The Damage Control Affair

"What do you think? Did we lose them?" Napoleon Solo breathlessly asked of his partner as they ducked into a dumpster-crowded alley off Thompson Street. Despite the autumn chill, his body was damp with perspiration, his normally pristine brown suit beginning to show the wrinkles from too much activity.

The peaceful East Village afternoon had been shattered by gunfire when six THRUSH agents ambushed the pair of U.N.C.L.E. operatives outside a restaurant. Between them, Illya and he had taken out three of their adversaries, but they were still out-gunned and desperately low on ammo.

"I don't know. Perhaps," his winded partner replied. Illya's fine blond hair was soaked with sweat, a darkened, stringy mat against his skull.

Illya took a cautious peek around the corner of the wall behind which he was hiding, pulling his head back as a bullet thunked into the brick beside his cheek.

"It appears not," Illya drolly informed.

"Shall we?" Napoleon waived his companion towards the wire fence behind them, the gracious gesture more at home in a ball room than a trash dumpster.

Lithe as the acrobat he was, Illya scrambled up the fence agile as a monkey.

Always impressed by the younger man's physical accomplishments, Napoleon looked on with something like pride. Then, another bullet ricocheted off his dumpster and he was fast on his partner's heels.

Napoleon had made it to the top in seconds and was gingerly straddling the fence, guarding his suit against the jagged top, when another of their enemy's volleys flew somewhat truer than THRUSH's previous attempts. This bullet hit him in the back of the thigh, passing straight through before he'd even realized he'd been hit.

The force of the impact unbalanced Napoleon. He'd nearly recovered when the pain hit. The rush of burning discomfort toppled his already wobbling body over.

Blasted by the searing agony of the bullet wound, Napoleon was almost unaware of his less than graceful fall.

"Aaaghh..." Napoleon grunted as he hit the leaf-strewn cement. His hands dazedly grasping at the sticky, wet leg of his trousers, he stared up at the orange and yellow leaves still clinging to the maple tree beside the fence from which he'd fallen. Confused, he struggled to clear his mind and figure out what had happened to him, how he'd ended up down here.

"Napoleon?" a familiar voice shouted from up ahead. "Are you all right?"

"I'm down," Napoleon called back, trying to locate the gun he'd dropped in his fall.

It seemed that the last word had barely passed his lips before his partner was kneeling beside him, checking out the injury.

Napoleon silently took possession of the dropped gun which Illya absently handed to him. He hissed at the probing fingers, trying to hold in the instinctive outcry as his friend checked the painful area. His fingers tightened around his weapon's familiar grip.

"You're losing too much blood," Illya muttered, a frightening intensity settling over him. He appeared set to take on all of THRUSH singlehandedly – with an ammo clip that had only four shots left.

"We've got to get out of here," Napoleon fretted, not understanding what had delayed their adversaries.

No sooner had he thought it, than an over-muscled, gun-toting THRUSH agent rounded the alley corner the U.N.C.L.E. men had just vacated.

Napoleon was shooting before his target had even fully cleared the alley.

Gratified, he saw the THRUSH man drop like a ton of bricks.

Illya glanced over his shoulder, bit his lip, then returned his attention to Napoleon.

"What are you...?" Napoleon demanded as Illya passed his gun over to Napoleon to hold, then proceeded to undo Napoleon's tie.

"Tourniquet," Illya explained. The gray turtleneck he wore prevented the more casually dressed Russian from using his own clothing to stop the flow of blood.

"Told you that there were advantages to being properly dressed at all times." Napoleon tried to sound unaffected by his wound, but he was beginning to feel more than slightly woozy from blood loss. His clothes and Illya's were both almost soaked with blood now.

"Providing one's own tourniquet can hardly be an inducement to proper attire," Illya quipped back. The shadow of worry never left his troubled gaze. "Can you move?"

"I'll have to, won't I? We've got precious little cover here. Give me a hand up, will you?" Grunting under the pain, Napoleon allowed himself to be hauled to his feet. Even with Illya taking most of his weight, it was hard going.

Within moments, there were bullets whizzing by them again, the gunshots thundering through the alleyways like cherry bombs on the Fourth of July.

Napoleon gasped as Illya manhandled him over a low cement wall.

They dropped down into the yard behind one of those picturesque brownstones that were holdovers from a gentler, more refined age. Taking in the carefully tended rose bushes crowding the limited space, Napoleon could almost believe that they'd moved through time as well as space. Those beautifully maintained bushes looked like something from a Victorian garden. Although the first frost had been last week, most of the plants still bore colorful blooms.

Illya didn't even pause after his soft landing on this private property. He pulled Napoleon's arm over his shoulder and dragged him towards the only available cover – the space between the slanted metal cellar door and the building's back stairs.

A trail of bullets ripped through the tender bushes in their wake, sending rose petals fluttering down around them like pastel snow.

"Damn. Looks like we're pinned here," Napoleon breathily assessed. "How many shots do you have left?"

"Two in the clip. One up the spout. You?" Those clear blue eyes were scanning the area, searching for either a target or viable escape route.

"The same," Napoleon replied. Painfully aware of how grim their current position was, he made the only sensible suggestion. "If you took both guns and left me here, you'd have a fighting chance. I'm no good to you like this."

Those busy eyes never even glanced his way.

"Illya, did you hear what I said?" Napoleon demanded, exasperated by the silent treatment. Although the rose garden was beginning to swim in and out of focus, he did his best to hold onto consciousness, aware that Illya would never leave him once he passed out.

"I heard you," Illya whispered.


"And what?" Illya calmly stonewalled.


Both the injured and hale U.N.C.L.E. agent swirled at a sudden noise less than three feet overhead.

"What the devil's going on out here? Who are you people?" An outraged masculine voice demanded. "What are you doing in my garden? It sounds like..."

Illya reached up and grabbed the man as a THRUSH bullet thwacked into the door less than an inch from the man's skull. The startled bystander landed on Napoleon with a painful grunt.

"Who the hell are you guys...this man's been shot!" The newcomer announced, the ire fading from his handsome face as he took in Napoleon's wound. The brown-haired, pale-skinned man had very Irish features.

"We'd noticed, thank you," Illya drolly replied. "Please, sir, keep your head down."

The warning proved unnecessary, as the stranger was already bent over Napoleon's wound.

"What do you think you're doing?" Napoleon demanded as the stranger began to probe the injury.

"I'm a doctor," the man muttered. "Who put this on?"

"I did," Illya responded, leaning up to use one of their precious bullets as a THRUSH operative made the mistake of showing his face. It was a near miss, but a miss all the same.

Now they were down to five bullets and had an innocent bystander trapped here with them, to boot, Napoleon grimly acknowledged.

"You did a good job," the doctor commented, not remarking on Illya's shooting. "But this wound requires immediate attention."

"We are a little busy at the moment," Illya sarcastically pointed out.

"So I'd noticed," the newcomer responded in kind.

Impressed by the man's cool composure, Napoleon took closer stock of the newcomer.

The doctor was somewhere between Illya and himself in age. His hair was a dark, reddish brown, very close in color to Napoleon's. The eyes, however, were a blue so deep, they appeared almost dark as sapphires. His features were strong and clean-cut, almost classically sculpted and yet...there was a gentleness to the doctor's gaze and set of his mouth that hinted at his compassionate nature. All in all, he looked like a likable sort of guy.

Large, long fingered hands competently took over handling Napoleon's tourniquet.

"Look, we've really got to get your friend here some treatment," the doctor insisted, directing his comment towards the laconic Russian.

"I'm open to suggestion." Illya icily shot back, sounding highly put upon.

"We could take him into my office up there," the doctor suggested.

"I don't believe our friends out there will be very cooperative, Doctor...?" Napoleon gently answered, reading from the tense set of his partner's shoulders that Illya's slow-burning temper was about to ignite.

"Dr. Michael Delaney, at your service." The smile was almost impish. "Just out of curiosity, are you the good guys or the bad guys?"

"Would it really matter at this point?" Illya demanded in a hostile, icy tone.

"Not really," Delaney diplomatically replied, watching Illya as though he were Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and Jack the Ripper rolled up in one.

Considering the threatening set of Illya's arctic features, Napoleon couldn't really blame the man.

To prevent any further misunderstandings, Napoleon offered, "We work for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement."

"I've heard of your organization," the doctor replied, appearing relieved.

"I'm Napoleon Solo. This is my partner, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin."

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Solo. Mr. Kuryakin..." Delaney appeared unconscious of the absurdity of the polite introduction while all three huddled for their lives in this freezing, exposed cubbyhole.

Illya, however, was obviously highly aware of its inappropriateness. "If we are through with the amenities, perhaps we could concentrate on the issue of our imminent destruction?" Illya snapped, turning his icy glare on the pair of them.

Understanding his friend's frustration, Napoleon smiled at his partner, the gesture dying as he observed the curious change that came over Illya.

Busy with their defense, Illya hadn't really looked at their new acquaintance yet.

As those two pairs of very different blue eyes met over Napoleon, all the hardness appeared to drain out of Illya's stony features, something like shock appearing to replace it. Puzzled, Napoleon glanced at Delaney, only to see a similar reaction going on there.

Napoleon knew at once that the two men didn't know each other, yet, the response was akin to recognition. For a moment, there was something very like an electrical charge in the air, then his flustered partner broke the doctor's gaze, returning his attention to the alley where the THRUSH agents were now gathering.

If Napoleon didn't know better, he'd swear that his partner sounded almost nervous when next he spoke, and not of the THRUSH men. "I'm going to lay down a line of fire with our remaining ammunition. If you would be so kind as to help my partner into your office during that period, it would be greatly appreciated, doctor."

Again, blue eyes shyly met blue and something unexpected sparked between.

Understanding what was going on at last, Napoleon discretely kept his mouth shut.

"Yes, of course, Mr. Kuryakin." The physician carefully pronounced the foreign name. "Anything to help."

"It's Illya," Illya corrected with endearing awkwardness. His cheeks actually appeared flushed.

"Illya," Delaney smiled shyly back. "Whenever you're ready."

Illya nodded. "Napoleon?"

"I'm ready," Napoleon assured, holding the pain in as he was jostled into position. Delaney's arm went about his waist to support him.

"Now!" Illya shouted, pistols blasting.

Delaney hauled Napoleon up the stairs in record time, Illya hot on their heels as they crashed through the back porch door, knocking over a table full of house plants in their haste.

"Ether?" Illya demanded once all three were temporarily safe behind the slammed back door.

"In my examination room. This way," the doctor replied, helping Illya as he took most of Napoleon's weight.

Once the doctor had handed over the required bottle, Illya asked, "Where is the kitchen?"

To his credit, the doctor didn't even blink. "Upstairs. The second door on the left. The front is unlocked."

With a nod, Illya left them in the spotless examining room.

"While we're here, why don't I have a look at that wound?" Delaney suggested, assisting Napoleon onto the examination table. "By the way, what is your friend going to do in my kitchen? I take it he's not about to raid my cookie jar."

"Illya is a man of strong appetites," Napoleon commented, noting with satisfaction how quickly those peaches and cream cheeks filled with color.

He was right, then. The interest was mutual.

Tactful enough not to remark upon his discovery, Napoleon continued, "But he'll probably just borrow some of your cleaning supplies."

"A Molotov cocktail?" the doctor guessed as he gathered the necessary instruments from a mobile tray.

"Something like that. Ah, if you could help it, doctor, I'd like to remain awake. In case Illya needs my help. Those guys aren't just going to go away."

"I'll do my best, although, I can't promise it will be painless," Delaney warned.

Nodding, Napoleon looked anywhere but down as the doctor began to work on his thigh. Pretending not to hear or feel the seam of his trousers being cleanly sliced open with a scalpel, Napoleon noticed the number of clown faces and colorful animals decorating the wall. Curious, he asked, "Are you a pediatrician?"

"Yes. And I was beginning to think two year olds were trying...who are those men out there, Mr. Solo?"

"They belong to a rather unsavory group of..." He hissed as he was guided onto his side so that the doctor could administer a local anesthetic. "They belong to a group named THRUSH. Their objectives are the usual – domination of the world's resources and people. It's our job to stop them."

"In the books, you spies always have some fancy walkie-talkies. Last night I even saw a show on TV where a fellow had a phone in his shoe. Couldn't you call for back up?"

Napoleon looked quickly away after a chance glance downwards.

"Sorry. Bullet wounds aren't exactly my forte," Delaney apologized.

"It's all right. Those very nice gentlemen out there had a transmitter which blew our communicators' circuits. But if you'd be kind enough to pass me that phone..."

"Mr. Solo, I'm operating at the moment," the doctor sounded scandalized.

"If we don't get some help here, a mortician will be finishing up on all three of us."

With a disgusted grimace, the doctor used his hip to push the wheeled examination table closer to the desk so that Napoleon could reach the phone himself without the doctor having to break the sterile field of his gloves.

"Thank you," Napoleon acknowledged. Realizing that he really must have been out of it to have waited this long to take such fundamental steps, he asked for the address of their present location and quickly phoned in for back up.

"Ask for an ambulance, while you're at it," the doctor demanded as Napoleon made to sign off.

No sooner had Napoleon hung up than a terrible explosion sounded in the rose garden outside.

A minute or so later, Illya Kuryakin walked nonchalantly into the examination room. "Our THRUSH friends won't be giving us any more trouble for a while," he informed.

"Would you mind?" the doctor demanded as Illya peered over his shoulder at where he was working on Napoleon's thigh.

After a second, Delaney seemed to take notice of what Illya had said, for he seemed to grow a little green as he asked, "Do you mean that you killed..."

"There really was no other alternative," Illya explained. "I'm afraid that U.N.C.L.E. will have to replace several of your rose bushes, Dr. Delaney."

"Don't worry about that," the doctor whispered, then changed the subject. "I've managed to stop the bleeding here, but Mr. Solo is still going to require..." Delaney's words were interrupted by a heavy pounding on the door at the far side of the house.

A worried voice shouted, "Napoleon, Illya? It's Witherspoon!"

"You're busy, doctor. I'll get it," Illya smiled, his old self again.

In seconds the doctor's small examination room was overrun with U.N.C.L.E. agents.

"That was fast," Napoleon commented as Witherspoon, a stocky, graying agent with a cop's square jaw and competent walk, entered the room.

"We've been combing the area for you both since we intercepted the report of gunfire to the local police precinct," Witherspoon explained. "We've got a meat wagon and an ambulance trawling the area to pick up your casualties. I have to hand it to you, Napoleon, you guys are thorough. Not a one of the THRUSH agents you put down will be troubling us again."

"You mentioned an ambulance?" Dr. Delaney interrupted. "When will it arrive?"

A siren's wail out front answered that question.

It seemed to Napoleon that he was being bundled onto the gurney before the pediatrician had even finished speaking.

"I'll ride with Mr. Solo to the hospital," Delaney offered.

That won't be necessary, doctor," Illya softly refused. "Due to the nature of our business, a physician always staffs U.N.C.L.E.'s ambulance."

"Yes, of course. I'd like to consult with him before you leave, if possible?" Delaney asked.

"Come this way, please," Illya directed, the pair following as the attendants bundled Napoleon's gurney out of the building.

While the white-coated orderlies were shifting Napoleon into the ambulance, he saw the earnest young physician speaking with U.N.C.L.E.'s white haired field doctor, Dr. Armstrong. Then Armstrong and Illya crawled into the crowded interior and the wailing ambulance took off for Med Section.

U.N.C.L.E.'s medical staff was no less efficient than its field operatives. In under forty minutes Napoleon's wound had been treated and stitched, the patient installed in a private room with a fetching nurse in attendance.

Pleased with the progress he was making with the scrumptious redhead, Napoleon grinned at his partner as Illya entered the room.

Illya appeared wrung out, tense, and understandably drained by the events of the day.

"How do you feel, Napoleon?" Illya's tone was soft and solicitous, his concern genuine despite how little emotion was revealed on the pinched looking face.

"Better by the minute." Napoleon's chin gestured towards the shapely nurse exiting the room.

"I can see that you are well." Illya gave a tired smile.

"You look done in," Napoleon observed. "Why don't you go home and get some rest?"

"There are several things at headquarters that I must attend to first," Illya quietly refused.

Knowing that those 'things' would keep Illya occupied for the better part of the night, Napoleon thought as fast as the painkillers would allow for an excuse to keep his tired friend away from the office.

Illya worked too damn hard. If his reserved partner wasn't risking life and limb in the field, he was burning the midnight oil in U.N.C.L.E.'s research labs. After a harrowing day like they'd just spent, even Illya required some down time. Yet, Napoleon knew that if his partner were left to his own devices, Illya would put in another six hours before retiring.

Normally, Napoleon would waylay his partner for the needed R&R, insisting that Illya accompany him to dinner or on some other relaxing jaunt, but, for obvious reasons, that wasn't in the game plan tonight. This was going to take some careful handling.

"Actually, if what you've got planned at the office isn't too pressing, there's something that I wish you'd do for me this evening. I'd do it myself, but the doctors tell me that I'm not going anywhere for a couple of days," Napoleon began.

"Napoleon, I will not stand in for you with your latest young lady," Illya firmly denied.

"That's good, because I wasn't going to ask that of you." Napoleon flashed his brightest, most innocent smile.

It was wasted on his highly suspicious friend. "Then what do you wish of me?"

The drugs they'd pumped into him almost loosened his tongue to the point where he'd tell the truth. What he wanted of his restrained partner was for the younger man to loosen up and have some fun. Fortunately, his experience resisting THRUSH truth serums had given Napoleon the discipline required to resist such recklessness.

Looking properly pathetic and throwing in just the right amount of earnestness for good measure, Napoleon embarked on this risky, subtle course. If Illya weren't willing to go out looking for fun himself, he felt it a partner's duty to push him into it.

"I, ahh...was hoping that I could persuade you to stop by Dr. Delaney's...since it's on your way home anyway and really wouldn't take you out of your way," Napoleon pointed out.

The suggestion pricked Illya's attention. The impassive features didn't reveal a thing, but Napoleon could almost hear his partner's heart pound faster as Illya asked a mite too casually, "Dr. Delaney's? Whatever for?"

Careful here, Napoleon mentally advised himself. "Well, I think someone should check on the man. Bullets flying through the windows and corpses in the rose garden would shake anyone up, even a native New Yorker. Besides, we never did get a chance to properly thank him. We'd have been in pretty bad shape today if the good doctor hadn't offered us shelter," Napoleon reminded. He was careful to keep his gaze totally open and level.

Napoleon had never done this before, had never tried to set Illya up with another man. He prayed that he wasn't being too obvious and that he'd read his signals right earlier.

It had been several years since Napoleon had learned that his young partner preferred other men. Illya still had no idea that he was aware of his sexuality, which Napoleon knew was the way his privacy loving friend wanted it. Secrets learned through THRUSH truth serums were best left uncommented upon. He knew that there were embarrassing things that he'd told his partner under similar circumstances that Illya had never breathed a word about. Yet...this was a pretty big subject to ignore.

Maybe it would have been easier for Napoleon to pretend that he didn't know the truth if he'd believed his friend was happy, but although Illya hid it well from the rest of the world, Napoleon sensed how lonely he truly was. His self-contained friend buried himself in his work and that arcane, cerebral jazz music he preferred.

There'd been a time or two when that pattern of solitude was broken, where for a short period of time Illya would leave work at a normal hour for some unexplained appointment or the other.

During those brief intervals, Napoleon thought that his friend was almost happy. There'd be a glow about Illya. He would be more open to joking around, their banter lighthearted and playful...then, in just a few short weeks, Illya would be working double shifts again. Napoleon would feel the weight lying heavy on his friend's heart again and be powerless to lift it...or even address the issue.

By Napoleon's estimation, it had been over a year since Illya had displayed any signs of being involved with anyone – of either sex. Perhaps it was none of his business, but he'd never seen his partner react as strongly to a man as Illya had today with that handsome young doctor. The attraction had been there, on both sides, Napoleon was sure of it.

He was equally certain that Illya would never go back to Delaney's on his own, not without a push.

It was strange to even think of matchmaking in these terms, but...Illya was his closest friend. Napoleon didn't fully understand what made his partner desire other men, but since Illya did like guys, this Delaney didn't seem a bad choice.

