The Pandora's Box Affair
by
Rosemary

CHAPTER ONE

Fifteen years. It was an odd feeling to be back in action after so long. Napoleon Solo still thought it strange that after all that time U.N.C.L.E. would need to reactivate a dinosaur like himself. But after seeing the caliber of what passed for agents these days, he totally understood.

Take Kowalski, for example. The kid was likable enough, maybe even had some potential, but fifteen years ago Waverly would have left the man as a file clerk until he developed some polish. The young agent might mature into a professional in time, but right now Kowalski was definitely second string. He was certainly no match for an operative of Justin Sepheren's quality. It was sad, really, how the standards at U.N.C.L.E. had dropped so much since the Old Man's passing. If Solo hadn't been able to persuade Illya Kuryakin to help him, they might have lost Chicago this time.

Events had been transpiring so quickly since Sir John had contacted Solo in Las Vegas that he'd barely had time to think. Two successful missions in five days. Those were great odds even for fifteen years ago.

This was the first opportunity he'd had to relax since Las Vegas, and, quite frankly, Napoleon was feeling every one of his years at the moment. Though he'd kept in shape, heading a successful computer company wasn't quite the same as dodging THRUSH bullets day after day.

It felt good to simply sit here and enjoy a tasty meal. If fifteen years was a long time to be out of active duty, it was even longer to be separated from your partner. And, bizarre as it might seem after all this time, Solo knew that he'd never stopped thinking of Illya Kuryakin that way.

He looked over at the compact man across the table from him. The Russian Cafe had been Kuryakin's choice. The place was a little trendy for Solo's tastes, but the food was superb. Even if it wasn't, Napoleon would have put up with quite a lot for this particular company.

So many years. Not a day had gone by that Solo hadn't missed his partner. Often he'd wondered where Illya was and what U.N.C.L.E. had him doing...whether his restrained partner felt the same sense of loss and disassociation that he did. But the choice had been Illya's so long ago, the conscientious Russian bound by the only loyalty stronger than their partnership - Kuryakin's devotion to his duty.

It was a dedication they had shared before U.N.C.L.E. put Solo out to pasture.

As he did so many times a day, Napoleon forced the bitterness from his mind, knowing that in Waverly's position, Solo himself would have been forced to do the same thing. U.N.C.L.E. couldn't afford active field agents with weak tickers. That last THRUSH bullet fifteen years ago had come as close to severing Solo's aorta as made no difference. Were it not for U.N.C.L.E.'s Med Section's extraordinary scientific advances, Solo wouldn't have survived at all.

It wasn't that he wasn't grateful for his life. He'd just never believed that he'd lose his partner when they retired him.

What bothered him most was the fact that Illya hadn't sought him out when he'd finally left U.N.C.L.E. So many wasted years.

Still, they were together now. That was all that mattered. What's more, it was Illya who had made the suggestion with his awkward probe, `Enjoying the computer business?''

Fifteen years may have passed, but Illya hadn't changed any. Admitting to an emotional need was still the hardest thing that could be asked of the man who prided himself most on his logic and cold detachment.

Time had been kind to Solo's partner. A little thinner in the face, one or two character lines, but basically the slender Russian appeared untouched by the passage of years.

Except when Solo looked too deeply into those eyes. Then he saw a cynicism and disappointment that Napoleon would never have dreamed possible.

There were still many things he just couldn't understand about his friend's new life. Illya had turned his back on U.N.C.L.E. and everything he'd ever held dear...to make over-priced frocks for shallow people he despised. Kuryakin had as good as admitted that he didn't really fit into the high fashion industry, and one had only to look at Illya's unassuming wardrobe to see that was true. With the exception of the longer hair, what Illya wore to work at Vanya's every day could have easily passed Waverly's dress code. Illya fit in with those rich, shallow people about as well as burlap did in a silk pile. Yet, not once in those lonely years had his estranged friend attempted to track Solo down.

"It's odd," Solo remarked, as they shared a pot of sweet Russian tea.

"What is?" Kuryakin asked, appearing remarkably content at the moment.

"Us. We've lived and worked less than ten blocks away from each other for years and never once in that time did we stumble into each other."

"New York is a large city and we never did exactly run in the same social circles." Illya gave one of his brief, blinding smiles.

"Do you?" Napoleon couldn't help but question.

"Do I what?"

"Have a social circle? I don't mean to pry, but you always were something of a loner." That had to be the understatement of the century, Solo knew. Before Waverly had partnered them, most of their coworkers at U.N.C.L.E. had considered the brilliant Russian too cold-blooded to work with.

"Why do you ask?" Though guarded, Kuryakin's reply didn't seem intended to warn him off.

"Because after all these years, my old friend, I don't like to think of you alone," Solo admitted, keeping his gaze level so that his wary, but perceptive companion might read the truth in his eyes.

"I have Vanya's. My duties there include a large degree of frivolous socializing."

"That wasn't what I meant," Solo mildly protested.

"I know." Again, the slight, shy smile.

Fifteen years and it still had the power to send a shiver through Solo. Plagued by memories better off left dead, he glanced down at the remains of his dessert. From the start, nothing had ever been easy for them, every blessed syllable of each meeting a struggle for greater understanding.

There were so many things, which Solo longed to ask: Are you happy? Have you found anyone?

But one look at the permanent furrow on the brow between those lonely, hooded eyes told Solo all he needed to know.

Now, as fifteen years ago, there was no one in Illya's personal life other than himself. Nor was there ever likely to be.

The silence stretched between them, conversations and laughter from nearby tables filtering over as tensions Solo had hoped would never separate them again permeated the weighty silence.

Finally, unable to stop himself, Napoleon asked the one question that had been eating at him since their reunion. "Illya, in all the years that passed since you left U.N.C.L.E., why didn't you ever contact me?"

The stricken expression, which flashed through those eyes he knew so well made Solo regret his impulsiveness. But there could be no retracting the words. Kuryakin glanced nervously around the popular restaurant, as if to ensure their privacy, before answering. "We did not exactly part under the best of circumstances, Napoleon."

The reminder sliced through him like a razor through soft butter. Fifteen years old and the pain was still there, still raw. The superficial scabs Solo had erected to convince himself of healing, of moving on, were yanked away as those all knowing eyes met his own.

As ever, Kuryakin would offer and insist upon nothing but the unvarnished truth.

"Perhaps not," Solo agreed once he could trust his voice. "Still..."

"Napoleon, what would you have me say?" Illya asked, an uncharacteristic, beseeching note in his voice.

Yes indeed, Napoleon, Solo wondered, what would you have him say here in this public restaurant? Catching sight of his reflection in the fancy silver teapot sitting between them, Napoleon was reminded of one blatant reason why Kuryakin might have remained away. His frightfully receded hairline, the craggy wrinkles that he could no longer convince himself were signs of character...in his bones Solo felt the truth. He was old.

When they'd first been partnered, the decade that separated them hadn't seemed like all that much. At thirty-four, Solo was at his peak of efficiency, seasoned and experienced, exactly what was needed to counterbalance the brilliant Russian's youthful exuberance. Although, to be honest, Solo knew that it was Illya more often than not who stood as the champion of reason and caution in their pairing. For seven years they'd been the best damn team U.N.C.L.E. had ever put together. Until that accursed THRUSH bullet had ended the game for Solo. Now, twenty-two years after their initial meeting, the decade that separated them marked the difference between a man in his prime and one who lacked the self-honesty to admit that he was over the hill. Solo knew that what he had left was enough for beguiling pretty ballerinas, but, apparently, it was insufficient to tempt this complex man before him.

It was almost funny when you thought about it, Solo acknowledged without mirth. Napoleon Solo, the penultimate womanizer, the suave Casanova, capable of winning any girl he wanted, pining away because he couldn't attract the interest of a man who wasn't even capable of...

Solo cut the bitter thought off, knowing that it was unworthy of him. And, certainly, it was unfair to Illya.

None of this was Illya's fault. Illya had warned him from the start that becoming involved with him was a losing proposition – on all levels.

"I'm sorry, Illya," Solo relented. "You're right, of course. This isn't the place for such a discussion." Then, hurt by the naked relief he read in Illya's seemingly un-aged features, he continued, "I know this isn't something which you're comfortable discussing. I promise never to bring it up again. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm feeling rather fatigued. I think it's time I took these tired old bones home. This one's on me," he said, picking up their bill and making a hasty retreat.

"Napoleon..."

Ignoring the startled voice behind him, Napoleon handed the waitress a hundred dollar bill and stepped out of the Russian Cafe's doors.

Solo's cab was pulling away from the curb at 52'nd. Street and speeding onto Lexington Avenue when he saw a flustered Kuryakin race from the cafe to stare angrily about him. Then the yellow cab turned the corner, heading for Solo's penthouse in the Alexandria Park Hotel, and Illya was lost to the busy city night.

As his emotion-filled hazel-brown eyes stared unseeing out at the passing neon lights, Solo found his mind crowded with a montage of images, all of them featuring Illya. For once he didn't resist the memories, letting them claim him whole as the cab made its slow way through traffic...

*~*~*

CHAPTER TWO

The day Alexander Waverly had suggested the possible pairing to Napoleon Solo, U.N.C.L.E.'s top enforcer had believed his boss had finally lost his mind.

Although Solo had never personally worked with Kuryakin before, the young Russian's unpleasant reputation was almost legendary within Section 2. In the two months in which the quiet foreigner had been in the New York Section, no less than six operatives had requested re assignment after being paired with Kuryakin. Not one of the requests had come from the newcomer. The grounds were always the same: no complaint about Kuryakin's professional abilities; to the contrary, most of Illya's former partners claimed that the young man was almost too efficient. The grounds for reassignment were always the same – irreconcilable personal differences. `'Cold blooded machine' was the description Solo heard most frequently from his friends. With the type of high-risk cases U.N.C.L.E. threw their way, most of the operatives found it impossible to trust a partner they couldn't laugh and relax with, no matter how efficient an agent the newcomer might be.

Personally, Solo didn't believe that there was any such thing as too efficient an operative.

He'd seen Kuryakin around headquarters. It was hard to miss the kid, Illya looked like he belonged at a high school science fair rather than an international law enforcement agency. Though Kuryakin seemed on the quiet side, Solo didn't think he'd be as impossible to work with as the other agentss let on. So, even though he thought Waverly had gone mad, Solo agreed to the ridiculous pairing. If nothing else, he'd figured that he could teach the new boy the ropes.

Pure arrogance.

In those first three weeks, Solo had learned two things – that every single complaint Kuryakin's former partners had made was entirely justified. The guy was as cold as an arctic snowcap, not a single warm spot or weakness that Solo, an expert on human nature, could uncover.

Secondly, Illya was deadly efficient at just about everything he did. Rather than teaching Kuryakin anything new, Solo had learned more from that steel-trap of a scientist's mind in three weeks than he had in dozens of seminars and workshops. Illya Nicovitch Kuryakin was without exception the finest agent with whom Solo had ever worked.

Illya was also a royal pain in the butt. Nine days out of ten in those first few months, Solo felt like bashing Illya's teeth down his throat. Illya was a full ten years Solo's junior, yet Kuryakin still had this snide, condescending attitude that appeared designed for the sole purpose of getting on his coworkers nerves.

Being partnered with Kuryakin was like trying to work with an organic computer. The man was that good at concealing his emotions, if he possessed them at all. On his worst days, Solo was almost convinced that Waverly had paired him with some lifelike robot or android, a wind-up man fresh from U.N.C.L.E.'s experimental labs. But aside from a chilling lack of feelings, Illya appeared to have normal body functions. Kuryakin ate, perspired, and bled...and pulled Solo's tail out of every life-threatening scrape that U.N.C.L.E. got them involved in. No one had ever come through for him the way this guy, whom Napoleon still wasn't sure even liked, did.

That was why, even though Solo might have wanted to beat the living tar out of Kuryakin those first turbulent months, he'd never once considered going to Waverly for a new partner.

The hardest part of dealing with Kuryakin back then, even more irritating than Illya's condescension, was Illya's lack of warmth. Sometimes it truly seemed to Solo as though he were dealing with someone from another planet, so alien were emotions to his new partner. Even more infuriating was the way Illya seemed to observe Solo's own emotional responses, as if he were some lab specimen whose reactions were to be recorded.

Over a period of time, Solo discovered that Kuryakin did have a rather well developed sense of humor. It was just that Illya's wit was so dry and deadpan that often the Americans in Section 2 failed to recognize it as such. Solo himself had taken Kuryakin's first attempts at humor as criticisms. Doubtless, many of Illya's former partners had made the same error.

In time, Solo decided that there was more to Kuryakin than the cold exterior his partner presented to the world. He made it his business to get to know his partner, to try to forge a friendship between them. Napoleon had never met with such a lack of success in his life.

Kuryakin was never exactly rude in his evasions, merely brusque and awkward...like Illya didn't know how to deal with people on a personal level, which, Solo began to realize, was precisely the case. Kuryakin didn't seem to know how to relax his natural reserves enough to allow people to get to know him. One of the first and most puzzling things, which Solo had noticed about his new partner, was how...shy Kuryakin was around the opposite sex. Illya's shyness and blonde good looks drew the female staff the way spilt honey did flies, but Kuryakin fled from their advances like a spooked stag.

His new partner also appeared unnaturally modest. In addition to a strong aversion to physical touch, the quiet Russian was almost neurotic about being properly clothed. All modesty aside, Solo had never encountered a man who, in an all male changing room, would come out of the shower stall with a towel already firmly wrapped around his waist and then slip his shorts on before removing the towel. Illya was almost phobic about it, to the delight of the more mischievous of their fellow agents.

If he lived to be a hundred, Solo would never forget the day a group of the guys had gotten together in an ill-conceived joke to remove the towel from Kuryakin's waist. Solo hadn't known about the plan beforehand or he would have put an end to it right there.

The first he'd heard of it was when the resounding crash of a heavy metal locker being knocked down brought a thoroughly naked, dripping Solo racing from his own shower to deal with what he thought could be no less than a full scale attack by THRUSH. What Napoleon found was Kuryakin backed into a corner, one of Illya's former failed partners lying unconscious beneath a fallen locker and a mob of angry U.N.C.L.E. agents, who now, wanted not only Kuryakin's towel, but a pound of his flesh as well, in payment for Illya's bad humor.

Solo was so annoyed with the ridiculous scene that he was almost willing to let nature take its course. Only, as irritating as the stuck-up brain-case was, Kuryakin was still his partner. The odds were eight to one against the small-boned Russian, and almost every one of those experienced operatives standing against Solo's partner had thirty pounds and four inches on the stubborn fool.

Yet, Kuryakin had showed no sign of backing down.

Solo, who'd seen his partner in action, wasn't entirely convinced that Illya couldn't handle the mob on his own, even outnumbered as he was. But...something made him step in and defuse the situation.

The deciding factor was that for the first time, Solo had detected some real emotion in his cornered partner's eyes. Raw panic.

It made no sense. Napoleon had seen this man walk unflinchingly into certain death. Yet there Illya stood before a group of his joking coworkers in a state of suppressed panic he hadn't displayed under a THRUSH assassin's gun.

So, Napoleon had waltzed stark naked into the center of the melee and sent the jokers packing.

Once Solo's humor and protective stance had sent the disgruntled group peacefully on its way, Napoleon had seen something else in his puzzling companion's face: gratitude.

For what, Solo hadn't immediately understood. Back then, he'd simply been happy for the change it had wrought.

Although it could never be said that Illya Kuryakin was exactly affable after that, Illya's attitude was noticeably less abrasive where Solo was concerned. In some subtle way, Illya was more approachable.

Bemused by the small changes, they were nevertheless significant enough for Solo to stop thinking of Illya as an organic machine. Once that happened, it wasn't long before Solo's open nature made him regard the enigmatic young man as a friend.

After that, the personality traits, which hitherto had only irritated or confused Napoleon, became a source of concern. Once he began to care about his partner, Solo found himself worried and bewildered by how isolated Illya kept himself from the rest of the world. As far as Solo could see, Kuryakin didn't have a friend or associate outside of work. Nor did this state of constant isolation appear to bother Illya. To the contrary, Illya seemed to foster his solitude, politely refusing every friendly overture and well meaning effort Solo made to expand Kuryakin's social contacts.

Those incomprehensible rejections and less than subtle withdrawals were a source of constant frustration to Solo. It almost seemed as though Illya didn't trust him, which was blatantly ridiculous. After eleven months of close work, of dragging each other clear of THRUSH bullets and saving each other's acts, such a lack of trust was unthinkable. Solo just couldn't understand how, if Kuryakin could count on him to save his life, what the big deal was about opening up a little. It wasn't like he was asking for a pint of blood, just a little friendship.

In his eleventh month as Kuryakin's partner, Napoleon discovered what the big deal was, the crippling secret, which kept his partner isolated from the rest of humanity.

The case was like any number of those they drew back then, the basic infiltrate and destroy THRUSH headquarters mission. And, as so often happened in such high risk enterprises, Kuryakin and he were both captured.

The THRUSH heavy in charge was a dark character named Grasto. With his heavy-jowled, course, faintly Mediterranean features, Grasto's innate cruelty stood out the way another man's integrity might. The THRUSH bully hadn't been content merely with capturing the U.N.C.L.E. agents, Grasto had wanted to humiliate them as well.

When the blue-uniformed THRUSH guards had dragged them before the THRUSH leader, Grasto had looked at them like pinned butterflies before ordering, "Strip them and secure them to the tables. We'll see how this new truth serum works on them."

Never one to exacerbate an already difficult situation, Solo had reluctantly complied with his captor's orders to remove his clothes.

Kuryakin, however, went wild.

By the time the resultant tussle was settled and the U.N.C.L.E. agents were once again restrained, three THRUSH guards lay bloody on the floor. Not that it was much of a consolation to the prisoners.

Solo was bruised from his rather foolish stunt of taking on two men while dressed only in his boxer shorts. But Illya had taken the brunt of the blows.

Illya was held up half-conscious in his captors' grip as the THRUSH guards ripped the clothes from him.

Solo, already naked, and more interested in what Grasto had planned for them, wasn't paying much attention to his partner's modesty plight. Then, a shocked sound from one of Kuryakin's THRUSH guards drew Napoleon's attention that way.

"God... would you look at that! No wonder the poor bugger fought so hard to keep his pants! Look at him – he's a god damn unique!" the stupid mountain of muscle crowed.

"That's eunuch, moron," his counterpart corrected with an evil snigger.

Was nothing sacred, Solo wondered in outrage. Sure, Illya was slight of build and smaller than most men, but that was no reason to...

Kuryakin, coming to consciousness between his captors, erupted into action again, but this time the guards were prepared for the reaction and the battered agent was easily subdued.

As Illya was once more held spread-eagled between the ugly guards, Solo found his own gaze moving in the same direction as every other eye in the room – to his partner's groin.

Solo's stomach lurched as he beheld what had inspired the sniggering comments that were even now being expounded upon. The source of the comments was not, as Solo had expected, a difference in size.

The penis that rose out of its blond thatched base was as large as could be found on any male of Kuryakin's size and physique.

However, when one looked below the organ to where a proportionately heavy set of testicles should have hung, there was a frightening emptiness. Closer examination revealed a small, scarred remnant, tiny pink sacs that would have appeared inadequate on a ten year old child. On a man of Illya's age and strength, the mutilated flesh was nothing short of horrific.

Solo shuddered in revulsion at the sight, the reaction one of pure instinct. Sick at heart, he at least understood his partner's phobia about revealing himself in public.

What he must have gone through...Solo thought as he forced his eyes away from the view.

Not understanding, Solo looked to his partner's face...to find Kuryakin's gaze fixed unflinchingly upon him.

Napoleon felt the blood drain from his cheeks, something very like terror shooting through him before he got control of himself.

Kuryakin's face was as gray as putty. The poor kid looked like he was going to be sick to his stomach any second.

"Never seen a eunuch before," the dark guard to Illya's right laughed. "Didn't know that U.N.C.L.E. let freaks in the service. Guess Waverly must be scraping the bottom of the barrel when he starts sending us in his pretty boys."

Kuryakin bit his full, lower lip until blood ran down his chin. An expression of utter humiliation and mortification swept over those proud features, then Illya averted his gaze from his partner, as if unable to force himself to meet Solo's gaze for another moment.

"The only freak here is you," Solo growled at the man harassing his partner.

The beefy brunette THRUSH agent freed one hand, restraining Kuryakin with the other. Then the sadist reached down and gave the remnants of Illya's testicles a vicious squeeze.

Any man would have screamed then.

Solo could only imagine how sensitive his partner's abused flesh must have been. Yet, the only sound Kuryakin emitted was a deep grunt.

Solo had never experienced the likes of the incandescent fury that came over him at that instant. The world around him disappeared behind a blood-red curtain. Berserk, Napoleon wasn't aware of reacting. All he knew was that he was somehow instantly free and on top of that degenerate who'd hurt his partner, repeatedly pounding the creep's shattered skull against the stone floor. Solo didn't even feel the blow that propelled him into unconsciousness.

When he awoke, Solo was still stark naked. He lay face down on the cold, damp stone floor of what appeared to be a jail cell. Briefly, he remembered a slick crimson tide bathing a similar floor, then some soft, squishy grayish pink matter...

Moaning, Solo rolled over, recalling their circumstances as his eyes settled upon his unconscious partner.

His gaze confirming what he hoped was false memory, Napoleon looked guiltily away.

God in heaven, was it any wonder Illya kept to himself?

Suddenly, every peculiar peccadillo of his partner's personality made perfect sense to Solo, from Kuryakin's standoffishness to his avoidance of the opposite sex.

As he watched, Illya stirred. With a pain-filled groan, Kuryakin opened his eyes, his goosefleshed body freezing as he became aware of his surroundings.

"Don't worry. We're alone," Solo assured, drawing his partner's attention in his direction.

To his consternation, there was no reduction in Illya's tension.

Not knowing what to say to his anxious, tightly guarded companion, Solo rose to his feet. In a vain attempt at normality, he tested the strength of the iron-barred cage in which they found themselves, Illya's gaze as hot as a branding iron on his bare, chilly back.

"No good. They're solid," Solo announced unnecessarily. After the slightest of hesitations, he returned to his seat beside Kuryakin on the freezing stone floor. Making the movement appear very natural and unplanned, Illya sat up, pulling his knees up to his chest so that his crossed legs and ankles shielded his groin from sight. Solo could only guess at the degree of courage and discipline required for Kuryakin to sit there in dignified silence awaiting whatever comment or question might be directed at him.

