that subject. I wasn't going to press the issue. I like my skin intact." Napoleon's smile was forced, but Illya appreciated the effort the other man was making to put him at ease.

Illya could see how badly his partner longed to comfort him, could tell how deeply that sordid, ancient history had affected Napoleon. Yet, Napoleon held himself back, because he understood how Illya hated to be coddled.

"You're not exactly a casual acquaintance, Napoleon," Illya said, pensively outlining the sensual mouth that had brought him such pleasure. "I...would not have dismissed your questions quite so...abruptly."

"I know, but I saw the look in your eyes that time Slate was hounding you. Your reason for leaving was obviously something painful. I just never imagined how painful."

"It was a long time ago, Napoleon," Illya dismissed.

"And the other?"

Illya stared down at the sheet for a moment before hesitantly offering, "Lima, spring of 'sixty-five."

"We were partnered then," Napoleon said, in exactly the hurt tone Illya had dreaded. "Why would you keep such a thing from me?"

"There was nothing to be done about it, Napoleon. They were killed during the rescue..."

"They?" Napoleon's entire body seemed to freeze with horror.

"There were three of them. They all died when you blasted your way into the prison compound."

"Illya, this...this isn't something you hide from your partner on a mission. You should have..."

"I should have – what, Napoleon? Told you? To what purpose? You'd already done all that you could when you killed them."

"Nevertheless, you needed help..."

"You mean the psychological counseling that is the current vogue?" Illya guessed. "Napoleon, lying on a couch discussing my relationship with my mother wasn't going to help. Work is the only thing that has ever been of any assistance to me under such circumstances."

Illya had expected anger, but Napoleon merely lowered his head to gently kiss his mouth. When Napoleon softly withdrew a few minutes later, his partner mildly commented, "That's not assistance; that's denial."

"Ja, Herr Doktor," Illya replied in a perfect Austrian accent.

"How can you joke about this?" Napoleon demanded, seeming exasperated.

"When I am with you, Napoleon, I want to laugh, not dredge up dark incidents best forgotten. Your touch makes me desire things I've...avoided my entire adult life."

His candid explanation seemed to take Napoleon off guard. He heard Napoleon swallow hard before Napoleon whispered, "How can you want...that from me after what happened to you?"

"I want it because what we share has nothing to do with what happened to me." He stroked over Napoleon's sleek hair, fingertips sliding down to brush the high, intelligent brow and elegant nose. "Please?"

"This isn't something I could ever imagine you...begging for." Napoleon gave a nervous smile.

"Me, either," Illya grinned. "Perhaps it is that legendary, fatal Solo charm. So, what is it to be, Napoleon? Yes? Or has what I told you...put you off?" His last question was the most blatant emotional manipulation Illya had ever employed to date.

Napoleon's gaze registered the hit. Shock and hurt softened the already-liquid depths. Then Napoleon appeared to get control of himself. "It's a good thing for you that I know how much of you is bluff, my friend. Lines like that will get you in over your head."

"I am an excellent swimmer," Illya replied, knowing in his heart that Napoleon was right, if a little late, in his observation. Illya was fully aware that he'd been in too deep ever since their initial kiss. All he could do now was tread water and struggle to keep his head up. But Napoleon need never know that. It would be his secret.

"And an even better liar. I won't hurt you," Napoleon firmly stated.

"I know. That is why I want this with you."

"That isn't what I meant and you know it." Napoleon chuckled, never more appealing than when he was exasperated.

"Yes, I know, but...this is important to me, Napoleon. I...am willing to negotiate."

"What?" Napoleon blinked. "What do you mean, `negotiate'?"

"I am asking you to do what I lack the courage to ask of any other man. If you do this for me, I will...do something for you that you...feel you could not ask of another."

Napoleon's face went slack with surprise for a moment before he cautiously asked, "What sort of something?"

Illya gulped down his uncertainty. He was out of his league here and they both knew it. There was no telling what his more worldly partner might demand of him.

Garnering his fast faltering nerve, Illya said, "That is for you to decide."

"You're serious?"

"Entirely."

"Would I have to tell you now what it was or do I have time to think about it?" Napoleon sounded fascinated by the concept.

A chill running straight through his soul at the idea of giving this imaginative man time to think something up, Illya swallowed hard and replied, "No time limit. You give me what I want today and I'll give you whatever you ask, whenever you ask it of me."

"Somehow, I feel that I am getting the better part of this bargain," Napoleon said after a pensive silence.

"Then we do have a bargain?" Illya smiled.

Napoleon gave a slow nod. "If you're certain that this is what you want."

By way of answer, Illya undid the lid of the jar of moisturizer that he still held clutched in his sweaty fist. "I'm certain," he bluffed, digging his fingers deep into the rose-scented white gel. Extracting a generous helping, Illya warmed the goo in his hand for a few moments before transferring it to his partner's distended shaft.

Napoleon was hard as iron beneath his palm as he spread the lubricant over the taut flesh. Its vivid, blood-red color looked almost angry. At his touch, the cock flared even more, pulsing with an almost palpable hunger.

"Illya?"

Illya looked away from the impressive erection, the tentative tone of Napoleon's voice drawing his gaze to the other man's face. "You are sure that this is what you want?"

Illya wasn't sure of anything with that monster of a penis aimed at him, but somehow he held it together long enough to fake a determined nod. "Quite sure, thank you."

Before Napoleon could read too much in his face, Illya pressed the jar of moisturizer into his partner's right hand and rolled over onto his stomach. Squeezing his eyes shut, he buried his face in the pillow and spread his legs.

After the buildup, Illya expected to be taken right away, but Napoleon moved to lie on his side beside him, or as much beside him as the limited space of the twin bed would allow.