The fact that the guy was a doctor showed that Delaney had some kind of a brain in his head. Illya wouldn't be bored with his conversation. The physician seemed attractive a masculine way, Napoleon supposed. And, most importantly, Delaney's position ensured that he'd have to be as discreet as any U.N.C.L.E. agent. Add to this the fact that Napoleon liked the cheerful pediatrician, and it seemed a perfect match.

Hopefully, Illya would agree once the pair got to know each other.

"You seriously want me to do this – tonight?" Illya questioned Napoleon's unusual suggestion.

"The doctor was instrumental in saving our lives," Napoleon stressed, hoping that he wasn't laying it on too thick. "I'd call, but...some thank-yous should be delivered in person. Don't you agree?"

"Yes, of course," Illya nodded.

"You'll do it?" Napoleon asked hopefully.

"I'll stop by after..."

"You don't want to go too late. Besides, someone should check on him soon. To see that he's all right and..." Struck by inspiration, Napoleon added, "and to make sure that our THRUSH playmates don't pay him a visit."

"You think they would?" Illya asked.

"They did track us to his house. They may believe that he has knowledge of that formula they're looking for," Napoleon extemporized.

"I'll go immediately," Illya agreed, the hint of danger throwing the scale, as Napoleon had known it would. "I'll be in to see you in the morning, Napoleon."

"Good. Bring food."

Illya flashed him a smile. "I will. Good night, Napoleon."

"Sweet dreams." Napoleon said fondly, hoping that things would work out for his friend.


Three months later, Illya still had that glow about him. Napoleon had first noticed it about a week or so after his shooting. To his utter delight, his partner appeared to have a social life beyond U.N.C.L.E., and a very satisfying one at that, were the number of 'Sorry, Napoleon, I can't make it tonight. I have a previous engagement,' anything to go by.

Napoleon was glad for his friend, and a little sad as well that Illya didn't feel secure enough to update him on his personal life. Still, as long as Illya was enjoying himself, that was all that really mattered to him.

It was late in the evening, one cold Friday night in January, after most of the day staff had cleared out of headquarters, that Napoleon was made to regret his meddling in his partner's affairs.

Napoleon was down in a darkened file room with Mitzi, making speedy progress at getting her bra undone while they lay tangled together in the meager space between one of the rows of massive metal cabinets and the cold wall, when the lights suddenly went on and interrupted Napoleon's steamy tete a tete.

Napoleon clamped his hand over his excitable companion's luscious mouth to hold in her panicked squeal. The last thing the poor girl needed was for Waverly to discover her in this compromising position. Mitzi had already gotten into enough trouble this past week for pestering the Old Man with unnecessary phone calls.

To both the concealed lovers' relief, it wasn't the head of Section 2 who spoke.

"How could you be so stupid as to not write down the name of the restaurant he's meeting that faggot at tonight? How's the bug supposed to work if we can't tell the surveillance van where to go?" a grating voice harshly demanded.

It didn't take a second for Napoleon to identify the speaker as Gene Crater, the temporary head of Internal Security in Section 2. The zealot had always struck him as being something of a fascist. Never one to question Mr. Waverly's decisions, he was nonetheless bewildered by his boss' choice of Crater for this sensitive post. The man had all the refinement of a Panzer tank.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Crater," a hassled sounding, younger voice apologized. "We shouldn't have missed it, but...everyone's a little nervous trailing Kuryakin. The guy's practically a legend, sir."

Napoleon's blood turned to ice in his veins at the mention of his partner's name. His erection deflated like a pricked balloon. He listened in horrified silence to the rest of the conversation, unable to believe that their own agency had bugged his partner.

"Legend, my ass. Right now Kuryakin's a class A security risk, Mitchell. Don't forget it," Crater warned.

"Because he's been seen in a couple of jazz clubs with a man? That doesn't mean anything, sir. We all go out drinking with our buddies now and then," Mitchell earnestly argued, sounding disgusted with his assignment and the man giving the orders.

"Well, we all don't sleep over our buddies' houses like our little Russian fairy boy does, do we?" Crater demanded, the tone of the insult enough to get Napoleon thirsty for his blood.

Napoleon painfully tightened his grip on the half-dressed girl in his arms.

"Even so, sir..." Mitchell protested.

"It's not just that he's letting this fag fuck him, Mitchell. It's who the fag is," Crater reminded.

"Sir, I still don't understand," the younger man stated.

"We ran a security check on Dr. Michael Delaney. He went to the same college as Morton Kingsley, THRUSH's New York branch's top enforcer.

"I went to the same high school as the Boston Strangler, sir. That doesn't make us pals," Mitchell boldly insisted, earning Napoleon's undying gratitude.

"He dropped out two years before you even entered. Kingsley and Delaney were classmates..."

"English Lit. 1, sir. A six-month course. That hardly constitutes a relationship. There's no indication that Dr. Delaney ever had any social contact with..."

"Well, I for one am not waiting for our resident fag to spill U.N.C.L.E.'s secrets to some THRUSH informer. Tonight we're going to have cameras there at Delaney's and get some graphic, hard evidence on this pervert. We'll bring the entire sordid mess to Waverly in the morning. Then, we'll let the Old Man decide who's stepping outside their jurisdiction." A brief rustling of papers followed. "Here it is. They're meeting at a place called Meandros' in an hour. Get me the address. See if you can do that much right!" Crater ordered as their footsteps receded and the room was plunged into blackness once again.

As the door snapped shut, Napoleon was shaking, but not with passion. Rarely, had he experienced such incandescent rage. The language that insect had used while referring to his partner...the very idea that such a low life would dare spy on Illya Kuryakin, the bravest, most honorable man Napoleon knew, ignited his fury as nothing else ever had. He'd seen Illya tortured before his eyes and been less incensed, because it was the enemy doing it. This...vermin represented U.N.C.L.E.. That made the offense all the more obnoxious, and frightening.

Part of Napoleon had wanted to stand up and throttle Crater, squash the creep into the dirt like the worm that he was. Only, the realist in him knew that such displays, although emotionally satisfying, would accomplish nothing. He had to head this disaster off before it materialized.

Napoleon was 99% certain that Alexander Waverly would never condone this type of invasion of privacy, not on the slim evidence Crater appeared to have. Even if the slime got his compromising photos, Napoleon was certain that Waverly would see through the set up, see this for the witch hunt that it was. He knew his boss would be angry with Crater, not Illya, for this incident.

However, Napoleon also knew his partner.

Illya was fanatical about his privacy. Were Crater to photograph him in bed with someone Illya wasn't even comfortable enough to discuss with Napoleon, Illya would resign – whether the surveillance were sanctioned by Waverly or not. And Napoleon wouldn't blame him in the least.

So, revenge was going to have to wait.

It didn't sound like Crater had any hard evidence yet. Just notations of where Illya spent his nights and with whom. The observation wasn't anything but standard O.P. yet. If Napoleon were lucky, that's all it would stay.


The frightened whisper against his neck recalled Napoleon to his present situation.

"Who was that horrid man?" Mitzi shivered.

"Look, Mitzi, I don't have time to explain now, but I've got to go. Illya's in trouble and..." Belatedly, it occurred to Napoleon that this file clerk had heard every word that Crater said. His stomach churning in horror, he practically stammered, "Ah, about what was said..." His words trailed away.

Napoleon would have liked to have disclaimed Crater's assertions, say it wasn't true, only...the facts were accurate. His partner was sleeping with another man. To deny that, to lie to Mitzi, would in effect be denying Illya, saying that he was ashamed of his partner. Yet, Napoleon didn't want Crater's trash circulating around the rumor mill. Crater had made Illya sound so...perverted.

"It's not...the way Crater made it sound..." he lamely assured, wishing that the lights were still on and that he could see her face. The only light in here came from a small red FIRE EXIT sign.

"Oh, Napoleon, of course it's not true. Illya' of the nicest guys that works here, even if he couldn't care less if all us girls wore gorilla masks to work. We all know Illya. He'd never...compromise U.N.C.L.E. What a despicable man that was!"

Her protective anger startled him. As he sat up and fumbled his clothes and shoes on in the dark, Napoleon asked in surprise, "You knew?"

"Napoleon, a girl knows when a man is interested in her. Illya is very attractive. At one time or another, almost all of us have tried to catch his attention. But, although he's very polite and charming with us...we're just people to him. He doesn't see us. You're the only one around here that he ever notices."

Fully-dressed, Napoleon was up and searching the nearby wall for the other light switch. Mitzi's comment froze him in his tracks. "What?" His fingers hit the switch and he numbly turned it on.

Once she stopped blinking under the sudden barrage of light, Mitzi's eyes softened and the shapely brunette chided, "Really, Napoleon. You act like you never look in a mirror. The girls all flock to you. What makes you think that the boys wouldn't if you put out the right signals?"

"Are you saying that Illya...?" Napoleon slowly asked, too stunned to even react to the idea. Incredible as it might seem, he had never consciously considered the possibility that Illya might be sexually attracted to him. Even now, the thought felt vaguely incestuous.

Try as he would, Napoleon could think of no instance when his partner's behavior had ever led him to suspect such a possibility.

"People notice you, Napoleon. In fact, you go out of your way to ensure that they do. It's part of your charm." Mitzi gave him a warm, affectionate smile.

Its promise didn't blind him to one gaping fact. "You didn't answer my question." Which in itself was an answer of sorts.

Her brown eyes very solemn, filled with genuine concern, Mitzi spoke softly, "I think you make it very difficult for Illya to ignore you. You're his partner. You're with him every hour of the day. He's the principal victim of your charm."


Gathering her clothes about her, Mitzi seemed to carefully think out her reply, "Like I said, Napoleon, you're a difficult man to ignore."

"Are you suggesting that I...tease Illya?" The defensive note in her voice, as Mitzi had said `victim of his charm' led Napoleon to believe that she felt protective of Illya for more than Crater's slanders.

Incredible as the concept was to him, her abrupt silence confirmed his question.

"Not consciously, no," she said at last. "But I think you make it hard for him all the same."

"How?" Napoleon demanded, almost too startled by this bizarre conversation to be insulted by it.

" to Illya, the same way you play to us girls,'re oblivious to him on a sexual level, so he never gets the pay off we do. At least that's the way it seems from the outside," Mitzi backpedaled.

Napoleon nodded, absorbing in silence all that she hadn't come out and directly said. What Mitzi was trying to tell him in her careful, round about manner was that his partner had feelings for him... and that he himself was unconsciously responsible.

"One more question – is this the general consensus or your own opinion?"

Why that should make a difference, Napoleon couldn't say, aware only that it did matter.

"We all like Illya, Napoleon. No one wants to see him hurt. Especially by a monster like Crater."

Reminded of the immediacy of his current dilemma, Napoleon nodded, feeling more than slightly shell-shocked. "Yes, I'd best be going."

"Napoleon?" Mitzi hesitantly called.

"Yes?" He was almost afraid of what she might say next.

"You're not...angry over...what I said?" Mitzi's nervousness was oddly touching.

"No, honey. I'm not anyone except maybe myself...and Crater. I've really got to go now, Mitz."

"Good luck, Napoleon. To both of you."


Napoleon had one short stop to make and then he was racing down Broadway – or going as fast as the Friday night traffic would permit.

Crater said that Illya was to meet Delaney at that restaurant in an hour. Napoleon had the advantage over security of knowing where the place was.

Meandros' was a favorite of Illya's. Conveniently located on McDougall Street, it was almost equidistant from both Illya and Delaney's residences.

Napoleon arrived at the Greek place with minutes to spare. Meandros' was a cellar restaurant. It sat between a rare jewelry shop and another eatery in the heart of NYU territory.

Napoleon couldn't see the surveillance team anywhere on either McDougall or the adjoining Minetta Lane that led out onto Sixth Avenue, but he knew that if he could see them, the agents wouldn't be working for Waverly. They were out there, though. He could feel it in his bones.

Illya Kuryakin's familiar figure was readily visible, however.

Illya stood shivering in front of the jewelry store, studying the bizarre assortment of goods on show there, the wares of which ranged from fancy seventeenth-century hair combs to gaudy evil eye pendants.

Even from across the street, Napoleon could sense the eagerness in his partner as Illya waited there for his dinner date to arrive.

Christ, but this was so unfair, Napoleon raged inside. His friend was happy for the first time in months and now he was going to have to burst that bubble in the most horrible way.

Being careful to stay out of sight, Napoleon waited.

After a few minutes another recognizable figure emerged from the passerby of NYU students and artistic types crowding the sidewalk. Dr. Michael Delaney stepped up to Illya, taking Illya's hand in a firm, enthusiastic clasp and patting him on the shoulder, as if unable to resist touching him.

Illya did look especially handsome tonight in his long dark overcoat. Napoleon could just see a light blue turtleneck poking up around the red scarf his partner wore. Illya's hair was a baby-fine nimbus of silver beneath the street lamp.

Their meeting being the cue Napoleon was waiting for, he hurried over to the pair.

"I'm so sorry that I'm late," Napoleon apologized in a puff of steamy white breath as the startled couple broke off their conversation to stare at his unexpected arrival. "I hope you haven't been waiting here long."

"Mr. Solo, what...?" Delaney began, but Illya cut him off with a calm. "No, not at all. We only just arrived."

Relieved that his partner was playing along with him, Napoleon went on, "I had to wait on line for the tickets to that play forever. But I think that you'll agree that the seats were worth the wait." Napoleon produced the items he'd stopped to buy, pushing them towards his partner.

Across the ticket envelope's plain front, Napoleon had printed in large block letters – YOU'RE UNDER SURVEILLANCE. FOLLOW MY LEAD.

Illya's eyes widened, his alarmed gaze jumping from Napoleon's message to his partner's brown eyes. After a moment, Illya blanked all emotion from his features and calmly passed the tickets over to his dinner date. "Here, Michael, have a look."

The young doctor turned positively green after reading the message.

Napoleon had to hand it to the man, though. Delaney didn't panic, passing the tickets back to him with a suitable comment, "They look good to me."

A clumsy silence fell as all three men tried to act natural in this highly stressful situation. As if recalling the content of his note, his two companions turned to him in nervous expectation.

'Follow my lead', he'd written. Praying that they could pull this off, Napoleon suggested, "We have time to eat before the show. Why don't we catch a fast meal here before heading over to the theater? It's only a few blocks from here."

With forced cheer, the interrupted couple trailed Napoleon into the restaurant.

All things considered, the night passed rather well. Somehow, they got through it without revealing the fact that they knew they were being bugged.

The topics at dinner ranged from football scores to the latest childhood vaccinations.

More accustomed to dealing with these types of charades than the quiet doctor, it was the U.N.C.L.E. agents who carried the bulk of the conversation.

The off-Broadway show they attended afterward, a lighthearted musical, proved a trial for all three men.

By the time they exited the show, Delaney seemed almost wracked with tension.

They stood in front of the theater’s glittering marquee, shivering in the frozen night.

Illya's stony visage revealed nothing of what he must be feeling, but his eyes were hard as ice. Napoleon hadn't been able to help but notice how his partner's hand had stayed close to his weapon throughout the entire night, prepared to defend against enemy action.

This was the moment Napoleon had been anticipating all evening, a point at which they could go back to one of the U.N.C.L.E. agent's apartments without raising suspicion. Then the bug on Illya would trip U.N.C.L.E.'s security device and they'd have a valid excuse for disabling the damn thing.

"Ah, why don't we all go back to my place for a nightcap?" Napoleon suggested.

"My place is closer," Illya countered, his crisp tone indicating that he was losing patience with the charade.

"I...ah...think I'd better get home. I've got early rounds tomorrow and...a good night's sleep wouldn't do me any harm." Delaney's sapphire eyes anxiously widened. "That is...if..."

Realizing that the doctor was asking if his home was being watched as well, Napoleon quickly assured in a cheery tone, "Of course, we understand. There's nothing as relaxing as a peaceful night at home. It was good seeing you again, Mike," Napoleon smiled, making it sound as if they all three often met for dinner this way.

Napoleon knew that the surveillance van was supposed to be at Delaney's, but as the doctor would be returning home alone, there'd be precious little for that filthy-minded maggot Crater to photograph.

"Yes, we must do this again soon, Napoleon," Delaney replied, forcing a smile, "Goodnight, Napoleon. Illya..." The faked expression fell from the handsome face, a stricken frown replacing it.

"I'll call you tomorrow," Illya promised, his deep voice steady and reassuring, strangely gentle.

"I...ah...I'm going to be out of town for a that conference I was telling you about last week." Even Napoleon, who barely knew the man, could tell that it was a bald-faced lie. "Perhaps it would be better if..."

Napoleon thought that he had never seen anything sadder than the brave smile his partner pasted on his lips.

Although Illya's slender body slumped almost imperceptibly, that incredible crystal gaze revealing the severity of the blow he'd just suffered, he made it easy for his lover to walk away. "Yes...of course. I'll wait for you to call me."

For all that it wasn't the doctor's fault, Napoleon hated the man for the naked relief that washed across Delaney's face.

"Well, I'd better be going," Delaney said inanely.

And then Delaney was gone. Just like that.

Illya stood there motionless as a dime-store Indian, the gaudy marquee lights glinting golden off his hair as he watched Delaney walk away from him. Long after the physician rounded the corner, Illya remained frozen there.

"Illya?" Napoleon hoarsely whispered, carefully laying a leather-gloved hand on his companion's tense forearm.

The slender body jerked to attention.

As Illya turned to face him, his features were momentarily unguarded. The naked loss and confused bewilderment made the normally insouciant agent appear ridiculously young, strangely vulnerable.

Then, as if realizing what his face must be revealing, Illya blanked all expression from his features.

"Come on. Let's get out of here," Napoleon said, taking a hold of the other man's elbow to guide him away.

It was a testament to how upset his partner was that Illya didn't immediately shake off the supporting hand.

They walked the four blocks back to Illya's fourth floor walk up in absolute silence, their breaths clouds of white steam in the single digit temperatures.

Although Napoleon would never admit it out loud to his partner, he'd always liked Illya's somewhat primitive digs. The brownstone was an old Victorian masterpiece, its outstanding features its ornate iron work and the wild tangle of wisteria vines trailing up the front of the house. Those vines were bare and eerie looking right now, but come May they'd be a blaze of color and fragrance.

The house sat across the street from a quaint park filled with old maples and oaks, a place where old folks congregated on benches in the noon-day sun and young mothers wheeled their prams.

Inside the house was a sensual blend of old mahogany and oriental carpets.

Illya's apartment didn't quite match its exterior setting. Basically, the walls and woodwork had that old-world elegance, and, certainly, the place boasted the ancient, cranky plumbing which went hand in hand with its historical appeal. However, Illya had kept the furnishings to a minimum. The pieces had been chosen for function, not style, and reflected their owner's ascetic tastes.

Even so, Napoleon would never call the apartment cold. Like Illya himself, the flat was attractive, despite itself.

The books crowding every available surface in the living room gave it a homey, almost cozy air. Illya's musical instruments, his acoustic guitar, bass, and tenor sax, set up in their respective stands in the corner out of the midday sun, added a final artistic touch to the decor that an interior decorator might have struggled months to achieve.

The instant the heavy mahogany door closed behind them and the partners stepped inside Illya's apartment, the peaceful calm of the place was shattered by a flashing light and wailing siren – the security scanner alerting them to the presence of an operating surveillance device.

Napoleon realized that Crater must have activated the bug after Illya went home to change, else it would have set off the alarm the moment Illya stepped inside before. Therefore, the bug had to be on something Illya had transferred over to his night clothes – a key ring or wallet, perhaps.

Illya crossed the foyer to the alarm box to ensure that the frequency jammer was in operation. Then he silenced the audio alarm.

Illya turned back to him, the flashing red lights from the security device accentuating his icy fury. "Perhaps you would now care to tell me precisely what is going on?"

"I thought it best to warn you that you were under surveillance," Napoleon explained, strangely nervous.

"THRUSH?" Illya drew the logical conclusion.

Napoleon slowly shook his head, reluctant to tell his closest friend just who was invading his privacy like this.

"Not exactly. It's Internal Security," he said at last.

"Internal..." Illya's puzzled frown turned to shocked understanding. "I see."

The natural question to be asked at this point, they both knew, was why Illya was being surveilled this way. When the question didn't come and the silence became embarrassingly thick, Napoleon self-consciously offered, "It seems that Dr. Delaney briefly schooled with a THRUSH heavyweight. Although there appears to have been no personal contact between the two, during or after their school years, that termite Crater in Security set this thing up."