His suave repartee once again deserting him, Solo found himself without a clue as to what he should say. Needing to break the maddening tension between them, he asked, "Any ideas?"

That crystal-hard gaze stared off at the steel gray bars of their cage. "Is there nothing you have to say, Mr. Solo?"

Just once, he wished Kuryakin would call him by his first name. The formality was like a wall between them. His patience snapped. "Yeah. Would you please call me Napoleon?"

"Well, then, Napoleon. No questions, no comments?" Illya nearly hissed, the barriers between that impassive exterior and the seething outrage beneath flimsy and perforated at the moment. "Aren't you even slightly curious?"

Every instinct that Napoleon possessed was telling him that his partner's formidable reserve was teetering on the brink of shattering, perhaps permanently. Solo could only imagine how he'd feel were their positions reversed. A sick hollow feeling opened up inside him at the very thought.

When he could force the words past his tight throat, Solo asked, "Do you really believe I would ridicule you – over this?"

The silence was deafening.

At last, Illya's strangely bright gaze turned to pin Solo in place. Although the wild glitter in his eyes wasn't exactly reassuring, when Kuryakin spoke, the cold tone was almost normal. "Pity is the worst of all. I will not be an object of pity to anyone. Especially you."

"Pity? Good God, Illya, please..." Solo gasped, at a loss as to how to deal with this unapproachable, wounded warrior.

"Please what?" the other man snapped.

Understanding his partner at that instant as he had no other man in his life, empathy guided Solo through the crisis. Napoleon ached to touch his companion, to establish some bridge of basic human contact between them, some comfort that didn't rely solely on the whimsy of easily misunderstood words. But such basic solaces were not an option with Illya Kuryakin. Grasping how important pride and self-reliance were to this virtually untouchable young man, Solo sought to comfort with the only tools available to him – his heart and mind.

"Please remember that you're my partner," Solo finished, sensing that the least emotional route would be the most successful with his companion.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Illya demanded.

"Just that we're a team." As Kuryakin fell silent to digest Solo's words, he continued in a soft tone, "You are the most competent, reliable partner I've ever had, Illya. Not an object of pity."

"Your sincerity is touching. However, I saw your face before."

"For God's sake, Illya, I was shocked. What man wouldn't be appalled by..."

"By what?"

Solo had heard that deadly subdued tone any number of times, generally right before the THRUSH operatives in question met their makers. "By such a savage act, of course," Napoleon completed, his calm eyes daring that hair-trigger temper to take issue with the truth he was voicing. "What the Sam did you think I was going to say?"

Kuryakin's gaze dropped to his blond fuzz covered knees. When Illya looked up again, the prickly edge was absent from his demeanor, his tone tinged with genuine regret. "Forgive me, Napoleon. This is one subject I have no sense of perspective..."

"Perspective?" Solo echoed, too astonished to even consider editing his response. "Jesus Christ, Illya, we're not discussing a scientific experiment here." A pause, then he awkwardly admitted, "You must know that I would never see you hurt in any way."

Illya slowly nodded, considering. "No, you would not."

This time the silence that fell between them was comfortable.

Although Solo had no notion of what his partner was thinking about, he could almost hear the wheels spinning beneath the unkempt fall of blond hair.

At last Kuryakin hesitantly asked, "Don't you want to know how...?"

Quite frankly, it was the last thing Solo cared to hear about; the horrifying outcome of the unknown incident was already almost more than he could handle. He really didn't need the details. He wasn't even certain he could handle them. Only, something told him that his partner needed to talk about this.

After all, who the devil else did Illya have to discuss something this personal with? The self-contained Russian barely exchanged pleasantries with three people in their entire section and that included Solo and their boss. Napoleon was no believer in head doctors, but a thing like this could keep a guy flat on his back on a shrink's couch for the remainder of his life. That Kuryakin managed to function to the degree of normality that he did was a testament to his partner's character and control. Even so, it had to be terribly lonely for Illya.

"Only if you care to tell me." Solo carefully replied, making sure that his open features made it clear that it was perfectly all right if Illya chose not to talk to him.

"Throughout school, I was in an accelerated learning program," Kuryakin began.

"Yes, I remember that from you file. As I recall, your teachers had a devil of a time keeping ahead of you."

That was the understatement of the century. At a time when most boys were just entering high school, his precocious partner had been completing college-level programs. Solo had never understood why Kuryakin had chosen active field work. It had always struck Napoleon that his partner was the kind of man U.N.C.L.E. should he guarding, rather than risking in the field.

"Yes, well...by the time I was eighteen I was working as an assistant to Dr. Ivan Petrovitch Petanka. Perhaps you've heard of him?"

"He was one of the foremost physicists fifteen years or so, wasn't he?" Solo asked and was rewarded by his partner's approving smile.

"Yes, exactly. Dr. Petanka had developed a formula which would preclude the necessity of uranium and platinum in a nuclear reaction..."

"He'd what?" Solo gawked, unable to believe what he'd just heard.

"It was in a purely experimental stage, of course." Kuryakin added, "Somehow, THRUSH discovered what we were working upon."

"What happened?" Solo questioned, suppressing a shudder at his friend's bleak tone.

"We had six security men guarding the lab. They were KGB, the top men in their field...THRUSH took them all out within three minutes. It was the dead of night, midwinter. The Professor and I were sound asleep in our separate rooms when they crashed in upon us."

A pause followed wherein Illya seemed to collect himself, then he continued, "Petanka was a careful man. He didn't believe in paper, so there were no notes for them to steal. The old man kept everything in his head. THRUSH broke all ten of his fingers attempting to force him to talk. He refused. They tried me, then, but...even if I'd known enough about the theory to satisfy them, I wouldn't have given the Cossacks a single word after what they'd done to the poor, old man.

"When they saw I wasn't going to talk either, they pulled my pajama bottoms off and forced me onto one of the tables. Their leader pulled out a Bowie knife. He took hold of me there and threatened the doctor that he'd cut if... if..."

"Oh my god," Solo whispered.

"I don't think either Petanka or I truly believed he'd do what he threatened, but when the doctor continued to refuse, he...he..."

"Yes, I know what the bastard did," Solo soothed his visibly shaken partner. This time he didn't restrain his impulse to touch, reaching out to give Kuryakin's ghostly pale shoulder an encouraging squeeze.

"The KGB broke in seconds after he started, but...it was too late by then. The THRUSH leader murdered poor Petanka and escaped. The doctors did what they could, but...as you can see, they were less than successful. When an U.N.C.L.E. agent contacted me the following year and offered me the chance to hunt down my attackers, I was only too happy to defect."

"You were only eighteen years old when this happened?" Solo whispered in disbelief into the heavy silence, which followed. A tight affirmative nod was all he got.

"Christ, I don't know how you stayed sane," Napoleon admitted, doubting he would have had the strength himself.

A mirthless snort followed. "I didn't. Unless it has escaped your notice, I'm not quite human anymore. What was it Smithers called me?" Illya asked, referring to one of the string of partners he'd had during his first two months in Section 2. "An organic computer? He was right, you know, Napoleon. Entirely right."

"That's nonsense," Solo gruffly denied, his heart all but breaking for his friend.

He couldn't imagine what it was like for the other man. Eigteen years old, just into his manhood...what that loss must have done to Illya's self image. Napoleon understood that not everyone was as sexually active as he was himself, but to lose the capacity while still in one's teens...

It boggled the mind.

"Is it?" Illya questioned, for once seeming his twenty-five years.

Usually Illya's formidable intellect, self confidence and competence made him seem decades older than his actual age. For the first time Solo saw the vulnerability hidden behind that maturity.

"Yes, it is. You go to great pains to disguise your humanity, but anyone who really knows you can see right through you," Solo informed, pleased to see the corners of that grim set mouth twist upwards in a tiny smile.

"Is that so?" Kuryakin's skeptical tone made it plain that he didn't believe Solo for a moment, but Solo nonetheless sensed that his partner appreciated the effort.

Napoleon just grinned, chuckling a little as his companion finally relaxed.

After a time Kuryakin said, "There is something else you wish to ask me?"

"Huh?" Solo started guiltily, not sure if he should ask such a thing. It was really none of his business, but being such a sexual creature himself, he couldn't help but ponder certain subjects.

"I know that expression." Kuryakin's voice was remarkably mild – Solo would almost say affectionate if he didn't know any better. "Something has consumed your curiosity, Napoleon, and I do not believe it is a possible escape from our current predicament."

Surprised, Solo realized that he hadn't given a single thought to their need to escape. "It, ah... it isn't exactly proper...nor is it any of my business..." Napoleon deferred.

An unfamiliar gentleness entered the hard, Slavic features. "Napoleon, if I do not choose to answer, I will not. Go ahead and ask your question."

"Can you...I mean, do you still feel any pleasure there at all?" Solo didn't require a mirror to know that his cheeks were flaming. He couldn't remember having a conversation like this since he turned sixteen. It might surprise most of his peers, but for all his lack of inhibition when actually within the bedroom, he didn't care to discuss what he did there. His reticence was more than the old `a gentlemen doesn't kiss and tell' adage. For all his sexual appetites, he was really rather old fashioned about certain things.

Illya was very quiet for a moment, making Solo fear that he had perhaps gone too far. He hadn't really considered how difficult such a subject might be for his friend, especially if his worst fears were confirmed.

"Not all of the...organs were taken. I have what might be called...minimal function. There is some sensitivity. However...the results are hardly worth the effort."

The dismal note upon which Kuryakin finished made Solo regret his impulsiveness. "I'm sorry, Illya. I never should have asked such a thing."

The surprisingly broad shoulders shrugged. "Curiosity is only natural. Even so..."

"Yes?" Solo encouraged.

"I would prefer that this not become general knowledge. As matters stand, only Med Section, Mr. Waverly and yourself are aware..."

"It will go no further. You have my word on that, Illya," Solo assured.

"Thank you," Illya said with characteristic formality. "Now perhaps we can apply ourselves to our current dilemma."

Apply themselves they did, with a vengeance. When the two U.N.C.L.E. agents eventually shut down the THRUSH lab, Grasto and his strong-arm men went with it. Normally, Solo was disappointed when lives were lost during a mission, even though it was their opponents who ultimately wrote those fatal scripts. But in Grasto's case, there was no regret.

Solo was glad to see the sadist go. The last thing his partner needed was to have his secret included in the dossiers THRUSH kept on most U.N.C.L.E. agents.

During their first few days back in the secret building behind Del Floria's tailor shop, Solo could sense a tense watchfulness in his partner, as if Kuryakin were waiting for Napoleon to violate his trust. But as the days flowed into weeks and then into months without incident, Illya's entire attitude appeared to alter, at least where Solo was concerned.

An unexpected playfulness entered their daily banter. In those few weeks, their entire relationship transformed, Illya turning from merely a competent working partner to a true friend. Although their personal discussions never again touched upon the topic they'd discussed in that dank THRUSH cell, the closeness they'd forged there soon became the earmark of their partnership.

But Solo quickly learned that he had to tread a very thin line where Kuryakin was concerned. Illya would only allow him to get so close emotionally before Illya would back off behind his reserves. As frustrating as it was, Napoleon understood and accepted his partner's need to do so.

Perhaps the hardest lesson Solo had to learn was to hold back his natural protective and nurturing impulses. His partner's fierce independence would allow Kuryakin to accept solace from no one, not even his partner. When Illya fell prey to the inevitable druggings and tortures, which cropped up in their line of work, the most the self-sufficient agent would accept from Napoleon was an occasional helping hand. Any hint of coddling or softness on Solo's part would result in icy withdrawal afterwards. So, slowly, Solo learned the perimeters of what Kuryakin would and would not allow.

It was just about the time that Solo was beginning to feel secure in their partnership that Kuryakin went and changed all the rules on him.

*~*~*

CHAPTER THREE

The earth shattering case started out the same as any other. If anything, it was more boring than their usual case load. Little did Solo know when Waverly gave them that simple surveillance assignment that it would be one of the major turning points of his life.

"This is a waste of time," Solo sighed as he stared through his binoculars into the windows of the building across the street.

"Perhaps," Kuryakin agreed with exasperating calm, apparently content to surveil this little nebbish of a scientist until Doomsday if necessary.

Napoleon glanced over at his partner. In his black turtleneck and dark trousers Illya looked more like a cat burglar than an undercover agent.

"Do you really believe this guy's a security threat?" Solo asked. "Just look at him! He's so clean I had to turn down the volume on the bugs, he squeaks so much."

"Mr. Waverly seems to believe that Dr. Cromby is important enough to merit our interest."

"Illya, we've been watching this guy for a week. He has no life at all, let alone a secret one. He goes straight to work in the morning, comes home, kisses his wife, plays with the kiddies, goes to bed, and gets up to go to work again. The closest he gets to anything remotely related to THRUSH is when he passes the Museum of Natural History." At the enquiring arch of a pale eyebrow, Solo explained, "They have a stuffed thrush on exhibition. The bird, not the organization."

"I had no idea you had an interest in taxidermy, Napoleon."

"Believe me, that stuffed bird leads a more interesting life than our biochemist over there. Look at him, for heaven's sake. 10 p.m. on a Friday night and he's still puttering around with test tubes!"

"Ah, has Dr. Cromby's dedication to his work interfered with your social plans?" Illya guessed with a stifled, urbane smile.

"You know it has," Solo smiled back, his interest on their subject sharpening as the scientist took off his lab coat. "He's going out...but not permanently. He's left his experiment out and the lights on. Dinner, perhaps."

"Good," Kuryakin , ever a slave to his stomach, commented. "I'm starved." The slightly built Russian rose to shoulder into his own dark jacket.

"Let's get on him." Napoleon closed down the recording equipment, feeling Illya's presence right behind him as he slipped out the door.

To both the hungry U.N.C.L.E. agents' consternation, the young chemical engineer did not head towards the bright lights of busy Sixth Avenue where restaurants were open until all hours on a Friday night. Instead, Cromby's fast steps led the U.N.C.L.E. team through a picturesque brownstone and townhouse lined street in the lower West Village. Puzzled, the agents realized that a small park appeared to be their target's objective.

"Hardly the ideal place for an evening constitutional," a confused Solo commented, eyeing the shadowy recesses of the small wooded area.

"Indeed. This pleasant May night appears to have brought out a number of strollers," Kuryakin remarked as they saw at least three other solitary men enter the unremarkable park.

Solo couldn't tell from Illya's tone whether his partner was aware of this particular park's significance.

As Napoleon was searching for a means of bringing up the somewhat sensitive topic, his companion continued in a doubtful tone, "Perhaps Dr, Cromby is unaware of this park's reputation."

"Perhaps," Solo agreed.

They shared an uncertain glance as they followed their assignment across the quiet back street to the park, which was infamous as a homosexual pick up spot. The heavy growing scents of blooming honeysuckle, lilacs, and damp grass replaced the more familiar carbon monoxide smells of the city as the two U.N.C.L.E. agents entered the ill-lit park. Due to the dimness, they were forced to close the distance between them and the man they were trailing, or risk losing Cromby in the shadows.

Solo tried not to pay attention to the couples he could see initiating contact or stealing away for some privacy. He was too well trained not to notice how the distance between Kuryakin and himself appeared to be garnering cautious interest from what he took to be the park's regular patrons. No doubt the personal space which two straight, alpha males like themselves naturally kept between them just screamed `COP' to the denizens of the night here.

"We, ah...appear to be drawing too much...oh, damn!" Solo whispered as the man they were surveilling at last appeared to pick up on the strange undercurrents Solo and Kuryakin's presence inspired in the park's regulars and Cromby, too, turned to stare their way.

Having no idea what their next move should be, Solo gave a startled grunt as his partner unexpectedly shoved him off the grey cobblestone path, slamming him into a huge beech tree standing right on the verge. "Illya, what are you..?"

His confused question broke off as Kuryakin reached up and pulled his head downwards, smothering Solo's words with his moist mouth.

Every cell in his body frozen in shock, all Solo could do was stand there and allow himself to be kissed, his mind whirling so much under the shock of the contact the he didn't even make the defensive moves that should have followed such an... incident.

He simply could not believe that his touch-phobic partner was standing here in a public place forcing a kiss upon him...a very thorough kiss.

Not knowing what to do with his hands, Solo tentatively placed them on Kuryakin's broad shoulders.

Solo gasped as that demanding and, what he would have sworn strangely passionate, mouth pulled back for air. Before Napoleon could utter a single protest, Kuryakin's lips moved to nuzzle near the thunderstruck Solo's ear.

"What is he doing?" Kuryakin whispered in a distractingly sensual tone.

"Huh?" Was all Solo could manage, his body helplessly responding to the familiar pleasure.

"What is Cromby doing? Has he moved on?"

His partner's exasperated questions recalling their mission to his stunned mind, Solo glanced over Illya's shoulder. "No. He's moved closer. Into the shadows to my right." As Illya increased his maddening attentions to the left side of Napoleon's neck, Solo's head naturally turned in Cromby's direction. "He's...I don't believe it." Solo groaned as much from the stimulation as what his eyes were showing him.

"What?" It should have been an irritated hiss, but Napoleon would have sworn that his partner sounded oddly breathless.

"He's playing pocket pool." Solo related, unable to accept that this was really happening. The man they were supposed to be trailing was standing less than fifteen feet away. Cromby was playing with himself through the material of his pants, avidly watching every move the partners made.

"He is what?" Illya demanded, obviously not understanding the idiomatic reference.

Solo tried to remember what they were talking about as those shivery breaths tickled down his neck as Kuryakin continued to nuzzle his sensitive throat.

"Napoleon!" The busy Illya urgently whispered between suckings, "What does that mean?"

Were the present situation not so challenging to his controls, Solo would have laughed. His mind had finally worked through that Illya had initiated this bizarre scenario so that they would blend in with the other park patrons, his prosaic partner never having considered all the peculiar twists to human sexuality. Finding it harder and harder to ignore what that hot mouth was doing to his body, Solo offered the explanation in a hoarse undertone. "It means that he is masturbating while watching us. He's a goddamn voyeur." Solo gasped in air in a failing attempt to keep certain parts of his anatomy from responding to the hard, muscular body pressed so close to him. Desperate, he pleaded, "Illya, we've got to rethink this option. I don't want to shock you, but...I'm not made of stone."

"I would welcome any suggestions," Illya breathed into his ear, causing another helpless shudder to run through Napoleon.

"We could...address the issue. Tell him to move on..." Solo gasped. "Agreed?"

"Mmmm...yes."

"Hey, pal," Napoleon called out in unfeigned, irritated outrage, as if he'd just noticed Cromby watching them, "this isn't a floor show. Move along."

"Has he gone on?" Kuryakin whispered a few moments later.

Solo's gaze followed their troublesome assignment's silhouette as the man moved all of ten feet into the deepest shadows of the nearby lilac shrubs. Anyone other than a trained professional would have lost sight of the man in the bushes.

"No, he's just moved closer. Damn. If I call him on it now, he's sure to know we're not what we seem. He's all but invisible in those bushes," Solo dutifully reported.

"Forgive me, Napoleon. This was not a well-considered plan."

"The situation called for quick thinking," Napoleon shrugged as they continued their whispered conference, while his partner continued to kiss and nuzzle his neck all the while. "Got any more bright ideas?"

"You are certain he is still there?" Illya quizzed in a ridiculously hopeful, if subdued voice.

Solo shifted against the ungiving tree at his back, attempting to evade the caresses of that distracting mouth. "Yes, he's still there," Napoleon answered in a short tempered whisper. The situation had passed funny minutes ago and was well on its way to becoming an embarrassing spectacle. "What now?"

Solo nearly collapsed with relief as his partner pulled back from his neck, Kuryakin standing upright so that he could stare into Solo's face, Illya's lower body still pressed close.

For a moment, Solo saw the same panic he was experiencing reflected in those icy blue eyes. Then, a steely determination settled across those familiar features.

"What are you...?" Solo began as Kuryakin took a step back to separate their entwined forms. He looked at his hands, still resting like pale starfish on the dark-clad Russian's shoulders. Solo knew he should release the claw-like hold he had on those powerful shoulders, but all he could do was stare, his common sense and unwillingly aroused body at war with each other.

Then, Solo's world tilted on its axis again as Illya's hands reached out to matter-of-factly undo the pants fastening at Napoleon's waist. His zipper came open with a deafening `d'zzjjurrr...' seconds later.

"What..?"

Napoleon's panicked exclamation was cut short as Kuryakin's small, capable hand reached between the open folds of his trousers. Illya collected Solo's burgeoning flesh calm as you please and guided Napoleon's hardening erection through the opening.

The cool spring air was a sharp contrast to the burning heat of Solo's exposed flesh. Unable to accept what his partner was doing to him, Solo's disbelieving gaze shot to Kuryakin's face, wondering if Illya were truly planning on playing this farcical scene through to its inevitable conclusion.

Maybe Kuryakin was just trying to make it look real, his frantic mind suggested as his body went wild beneath that tentative touch.

At that moment, trapped in the torturous limbo between desire and propriety, Solo didn't know which would be worse: Illya actually following through with this or just going through the motions to put on a convincing show for their perverted audience of one.

If Illya chose that second option, his partner was in for a big surprise, the mortified Solo acknowledged. He knew his own body very well. Considering his present state of arousal, there'd be no stopping now.

Solo wondered what his own face was revealing when those steely blue eyes caught and held his gaze as Illya's fingers began a tentative exploration of the hot, moist organ they cradled. From the guarded expression in Kuryakin's eyes, Solo could tell that his partner was fully expecting Napoleon to draw his gun and shoot him dead on the spot.

Were his own eyes equally as telling, Napoleon wondered, worried about what his friend was thinking about him. Was his gaze doing his passion's bidding and pleading with Kuryakin for release? Did it seem that Solo was enjoying this sick scene? What must Illya be thinking? They both knew that were this any man on Earth other than Napoleon's partner, the guy would have been lying in a bloody heap on the floor after the first intimate touch.

"I regret this...impertinence." Kuryakin gulped, seeming as uncomfortable as Solo. "You can kill me for this later, Napoleon." It sounded like a promise.

With that, Illya's eyes lowered and Illya's hands began to move in earnest, handling Solo's hard flesh with a skill and sensitivity hardly credible to a man who'd lost sexual function years before. Illya didn't appear the least bit repulsed by what he was doing.

Trying to remain an outwardly unaffected statue while his partner masturbated him, Solo fought the sensations assaulting him as hard as he could. His furious glare promised Illya that there would be payment for this, a payment neither of them would ever forget.

Despite himself, Solo found his anger changing as he watched the hardness melt from those handsome, Slavic features. After a confusing play of fast changing emotions, it seemed to be tenderness which softened Illya's gaze and mouth.