Illya shivered as Napoleon's hand brushed down the length of his back, gasping as that sensuous mouth fastened itself on the nape of his neck. His face was drawn out of the smothering heat of the feather pillow as he was maneuvered onto his side again. Napoleon slid in behind him, cuddling him, shifting them until they were almost back into their original spooned position.

Napoleon's mouth and tongue were moving non-stop over Illya's neck, ears, and shoulders, delivering wet, sucking kisses that left Illya a panting wreck. He hadn't been joking before about Napoleon's fatal charm. In less time than it would take for him to change his socks, this master of pleasure had him back to his former state of arousal, even though Illya knew fully well what would follow.

Napoleon's hands were nearly as devastating, rubbing over Illya's hairless chest, tweaking his nipples to tingling pertness, slipping down to give his cock the occasional, unpredictable tug or to roll Illya's soft-furred, pink balls through knowing fingers.

Illya's heart was thundering like a charging cavalry, pounding in his ears with the inexorable pulse of passion. Oxygen was little more than a fond memory. The frantic drags of air he managed to pull into his lungs did nothing to ease his distress; rather, the brief hits of breath were more like opening a door to a room in which an inferno was raging out of control. The blaze just flared brighter, the drumming in his ears rising to a deafening tattoo.

Illya cried out as sharp teeth captured his earlobe and exerted the perfect amount of pressure, those pearly tormentors moving on to nip their way down the back of his neck. Napoleon's wet, cool tongue lingered at his shoulders for awhile before it discovered the ultimate key to his destruction.

For the past five months, Illya's torn-up back had been a source of both pain and shame to him. The cream Napoleon still insisted on rubbing into those outlandish whip lashes had eased his physical discomfort somewhat, but Illya was still intensely uneasy about the scars themselves.

He froze when Napoleon's tongue tentatively dipped into the deepest of those mementos of torture, following the garish ribbon's path straight down his back.

When Napoleon once again reached unblemished skin, he raised his head. "Does this bother you? You seem a little tense."

Illya looked over his shoulder, not really sure how he was going to answer until he saw the heat in those aroused, dark eyes. If touching...loving those scars didn't bother Napoleon, why should he allow their presence to spoil his enjoyment?

"No, I...go ahead."

With a grateful flash of smile, Napoleon bent his head, giving the rest of the battlefield similar treatment.

The hard scar material wasn't particularly sensitized to touch, if anything, Illya had even less feeling there. But the idea that Napoleon would want to lick and caress the unsightly area left him a shuddering wreck.

What felt like centuries later, a hand settled on his shoulder, firmly compelling him over onto his stomach.

A shivery, twisting flutter squeezed his insides as Illya pressed his throbbing erection into the ungiving mattress.

He gasped as Napoleon's hands settled on the cheeks of his butt. The tentative squeeze they gave wrung a startled cry from him. Illya wasn't sure if it were pleasure or fear that flashed through him, or some intoxicating mixture of both. All he knew was that his body was alive as it had never been, nerve endings screaming for things that had formerly made him vomit. He wanted Napoleon to knead his cheeks this way, to stroke and kiss his butt.

Napoleon's mouth was all over the globes of his ass, kissing and sometimes nipping the tender flesh, making Illya quiver as his partner made the territory his own. How Napoleon could make him love the same touches that once brought abject terror to his heart was another of those mysteries Illya had come to equate with this often paradoxical man. But for once the scientist in him didn't require a concrete answer. All he'd require for the remainder of his life was this magic touch.

Every cell in his body was jumping and tingling under what Napoleon was doing to him.

When Napoleon's finger probed between the cheeks that his partner's mouth was still busy nuzzling, Illya almost came then and there. The burst of sensation was unexpected, dizzyingly intense.

Illya gasped when that slender finger hit its mark, a million timed charges simultaneously blasting through him. He jerked in response, molten pleasure bubbling through him.

"Good or bad?" Napoleon's husky whisper against his butt made him shake even worse.

"More?" was the only English word that flashed through his unsettled consciousness. He was having trouble remembering to think in this abominably awkward language. His guttural native tongue was far better suited to passion. Or French or even Italian...what Napoleon was making him feel required a language that made poetry out of the sex act. English was too idiomatic, too euphemistic about these things.

Napoleon's earthy chuckle was a caress in itself.

Illya moaned as the finger deserted him.

"Patience," Napoleon urged, an odd fumbling sound following.

In a heartbeat, that bold explorer returned, only now Napoleon's long middle finger wore a slick, gooey coat. His partner's aim in bed was as unerring as his marksmanship. The gel-laden finger homed in directly on Illya's puckered anus, losing not a bit of its sticky burden in the process.

Illya held his breath as the gooey fingertip familiarized itself with his tensed sphincter, rimming the clenched muscle in irresistible, sensual circles that teased and promised pleasures Illya wasn't certain even existed. But if those delights were of this world, Napoleon Solo would know about them, of that much Illya was certain.

Illya tried not to tense as Napoleon's finger finally entered him. Though careful, the probe was firm, relentless. It pierced him without pause or hesitation, pushing up the tight channel with its gelatinous burden.

At first, the sensation was rather like having a thicker-than-normal rectal thermometer inserted, but then Napoleon's finger began to move around inside him and Illya had no comparison for the sensation. His past experiences certainly hadn't prepared him. Saliva had been the only lubricant the KGB and Peruvian prison guards had used and there had been no anal foreplay whatsoever. Illya had just been turned over those times for a hard rod of too-dry steel to tear into him. What Napoleon was doing to him was...exquisite.

The busy finger played around inside him, stroking and teasing as it coated the channel. Only when the antics of the middle finger had sufficiently stretched his anus did Napoleon even try to insert a second finger. That one moved in with all the hesitation that the intrepid trailblazer had lacked.