Turning his back to remove his overcoat, Illya questioned in a nearly normal tone, "And your part in this was..?"

"My part?" Realizing what Illya was asking of him, Napoleon explained, "I'm your partner. Surely, you don't think they'd involve me in this? I figured that I should run damage control with the surveillance team until we could get the...situation sorted out."

"If you were not involved, how did you find out about the operation? Security doesn't normally broadcast these proceedings," Illya poked at his story, seeming totally occupied with fitting his coat into the nearby closet.

Staring at his partner's back, Napoleon briefly outlined the events that had brought him to the restaurant tonight.

"You were having a...romantic tryst behind a file cabinet in a dark room?" Not even the severity of the current crisis seemed capable of muting his rational partner's incredulity over his bizarre mating habits.

"Yes." Napoleon's smile dared his oh so proper partner to pursue the line of inquiry.

Illya nodded, the action setting off a shimmer of gold about his shoulders as the overhead light had its way with his brilliant hair.

"So you were unobserved during Crater's briefing?" his partner continued, apparently deciding to forego the amusement Napoleon's romantic entanglements usually brought him.

"Yes," Napoleon reiterated.

"Internal Security suspects Dr. Delaney of being a THRUSH plant?" Illya tried to sort through what Napoleon was telling him.

"No, not I.S., it's Crater that believes he's a THRUSH agent."

"And Mr. Crater suspects me of...selling information to Dr. Delaney?" Illya probed, taking Napoleon's coat from him, his bland tone in no way betraying his feeling on the matter.

"Not exactly."

"The bug was on me, Napoleon. Not Michael. It is I who am under surveillance. I do not believe it unreasonable to want to know exactly what it is I am suspected of doing?" The carefully controlled anger broke free.
"It's a witch hunt, Illya. Crater's own private show..."

"A witch hunt? Napoleon, what..?"

"Come on, let's sit down. Get comfortable," Napoleon stalled, not knowing how he was going to tell his friend the truth. "This might take a while."

With a reluctant nod, Illya gestured towards the living room.

"Brandy?" Illya offered as Napoleon took a seat on the couch in the corner nearest his partner's beautiful musical instruments.

"Yes, please."

When they were seated, drinks in hand, Illya ordered, "Explain what did you mean by witch hunt? If Crater does not suspect me of selling information, then what..?"

Draining his drink, Napoleon gave up on subtlety and stalling. He'd hoped that Illya would figure out the truth without his having to go into this. Apparently, Napoleon's quota of luck had run out for the night. "That termite Crater believes you're trading U.N.C.L.E. secrets for sexual favors."

"Sexual favors..." Illya froze, every drop of color draining from his face.

"This wasn't sanctioned by Mr. Waverly, Illya," Napoleon hastened to assure. "This is Crater's own private show. I'm certain when Mr. Waverly finds out what he's up to, Crater will be out on his ear, but...Crater was planning on taking photos at Michael's tonight and I..." His partner's ashen complexion and shocked countenance made him break off. "Illya, are you all right?"

"You..." Illya brought himself under control with a visible effort. "Crater's assertions did not...alarm you?"

"Of course, they alarmed me. The man's a bigot. A real throwback. His language was reprehensible, and his dirty little scheme was...repulsive. Even though Waverly was sure to fire him when he brought this file to him, I didn't want you put through that embarrassment..."

"That isn't what I meant, Napoleon," Illya gently said, still seeming to be in a state of suppressed shock. "Weren't you...personally disturbed by his news?"

"Ah, no. It, ah...really wasn't news, Illya," Napoleon carefully admitted.

"You...knew about me? How?" The cornered look in those crystal blue eyes could not be fear, Napoleon told himself.

"You told me yourself. Shortly after we were first partnered," Napoleon explained, having the feeling that he was juggling high explosives here.

"That is not a conversation I would likely forget, Napoleon," Illya icily countered, as if he suspected Napoleon of having spied upon him in the past.

And, given the present circumstances, Napoleon couldn't truly blame his friend. "Do you remember when we were held by Deveraux in Marseilles six months or so after you joined Section 2?"

Illya gave a hesitant nod. "Vaguely. The details are sketchy. That truth serum they'd pumped me full of..." Illya's words trailed off as he added two and two together and reached the inevitable result.

"You were flying high on the damn drug when they tossed me in that cell with you," Napoleon softly reminded. "I was concerned that they were going to get you to talk, so I gave you my usual think of girls spiel and you laughed at me and said that it wouldn't work. When I asked why, you told me the truth."

After a very quiet moment, Illya said, "I have no memory of that at all. You never said anything..."

"What was there to say? It obviously wasn't something you felt comfortable telling me about or you'd have done so under other circumstances." Napoleon shrugged. "I've blathered out some pretty dark secrets myself to you a time or two while under the influence."

"Nothing like that," Illya denied.

"Illya, please..."

"I don't understand," Illya said slowly. "You never acted as though..."

"As though...what ?" Napoleon encouraged.

"As though you knew...or that it made a difference," Illya finished, his statement somehow a question.

"It didn't make a difference. Oh, I admit, it shocked the hell out of me at the time, but... it really didn't seem to matter that much. I guess I just thought of your... preferring men as a part of you, like...your being Russian or having blond hair. It wasn't as though it were something that affected your efficiency on the job," Napoleon stumbled to explain, wondering how angry his friend was with him.

Illya evaded his gaze. "You must think me...quite a coward."

"No one who worked with you as closely as I have could ever make that mistake, my friend," Napoleon assured.

"Nevertheless, I should have..." Illya's words trailed away, as if he had no idea how, even now, to approach this sensitive subject with his partner.

Napoleon didn't like seeing his confident friend this shaken. Although he knew at this point that Illya's unemotional visage was mostly a front, it was an important one for Illya.

"Nonsense, there's nothing you should have done differently. What we have to concentrate on now is Crater. Tomorrow morning, we'll..."

"Napoleon..." Illya said softly. "This is not your needn't involve yourself further. I am grateful, but..."

"Crater made this my concern when he attacked my partner. Mr. Waverly will be in by seven. I think we should be waiting there when he arrives and..."

"And what?" Illya cut in, appearing uncharacteristically dispirited. "Tell him that the head of Internal Security discovered that I was illicit affair with another man?"

"There was nothing illicit about your relationship. Dr. Delaney is an honorable man, not a THRUSH agent. He..."

"He was a he, Napoleon. In some circles that is considered an even greater offense than treason. In my homeland..."

"This isn't Russia, Illya," Napoleon gently pointed out.

"No, I would not be imprisoned here were it to become public knowledge, but I have no desire to be dismissed or pushed behind a desk until I have no choice but to resign."

"That wouldn't happen..."

"Napoleon, I am familiar with several men unfortunate enough to have blundered into this position. One was a police officer, the two others in various high level security organizations. In all three cases, they were dishonorably discharged from service..."

"Not from U.N.C.L.E., they weren't," Napoleon argued. "The very basis of our organization is the integration of differences. Mr. Waverly would never..."

"Really, Napoleon. Can you be that naive? If Crater presents his information to Mr. Waverly, Waverly would be forced to discharge me as a security risk."

"Then he'll discharge me as well," Napoleon told his partner.

"Don't be ridiculous. This is my...problem. You cannot destroy your career on my account," Illya firmly insisted.

"Illya, Mr. Waverly designed U.N.C.L.E. to combat injustice, not propagate it. Crater's entire case is...pure fabrication, nothing but hate. If Mr. Waverly would fire you over this, then...U.N.C.L.E. isn't the organization I thought it was when I signed on," he admitted with real difficulty.

"Do you really mean to...risk everything – over me? Napoleon, have you considered the stigma that is attached to homosexuality? Were you seen defending my cause as you intend, suspicion would be cast your way. No other security organization will even consider employing you should you be discharged this way....No, I cannot allow it."

"I'm not asking you to ‘allow' anything. And I'm not defending you, because you haven't been accused of anything yet, at least not through any recognizably legal or official process. What I'm doing is reporting a loose cannon to Mr. Waverly. The same way I would report a THRUSH infiltrator."

He took a deep breath and assured the troubled man before him, "You have done nothing wrong, Illya. I won't stand by and see you slandered or humiliated by that termite. Nor will I continue to allow him to play his dirty little games until he convinces someone that you have done something wrong. Whether you come with me to Waverly or not in the morning is your choice. Either way, I'm turning Crater in."

Apparently Illya knew him well enough to know when he'd made up his mind, for Illya offered no further protest, only a quiet, "I see."

"Will you come with me tomorrow?"

Illya gave a slow nod, "Yes, Napoleon, I will come clean, as they say here in America. What other choice have I?"

"What?" Napoleon questioned, puzzled by the subdued question.

"Even if I dissuade you from pursuing this, the issue will eventually have to be addressed. Only, at that point I would be defending myself against Crater's accusations. At least this way I will...retain some dignity."

Napoleon's throat tightened up. It wasn't right that his proud friend should be put through this through no fault of his own.

"Listen to me, Illya, and listen good," Napoleon said once he could trust his voice, his tone gruff with suppressed emotion, "You have done nothing wrong. Nothing. You are the victim here. Crater is the one who has overstepped his authority. Your dignity and character are beyond reproach. Mr. Waverly knows that even better than I do."

"I... trust that you are right, Napoleon," Illya said at last, his crystal gaze filled with such terrible doubt that it sliced right through Napoleon.

Napoleon ached to reassure his friend, but didn't know what else he could say.

"You look done in," Napoleon commented when the silence stretched too long.

"It has been a long day," Illya agreed half heartedly. "Is your car far from here?"

"Over by the restaurant." Not liking his partner's almost shell-shocked countenance, Napoleon was loathe to leave. He didn't believe that Illya would do anything drastic if left alone. In all probability, the man probably needed some time to grieve in private. Being dumped by a lover and finding out that you were being investigated by your own coworkers could shake anyone's equilibrium.

Illya was tough as they came. Napoleon knew his friend would get through this, but he was nonetheless concerned. Even Illya could be pushed beyond his limits. He'd had so many shocks thrown at him tonight that Napoleon didn't feel right leaving him alone.

"Illya, would you mind if I borrowed your couch tonight?" Napoleon asked on impulse.

"What?" Illya started, almost as if shaken out of a daze.

"It's late. It's freezing out there. If we're going to get to Mr. Waverly before the office starts hopping, we'll have to be up before the sparrows. If I sack out here, it will save me an hour's travel time tonight – what with walking back to the car and looking for another space uptown. If it isn't too much of an imposition...

"Napoleon..." Illya hesitantly began, "They could be watching my apartment. If you do not leave..."

"So, we throw them a few curve balls," Napoleon grinned. "What do you say?"

"I do not wish you implicated in this any more than can be avoided. It would be wiser if..."

"Don't speak of yourself as if you were a criminal. You're not implicating me in anything. You're my partner, for god's sake. We've shared single beds on occasion, and I've slept over here more times than Crater's limited mental facilities will allow him to count."

"Not when I'm under investigation for..." Illya argued.

"Look, I know that you don't need me here, that you're perfectly all right on your own," Napoleon forestalled the inevitable protests. "But something inside me needs to stick close to you tonight, to watch your back, as it were," he struggled to explain this odd protective impulse.

"They are not out to assassinate me, Napoleon," Illya said, his lips twitching in a small smile.

"Perhaps not, but...indulge me, okay?"

Illya stared at him, a protest in his eyes. After a minute or so, the fight seemed to go out of him. "As you wish. I'll get you some sheets."

A few moments later Illya returned with an arm load of necessities: blankets, pillow, sheets, pajamas, and even a spare toothbrush all in a neat pile. Illya was nothing if not thorough.

"I do wish you would reconsider. Even if a report of your spending the night here now does not injure your career, have you thought of how it might affect your reputation if it became general knowledge? From what you've told me, Mr. Crater does not sound the most honorable of characters. Your reputation..."

"Illya, we are discussing my reputation, after all," Napoleon reminded, giving his visibly concerned friend his most innocent, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth smile.

To Napoleon's delight, the worried furrow between Illya's brows smoothed out. The corners of his full mouth twisted upwards as he gave a slight nod. "I concede your point. Is there anything else I can get you?"

Napoleon glanced at the bedclothes heaped on the end of the couch. "No, I'm fine. Thanks."

"In that case, if you don't mind, I'll retire," Illya said, his controls firmly in place.

"No, of course, go ahead." Napoleon's troubled gaze followed his partner as Illya retreated to the sanctuary of his bedroom. Despite his partner's outer reserve, Napoleon could almost feel how badly his friend was hurting.

So far tonight, the poor guy had been dumped by a lover, investigated by his coworkers, and shocked by the revelation that his deepest secret was almost common knowledge, and all Illya had to look forward to was an awkward interview with his boss that might possibly end his career. It didn't take a genius to predict that he would be getting precious little sleep tonight.

Hurting for his partner, Napoleon turned to make up the couch.


Several hours later, Napoleon awoke in the darkness of the strange room, uncomfortably aware of his full bladder. He turned over onto his side, trying to ignore the persistent irritation, but his body would have none of it.

Sighing, he dragged himself off the couch, took a second to orient himself in the chilly room, then silently padded to the bathroom opposite his partner's bedroom.

Half in a daze, he used the facilities, remembering at the last moment not to flush, lest the thunderous noise wake the entire building.

Done, he gave his hands a quick rinse at the sink, then turned to stumble back to bed.

Exiting the bath, his sleepy gaze was caught by a flash of silver in the opposite room, the unmistakable glimmer of moonlight through his partner's hair. Pausing, Napoleon saw his friend's silent figure standing before the bedroom window.

The shade was drawn up. Wrapped tightly in a heavy blue robe, Illya stared down at the empty park below.

Napoleon knew that he should go back to bed and allow his reclusive partner to mourn his lover's loss in privacy, but that lonely figure drew him like filings to a magnet.

The subtle tensing of that straight spine told Napoleon that his approach had not gone unnoticed, but Illya made no comment.

Napoleon glanced at the familiar, stony profile as he took up a position at the other side of the window. Turning, he gazed out at the night.

The park below lay cloaked in inky shadows, the tall oak trees rising like skeletal fingers from a grave, their bare branches dancing wildly in the wind.

It was an eerie view. Not a soul in sight anywhere. Nothing but parked cars lining the street. It almost seemed as if the entire world had shut down for the night, nothing but the lonely winds screeching through the darkness.

"Do you think they're out there watching?" Illya spoke at last, his subdued tone echoing the hush of the night-locked street below.

Napoleon glanced down the lifeless block, saw nothing out of the ordinary. "Probably."

The silence stretched.

"How are you holding up, tovarisch?" Napoleon asked at last.

Illya shrugged. "I am tired, Napoleon, so very tired."

"With one thing and another, it's been a long night," Napoleon remarked, wondering which of the blows in particular had his friend standing watch here in the predawn freeze.

"It's not just the night. It's...everything. I am sick unto death of all these sordid charades. For years, I have...felt like a criminal, living in mortal terror that you would discover the truth about me and despise me for it...only to find that you have known my dirty secret almost from the start..." The words faded, as if Illya were bewildered by the enormity of it all.

"There's nothing dirty or sordid about you, my friend," Napoleon firmly corrected, allowing his gaze to settle on those carefully controlled features. He hated Crater for bringing his proud partner to this state. Illya's greatest strength had never been physical in Napoleon's opinion. Always, it was his icy, arrogant cool that carried him through, that near haughty, emotionless air of superiority that cowed all he turned it on –coworkers and enemies alike. The idea of that termite Crater undermining Illya's confidence was unbearable.

Not that anyone other than Napoleon would have ever been able to guess from either Illya's countenance or tone that he was even upset. But to Napoleon, who knew this man so well, the effect was the same as if he'd found his friend distraught.

"I am...grateful that you would still call me your friend after my...subterfuge," Illya awkwardly stated. "I...never even thanked you before for"

"There's nothing to thank me for. And nothing to regret...except perhaps Michael's loss. I'm sorry Crater cost you that. He seemed...a good man." Napoleon tried to console this distant man as he shivered barefoot before the window.

"He is a good man," Illya confirmed, no trace of bitterness to be found in his attitude.

Napoleon knew that if a lover had bailed out on him when the going got rough the way Delaney had dumped Illya, his feelings would have been slightly more vehement. Of course, none of his paramours would have been ostracized by society if their relationship with him became common knowledge, so perhaps the situations weren't really comparable. "Did you..." Shaking off the sense of bizarreness, Napoleon plowed on, " deeply for him?"

Illya shrugged. "Michael was...refreshing. He was the first in a very long time who wanted more than a one-night stand."

"I'm sorry," Napoleon said softly.

"Don't be. It would not have lasted much longer, Napoleon," Illya spoke with a quiet fatalism that was all the more chilling for its matter-of-factness.

"How's that?"

"Michael was looking for more than a one night stand. In fact, he was looking for much more than I was able to give him."

"Ah, yes. That's one complaint with which I'm very well acquainted." Napoleon smiled, breaking the tension of the moment. Pleased, he saw Illya's lips quirk upwards.

"Yes, I imagine you are," Illya dryly acknowledged.

Napoleon met his partner's gaze. Illya's eyes seemed pale and bright even in shadow. The bleak expression and heavy bags beneath those familiar eyes hurt.

"Look, I promise you, everything is going to be all right in the morning," he rashly gave his word, determined to make things work out at headquarters, no matter what it took. "You look frozen. This all night vigil isn't going to help the situation any. If it's not on Michael's behalf, why don't you call it a night?"

Illya's eyes sank wearily shut. "I..."

Thinking that his partner had been pushed past his limits today, Napoleon decided to take charge of the situation. Stepping close, he laid his arm over Illya's shoulders to physically guide his friend to the rest he so obviously needed. "Come on. It's time for bed."

"Napoleon, don't!" Illya's eyes went wide with alarm before he stepped hastily clear of Napoleon's arm.

"What the devil's wrong?" Napoleon questioned, not understanding the almost guilty start.

The troubled gaze flew to the dark window. "The surveillance team. There could be cameras..."

"Cameras..." Understanding at last, Napoleon felt physically ill. Illya was concerned the picture of an innocent hug would somehow damage his partner's career or reputation.

Followed close on the heels of the disturbing reason for Illya's withdrawal, came a blistering fury, an anger so incandescent that it seemed to fill Napoleon's entire being. This worry of Big Brother watching was repugnant to his nature. Who were these I.S. vultures that they could put such horror into his normally fearless partner?

"Please, you must be careful not to..." Illya warned.

"The hell with the cameras," Napoleon blazed, closing the distance between them again. In his slippered feet, Illya seemed even shorter than some of Napoleon's high-heeled dates. As he firmly grasped his partner's shoulders, Napoleon had never been so aware of the difference in their heights.

Illya's puzzled, worried gaze was wide as he looked up at him, a question in his eyes.

"If they want to watch," Napoleon whispered angrily, "let's give them something to talk about."

With that, Napoleon's ire coalesced into one fiery act of blatant defiance.

If he'd had time to think, Napoleon probably wouldn't have ever considered such a thing – if only for the effect it might have on his already shaken partner. Unfortunately, his anger allowed no deliberating.

His mouth swooped down on Illya's unsuspecting lips with all the subtlety of a striking eagle. In full view of the window and any prying eyes beyond, Napoleon showed them all just what he thought of their fear tactics.

The shock of that soft mouth beneath his own brought with it the belated realization of what he was doing. Napoleon felt his partner's hands rise to his shoulders as if to push him away. Those competent, square fingers tangled in Napoleon's pajama top in preparation of thrusting him back.

His body operating on autopilot, Napoleon kept sucking at that shock stiffened mouth, his tongue worrying the tight pressed line between the full lips.

Then, at the moment when Napoleon knew those powerful arms must throw him off, when Illya would break his jaw in payment, he felt those tangled fingers convulse and drag him closer, almost as if they were operating of their own will.

With a strangled whimper from deep in his throat, Illya's mouth opened to him, the smaller body seeming to melt against him.

In a stunned sense of unreality, Napoleon accepted the weight. Very conscious of the hard muscles of his partner's powerful, compact body, he drank deeply of the offered mouth. Illya's taste was surprisingly sweet and fresh. The flavor played through him, potent as moonshine. As their tongues met in an intimate, wet dance, Napoleon's senses began to swirl.