Illya glanced up from his work, a hopeful, anxious light in his eyes, "Please, Napoleon..."

Please, what? The confused Solo wondered. Please make it look real? Please hurry up and come so they could get this odious farce finished with? Please - what?

Kuryakin's left hand reached below his occupied right to fondle Solo's heavy testicles.

Solo felt his entire nervous system jump at the added stimulation as those talented fingers rolled him, Illya's touch as loving and assured as a gambler's on his lucky pair of dice. Solo tried to resist, tried not to fall thrall to the pleasure shooting through his enslaved neural path, but fighting was hopeless. He was too much a hedonist at heart to refuse anything that felt this undeniably wonderful.

The morals and conventions by which he'd been raised were all screaming through Solo's conscience that this was wrong. Two men together was unnatural, a sin...or so they'd told him since childhood.

But he could no more have resisted responding to the delight Illya's busy hands were giving than he could refuse his next breath. Try as he would, Solo could find nothing unnatural or wrong with the familiar joy coursing through his loins.

Granted, the situation was still highly disturbing. Doing it just to maintain a cover, while the object of their surveillance gazed on, made Solo feel dirty, part of some obscene charade. But given different circumstances, this could be...

Given different circumstances? What the devil was he thinking, Solo chastised himself.

This was Illya, his partner and closest friend.

And that, Solo's worried mind realized, was what the real turn on was to the entire situation.

Solo was getting hotter by the second just knowing that it was his normally dispassionate, reserved partner touching him in this intimate manner.

"Good, very good," Kuryakin's strangely thick voice encouraged as Solo's body fell into rhythm with his moving hands. "Do you like this?"

"Yessss...you know I do. Damn you," Solo hissed, embarrassingly aware of the stranger observing them from the shadows less than ten feet away.

Not understanding, Solo watched as his companion sank down to his knees in the dew-soaked grass.

All there was to Solo's world were those fast moving hands, their harsh rasping breaths, and the heady, cloying perfume of the blooming lilacs and honeysuckle.

The full moon and lamp light filtering down through the beech tree's swaying branches caught his partner's hair in dappled patches, transforming what was nearly sun-blinding gold into eldritch silver. Solo was unable to force his eyes from the mesmerizing shimmer. In his life, he must have dated over a hundred women with blond hair, both natural and bottled, but he couldn't recall one whose color came even close to matching Illya's exquisite shade.

As if observing from the outside, Napoleon saw his own hand reach out for the hypnotic silver display. He wanted to touch those locks so bad, to sift them between his fingers, just for a few seconds...

It took every ounce of self discipline Solo possessed to force his hand back to Kuryakin's shoulder, to remind himself that this was something they were doing to save the case, not for his own gratification.

His partner's next, completely unthinkable action blasted all Napoleon's remaining controls to pieces.

While Solo gazed on in utter incredulity, Illya leaned forward. Kuryakin's full lips, whose unconscious sensuality not even the normally prim set could totally mask, parted.

"No, don't..." Solo pleaded as he absorbed his friend's intent.

Then, a heartbeat later, Illya's hot mouth engulfed him and Napoleon was beyond denial.

His most secret, irresistible pleasure...being given to him by this battle-scarred warrior who hardly ever allowed himself so much as an open smile. The idea was inconceivable.

Solo couldn't count the number of women who'd refused him this: `it's not ladylike...it's simply not done...only a whore would do that...'; the chorus of repulsed denials echoed through Napoleon's astonished mind as Illya sucked his straining cock into that hot mouth without a whisper of disgust or hesitation...like it was the most natural thing in the world for Illya to be doing.

Solo didn't even attempt to hold in the moan that was torn from him as Illya's tongue tip traced delicate patterns on his ultra sensitive, flaring head. The resulting jolts of delight that crashed through him seemed to shake Solo's very hold on reality. The expert way Illya used his tongue...it was his most perfect wet dream come true.

Napoleon thought he'd pass out as Illya withdrew Solo's ready organ from his mouth far enough to greedily lap the spurts of clear preseminal fluid seeping out of the straining cockhead.

Then Illya sucked him again, only this time he took Solo deep into his throat.

Gasping for each breath, Napoleon watched in wide-eyed awe as the ends of that silver-sheened fall of blond hair trailed up and down the length of his throbbing prick as Illya's head bobbed in its service.

Solo's hungry, long denied heart demanded that he memorize every instant of this extraordinary gift for future replay. For in his bones, he knew that he would never again encounter so generous a lover. Maybe once or twice in all his years of loving, had Solo met a woman who would do this for him without being asked. That privacy loving Illya, who could feel no pleasure himself, would give him this precious gift in the presence of a crude stranger was more than Solo could conceive.

He wondered what kind of inner strength, what degree of confidence, Illya must have to even attempt this. U.N.C.L.E. might be an international, non-discriminating agency, but its members were only mere mortals. Coming up through U.N.C.L.E.'s ranks, `cocksucker' was usually one of the worst expletives an instructor would throw against a student to bring out the novice's culturally sublimated aggression. `Cocksucker, fairy, queer, faggot...'; like all military groups, U.N.C.L.E.'s drill instructors used those labels to promote a certain response – a negative one.

Were their positions reversed, Solo didn't think he would have had the nerve to do this for his partner, no matter how pressing the assignment. There were some chances even the bravest man balked at taking, having his partner brand him a queer was one of them. But it hadn't stopped Illya.

As the delight dancing through his insides spiraled out in ever widening circles, Solo found his train of thought derailing. All that existed was Illya's hot mouth, that perfect suction and the release it promised. At that moment Alexander Waverly and all of U.N.C.L.E. could have been watching and Solo wouldn't have cared.

Illya's hands left their resting place at the side of his hips to snake around behind Napoleon.

Solo felt the flattish globes of his trouser-covered butt gathered into each hand. On a particularly deep suck, Illya gave a quick squeeze. The result was instant explosion.

Horrified, Solo realized that he was coming in his partner's mouth. Panicked, he tried to pull back, but the hands on his butt held him firmly in place.

Shaken by the sensations ripping through him while he geyzered out into the depths of his partner's throat, Solo watched in amazement as his friend swallowed every drop of his outpouring.

Illya continued to suck him until Solo was empty and flaccid again. Only then did Illya release his organ.

His heartbeat still thundering in his ears, Solo's shell-shocked gaze followed those pale hands as Kuryakin gathered him up once again, carefully tucked him into his open trousers, then closed the zipper.

Napoleon wouldn't have credited his partner's normally hard features as being capable of entertaining the degree of open tenderness Solo read in his partner's face.

Then, as if becoming conscious of Solo's observation, the kneeling man froze, his face seeming to go blank and pale all of a sudden, as if Illya had just realized that the moment of truth was now upon him.

Illya's hands deserted him. Somewhat stiffly, the compact agent rose to his feet. Only when he was fully vertical did Illya dare his partner's gaze.

In that instant Illya's expression was completely unguarded. His eyes filled with uncharacteristic trepidation, Illya met Solo's stare, something almost like fear lurking in those ghostly white features.

Solo heard Illya's gulp from where he stood, could almost feel his partner frantically searching for just the right thing to say.

Knowing that his next decision was going to make or break their partnership, Solo followed his instincts. Without waiting to weigh the possible consequences of his action, he gathered his compact companion into his arms, lowering his head for a kiss.

He felt Illya's shock, sensed how his partner had been prepared for a violent rejection - either verbal or physical. The last thing Illya seemed to anticipate was gentleness.

Illya's mouth was motionless at first. Illya simply stood there and allowed his mouth to be taken. Letting his palms rub over his partner's tense back in soothing circles, Solo put everything he was into that kiss. It took almost a full minute, but eventually, he felt Illya's resistance crumble.

Everything about this first voluntary meeting of their lips seemed different than any other kiss Solo had previously experienced. Illya's very approach to it was different than a woman's, Illya's mouth having an indefinable aggressive edge that wouldn't allow Solo to forget for a single moment that this was another man he was kissing.

But strange and different as the sensation was, it was incredible as well, all consuming.

Carried away by the feeling, Solo's tongue tentatively probed Illya's lips, not really expecting much. There was simply something about Napoleon's nature that demanded he explore each new situation to its furthest limits.

To his amazement, he felt Illya's mouth open to accept him, Illya sucking Solo's tongue in as though he were the one who'd initiated the deeper probe.

As their tongues stroked each other in wet, playful caresses, it almost seemed to Solo that his partner was hungry for the contact.

And why wouldn't he be, Solo sadly acknowledged. He'd never encountered a soul more isolated or set apart from his fellow humans than his young partner. No matter the state of a person's gonads, there was something very basic about the human spirit that longed for closeness and intimacy. For all his scientific detachment and jealously guarded love of solitude, Illya must suffer terribly from loneliness.

Solo felt an unfamiliar softness unfurling within him at that realization. He found the unsought tenderness tempering his normal ardor, curbing his usual aggression, turning this act into something he'd never suspected a simple kiss could be.

As the lingering union progressed to deeper levels, Solo felt barriers within himself crumbling which he'd never consciously realized existed. It was as if part of himself were flowing over into the compact form he held so close in his arms, and, to his greater amazement, Napoleon swore it was the same for his partner. He could almost feel Illya's essence seeping through their tight pressed bodies. More than mouth to mouth, it almost seemed that they were touching soul to soul.

Something in him balked at the discovery. To be that open emotionally, that known by another, was dangerous. It left you too open to hurt.

Nevertheless, Solo forced himself to stick it out. No matter what, you didn't abandon your partner on the edge of a chasm. If Illya had the courage to tread such treacherous peaks, Napoleon knew he had no option but to follow.

As he explored the depths of Illya's open, offered mouth, Napoleon detected traces of a sour, bitter substance mingled in his friend's saliva.

Solo's balls tightened, his stomach lurching as he realized that he was sharing traces of his own semen with Illya.

Illya...

Both their bodies jerked in shock as a hoarse, prolonged groan from the bushes to their right recalled their circumstances. The case. Cromby was watching...and, from the sound of things, the sick pervert had just reached completion.

It felt as though a part of Solo's soul were torn away as Illya pulled his mouth free, Illya wincing as Napoleon's clinging fingers tugged painfully at the hair they were tangled in. Belatedly, Solo loosed his grip on the silken locks, not even recalling when he'd grabbed hold of his companion's hair.

With visible reluctance, Illya stepped back from him. Not quite recovered yet, Illya didn't think to avert his gaze.

The ground seemed to drop out from under Solo as he noted the heated, unfocused glimmer in those normally chilling blue eyes and the shallow rise and fall of that dark clothed chest as Illya attempted to regain control.

There was no mistaking the effect he'd had on his friend. Solo knew arousal when he saw it.

Then, Illya seemingly realized what his features were revealing. As if flicking off a light switch, all feeling blanked from Illya's face. Solo could see his friend pulling back from him emotionally.

See it? Hell, he could feel it, in those previously closed channels that this man's kiss had blasted open.

Solo could almost touch the uncertainty that descended between them at that instant.

Tense almost to the point of fear, he watched as Illya leaned in close to him again.

"I will follow Cromby," Illya whispered in his ear, making it look like a quick parting kiss.

Appalled, Solo realized that he was trembling.

Then, Illya spoke again, a totally unfamiliar tone entering his voice as Illya appeared to assume a completely different persona. "That will be twenty bucks."

"What?" Solo stammered, his body and mind not caught up with his partner's change of gears. His heart was still trapped on the emotional roller coaster of this bizarre incident.

"Twenty bucks. Cash." Illya repeated, sounding, Solo realized, like a seasoned prostitute.

Numb as a plane crash survivor, Napoleon found his wallet and peeled off the requested twenty, His hand was nearly steady as he placed the bill in the outstretched palm.

"I'll see you around." Illya said before turning to leave. Illya was one of the best undercover men Waverly had. Even his walk was different as he fell into character.

When the transformed U.N.C.L.E. agent reached the bushes where Cromby was hiding, Solo saw his partner pause. The dark-clad blond started, as if frightened to find a stranger standing there in the shadows. Then, gathering his new cover role of male hustler about him, Kuryakin said something in a low undertone.

Whatever Illya said, it flushed their assignment like a spooked hare. Cromby practically raced from the park.

Illya stared after the chemist for a moment, gave a philosophic shrug and sauntered off in the opposite direction.

Solo didn't need to observe his friend to know that Illya would catch up with Cromby before the man hit the streets. Illya was the best.

The best...

His mind and pulse still awhirl from what they'd shared, it took Solo somewhat longer to regain his shattered equilibrium.

Feeling like a refugee from Oz, Solo made his slow path back to their op center across the street from Cromby's lab.

He had no idea what he was going to say to Illya when he got there. His partner had just given him a blow job in a public place. There wasn't an U.N.C.L.E. rulebook or etiquette manual on the planet that covered such a happenstance.

Even if there were...

What had happened was between Illya and him. Period.

To his intense relief, Solo was spared an immediate confrontation. The little office in which they'd stowed their surveillance equipment was empty when he got back. A quick glance through the binoculars showed Cromby's lab still vacant as well.

His thoughts and emotions crashing into each other like crazed go karts, Solo sat in the hard wood chair, staring through the binoculars and carefully not thinking.

It was nearly a full hour before he saw a visibly shaken Cromby enter the lab across the street.

Every sense he possessed focused on the door behind him, Solo's muscles turned to stone when he finally heard the door crack open, felt Illya slip inside.

Illya watched him from the threshold for a long moment before finally approaching.

"Cromby's packing up to go home," Solo reported in an uninflected voice, pulling out his pen communicator to inform headquarters that the chemist was now the night crew's responsibility.

All through the routine check in, Solo was more viscerally aware of his quiet partner than he'd been of anyone in his entire life. "We're done here for the night, Wanda," Solo told his boss' beautiful assistant. "Will you please schedule a meeting with Mr. Waverly first thing tomorrow morning?"

"You won't be in tonight, Mr. Solo?" Wanda playfully asked.

Solo was so shaken by what had occurred in the park that he failed to notice the disappointment in her voice. "No. Just put me down for first thing tomorrow. Okay, Wanda?"

"All right. Closing Channel D," the lovely agent signed out.

"Is that early morning meeting on my account?" Illya asked in a cold, yet somehow defensive tone.

Hard as it was with the memory of what they'd done in that park sixty short minutes ago still burning in his flesh, Solo forced himself to meet his partner's gaze. "What?"

"I meant what I said before, Napoleon." At Napoleon's blank expression, Illya refreshed his memory, "You can kill me now if you like."

Shocked, Solo realized that his friend was completely serious. Illya was a tense ball of energy, poised on the edge of explosion.

Napoleon realized that if this were hard for him to deal with, it must be doubly so for his partner, who'd initiated the scene. Even in that THRUSH prison cell when he'd learned Illya's deepest secret years ago, Illya had not appeared this nervous.

"I'm not going to kill you." Solo softly assured, as if he could hurt someone who'd given him such intense pleasure.

"Why not?" Illya's voice was bitter with self-recrimination. "On the way back I thought of four different ways we could have extricated ourselves from that situation without having to..."

"Illya..." Solo sighed, catching the nervous gaze and holding it firm.

Illya stood in the center of the room, staring unflinchingly at Solo's face, obviously ready to accept whatever punishment Napoleon might dole out for the supposed indiscretion.

His heart a confusing mix of hurtful feeling and longings, Solo dropped his guards and let his partner read what he would in his eyes. Seeing Illya's astonishment, Solo said in a calming voice, "What's done is done. All right?"

Looking as if he could not believe what he was hearing, Illya gave a cautious nod. "All right. What are we going to tell Mr. Waverly?"

Their reports were always painstakingly accurate. Solo had never even considered what they'd tell their boss. "The truth," he said at last, explaining as Illya's eyes widened in shock, "We'll tell Waverly that Cromby's a security risk. That we followed him to a park where the chemist was an unannounced witness to a clandestine sexual encounter between two male strangers."

"The facts are truthful, if misleading," Kuryakin observed.

"Yes, well..."

"But I believe it is our only option," Illya finished. Then after a pensive pause, his oviously still tense partner said, "About what happened tonight..."

There it was. That same disorienting sense of the earth dropping out beneath him. Every time Solo thought back to what his partner had done to him in that park, he felt the same way. "I don't think we should discuss this right now, Illya." He said as gently as he could.

Illya nodded again, as if he'd expected nothing more. "If you do decide that you want a new partner, I will understand."

"We already decided that done is done," Solo reminded, sensing that Illya was deeply disturbed beneath his habitually unaffected veneer.

"But should you change your mind..."

"You'll be the first to know," Solo promised, wanting only to get through the awkward scene. "Come on, let's get out of here."

With another pensive nod, Illya helped him pack up their equipment.

*~*~*

CHAPTER FOUR

The next three weeks were among the most turbulent and difficult of Napoleon Solo's life.

`Done was done' was what he'd told Illya, an implicit, underlying message that they should put the incident behind them and pretend that it had never happened.

Illya appeared to succeed to some degree. Illya spent so much of his time suppressing his emotions on a daily basis that this new situation was no doubt viewed as just an additional test. There was a new watchfulness about Solo's partner, however, a tense sense of expectancy that preyed upon Napoleon's already over-strained nerves. No matter what they did, Illya always seemed to be watching him, waiting...

Normally, Solo would have shrugged off the increased observation, but these days he was so far from normal that it wouldn't have surprised him if Waverly had called him on the carpet for an explanation. What he'd do then, he had no idea. Solo wasn't accustomed to hiding things from his boss. Or his partner.

He knew Illya was as conscious of the source of his problem as he was, but sensed from the watchfulness that Illya wasn't completely sure of the form of Solo's difficulty. If Napoleon had any say in it, Illya would never find out. An unwanted complication like this was the last thing his young friend needed.

"Napoleon?" Illya's deep voice called him back from the depths of his morose reverie. With a start, Solo came back to their shared office.

"Yes?" He questioned, trying not to sound guilty, attempting not to stare too long. He didn't even know how to look at Illya now. All his life, Solo had managed to steer clear of forbidden fruit, managing to switch off his desires for married women and virgin farm girls at will. Now, he couldn't even glance at his partner without his body igniting, without remembering what that mouth had done to him.

"You have been staring at that same page for the past twenty-five minutes," Illya remarked.

"So?" Solo challenged, daring his partner to criticize his job performance.

"Napoleon." There was an unfamiliar gentleness to Illya's attitude. “It is the cover page."

Solo glanced down at the file before him. Sure enough, Illya was right. All that was printed on the mostly blank paper was the case name, date and other pertinent filing information.

"Jeez, I must really be slipping," the tired Solo muttered, abandoning all pretense of interest in their paper work.

"It has been a long, uneventful day," Illya commented, obviously missing the action as much as his partner. "Perhaps we should call it a night."

"Yes, that sounds like a good idea."

With practiced efficiency, they safely stored away the sensitive material.

As Solo was putting on his jacket, his partner once again called his name.

"Napoleon?"

Tensing at the tentative tone, Solo carefully blanked his face of emotion and turned to his friend. "Yes?"

"I believe that we should... discuss this situation, before it becomes a noticeable problem."

Before? For his privacy loving partner to even consider making such a suggestion, the problem already had to be dangerously advanced.

Feeling cornered, but knowing that there was nowhere left to run, Solo nodded, "Yes, I suppose you're right. Are you free for dinner?"

"Yes, but...perhaps you would care to dine at my place? I left a couple of steaks out this morning to thaw."

So Illya had this meeting planned. The situation was worse than Solo thought. "All right."

He'd expected the ride over to Illya's to be unbearable, but, contrary to his personal inclinations, Illya kept up a steady stream of light conversation throughout the drive, dinner preparation, and the meal itself. As Solo relaxed into their familiar banter, he realized that his partner was working very hard to put him at ease. Touched by the effort, Solo did his best to respond in kind, to leave his troubles behind and concentrate on enjoying his friend's company.

But nothing was that easy anymore and might never be so again. Although outwardly calm, each word was a trial for Napoleon.

It wasn't until the dishes were cleared away and they were sitting in his partner's austere living room sipping drinks that they finally got down to business.

The first hint of tension falling between them, Solo stared around his surroundings for something to distract his attention. There wasn't much. His partner didn't really go in for either luxury or style. Illya's living room contained a heavy old blue upholstered couch, two brown utilitarian arm chairs, a reading lamp, and one wall of book cases. There was no television or record player, and no knick knacks to speak of. The only things which revealed any touch of the personal were the mismatched, colorful books lining the shelves and Illya's guitar, bass, and saxophone standing in a corner.

"Napoleon, I believe we should discuss what occurred last month," Illya said at last, a determined set tightening his features.

"So you said." Napoleon knew he wasn't being exactly helpful, but this was one conversation he'd like to skip entirely. "What would you like to talk about?"

"My, ah...impetuous, ill-considered action appears to have...caused certain difficulties between us." His normally articulate partner haltingly began, choosing each word as if it might explode on him.

Deciding that honesty was the best policy, for now, Solo nodded his agreement. "I wish I could say it hasn't, but...what happened last month really threw me for a loop."

Illya appeared to ponder his confession for a moment, as if he were as aware as Napoleon that the suave, senior agent was rarely anything but absolutely confident.

"Do you wish a new pairing?" Illya asked, going so still that Solo couldn't even tell if his friend were still breathing.

It was a solution of sorts, but not one that Napoleon was willing to seriously contemplate. "I said that it threw me for a loop, not that it pushed me over the edge," he denied, pretending not to notice the deep, relieved breath his partner released. "I just need some time to...put things in perspective."

Illya was quiet for a short while. When next he spoke, his voice was oddly soft, reluctant. "Napoleon, I have had a great deal of personal experience with...blows to one's self image..."

Yes, Solo supposed that was true, unable to imagine a more difficult challenge than the one his partner dealt with on a daily basis. Yet, he couldn't see how that pertained to their present topic of conversation. "Blows to the self image?" he blankly repeated.

"What I am attempting to say is...what occurred between us was not a reflection upon your...masculinity." Illya awkwardly completed.

"My mascu..."

"I...couldn't help but notice how...active your social calendar had been these last three weeks." Kuryakin said, his cheeks going a bright scarlet.

Active? His partner had a flair for understatement. Solo had been working his way through his little black book with a diligence that bordered on desperation, vainly searching for something to burn the memory of that one earth-shattering encounter from his blood. He'd been changing his bed mates more frequently than his shirts, and so far nothing had worked. But he couldn't tell Illya that.

"You think I've been...sleeping around to bolster my damaged self image?" Solo questioned.