"Okay?" Napoleon checked.

"Mmmm..."

The close-pressed fingers moved in tandem, circling, stretching him. Just when Illya thought it couldn't get any better or more intense, the twined fingers separated, scissoring open and closed.

"Ahh..." he cried out, feeling the sensations spiral straight down to his toenails.

"We don't have to go any further than this," Napoleon said some time later.

Once he'd translated what his partner was attempting to tell him, Illya shook his head, silently spreading his legs wider.

"Okay...if you're sure..." Napoleon offered him a last escape.

Not even certain of his name at this point, Illya arched his butt up at Napoleon.

He hissed as the fingers inside him made their careful exit. That was one sensation he liked not at all.

But the piddling complaint was blasted from his mind as his cheeks were parted. A wider, far more solid bulk nudged between them, Napoleon's cock sliding into the shadowed crease as though it were his birthright.

Illya drew a deep breath as he felt the first tentative nudge of the gooey entrance to his body. He tried to relax, tried to ignore his instinct to panic, but his past was just too vivid to completely excise. As Napoleon slid into him he tensed up, the same way he had when Mother Fear had pierced him with her riding crop.

"Illya...!" It was a cry of both dismay and pain which Napoleon gave as Illya's sphincter tightened around him like a vise.

"Sorry, I...ah..." The pain was unreal.

"I'll pull out," Napoleon grunted.

Illya wondered if it were even possible for Napoleon to do so. It might just be the head of his cock inside the smaller man's body, but Illya's body had closed around it tighter than a fist.

"No, I...wait...please..." Biting back on his body's instinct to panic, Illya dragged in a few deep breaths. It didn't help when he realized that his erection had wilted like a May daffodil beneath him.

The tension he could feel in Napoleon's muscles told Illya how much physical discomfort his friend was in.

Sweat breaking out all over, Illya struggled to relax, to accept. Only it hurt too damn bad, not as much as the rapes, but Napoleon was bigger than those men had been. His partner's cock felt like a battering ram forced up into him. How was he supposed to relax and accept that?

After an agonizing interval, Napoleon hoarsely asked, "Can you turn with me, onto your side a bit?"

"Wha...?" But Illya's body was already following Napoleon's silent command, letting those powerful hands guide him onto his side.

Napoleon was still inside him and it hurt just as bad, but it was a little easier to breathe now that he was off his stomach.

"Good." The pain-tight voice belied the comment.

His eyes squeezed shut as Illya struggled to conquer a fear that was too firmly entrenched for even implacable Russian will to subjugate.

He felt like a fool. How could he make this up to Napoleon? He'd talked the man into taking him, against Napoleon's protests, only to chicken out on his partner at the last minute.

"Breathe for me," Napoleon ordered.

"What?"

"Deep breaths, in and out."

"I tried that, Napoleon, it..."

"Try it again, for me. Please?"

Trying to focus on anything but that agonizing tree trunk shoved into him, Illya did as requested.

"It's going to be all right, lover. You'll see," Napoleon promised around his own deep breathing.

Napoleon nuzzled Illya's neck, his lips finding all the sensitive spots they'd spent the past three weeks charting. After a few moments, Napoleon's right hand left Illya's shoulder to rub over the sleek, hairless chest.

"You're so beautiful. Here..." A fingertip teased a pink aureole of nipple up to fullness, following the thin trail of blond body hair down the center of Illya's flat stomach, "...and here...and I can't tell you what this spot does to my self control..."

Illya hissed as his shaft was gathered into that knowing palm, only this time the sibilant sound wasn't an exclamation of pain.

"You're so perfect, Illya, so damn wonderful..."

The whisper in his ear brought the familiar sensual shivers. With Napoleon pressed so tight to his back again, Napoleon's voice rumbled through his own chest as well as Napoleon's. Concentrating on that oddly intimate reverberation made the pain let up somewhat. The grip his rectum had on his friend's cock eased infinitesimally in response.

He expected Napoleon to slide that much farther into him, but Napoleon stayed still, frozen there right inside the entrance.

Napoleon's hand strayed farther south, boldly collecting Illya's genitals in his palm.

"Illya, do you feel how perfect your sex lies in my hand, like it was made for me?"

Realizing that a response was called for, Illya nodded.

"The rest of you was made for me, too. We'll get there, my friend. Just...let me love you, all right?"

"All right," Illya whispered back.

Napoleon's hand pumped Illya's shaft, handling Illya the way he liked best. The friction and grip were faultless. In spite of the stretched agony of his most intimate region, Illya found the familiar pleasure sweeping through him. No tension or fear stood a chance against Napoleon's skill. The action at Illya's groin left his whole body throbbing in pleasure.

"Illoosha?"

Illya's heart jumped in his chest as Napoleon dredged up a pet name that Napoleon had only heard used in his presence once, years past when they were in Paris searching for a cache of stolen diamonds. Illya was startled and more than a little flattered that Napoleon would have recalled that piece of personal trivia about himself. The tentative tone of voice revealed that his partner wasn't entirely sure how Illya would respond to the name.

"Yes?"

"Move back onto me a bit. Don't rush it. Go slow and stop if it hurts."

Startled, Illya realized that his friend was telling him to impale himself at his own speed. There weren't many men who'd be willing to abandon control like that at the height of passion. Illya knew how difficult it had to be for Napoleon to stay still like that when every instinct he owned must be screaming for him to thrust in and claim his prize.

His heart lodging in his throat at the unexpected thoughtfulness, Illya did as requested and eased back ever so carefully. The pain hit fast, an intense, screaming protest at the stretch, so raw and primal that Illya wasn't sure he could master it.