Part of him was screaming that this was Illya Kuryakin he held in his arms, U.N.C.L.E.'s coldest, deadliest operative. What he was doing now transgressed mere madness. It was outright suicide. Illya was going to kill him for this.

But even that acknowledgment wasn't enough to stop him. His grandstanding act of defiance had unloosed a passion so fierce that Napoleon didn't think he could put the brakes on it if he tried. He could feel the hunger burning through his blood like a fever. Between the pounding of his heart and the sizzling need coursing through his loins, there was no room for caution. With his first openly erotic touch, he had gone hard as a rock, hit by a painful, throbbing need he could neither deny nor control.

As sure as he knew that Illya would murder him for this, Napoleon knew that he must follow through. And somehow, even the awareness of imminent, lethal danger was a steamy turn-on.

With every movement of the tongue thrust deep in Illya's mouth and each sucking exchange of saliva, Napoleon waited for the judo master to break him into tiny, bite sized pieces.

Pushing his luck, Napoleon's hands left the relative security of those sturdy shoulders to chart their way down Illya's terry cloth covered back. They tentatively settled on the slight roundness of buttocks. Pressing hard through the barrier of bath robe and flannel pajamas, Napoleon ascertained the contours of those surprisingly full cheeks. He gave the handfuls a brazen squeeze, pulling Illya's pelvis closer to his own.

Due to the discrepancy in their heights, the results were drastically different than Napoleon expected. He'd wanted to feel Illya's hardness smashed against his own, but Illya was too short for that.

Napoleon's own erection came up tight against the knot in his companion's bathrobe's belt, while Illya's hit his left thigh. Napoleon's body was almost tangibly conscious of how much smaller his friend was than he. As he held Illya up to him like this, Illya felt slight as a teenager, whipcord thin, all bone and hard muscle.

Illya's cool air of superiority and chilling competence often allowed Napoleon to forget how slight of stature his partner actually was, but in this incredibly intimate embrace, there was no disguising it. Even bundled in those heavy pajamas and bathrobe, Illya felt like a schoolboy in his arms. Not comfortable with that image, the discovery brought Napoleon up short, hammering home once again the insane risk he was taking here.

As if sensing the change in him, Illya moaned and pressed his lower body beseechingly against Napoleon, his fingers reaching up to card through the short brown hair, locking him into the ravaging kiss.

The urgency was undeniable. As was the impressive bulk of moving flesh Illya kept grinding into him. Napoleon realized that while his partner's physique might bear a disturbing similarity to a youth's, there was nothing the least bit immature about his partner's genitals or the strength of his desire.

His blood on fire for this man, Napoleon backed his partner away from the window. With practiced skill, he guided his distracted companion towards the bed in the far right corner – which was thankfully out of the unshaded window's line of view.

Their mouths still fastened together in the explosive kiss, the force of which was threatening to suck out his toenails, Napoleon toppled his companion down onto the bed below.

The kiss broke with a pain filled "umpphf!" as he landed on top of Illya. Before Illya could regain either his breath or senses, Napoleon's hands moved quickly between them.

Napoleon tugged the knot of Illya's robe open, pushing it apart so that he could get to work on the pajama jacket. No less than three of the white plastic buttons popped off in his frantic struggle to get to bare flesh.

Illya gasped at the ripping pop of buttons flying free, his hands moving to deftly undo Napoleon's top.

Napoleon was still expecting an objection, but his partner cooperated nicely in the wordless struggle to remove clothes. Illya obligingly lifted his torso up so that Napoleon could remove his top and robe.

His gaze glittering with hunger, Napoleon surveyed the expanse of flawless skin revealed. With an art critic's eye, he took in the underdeveloped chest, so thin and bony...almost scrawny. Illya had no body hair to speak of here, reinforcing Napoleon's earlier, disturbing impression that he was seducing a minor. And yet, even though Illya's diminutive physique was less than Herculean in proportion, he still found the man unnervingly attractive.

What if Illya weren't wide and hairy as Napoleon himself? The slenderness in no way detracted from the beauty of the perfect skin covering it. Illya was pale as porcelain here, his slightly peaked nipples looking like pink rosebuds painted on the milky surface.

"You're exquisite," Napoleon sighed, reaching out to run a flat palm down the firm chest, over the nearly unnoticeable ripples of muscle and sharp jut of rib bones to the tenderness of the concave belly below.

Illya's pleased hiss was like a driving drum in his blood.

Spurred by its pounding beat, Napoleon didn't dally. Almost with proprietary right, he took hold of the elastic band of Illya's pale blue flannel pajamas, unsnapped the snappers and tugged them from the wiry hips.

Napoleon smiled as the naked man trembled under his gaze, unable to believe the effect he was having on his characteristically insouciant partner. If he didn't know better, he'd swear Illya was shaking. Those incredible blue eyes were wide and almost frightened as they stared up at him in expectation.

Napoleon took a moment to survey the new territory, a nervous shiver coursing through him as his gaze settled on the straining erection. Illya seemed pink all over down here. His finely tapered, uncircumcised cock was a luscious, sanguine hue – the same rich color as a woman's clitoris. The balls below were a softer, powder pink that brought to mind the blushing petals of a June rosebud. The thick patch of pubic curls were oddly decorative, a gold so fine as to be almost platinum.

A part of Napoleon knew that he should be cowed by his first sight of his partner's very male equipment. He was, after all, the one who had no previous experience in this new form of loving.

Yet, the hunger burning inside Napoleon would admit no encumbrances. The wild passion blazing through him was like a runaway train, picking up momentum with each minute it ran unchecked, so that now even a strangeness that would have daunted him as little as a few hours ago only fanned the flames, making him burn stronger.

Eager to sample these new pleasures, Napoleon impatiently shrugged out of his pajama shirt, then tugged the pants off. He could feel Illya's heated blue gaze following his every move like a searing desert wind on his skin.

Wondering how much Illya was sharing of what he was feeling, Napoleon dared his parner's eyes, almost afraid of what he'd find.

The wild glitter told Napoleon he was not alone in his need. Illya allowed him to read what he would of his soul in those pools of hungry blue before his partner did his own visual appraisal.

In that moment, Napoleon was struck with a totally out of character burst of insecurity. He knew nothing of his friend's sexual likes and dislikes. Napoleon knew that women found him desirable, but would this complex man?

The only one of Illya's lovers that Napoleon had to compare his charms against was Delaney, and, although Napoleon knew that they were both handsome men, Delaney's was a different kind of beauty than Napoleon could claim. The doctor's good looks had been softer, a peaches and cream perfection that would have done any movie star proud. While Napoleon...

Napoleon knew his own features were attractive. His cleft chin, strong jaw, and winsome smile had turned many a lady's head. But his was a beauty born of action.

Would a man who'd fancied Delaney's flawless perfection find his battle scarred body attractive?

Napoleon's violent past could be read in the souvenirs it had left in his flesh. The bullet he'd taken in his lower left side in Korea. His appendix scar. The newly healed wound from their brush with THRUSH this past October. The whiplashes Captain Shark had left on his back...the list seemed endless.

Not used to such uncertainties, Napoleon stared down his body, wondering how Illya saw him. His chest, broad and square, sprinkled with its light dusting of body hair, the thick thatch of curls at his groin, his wine dark cock with its pulsing purple vein...would Illya be moved by this or disappointed?

Gazing questioningly at his partner, Napoleon saw Illya gulp. Then Illya's shaft gave a jerk and grew even bigger.

Illya's right leg lifted up to accommodate his growing bulk.

Napoleon watched as that delicately formed foot reached out towards him. The hard pad of the sole stroked carefully down Napoleon's chest and outer left flank in the most startlingly erotic caress Napoleon could remember receiving. It was almost as if Illya had reached out with his nearest appendage to touch him.

"Ah, Napoleon, you are superb," Illya appreciatively murmured, his heated gaze assuring Napoleon of his sincerity.

Napoleon caught the leg in his left hand before it could pull back.

His lips parted in excitement, Illya watched as Napoleon lifted the captured leg further up, spreading Illya's thighs wide, displaying the genitals to best effect.

Napoleon's right hand stroked lightly from the finely chiseled arch, up the inner calf to just below Illya's knee. After only the briefest of hesitations, Napoleon lowered his head, depositing a trail of soft, juicy kisses where his fingers had roamed seconds before.

Illya gasped, his fingers carding restlessly through Napoleon's short hair.

Illya seemed especially sensitive behind his knees. As Napoleon sucked the tender, salty flesh back there, Illya's hips thrust up at him, his legs splaying further apart.

Encouraged, Napoleon nibbled his way up the inner thigh, delighting in the thick dusting of fine gold hair that downed his partner's legs.

As he approached the sweet musked groin, Napoleon reached his right hand out to further spread his friend's thighs, then turned his head and kissed a sucking red trail down the sensitive flesh of the other thigh. He smiled as he heard Illya 's disappointed groan at his change of direction.

When he'd paid the other knee the full attention that was its due, Napoleon glanced up at his partner's face.

Rapture wasn't an emotion he equated with this cool man, but there was no other name Napoleon could give that tender light softening Illya's every feature.

As if questioning the pause, Illya stared down at him in near disbelief, his blue gaze so hot and unfocused that it seemed to offer Napoleon anything he might desire.

Napoleon might be a novice to what went on between two men in bed, but he was no stranger to sex itself. Drawing on what he enjoyed most himself and a lifetime's experience with women, he improvised as best he could in this unique situation.

While he leaned forward to latch onto one of those tantalizingly sexy pink nipples, Napoleon provocatively trailed his thumb tips from the under side of Illya's knees straight up his inner thighs.

Illya cried out loud under the joint stimulation.

Sucking the nub of nipple into his mouth, Napoleon continued to run his thumbs up and down the crease where Illya's thighs met his hip, the teasing touch coming close enough to the groin to brush the wiry gold public curls, but at no time did Napoleon touch either his partner's erection or balls.

"N Napoleon, please..." Illya begged, thrusting his hips imploringly up at Napoleon.

A master at the art of seduction, Napoleon took his time, working the other nipple while Illya panted, then moving to nuzzle the snowy throat.

"No, please..." Illya gasped in denial, wanting Napoleon to move in the other direction so desperately that even Napoleon could feel that shaking need.

But Napoleon knew what he was doing, knew the fine line between foreplay and torture better than he did his own heart. Sweet as the draw of all that unfamiliar territory was, he resisted temptation, pleasuring his friend until Illya was primed like a heat seeking missile.

Illya whimpered, a small, desperate sound, his head turning obligingly to the right so that Napoleon could work with vampiric determination up the jugular to his sensitive ear.

Being with Illya like this was a passion storm like Napoleon had rarely known. It went beyond one of those rare nights of anything goes, where the only road blocks were one's own inhibitions and courage. Napoleon was discovering that he had precious little restraint where this man was concerned.

Sensing that the delight was bleeding over into true discomfort, Napoleon cut off teasing with his thumbs, running his palms up the outside of Illya's ribs with proprietary pressure.

Napoleon pushed his partner's arms up over Illya's head.

Catching hold of Illya's wrists in his left hand, he pinioned them above the mussed blond hair. Feeling like the conqueror he was named after, he lifted his head to gaze down at his prize.

His breaths a ragged, rapid struggle, Illya stared up at him, his expression impossibly young, silently pleading with Napoleon in near-palpable urgency.

Unable to stop himself, Napoleon took a kiss from that already swollen mouth, thrusting his tongue in to plunder the sweet depths, something wild inside him needing to make this man entirely his own.

He felt Illya's hips arch helplessly up at him in response, Illya apparently beyond even pleading at this point.

Not daring to linger too long at that succulent mouth, lest temptation get the better of him, Napoleon returned to the throat, kissing his way to the ear.

Illya's moan was piercing as Napoleon thrust his tongue tip into that bitter aural canal, pulling quickly back to lap the hollow. Before moving downwards, he delayed long enough to suck the earlobes as pink as the nipple he'd recently abandoned.

This time he detoured to the golden fuzz of his partner's underarm, which was somewhat stiff from anti perspirant. Tightening his grip on the pinned wrists, Napoleon rubbed his jaw and cheek back and forth across the unfamiliar territory of the armpit, feeling Illya go wild beneath him. Just to see what response he might get, Napoleon nuzzled the tender skin beneath the powerful biceps.

Illya's head thrashed back and forth on the pillow, his breathing harsh and labored, shining trails of moisture leaking from the corners of his scrunched eyelids.

Napoleon leaned forward to lick the salty drops clear, the shuddery, tiny cry Illya gave shivering through him.

Unable to hold back any longer, his free hand sought the territory that differentiated Illya from all of his previous lovers.

Watching in avid fascination, Napoleon collected the burgeoning shaft into his palm. Shocked by its size, he realized that his partner was nearly as big as he here.

The springy flesh felt strangely familiar in his hand. Squeezing its length elicited some very interesting sounds from his friend. Investigating his new toy, Napoleon explored the impressive length with his fingertips.

Napoleon carefully thumbed back the foreskin, being forced at this point to release Illya's wrists so that he could get down to business. Intrigued by the delicate flap of flesh absent from his own organ, he lowered his head and carefully touched the salty, musky inner surface with the tip of his tongue.

After all the tantalizing foreplay he'd indulged in, Illya's scream shouldn't have surprised him. But somehow it did. He'd heard this man undergo THRUSH tortures with less sound. Knowing that he could get to his partner where their enemies had failed was an intoxicating brew.

"Please... Napoleon... please..."

Understanding what the other man needed, Napoleon tentatively sucked the cock head into his mouth, the rich flavor assaulting his every sense.

As Napoleon accustomed his jaw to the bulk and stretch, his right hand investigated the pliable softness of the sacs below. They were plush as velvet, and his every movement there seemed to set off a thousand reactions in that sweat-sheened body below him.

Napoleon rolled his partner's balls like a pair of dice, simultaneously sucking as much of that impressive shaft as he could manage.

Addicted to the feel of this new territory, Napoleon fingers blindly sought more while his mouth worked diligently at his partner's pleasure.

For a beginner, Napoleon didn't think he was doing too badly. So far, he'd only choked twice.

His curious fingers stroked behind the testicles, brushing over the sweat-damp perineum, his middle finger sliding even further back.

Illya's whole body convulsed like a galvanized frog as the pad of Napoleon's finger slid across the tight ring of muscle hidden back there.

"Aaahh..." The breathy, prolonged sigh that Illya released was the embodiment of ecstasy, the sound of final barriers crashing, of utter and unconditional surrender.

The sound brought Napoleon's head up from his ministrations.

Napoleon was shocked by the savage desire that sizzled through his system. What his body wanted at that point was...unthinkable. He couldn't, not with Illya, another man.

But as Napoleon looked down at that pale figure spread out before him for the taking, Illya's flesh white and pristine as virgin snow in the filtered street light seeping in from the window, the darker part of Napoleon's soul reared up, the side of him that knew how manipulate any situation to his own advantage. As he stared at the shadowed, secret, erotic place between Illya's widespread thighs, hidden behind those heavy genitals, Napoleon knew that he could. And would.

The passion storm that had brought him to this strait would allow no backpedaling now.

He felt Illya's body tense as his hand withdrew from that sensitive orifice.

Illya's gaze dug into his face as Napoleon turned to the nearby nightstand, opening the drawer to search for the item which he knew must be in there.

The vaseline jar was close at hand, reminding Napoleon that it had been intended for another's use. As he undid the lid, Napoleon couldn't help but wonder just who had done whom. Did Illya use it on Delaney before he doubled the handsome doctor over and entered him? Or was it the good-looking physician who claimed that right?

Not liking the jealous feelings that accompanied the thought of some other man taking his partner this way, Napoleon thrust the thoughts aside as inconsequential.

It didn't matter for whom the vaseline was originally intended. He was here now. The gel would suit Napoleon's needs perfectly at the moment.

And if there was one thing Napoleon Solo excelled at, it was this particular act. He was confident that he'd be able to make Illya forget his former lover had ever existed if given half a chance. And right now, Illya was giving him a hell of a lot more than a mere chance.

Napoleon transferred a generous helping of the substance to the secret spot on Illya's body that he intended to make his own, his breath catching in his chest as he waited for the protest that must surely come.

His shaky aim was less than true, spreading the slick gel all over Illya back there. Blindly seeking behind his partner's genitals, Napoleon's finger finally gained its objective.

And still Illya made no protest.

Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, Napoleon resolutely pushed his gel-laden finger past that guarding ring of muscle.

Illya's strangely shocked hiss filled the heavy silence. All Napoleon was conscious of in the frozen stillness of the night were their raspy breaths, the deafening pound of his own heartbeat, and the echo of Illya's hiss through his blood.

Then Illya's sphincter closed around his intruding finger like a vise, reminding him of just what he was doing.

Napoleon's free hand found its way to his partner's cock. Working the springy firm shaft, he once again lowered his head and recommenced his oral investigation of the blood-engorged organ, all the while working his gooey finger further up that impossibly constricted channel.

He hadn't expected Illya to be so tight.

Deciding that it was probably due to Illya's smaller size or some residual nervousness about doing this with his partner, Napoleon took his time, carefully stretching the recalcitrant passageway with first one, then two fingers while his mouth sucked diligently at that impressive cock.

Napoleon was busily scissoring both fingers open and closed in the narrow confines of that channel when he pushed a little more forcefully up inside Illya than he'd intended, accidentally bumping against a round protrusion deep inside.

The cock in Napoleon's mouth pulsed in reaction, Illya's whole body seeming to go into overdrive as he cried out.

His own arousal about to burst, despite the fact that he hadn't allowed his partner the opportunity to even touch him intimately, Napoleon carefully withdrew his fingers from inside his friend.

Quaking with need, Napoleon quickly prepared himself, his own touch almost enough to finish him as he spread a thick coating of the vaseline over his engorged penis.

The entire world seemed to stop as he reached for Illya.

Illya's gaze was stunned-looking. A strange determination steeling his sweat-streaked features, his body froze so still that he barely seemed to be breathing.

Napoleon slid his hands under Illya's athletic legs, lifted the smaller man's lower body and resolutely parted the thighs...and came up short as he realized that this wasn't quite as simple as taking a woman. Where his actions would have been enough to bare a woman's vagina to his sight, they had simply gotten Napoleon a better view of Illya's testicles. The object of Napoleon's lust was still hidden in the shadows between those surprisingly full cheeks.

Never one to be easily thwarted or discouraged, Napoleon guided Illya’s knobby knees up to his chest. The skin on Illya's butt was utterly flawless, so white that it looked like twin pools of spilt milk.

Struck by how vulnerable Illya appeared squashed over on himself with his butt displayed high in the air like this, Napoleon reached out with both hands to part the tender cheeks, his thumbs delving deep into the cleft between, eliciting a moan from his partner.

Napoleon was too excited to hold out much longer. Without further fanfare, he positioned himself over that tiny, dark, puckered orifice. The flaring head of his cock seemed impossibly huge by comparison.

The contrast in size gave him a moment's panic. He was never going to fit through that tiny hole, and if he forced his way in, he'd rip his friend to pieces.

The very real fear of hurting his partner almost stopped him, but then common sense asserted itself.

Illya was an old hand at this. That Delaney fellow had been about Napoleon's height and weight. Obviously, it could be done...and, God knew, Napoleon wanted to do it.

He'd never felt this hot for anyone in his entire life. The desire was so strong that it didn't even matter that Illya was another man. This passion had claimed Napoleon's very soul. He knew from past experience that he wouldn't be released until he rode the savage whirlwind to its inevitable conclusion. Gathering his resolve, he slowly pierced the too-small entrance.

Illya cried out at the penetration, a fresh shower of sweat beading his skin. His cry sounded like one of sheer agony. Stunned, Napoleon froze a bare inch or so into the channel as his partner's body clamped him uncomfortably tight.

Napoleon waited while his companion pulled in a few hissing breaths, an action with which Napoleon was familiar from all the times they'd been held in THRUSH's less than loving clutches. He knew it was what Illya did when he was fighting to hold in a scream.

"I'm...really hurting you," Napoleon recognized. He wasn't sure why the reaction was so fierce, but he was unwilling to continue if Illya weren't equally enjoying this.

Did Delaney know some secret he didn't, Napoleon worried, crestfallen by his failure to please. He'd never hurt anyone during sex in his entire life and he certainly wasn't about to start with Illya, his dearest friend.