It was a natural enough assumption to make, Napoleon realized. Of course, it was also totally wrong.

"It seemed a logical conclusion," Illya replied.

"I only wish you were right, my friend," Solo sighed, weary of the pretense. Looking into those confused, concerned eyes, Napoleon knew he couldn't continue to hide the truth from his partner. To begin with, he wasn't that good an actor.

"What do you mean, Napoleon?"

"Your theory fits all the facts. However, your basic premise is faulty."

"I don't understand," Illya admitted.

"How honest do you want me to be?" Solo checked, steeling himself for the worst. "And remember, once certain things are said, the words can't be taken back."

"How honest?" His partner appeared bewildered, "The same as always completely."

Solo had expected nothing less from his courageous friend. "All right. I have to warn you that... you won't like what I have to say."

Illya nodded as if that were a foregone conclusion. "Perhaps, but...once the issue is addressed, it will – how do you say? – clear the air. Will it not?"

"Perhaps." Drawing a deep breath, Solo fiddled with his brandy snifter, collecting his thoughts. "You, ah, believed that I was ...disturbed and repulsed by what passed between us?"

"Few men would not be," Illya said, the guarded light in those icy blue eyes telling Solo that Illya was prepared for anything.

"You were right – to a point. I was disturbed. Although, not for the reason you might expect." A new thought occurring to him, Solo asked, "What about you? Since that night, you've been acting as though I was the only one affected by...what happened. But it involved you as well."

A heavy silence followed, then those surprisingly broad shoulders shrugged, "I was the one who initiated the...exchange. The responsibility was mine. You were...the unwilling victim of my faulty plan."

"I would hardly call myself a victim. Nor was I particularly unwilling," Solo pointed out.

"You would never have done such a thing."

The asperity and self-recrimination in that haunted face told Napoleon that his partner had been living in his own version of hell these past three weeks as well.

"I would never have had the guts to do it," Solo admitted up front.

"The guts?" Illya repeated.

"A month ago I would have gagged at the very thought of what you did for me." Now it was the stuff Solo's dreams were made of, but that was one thing his reserved partner need never know. "It must have been...unbearable for you."

"No, Napoleon," Illya assured with a gentle wistfulness that was hardly recognizable as Illya. "It was not unbearable. Not unbearable at all."

Solo's heart was suddenly pounding like a tom-tom drum. He'd broken out in a cold sweat, every breath an effort, as if the oxygen were being sucked out of the room. "Illya..." he murmured, trapped in the crystal depths of those bewitching eyes.

Illya started and straightened in his seat at the far end of the sofa, as if rousing from an enchantment; although, in their line of work, it was usually THRUSH tranquilizers they were roused from.

"You never did say what was troubling you, if not my previous suggestion," Illya reminded, obviously attempting to change the topic and disperse the heavy sexual undercurrents.

"That course is only going to lead us into deeper waters," Solo warned. "Perhaps it's time I left."

"Napoleon, nothing has been resolved," Illya protested.

"What's wrong can't be fixed with small talk, my optimistic young friend."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Illya demanded, much more his old self.

Strangely enough, Solo found this prickly Illya easier to deal with than the too-approachable man with whom he'd dined.

"It means that I was not disgusted by what you did to me. To the contrary, I enjoyed it very much."

"And that is a problem?" Illya questioned.

At another time, Solo might have found his perceptive friend's uncharacteristic bewilderment endearing. Tonight it left him ready to chew iron. "It is a problem when I can't forget it, when two dozen women's warm, willing bodies aren't enough to burn the memory away," Solo snapped, spelling the problem out in language so plain that not even his partner could misinterpret his meaning.

"You are attracted to me – sexually?" Illya looked stunned, as if the very idea were inconceivable.

"Illya, you didn't just shake my hand that night. You had sex with me."

"I have not `had sex' with anyone in seven years," his compact partner denied.

Bitter and lonely as the protest was, it didn't cut it with Solo. "You aroused me and took my...seed into your body. In my book, that counts as sex."

"So what you're saying is..." Illya was suddenly cold as ice, his features harder to read than ancient hieroglyphics.

"I don't know what I'm saying, Illya. I'm not even asking for anything. I'm just...very confused by all this," Solo admitted, his miserable gaze focusing on the bookcase on the opposite wall, too embarrassed to meet his partner's eyes.

His sincerity seemed to reach behind his companion's steely barricades. When Illya spoke, his voice was almost kind. "Napoleon, your response was a matter of human physiology. The predictable outcome of a certain set of stimuli. The novelty of a male partner no doubt enhanced..."

"Illya, it wasn't the novelty. I eliminated that possibility two nights ago," Solo wearily admitted.

"You eliminated...? How?"

"How do you think?" Solo felt his cheeks warm at the mere memory of his latest escapade. There wasn't a man on this planet besides his partner to whom he could imagine confessing such a sordid episode. Illya mightn't be the easiest person to have an emotional conversation with, but the very detachment which made him so distant and unapproachable also ensured that Illya would be reassuringly nonjudgmental. So, Solo told his partner the truth, embarrassing as it was. "Two nights ago I returned to that park and...procured the services of one of its regulars. I'm sorry to say that it was not the novelty of the experience."

"I...see," Illya said, seeming neither outwardly disturbed or even surprised that his highly heterosexual partner would purchase the services of a male hustler.

"Is that all you have to say on the matter?" Solo demanded when the ensuing silence stretched too long.

"I don't know what to say, Napoleon."

Illya's use of his first name calmed some of Napoleon's anxieties. "Well, that has to be a first." Solo offered a tentative smile.

"Indeed." Illya shifted nervously at the other end of the couch. "More brandy?"

"Please." Solo could almost hear his partner's mind working overtime as Illya crossed the room to refill their brandy snifters.

Illya was, as usual, dressed in dark trousers. With his jacket and tie off, and his sleeves of his white shirt rolled up, Illya looked very young.

When his partner moved to return his drink to him, Solo purposefully trapped his friend's fingers between his own palm and the fragile glass. "How do you feel about this, Illya?"

Those crystal eyes were fixed on their joined flesh, watching that point of contact as if it were a venomous reptile that might harm him should his attention wander. "Responsible," Illya answered at last.

That being perhaps the very last thing Napoleon wanted to hear, Napoleon took his drink and released the small, but powerful hand. "Just responsible? Nothing else?"

"What else could there be?" Illya sighed, reclaiming his seat at the far end of the couch. "Even if it were not against U.N.C.L.E.'s non-fraternization policy, it would be...quite impossible."

The fact that Illya had not closed him out with a single, icy `no' said more to Napoleon than a tome of words. “Why impossible?"

"You know why," Illya snapped, on the verge of showing an emotion.

Solo studied his friend, considering.

If he played this scene wrong, he could destroy their partnership. Even if he played it right... Illya was so alone, so isolated all the time. It would be so easy to hurt him...

And that was the one thing Napoleon was determined never to do. His young friend had experienced so much pain in his short life. Solo just wanted to see Illya happy for a while.

"It wasn't so terrible last time, was it? You said that it wasn't unbearable," Napoleon reminded.

"Napoleon..." Illya almost pleaded.

"You know that I would never hurt you in any way," Solo assured, his voice unconsciously dropping to a sensual, seductive purr. "Why won't you even try?"

"Because it is a losing proposition for you," Illya shot back. "Napoleon, I am not...whole – physically or emotionally."

"That's nonsense," Solo denied. "Maybe you can't do everything you were once able to, but you're no damn eunuch."

"You do not know what you're talking about," Illya whispered, his turbulent gaze dropping to the fragile brandy snifter he held clenched in his hands.

"I know what I want, Illya...and I know when someone wants me."

The slight form jerked as if snapped with a whiplash at Solo's reminder of his partner's response to that last shattering kiss.

"You've given me several reasons why we shouldn't, but you've never once said that you don't want me," Solo remarked.

"What I want or don't want is... irrelevant," Illya's low voice was just barely controlled.

"Irrelevant? My God, Illya, you've got to have something of your own in this crazy life we've chosen. There's got to be something more to it than just killing THRUSH agents," Solo argued.

"Are you proposing that you would be that something?" Illya challenged, as if he expected the commitment-shy American to bail out when put on the spot.

"I could be... f you'd let me." Solo was shocked to realize that it was the truth.

Illya's noisy gulp was audible clear on the other side of the couch. "What you propose is...impossible. You've seen me, Napoleon. You know why it would never work."

It still wasn't a `no'.

"Illya..." Solo slid to the other side of the couch. He laid a gentle, unthreatening palm on Illya's arm, needing to touch his troubled friend, to show Illya that he was not alone. "Please, Illya...try. Give me just one night?"

"One night?" Illya appeared strangely affected by the phrasing and shot a quick glance Solo's way before diverting his gaze to a safer object. "Napoleon, have you any idea how many failed `just one nights' there have been in the past seven years?"

Knowing how difficult it must have been for this fiercely proud man to admit such a thing, Solo sadly shook his head, his fingers aching to stroke that baby fine, gold hair back from his friend's face and soothe Illya's frown away. "More than you deserve, my friend. But they weren't with me, Illya. You're my partner. I'm not going to disappear from your life in the morning."

"You say that now, but..."

"Illya, this is me, Napoleon Solo, your partner. Have I ever let you down, tovarisch?

That scored a definite hit. They both knew that there were few men who could ask that particular question with such complete confidence. But, no matter how difficult their personal relationship had ever been, they had never fallen short in their partnership, somehow always managing to come through when the other was counting upon him. Napoleon could see his companion recalling the number of THRUSH bullets and seemingly impossible rescues they'd pulled each other through.

The strain he was putting Illya under was obvious. Illya seemed trapped between two opposite poles – the familiar safety of the ascetic, celibate life that had sheltered him for years on the one hand, and on the other, the dangerous desires that had been unloosed by a single kiss.

"You - you don't know what you're asking." Illya whispered, sounding cornered.

"Illya..." he breathed, suddenly wondering if he had the right to do this to his partner. What if Illya were correct and everything went wrong, where would their partnership be then?

Staring at that chiseled profile, Solo saw Illya's eyes squeeze shut, the slender body tautening, as if Illya's controls were being stretched to their limit simply by Napoleon whispering his name.

"Can you tell me why at least?" Illya asked at last, not opening his eyes, sitting there like some perfect ice sculpture, the lamp light shining off his hair bright as the noon day sun.

The display all but blinded Solo.

"Why?" Solo gaped, knowing that if Illya could see himself through his partner's eyes at this moment, Illya would never ask such a question.

"I do not believe it is an unreasonable request. It is not as though...I have that much to offer in this type of situation."

"Oh, Illya..." Shaken by the empty declaration, Solo gently took hold of Illya's chin and forced his companion to look at him. "You have everything to offer."

Illya gently guided his partner's hands clear of his face, freeing himself without offering any outward rejection.

"Napoleon," Illya's voice and features were soft, the careful way he phrased his thoughts telling Napoleon that his doubtful partner was going to great pains not to hurt Solo with his usual blunt honesty. "You are very good at saying the right thing at the appropriate time, but...you must understand my...skepticism. With the variety of companions you have at your beck and call, it is...incomprehensible that you would be drawn to me."

"You think this is some kind of scam?" Reading the fear that it was just such a ruse in those proud features, Solo stamped down on his anger and asked instead, "Why would I do such a thing to you, Illya?"

Illya swallowed hard, as if reluctant to voice his reply. "You have always done your utmost to...encourage me to...socialize more. What passed between us that night might have made you think that a personal approach might be more effective than – how do you say? – setting me up?"

"Do you seriously believe that I would jeopardize the best partnership I've ever had for a...pity fuck?" He remembered Illya's bitter protest that he would never be an object of pity from all those years ago. Astounded, Solo realized that his gifted partner truly believed that pity would be the only reason someone would be drawn to him sexually. "Have you any clue what you did to me the other night? If you'd been any other man, I'd've killed you, but it was you and...it's as if you opened Pandora's box on something I'd never considered before and now I can't get the lid closed again. Illya, understand, I don't WANT to feel these things for you, but I can't help myself." Feeling embarrassed and exposed, Solo waited for a reaction. But not a single flaw appeared in that wall of ice.

Perhaps Illya was right, after all, Napoleon sadly acknowledged. Maybe Illya had been so emotionally scarred by that horrible THRUSH attack that he would never be capable of intimacy again.

Sick at heart, Solo drew his dignity about him. "Forgive me, Illya. It was wrong of me to put you in this position. The problem is mine. I will learn to deal with it. At any rate, you have my word that I'll not trouble you with this particular subject again."

Blinded by emotion, he searched the room for his discarded jacket. Solo could feel the electric blue gaze digging into his back.

Napoleon wondered how he'd ever bear it, how he could continue to work so closely with his friend with the memory of this humiliating scene lying like a rotting corpse between them, eroding their relationship away until only the superficial framework remained. In that moment, Solo could see his future, day after day of endless frustration, bleeding into a bleak, empty vacuum, because in his heart, Solo knew that things weren't going to change for him. Tomorrow or a year from tomorrow, he'd still be trying the purge the memory of that one shocking kiss from his blood.

"Napoleon..."

Imagining shades of regret in the low voice, Solo froze in the act of putting on his suit jacket.

"What?" he demanded warily, not daring to turn less Illya see his pain.

"Don't go." The small, uncertain tone was so unlike his partner that Solo hardly credited the sounds as issuing from Illya Kuryakin.

"What did you say?"

"Stay. Please..."

The ice wall had cracked. Solo swirled to see his white faced, visibly shaken partner standing beside the couch like a man about to be forced to walk a pirate's plank. Illya's skin actually looked paler than his shirt front.

As much as he wanted to believe that his friend had had a change of heart, Solo's smarting pride wouldn't allow him to risk it. "It's late."

"You may have your `just one night' if you are still interested, Napoleon." The words sounded like they'd been forced from Illya at knife point.

"You must forgive me if I'm not overwhelmed by your gracious offer, but you look about as eager to spend a night in my bed as you would in a THRUSH torture chamber." Solo wasn't entirely able to disguise his hurt feelings. As much as he wanted Illya, he wanted him as a willing partner.

"The THRUSH facility does not frighten me quite so much," Illya honestly confessed, a trace of his normal sardonic wit flavoring the reply.

"That's the first time I've heard you admit to a fear," Solo observed, standing there with his jacket in his hands.

Illya shrugged and offered him a tentative, shy smile. "Perhaps your Pandora's Box has unveiled my Achilles' heel."

"That wasn't my intent," Solo assured.

"I know."

When the silence became awkward, Napoleon cleared his throat and warned, "I won't stay where I'm not wanted, Illya. I've no more interest in a pity fuck than you have."

"Over the years I have felt many things for you, Napoleon Solo. Pity was never among them." Illya had a knack for making even conciliatory words sound like a naked challenge.

"Then we are in complete agreement on one thing at least," Solo mildly commented, not quite trusting the change in his friend, but not ready to disregard it either. "May I ask what changed your mind?"

Napoleon replaced his jacket on the back of the chair upon which he'd left it earlier. Noticing how his partner didn't sit down yet and how Illya's slender body tensed in almost unconscious dread at his approach, Napoleon reclaimed his seat at the far end of the couch. Rediscovering his brandy snifter, he pretended not to watch his partner struggle for an answer.

"Illya...I don't have to remain here. We can discuss this some other night," Solo relented. He hadn't bargained on this open fear. Napoleon wasn't accustomed to feeling guilty when emotional manipulation got him what he wanted. Only, in the past his partner had never been a casualty of his selfish lusts. Illya didn't deserve such treatment.

"We both know that if you leave here tonight, I will never allow the issue to resurface." Illya tossed back the contents of his brandy glass and left the empty crystal standing on a nearby bookshelf. "I am...most adept at evading this particular situation."

"Are you reluctant...because I'm another man?" Until this moment, Solo hadn't considered how threatening this seduction might be from his partner's point of view – what it must be like for a man who couldn't function at full capacity to find that another man was sexually interested in him. Did Illya believe that he only wanted to screw him?

Illya silently watched him for a moment before coming to sit at the other end of the sofa, his back to the couch arm so that he was turned to face Solo squarely. "What I did to you in the park last month must have told you that was not the case."

"Your...expertise in that area was rather surprising," Solo allowed, still able to feel that talented tongue taking him to heights he'd never reached before. He didn't need to ask to know that last month was not the first time his partner had done that for another man.

"Are you not going to pursue the topic?" Illya's cold, forbidding front told Solo it was a sensitive area.

Napoleon slowly shook his head. "I'm not here to cross examine you, Illya."

His words fell like pebbles into a still pond. Solo could feel the repercussions of his unexpected denial spiraling through his partner long after the sound had died.

His blatant lack of curiosity appeared to have a loosening effect on his partner's tongue. "When I was at school there was a schoolmate whom...you know the way of boys, Napoleon."

Although not phrased as a question, Solo nodded his understanding. His own boyhood explorations with others of his own sex had never progressed beyond the 'you show me yours and I'll show you mine stage'. However, he'd known many others who'd been far more daring in those all boy schools.

"Our, ah...friendship continued past the time we both graduated to research work. Our contact was, of course, confined to sporadic meetings at the most," Illya continued, "Our government didn't approve of such associations."

Solo didn't understand what the segmented reminiscence had to do with their present situation, but he listened enthralled. Illya hardly ever volunteered anything about his past, certainly nothing as personal as this.

"After THRUSH attacked Patanka's lab, it was some time before I saw my boyhood friend again. When next I met Nikoli, I told him what had occurred. He - he said it wouldn't matter, but..."

"But?" Napoleon gently encouraged, curbing his own irrational jealousy at the thought of another man touching his partner.

"But he couldn't even force himself to touch me, Napoleon. Nikoli was not alone. Miss Raven, Miss Baldwin, so many others..."

"Illya, I want to touch you...there are no surprises here for me, my friend. I know you. I want you –as you are –if you'll only allow it," Solo almost pleaded.

"You may have your night, Napoleon," Illya repeated, the grim set of his features telling Napoleon his young partner expected yet another disaster.

"And if I want more than just a single night?" Napoleon asked silkily, determined not to allow his partner's pessimism to affect him.

Illya gave a soft snort, the flash in those crystalline eyes as good as saying he thought the idea preposterous. "Let us get through this night before we consider another."

Solo slid across the couch. Forcing himself not to give into his nervousness, he reached out to lightly trail his index and middle fingers down the strong Slavic face. "Is that how you're thinking of this – as something to get through?"

The untouchable Kuryakin, the man whom half his coworkers would swear had no soul and a heart of icy stone, actually shook at Napoleon's sensual tone. Solo watched the pouty lips open to answer, but only a startled gasp emerged as Napoleon repeated the caress on the other side of Illya's face. "In that case, my cynical, young friend, let us get through this together."

Before Illya could reestablish any of his defenses, Solo followed up the light touch with a kiss. As he covered the full, parted lips with his own, Solo's fingers combed through the baby-fine, longish hair, finding the golden length fully as soft as remembered. Solo had touched sable that had a less luxurious texture.

On some level, Solo had almost hoped that it would be different this time, that when he tasted this mouth, he'd find the experience a disappointment, that Illya's kiss would blend into the thousands of others he'd sampled over the years. A bit more pleasant than most, perhaps, but nothing to shatter his personal life.

Within seconds, Solo knew that his memory had not lied. Kissing Illya was a dark, addictive pleasure that went deeper than the common mashing of a pair of mouths together and the exchange of some saliva. He couldn't say how it was different, knowing only that in all his years of playing the field, he'd encountered nothing that moved him this fast, this deeply.

The charge Solo felt when Illya's unconscious resistance crumbled, the moment when Napoleon first felt Illya's hesitant, helpless response was more overwhelming than his last ten orgasms combined. It was like climbing Everest and winning the Irish Sweepstakes all in the same instant. Feeling Illya's mouth open up to him, those small, square, but powerful hands grasp his shoulders and pull him in closer, was a once in a lifetime thrill.

They spent a long time perfecting that oral melding, with their tongues playing a wet, intimate game of tag between their respective brandy-flavored mouths.

At last they pulled apart to indulge in an unshared breath and grant themselves some much needed thinking space. Solo had the absurd impression that, had they continued to kiss much longer, he would have melted through his partner's flesh to share the same space with Illya. As pleasant as that prospect was, Solo knew of one or two pleasures which required two separate entities that he'd like to indulge before that final immolation.

There was a shocked quality about Illya's pale features that tugged at Solo's heart.

Once they broke for breath, Illya's hand rose to his own mouth, as if Illya were unable to believe what he'd just felt.

"We appear to have gotten through that fairly unscathed," Solo breathlessly commented with an encouraging smile.

"Indeed," Illya replied, sounding shell-shocked.

"Shall we move into the bedroom for stage two?" Napoleon suggested. As he pried himself up off his partner, Solo pretended not to notice the instinctive dread that shot through that expressive gaze.

Caught in those eyes, Napoleon recalled something some girl had said about Illya. Her name had been Cyndi or something like that, a cute little blonde artist who'd taken a shine to Illya when Illya was sent under cover in Greenwich Village to infiltrate a THRUSH ring working out of a pop art gallery. Cyndi had said that Illya had ‘Dostoievsky’ eyes. As dippy as the artist was, her assessment was totally correct. Illya's crystal blue eyes were deep and somehow haunted. In their tortured depths, one could sample the full scope of human misery. All Solo wanted was to take that brooding pain away and make them dance with laughter.

Aching for this man who knew so little of joy, Solo reached out both his hands to help his friend up.

After only the slightest of hesitations, Illya accepted the gesture.

As his palms closed around those competent, compact hands, he could feel the cold sweat of fear on Illya's clammy skin. Illya had not lied when he said he feared this more than the torture chamber. It hurt Solo to even consider how much this typically fearless man had been through to make him so openly trepident.

Maybe it wasn't up to his usual faultless technique, but this situation was so far outside of the scope of Solo's normal romantic encounters that he felt as though he were making up the rules as he went along. Not that anything concerning Illya had ever fallen within the boundaries of normal, mundane interaction. So, instead of drawing his uncertain partner into another kiss that would set Illya's senses swirling and sweep him off his feet before he knew what hit him, Napoleon guided his partner into a simple, old-fashioned bear hug, his instincts telling him that his anxious companion needed grounding.

He felt the surprise run through Illya's body, the tension that told him that this simple hug was the last thing Illya expected of him.

Solo wondered if he had made a tactical error. His partner always seemed to hold himself above such sentimentality. Perhaps Illya didn't need or want...

The breath whooshed out of Solo as those arms which had pinned judo masters to the mat clamped around him with all their might, Illya clutching him as if for dear life.