What he didn't count on was Napoleon's ability to do so. As if feeling the objections Illya's body was making in his own flesh, Napoleon intensified his attentions on Illya's cock, giving the growing flesh a series of unexpected squeezes that shocked Illya's system even more fundamentally than his ongoing impalement.

"That's it, Illoosha," Napoleon encouraged. "My beautiful love, keep going. We'll get there."

Napoleon's voice whispering in his ear had nearly as much effect as Napoleon's touches. Illya loved this man so much that he would do anything to please him, even this.

So, Illya pushed back, relentlessly straining to accommodate something that reason kept insisting was too huge to insert in so tiny an orifice. To his surprise, he found that controlling the act himself did help. When the discomfort became too severe, he'd pause and wait until Napoleon's ministrations eased him past the worst of the pain.

Napoleon's patience with this agonizingly slow process was absolutely astonishing. Napoleon's entire body was bathed with a fresh sheen of sweat, his breaths coming in labored pants as he forced the unnatural stillness upon flesh primed for thrusting, but at no time did Napoleon's control slip. Illya wouldn't have blamed his friend if he had lost it at that point. He could sense that this was hurting Napoleon as much as the impalement was himself. But Napoleon held himself frozen in place, waiting for his body to accept him naturally, without force.

An eternity seemed to pass before Illya finally felt his partner's hot, sweaty balls press up against his butt. Stunned, Illya dazedly recognized that the worst of it was over. Napoleon was all the way in.

"Oh, God..." Napoleon gasped, as he, too, realized they were there. "You feel...incredible..."

No doubt unable to hold back a second longer, Napoleon's hips gave a tentative rock, shifting his sheathed cock ever so slightly around inside his friend.

Illya grunted at the internal sensations, too many bad memories trying to force their way through the wall he'd built around them.

"Is that...too bad?" Napoleon asked.

Aware that he could not possibly ask his companion for any further restraint, Illya shook his head. "No, not bad."

"But not good," Napoleon determined, sounding so frustrated that Illya wanted to die.

This was torturing his patient parter far more mercilessly than any THRUSH innovation.

Torn by conflicting emotions, Illya struggled to conquer his demons. There seemed to be far too many of them, and the intrusive bulk shoved up inside made clear thought all but impossible.

"Illya...please..."

Feeling the quivers that were coursing through those tense muscles behind him, Illya clenched his eyelids shut and gave a decisive push backwards. Like a reluctant diver making that unalterable leap from the high board, he was now irreparably committed to this course.

That single act seemed to be all that Napoleon's over-strained body was waiting for. Napoleon's brittle controls shattered like frozen glass.

"Ahh..." Illya cried out as Napoleon gave his first true thrust into him. The searing agony seemed to run straight through his entire body. It was absolutely the most vivid sensation Illya could recall experiencing, seeming far more acute than his previous encounters with this act. Probably because he hadn't been beaten beforehand. There was no other pain to dull the intensity. Gasping, he tried to hold it together.

While his left arm slipped around Illya's slender waist to hold his butt up, Napoleon's right hand pushed down hard on Illya's right shoulder, forcing him over onto his stomach again. The ride began in earnest then, as Napoleon commenced a steady thrusting, pounding in and out.

At first it was the most horrific nightmare Illya had yet endured. The pain reached almost transcendental heights of intensity, but just when Illya was convinced that he couldn't bear it another moment, everything altered with just the slightest change in Napoleon's angle of entry.

Napoleon's thrust this time was so powerful that it felt like it might split him right open. Illya imagined he could feel the head of that monster cock poking up at the back of his throat, skewering him straight through like a shish kebab. Only this time, Napoleon hit something that nobody had touched before, something deep inside Illya that lit him up like one of the Roman candles his partner was so fond of on Independence Day.

The friction against that secret place sparked through Illya, the delight sheer and bright as a magnesium flare. The never-before experienced, undiluted ecstasy seared his every nerve ending, numbing his stunned body to any lingering discomfort in his anal tract.

Illya had never understood on a visceral level why a man would voluntarily submit to this act. He'd asked Napoleon to take him this way in the futile hope that he might learn, but he'd had little expectations of anything other than his previous agony. This delight was more answer than he'd ever imagined possible. It seared understanding into every cell, into his DNA codes, into his very soul.

Awed, Illya felt this incredible man blast away the last of his inhibitions. Napoleon's thrusts into him were as wild and as primal as those of any of his rapists in the past, Napoleon riding his ass with all the refinement of a rutting bull. But somehow, there was a cleansing aspect to that savagery. Where Illya had cringed away from his previous attackers, he rose to meet every one of his partner's fierce thrusts, struggling to open himself further to take more of his partner's huge phallus.

Illya's body was on fire. Every time Napoleon plunged in and hit that exquisite spot, it was like gasoline pouring onto the flames. What had started out as a cool, feeble spark now raged like a towering inferno, like the initial blast in a fusion explosion.

Illya was lost to the sensations, his entire being forfeit to this man who now owned his very soul. As Illya rode out the bestial passion pounding through him, the scientist in him knew that he was never going to be the same. Ever. From this instant on, he would hunger for this, crave this ultimate possession with all the intensity with which he had once rejected it.

He might as well have just sold himself on a Moroccan slave block, Illya acknowledged. He was no longer his own man. He was Napoleon's now, to use as Napoleon pleased...for the next twenty days. And then Illya was going to have to walk away from this. Forever.

Even dangling on the peak of orgasm, that knowledge made his habitually stoic heart feel like crying. Twenty days. It felt like a death sentence.

The delight turning incandescent, Illya's world exploded around him. He had the sense of mind to bury his scream in the pillow as his cock spurted its fiery gift onto the mattress against which it was pressed.