"I'll pull out," Napoleon hoarsely offered.

"No!" Illya grated out a denial between teeth clenched against the pain. "Just...wait. Please!"

Frozen with guilt, Napoleon watched the sweat drip down his partner's ravaged face. The fact that he could see the effect he was having told Napoleon how agonizingly intense the discomfort must be. "Illya, I don't want to..."

Illya's hand reached out to Napoleon's shoulder, fumbling downwards until he caught Napoleon's right hand. Pulling it from beneath the silken butt, Illya guided Napoleon to his drastically deflated penis, quietly entreating, "Please?"

Gulping down his misgivings, Napoleon gladly pumped the too-soft shaft back to hardness.

Degree by slow degree, Napoleon felt the vise choking his cock gradually ease up. With each minuscule reduction in pressure, Napoleon slid that much further into his friend's body.

Napoleon had never had to fight this hard to take anyone in his life. His partner was tighter than a virgin. Curious, Napoleon wondered if it were just Illya's natural resistance to intimacy of any kind that was responsible for the difficulty or if it were like this every time one male took another. If so, it was little wonder that this act was viewed as the ultimate conquest.

As he steadily pushed his way up that reluctant channel, Napoleon felt as though he were claiming every inch of the territory as his own, branding Illya's insides with the indelible mark of ownership.

It was a heady brew, a dark, forbidden ecstasy to which Napoleon knew he was now addicted. This surrender was like nothing he'd experienced. To feel this lethally competent agent's resistance crumble, to have another man willingly accept this type of penetration was the ultimate rush. As he made his gasping entry up the stubborn channel, Napoleon knew that sex was never going to be the same for him again.

At last, Napoleon was there, fully sheathed in the burning flesh.

Illya's eyes were clenched shut, his fingernails digging like talons into the soft skin on Napoleon's shoulders.

Napoleon froze there, savoring the sensation to its fullest. Illya was so perfect, so devastatingly sensual. His partner's body convulsed around him, squeezing his cock in a tight, intimate caress that set Napoleon's already percolating arousal into overdrive.

Heeding only the primal call to rut, Napoleon pulled out of Illya, immediately slamming back in again to open Illya further to him. His hand worked steadily on his companion's shaft while he plunged in and out of that exquisite furnace beneath him.

He'd never imagined it could be like this, so intense, so all consuming. Every time he thrust into his partner, he felt as if he were falling into Illya, melding more than flesh with the man. Each time he withdrew, it felt as though Illya pulled him back home.

On an especially wild thrust, Napoleon entered at a slightly different angle.

The results of that accident were transformative.

Illya's scream filled the night. To Napoleon's relief, it was not a scream of agony. He felt the cock he held turn to stone, Illya's balls drawing tight to his body as the channel Napoleon was buried in convulsed spasmodically around his cock in the most delightful of ripples.

Illya's thick, creamy semen spurted out in a powerful stream, raining down on Illya's enraptured face and neck.

As if Illya's coming were his cue, Napoleon's own pleasure coalesced in a mind-searing burst of ecstasy. His entire being spasmed with his climax as he shot burst after burst of his seed deep into the hidden recesses of Illya Kuryakin's body. Dazzled by the burning delight, Napoleon's consciousness seemed to shatter and drift away.

His heart was still racing in aftermath when Napoleon felt Illya give his shaft another internal squeeze, Illya groping like a contortionist to reach behind Napoleon. Napoleon felt Illya's hands settle on his ass to give a provocative squeeze at the same time he hugged him internally again.

Stunned, Napoleon felt his penis, hypersensitive in that moment immediately following orgasm, go hard again.

Napoleon stared into that semen-flecked face, reading what Illya wanted in his hungry blue eyes.

Normally, Napoleon did come twice a night, but never so soon on top of each other.

He'd hardly had time to catch his breath before he was instantly hard again. With a stunned sense of unreality, Napoleon pumped in and out of his partner's sexy body, making certain he hit that special spot with each inward plunge. He'd never known he could come so fast and so hard so soon. It felt more to him as if he'd just jumped directly back into orgasm than starting the slow climb all over again. His heart was thundering like a herd of stampeding buffalo, his breaths once again frantic gasps as this incredible man's body wrung every ounce of pleasure from his nerves that he was capable of feeling. The experience was like nothing his jaded mind had ever known. Taking Illya this way was the most carnal, teeth rattling sexual encounter he could imagine.

How long it lasted, the spell bound Napoleon couldn't tell. Carried away by the intensity of his lust, the savage drive to completion, he was aware of nothing but the ecstasy coursing through him, so sharp and demanding that its drive was more like famished hunger than pleasure.

Then, the sensation burst again and this time his consciousness really did scatter. Rocked with delight, Napoleon clung to his sanity for dear life. Not surprisingly, this second out pouring, following so soon on the heels of the first, wasn't very substantial. But what it lacked in protein content, it made up for in feeling. Napoleon was absolutely lost, more blown away by this encounter than by the first time his own groping teenage hand had led his body to completion.

Utterly spent, Napoleon collapsed on top of his partner, shaking all over.

It seemed an eternity before Napoleon was able to muster the strength to lift his head.

Guilt swamped over him as he took in Illya's cramped position. His soft shaft slid easily free from inside Illya. With belated concern, Napoleon eased his doubled-over partner down into a more comfortable position.

The expression in Illya's eyes was...strange. There was a sated glow about him, but also something uncertain. More than nervousness, but less than fear.

Abruptly uncertain as to what he should say or how to act, Napoleon simply stared as if in shock, his gaze slowly focusing on the drying white semen flecked across Illya's right cheek and nose.

As if realizing what Napoleon must be staring at, Illya's cheeks filled with color.

Unable to bear the thought of such awkwardness between them, Napoleon took a chance and leaned in close to his friend. His stomach squeamishly churning at the prospect, he carefully licked the trails of drying semen from his partner's features, the bitter saltiness rocking through him.

When he'd lapped away the last of it, Napoleon smiled down at his friend, then tenderly kissed Illya's full lips, still not certain if Illya welcomed this.

Illya's arms closed around him. With a moan, Illya opened himself totally to the kiss.

A long, reassuring time later, Napoleon reluctantly withdrew, settling his head on the pillow beside its golden counterpart.


"Yes?" He smiled at the tentative whisper, giving the small nose a playful kiss.

"Did you...enjoy..?"

The concern was genuine, Napoleon realized. "You know I did. You were...incredible," he assured, going on to explain, "I never...felt anything so...exquisite. Thank you, my friend. You were so perfect...tight as any virgin," he murmured, still stunned by the unbelievable grip of his partner's flesh around him.

"That is understandable. I, too, enjoyed it."

The sense of the contented whisper was slow to penetrate Napoleon's pleasure-blasted senses. They were both on the brink of sleep when he finally interpreted what his companion had said, "Illya, what did you mean before when you said that it was `understandable'? Is it always like that...between two men?" Napoleon asked in a rush, realizing that if he didn't get his answers now in the warm approachability of aftermath, there was no guarantee that the restrained Russian would answer his questions in the cool light of day.

"I don't know," Illya murmured sleepily, turning on his side to contentedly rest his arm across Napoleon's chest, his face tantalizingly close to his neck.

"What do you mean `you don't know'?" Napoleon persisted, despite the warm lassitude stealing over his senses. All he wanted to do was cuddle this compact bundle of delight.

Illya's finger lightly played over Napoleon's still erect nipple. "Tonight was the first time that I have engaged in that particular act."

The soft whisper turned Napoleon's blood to ice. Horrified, he recognized what he'd done. That panicked resistance hadn't been part of a game Napoleon was unfamiliar with; rather, it had been a virgin's legitimate, instinctive fear of penetration...and he had run roughshod over it as if it were just one more piece of icing on this exotic new cake he'd been offered.

Sick with the knowledge of what he'd done, it took Napoleon a while to find his voice to question this upsetting turn of affairs. "You never..?" he asked, just to be sure he wasn't misunderstanding.

Illya's head shook in a blinding denial of silver-etched gold.

"Then why did you let me? Why didn't you stop me?" Stunned and burdened with guilt by the thought of the priceless gift he'd accepted in such a cavalier manner, Napoleon tried to understand.


Crushed, Napoleon recalled that Illya hadn't offered this to him. He'd just assumed that it was part of his friend's normal behavior and took what he wanted. It hadn't been rape, but it was uncomfortably close to it in his estimation.

"We both wanted it, Napoleon. It's late. We are both tired. Sleep now," Illya murmured, as if their lives hadn't been forever changed by what had taken place in this bed tonight.

"But if you'd never...why me?" Napoleon stammered.

Illya cuddled closer and kissed Napoleon's cheek, "Why not you? Go to sleep, Napoleon." With that, Illya closed his eyes and seemed to fall instantly into a deep slumber.

Not surprisingly, it was a long, troubled time later when sleep finally claimed Napoleon.


Napoleon was not surprised when he awoke to find himself alone several hours later. The half-light of dawn seemed to accentuate how cold and empty the other side of the bed was. The room still reeked of sex. Even if his mind weren't filled with the steamy images of what had gone on here a few hours ago, that unmistakable scent would have left Napoleon in no doubt as to what he'd been up to. The bed was a complete disaster area.

Wondering just how much last night's pleasure was going to cost him, Napoleon dragged himself out of bed.

If he were lucky, Illya would shoot him on sight and he'd have nothing further to worry about. Lord knew, Illya would be justified in any revenge he exacted, he bitterly acknowledged.

In the twenty-two years Napoleon had spent traipsing from bed to bed, he'd had any number of awkward mornings after, but this...this really took the cake.

Seducing one's partner and plundering his virginity – without doubt, this was the most reprehensible thing Napoleon had ever done. Having just lost a lover and had all those shocks thrown his way, Illya had been vulnerable last night. Napoleon knew that he'd exploited that weakness. He'd all but victimized his closest friend. It had taken him years to win Illya Kuryakin's cautious trust, and moments to destroy it.

The why of what he'd done still escaped Napoleon. The responsibility for this was totally his own. He'd kissed Illya first and initiated this madness. At the time, he'd believed that it was anger at Crater that motivated his rash action, but now Napoleon sensed that there had to be more to it than that.

Maybe if he understood why he'd done what he'd done, it would make the consequences easier to face.

As it was, Napoleon Solo, U.N.C.L.E.'s #1 enforcer and most experienced field agent, was nearly afraid to leave the bedroom. Knowing that he had to get moving if they were going to catch Waverly before the work day started, Napoleon padded barefoot to Illya's bureau and helped himself to some clean underwear and socks. His suit was still in the living room, he realized mid-route to the shower across the hall.

Deciding that he'd rather face Illya with the scent of soap on him, rather than the disturbing, musky reminder of what they'd shared last night, Napoleon put off going to the front of the apartment for as long as possible.

Borrowed underwear in hand, he entered the antique bathroom with its clawed foot tub and brass fixtures.

A burst of sheer gratitude and relief swamped him as Napoleon took in the neat pile of clothes on top of the hamper. The suit pants were his own, but the shirt and tie were his partner's.

Touched by the thoughtful gesture, Napoleon tried to take it as a good sign. If Illya wanted him dead for last night, he surely wouldn't have gone to the trouble of providing for his needs. Illya was aware of how much it bothered his fashion conscious partner to wear the same shirt two days in a row.

Showered, shaved, and clothed in the slightly tight shirt and the borrowed blue tie, Napoleon was left with no choice but to find his partner. He had absolutely no idea what he was going to say to his friend.

He found Illya in the living room, his back to the room, fully dressed in his dark blue suit.

Napoleon was struck by how similar Illya's position was to his stance last night when he'd first seen him from the bathroom doorway.

Once again, Illya stood before the window. Only this time, he was bathed in morning sunlight instead of street light. The golden shimmer of the rising sun as it played through Illya hair literally trapped Napoleon's breath in his chest. Not having anticipated so physical a reaction to his friend, it caught him off guard.

Ambushed by the feeling, Napoleon could only stand there speechless and stare as a warm, totally alien softness seeped through him...all from watching the light touch the hair of a man he'd known for years. He observed how the sun turned what he knew to be normal human hair into an angelic halo. It was incomprehensible to him how he could have overlooked how devastatingly sensual Illya actually was.

This was going to be harder than he'd thought, Napoleon acknowledged. The desire shivering through him now was different than last night's passionate storm, far more dangerous. He'd only experienced its likes twice before – long ago with his late wife Katie and then more recently with Clara Rivers. That it would surface here in this tension fraught situation, with Illya, of all people, was unbelievable.

Illya's spine straightened, as if steeling himself for a grueling ordeal. Napoleon could almost feel his partner gathering his resolve around him like a physical barrier as he turned towards him.

"Good morning," Napoleon cautiously greeted, his gaze flitting in every direction save Illya's eyes.

"Good morning," Illya returned, his tone as tentative as the nervous Napoleon's. Illya stepped forward, holding something out towards him. "Coffee?"

Startled, Napoleon focused on the two mugs Illya held in his hands...hands that were not quite steady.

Napoleon abruptly realized that this scene had to be a great deal more difficult for his partner. Illya had been seduced and all but ravaged by a man he would see every day at work, regardless of what happened to their friendship. Illya also had the added tension of dealing with the fact the Napoleon was his immediate superior. Napoleon couldn't fire him out of hand, that was solely Waverly's bailiwick, but should Napoleon chose to do so, he could make Illya's life a living hell. To say the least, he realized that the situation had to be nerve wracking in the extreme for his young friend.

"Thank you," Napoleon acknowledged. As he reached for the outstretched cup, he at last met those eyes.

Illya gulped, but held his gaze firm.

"I, ahh...I've had many an awkward morning after, my friend, but this is the strangest," Napoleon admitted, flashing a nervous smile.

To his surprise and intense relief, the gesture was not rejected or taken the wrong way. The full lips that Napoleon had sucked to their present redness quirked up at the ends. "Yes, indeed."

The silence stretched.

Napoleon took a sip of the still warm coffee, unsurprised to find it sweetened to his tastes. They knew each other so well in so many ways and, yet, Napoleon would never have anticipated his partner's present calm in such a situation. "I... was afraid that you would hate me this morning."

Illya shook his head, almost blinding Napoleon with the glistening display. "No."

The desire a tight, choking knot in his throat, Napoleon attempted to get a handle on what had happened between them, "About last night..."

Illya's control wasn't quite as complete as it seemed. The handsome features were strained, a pinched furrow appearing between the pale brows. " not think this is the proper time for this discussion," Illya said carefully.

The calm wasn't a reprieve, then, merely a stay of execution.

Napoleon nodded, accepting the evasion almost gratefully. He wasn't sure what he wanted to say himself. "All right. Later, then."

"Are you still going with me to see Mr. Waverly this morning?" Illya questioned, testing the stability of the grounds of their relationship with all the thoroughness of a rock climber checking each tentative hand hold.

"I rather thought that you were accompanying me, but yes, of course, I'm still going." Thinking he ought to straighten certain things out before any misunderstandings grew, Napoleon added, "Not that much has changed between us, my friend. At least, not for me," he qualified.

Illya glanced away, an embarrassed flush seeping through his cheeks as he directed his words towards the three musical instruments standing on the far side of the window. "You may wish to reconsider. If there were a surveillance team out there last night, the shade was not

"Then I'm already in the frying pan," Napoleon interrupted. "What's that old saying – in for a penny, in for a pound? Come on, let's get this over with." He smiled encouragingly as he appropriated his suit jacket from where he'd left it folded over the couch back last night.

Illya gave him a weak imitation of a smile and turned towards the coat closet, his movements strangely stiff, as if he were in pain.

About to question the careful motion, Napoleon snapped his jaw shut, belatedly recognizing its probable cause.

His own cheeks warming in shame, Napoleon stared down at his feet, wondering if he'd ever be able to make things right again with this incredible man.

Illya's raw courage amazed him. With everything Illya had had thrown at him last night, from the shock of Napoleon's sudden appearance on his date to the present agonizing awkwardness, Illya had conducted himself with an unshaken dignity that most men would be hard-pressed to match under the best of circumstances.

"Napoleon – are you all right?" Illya called, holding out Napoleon's overcoat.

Shocked by the genuine note of concern, Napoleon nodded and took his coat. "Yes, I'm fine. Thanks."

The drive to headquarters was a difficult one. With all that lay between them, it seemed endless. Yet, Napoleon couldn't say he was in any true hurry to get there any faster.

Despite all his claims to the contrary, Napoleon knew that this interview could get ugly. He was banking on Alexander Waverly's character and moral fiber winning through. But what if he were wrong? His partner's tense, ashen features told him the cynical Russian was braced for the worst.

The weekend receptionist, Maria DelGado, pinned on their security badges once they'd passed through the tailor shop's secret door, her round, Spanish face filled with confusion. "Napoleon, Illya, we weren't expecting you today. Don't you have off until Tuesday?"

"Yes, well...something's come up. Will you please ask Mr. Waverly if he has time to see us? It's rather important." The voltage of the smile Napoleon turned on her had talked him past many a THRUSH femme fatal.

It was no less effective on the lovely Maria. After a short consultation via the intercom, she informed the pair, "He'll see you in his office immediately."

"Thank you." Napoleon grinned while his partner gave a polite nod.

They both seemed to run out of steam outside Waverly's office.

Flashing his partner the brightest smile he could manage, Napoleon promised, "It's going to be all right, tovarisch. You'll see."

Illya gave a completely unconvincing nod of agreement. "Yes, of course it will."

"Come on." With that, Napoleon stepped boldly into the lion's den, pasting his most confident expression on his face.

Looking like an advertisement for Gentleman's Quarterly, Alexander Waverly sat there at the far end of the huge circular table which occupied the better part of his office. Napoleon had always fancied it as a twentieth century version of King Arthur's Round Table. Acting in the king's stead, the dapper old gentlemen seated in its center determined what wrongs needed to be righted, then sent his young knights questing off to the four corners of the Earth to challenge evil.

At 7:06 a.m., Mr. Waverly appeared as fresh and alert as a spring daisy. The Englishman's Saville Row suit, bushy eyebrows, gray hair and affable features seemed better suited to someone's kindly old grandfather than the head of the most efficient criminal investigation agency in the world.

But Napoleon was never fooled by that deceptively unprepossessing outer facade. Waverly was hard as steel beneath all that civility and proper breeding. Napoleon knew from personal experience that this lovable old man could order a wrongdoer's execution, should such drastic steps be required. He was also uncomfortably aware that Waverly could dismiss them both out of hand, should he so desire.

"Good morning, gentlemen. Mr. Napoleon, Mr. Kuryakin, please, take a seat," Waverly greeted. "I appreciate your diligence to duty, but it was my impression that I had given you the weekend off."

"Yes, well..." Napoleon exchanged a nervous glance with his partner as they sat down together, then plowed ahead, "We needed to speak to you about a problem."

"Work related, or of a personal nature?" Waverly asked, the glint in his eyes making Napoleon think that he was already aware of what they were here to discuss.

"A little of both, sir." Taking a breath, Napoleon plunged into the deep, possibly lethal waters. "Yesterday evening, I was an unobserved witness to a...disturbing conversation. I overheard Gene Crater, our temporary head of internal security, outlining his plan to..."

"The situation has been dealt with, Mr. Napoleon," Mr. Waverly interrupted, shuffling through a stack of papers on the table before him.

His heart in his mouth, Napoleon wondered if their boss were about to produce a surveillance photo of what had gone on in Illya's bedroom last night.

"Dealt with?" Napoleon asked with all the bravado he could muster.

Illya was watching the old man as if he expected Mr. Waverly to pull out an automatic and dispose of them both.

"Young Mitchell came to me last night to inform me of Mr. Crater's unfortunate breach of regulations," Waverly's sleepy explanation did little to alleviate the raw panic coursing through Napoleon.

"Breach of regulations, sir?" Illya entered the conversation.

The glance Illya exchanged with him told Napoleon that his partner was as puzzled as he.

Waverly's steely blue gaze took them both in. "The regulations state that any suspicion of collusion in a level-one enforcer is to be brought immediately to my attention to be personally handled to ensure the integrity of U.N.C.L.E.'s internal security. The reason for that rule should be obvious from Mr. Crater's recent fiasco."

Having no idea of what Waverly was talking about, Napoleon glanced at his equally bewildered partner and questioned, "Sir?"