Solo hugged back. Pressing a kiss onto the top of that warm hair, incongruously scented from Johnson's baby shampoo, Solo was never more aware of the disparity in their heights. Illya's ruthless efficiency and superior attitude were such that most people failed to notice how small in stature that bundle of energy actually was. Reminded of it, Solo felt an uncharacteristic, fiercely protective warmth seep through him.

How long they stood locked in each other's arms, Napoleon had no idea. He wasn't in any hurry to get anywhere. Besides, he found the simple contact amazingly satisfying.

Finally, Illya raised his face from where it was buried in Solo's shirt front. Illya's expression was wary, as if he didn't know what type of reaction he might receive after this uncharacteristic emotional display.

"Mmmm..." Solo sighed, rubbing his chin against that sable-soft blondness, "that felt wonderful."

His gaze soft with gratitude and something more, Illya reached up to stroke Napoleon's cheek. "Napoleon..." Illya gasped in astonishment as Solo turned to nuzzle the moist palm.

"Yes?"

"Come inside...please..." With that Illya slipped his arm around his taller partner's waist and turned them towards the nearby bedroom. And so it was that Solo was ushered into a room he'd barely set foot in twice in his lifetime, his tie lost somewhere between the couch and door.

A quick glance revealed that little had changed since the last time he'd glimpsed the room. A neatly made double bed, two night tables crowded with books, a heavy wood dresser with attached vanity mirror, more overburdened book cases...everything tidy, orderly, and not very welcoming.

Surprised, Solo's attention was caught by the one touch of ornamentation in the utilitarian bedroom. A startled warmth stole through him as he took in the delicate jade sculpture displayed in the center of the dresser top. The oriental dragon had been an impulse gift Solo had bought for his reserved partner the previous Christmas.

"So you kept it after all," Napoleon remarked, gesturing with his chin at the milky veined, aqua jade dragon.

"It is an exquisite work of art, Napoleon. And, besides, it is not often someone gifts me with a piece of himself."

"What?" Solo chuckled, openly cuddling closer to his compact friend.

Illya's eyes were bright with amusement as he explained, "It is said in the Orient that when someone gifts you with jade, they are giving you a part of themselves."

"I've got another part of me that I'm interested in giving you now," Solo murmured, bending to nuzzle the snowy throat, his hands possessively running up and down the length of the sweat-damp shirt covering Illya's back.

"Indeed?" Illya breathed, his lips making a similar exploration of Solo's left ear.

"Ahh..." Napoleon encouraged as a slick tongue peeked out to tickle him.

It was as near to perfect as Solo could imagine. The flow of their love play was gentle and innocent, yet, relentlessly arousing. In a short time, his sex was hard and demanding, straining against the confines of his trousers as he rubbed himself with less and less discretion against his partner's flat stomach.

Because of their height difference, their hips didn't match. Illya's groin was a few inches lower than Napoleon's. Solo made several investigative forays against his partner's genitals with his thigh, curious as to what effect – if any – their necking was having on his companion. But each time he pressed his leg against Illya there, he found the flesh depressingly uninterested.

Not that Illya himself wasn't interested. The kisses bathing Solo's mouth, face, and neck were heated, the hands charting his body hungry...however, Illya's own pleasure center remained singularly unimpressed by their activity.

"Illya..." Solo breathed, needing more, needing everything.

"Sssh... we will get there... we will get there..." Illya softly whispered, his busy fingers undoing Solo's shirt front. Peeling the crisp folds apart, Illya's mouth attacked the section of throat revealed above Napoleon's undershirt. While occupied there, Illya smoothly undid each of Solo's cuff links. The shirt slid off Napoleon's shoulders as if by magic, falling soundlessly to the carpet.

"Wha..?" Solo stammered, surprised to feel something nudging at his left hip.

"Your cuff links," Illya explained with a smile as he deposited the jewelry in Solo's side pocket.

Then their mouths found each other again and it was quite some time before the distracted Solo noticed anything. Eventually, he realized that he was the only one without a shirt and made short shift of getting his partner's undone.

But before Solo could remove Illya's top, Illya was tugging the taller man's undershirt free of his pants.

In the spirit of cooperation, Napoleon bent to allow his friend to haul the soft white cotton over his head.

Solo wasn't prepared for the mouth that fastened immediately onto his left nipple as he stood up straight. A shocked moan was torn from him as Illya's sucking bombarded his nervous system with pleasure.

"My god, Illya...what...wait...you're still..." But the master of delight was having none of his protests. No sooner was his left nipple released, then that roving mouth lathed its way to its counterpart. As his right nipple was treated to the same exquisite torture, his left was caught between knowing fingertips and carefully squeezed till Solo was ravaged by the sensations.

His chest heaving like he'd run a marathon with six THRUSH assassins on his heels, Solo begged for mercy, "Please, Illya, please..."

His cries fell upon deaf ears. With unnerving skill, Illya's mouth made its luscious way down Napoleon's flat, muscular stomach.

Napoleon was standing there frozen, with one hand locked in the silky blond hair, the other clutching Illya's shoulder for support, Illya's tongue doing unmentionable things to his naval, when he felt the waist band of his trousers taken between firm hands. While he stood there feeling very much the victim of an erotic steam roller, Solo's trousers were unzipped and peeled down his legs. His boxer shorts followed almost as an afterthought.

Events transpiring so fast that Solo was once again unable to believe what was happening, Napoleon watched his partner's small, sturdy, square hands gather his straining cock and heavy balls into his palms.

Illya spent an endless eternity squeezing his length and rolling his balls, as if to re acquaint himself with Solo's size and fit.

Hot-eyed and gasping for breath, Napoleon was rocked by the tactile results of his companion's manipulation. His insides swirling in a fireworks display of delight, Solo felt his supporting muscles turn to jelly, his legs actually going weak.

"Illya...can't stand..." he gasped, grabbing hold of those solid shoulders to keep himself upright as his knees all but gave out on him.

It wasn't supposed to be like this, the dazed Solo thought. Normally, he was the one causing this reaction. Being on the other side of it was curiously disorienting.

"That's the way," Illya soothed, his hands temporarily abandoning their prize to guide his partner backwards by the hips.

When Solo felt the firm mattress behind his legs, he sank gratefully back.

Illya followed him down. Kneeling between Solo's knees, Illya gently guided him into laying back on the bed. Once Solo was flat on his back, his erection rising demandingly from between his splayed thighs, Illya returned to his task.

Solo had never felt anything like it in his life.

Using hands and mouth to best effect, Illya seemed to take every neuron Solo owned and blast it open with delight. It was like last time in the park, only a thousand times worse because there was no pressure here, no sense of violation as his forced pleasure was watched by some sleazy stranger. There was only the endless night ahead of them and Illya's superb mouth and talented fingers.

Napoleon was flying, soaring higher and faster than he thought he could go. There was no throttle, no breaks, nothing but the melting pleasure ripping through him. And that knew no bounds.

His aroused gaze hot and hungry, Solo watched Illya pleasure him. The bedroom was lit by silver street light filtering in through the gauzy curtains. But every time Illya's head bobbed up with one of Solo's thrusts, Illya's tossed hair would catch the lamp light shining in from the living room and spark bright gold.

Hypnotized by the sight, Solo hungrily followed each move, observing how Illya's cheeks hollowed out with each suck, how his own engorged penis shone slick with his partner's saliva each time he was pistoning out...above all, noticing how eagerly Illya did this for him, the naked tenderness in that softened face and those incandescent blue eyes. There was not a trace of inhibition in Illya's attitude, no hint of distaste...Illya turned this act into one of pure worship. All too soon, it was over. Solo's consciousness supernovaed as his nervous system exploded. His very being seemed to gush out with his seed which geyzered deep into Illya's throat.

As before, Illya drank all of him down, staying with him until long after Solo was drained.

Only then did Illya crawl up onto the bed to lie beside his panting partner.

It took some time before Solo was capable of movement. Then, all he could so was roll over onto his side to gaze in awe at the fully clothed man fondly watching him recover.

"Hello," Illya said at last, seemingly made uncomfortable by whatever he saw in Solo's face.

"Hi, yourself," Solo greeted his nervous partner, reaching out to touch Illya's satin smooth cheek. As ever, there wasn't a trace of beard stubble to be seen or felt. Illya was as smooth as a newborn babe.

Needing a more definitive touch, Napoleon rolled over and deeply kissed his partner. The pouty Russian lips clung to his own with reassuring vigor, sharing lingering traces of Solo's gift with the spellbound man.

"Something's not quite right here," Solo remarked upon parting, his hand playfully skimming over Illya's open shirt front. He was appalled to realize that he'd failed to remove a single item of his friend's clothing.

"What's that?" Illya smiled up at him, his fingers affectionately outlining Solo's right eyebrow.

"One of us is a little over dressed for the occasion, and I don't believe it's me." Napoleon tugged at Illya's wrinkled white shirt. "You, ah, got left behind before."

Although, in retrospect, Solo realized that it was Illya who had orchestrated the proceedings tonight and planned it that way.

"I enjoyed myself," Illya gently offered, the softened expression on his face making it look as if Illya had been granted a precious gift.

"I barely got to touch you at all," Solo lamented.

"Yes, well...it was pleasurable; was it not?" Illya questioned with sudden uncertainty.

"It was more than just pleasurable, as you well know," Solo corrected, gently caressing those once again guarded features. "It was superb. Illya...no one's ever made it feel that good for me before."

His confession sent a pleased glow through Illya's handsome face. "I'm glad." Illya yawned, his gaze very open and soft as it met his partner's. Illya quietly admitted, "It has been a very long time since I was so close to another, Napoleon."

So close...and Illya hadn't even removed a single one of his garments.

Solo abruptly realized from his friend's sleepy tone that Illya considered the evening complete.

"Hey," Napoleon planted a firm kiss on the faintly smiling lips, "the night's barely begun."

Illya's veiled eyelids snapped open in alarm. "Napoleon..."

Solo carefully chose his next words. "Illya, what you gave me was wonderful, but I came here to share with you, not just take."

"There was nothing taken, only gifts freely given and received." Illya's protest was mild as yet, the gentleness of his fingertips as they stroked Solo's cheek belying the panicked light hiding in the depths of his eyes.

"Well, I'd like to give you back some of that pleasure," Solo declared, easing the tails of Illya's shirt free of his trousers.

"Don't, please." A no nonsense hold interrupted Napoleon's efforts, locking shirt and intruding hand in place. The pressure of the hold was just this side of painful, the wild light in t Illya's cornered blue eyes barely controlled.

"Illya..." Solo reasoned.

"Napoleon, please, can we not leave it like this? It gives me...great joy to bring you pleasure..."

"I want to return the favor," Solo gently insisted.

"You know that is not possible."

Solo propped his head up on his elbow so that he could better see his companion's face. "You said you had partial function," he carefully reminded.

"Partial is...an exaggeration. I said minimal function," Illya corrected in a frighteningly dead tone.

"Minimal is still more than none," Napoleon pointed out.

Again he received that near contemptuous snort. "The difference is so miniscule as to hardly merit argument."

"Won't you even let me try to please you?" Solo pleaded, feeling like he was slamming into a stone wall.

"There is no point to it, Napoleon," Illya sadly denied. "Can we not end this evening on a pleasant note?"

"No point?" the astonished Solo repeated, his insides twisting in sympathetic pain at the desolate despair in those vivid blue eyes. He couldn't even conceive the degree of hurt his courageous young friend must have endured to make Illya this reluctant. "Illya, please...trust me enough to share this with me. However far we go together, it will be pleasant for you. You have my word on that."

At Solo's request for trust, Illya's fair lidded eyes snapped shut, his slender body going very still. When they reopened, Illya's face was set with bleak determination. "If you insist," Illya snapped, his tone and features abrupt and tight.

Before Solo could utter another word, Illya sat up in the bed and began tugging off his clothes. Shirt and undershirt landed on the floor beside shoes and socks. Then, a peculiar intensity settled over Illya as he rose to his feet and turned his back to remove his trousers.

Solo watched the play of muscles through his partner's broad, powerful back. His breath caught as the fall of trousers and underpants revealed Illya's dimpled butt. The flat, muscular globes were white as spilt milk, startlingly beautiful.

Illya stood with his back to his partner for a long moment, as if gathering his composure. Then he turned back to the bed, his face a mask of stone.

That icy glare pinned him, making Napoleon pray that the instinctive quiver that shot through him as he surveyed his partner's damaged flesh didn't carry over onto his features. The slightest show of disappointment and he could lose Illya forever.

"So, tell me, Napoleon, was it worth the wait?" Illya demanded with fury.

If he hadn't sensed the fear hiding beneath that impenetrable facade, his partner's tone would have set off his own formidable temper. As it was, Solo offered a reasonable facsimile of his normal smile. "It will be when you get back over here."

His unperturbed response obviously wasn't what his friend had anticipated. Illya climbed back into the bed, his tentative moves making it look like he thought the mattress land mined.

"That's better," Solo approved once his nervous partner was settled beside him.

Unable to curb his eager fingers, Solo reached out to stroke a nearby shoulder, finding that ghostly white flesh fully as soft as he'd fantasized.

"You're like velvet," Napoleon murmured, cuddling closer to Illya, who was lying there like a corpse set out on display.

Deciding to view the rigid tension for the fear it no doubt was, Solo cautiously laid his arm across his partner's pale, concave belly. When the move wasn't immediately rejected, he threw one leg over his companion's and tentatively nuzzled at Illya's delectable neck.

The experience was rather like seducing some wild creature. Solo had the feeling that from one second to the next this stony indifference could alter to either lethal fury or panicked flight.

As he kissed his way down that luscious throat, Solo allowed his curious gaze to wander to areas he hadn't dared caress yet.

Illya's bare chest, though not quite as developed as Solo's in either musculature or body hair, was nonetheless impressive. The smooth stretch of porcelain skin seemed endless. Not until Illya's lower stomach did any trace of body hair mar its perfection. Illya's shaft lay pink and somnolent in its golden thatch between his athletic thighs. From this angle the damage wasn't all that noticeable.

"You're like a snow bank that someone dropped gold filings and pink rosebuds into," Solo declared, reaching out his index finger to tentatively rim the pink bud of nipple which his right hand rested near.

Illya's body jerked, a shocked gasp forcing its way out at Napoleon's delicate touch.

Solo met the startled gaze and asked. "Do you like that, Illya?"

"I...yes s s s," Illya hissed as Solo intensified the stimulation.

Napoleon grinned with elation as he felt the tiny nub of flesh beneath his finger harden like a small pebble. Absurdly pleased by the response, he leaned over and kissed the parted lips, delving deep.

When he raised his head a long, breathless time later, Solo softly asked, "Illya?"

"Mmmm?"

"Do you know Stanley Jowalski in Sect. 7?"

Illya blinked up at him in visible confusion at Solo's asking such a thing at such a highly inappropriate moment. "Yes, of course, I know him. Why do you ask?"

"His friends all call him Stasha. I was wondering, did you ever have a nickname like that?" It was something Napoleon had wondered for a long time, but never really felt comfortable asking.

"Yes. Back in Kiev my friends called me Iloosha, but my mother always said that was too much of a mouthful for such a small boy. My family called me `loosha. I haven't been known by that name in many years, though." Illya gently rubbed his hand through Solo's hair. "Are you asking simply out of curiosity?"

"Would it bother you if I called you that – when we're alone together?" Solo qualified, still not sure his reserved friend would care for such a liberty.

To his surprise, Illya seemed strangely touched by the request. "No, it would not bother me, Napoleon."

"Thank you." Solo smiled, caressing his new lover's face, cherishing everything about the man. "It's going to be all right, `loosha. I promise. Just try to trust me a little. All right?" Solo begged, wanting this to work so badly that he was nearly desperate.

Solo felt a quiver run the entire length of Illya at the use of that old nickname.

"I...trust...you," Kuryakin surprised him by admitting.

"That's good, very good. Because this is going to be different than anything you've ever known before," Solo vowed, then questioned, "Can you believe that?"

Obviously poised on the edge of shocked belief, Illya nodded. "Almost." Then, as Solo kissed each of his facial features in turn, Illya sighed. "You are very good at this, Napoleon."

Delighted, Solo continued his attentions, making his careful, thorough way downwards.

Privately, Napoleon was rather amazed at how responsive Illya was to him. Although there didn't appear to be any change in the flaccid shaft which Solo had yet to touch, every one of his caresses seemed to rock Illya down to the very foundation of his being. Illya's helpless gasps and moans gave Solo the suspicion that no one had taken the time to do this for Illya before. Considering the prickly resistance and scathing sarcasm Solo had had to overcome to get to this stage, he could fully understand. He'd almost balked himself and he was used to Kuryakin the Ice Man. He could only imagine how that acidic response had affected the sweet Marion Raven and others of her ilk. The poor girl had probably fled at Illya's first snarl.

He took his time pleasuring his friend, playing Illya's body like a maestro violinist. But at last Solo was left with no choice but to home in on the one area he'd been unconsciously avoiding.

He could feel Illya's gaze burning into the side of his face as he tentatively collected Illya's shaft in his palm. All that work, and his friend wasn't even noticeably hard.

"Not very pretty, is it?" Illya quietly asked.

"It's not as bad as I remember," Solo responded in a subdued tone, studying the area with a critical eye.

Solo was surprised to discover that he wasn't lying. The damage he was looking at was horrible, but not nearly as viscerally repulsive as he recalled. Illya's right testicle was entirely gone, an angry red trail of puckered stitches showing where the surgeons had sewn the skin closed again. The left organ had fared slightly better. Though nowhere near complete and somewhat deformed in shape, more than an inch of the testicle remained. When he noticed the trail of stitches across the sensitive skin of what was left of the sac, Napoleon could only imagine the agony his young friend must have endured.

Illya was right; it wasn't pretty, but Solo was certain that they could deal with it.

"Is there any pain?" Napoleon questioned, giving the penis in his palm a gentle squeeze that would have turned his own cock to iron in a second. For all the response of the flesh he held, he might just as well have waved at the organ.

"No pain."

"What about pleasure?" Solo continued with as much detachment as he could muster, needing to know what he was up against.

"I feel...much, but...the response is very limited. As you can see," Illya glumly gestured at what Napoleon's hands were doing to his unresponsive body.

"Hey, we just started," Napoleon gently chided. "Give yourself some time."

"Napoleon, it can take a very long time," Illya warned.

"We've got all night." Solo grinned. Not understanding, he watched those pale cheeks fill with color. "What is it, `loosha?" he asked softly, having meant only to encourage his friend to relax.

Illya seemed to force himself to meet his gaze.

"Sometimes, I will try all night and...it will come to nothing."

"Does what I'm doing now feel good?" Solo asked.

"Very good," Illya softly replied, stroking down Solo's tanned arm until his pale hand encountered his companion's darker counterpart.

"Then let's concentrate on that and not worry about time limits. Agreed?" Solo asked with a rakish grin.

Illya's smile was endearingly shy. "Agreed, and, Napoleon...thank you."

"For what? I'm having the time of my life, `loosha," Solo confessed, somewhat surprised to realize that the words were true. Though everything he was doing here with Illya was far more tentative and awkward than his usual displays of technique and prowess, there was something much more real and touching to this encounter. Maybe it was because, for perhaps the first time in his checkered life, pleasing someone else was more important to Napoleon than satisfying his own needs.

Highly sensitive to his companion's slightest response, Solo manipulated his partner's shaft, concentrating on the touches that appeared to give Illya the most satisfaction.

After a few moments of stroking and pumping the determinedly uninterested organ, Solo mustered the courage to dare the scarred flesh below it. He stroked through the golden patch of wiry pubic hair, lightly skimming the scars of the missing testicle. When that feather light brush whispered across the puckered remnants of Illya's surviving left sac, Illya let out a startled gasp.

Solo was shocked to feel the shaft he still held cradled in his left hand give a responsive jerk, hardening perhaps a little. It wasn't much, but Napoleon felt as though they'd just passed a major stumbling block.

Close to an hour later, Napoleon realized that what he was doing wasn't going to be enough to do the trick. Illya needed something more...something the role conscious Solo wasn't certain he could give.

Illya had done it to him with such ease in the park last month and then again tonight, sucking him off as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to be doing. But for his entire life, Napoleon had been taught that such things were wrong, perverse.

And what you're doing now isn't, the realist in him challenged. What matter did it make if he used his hands or his mouth? He'd set out tonight to seduce another man and succeeded. The time to be scared off by labels and other people's opinions was long past. He was committed to this course now and there was no way he could back out in good conscience.

Nor did Solo possess any true desire to back out. He wanted Illya, wanted to see his partner happy and fulfilled. Whatever it took to achieve that goal, Solo was more than happy to pay the price.

And yet, it took all his courage to cast aside his inhibitions. Faced with the reality of what he knew he must do, Napoleon experienced a burst of unexpected sympathy for all those squeamish young women whom he'd talked into performing this particular service for him over the years. Until this moment, he'd never truly known how much he was asking from those girls.

Overcoming his demons one by one, Solo slowly bent his head towards his friend's groin.

To his surprise, Napoleon found his lowering head intercepted by a pair of firm hands.

"No, Napoleon, you needn't do that."

"What?" His breathing somewhat accelerated by the heady, enticing scent of the flesh he was approaching, he glanced up at his partner's face. The hungry glitter in Illya's eyes told Solo how much it had taken for his companion to refuse him.

"Earlier...you said the thought of performing this...particular action made you gag. I would not have you..."

"Illya..." Solo sighed in affectionate exasperation. His partner knew him too well. "A month ago all of this would have had a similar effect. Please, my friend, accept what I want to give."

He turned his face into the hand resting near his left cheek, burying his mouth in the moist palm. Solo allowed his tongue to peek out to sample the sweat beaded there, his eyes locked all the while on Illya's uncertain gaze.

It was amazing how much those normally insouciant features gave away once you learned to read them, Solo thought. He could almost feel the reactive quiver that coursed through his slender partner.

The golden head gave a consenting nod. "As you will."

Released, Solo turned towards his target.

Feeling Illya's eyes upon him, Napoleon quickly bent towards the prize he held in his left hand.

Illya's salty, musky scent flooded his senses as he neared his objective.

He could feel the anticipation tensing through Illya's body. Illya's breaths were more ragged, his muscles hard as rock.

Even before Solo actually made contact with the organ, he could feel it responding, hardening as Illya became more and more excited by the knowledge of what Solo was about to do.

The touch of his breath on the semi-erect flesh elicited another gasp from above.