As if that were the signal he'd been waiting for, Napoleon's teeth clamped painfully down on Illya's right shoulder as his sweat-soaked partner delivered his seed deep into the hidden recesses of Illya's body.

Illya concentrated on the experience, trying to feel Napoleon come, but he couldn't sense the powerful spurts Napoleon's grunts indicated were ripping from him. He just suddenly felt wetter inside, looser and maybe a bit warmer; although that last impression might have been the result of too active an imagination.

What Illya did feel was reborn, like every one of the demons that had stalked his nights was finally, inexorably exorcised. As the last climactic convulsion shuddered into memory and Napoleon slumped heavily against his back, the world seemed new to him again.

The dreams he'd lost all those years ago at that sadistic KGB guard's hands seemed to stir in his wounded heart. His entire adult life, Illya had gone around insisting that love was a fantasy created by romance writers and fostered by such opportunists as his philandering partner. Now he felt like a fool.

The emotion was as real as hate or fear. Had he any lingering doubts that love was solid and real, Illya knew he need only touch the physical manifestation of that amorphous feeling. Love was the sweaty, drained man plastered down his back, squashing him into the mattress.

Napoleon stirred groggily behind him. "Illoosha? Are you all right?"

"Mmmmmm..." Illya purred.

"God, I must be killing you. Hold on a second..."

Illya hissed as Napoleon carefully withdrew his deflated penis from inside him.

No, Illya decided, that was definitely not a sensation which he liked. He felt Napoleon fumble around behind him as Napoleon awkwardly cleaned his shaft off with a sheet corner.

"Illya?"

The concerned tone penetrated his haze of contentment. A sweet lassitude stealing through his body, despite an abrasive, raw awareness of a certain, no doubt distended orifice, Illya glanced over his shoulder. "Mmmm?"

"How do you feel? I know I hurt you..."

Reading the legitimate fear in those beautiful brown eyes, Illya rolled over onto his back. Still dopey from the pleasure, he forgot how narrow the bed was. Falling, he instinctively grabbed Napoleon's sturdy shoulder to keep from plunging to the floor, maneuvered a little, then settled down as though nothing had occurred, smiling up at his worried friend like a half-wit. "If that was hurting, I would ask you to torture me that way every night, Napoleon."

Joy spread bright as molten gold across those handsome features. "You mean that?"

Nodding, Illya caught his friend's head and dragged the larger man down into a thorough kiss that left them both more than a little breathless.

They parted a long time later, lying there twined together, waiting for their heartbeats and respiration rates to return to normal.

"You really wore me out," Napoleon announced in a mock-aggrieved tone.

"I thought you preferred to go to bed tired?" Illya smoothly replied, feeling closer to Napoleon at that moment than he ever had to anyone in his entire life. "What are you laughing at?"

Napoleon calmed himself with a visible effort. "Ah, unless it's escaped your notice, it's morning, not night. We're due in the computer room in exactly forty-one minutes."

"Morning..." Stunned, Illya remembered that Napoleon had, indeed, woken him up.

"Come on, I'll race you for the shower!" Napoleon bounced up from the bed, almost shaking Illya out at the quick move.

Illya gasped as he attempted to follow, his raw rectum reminding him in no uncertain terms of exactly what he'd been up to that morning.

"How bad?" Napoleon asked, frozen by the bed, all playfulness gone from his serious features.

"I'll mange," Illya decided, standing with far more caution. "Only..."

"Yes?" Napoleon looked like he was prepared to whisk his partner off to the infirmary.

"Would you mind if we waited until tomorrow night for you to torture me again that way?"

"What?" The playful tone of Illya's inquiry didn't penetrate Napoleon's concern for a moment, then Napoleon grinned in open relief. "You just give the word, my friend. I'll be happy to torture you on demand."

Chuckling, the pair made their way to the bath to prepare for a day of rookie-sitting.

*~*~*

The remaining twenty nights sped by like so many seconds. Illya kept thinking that if he immersed himself totally in these new delights they'd discovered, time would stop and stand still, as it seemed to do at the height of passion. The scientist in him was just as hooked on Napoleon as the sensualist, for it was that relentless experimenter who insisted that there must be a way to capture and prolong the instant of orgasm that seemed to last for eternity.

But despite everything Illya did to postpone the inevitable, the training session finally ended.

It was with a heavy heart that Illya, dressed in his customary black turtleneck and a pair of jeans, closed his suitcase that final morning. Staring around the room for any book he might have overlooked putting into the three boxes by the door, his gaze roved everywhere but towards Napoleon, who also seemed to be taking an over-long time packing.

"Well," Napoleon sighed at last, closing his leather bag with a metallic snap that spoke of finality, "I guess that's that."

Illya nodded stiffly, taking a long last look at the two skinny, ascetic beds in which he'd learned the true meaning of ecstasy. He felt sick to his stomach. Something large and hurtful had lodged in his throat and nothing he did seemed capable of clearing the obstruction. Every time he so much as glanced his handsome partner's way, that knot tightened, threatening to choke him. "Yes, that's that."

"Back to civilization." Napoleon's cheer sounded as forced as Illya's agreement had been.

For some reason, at that moment Illya recalled the desperation with which Napoleon had taken him less than an hour ago. These past few days it seemed that they were both trying to cram as much loving into the limited time left to them as was humanly possible. Napoleon had pushed even that last qualification to the limit, straining for super-human performance. His frantic lover had taken Illya an astonishing three times last night and twice this morning. Illya privately thought it was a marvel either of them could even stand at this point, let alone walk.

"Yes, I'm sure you're eager to get back to the city," Illya forced himself to reply, tried to act like this wasn't ripping the still-beating heart out of his chest.