"Let us just suppose for a moment that Mr. Crater's fears were justified and that Mr. Kuryakin here was in fact a THRUSH spy. Mr. Crater's sloppy verbosity in that file room last night..."

"You know about the file room, sir?" Napoleon stammered, feeling his cheeks heat at the idea.

"Mr. Mitchell suggested I review the corridor surveillance tapes to confirm his complaint. You were seen leaving the room ten minutes after Mr. Crater," Waverly reported. "But to return to the subject, were Crater correct, his lack of caution could have destroyed this organization. By so freely voicing his...suspicions, he alerted both you and your young lady to the situation. Were Mr. Kuryakin guilty, the change in your two attitudes towards him might have alerted a THRUSH mole to our investigation – to disastrous effect. Likewise, if Kuryakin were later found to be innocent of the charges, the damage done to his reputation by any resulting gossip might be irreparable. And, lastly, there was always the chance that the partner of a guilty agent might alert the suspect to the investigation out of a misplaced sense of loyalty." Those placid blue eyes settled on Napoleon, that last comment directed straight at the senior operative.

Taut with anger, Napoleon icily snapped, "My loyalty was not misplaced. There wasn't any collusion with THRUSH in this instance. The entire case was a fabrication, just a sham to justify Crater's private witch hunt."

"That was not for you to decide. Your duty was to bring the situation to my attention. You should have consulted me immediately, rather than taking matters into your own hands," Waverly chastised. "Your interference could have jeopardized a vital investigation."

"And Crater's witch hunt could have destroyed your finest agent's career," Napoleon shot back.

"Napoleon, please," Illya intervened, lying a calming hand on Napoleon's tense forearm before he turned his gaze in Waverly's direction, "Obviously, the nature of Mr. Crater's...accusation made it terribly difficult for Mr. Napoleon to approach you personally, sir. I hope that you will believe that Mr. Crater's accusations about Dr. Delaney being a THRUSH operative are entirely unfounded. However, I believe you should know that his claim of my...personal involvement with the doctor is justified."

"Illya!" Napoleon gasped, unable to believe his friend's temerity.

Those determined blue eyes met Napoleon's gaze, Illya strangely calm in the face of possible disaster. "I cannot live with this sword constantly hanging over my head, Napoleon. Whatever happens, happens."

Almost as one, they turned to Waverly. As ever, U.N.C.L.E.'s chief was completely inscrutable, appearing neither shocked nor disgusted by Illya's candid statement.

"Well?" Napoleon prompted when an eternity seemed to pass with no outward reaction from their boss.

"'Well' what, Mr. Solo?" U.N.C.L.E.'s controller questioned in his sleepy rumble.

"Is Illya out or what?" Napoleon demanded, losing patience with the whole damn business.

"Mr. Crater is ‘out' as you would say," Waverly replied.

"And Illya?"

The gray browed Brit turned Illya's way. "Mr. Kuryakin, did you misrepresent yourself to our agency by intentionally filling in an inaccurate answer on your application form beside the sexual preference question?"

His brow creased with confusion, Illya exchanged a glance with Napoleon before replying, "I...I honestly don't recall such a question appearing on the application, sir."

"For a very good reason," Waverly replied. "There was none. This organization is concerned with international law enforcement. With the weight of protecting world peace on my shoulders, do your really believe that I have the time or the interest in concerning myself with how my younger agents sow their wild oats? Mr. Solo here alone would prove a full-time occupation."

"Are you saying that it doesn't matter, sir?" Illya practically gaped at their employer.

"As far as I'm concerned, my employees' personal lives are just that – personal. The only time I feel prompted to concern myself in such private affairs is when an agent's private life begins to interfere with his job performance or in any other way jeopardizes the security of this organization. For all your faults," the elderly operative softened the words with a smile, "I can't say that the pair of you have ever given me cause for concern in either category."

"Thank you, sir," Illya responded, an endearingly stunned air about him.

The broad shoulders beneath Waverly's Saville Row suit gave a slight shrug. "I've done nothing for which you need thank me. In fact, I believe this organization owes you an apology for Mr. Crater's unfortunate infraction into your private life."

"That isn't necessary," Illya denied.

"Well, in that case, I trust that you both will enjoy your weekend off. If you will excuse me now, gentlemen, I have several pressing matters requiring my attention," Waverly dismissed them.

"Yes, of course. Thank you, sir," both men mumbled, leaving the Controller's office in varied states of shock.

"Can you believe it?" Napoleon whistled once the doors closed behind them, almost weak with relief.

Illya appeared almost speechless, "No, Napoleon. not believe that I have ever been so relieved to have been proven wrong."

"I told you the old man had class," Napoleon grinned, patting Illya on the back. "It's incredible. I feel as if we just took out THRUSH Central."

"Yes, indeed."

Their steps automatically brought them to the exit from Del Floria's shop.

It was only as they stepped out onto the now busy sidewalk, when Napoleon turned to his partner and was struck dumb by the play of winter wind and sunshine through his partner's fine hair, that Napoleon was physically reminded of what had passed between them the previous night.

The knowledge appeared to hit Illya at the same instant, for he looked up at him, opened his mouth as if to speak, then turned beet-red before looking away.

"Illya...we have to talk."

Illya seemed to force himself to meet his eyes. "Yes, but...please, not now. I need time to...digest all that has happened in the last twenty-four hours."

Seeing how weary his friend looked now that the crisis was past and the adrenaline rush was beginning to fade, Napoleon nodded, "Yes, of course. We both could use a few hours rest." He agreed, although Napoleon doubted his partner would get much sleep in a bed still bearing the scents of last night's passion, "I'll drop you off and..."

"No," Illya denied, a cornered glint to his eyes. "Thank you. I can make my own way home."

Though Illya's tone was sharp and his features damnably under control again, Napoleon sensed that it was anxiety rather than anger behind the sharpness. At least, that's what he hoped. He knew if their positions were reversed, if he'd had as much thrown at him in one night as Illya, he'd need some thinking time alone. "As you wish. I'll talk to you later. I'll...drop by after we've gotten some sleep."

"All right."

Napoleon was just about to turn away when Illya called, "Napoleon?"

"Yes?" he asked, hoping his friend had changed his mind.

"Thank you...for standing by me today and for...last night." Those fair cheeks flamed scarlet again.

Wanting to dispel the uneasiness, Napoleon tried for his normal smile, "It was my pleasure, my friend."

Rather than reassuring Illya, his partner only appeared further flustered. "Yes, well...I will see you later."

With that, Illya all but fled.

Napoleon watched his friend until the crowd swallowed the slight built blond. The image of that gold hair flaming in the early morning sun lingered on his retinas like a camera flash long after Illya disappeared from view.


After catching up on some sleep, Napoleon spent the afternoon restlessly prowling the restrictive confines of his apartment, his mind chasing itself in circles as he tried to put the events of last night in their proper perspective.

Proper perspective? He'd seduced and screwed his own partner. The concept was so far outside of Napoleon's realm of experience that he barely knew how to approach the incident, much less process it into part of his being.

There weren't many events in his life that the somewhat jaded U.N.C.L.E. agent could say that about. Over the course of the years, Napoleon had killed literally scores of men in battle, claimed the lives of at least an equal number as an U.N.C.L.E. enforcer, terminated a couple of men in cold blood on Waverly's orders, and slept with more women in the line of duty than he could recall. As hard as any of those things had been, this was more difficult by far, for he had no excuse for his behavior.

The passion had flared up between them like a California brush fire – fast and furious and totally beyond man's ability to control. Even now, Napoleon didn't understand its cause.

And, in just a few hours, his scientifically concise partner was going to require an explanation from him. The thought of how...incensed Illya must be with him filled Napoleon with a sick sense of foreboding. He'd searched for a plausible excuse for hours and come up empty-handed. All he had was the grossly inadequate truth.

He didn't know why he'd initiated last night's passion. All Napoleon knew was that it had seared his the point where he couldn't even close his eyes without replaying those steamy images. He could still feel Illya's moist lips clinging to his own, taste Illya's bitter seed on his tongue, hear the anguished cry as he pierced that virgin tight channel...

Disgusted by his body's helpless reaction, Napoleon willed his erection to subside. After several uncomfortable moments, the demanding rock throbbing at his groin transformed back into normal flesh.

Even so, Napoleon was left with the frightening apprehension that his embarrassing problem would return the instant he laid eyes on Illya. Getting a hard on every time you looked at your partner was a hell of a handicap to try to work around. Illya was just going to love this charming development – providing he allowed Napoleon to live long enough to further disgrace himself; he grimly acknowledged that there was every possibility that his partner might still kill him for what he'd done last night.

Catching sight of the moody mauve sunset outside his window, Napoleon decided that he'd procrastinated long enough. Telling himself that Illya could only kill him once, he went to shower and dress.

Two hours later Napoleon was climbing the thick carpeted stairs in Illya's brownstone.

Nervous, he paused outside his partner's door to collect himself.

From behind the heavy mahogany door, flowed the trickling sound of music. Tilting his head to catch the elusive, soft melody, Napoleon realized that it wasn't one of the dreaded jazz albums which his partner incessantly played. This music was live. A solitary guitar, playing a lonely, plaintive lament. The finger picking was exquisitely executed.

The sad and folksy song touched something in Napoleon. The music was very much like his partner: beautiful and somber, that air of sorrow somehow an inextricable part of the appeal.

Napoleon so rarely had the opportunity to hear his friend play that he stood there out in the drafty hallway simply listening to the music for several minutes. Finally, he rapped on the door.

The music broke off mid chord, a strained silence replacing it.

"It's me, Illya." Napoleon softly identified himself when he sensed his partner's presence on the other side of the door.

After the briefest of hesitation, the heavy wood door swung open.

Before coming here, Napoleon thought that he was prepared for the first sight of his friend, but those guarded, crystal blue eyes and the fall of blond hair robbed him of his breath.

Napoleon's passing glance turned into an unintentional stare as he took in his partner's casual garb. Doubtless, Illya hadn't dressed for effect. Napoleon was certain that his friend had chosen the bulky Aran Island sweater because it concealed his body from neck to thigh. The jeans were an old pair that Napoleon had seen a thousand times before.

Even so, Napoleon found himself responding to Illya the way he would a short mini skirt. The oat colored sweater might be concealing, but the complex stitches in its cables and diamond shaped patterns caught and held his attention more surely than a shirt open to Illya's naval would have. As for the jeans, they weren't the bell bottom style that was currently in fashion. These were an old, faded pair of straight legged denims, the kind that cowboys wore. The worn jeans hugged Illya's slight form like a second skin.

"I...ah, hope that I'm not interrupting anything," Napoleon said as he took in the discarded guitar on the couch. "I thought that we should talk about...what happened last night before any more time passes. But if you're busy..." This discussion being the last thing he wanted to do, Napoleon was only all too happy to put it off until a later date. Some time in the 25th century was looking real good at the moment.

"No, I'm not busy," Illya began in a formal tone, finishing with a more honest, "I was beginning to think that you weren't coming tonight. Please sit down, Napoleon."

Without asking, Illya moved to the bookshelf in the corner that doubled as a bar to prepare drinks.

Murmuring his thanks, Napoleon accepted the brandy snifter and nervously settled on the chair nearest the couch.

After a momentary hesitation, Illya perched beside his guitar, close to Napoleon's seat.

Uneasy under his partner's gaze for perhaps the first time in his life, Napoleon glanced away and tried to think of something to say. "I...owe you an apology behavior last night," Napoleon said at last, forcing himself to actually look at his friend.

"There is nothing to be sorry for," Illya replied, remote and unaffected as if it were the weather in some distant land that they were discussing and not the loss of his own virginity.

"No?" Napoleon queried, unable to believe that even Illya Kuryakin could play this particular scene this cool.

"You have nothing to feel remorse over, Napoleon," Illya reiterated. "Last night accident. You are...a sexual adventurer. Last night you simply ventured too far into the unknown."

So that was how Illya wanted to play it. One of those embarrassing encounters that were always blamed on too much drink – only both of them had been stone cold sober at the time.

Napoleon knew that to protect their partnership, the wisest course was to accept the easy out Illya offered and file the incident away with the countless others of its kind, only...

Desire still licked along Napoleon's nerves, even now under that nerve wrackingly unmoved gaze. He couldn't just let it drop. "And what of you?"

"I...took the road less traveled years ago, Napoleon. I haven't been back since," Illya dismissed.

Annoyed by Illya's attempt to deny the significance of last night's encounter, for all that it was the most sensible approach to the situation, Napoleon demanded, "Are you trying to tell me that last night meant nothing to you?"

Illya seemed to choose his words with great care. "All that I am saying is that we have both been through similar situations before and..."

"Have we really?" Napoleon challenged, angry now without understanding why. "I don't know about you, Illya, but sleeping with my partner isn't a casual social gaffe in my book."

"This situation need only be as awkward as we make it," Illya gently counseled in a lightly pleading tone.

"What are you asking of me? To move on and forget what we did?" Napoleon resentfully demanded.

"I'm asking you to...allow our partnership to weather this storm," Illya explained, carefully controlled.

"Storm? Illya, unless it's escaped your memory, I..." Napoleon just barely kept in the words `screwed you', "...took your virginity last night. Are you telling me that's unimportant?"

His barriers seemed very brittle as Illya responded, "Its significance wanes in light of..."

"If it's so damn insignificant, why hadn't you ever done it before?" Napoleon interrupted. "Surely, you're not expecting me to believe that no other man ever wanted that of you before." When Illya made no reply, Napoleon prodded, "Well?"

His cheeks flaming scarlet, Illya evaded his gaze. "What do you want of me, Napoleon?"

"How about some truth instead of this civility."

"Truth?" Illya repeated as if the word were in some foreign tongue. "That can be disastrous in a situation such as this."

"Nevertheless, that's what I want. For starters, why didn't you refuse me last night?" Napoleon's impassioned question rang like an accusation in the preternatural quiet of the living room.

"Refuse? You never asked..." Illya replied, his face sheet-white.

"You could have stopped me. You never even tried..." Napoleon pressed, not sure if he were trying to understand his partner's motivation or lay his own guilt upon his victim.

"No, I never even tried to stop you," Illya echoed in a hollow, empty tone before gathering his controls with a visible effort. "That is why I take complete responsibility for this," Illya took a sip form the brandy snifter he held cradled between his hands before continuing in a deliberately steady tone. "What I'd like to know now, Napoleon, much is my indiscretion going to cost me? Have I forfeited our partnership entirely...or just our friendship?"

"Forfeited – Illya, what are you talking about?"

"You are obviously...angry over what occurred last night," Illya began. The cornered, cautious way he offered the words squeezed Napoleon's guilt ridden conscience.

"I'm angry with myself for...doing what I did to you, Illya, and irritated with...these civilities," Napoleon reluctantly admitted. "I came here to judge how angry you were, to see if you wanted to shoot me dead out of hand or..."

"Shoot you?" Illya appeared genuinely confused.

"I all but raped you last night," Napoleon stiffly stated, ready to accept whatever punishment his partner might deem fit.

"I thought that we already agreed that the incident was my fault," Illya reminded.


"Napoleon, I didn't stop you because I didn't want to. There was no rape, merely...wish fulfillment. I selfishly indulged my fantasies last night and our partnership has suffered for it." As if realizing how much he'd let slip, Illya clamped his mouth shut, rose to his feet and turned to stare out the window.

Staring at that straight spine, it almost seemed to Napoleon that his friend was waiting for him to leave.

Mitzi had warned him last night about this, Napoleon remembered. The sensitivity and perception particular to her gender had allowed her to see the truth to which Napoleon's arrogance blinded him. Illya wasn't simply infatuated with his looks and charm. Illya was in love with him.

Stunned by the discovery, Napoleon tried to think what it meant – to him, to their partnership, and, especially, what it meant to Illya. Sensing how hurtful that love was to his friend, Napoleon cautiously approached.

"Fantasies?" Napoleon murmured, slipping his arms around the trim waist while hooking his chin over Illya's shoulder.

Illya went very still, even the breath seeming to stop in his chest.

Receiving no outward rejection, Napoleon leaned his weight against his partner, his groin nudging intimately at the butt buried beneath its layers of wool, denim, and cotton.

"Napoleon, please, don't..."

Acting as if he hadn't heard, Napoleon nosed through the fine golden hair to nuzzle the milky length of throat, trying to tell his friend the only way he knew how that everything was going to be all right.

All Illya did was shiver. He didn't throw him off or smash his teeth down his throat.

Encouraged, Napoleon whispered, "What sort of fantasies?"

Illya drew a deep shuddery breath, took hold of Napoleon in a controlling hold, then stepped free of the embrace.

"The private kind," Illya snapped, his eyes hard as arctic ice as he watched his partner rub at sore wrists. "What are you playing at, Napoleon?"

Nonplused by the abrupt mood shift, Napoleon shook his head in denial, "I'm not playing."

"Then stop toying with my emotions. This isn't a game to me. It's not something I can pick up and put down at will. I made a tragic error with you last night. If I compound it now..."

"I rather thought that you wanted to compound it now," Napoleon mildly commented, struggling to understand what was going on in that convoluted Russian brain.

" of no consequence. We cannot do this again. Ever," Illya declared, his gaze bleak as a Siberian winter.

"Why not? If we both enjoyed last night and want..?"

"Because a week from now, Napoleon, when you grow bored and start eyeing greener pastures, I will still be hopelessly entangled. You are my friend – perhaps my only true friend – there is already too much of an emotional investment here to risk...further contact. Surely, you must see the sense of this?"

"It isn't a one-way street, you know, Illya," Napoleon gently pointed out.

"Meaning?" Illya snapped. Napoleon could see how hard his partner was fighting to keep those barriers between them.

"Meaning that you are important to me. If all I wanted to do was experiment with homosexual sex, I'd leave my partner out of it. Do you really believe that even I'm sex-crazed enough to risk alienating the...affections of the man who guards my back for some sensational fling?"

"What are you talking about?" Illya blinked.

"I'm not going to play head games on the man who holds my life in his hands. You could kill me any time you wanted just by being a second late on laying cover and no one would ever be the wiser. I wouldn't risk my skin for some casual sexual liaison."

"What else could this be but a casual sexual liaison, Napoleon?" Illya asked almost wearily, "Your definition of a long term relationship is measured by days, not weeks."

"I suppose that's hardly an unfair accusation," Napoleon agreed, keeping a tight reign on his temper. Surely, Illya must know that he could never rank with the rest? Needing to reassure, he quietly questioned, "You must know that this is no mere impulse to satisfy curiosity."

"No, I suppose that after last night there can be little mystery left. What is it they say about giving one's self away too easily, Napoleon?" Illya's voice was close to a whisper. "You must think me a fool. Or worse."

So, there it was. The heart of the problem, finally out in the open.

Napoleon had known that there had to be adverse reactions to last night. You couldn't screw your partner without altering the entire dynamics of the relationship. However, in light of Illya's normally cantankerous personality, Napoleon had expected his partner to turn that resentment outwards on Napoleon himself, where it was well deserved.

"No one who knows you could ever make the mistake of thinking you a fool, my friend," Napoleon replied, stepping closer, but not quite daring to actually touch the tense figure before him. Every instinct he possessed was telling him that his partner's formidable control was about to snap.

"Don't patronize me," Illya warned, "I..."

Napoleon cut him off. "You're the most stubborn, most exasperating, ill tempered, competent operative I've ever encountered. There is nothing either foolish or easy about you, Illya. Take my word for it."

"You must be very proud to number me among your conquests, then," Illya jibed, those cool blue eyes glittering with deadly anger.

"Are you trying to tell me that you want a new partner?" Napoleon asked, wondering if Illya had realized how impossible last night made things between them. "Is that what this is all about? I wouldn't blame you if you did."

Illya snorted. "So much for this meaning something or being more than a weekend fling." He accused, as if it were Napoleon who was wanting out.

"Are you being purposefully obtuse?" Napoleon demanded, truly angry now. "I don't want a new partner and I'm not...discounting the significance of what happened between us last night. I'm just trying to make this easier for you, Illya. Just tell me now what it's going to take to make this right between us."

Illya stared at him for a long moment, his gaze impenetrable as he considered his response. "You...have a natural talent for manipulating others to your will, Napoleon. What we did last night has left me at a severe disadvantage."

"You can't think that I'd use this against you," Napoleon protested, beginning to wonder what their partnership was based on if Illya could really believe that of him.