"You're beautiful here, `loosha. No matter what you might have been told or thought yourself in the past, you're beautiful here," Solo murmured hotly, meaning everything he said. His own breathing was a mite too rapid...and it wasn't caused by fear. Solo still wasn't entirely sanguine about what he was going to do, but there was a part of him that hungered for the new experience, no doubt the same part of him that made him an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

Napoleon had expected that there would be some final hesitation on his own part when the moment came, but once he was close enough, his tongue reached out greedily for the rosy shaft.

Illya cried out loud at that first, delicate contact.

Knowing what he liked himself, Solo flicked his tongue tip back and forth across the circumcised head. Judging from the vocal emissions from the top of the bed, it was a pleasure he shared with his partner.

Turned on by the taste of the hardening shaft, as well as Illya's helpless response, Solo grew more daring. He nuzzled his way up and down the cock, loving the small cries that came from above.

In Solo's book, this was a hell of a lot more than minimal function. His heart all but broke as he considered all the joy his young friend had denied himself over the years. But Napoleon was determined to make up for it tonight, to make up for everything Illya had suffered. This night was for his partner, and he was going to do everything in his power to please his friend.

When he reached the base of the shaft on his third or fourth reconnaissance, Solo pressed his lips against the stitches that were all that could be found where Illya's right testicle should have been. He slipped his tongue out, licking the scarred area, loving every inch of the body below him.

"Napoleon..."

Solo had never heard such emotion in Illya's voice. When Illya's hands found their way into his hair, Solo expected to be hauled away from the damaged area. But Illya's fingers simply carded through his short brown hair, pushing him closer.

"No one's ever...ahhh...Napoleon..."

The corners of Napoleon's lips curved upward as he continued to work his tongue over the remnants of Illya's left ball, feeling the stitches like hardened scabs against the velvet softness. On impulse, he sucked the scarred flesh into his mouth, feeling his companion go wild.

"Ah... korosho... ochen korosho. Pojoloosta..."

As Illya's ragged encouragements progressed beyond Solo's meager knowledge of Russian, he consoled himself by recognizing the frenzied emotions behind the foreign words.

Never again was Illya going to be able to declare that there was no point in allowing someone to touch him. As Solo finally sucked the almost completely aroused cock into his mouth, he made sure of it.

Time seemed to blur after that. Solo knew that he'd been sucking and caressing Illya for at least three times as long as it would take to bring most men to climax, but it didn't matter to him. Each second of extra work was worth it now that they were finally here.

Illya's first thrust deep into his throat nearly choked the unprepared Solo. Coughing, he pulled back, gathered his reserves and tried again.

It was a testament to how high he'd taken Illya that his bucking partner didn't even notice the incident.

Solo's jaw was aching, his throat protesting the intruding bulk that kept barreling down it, but he did his best to hold out. He knew that once he got a hang of this and developed some kind of rhythm, it would be much easier, but right now it was hard going. Still, Illya was unquestionably enjoying himself. As that was what Napoleon had set out to achieve, he breathed as best he could and hung on for dear life.

But it did seem to be taking an unnaturally long time for Illya to come.

Solo found himself panicking that maybe it wouldn't be enough. After all his arrogant assurances and the time they'd spent working on it, perhaps Illya's flesh was really too damaged to achieve orgasm. He recalled the desolate tone with which Illya had confessed the number of times he'd attempted to bring himself to climax and failed. What if this were to be another such disappointment?

Well, what if it were? The optimist in Solo firmly countered. What did it really matter what stage they reached, so long as his friend enjoyed the ride?

And, there was no denying that his wildly thrashing partner was anything but consumed by the sensations coursing through him.

Listening to those small animal cries of pleasure that Illya couldn't hold in, Solo knew that no one else had ever taken his friend this far. The expression contorting the handsome face, half ecstasy, half agony, made it clear that Illya wasn't certain he'd even survive the unfamiliar delights ripping through him.

All physical discomfort aside, nothing had ever moved Solo as deeply as the sight of this normally dispassionate, self-sufficient man moaning and pleading for the least of his touches. It was a heady, yet humbling gift to be given.

Sensing that if Illya were to achieve completion, it would require something more than just this sucking, Solo was temporarily at a loss. His jaw was almost broken from the strain. What more could he possibly do?

Illya arched up again, plunging his shaft deep into Solo's throat and temporarily dislodging Napoleon's supporting hands. It was a close call, but Solo just managed to keep his teeth from grazing that ultra-sensitive shaft as he was jarred.

Abruptly reminded of his hands, inspiration struck.

Solo grasped both sides of the pale, flat, muscular butt. When next Illya thrust up at him, he gave the beautiful ass a gentle squeeze.

The results were anything but gentle. Illya's scream rang through the room.

Seeing the way, Napoleon found a syncopated rhythm that seemed to work best with Illya's steady pistoning. He could feel the energy gathering in his friend's body, could sense how desperate Illya was to reach orgasm. Illya was close, Napoleon could feel it as if it were his own body.

Still not enough?

Knowing that one last jolt was required, Solo did the only thing he could think of.

As Illya thrust up at him again, on the point of dying from the prolonged ride were his expression anything to go by, Napoleon freed his right hand and blindly plunged it between the cheeks of Illya's ass. Feeling his middle finger bump the tight ring of muscle hidden there, Napoleon simply pressed against the aperture, making no true move to violate its sanctity.

His guess proved correct. A hoarse shout exploded from Illya as Napoleon's finger grazed the sensitive opening, then his straining partner's body at last spasmed.

Napoleon was amazed to feel his own slow built arousal peak with his Illya's coming.

After the incredible climb, Solo had expected a geyzer to come gushing out of his friend, but the results were somewhat less substantial. An anemic spurt squirted the back of Solo's throat, the fruits of their union automatically swallowed before Napoleon even had an opportunity to sample their flavor. Then, as though an electric circuit were broken, the organ in his mouth immediately deflated.

His own climax continued for some time longer. Even though Solo usually came more than once a night, this second orgasm surprised him, for it was a spontaneous reaction. He'd been concentrating so hard on Illya, that he hadn't even thought of himself once. That another's pleasure could so inspire him...it was mind boggling.

Some time passed before Solo recovered enough to realize he could release the flaccid organ in his mouth and relieve the pressure in his aching jaw.

His heart still pounding like a jack hammer while each breath did its best to evade his lungs, Solo sat up and looked towards his partner's face. Illya was so still that one would almost think him dead.

"I'd say that was hardly minimal, my friend." Solo smiled, feeling unbelievably at peace.

Illya simply stared at him with such incredulous wonder that it made even the self-assured Napoleon uncomfortable.

Partly because the moment seemed to call for it, and partly because the need to touch Illya again was like a physical ache in his chest, Solo lay down beside his partner and kissed the man, the tenderness he felt so overwhelming that he thought he'd melt.

As he leaned forward to take that luscious mouth, he pretended not to notice the tracks of wetness seeping from Illya's eyes, aware that his proud friend would not want him to draw attention to his helpless reaction.

"Napoleon..." Illya began once their lips parted, words seeming to fail him.

"Are you all right, Illya?" he gently questioned, having no idea what affect such a cataclysmic experience would have on his partner.

Illya seemed to consider his response for some time, or perhaps he was still too overcome to take proper stock of himself, as the stunned quality about Illya seemed to suggest. "I...Napoleon, it has not been like that for me since before... before..."

"I know," Solo soothed. Rolling over onto his side, he threw a protective arm across his unresisting partner.

"I did not believe such feelings were possible anymore," Illya admitted, his fingers gently brushing Solo's dimpled chin as if to assure himself of the other man's reality.

"You underestimate yourself, my friend," Solo softly observed.

"No, it was you," Illya protested. "The things you did... it was like magic."

"I didn't do anything that anyone else wouldn't have done, if you'd let them get close enough to you," Napoleon pointed out.

"Others have been that close. They could never..." The words trailed away.

Before the memories Solo could see in those crystal eyes had a chance to shadow their joy, Napoleon cheerfully asked, "So, do I get another night?"

He didn't understand why Illya suddenly seemed almost afraid. After what they'd just shared, there should be only laughter and trust between them, but from the haunted expression in the suddenly serious gaze and Illya's almost fatalistic tone, it was clear he was seeing something Solo didn't. "Yes, Napoleon, you may have as many nights as you wish."

It was more than Solo could have wished for. Still, he couldn't understand the younger man's puzzling mood. Illya looked as though he'd just sold his soul to the Devil.

Trying to overlook his companion's strange response, Solo brightly began, "Good. Tomorrow night after work we can go out to..."

"Did you not arrange an assignation with Miss Baker in records for tomorrow night?" Illya interrupted.

"What? Oh, yes, I suppose I did." He'd forgotten that Illya had been present when he'd asked the pretty brunette out. "But it was tentative at best. I'm sure the lady won't be heartbroken if..."

"You must keep your date, Napoleon," Illya insisted, an intense resolve settling over his features.

"What are you saying? You can't want me to...?" Solo didn't understand. He'd never felt anything like the complex web of warm, protective emotions that had settled over him in the last few hours. For possibly the first time in his life, he didn't want to be with someone different the next night. He wanted to be with Illya tomorrow night and so many tomorrows after that that it frightened him. But it didn't scare him so much that he'd back off from the feeling. The idea that Illya wouldn't want him the same way was intensely painful.

Something of what Solo was feeling must have shown in his face, for Illya caressed his cheek very lovingly, those blue eyes warm and incredibly soft, "No, Napoleon, I do not want you to keep your date. I would very much like to monopolize your attention...for as long as I could hold it."

"Then what's the problem?" For there was one, Solo could feel it in his bones.

"What we have begun here tonight, if we were to continue..."

"If?" Solo interrupted.

This was difficult for Illya, Solo could see that, but Illya appeared determined to get through it, "Were...this type of relationship to become public knowledge, our jobs would be forfeited..."

"U.N.C.L.E. has very strict non discrimination policies," Solo protested, "They'd never..."

"Napoleon, I am not discussing U.N.C.L.E. rules and policy. If it were just U.N.C.L.E. involved, I would not care. But in our line of work, we must appear faultless. There must be no weak link to exploit, no...prisoner of fortune to be used against us by our enemies."

"You're saying that THRUSH might..." At last Solo began to understand.

"Use our feelings for each other to influence our behavior," Illya finished the thought for him. "The only way I can see to prevent that from happening – short of discontinuing this aspect of our relationship – is for our normal behavior patterns to remain unchanged on the outside."

As much as Solo hated to admit it, his partner was right. THRUSH was always digging for U.N.C.L.E. agents with weak spots. A gambling habit, a fiancé, a grey haired old mother... anything that THRUSH could use to corrupt an U.N.C.L.E. agent, it would.

"You're not saying that you want to stop being together like this, are you?" Solo checked. Only one night, and he didn't think he could give it up. He really had it bad.

"It goes against my better judgment, but, no, I do not want to give this up." Illya's next words made Solo wonder if his partner sensed how vulnerable he felt at the moment, how very much Napoleon needed a reassurance which his pride wouldn't allow him to ask for aloud. "The sentiment is perhaps uncharacteristic, but...I feel as if you have brought me back to life tonight, Napoleon. I am reluctant to return to the ranks of the dead."

Solo pressed his partner close to him, whispering, "We'll find a way to make it work, `loosha."

"But tomorrow you will take Miss Baker out, will you not?" Illya hounded like a nagging mother.

"I'll take her out," Solo promised, glad that it was a first date and that the girl wouldn't be expecting anything more of him than a wonderful night on the town. For the first time in his life, he was finding his hard-won reputation difficult to live up to.

"And you will continue your normal socializing?" Illya sounded like he was hammering out the details of a multimillion dollar oil deal.

Solo could not believe the reluctance with which he was facing this issue. How many times in the past had he bailed out of an affair because the woman he was involved with wanted a monogamous relationship?

Here was Illya detailing what sounded like the perfect set up, where Solo would be allowed to indulge all his fancies and still have this incredible man as his lover, and he was depressed over it. Napoleon couldn't figure out what was wrong with him. Was he crazy? This was a dream come true and he was greeting it like a punishment.

"Well, Napoleon, do you agree?"

"Within reason. I intend to guarantee that we have time together," Solo named his own terms.

Absurdly relieved, Napoleon saw his partner smile with joy.

"Good."

"So what do you say, are you free tomorrow night after I've taken Miss Baker home from dinner?"

"Napoleon, you are incorrigible." Illya gave one of his rare, charming laughs. "And the answer is no."

"Ah, well, what about the next night?" Napoleon was nothing if not persistent.

"Napoleon, really..." Illya appeared about to choke on his laughter.

"My calendar's free. What about yours? Say yes, Illya...please..." Solo shamelessly turned on the charm.

"Against my better judgment, yes," Illya surrendered with a smile.

And so, in violation of Illya's better judgment and in defiance of all of Solo's previous habits, began the affair of a lifetime.

If asked beforehand, Napoleon would have given the entire insane idea two months, tops. Their very different personalities and interests aside, he simply could never have imagined that another man or any woman could hold his never constant attention longer than it would take for the novelty of the sex to wear off.

But he'd never counted on Illya beforehand, never considered what it would be like to be Illya's lover, to be the sole recipient of his ardor.

Illya got in his blood like a drug or other addictive substance. Solo couldn't have quit the man if he tried.

*~*~*

CHAPTER FIVE

As events transpired, nearly a week passed before they were able to clear time to be alone together as something more than working partners.

The case which interfered with their personal plans was no different than most of their others – another THRUSH madman out to conquer the world, which Waverly once again called upon Illya and him to save. When Napoleon actually had time to think about it, it was somewhat frightening how often the fate of the entire planet seemed to fall into his partner and his own all too mortal hands. Always, Solo was aware that one screw up, one single momentary lapse of attention while on duty, could cost them a lot more than just their own lives. For that reason, they had to be better than perfect.

Although normally having the fate of mankind thrust upon their shoulders was a burden Solo was all too happy to do without, in this particular instance he was grateful for the severity of the case. Since that night at Illya's, Napoleon hadn't been able to help but worry that his altered feelings for Illya would interfere with his ability to perform his job. He was concerned that when it came down to the wire, his increased emotional attachment to his partner would make him careless about his other responsibilities, perhaps to the point where he'd put their personal happiness above others' welfare.

But to Napoleon's intense relief, that hadn't happened. Even when THRUSH's chief psychopath held Illya prisoner, threatening the captured U.N.C.L.E. agent's life should Solo fail to comply with his wishes, Napoleon managed to hold it together long enough to finish the case.

Now, on their way home from the airport, side by side in the long silver convertible with the salmon leather upholstery, it felt very good just to be alive.

"Have you any plans tonight, Napoleon?" Illya asked as they drove over the Triboro bridge from Queens to Manhattan.

It was one of those rare, clear June afternoons, when the sun smiled down on the East River out of a spotless blue sky, the gentle breeze off the water keeping the smog at bay, the city skyline shining bright and clear as a new silver dollar.

Solo grinned at the tentative question. Illya knew as well as he that the demands of the case hadn't allowed them time enough to order a pizza delivery, let alone arrange a date. Napoleon was secretly pleased that it was Illya who made the first move towards their next meeting.

"Only being with you," Napoleon smoothly replied. He was glad they'd pulled the convertible's top down. The play of wind and sunlight through his partner's golden hair was truly breathtaking.

His reply earned him one of those fleeting, shy smiles that Solo knew he'd walk through fire for.

"What would you like to do?" Illya politely enquired.

"You know what I want to do," Napoleon responded. "The only question is where – your place or mine?"

"Which would you prefer?"

"The closest," Solo decided, wanting to touch his partner so badly that it hurt.

"Yours, then," Illya determined, turning the car towards the upper east side. Illya's Village digs would have taken them another half hour, what with traffic and finding a parking space. Solo's bachelor apartment had the added luxury of an underground garage.

The instant his sixth floor apartment door closed behind them, Solo pulled his partner into a tight embrace.

With a surprised `ummpf', Illya gave himself over to the kiss.

When they parted for air a good fifteen minutes later, the breathless Illya asked, "Dinner?"

"What?" a dazed Solo responded, more interested in undoing Illya's shirt buttons. Illya's navy blue jacket and tie were already a dark puddle of cloth on the rug at their feet.

"What are we going to do for dinner?" Illya repeated.

Solo gazed at the man out of a passionate haze. "You can't be serious?"

His partner made no verbal reply, but a pleading light entered his stunning blue eyes.

Solo couldn't believe that he'd ever considered those eyes cold and unreadable. In the past week, it seemed to him that Illya could convey whole tomes of information with a single flicker of his gaze.

He found himself ridiculously susceptible to that silent entreaty. "You do know that you're a slave to your stomach, don't you?" Napoleon grudgingly conceded, stepping clear of temptation. He bent to retrieve both their jackets and ties from the floor.

"Yes, but I believe we will both feel better once we've eaten," Illya answered.

"I was feeling just fine a few minutes ago."

"If you'd rather..." Illya deferred.

"No, then I'll just have to listen to your stomach growl all night. Come on, there must be something still edible in the kitchen," Solo offered.

Their energy stores bolstered by a makeshift dinner of spaghetti, jarred sauce, and bacon, they finally reached Solo's bedroom. The closed in room somewhat stuffy, Solo opened the terrace door to let in the breeze.

Napoleon had anticipated some degree of awkwardness to linger between them, but once they were alone together beside that luxurious queen sized bed, Illya seemed almost eager to shed his clothes.

Amazed and delighted by the change in his companion, Solo quickly followed suit.

"This seems rather decadent," Illya commented as he removed his shoes and socks, the last impediments to getting rid of his trousers. Illya's shirt and undershirt had joined the growing mound of jackets, ties and other garments piled on Solo's desk chair.

"How's that?" Napoleon inquired.

"Going to bed when it's still broad daylight outside." Illya gestured at the sun bathed terrace visible behind the shifting diaphanous white curtain.

"You aren't suggesting that we should wait until after dark, are you?"

Solo's incredulous question was met with one of Illya's rare, rich chuckles. "Hardly. Perhaps there is room for a little decadence in every life."

"What's wrong?" Solo turned upon hearing a pronounced, indrawn breath that almost sounded like a pain-filled gasp.

They'd both taken their share of punches and bumps on this mission. One could never tell when a seemingly harmless blow would cause later complications.

Illya stood naked beside the bed, his wide, somewhat heated gaze intent on Napoleon's bare flesh. "Daylight becomes you, Napoleon."

Having expected trouble, Solo was temporarily confused by the reply. "What?"

"My room was so dark last week that there was little opportunity to appreciate the gift I was given," Illya surprised him by admitting. "Your body is very beautiful, Napoleon."

Unaccustomed to receiving such open compliments, Solo felt his cheeks warm. Although, watching the play of dappled sunlight and shadows across that slender, golden body, Napoleon could well appreciate what motivated his companion. "At least the dark hid the bruises last week." Solo observed. Both their forearms and legs bore a livid collection of black, blue, and purple souvenirs of the recent action. Illya's enigmatic smile seemed to fill the room.

Trapped by its mysteries, Solo dropped his folded clothes to the floor and approached his companion, feeling that it was the magnetic polarity operating between them that pulled him to Illya rather than simply his own will. He couldn't have resisted the silent summons of those eyes if he'd tried.

The shock of all that cool naked flesh against his own blazing body shivered through Solo's nervous system. The minute he pressed himself against that flat, muscular belly, he went instantly and painfully hard. "`loosha..." he murmured after the resulting kiss, the word itself a desperate caress.

"Indeed," Illya whispered, leaning his forehead against Solo's sternum as if to draw strength from the contact.

Napoleon's hands couldn't stop roving Illya's bare back, coming to rest more and more frequently on Illya's silky soft butt. The gentle curves seemed designed for his hands, so perfect did they fit his palms. Unable to resist, he gave the thin globes a squeeze, eliciting a strangled gasp.

"Napoleon..."

"I was worried that you'd never want to do this again once you'd had time to think things through," Solo confessed. "The hours have seemed...ahh...endless."

Illya sighed, throwing his head back in catlike appreciation of the sensations coursing through him from Solo's latest squeeze.

Their lips fastened upon each other in another unending kiss, during which Illya's right hand snaked between their close pressed bodies to caress Solo in his most sensitive area.

"Uhh..." Senses swimming, Napoleon broke free. "Shall we move to the bed – or would you rather the floor? We'll be down there in a second if we keep this up."

"The bed...sounds like a wise idea."

Solo loved the unfocused air that settled over his characteristically controlled partner.

The bed was an exquisite blend of cool sheets and burning flesh. Their mouths devouring each other, Solo rolled on top of Illya, needing to feel his partner's skin against every inch of his body. His undulating hips pressed his burning erection into Illya's as yet unaroused organ, Napoleon doing his very best to fuse them together.

Feeling those powerful hands on his shoulders tugging him closer, Napoleon knew his partner felt the same.

"It's so good, Napoleon...so good..." Illya murmured as Solo's lips dropped to the alabaster neck.

His own need a scorching flame in his loins, Napoleon worked at his lover's pleasure. The time he spent at those sensitive, pink nipples left Illya squirming and gasping for breath. But still Illya's beautiful, rosy cock remained resolutely unimpressed.

Solo swooped down upon it like a striking eagle. He engulfed Illya's shaft in a greedy gulp. Using tongue and mouth to best effect in recently acquired talents, Solo lavished his attentions upon the perfectly shaped penis and the damaged flesh below, willing a response. "Please, baby, please get hard. I want us to come together this time," Solo begged the soft flesh, his frustrations rising by the second. U.N.C.L.E. agents generally possessed an amazingly accurate time sense. By Solo's estimation, it had been a good forty minutes since they started, and his partner was still completely flaccid.

"Forgive me, Napoleon," Illya gasped out, visibly inundated by Solo's attentions, for all that his sex stubbornly refused to show it. "It...takesss...a verry long...time..."

"But last time you..."

"I had spent a considerable time arousing you," Illya reminded. "The excitement carried over...here, allow me to..."

Intercepting Illya's quick move, Solo guided his companion back against the powder blue sheets. Guilt stricken by the embarrassed, apologetic explanation, he cursed his own body's impatience.

"It is I who must apologize, `loosha. We have time, as much time as we need..." Napoleon assured, his balls an aching, twisted knot.

Solo gulped in a deep breath and tried to ease his discomfort.

With the rush of oxygen, came a new idea. "Illya, do you remember Dr. Carter?"

"The lovely Dr. Carter who assisted in this last case?" Illya asked, sounding understandably puzzled by the question.

"The very same. You know her special field of study is the human autonomic nervous system?" Solo questioned, as if he weren't nuzzling his partner's cock.

"Yes, of course, but what has any of this to do with..?"