"Actually, nothing could be further from the truth." The soft tone drew Illya's gaze to his partner's pallid face, emotion threatening to overwhelm him as Napoleon continued, "I think I'm going to miss this little room more than I have anything in a very long time."

Illya gulped, the lump a stranglehold now.

Inside, he was screaming, raging against fate and time. His selfish side was commanding that he take advantage of Napoleon's show of weakness. If he asked now, threw himself upon the other's mercy and begged Napoleon not to end it as they'd promised, Napoleon might waver...with the feel and taste of each other still sharp on their tongues, how could Napoleon not?

He could tell how open Napoleon would be to such manipulation. The man looked miserable, those dark eyes practically pleading with Illya to relent...but, how could he? He'd given his word to his partner, his promise not to complicate Napoleon's life with just such a request.

Easy as it would be to go back on his word, in the end, Napoleon would hate him for it. And if things fell apart badly, as they inevitably did in all such relationships, Illya would always be haunted by the fact that it had been he who'd broken his vow and brought disaster upon them.

No, impossible as it was to bear, Illya knew that he'd been right in making that promise. A clean break, no malingering.

Garnering his resolve, Illya resurrected defenses he'd all but abandoned six weeks ago. Blanking all emotion from his face and tone, he took a deep breath of air that still bore the faintest trace of the musk of their love play and carefully admitted, "Yes, I, too, will miss this place, but..."

Hope leaped in those pained dark eyes, as Napoleon interrupted, "Illya, couldn't we..."

Illya forged on as though Napoleon hadn't spoken, "But once we are home and absorbed in our normal lives...it will be better."

"Yes, it will be better," Napoleon echoed, sounding so forlorn that for a horrible moment, Illya feared that it wouldn't be he himself who broke down, but Napoleon. His friend seemed to pull himself together with a visible effort.

"I suppose we'd best be going now." The scientist in him forced the words out.

As Illya turned to pick up his suitcase, Napoleon suddenly called out, "Illya..."

Turning quickly at the urgent tone, Illya was enveloped in a tight hug, his mouth taken by a desperate kiss before he even knew what was happening. He melted against the taller man. Opening his mouth to a familiar visitor, Illya's arms tightened around his partner as their tongues slid back and forth in the intimate, wet dance that had become the bulwark of his lonesome existence. He was almost sobbing at what that single kiss took from him, from all that it promised if only he ignored their agreement.

Napoleon had initiated this. It wouldn't be solely his responsibility...

Only, his partner was an emotional man, given to sentiment. Illya himself was the pragmatist in this relationship. Illya knew in this instance he was duty-bound to keep them both strong.

Though it killed him to do so, Illya reluctantly fought his way free.

They both gasped at the abrupt withdrawal, two separate sets of fingers clutching at each other in instinctive dread of parting.

"I..." Napoleon floundered, "I'm sorry. I just..."

"I know," Illya soothed. "I, too, regret this necessity. But..." Struck by inspiration, Illya stroked over those chiseled features, heartbreakingly conscious that this was the last time he'd have the right to do so. "But like in `Casablanca' where your Bogart will always have Paris, we will always have our arctic nights to think back on. No?"

The protest birthing in those tortured eyes was never voiced. Napoleon's pain bled into his own for what seemed an eternity before the honorable American finally nodded and broke away. "Yes, we'll always have the arctic." The smile Napoleon forced at that point almost broke his heart. "Fitting somehow, don't you think? Others get the City of Love. U.N.C.L.E. agents get an ice-locked wasteland."

Knowing that an ice-locked wasteland perfectly described his future love life once this incredible man was gone from it, Illya nodded, hating the part of himself that required him to honor his commitments.

"I, ah...want to thank you, my friend," Napoleon whispered. "I would never have made it through this if not for you."

"It was my pleasure," Illya answered with forced formality. Anything else would have left him sobbing on the floor.

More than anything, he wanted to suggest to Napoleon that any time Napoleon was at loose ends for a date, that he drop by his place for similar...assistance. It wouldn't matter how long Illya had to wait between visits, just so long as he could look forward to such nights. But he kept the pathetic suggestion to himself, not so much out of pride, but because he knew this man.

As their current state of mutual misery illustrated, his partner was also a man who respected his commitments. Napoleon's expression of gratitude revealed that he already felt he owed Illya thanks for what had basically been a mutually beneficial arrangement. Such gratitude could make Napoleon feel...duty-bound to give his partner things he might no longer feel like offering once he was again absorbed in his hectic whirl of casual dating.

No, Illya realized, it was best to end it here, before he became another of Napoleon's many regrets. It was far preferable to be a fond memory than a chain around his friend's neck.

A knock at their closed door made the pair hastily draw apart.

"Mr. Solo? Mr. Kuryakin? Your plane is here, sirs." Gerald Wong's young, cheerful voice called through the door.

"Thanks, Gerald," Napoleon answered. "Would you get a couple of the guys to carry Mr. Kuryakin's books out to the vehicle?"

"You got it, sir," the future U.N.C.L.E. agent called back, his hurrying footsteps heralding his quick compliance.

"I guess it really is time to go," Napoleon said at last.

"Yes, past time." As he picked up his suitcase, Illya tried for lightness. "Do not look so glum, Napoleon. Wanda will think you ill."

"Wanda?"

The utter lack of comprehension was very flattering. "Your big date is tonight, remember?"

Illya had expected chagrin or perhaps pleasure to replace Napoleon's blank expression, but Napoleon replied almost apathetically, "Oh, yes. I had forgotten."

Too consumed by his own loss to notice much besides Napoleon's suddenly-painful presence at his side, Illya let the conversation drop. Following his partner out their bedroom door for the final time, Illya was nearly oblivious to his former lover's atypical, broody silence.