"No," Illya promptly agreed. "You wouldn't. Not intentionally. But can't you see that the balance has been shifted in your favor? From now on, I will be at war with my desires..."

All because Napoleon had taken that ultimate step last night and fucked his partner. Cursing himself, he wondered why he couldn't have kept things simple, on a more equal basis.

The answer was, of course, standing right in front of him. He'd touched this man and lost all control. He wondered if Illya understood how devastating such lapses were to him. It was true that he found his way into an astounding number of women's beds, but always the campaigns were coolly waged, his less than honorable intentions firmly stated up front. He didn't lay hands on someone to comfort and then lose all control. That simply wasn't Napoleon Solo's style.

"So how do we fix this situation?" Napoleon asked cautiously, not trusting the hard set of Illya's features.

"As I see it, there are only two courses open to us. We can follow my previous lead and underplay the significance of the event. In effect, pretend that last night never happened."

"At what cost to our friendship?" Napoleon questioned. "I don't know about you, but I'm not that good an actor. Even now, it's here between us."

"The memory is still fresh. It will fade in time," Illya said, his hope so intense it bordered on desperation.

"Don't count on it. Like I said, last night was more than a social gaffe for me. What's the other option, Illya?" Despite his intentions to keep this conversation on a professional level, a silky, sensual purr slid into Napoleon's tone.

Illya's features sharpened in grim resolve at Napoleon's change in inflection. "You see, already you work to undermine my will by using what passed between us."

"I'm...sorry," Napoleon awkwardly apologized, beginning to understand why his partner was so worried. Apparently, seduction was so much a part of his character that he did it automatically, without thought.

Abruptly, Napoleon recalled Mitzi's accusation last night about Illya being a victim of his charm. With a mental start, he realized that this wasn't even a new situation. How often did he... flirt with Illya to sway the intractable Russian to his will? Was there any other man he took this type of approach with, Napoleon wondered, unable to come up with a single instance outside of Illya.

It was almost as though from the time the drugged Illya had confessed to being a homosexual, Napoleon's unconscious mind had played upon his own desirability to get his way with Illya. What he'd done a moment ago was more pronouncedly sexual than his usual patter, but he had a feeling that it was only last night's events that had brought the situation to Illya's conscious attention.

Now that Illya was sensitized to the issue, that playful banter would be forever tainted by suspicion. Aware of just how much of their relationship was based on that easy interplay, Napoleon recognized that their friendship had been all but crippled by last night's impetuosity.

Getting a firm grip on his libido, Napoleon again asked, "What's the other option?"

Whatever it was, the blanking of all emotion from his companion's face told Napoleon that he wasn't going to like it.

"We restore the balance," Illya said simply.

Not understanding Illya's almost palpable tension, Napoleon offered, "That sounds like a more promising option."

The smile Illya gave him was utterly devoid of mirth. "You are not understanding me, Napoleon."

A cold hand seemed to squeeze his guts at that predatory response. It was Illya the hunter, the face he used when dealing with THRUSH.

Swallowing his apprehensions, Napoleon vowed, "I'll do anything it takes to make things right between us again, Illya."

"Will you really? To the point of evening the score between us?" Illya demanded in cold disbelief.

With his typical silver tongued eloquence, Napoleon asked, "Huh?"

"If you give me what you took from me last night, we will be back on an even keel again," Illya explained.

Flabbergasted, Napoleon stammered, "You mean you want me to..."

"To put up or shut up, I believe that is how you Americans would phrase it. Either we even the situation out or we erase last night from our memories and make no reference to it by word or action. Ever," Illya detailed, his icy gaze and tone those of an unfeeling stranger.

His mouth dryer than the Sahara, Napoleon simply stared at his friend.

Illya had backed him into a corner, the likes of which he'd never encountered.

No matter what he did, he was destined to lose face with Illya. Illya knew as well as he how inconceivable the idea of allowing another man to fuck him was to him. It went as firmly against his nature as slaughtering children would.

And yet, if he backed down and refused to go through with it, Napoleon knew that he'd be branding himself a coward forever in Illya Kuryakin's eyes.

It was an impossible situation. Illya was asking him to forfeit either his own dignity or his partner's respect. Napoleon honestly couldn't decide which was a worse prospect. "You can't be serious," he whispered at last, Illya's deathly white face telling him that his partner had never been more determined in his entire life.

"Completely. Which will it be, Napoleon?" Perversely, it almost seemed to be sympathy softening that deep voice.

"How can you do this to me?" Napoleon hissed. "I thought we were friends."

That appeared to shake Illya's resolve a little, but not crumble it. After a second's indecision, he carefully answered, "We are friends, but will not remain so for long if the balance is not maintained."

"But why this way?"

Illya vented a soft sigh. "Napoleon, I did not wish it to come to this. Had you accepted my earlier offer to put full responsibility for this upon me, put it in our past, and move on from there, I would never have made such a...demand. But it is not in your nature to take the easy or sensible path. You must push every situation to its limits. And, once again, you have pushed too far. I will not allow myself to become an emotional marionette, not even for you."

"And if I refuse both options?" Napoleon countered, aware of how hard he could make life for his partner and almost angry enough to do so.

"Then Monday morning I will request an immediate transfer out of Section 2," Illya informed in an even tone, not seeming the least bit surprised by Napoleon's implicit threat.

"You've really thought this out, haven't you?" Napoleon asked, furious with his partner and his own failure to foresee such a response. He'd known Illya was taking this too well earlier. Why couldn't he have just left things alone? Now Illya would have his pound of flesh – with a vengeance.

"Wisdom in hindsight is a poor substitute for preventative caution," Illya gave him one of his irritatingly enigmatic responses.

"You realize that this will kill our friendship entirely, don't you?" Napoleon checked.

"This need go no further, Napoleon. We can still forget last night ever happened," Illya reminded him.

"You want me to back down in front of you? No way, comrade. You want your pound of flesh, come claim it," Napoleon practically sneered, pulling off his tie and undoing his top buttons with vicious, sharp motions. "But remember one thing, partner. When I touched you before, it was because I freely wanted to, because I wanted to make love to you. You're the one who turned this into something ugly."

With that, Napoleon quickly stripped off his jacket, neatly folded it and placed it on the couch back beside where the neck of Illya's guitar rested. Then he spun furiously on his heel and headed for Illya's bedroom.


Napoleon ignored the pleading call and stalked into the bedroom. Unsurprised, he saw that a pair of powder blue sheets had replaced last night's white ones.

Thinking how far away last night's passionate intimacies felt from the anger of the present moment, Napoleon removed his specially designed U.N.C.L.E.-issue cuff links, tie clip, and watch before hastily disrobing...before he lost his nerve.

Napoleon was just placing the folded underwear on top of the clothes pile he'd laid on his partner's bureau top when he sensed Illya's presence in the doorway.

Without outwardly acknowledging the other man's existence, Napoleon crossed to the bed, feeling his partner's gaze on his bare back like the biting, freezing sting of hail on naked skin. Where last night those eyes had excited him unbearably, Illya's gaze now seemed to pull every trace of heat out of him, leaving only gooseflesh in its wake.

Unwilling to make this the least bit easy on his partner, Napoleon lay face down on the mattress and spread his legs wide. "Come on. Let's get this over with." He called on the bravado that would pull him through a THRUSH torture session.

Even from clear across the room, Napoleon could hear the gulp Illya gave, "Napoleon, please..."

Delighted by the effect he was having, Napoleon looked over his shoulder and indulged in an utterly snide smile, "What's the matter? Lose your nerve?" he viciously chided.

"Napoleon, please...not this way..."

"You set the terms, comrade," Napoleon purposefully used the endearment like an expletive, seeing from the flinch Illya gave how true his shot had flown to its mark. "You want to call this off, you just say the word. I'll go home right now. Then, when we see each other at work on Monday, we'll both know who didn't have the guts to follow through, won't we?"

His hands balling into tight fists at his sides under the accusation, Illya asked in a choked whisper, "You will leave me no pride at all, will you? It doesn't have to be this way, Napoleon."

Ignoring the vulnerable plea, Napoleon sneered, "You called the tune, partner. Now dance. Put up or shut up, Illya," he threw Illya's challenge back in his ashen face.

And, even now, as furious as he'd ever been with his partner in his life, Napoleon still found the man desirable. Standing there frozen like some ice sculpture, with the light filtering in from the street turning his hair a shimmer of silver stardust, Illya took his breath away. Not sure if it were fear or longing tightening his balls, Napoleon pressed his suddenly hard and throbbing cock into the mattress and waited.

After what seemed an eternity, Illya visibly forced himself to enter the room.

Illya paused before the bed, reached down to grab hold of the bottom of his bulky sweater, as if to tug it off, then stopped dead in his tracks.

"No," Illya shook his head, "not this way. Get dressed, Napoleon. Go home."

"What?" Napoleon gaped, his fear-frozen mind unable to believe his reprieve.

"I concede defeat. Go home." With that whispered declaration, Illya turned and walked out of the room.

Unable to believe his luck, Napoleon simply lay there for a long moment. Pitched against the most ruthless, intractable personality he'd ever encountered, his bluff had somehow won through. It was inconceivable, sort of like THRUSH packing up its guns and going home once they'd outwitted the local U.N.C.L.E. branch.

Illya Kuryakin never backed down or ran from any danger, no matter how out-gunned he was. Why his partner hadn't taken revenge after his cruel baiting was beyond Napoleon's ability to comprehend.

When Napoleon finally figured out what Illya's reason must be, his victory left a more bitter aftertaste in his mouth than Illya's semen had the previous night.

There was only one reason why Illya had backed down that way – because he couldn't force himself to rape his partner.

And, in his heart, Napoleon had known all along that his friend wouldn't be able to do it, even if Illya had not known.

More disgusted with himself than he'd been this morning when he'd woken up and realized what he'd done, Napoleon sat there and thought about how awful his partner must be feeling at the present moment. He had left not a shred of pride to this man, who worried about his dignity to the point of hesitating to call for rescue when trapped on a ship in the middle of an empty sea. Napoleon had no idea how he could fix that.

Part of him wanted to just quit the scene, run far and fast as a hit and run driver. Only, he knew that once he put on his clothes and walked out of this room, their partnership was finished.

Catching sight of Illya's blue bathrobe neatly draped over the foot of the bed, Napoleon sat up and reached for it. He would not confront his friend in a suit and a tie. If he didn't have the courage to go naked before Illya, he was at least resolved to go barefoot and humble.

He found Illya in his now familiar contemplative position before the window. A shiver blew down Napoleon's spine as he noticed that Illya had switched from brandy to vodka. A newly opened bottle of Stolichnaya sat on the window sill close at hand. The determined manner with which Illya was consuming the generous portion he'd sloshed into his brandy snifter told Napoleon that his friend had definite plans for the remainder of the bottle.

Illya glanced over his shoulder and winced upon seeing what Napoleon was wearing.

"There is nothing further to be discussed. Once again, you've had your way, Napoleon. Go home now," Illya warned.

"What happens Monday?"

"What?" Illya asked, taking another deep guzzle of the execrable brew.

"You said you'd demand a transfer on Monday if I didn't play by your rules," Napoleon reminded him.

"You played by the rules. I was the one guilty of underestimating my opponent."

"What's that supposed to mean? And please don't call me your opponent. We're not enemies – are we?" Napoleon questioned.

In response, Illya took another deep swig of vodka.

Napoleon had never seen him drink like this. "Illya?"

"Go home, Napoleon," Illya wearily repeated.

"Not until you tell me what you're going to do on Monday," Napoleon refused.

"Hopefully, by Monday I will have consumed enough vodka to have forgotten the events of this weekend," Illya huskily admitted. "Although, at this moment, I sincerely doubt that there is enough vodka in all the world for that task."

"You mean you're not requesting a transfer?" Napoleon jumped at the idea.

"What would be the point? We both know that I would only be running to hide my defeat. I will...take it like a man, Napoleon."

So, Napoleon was to have his cake and eat it, too. The only problem was that not only wouldn't his closest friend share that cake, Illya was certain Napoleon would poison him with it.


The twin pools of misery turned towards him. The rapid consumption of far too much vodka had removed barriers which Napoleon normally would have had to work for hours to circumvent.

Napoleon never would have believed he could wish for the Ice King's return, but the depth of raw suffering, the wound Napoleon had knowingly dealt the other man's soul, was too much for his conscience to handle.

"Illya, I..." Words failing, he reached out to touch, only to feel the other man's body turn to stone.

"Will you leave me nothing at all? Or will you repeat last night's performance to drive home our respective roles?" Horrified, Napoleon saw that he could do just that, were it his intent. Illya should have thrown him off and pounded him to a pulp for his temerity in touching after his earlier offenses, but, like himself, Illya still desired, despite the resentment. For all his icy reserve, Illya didn't have it in him to consciously wound his partner – not the way Napoleon had hurt him earlier. Because, in spite of everything, Illya was in love with him.

Reading the torment in that uncharacteristically open gaze, Napoleon realized that that love was an open wound, into which Napoleon kept rubbing salt.

"I don't want to hurt you or cause you any more pain," Napoleon declared, holding firm to Illya's biceps with his left hand while the right rose to brush the fine blond hair back from his partner's face with tender caution. "I behaved badly before, but you backed me into a corner and left me no escape. You had to have known what I would do if you pushed me like that," Napoleon declared, unable to believe that this man, who knew his weaknesses so well, would fail to anticipate how viciously he'd fight such an ultimatum.

The fair hair fell back in place as Illya gave a negative shake of his head. "No. I thought only to make you back hammer home how dangerous the fire was that you were playing with."

"And, if I couldn't back down?" Napoleon probed, truly curious as to his partner's motivations.

"It never occurred to me that you wouldn't. I knew..." and here the averted eyes forced themselves to meet Napoleon's gaze, "that this was not something you would freely give me. I simply never...anticipated how far you were willing to push these particular limits."

Napoleon stared at those open, vulnerable features, reading in their pallor how badly he'd hurt his friend. Somehow the word `sorry' didn't seem enough to cover the degree of damage he'd knowingly inflicted. If his life had depended upon it, Napoleon couldn't have met his partner's gaze in his shame at that moment.

Finally, Napoleon whispered. "I didn't win when you walked away before, tovarisch. You did. You're more of a man than I'll ever hope to be."

Illya winced. "Please do not patronize me, Napoleon."

Napoleon shook his head in firm denial. "It took more guts and honor to walk away at that moment than...facing any THRUSH torture I've ever seen. I couldn't have backed down at that point, Illya, not after the awful things I said to you."

"That's because you don't back down."

"Neither do you, not in situations where it's vital that you don't. But you have the sense to weigh the consequences and decide when honor outweighs pride. Much to my shame, I don't."

"What are you talking about?" Illya questioned, stepping free of Napoleon's touch, his gaze not quite so bleak.

Napoleon watched with relief as his partner rested the half empty brandy snifter next to the vodka bottle, Illya looking much more his normal self as he demanded an explanation.

"I mean that you knew that I'd break if you took me that way. And, as an honorable man, you decided that a salve to your pride wasn't worth the cost. That took guts, my friend," Napoleon honestly commended.

Illya bit his lower lip, then sat back against the window sill, somehow managing to fit his butt into the space beside his goblet and liqueur bottle without dislodging either. "I regret that neither courage nor honor played any role in my decision, Napoleon."

"No?" Napoleon smiled, not believing.

"I...could not hurt anyone that way, Napoleon, especially you."

"It would have destroyed what we have, Illya," Napoleon agreed, hoping his partner would see how proud he was of him. For, despite everything Illya claimed, it had required a tremendous amount of courage not to strike back at his tormentor at that point.

"And what do we have, Napoleon?" Illya's voice was etched in sorrow as he looked away, out towards the dark night beyond the window.

Napoleon answered slowly, choosing each word with the greatest care less he say something too sentimental to be believed. "A...connection strong enough to withstand petty pride. Something that will grow in spite of ourselves."

"You sound like one of the beatniks in the coffee house down the street. Speak plainly," Illya demanded, the vodka and the events of the night seeming to have taken up his quota of patience.

"I...don't want you hurting like this. I'm asking you to give me a second chance," Napoleon stiffly stated, still too proud to beg, even though he knew he should be down on his knees asking his partner's forgiveness for his earlier cruelty.

"A second chance to do what? I already told you that I won't request a transfer." Illya took another healthy slug of the vodka, seeming to realize that they were right back where they'd started.

"Come back to bed with me, Illya. Please? I...can't promise that I'll be able to...even the score tonight, but I...swear that I'm not going to grow bored with you in the foreseeable future. You mean too much to me."

Not surprisingly, Illya looked away, not even bothering to dignify the ludicrous suggestion with a reply.

"I wish that there was something I could say or do to restore your faith in me...something I could freely offer," Napoleon amended, uncomfortably conscious of his previous failure.

Something in his words brought Illya's gaze back to his face.

"This morning you wagered your career for my sake. Last night you stood before an open window, in plain sight of surveillance cameras and kissed me. I know that for me, Napoleon."

"And it's not enough?" Needing to breach the distance gaping between them, Napoleon admitted, "I...more than just care. In my whole life, I've only ever felt this way about two other people – my dead wife Katie and Clara Rivers..."

"Please, Napoleon, don't..." Illya interrupted, visibly disturbed.

"Don't what?"

"Don't say things you don't mean. You cannot possibly... hold me in the same regard as your wife..."

"Illya, I knew Katie for all of two years, when I was little more than a child myself. I barely remember her face anymore. Clara was in my life for less than a year. She dumped me because the job was too demanding."

"Even so, you cannot mean..." Illya protested.

"Can't I? Think about it. Why do you feel the way you do about me? Our...friendship fills the void left by lack of family. It's been that way almost from the start. Illya, you have been the one constant in my life for...years now. What I feel for you isn't going to go away. I swear it. If you want to ask me to prove myself..." Desperate, he stared at Illya's face as his partner sat cool as a golden sphinx in the lamplight, the window black and reflective as a mirror behind him. The contrast offset Illya's glowing beauty.

"You don't have to prove anything further to me, Napoleon," Illya said at last, strangely subdued. "Come, we will return to bed." As if picking up on the question in Napoleon's mind, Illya assured, "There are no longer any scores to be evened tonight. Whatever happens, happens, my friend."

Illya landed lightly on his feet, took the bemused Napoleon's hand to lead him back to the bedroom.

Illya released him when they reached the bedside.

As if unwilling to allow himself time to reconsider, Illya shrugged out of his bulky, oatmeal-colored sweater. Entranced, Napoleon watched the fall of rumpled blond hair about his partner's ears. The undershirt appeared a stark white contrast to skin rubbed pink from the rough wool, oddly sexy.

Visibly nervous, Illya turned away to undo his jeans.

Granting his friend his privacy, Napoleon bent to peel back the covers. Straightening up, he undid his borrowed bathrobe and shouldered free of it. Glancing at Illya to monitor his friend's progress, he saw that he had peeled down to his briefs. Illya was standing there staring down at that final barrier, as if contemplating the wisdom of removing them.

After all Napoleon had put him through tonight, he couldn't really blame his friend for his hesitation.

Moving slowly, so as not to startle, he came up behind his uncertain partner. Despite his caution, Napoleon saw the shadowed spine stiffen at his approach.

Gentle as an autumn leaf wafting to the ground, he laid his hands on those rock hard shoulders. "It will be all right, Illya. I promise."

Sensing how his companion ached for some form of reassurance that this wasn't another terrible mistake, Napoleon began to gently knead the over tight shoulder muscles. His partner's skin was just as touchable as he remembered, addictively soft.

Napoleon's fingers moved with extreme care, courting acceptance rather than forcing the issue. With touch, he tried to tell his friend all those things his awkward words could never manage. He was in no rush. Now that he'd actually been granted leave to touch again, he was content to linger over the small details.

After a few minutes, Illya heaved a shaky sigh, the muscles beneath Napoleon's moving hands melting to butter in reaction.

"That feels...very good, Napoleon."

"I've been aching to touch you this way all day," Napoleon murmured. Then, unable to stop himself, he leaned down to place a kiss at the base of Illya's neck, right below the fringe of hair.

Napoleon felt the reactive shiver convulse Illya, then the skin beneath his palms pricked up in gooseflesh.

Hoping he wasn't moving too fast, Napoleon slipped his arms around the trim waist, drawing Illya in close to him.