"Well, last night during dinner, I asked her if there were anything that could be done to stimulate someone who'd suffered..."

"You discussed my situation with her?" Illya's body turned to lead.

His companion's strained, horrified tone brought Solo's reassuring words out quickly. It also cooled some of his ardor. "No, I discussed the case of an imaginary brother-in-law, who supposedly suffered war wounds over in Viet Nam." Napoleon was relieved to feel most of the unnatural tension seep from his partner's muscles.

"To what end?" Illya demanded, the tight inquiry telling Solo that he wasn't off the hook yet.

Thinking that it were better if they had this particular conversation face to face, Solo raised his head, continuing to absently pet Illya's privates while he explained. "Forgive me if I...overstepped myself, but...it seemed as if Fate brought her to us at the exact time I had need of someone of her expertise. She, ah, suggested something that might...be of aid to us."

The relief he felt when he saw the hardness and anger leave those magnetic blue eyes was almost dizzying.

"Napoleon, you have done all that is humanly possible," Illya gently insisted.

"Not quite everything. Dr. Carter had one suggestion which...well, I'm not sure it will appeal to you." Napoleon's words trailed off. This was even worse than when he'd asked the lovely doctor his bizarre question.

"You are blushing, Napoleon," Illya pointed out, reaching down to rub his index finger along Napoleon's flaming cheek.

"Yes, well..." Solo felt like a blithering idiot. He had no idea of how he was going to enact his plan when he hadn't the nerve to suggest it to his partner.

"What did your Dr. Carter suggest?" Illya asked mildly. "Come now, it cannot be that shocking to a man of your...experience."

"She's not my Dr. Carter," Solo instantly denied.

"Be that as it may. What did she say, Napoleon? You have intrigued me."

"Now, I'm not saying that we should do this," Solo cravenly denied all responsibility for the possible time bomb he was about to set off, "but Dr. Carter suggested that...internal stimulation of the prostate gland might greatly increase response." He was careful to phrase his idea as scientifically as possible.

"Internal stim..? Oh...I see." There was no catastrophic explosion, but the pensive silence wore almost as gratingly on Napoleon's nerves. "You would be...interested in such an act?"

Illya's features gave Solo no clue as to his partner's true feelings about the suggestion. Illya could be utterly repulsed by the concept or open to the new experience. That damn impassivity gave nothing away. Even Illya's eyes appeared flat and watchful.

His throat strangely tight, Solo offered the truth, on the premise that he could only die once. "I...believe it might be of assistance to us, but...if you find it the least bit offensive, we needn't continue this discussion."

"How would you feel about it, Napoleon?" Illya threw the ball back into his court again.

Solo considered his answer carefully.

This was a very touchy topic. They were both so conscious of their masculinity, of remaining strong in each other's eyes, that neither of them was comfortable taking the risk of being the first to be honest about their feelings on the controversial issues this new aspect of their relationship constantly raised.

The fact that Illya hadn't decked him immediately was immensely promising. Still, there was no guarantee that calm would hold.

Illya was as much of a man as he was. This wasn't something a proud man would easily submit to. Solo wasn't sure how he'd feel about it himself, were their positions reversed. The idea of anything, even something so slender as a single finger, entering that particular orifice made him squirm inside.

"I've never done it before," Solo explained. "But...if you're not offended by the idea, I'm willing to try it."

Illya glanced away.

"I know it's a lot to ask," Solo said softly. "Does the idea...disgust you?"

Napoleon saw Illya's Adam's apple bob in his long, graceful throat. "No, Napoleon, the idea does not disgust me. It is merely...challenging."

Obviously not the kind of challenge one went rushing into.

"We don't have to decide tonight," Solo offered. "Come, we'll just..."

"No," Illya denied, seeming to be taking his own measure. "If neither of us finds the idea repulsive, we should investigate its potential." Illya sounded as if he were trying to convince himself.

"We don't have to..." Solo was sorry he'd opened his big mouth. The discussion had all but killed the mood. His own erection was nearly as flat as Illya's at the moment.

"Ultimately, it is a matter of trust, Napoleon," Illya declared, his gaze and touch strangely tender.

"What?" Solo inquired.

"Other than yourself, there is not a single person on this planet I could envision having even so much as this conversation with, let alone the experience. That...is not a touch I ever encouraged, even in my days of boyhood exploration," Illya admitted. "It was simply... too close to the ultimate form of penetration, especially with another man."

"I understand," Solo assured. "We don't have to..."

"Napoleon, you are not listening to me," Illya protested with an amazingly warm look, "You, I trust to do this with."

A lump the size of a football had lodged itself in Solo's throat. "Are...are you sure, `loosha?" he tested when he could speak again.

"Completely. Come, let us get back to – how do you say? – business."

"If you're certain..." Solo agreed at Illya's ready nod.

Realizing that they were going to require a lubricant for the final stage, Solo quickly fished a Vaseline jar out of the drawer of his night table.

"I see that you are prepared for all occasions," Illya nervously commented.

"You know the Boy Scouts' motto..." Solo grinned.

"No, Napoleon..."

"I know," he interrupted, completing Illya's familiar, affectionately exasperated comment, "they didn't have The Boy Scouts of America in the Ukraine." At Illya's hearty chuckle, Solo gave the pale belly a playful kiss before returning his attentions to more interesting regions.

It was funny, but even after just a couple of nights with his partner, Solo had grown accustomed to the differences in their bodies, his feelings for Illya transforming his reaction to even the mutilated flesh that had so upset him the first time he'd seen Illya naked. Perhaps it was the fact that Illya would trust him enough to allow him to get this close to him, but when he looked at his partner's genitals now, they seemed strangely beautiful to him, almost exotic. And, despite the numerous scars and old stitches, there was no denying how appealing they were to the touch...or the taste.

"Napoleon," Illya said after a few minutes, his hands reaching down to card through Napoleon's short hair. "My body may not show it, but...this feels...wonderful..."

"Your body shows it just fine, ``loosha," Solo assured, loving every inch of the man.

Solo kept up the more familiar nuzzlings and sucking for some time, waiting until his companion was once again making those helpless little animal sounds that so aroused him. His ministrations were having a definite effect. Illya's flesh was springier, not yet fully erect, but no longer blatantly uninterested.

His own body was running on overdrive. The more Solo did this for Illya, the more arousing he found the act. Illya's taste, the bulk of that hardening flesh in his mouth...it was only the second time, but the very aspects that had initially so unnerved him were becoming treasured pleasures. Sensing that his partner was ready, he ran his fingertips across the eiderdown blond fuss that grew thick on Illya's inner thighs.

Illya moaned deep in his throat, the shaft in Napoleon's busy mouth becoming responsively harder as Illya's thighs splayed apart.

Always, it was those delicate touches that moved his partner most. Solo dipped his fingers down a little deeper, running that feather light stroke down the center of the thigh clear down to Illya's knees. He was instantly rewarded by what sounded like a whimper and the further spreading of those athletic legs.

Giving his jaw a rest, Solo let his left hand take over the cock with some steady pumping, so that he could devote his entire attention to his next move. A good boy scout, Napoleon had the foresight to open the lid on the Vaseline tub to prevent frantic fumbling at an inconvenient moment. Still not completely sanguine about what he was going to do, Napoleon did his best to ensure that his friend would be more than ready for his first probe. He'd never done anything like this before, certainly not with another man, but he figured that the procedure couldn't be all that different from ensuring that a woman was prepared for penetration.

Normally, Solo teased and insinuated his intent until the lady was begging him for it, ready to jump him. Napoleon couldn't imagine his very male partner responding quite that strongly, but he thought he could make Illya at least comfortable with the situation. With that thought in mind, he once again repeated the thigh stroke, trailing his finger down the crease where thigh met hip. Illya's pelvis obligingly arched up at him.

Finding his own breathing coming in harsh, excited drags, Solo tentatively introduced the index and middle fingers of his right hand between the flat globes of Illya's ass. Just a light probe into the slightly moist, shadowed area. The instant his fingertips made contact with that tight ring of muscle, he pulled his hand back.

Illya jerked like a galvanized frog. "Napoleon!"

"Did I hurt you?" Solo solicitously enquired, bending his head to hide his knowing smile. Although Illya might never have invited this particular caress, it was the touch which had sent his friend over the top last week. He knew it didn't hurt Illya.

"No...no..." Illya murmured.

"I'll continue then, shall I?" Reading silence as assent, Solo repeated the touch, with similar results.

"You're so sweet here, Illya, so sweet..." Napoleon whispered as he allowed his fingers to make actual contact.

Looking up to judge his companion's response, Napoleon gently tapped the flat pad of his middle finger against the puckered entrance.

Illya hissed in a deep breath. His head thrown back, eyes clenched shut, lips slightly parted, the handsome face was a study in rapture.

Somewhat startled by the intensity of the reaction, Solo lightly rimmed the tight bud of muscle, watching in wonder as Illya's pouty mouth opened in a silent `ohhh'. Illya looked as if he were flooded with sensation, his eyes closed to concentrate on the internal deluge. Solo had dated some of the most stunning women in the world, models who had their pictures on the front of fashion magazines from New York to Outer Mongolia, but their superficial beauty hadn't moved him anywhere near as strongly as the sight of Illya at this moment. With his fine golden hair all mussed and his expression of tormented ecstasy, his partner looked like a fallen angel, a seraph fallen prey to the addiction of earthly delights. All because Solo had pressed his finger against the other man's anus, an action that Napoleon had always viewed as totally unappealing.

Rethinking his narrow-minded prejudices, Napoleon intensified his attentions on the semi-erect shaft in his left hand while his right quickly moved to the Vaseline tub. In seconds his eager hand was back in place between those snowy cheeks.

Drawing a deep breath to calm his nervousness, Solo pushed his gooey middle finger against that tight clenched ring of muscle. Even if his partner hadn't told him earlier, he would have known that no one had ever done this to his friend before.

Illya was virgin tight here. The instant Solo's fingertip breached the perimeter, the muscle clamped around him like a vise. Just knowing that he was the first person this incredible, complex man would trust himself to this way left Napoleon's heart pounding like a jack hammer. Illya's grunt rang through his super-charged system, adding to the fire.

"Are you all right?" Solo gruffly enquired, freezing right inside the portal for all his desire to continue. He hadn't completely considered what his own response to this would be. For all his denials, he'd expected to be slightly repulsed by the experience, or, at best, uninfluenced one way or the other. But feeling that tight grip of muscle around his finger, Solo couldn't help but speculate on what it would feel like on his cock. He tried to expunge the guilty thought, but, try as he would, his mind was filled with the steamy images.

"I... yesss..." Illya hissed. "I'mmm..alll...rrright."

Solo waited until he felt the tract loosen up a little bit, then resolutely pressed forward. Deeper and deeper his slender finger pushed, Illya's hands gripping the bundled sheet all the while, his head thrown back and hips thrust up, for all that Solo suspected his friend would rather push him away than continue.

Just about the time when Solo began to wonder how far up the prostate gland actually was, when his longest finger was forced up nearly as far inside his friend as it would reach, he finally met with some success.

Contacting a roundish protrusion in the so far slick passage, Solo experimentally exerted some pressure against it.

"AAAHHH!" The cry seemed wrenched from Illya's very soul.

"Did I hurt you?" Solo jerked his finger back some, noticing as he did that the shaft in his other hand had just turned to solid steel.

Gasping for breath, Illya gave a negative shake of his head after a few endless seconds of waiting. "It was...Napoleon, I haven't...felt anything like that in seven years."

Solo grinned at his astonished partner. "It's not the most elegant of caresses, but so long as it works..." He pushed against the internal pleasure button again with similar results.

"Na Napoleon... wait, please..."

Illya's grip held Napoleon's hand in place. The hold wouldn't necessarily restrict Napoleon, since all it required to stimulate that sensitive gland was a flick of his finger, but he obligingly halted.

At his inquiring glance, Illya explained, "You...you wanted us to be together this time when...I... will not be able to withstand much more..."

Solo felt his gaze soften. "I can't really reach you like this and rub us together at the same time. Let's just allow nature to take its course and..."

His sweat-sheened partner bit his lip and looked away, Illya not quite able to avert his face fast enough for Napoleon to miss the shame that clouded his features,

"This cannot be very pleasant for you. I am very sorry..."

"Hey." Napoleon's gentle tone drew Illya's gaze almost unwillingly back to his face. "On the contrary, `loosha...I find this...extremely exciting."

The intense gaze scoured Solo's features, searching for truth. Reading somewhat deeper than either of them were precisely comfortable with yet, Illya's eyes widened in surprise.

Considering the fact that they were laying here with Solo's finger up the other man's backside, Napoleon found the pensive expression which settled over Illya ridiculously out of place.

"Illya?"

"There is a way we could still realize your desire, Napoleon," Illya sounded uncharacteristically hesitant.

"How's that?"

Illya gulped and glanced away for a moment, as if garnering his courage. Solo didn't understand the nervousness until his friend spoke, then, once again, Illya turned his world upside down as his partner made a suggestion that would change their relationship forever.

"You could...come within me," Illya offered, watching Solo's face like a hawk.

"You...can't mean that," Napoleon gaped, the surge of excitement in his loins leaving him dizzy at the mere thought.

Illya's crystal gaze was incredibly level. "Inevitably, we would have to face this issue..."

"Illya, I would never ask that of you," Solo denied.

"Do you deny that you have been thinking of this since you first touched me there?" Illya demanded in a surprisingly understanding tone.

Solo gave a mute, negative shake of his head, wanting to refute the accusation, but unwilling to lie to his partner.

"Come, Napoleon..." Illya reached out to gather Solo's erection into his palm.

"Don't, I'm too close!" Napoleon pulled his lower body back, the finger in Illya's body jerking free at the sudden move.

"Ohw..."

"Sorry," Solo quickly apologized. Illya's pained expression told him how uncomfortable the abrasive withdrawal had been.

Illya gasped in a breath and nodded his acceptance of the apology and enquired after a moment of tense, hungry silence, "Can you tell me why you don't wish to..?".

"If you can tell me why you'd want to," Solo countered. "Earlier, you said that the very idea was...abhorrent to you."

"I said it wasn't something I encouraged," Illya corrected with a scientist's attention to detail.

"Then why would you do so now?"

"Because I am with you, Napoleon," Illya said with tender exasperation, as if explaining something blatantly obvious to a beloved, but not too bright child. "Because when I am with you, even the impossible seems easy. You have brought me more pleasure in two short nights than I have known in my entire life. When you touched me inside before...you made my body wonder what it would be like to know you in that manner."

Unprepared for so open a declaration from this normally reserved man, Solo felt his throat tighten up. Needing to be closer to his friend, Napoleon leaned forward to rest his cheek against the cool flatness of Illya's stomach, his arms tightly hugging the slender waist. Those powerful, athletic legs wrapped themselves around Solo's middle, prodding his heavy erection between Illya's spread thighs.

Illya's fingertips combed through Napoleon's short brown hair in an oddly calming pattern.

Listening to the internal life rhythms of his partner's body, Solo rested his cheek on that pale belly for a long moment, the embrace strangely intimate and reassuring.

Napoleon had no idea what he should do. He knew what his body wanted, but not what was right.

"Illya, I'm not thinking very clearly right now," he softly confessed.

Illya's hand fondled his hair, moving on to pet the cheek not pressed to his belly. "The time for thinking is past, Napoleon. Now is the time for action. Please...share this with me."

"I haven't got the control, `loosha. I could hurt you..." Solo protested, frightened of what he could and would do if his partner didn't start exhibiting some of that common sense for which Napoleon depended upon him so strongly.

"You will find that I have a very high tolerance for pain," Illya informed, his soft voice filled with amused affection.

"All U.N.C.L.E. agents do," Solo snapped, lifting his head to glare down at Illya, not at all amused. "However, my bedroom is not the place where I want our tolerance limits tested."

"It will be my limits which will be tested. I am up to the challenge," Illya stubbornly insisted.

"Well, I'm long past my tolerance threshold. This is killing me," Solo hoarsely admitted, the ache in his balls so bad, he could almost feel it in his teeth.

"Then take what you need," Illya invited, running the sole of his foot from Napoleon's backside straight down to his knee.

"I don't want to hurt you," Solo grunted through gritted teeth.

"It would not matter," Illya denied, nothing of his scientific detachment remaining in his transformed features.

And Solo was lost in that light. He knew it was wrong, that it was too soon for this and that neither of them was really prepared for so rapid an advancement, yet...he didn't believe he could refuse Illya anything when Illya looked at him with that yearning expression.

"All right," he agreed tightly, crumbling inside. He tried to ignore the tight knot of dread that clenched his stomach muscles up in a painful ball. Kneeling between his partner's spread thighs, Solo once again dug his fingers into the Vaseline tub. Once he had a sufficiently healthy dollop, his trembling fingers transferred it to his lover's body. Staring at his shaking fingers, he didn't know if it were fear or arousal causing the tremors, so strongly were both coursing through him.

As if sensing Napoleon's uneasiness, Illya obligingly pulled his knees up to his chest, exposing himself to grant his companion free and unrestricted access to the most secret parts of his body.

Napoleon knew he should be comforted by the complete trust Illya showed him, but instead, it scared him to death. His loins were on fire. All he wanted to do was bury that flame in that cool, snowy white flesh...but if he gave into those urges, he'd rip his trusting partner to pieces.

One thing Solo was glad to see, Illya was fully erect. That would help.

Trying to ignore the chill that ran through him as he took in the damaged flesh below Illya's erection, the remaining quarter of a testicle that stood a living, physical testament to all the pain his partner had suffered in his short life, Solo's shaking free hand parted the cheeks of Illya's ass while the other transferred its sticky burden of lubricant to his objective. Appalled, Napoleon stared at the puckered red anus, seeing it for the first time.

That tiny, little hole was where he was going to bury his cock?

His partner was going to require a high tolerance for pain, indeed, were they going to go through with this lunacy.

"Napoleon?"

"Illya, I can't," he panicked.

"Of course you can," Illya smoothly assured, making Solo wonder from where he got that unflappable calm – Illya had to be just as terrified as he was, if not more so, as he was the one to be taken. Yet, he softly insisted in that irrefutable, beseeching tone, "Napoleon, touch me there, please..."

Without conscious volition, his quaking fingers delivered their gooey burden. Illya and he both drew deep, bracing breaths as Solo pushed both fingers through the resistant ring of muscle.

Fighting the impulse to pull his hand clear and just plunge in, Solo forced himself to take his time, making damn sure that he'd stretched that tight channel as far as he could by rotating and scissoring his fingers deep inside.

His partner clearly enjoyed his ministrations. The small, pleased sounds were back, spurring Napoleon on.

When he was sure he'd done all that was possible to prepare Illya, when his own arousal had reached the point of spontaneous explosion if something weren't done IMMEDIATELY, Solo carefully withdrew his fingers.

Another quick visit to the Vaseline tub, and Napoleon was doing his best to lubricate his blood-engorged organ without setting himself off. Even the slightest touch of his own hand was unbearable. He deposited a thick layer of the gel over his sweat-sheened, pulsing shaft, panting for breath all the while.

Illya's eyes were wide and expectant, fixed resolutely on Napoleon's face as if to ignore what the other man was about to do.

If that were his partner's plan, Solo wished his friend luck. For all his work, that tiny orifice still appeared too small to accommodate the bulk of his penis. The idea was ludicrous, like trying to fit a full sized flash light through a key hole...impossible. Only, the hunger burning through his blood insisted that Solo shove that flash light through the key hole, whatever the cost.

No longer possessing either the strength or the sanity to change his mind, Solo pressed the head of his cock against the slick entrance.

Christ, he was so big and wide – huge. In contrast, the puckered red aperture was so small, so hopelessly tiny...so incredibly tight as he finally plunged through.

Illya was one of the best-trained agents U.N.C.L.E. had. Solo had seen his compact friend quietly withstand tortures that would have left most men shrieking in agony. But Illya loosed a sobbing cry at that instant of penetration that shook Solo to his very core.

If asked, Napoleon would have said that he couldn't have stopped at that moment for anything in the world. But that inarticulate cry of agony stopped him as no amount of pleading could have. The flaring head of his cock just past that horribly tight, protective barrier, Solo stilled all motion until his raggedly breathing companion could give him the go ahead.

Illya's golden body was beaded with a fresh flood of perspiration, his face contorted with the effort to hold in yet another outcry.

"Should I...pull out?" Solo gasped, not knowing what he'd do if Illya answered `yes'. Now that he'd tasted this beautiful flesh, he was hungry to make it his own.

"No...wait...please..." The voice was unrecognizable as his partner's.

A groan was torn from Napoleon as that clamping ring squeezed and released what little of Solo had pierced the virgin portal. Illya took a couple of deep breaths.

Thinking that perhaps a bit of pleasure might distract his friend from the discomfort, Solo reached out to fondle his partner's cock.

Napoleon sighed in relief as that painfully tight tract loosened up somewhat. Slow as dripping honey, he sank further inside the already slick passage way, his partner's pain-filled hiss vying with his pounding heart for domain over the room's utter silence.

Solo had had a few virgins before, but the experiences were nothing like this. Just knowing that he was the first – and probably only – man who would ever explore the fantastically tight channel, the only one who would know this intimacy with his very male, very reserved partner, was as big a turn on to Napoleon as the physical sensations thundering through him.

And lord knew, those alone were enough to leave his senses reeling. Solo felt as if he were being swept away by a flood of unchallengable ecstasy. Perhaps it was the restraint he'd been practicing for the last few hours as he concentrated on arousing Illya's damaged organs or maybe the feelings themselves were really this intense. Solo couldn't judge the reasons behind his reaction, all he knew was that taking Illya – a man whom nine-tenths of their coworkers insisted had ice water instead of blood running through his veins – was the headiest, most all-consuming pleasure he'd ever experienced.

Solo eased the intruding bulk of his cock up that pitifully tight channel with preternaturally slow control – as much to savor every iota of the exquisite sensation of claiming that untouched territory as his own as to spare his companion pain.

Although, Illya appeared to be handling this better now. He was breathing like a bellows, his gaze fixed as attentively on Solo's face as Napoleon's concentration was on his pleasures.

"It's so good, `loosha, so good..." Solo sighed, pushing up that unexplored tunnel. "The best, the best ever..." He was babbling, and he knew it, but for once every word uttered at the height of passion was true.

As he took the other man, Solo felt something changing within himself, in places he didn't usually let the emotions inspired by sex touch, a place he hadn't allowed a lover to go since he was a very young, very naive adolescent. The fact that Illya would let him take him this way bypassed all of Solo's defenses. The world wise Napoleon was appalled to realize that this was no longer simply good sex to him – if it had ever been simply that.