Tony Bennett might have left his heart in San Francisco, but Illya left his in a far less accommodating place. As that door closed behind him, Illya knew that for the rest of his life, he'd be wishing himself back in that bare little room.

*~*~*

Sixteen hours later, the physically exhausted Illya eased himself down onto his sofa. Compared to their accommodations of the past three months, even his starkly utilitarian apartment seemed luxurious. He stared at the stereo system he'd missed, his musical instruments, the walls of books surrounding him, all the creature comforts he'd done without. Looking at them, he knew that he'd trade them all to spend just one more night squashed in that tiny bed with his partner.

He winced at the thought of Napoleon, out there on the town with their lovely coworker. With her perfect hourglass figure, soft brown hair, and huge blue- green eyes, Wanda had more the look of a centerfold than an U.N.C.L.E. agent. She was just the prescription to get Napoleon through what ailed him.

Illya wondered if it would take more than a single night in her charming company to make Napoleon forget the six weeks they'd shared.

The shapely brunette had been waiting for their plane when they'd finally landed in LaGuardia, Wanda all smiles and enthusiastic hugs. Watching the gorgeous woman flirt with his now-former lover, her steamy gaze and barely- covered breasts an open invitation, Illya hadn't known if he'd wanted to pull out his gun and shoot the interloping beauty or himself, for being such a besotted moron.

To his credit, Napoleon hadn't made the situation any more difficult on Illya than it already was. After the briefest hug and peck on the cheek, Napoleon had been almost reserved with the girl. Although he'd claimed jet lag, Illya knew that Napoleon was no doubt overwhelmed by the unexpected complexities of the situation.

Illya knew he had to master his own jealousy fast or his life was going to be one unending misery. He couldn't fall into a deep, dark depression every time his lady-loving partner had a date.

Sighing, Illya pulled his blue terry cloth bathrobe more firmly around him to dispel a chill that had nothing to do with the room's temperature. The apartment was snug and warm, even if the world outside was not.

In the three months they'd been stuck in that underground fortress up north, early autumn had given way to the dead of winter. He'd missed the fall foliage, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, as well. Right now a December gale howled outside, shaking the apartment windows till they rattled in their frames. The night sky was dark and grim, threatening sleet or snow. All in all, it was a less than cheerful homecoming.

The fact that Waverly had granted them a week's leave to reward their fine work helped not in the least.

Illya stared around his apartment, listening to the quiet that reigned in between the gusts of wind keening outside. Never before this night had his home seemed either empty or lonely to him. He shuddered at the thought of seven full nights of this.

Seven nights alone before he had any valid excuse to see his partner...

Perhaps he should get a pet to share the place with, something to come home to, he absently thought, going so far as to seriously consider the concept. But deep down he knew that he didn't want a cat or a puppy or even the goldfish that would better suit his unpredictable schedule; the creature he wanted to share his home and life with couldn't be tamed or owned.

Wondering if he'd be able to sleep yet, Illya glanced at the clock across the room. 9:57.

Before he could stop it, the question popped into his mind – would they be back at Napoleon's yet, his jealous heart jabbed, or still out dancing somewhere?

Sighing, he morosely abandoned the idea of sleep. There was only one thing that helped on nights such as this, the vodka bottle in his freezer.

Wishing that he'd had the sense to spare himself this heartbreak, Illya pulled himself up from the comfortable couch cushions and headed towards his dark kitchen.

He was halfway there when his doorbell sounded.

Illya froze in his tracks, ashamed at how his heart leapt with hope. It was embarrassing, really, how pathetically dependent he'd become on his partner. He might want it to be Napoleon every time the phone or doorbell rang, but chances were it was merely Mrs. Lovett downstairs bringing up his accumulated mail.

"Who is it?" he called, reaching into the hall closet for his gun before he went any closer to the door.

"It's me, Illya. Napoleon," came the muffled, strangely hesitant reply from the other side of the white enamel-painted wood.

It was almost cruel how pitifully excited those four words made him. Warning himself that there were a thousand reasons why Napoleon might be calling upon him at such an hour, other than the one his desperate heart fixed upon, Illya holstered his gun and hurried to the door.

He tried to tell himself that Napoleon could be here to pick up that silk shirt that had found its way into Illya's suitcase, or Napoleon might even have come to tell him that they could no longer function as working partners. Thrusting that unpleasant possibility aside, Illya took a moment to school his features and straighten out his robe before opening the door.

Looking sleek and sexy in his long black cashmere coat and grey scarf, Napoleon hovered in Illya's doorway, looking for all the world as if he were prepared to flee at a second's notice.

"Hello, Napoleon." Illya wasn't completely able to keep the surprise out of his face or voice. "I wasn't expecting you tonight."

It was a question.

Seeming at a loss for a moment, Napoleon glanced away, swallowed, then straightened up with near palpable resolve. "I realize that I'm breaking my word by coming here. If you want me to leave, I'll go right now without another word, but...I'd really like to speak to you, if you're not busy?"

Illya gave a mental whoosh as he untangled Napoleon's atypically nervous delivery. That first line made it clear that Napoleon was here for reasons other than work.

Stunned almost speechless, Illya stepped hastily back into the foyer of the apartment, holding the door wide open. "No, please, come in."

As he relieved his partner of his overcoat and saw the plain black trousers and casual grey cardigan Napoleon had on beneath it, Illya asked, "What happened to your date? Weren't you going out?"

"I canceled it," Napoleon shrugged, continuing at Illya's curious glance, "There seemed little point in it."

The joy that rushed through him left Illya nearly weak with relief. Nevertheless, he forced himself to remain outwardly unmoved. He wanted this too much to trust his judgment in this matter. So, instead of leaping at the opportunity, Illya gave a mild, "Oh?"