There was no resistance. Illya came to him trusting as a child, as if the last hour of disillusionment and discord had never occurred.

Napoleon gasped as he felt the soft cotton of Illya's briefs brush his groin. He stood still as stone, denying the urge to lean in closer for fear that Illya would misinterpret his action.

Napoleon nuzzled along the milk white-throat, loving the taste and feel of this man's flesh. His fingers stroked lightly over the firm belly, above the waist band of Illya's briefs, eliciting another pleased sigh.

Sucking steady as a vampire at the soft skin above the pulsing jugular, Napoleon's right hand swept up his partner's ribs, stopping at the pert bud of nipple.

Illya gasped as Napoleon applied pressure, then leaned his full weight back against Napoleon.

Napoleon gave a pleased hiss as he felt his erection dig into the cotton barrier, nudging between the luscious cheeks, blindly searching out the channel he'd made his own last night.

His legs trembling uncontrollably, Napoleon anticipated a strong, probably adverse reaction from is iron-willed partner at his forward move. Surely, Illya would find this threatening after last night, but to Napoleon's astonishment, Illya simply wiggled his butt to find a more comfortable angle before relaxing against him.

Napoleon was astounded. How could Illya trust him after what he'd done last night? After the horrible scene he'd orchestrated earlier?

Were their positions reversed, Napoleon knew he would have thrown the other man off and demanded that he steer clear of that sensitive territory until he was willing to give as good as he got. But Illya made no protest beyond a slight tensing of his muscles. After a few moments of breathless oral exploration at Illya's neck, he felt even that residual tension fade.

"You're so perfect," Napoleon whispered, licking the soft spot behind Illya's left ear until he actually whimpered.

"Napoleon...ummm...would you care to lie down?" Illya asked some time later, his heated gaze more than slightly unfocused.

The incandescent glow in those incredible eyes making his knees weak, Napoleon nodded. "That sounds like a good idea."

Illya paused beside the bed to slip his underpants off while Napoleon waited behind him.

Napoleon watched the white, exquisitely rounded cheeks emerge. For a man so slight in build, Illya had a sensually shaped butt. Not generous enough in size to be considered too large for his form, but exactly the right amount to fill a certain enforcer's hands.

Despite a strong desire to stroke the revealed ass, Napoleon kept his hands to himself, unwilling to jeopardize the fragile trust Illya had extended to him with too aggressive a gesture.

Desiring to make this as easy as possible on his companion, Napoleon lay down on the cool, powder blue linen. He opened his arms to his friend, making it plain that he wanted Illya on top.

His expression very soft, Illya sat down beside Napoleon's chest, turning sideways to gaze down into his eyes.

Needing more contact, Napoleon laid his arm across the athletic, blond fuzzed thighs, lightly hooking the sitting Russian in the crook of his elbow. He tentatively rested his hand on the small of his friend's back, right above where the crease began between the cheeks of Illya's butt.

Unfamiliar emotions flashed through the intent blue gaze like heat lightning sparking along the horizon on a hot summer night as Illya visibly savored his touch.

Illya reached out to pensively finger the mole on Napoleon's left cheek, his other hand moving to stroke the hair back from Napoleon's brow before exploring his other features.

Shivering under that careful touch, Napoleon questioned the hesitation behind it. "Are you all right? What is it?" He prayed his partner wasn't having second thoughts.

The roving fingers trailed lightly down Napoleon's neck and chest, stopping almost self consciously above Napoleon's bellybutton. "I've never known...desire like this, Napoleon."

Illya bent to lightly kiss Napoleon's mouth, the contact as tender as it was fleeting.

When he could breathe again, Napoleon determined, "And that bothers you." His gaze digging into those changed, somehow vulnerable features, he tried to understand this complex man who was now his lover.

"I don't...know how to need like this, Napoleon. You touch me...and there is nothing I wouldn't do for you. That is why I was so...insistent about keeping things on an even keel before," Illya admitted with visible difficulty.

"And now?" Napoleon asked, tensing in dread at what the answer might be.

"Now?" Illya shrugged, "It does not seem so important now that we are touching."

But it would regain importance as soon as they were apart and Illya had time to think, Napoleon realized.

Napoleon was mulling over the problem when Illya's head lowered over his torso. Blasting all worry from his mind, Illya's mouth followed the trail that his fingertips had blazed just moments before. Last night, Napoleon hadn't really given his partner the chance to touch him beyond some incidental petting. Now the thorough Russian took the opportunity to show him what he'd missed.

In his rather active sex life, Napoleon must have been in at least a thousand different beds. He'd had virgins as well as prostitutes, run the entire gauntlet between the two poles, but absolutely never had he experienced the likes of what his partner did to him tonight. Illya seemed to know his body inside out. His partner tackled Napoleon's pleasure with a scientist's attention to detail and a musician's flair for improvisation. No matter where Illya lavished his caresses, be it such mundane non-erogenous spots like the inside of Napoleon's elbow or his hairy calf, the talented man left his partner quivering with need. Illya was a master of pleasure, showering licks, kisses, provocative nips and exquisite touches up and down Napoleon's entire body. With the same devastating skill Illya used to call music from the strings of his guitar or bass, the quiet Russian pulled ecstasy from Napoleon's body.

Napoleon could only watch in a stunned daze as his companion worshipped his flesh, for there could be no other description for what Illya was doing for him. His partner's lips were incredibly tender even in their sucking, the fingertips highly sensitive to his needs, indulging Napoleon's slightest response.

Napoleon couldn't believe that this wanton pleasurer was his normally insouciant partner. He had never been touched this way, with such love. His reserved friend behaved as though it were some precious gift simply to be allowed to touch Napoleon at all. That near-reverence characterized even Illya's smallest gesture.

The purity of the devotion humbled Napoleon, for in his heart, he knew he wasn't worthy of it. After what he'd done to Illya earlier tonight, he barely deserved this incredible man's friendship.

But he was too much of a sensualist to refuse this extraordinary gift. All that Napoleon hoped was that he'd be able to measure up in time.

As he gave himself fully over to the pleasure, Napoleon felt himself sinking into the warm cocoon of caring Illya was weaving around him, drifting without protest wherever Illya led.

After a nerve-wrendingly thorough exploration of his arms, legs, face, neck, ears, and sundry other parts, Illya at last took the more traveled path to Napoleon's groin. When he was gathered into that ingenious hand, the entire tone of the union changed as an urgency that eclipsed even last night's passion storm thundered through Napoleon's blood.

With that one move, Napoleon's protective cocoon was blasted to pieces. The always-in-control, Napoleon astounded himself by releasing an actual whimper as he saw Illya's head lower towards his groin. His excited gaze was fixated by the silver shimmer of light through the shifting blond hair.

Napoleon reached for his partner, losing his fingers in the mesmerizing cascade of gold. The cool slide of hair was a shocking counterpoint to the heat of the mouth that sucked him in. Senses reeling, he pressed Illya's head down, barely giving him enough slack to properly explore him. Illya's tongue was a demon incarnate, pulling pleasures from his throbbing cock that Napoleon could feel shiver through his toenails.

The tongue tip traced delicate patterns on the flaring head of Napoleon's shaft, moving to lap down its sensitive underside while Illya's fingertips stroked lightly over the thick down on his inner thighs.

Trying to hold back the pleading sounds that escaped his throat, Napoleon spread his legs wider, thrusting his groin up at Illya.

Illya gulped his length down with an eagerness that bordered upon greed. As Napoleon's cock head explored the deepest reaches of his partner's throat, Illya's fingertips manipulated Napoleon's heavy balls, sending him into utter chaos. The hand not busy with his testicles continued to tantalizingly stroke between his wide spread thighs, adding even more kindling to the fire consuming him.

On one such caress, Illya's thumb strayed further back, slipping up behind Napoleon's balls to graze over his sphincter. The explosion that rushed through Napoleon's neurons at that chance contact was like none that the jaded Solo had known. For all the action that he had seen over the years, that touch was one he'd adamantly avoided. The feel of Illya's thumb tip and its hard nail just stroking over that hypersensitive opening vied with the experience of orgasm in Napoleon's beleaguered opinion.

"Ah...god..." Napoleon gasped, moaning in disappointment as his partner's hand returned to safer regions.

Napoleon fell into a delightfully familiar pattern as Illya intensified his oral exercises. Feeling his climax close at hand, Napoleon tried to push his partner off him, "Wait...Illya, stop...please..!"

With a slurpy sound, Illya was forcibly parted from Napoleon's body.

"What?" Illya impatiently demanded, his glittering gaze hot and hungry, his cheeks flushed with arousal.

Thinking that Illya had never looked more beautiful, Napoleon stroked the strained features. "I want you to do it."

"Do what?" His dazed partner made a valiant attempt at focusing, but from the husky sound of his voice, Illya was having trouble even remembering to stick to English.

"Even the score," Napoleon explained with a soft smile. The quiver that ran through him at the suggestion wasn't entirely one of fear. He'd liked the feel of Illya's thumb brushing him there before, sensed that with some more stimulation, the experience could be something other than the repugnant, unthinkable act he'd always feared it to be. Lord knew, Illya had seemed to enjoy having it done to him last night once the initial discomfort had passed.

A familiar, puzzled furrow creased the pale brow. With a shaky calm very far from his usual scientific detachment, Illya reached behind Napoleon's testicles and lightly traced his middle finger around the tight ring of muscle.

Napoleon hissed at the delight that rippled through him, his balls pulling up tight against him as he thrust his hips demandingly up at Illya, his system awhirl under the ecstasy. It seemed inconceivable that such a simple to touch to so indelicate a region could cause this convulsive pleasure, but Napoleon had never encountered the likes of that teasing caress. Its dark promise shivered through him with the same intensity as the feelings Illya's talented mouth had pulled from his cock.

His excitement was such that Napoleon didn't even mind the gaze digging into his face as Illya studied his every reaction.

As if reaching a decision, Illya's hand withdrew, moving towards the night table drawer before Napoleon could draw breath to protest the abandonment.

Frantic with need, Napoleon's hungry brown eyes watched as his friend retrieved a small jar of vaseline, the very same one Napoleon had employed last night.

Napoleon shook with something other than desire once Illya had extracted a healthy dollop of the gel from the jar. This was it. Panic and passion played along his nerves in equal measure.

As Illya reached for him, Napoleon spread his legs and lifted himself up. He squeezed his eyes shut so he wouldn't have to see, concentrating every iota of his being upon experiencing the sensation.

Illya's middle finger lightly brushed over the tense aperture, only this time his partner left a generous helping of the gel behind.

Napoleon drew in a deep breath as the finger centered itself over him, then carefully pushed inwards.

Every muscle he owned clamped up at that intrusive probe. Napoleon gasped under the sudden pain. He hadn't expected it to hit so soon. But, despite the thick coating of vaseline, Illya's finger felt abrasive as sandpaper against the delicate tissue.

Napoleon shuddered to think what his partner's cock was going to feel like if a single, skinny finger hurt this much. Illya wasn't huge by any stretch of the imagination, but he was sufficiently big to make penetration an agonizing ordeal in view of Napoleon's response to even this light exploration.

Napoleon wanted to beg his friend to stop, but after all that had passed between them earlier, he didn't have the nerve. So, he silently suffered the attention, praying he'd have the courage to hold out through the entire ordeal.

In a way, it was almost ludicrous how much it hurt. Napoleon knew that he'd stoically endured tortures that would destroy most men, but somehow this was different. Even chained naked to a wall in a THRUSH prison cell, he hadn't felt this...vulnerable and exposed. He gave a shocked gasp as Illya deposited a tender kiss on the sensitive skin of his lower belly.

"It gets better, my friend," Illya assured with a knowing smile, the sensual timbre of his husky voice sending shivers of anticipation through Napoleon. "Please try to relax."

As Illya proceeded to kiss his way back to Napoleon's groin, his pulse rate picked up again. The internal discomfort hadn't let up any. Illya's slender finger still felt like a poker shoved up inside him. However, the familiar pleasure of having the length of his cock so lovingly nuzzled distracted Napoleon from the pain.

Illya was a master at this art. Within minutes, he'd brought Napoleon back to the panting peak of explosion. The finger buried inside Napoleon moved ruthlessly further into him. The discomfort of the probe was overshadowed by the skyrocketing pleasure the incredible mouth was giving him. What Illya's tongue was doing to his eager shaft turned even that intrusive penetration into an exotic, darkly erotic delight.

Aware that the pleasure wouldn't last once his partner's penis replaced the skinny finger, Napoleon basked in the sensations, hoarding the joy in the face of the impending pain.

He grunted as Illya pushed more forcefully up inside of him. If he didn't know better, he'd almost swear Illya was searching for something inside him.

Napoleon's entire reality rocked in and out of existence when Illya at last achieved his objective. A whole new kind of pleasure washed over his stunned senses. In its own way, the sensation was as sharp and as transcendent as orgasm. The delightful waves ripped through Napoleon's loins like a rockslide, avalanching down over him and leaving him no choice but to tumble along with it. His cry at that point was instinctive and piercing.

"Ah..." Illya sighed, lifting his head from his oral service, a strangely tender smile transforming his features, " last. That's the way, Napoleon. Don't fight it. Flow with me..."

"Oh, God," Napoleon gasped under another blinding burst of ecstasy so intense it seemed unreal, "What..?"

Then Illya's hot mouth engulfed him again and Napoleon was beyond coherency. Moaning with shameless abandon, he gave himself totally over to the experience, not caring at that point what Illya put inside him, so long as that pleasure kept up. Illya's fingers pumped steadily in and out as is head bobbed up and down Napoleon's engorged cock. The double assault to his senses was more than he could handle.

In his jaded arrogance, Napoleon had believed that he'd experienced every form of pleasure imaginable. To his breathless wonder, his reserved partner taught him the true meaning of ecstasy.

Napoleon wasn't able to hold back any longer as those merciless fingers drove him over the top. He blacked in and out of consciousness under shock wave after shock wave of exquisite sensation, the semen pulsing out of him in endless, powerful spurts.

Losing track of time, Napoleon seemed to spin ceaselessly out in climax, his body thrumming with delight.

Feeling as if every bit of his heart and soul were claimed by that stupefying orgasm, Napoleon lay there and tried to remember how to breathe. His heart was still trying to pound its way through his chest, but inside he felt calm and crystal clear as a dewy mountain morning.

Napoleon hissed as his partner's finger withdrew from his sore rectum.

Still stunned speechless, Napoleon forced his eyes open and sought his partner's face, puzzled by what had not happened a few minutes ago.

His groping hand made contact with the sable-soft fall of gold, Napoleon's touch seeming to draw Illya's attention up to him.

"Illya...aren't you going to...finish it?" he stammered, once he recalled how to talk. "You didn't..."

A blindingly sweet smile lit Illya's bemused features. A breathy snort, half-laughter, half-exasperation accented the smile. "Finish it? You finished me, Napoleon."

Appearing to battle for the energy, Illya crawled up to his side.

Astounded, Napoleon gaped at his partner's lax genitals, belatedly recognizing what the glistening wetness on Illya's belly and thighs indicated.

"You...came?" Napoleon questioned, very aware that he hadn't even touched the man.

"Copiously." Illya gave an abashed grin.

The resulting, shared chuckle felt almost as wonderful as the sex. When they calmed, Napoleon opened his arms to his partner.

The action seeming to take on a strange significance, Illya moved carefully into his embrace.

Caught by the sudden flash of uncertainty in those bottomless blue eyes, Napoleon leaned forward to gently kiss his companion.

The tentative quality of the initial contact gradually gave way to a cautious tenderness, as if neither one of them knew what the other expected or wanted of him now that the passion was spent.

Napoleon tightened his grip on Illya, pulling his friend closer until he was lying on top of him. His partner's muscular weight was more than he was accustomed to, yet, at that moment, it felt absolutely perfect.

Illya sighed as their mouths parted. "Napoleon."

Staring up into the oddly gentled features, Napoleon tried to understand why his partner hadn't followed through before, "Illya, why didn't you...take me?" He whispered, feeling as if he'd somehow cheated his lover.

Illya's eyelids swept down to mask his gaze. After a moment, he seemed to force himself to meet his stare, a faint trace of color seeping into his cheeks, "You weren't ready," he said softly, reaching to finger the mole on Napoleon's left cheek, a very cherishing quality to the gesture.

"But...I wanted to even the score," Napoleon quietly protested.

"I know," Illya soothed, a fond smile lifting his reddened lips. "And I thank you for the offer, but..."

"Didn't you want me?" Napoleon quizzed, bizarrely offended by the idea.

"More than my next breath," Illya whispered.

"Then why...I thought that you wanted things equal between us," Napoleon still felt the sharp bite of guilt over his earlier behavior.

"Not at that cost," Illya reluctantly admitted.

"What cost? I offered this time," he reminded.

"You were not yet...physically comfortable enough with me to enjoy that act. Even though I knew you meant your would have found it unpleasant..."

"You mean you didn't want to hurt me," Napoleon translated, a dangerous warmth seeping through him.

Illya nodded. "That and..."

"And?" Napoleon encouraged when his friend appeared to falter.

"You weren't ready. You might have endured it, but...when the score was evened, it would have been over. For good. Forgive my presumption, but I had hoped..." Illya broke off, as if even now unable to confess how much he wanted this.

"For more," Napoleon completed, stroking down the sleek-skinned back in reassurance. Illya understood him so well it almost frightened him.

How many men would have been this considerate after all the hateful things Napoleon had said earlier? Who else in a lifetime of strangers had placed his well being above their own gratification like this? As genuinely nice as all the women he took to bed generally were, not one of them had cared for him this deeply, not to the point where their own pride and self esteem took a back seat to Napoleon's mental health.

This hadn't been an easy choice for his proud friend. Even now, Napoleon could see how tense his partner was, as if even after that cataclysmic orgasm, Illya were anticipating rejection.

"Yes, I'd hoped for more," Illya affirmed, the words both a statement and a challenge.

Looking into those suddenly pinched and worried features, Napoleon had the impression that his partner had just gone out on a limb and sawed the tree down behind him.

No matter what choice Napoleon made now, things would never be the same between them as they'd been two mornings ago. With that in mind, there wasn't really any sense in denying what he wanted in his heart. "I told you before, this isn't casual. There isn't any turning back now, my friend. I knew that when I came here tonight."

To Napoleon's consternation, Illya didn't allow himself to be pulled down into a kiss. "Is that what you want – to turn back the clock? I do not wish to be a consolation prize."

"I phrased that badly," Napoleon admitted, watching the proud, guarded face for any sign of a thaw in the ice barriers Illya was attempting to erect to defend himself, all the while incongruously conscious of the heat where their lower bodies pressed so close. "What I meant was that this is what I came here for – to love you like this."

"Love?" Illya echoed, sounding almost as if Napoleon's casual use of the words had wounded him.

"I don't know what else to call it, Illya," Napoleon stumbled, fearing that he was making a complete mess of this. "Last night changed everything for me. Every time I've looked at you today, you tore the breath right out of me. I want to touch you and hold you in ways that I never imagined wanting anyone...let alone another man."

"That is today," Illya interrupted. "Tomorrow when the newness wears off..."

"Tomorrow will be no different," Napoleon stated. "I’m in love with you, Illya. You don't have to use the word if it makes you uncomfortable. You don't even have to think it. It's simply the way you make me feel. If it bothers you to hear me say it, I won't." Illya looked away for a long moment while Napoleon did his best to read the impenetrable profile. He hoped that his sentimentality hadn't put off his normally unemotional partner.

"It bothers me only if you don't mean it," Illya hoarsely whispered. "I would rather truth, no matter how bitter."

"Then, with your permission, I will use the word," Napoleon said softly, his tone almost a question.

Illya's eyes squeezed shut, as if in pain. Napoleon felt the tremor that coursed through his companion.


Napoleon dragged his upset partner down to his chest, showering soft kisses on the warm blond crown while he rubbed the powerful, slender back in steady circles. "Whether you believe it or not, I do love you, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin. I've made a complete mess of things tonight, but, given time, I will prove it to you. You have my word on that." Then Illya was kissing him again and all the uncertainty was burned away under this new truth.

Napoleon loosed a relieved sigh when they eventually parted. Cuddling closer to his beloved comrade, he breathed in his lover's scent and settled down to sleep, content in his new role in life.

The End

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