Perhaps he'd overplayed his disinterest, Illya worried as Napoleon fell silent, visibly ill at ease.

"Would you care to sit down?" Illya asked, gesturing towards the living room.

"Perhaps in a moment. There was something I needed to ask you first," Napoleon explained, biting his lower lip as he stood there beside the foyer coat closet. The normally suave American looked like a school kid awaiting detention.

"Yes?"

"Would you have...walked away from me this morning if not for our agreement?"

Illya's heart kicked into double time, his blood pounding like a timpani in his ears. Torn, he wondered how he was supposed to answer such a question without giving himself totally away.

Nothing had changed, Illya firmly reminded himself. The stakes were still just as high. Whether intentionally or not, Napoleon had placed him in the position of having to make this decision for them. If he told the truth now, it would be he who damned them.

Schooling his wayward emotions, Illya pulled every bit of his scientific distance into his attitude and reminded, "What I would or would not have done is of no significance. The agreement exists. I am duty bound to honor it."

"I can't read you when you're like this," Napoleon complained, staring at him as if he wanted to see into his very soul.

"Napoleon, we both agreed that this was for the best," he almost pleaded.

"I wish I knew what you really want. I...I think I know what's in your heart, Illoosha, but I'm not sure..."

"We did agree not to drag this out..." Illya looked away from those beseeching eyes, knowing what would happen if he stared too long.

"Are you doing this just because of that damn promise?" Napoleon asked again.

Trapped, Illya sighed. "I have never broken my word to you. I will not start now, not when my judgment is so suspect." Almost angry now at being forced to be so candid about things better left buried in the frozen north, Illya glared at his visitor. "There. Does that satisfy you?"

A chill of uneasiness touched his spine at the smile that spread across those sleek features.

"Almost," Napoleon replied with renewed cheer. "There's just one other thing."

"Yes?" Illya demanded, totally out of patience now.

"There's the small matter of an unfulfilled bargain, my friend."

Illya stared in complete incomprehension. "What?"

"One night last month we made a bargain. You said that if I performed a certain favor for you, you would reciprocate when and where I desired. I've come to collect."

Illya felt every bit of the blood drain from his face. Napoleon had come here to collect on a debt they'd both all but forgotten about? How could he make love to this man, fulfill whatever fantasy Napoleon couldn't ask of another, and then just let Napoleon walk away again? This morning's goodbye was hard enough. If he had to do it a second time, it would kill him.

"You do recall our bargain?" Napoleon prodded.

"I remember." Too vulnerable to meet that perceptive stare, Illya looked down. He couldn't believe Napoleon would ask this of him, not now when just looking at his handsome partner pierced him like a dagger to the heart. Finally, he pulled himself together and met that waiting gaze. "However, I had thought that you'd forgotten. Do you have no conscience at all?"

Pure steel entered those dark, dangerous eyes. "Not when it comes to something I really want. If you remember, you said that you'd do something for me that I'd never dare ask another?"

Feeling almost nauseous, Illya gave a glum nod. From the first kiss, he'd known this was a disaster in the making, but never in his worst nightmares had Illya believed that their altered relationship would totally destroy his respect for his friend. That Napoleon would come to him when he was hurting like this and demand that he play out some sordid sexual fantasy was the most reprehensible thing he'd ever had done to him. He'd never forgive Napoleon for this, never.

"I remember," Illya whispered.

"Are you willing to honor that agreement?"

Bile rising in his throat, Illya spat, "I will keep my word. Though, I must warn you, you will get little pleasure out of it. I...I am not at my best tonight. Just what can I do for you that you couldn't ask of another?"

Strangely enough, it was compassion and not triumph which flashed through Napoleon's face.

"I've never asked this of another living soul," Napoleon began, seeming so nervous that it was fear that licked at the waiting Illya's innards.

Forty-two nights in this man's bed had acquainted Illya with the scope and breadth of Napoleon's sexual expertise. They'd done so much together in that short time that Illya couldn't begin to imagine what Napoleon would be too bashful to ask for in bed. Handcuffs? Some type of repugnant sado-masochistic game?

To his shame, the shiver that ran through him as he considered the possibilities was not one of disgust. In his heart, Illya knew that he would do anything this man asked of him. And he knew Napoleon well enough to be fairly confident that Napoleon would make him enjoy every second of it, no matter what repugnant act his worldly partner required of him.

Sensing that his friend's nerve had faltered, Illya angrily challenged, "Well, what is it to be, Napoleon? Handcuffs? Whips? Chains?"

Napoleon actually blinked in surprise. "No, nothing like that."

"Then what do you want of me?"

"You said that you would do something for me that I would never ask of another. Strange as it may seem, my word still means something to me, even after all these years in the business. I've never made a promise in my personal life that I failed to keep, where humanly possible. What I'm asking of you tonight, something that I've never asked of any living soul, is that you release me from that damn agreement we made."

Braced for all manner of depravity, Illya could only stare. "What?" he finally managed.

"I don't want us to be over, not on the grounds of some stupid prenuptial agreement. I know this complicates things immensely, but...I have feelings for you that I can't turn off, Illya. I was hoping that you might feel the same."

Illya looked for the strength to turn away from this, but it simply wasn't there. "Napoleon..."

"Yes?" Surely, the great Napoleon Solo couldn't be as nervous as that single syllable implied.

Heartened, Illya reached up to brush the uncertain man's cheek, his hand slipping down to the bulky grey wool of the sweater covering the broad chest. "It appears we will have much more than arctic nights to remember. Come inside, we have much to discuss."

Taking his lover's hand, Illya led the way into an apartment that he somehow suspected would be neither as quiet nor as lonely from this night forward.


The End

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