This was more than fun and games. His heart was involved in this gambit as it hadn't been since...since he'd let Claire Rivers get to him, lovely Claire who'd walked because U.N.C.L.E. seemed more important to him than their relationship.

That subtle emotional difference added a whole new edge to the experience. Intercourse was no longer just sexual mechanics. Solo felt every touch, every blessed inch of the body he was claiming straight through to his very soul.

"Napoleon!" The startled cry came when he was nearly all the way in.

Illya's nails dug into Solo's bare shoulders like talons, those neatly trimmed nails cutting flesh as the cock in Solo's hand simultaneously jerked in response.

Knowing that he'd hit that spot his finger had excited earlier, Solo pushed against it more forcefully.

"Oh, God...Napoleon!"

He hadn't even known that his partner recognized a deity.

Overjoyed, Solo pulled out of the suddenly unrestricted channel and thrust back in again, being careful to hit that oh-so-special spot.

Illya once again loosed an inarticulate cry, only this time it wasn't one of agony.

Once he knew his partner was well and truly with him, Solo lost all control. Instinct taking over, he pounded in and out of his partner's small, pale body with all the refinement of a rutting bronco.

It was like trying to ride a whirlwind or remain poised on the rim of a tornado's swirling funnel. The sensations spiraled through Solo's system like a cyclone, destroying all his barriers and controls, opening him to those dangerous, deeper emotions the same way his battering ram of a cock opened his virgin partner to him.

He could see it was the same for Illya, only more intense, for it was Illya who had invited this rampaging passion storm into the inviolate sanctity of his untouched body. Illya's face was torn with rapture, tears running unchecked down his contorted cheeks as he cried out at each of Solo's ever-deeper invasions, as if Illya knew that Napoleon wouldn't be content with taking his virginity, but would demand that Illya offer up his soul as well.

Frightened by his own untoward response to the unfamiliar feelings coursing through him, Napoleon was ashamed to realize that he did require just such a submission from his chillingly reserved partner. It wasn't enough that Illya was already doubled over on himself, totally at his mercy, Illya's exposed ass high in the air as Solo took his virginity with all the refinement of a rutting bull.

As much as Solo could see that he was affecting his partner, there was still a part of Napoleon that feared his friend would pull away from him. When all the passion had passed and their blood had cooled, Solo knew he would still be lost, his unwilling heart forfeited in this exchange.

But Illya...he was terrified that his self-sufficient friend could say never again and walk away from this without a backwards glance. Whatever the cost, Napoleon had to have some reassurance that this was more than just sex to his partner as well.

They were both nearly there, their bodies slapping and pounding together in the most primal of symphonies.

At the very brink of crescendo, when they were both gasping curses and begging for completion, Solo pulled all the way clear of Illya's body and held himself apart until the passion dazed gaze turned from its inward contemplation to focus on his features.

"Napoleon?" Illya croaked.

"You're mine now, `loosha," Solo claimed, slamming powerfully back into his doubled over friend.

Illya grunted, not challenging the statement or perhaps not even caring to until Solo once again pulled clear and waited for those blue eyes to return questioningly to his face.

"Schto...what?"

"You're mine now. Say it," Napoleon demanded.

"What?" Illya's handsome face clouded with confusion.

"Say it!"

"You can't be serious..." Illya stammered.

Solo allowed his engorged cock head to pierce the battered entrance to Illya's body, withdrawing before the act could do either of them any good.

"Say it," Solo commanded.

"If I refuse?" Illya questioned, seeming only frustrated and slightly curious as yet.

By way of explanation, Solo squeezed Illya's shaft and rubbed his cock head against the hungry anus again, before releasing the straining organ completely and pulling clear again.

Illya gave a Russian curse that sounded like `maat' before composing himself with a deep breath.

"Could I not say U.N.C.L.E. instead?" Illya asked with a winning smile.

Solo rose to his knees, pulling Illya's body along with him.

Illya gave a grunt as he suddenly found himself in a shoulder stand. His knees were draped over Solo's broad shoulders, Napoleon's painfully gripping hands supporting the cheeks of his butt, Solo's blood engorged organ positioned precisely above where they both wanted it to go.

"Say it!" Solo commanded again in a no-nonsense tone. "You're mine. Say it."

"Really, Napoleon, this is..."

Solo allowed his cock to pierce the entrance again, giving their starving bodies a mere taste of what they were screaming for. Then he pulled back.

He wasn't sure if the hiss Illya gave at the abrupt action was one of pain or frustration.

"Say it." Napoleon made sure his tone made it plain that this would be his last request.

Illya's gaze flared.

For an instant, Solo expected Illya to use his powerful legs to fling him across the room.

The knowledge that Illya was capable of doing just that passed silently between them in the wordless, near-telepathic communication that had gotten them through any number of cases. He saw Illya seriously consider the option, before a strained confusion settled over Illya's countenance.

No longer having any clue as to what Illya was thinking, Solo waited.

At last Illya's features settled into their normal, unperturbed calm as he whispered,. "I am yours."

"Louder!"

"Damn it, Napoleon, uggh..." Illya grunted as Napoleon gave the penis he held an abrupt squeeze.

His cheeks flaming with color, Illya grated out, "I am yours. Now, will you please..."

Solo plunged in before his angry partner could finish his request, piercing Illya to the very core of his being. Ecstasy and pain no doubt one in that strained position, Napoleon watched his companion's face transform into the mask of the tortured, fallen angel again.

As he plunged down into the willing body, Solo hoarsely whispered, "Say it again... please..."

"I am...ummff...yours." Then, as Solo's body took up a pounding rhythm, Illya gave him what Napoleon truly needed, grunting over and over again at each impalement, "Yours, yours, yours, only yours, Napoleon..."

It sounded like a mantra or something one would use to combat THRUSH drugs.

The words filled Solo's entire being until all that flaring ecstasy coalesced into one blinding explosion.

"Oh, god, Illya!" he screamed as his seed was ripped from him, hearing Illya's answering shout of "Yours!" just before Illya's cock dribbled its offering over his knuckles.

Solo's orgasm seemed to go on forever, his semen pumped deep into the hidden recesses of Illya's body. Thunderstruck by the intensity of the climax, he stared down at Illya's livid features. The unusual position was hard on his partner, but at that moment, it mattered to neither of them. All that existed in the universe was the sublime delight ripping through them.

When he tumbled over the last crest, his body spurting all that it had to give into Illya's tight passage, Solo sagged forward.

Illya cried out again as he broke position and abruptly came down from the shoulder stand. Some scrambling to adjust himself, and Illya had made himself comfortable on his back, Napoleon a dead weight against his stomach, Illya's legs still spread wide around Solo's waist.

It seemed to take forever for Napoleon to reassemble the scattered pieces of his shattered reality. As he lay there with his nose pressed into his partner's belly, he had no idea what he should say.

Not until he felt Illya's hand tentatively stroke through his sweat damp hair did he dare speak, fully aware that Illya might hate him for what he'd done.

"Are you all right, Illya?" he asked, self-consciously lifting his head so that he could look into Illya's face.

To his immense relief, Illya's hand didn't desert him, continuing to caress his hair and neck as if Illya were afraid to let go of him.

"I...believe so," Illya replied at last, his voice hoarse and strangely hesitant.

"Did I hurt you badly?" Solo questioned, frantic as he realized that his last idiotic move of pulling his partner onto his shoulders and pounding down into Illya's totally suspended, exposed body, could have torn his inexperienced lover to pieces. "Let me check, please..."

Napoleon was moving to investigate before Illya could even draw a breath to respond.

Parting the cheeks which bore his fingerprints in livid marks, Napoleon stared in horror at his handiwork.

Illya's anus was no longer tiny. The tissue around it was a swollen, angry red, but there was no sign of blood or rips in the flesh.

"I'll be right back."

"Napoleon, I am merely sore. There is no need..."

Napoleon was back from the bathroom in moments with a warm, wet wash cloth, a dry hand towel and some medicated cream.

Illya seemed to realize that argument was useless. He suffered Solo's attention in dignified, stoic silence.

Horrified by his appalling lack of control, Napoleon carefully cleaned the area, his shaking fingers applying the cool white cream to the abused area with amazing gentleness.

Illya had offered himself to him in total trust...and he'd savaged his partner's innocence like...like some THRUSH torturer...

Too ashamed to look at Illya's face, he fled back to the bathroom, lingering there to wash his hands and clean up his own organ.

There were certain realities to this that neither of them had considered beforehand. Trembling deep inside and fearing the worst, Solo switched on the light to guarantee that there was no blood mixed in with what he removed from himself.

Nothing red at all, thank God.

Sagging with relief, Solo dried himself off.

Returning to that bed required every ounce of courage Solo possessed. He stood still beside it, staring down at the rumpled, stained sheets, a bitter reminder of his savagery. Illya must truly hate him...

"Napoleon?"

The open confusion in the uncertain tone brought Solo's reluctant gaze to his Illya's face.

Not understanding the tenderness that washed over those beautiful features, Solo sank gratefully down into the arms that reached up for him.

"`loosha, I'm so sorry. I – I don't know why..." he stammered out the apology, knowing that it would never be enough.

"Sorry? Napoleon, look at me."

Unable to refuse the command in his guilt, he obeyed.

Shocked, Solo could find no trace of anger or resentment over his unpardonable loss of control – for which Solo would have considered his partner fully justified for killing him.

Illya studied his face for an endless time. Then he simply shook his head and guided Napoleon down into a kiss.

"You aren't angry with me...?" Napoleon asked in disbelief as they parted.

Illya gave one of his small, shy smiles before cautiously admitting, "Overwhelmed, perhaps, but not angry."

"I really didn't hurt you, then?"

"Napoleon, I have a high threshold for pain. Besides, any amount of initial discomfort was worth the end results."

"It was?" A slow grin spread over Solo's face. Illya hadn't hated it...

"You are aptly named, my friend," Illya critically commented, rubbing his index finger over the cleft in Napoleon's chin.

"How's that?"

"Napoleon – it is the name of a conqueror, is it not?" Illya enquired with a warm, intimate smile. Once again, Solo felt the earth shift beneath him.

"Oh, god, Illya..." Solo kissed that sweet mouth as if it were to be his last mortal act. When they parted for air, all he could trust himself to say was, "You're incredible. Do you know that?"

"The feeling is mutual," Illya softly assured. "Come, we must rest. It is late."

Solo allowed Illya to guide him down into a sleepy embrace. Instinct was telling Napoleon that after what they'd just shared, that it was he who should be the one to offer the protective support, but when those powerful arms closed around him, the embrace simply felt too good to refuse.

Realizing that there were many such adjustments and compromises that were going to have to be made if two such strong men as themselves were to continue to share this type of intense relationship, Solo decided that he'd best leave all his concepts of roles outside their bedroom. Illya was like no other lover he'd had before. He was going to have to relearn the ropes from scratch in this new form of loving.

The warm feeling which spread through him as Illya cuddled him closer assured Napoleon that the learning would not be at all unpleasant.

"Illya?"

"Mmmmn?"

"We don't have to report in until Monday. Will you spend the weekend with me?" Solo felt ridiculously like a school boy asking a girl out on his first date...and this with a man he'd just screwed through the mattress. Yes, this new form of loving was going to take some getting used to, indeed.

"Mmmn...yes, I'd like that. Very much." With a drowsy kiss to the top of Napoleon's head, Illya gave himself over to slumber.

Solo lay there a while longer, listening to the beating of Illya's heart beneath his cheek while he charted out the delights of two whole days in which to get to know his new love better.

*~*~*

CHAPTER SIX

It was to be the first of many such weekends; although, not nearly as many as the besmitten Solo would have preferred.

In the months and years which were to follow, the amount of time spent together off duty would develop into the most common cause of their disagreements.

If Solo were given his choice, they would have spent all their two day leaves, vacations, and as many of their nights as they could safely get away with while still convincing the Section 2 rumor mill that he remained in active circulation. But his cautious partner would have none of it. Napoleon felt lucky if he got one weekend a month, with a single night together a week, fought for in almost daily arguments. Illya was too overcautious. Even with the signal jammers, which ensured that no audio or video transmissions could be made from either of their apartments without their knowledge – common precautions in all U.N.C.L.E. living quarters - Illya still thought it too dangerous to risk more than a stolen night here and there.

During that traumatizing time, in Napoleon's admittedly frustrated estimation, Illya graduated from U.N.C.L.E.'s resident Ice Man to the Ice King, so cold were his rejections.

If it hadn't hurt so bloody bad, Napoleon might have seen the humor and the irony of the situation. Napoleon Solo, the quintessential Casanova of the free world, whose 'bed them and leave them' reputation extended to all four continents, pining away for stability and commitment. It was laughable, really.

And, in his darker moods, Solo couldn't help but wonder if his wary lover were secretly amused with the entire set up. For, they were both aware that Napoleon would be more than happy to abandon the parade of beauties who moved through his life and bed at a single nod from his aggravatingly cautious partner. Or so, Solo believed. There were days when the situation became so infernally unbearable that he couldn't help but take his frustrations out on his implacable partner, making both their lives a living hell.

Although in his heart Solo knew it wasn't fair to blame Illya, he couldn't help but do so. Common sense told him that the pretenses were as hard on Illya as himself. No man, not even one with the formidable emotional control Illya had, could enjoy seeing his lover woo another.

During their first months together, Solo was very sensitive to that fact, making sure that the social rollercoaster Illya insisted he maintain was conducted outside of his partner's ken. Illya was aware that he dated others, but never knew the who, what, and where of the events. In those early months when Napoleon was so overwhelmed by his feelings for his dour partner, his dates were merely that – simple social appointments where he was seen in public with a fetching woman to whom he was outwardly completely attentive, but whom he invariably left at her apartment door with a simple good night kiss.

But as he came up against the Ice King more and more, the man who wore his passionate lover's features, but who only seemed able to mouth the words, `No, not tonight. Not so soon. Positively not. Perhaps at the end of the week...' Solo became desperate, and from there, he descended to petty.

When Illya refused to even consider lightening his crippling precautions, Napoleon began flirting with and then actively courting women in front of his lover. At first it was difficult to maintain his interest in some beautifully packaged stranger when all he truly wanted stood looking on in icy blue disdain.

But, after a while, Napoleon began to enjoy the teasing. It became almost a game to him, seeing how many affairs it would take before Illya's stony detachment would snap, for snap it inevitably would...and then the fireworks were spectacular. All that bottled up anger and frustration...for a time, it added an edge to their loving that nothing had ever come close to.

Sometimes during those first years of confusion and pain, Napoleon wasn't certain if Illya actually loved or hated him, so deep did their tangled emotions run. They both seemed to go out of their way to hurt each other, fighting tooth and nail against the attraction that drew them together, but when that resistance was finally worn away and they at last tumbled into bed together...it was as close to heaven as either of them could imagine.

But after a time, even the sex was affected by their daily attitudes.

Two years down the road, Solo wasn't sure that they hadn't made a horrible mistake in starting this affair. Six days out of seven, they were miserable: Illya, catty and snappy on cases, while Solo pursued everything in a skirt like a sex-starved prison inmate. The only time Napoleon felt truly happy were those nights in Illya's arms...and even those were poisoned by resentment, more often than not. Something had to give, but Solo didn't know what.

"Napoleon?"

Solo looked up from the gun he was cleaning with a guilty start.

They were in the locker room at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters at the end of the day, the last day of a particularly harrowing case. Both he and Illya had managed to get themselves separately captured by THRUSH agents.

Solo was determined that some day he would sit down and actually count the number of times either Illya or he ended up in the clutches of some THRUSH maniac – if he ever got that much free time. It seemed to happen so often that they accepted capture and imprisonment as a given part of the job description.

"Sorry..." Solo apologized for his inattention, looking up at Illya from the bench where he'd been waiting for his partner to come out of the shower. "I was a million miles away."

The betowelled Illya stared at him for a long moment. "It did not seem to be a very pleasant place you were visiting."

Startled by the unexpected gentleness in his partner's tone, Solo gave a helpless shrug.

"What were you thinking about?" Illya asked as he opened his locker to get dressed.

Napoleon glanced around them. The locker room seemed deserted, but he couldn't see the last two rows. Sound carried far in the hollow hall.

"Things," he answered evasively, concentrating on getting his piece reassembled.

Solo could feel that evaluating blue gaze studying his face. Not that they really needed to actually visibly monitor each other these days. Solo could feel each of his partner's movements as if they were made with his own body, so sensitive were they to each other. Not for the first time, he wondered if Illya felt it when he was screwing his flavor of the day.

"If you have no prior engagement tonight, would you care to join me for dinner at my place?" That was Illya's way of asking if he wanted to screw.

Solo glanced up at the rare invitation. If memory played him right – and it always did where their assignations were concerned - they'd been together only three nights ago. It was far too soon for even Napoleon to dare make such a suggestion, let alone his paranoid partner.

And their last encounter wasn't the type to make either of them long for an instant replay. They'd barely spoken six sentences to each other the entire night. The compulsion to touch had been undeniable, and yet...as on many occasions in the past few months, Illya had never reached completion. Solo had fucked his partner into the mattress with heartrending desperation, then left Illya's apartment in moody silence, unable to play out the farce of spending the night when he knew Illya worried about every second they spent together.

Struck with the thought that maybe Illya had had enough of the whole mess, Solo gave his partner's face a panicked check. But, no, Illya's features were calm. Those blue eyes were concerned and watchful, but he wasn't sitting on any time bombs.

"Napoleon, would you care to have dinner tonight?" Illya repeated, as if he hadn't heard.

Wanting to share dinner, breakfast, and every other damn meal he'd eat over the next fifty years with this elusive man, Solo felt something very fragile snap inside him. As tempting as the offer was, he found he simply couldn't take another night like their last.

"What's the point?" Napoleon asked, staring in dull misery at his startled companion.

Slipping his piece into his holster, Solo rose smoothly to his feet and fled the locker room before his emotions could betray him.

Two hours and several martinis later, Napoleon wasn't feeling any better. The club around him was bright and glittering, as was the curvaceous redhead at his side, but Solo had as much interest in pursuing her as he did in joining THRUSH Central.

He'd picked her up out of mere habit. Or perhaps she'd picked him up. He'd slept with so many people who didn't matter to him over the last two years that it was hard to keep track of who seduced whom. All he knew was that he was tired of the game.

"Here you are, at last!"

Solo froze at the familiar, irritated voice of his partner. Turning slowly, he took in Illya's tense figure.

It wasn't often he saw the Ice King uncertain. Illya's eyes studied Napoleon's companion, as if to judge the seriousness of his partner's interest in her.

"How did you know I was here?" Napoleon asked in a flat, unaffected tone.

"I didn't. This is the seventh club I've been in tonight," Illya explained.

"Our U.N.C.L.E. doesn't need us, does he?" Solo enquired, unable to see any other reason for Illya to track him down like this, save a malfunctioning communicator. "He hasn't tried to contact me tonight. Or did I miss his call?"

"Your U.N.C.L.E.? Are you two related?" Solo's companion's stunning attributes fell short of her intellectual accomplishments.

Related? Napoleon thought with a passing sense of hysteria. He'd only climaxed inside this man's body more times than he had in any other living soul's. "Yes, we're related." He acknowledged. "Celeste, this is Illya Kuryakin. Illya, Celeste Montgomery. Grab a seat...cousin." Solo offered with droll amusement.

"Kuryakin? That's Russian, isn't it?" the girl asked, her Bronx accent highlighting her distaste.

"Yes, Miss Montgomery, it is." Illya gave a polite nod.

"You didn't tell me you had commies in your family, Mr. Solo." The redhead gave Solo a contemptuous glare and rose to her feet. "If you'll excuse me now, I'll be leaving."

"Please do." Solo was too annoyed to even make a pretense of civility as the bigoted woman flounced away. He noticed that his partner did rise to his feet as the annoyed girl left, like a good little boy scout. Illya, ever the gentleman, ever the cautious one...

"My, what charming company you are keeping these days, Napoleon," Illya wryly commented once they were alone at the table. "She does seem to fall below even your somewhat lenient standards."

"I didn't think I had to have standards to impress THRUSH. Just score cards. What are you doing here, Illya?"

"Your...rather abrupt exit worried me," Illya softly explained.

"Why? As you can see, everything is just...peachy," Solo answered, his sarcasm almost lost in his misery.

"Napoleon, if we do not stop purposefully hurting one another, we will soon not even have a working relationship left, let alone anything more intimate," Illya warned with deadly calm.

Solo glanced quickly around. They were in a public place, for god's sake. Was Illya insane? "This is hardly the place for this discussion."

"Then come home with me now." Obviously seeing the protest rising in Napoleon's eyes, Illya stubbornly continued, "Otherwise, we will have it right here."

The bastard would, too.

"If you insist," Solo acquiesced. Leaving a twenty for the bill, he followed his partner to Illya's car.

They were fortunate and found a spot in front of Illya's flat. The fifteen minute drive was accomplished in icy silence, Solo simmering all the way.

Once the apartment door closed behind them, Illya seemed at a loss as to what to say or do.

"Would you care for something to eat?" Illya asked.

"I'm here. What did you want to talk about?" Solo demanded, not giving an inch.

"I..."

"Look, you made this sound important. If you've got nothing to say, I've got things I could be doing."

"Like your celestial Miss Montgomery?" Illya practically sneered.

"You made the rules, pal, not me," Solo reminded, wondering just how much of his pain showed through his resentment.

"Napoleon..." Illya took a deep breath, calming himself with a visible effort. "Could we not start this conversation afresh?"

"What for?"

"What do you mean?" Illya's pale brow creased with puzzlement.

"Illya, what is there to say? We've been over this ground a million times. You know where I stand and I know where you stand...and those points stand very far apart, except for one night a week. I've already had my allotted one night this week, so why don't we cease and desist until next week?"

"You sound bitter," Illya observed.

Napoleon snorted. "Now why would you think that?"

"Napoleon...please..." Illya pleaded as Napoleon agent moved towards the door.

Napoleon immediately halted and turned to face his partner. "Have you ever stopped to count the number of times I've used that word with you over the last two years? Without exception, you've denied me each and every time."

His point made, Solo knew he should make a hasty exit and leave Illya to stew in his own juices. His pride demanded that much of a payback.

Nevertheless, Napoleon lingered, staring at Illya's strangely whitened face, trying to understand what his partner wanted from him.

"And do you believe that was easy for me?"

Solo shrugged. "It seemed simple enough." Not quite true, but he wasn't feeling especially generous tonight. He told himself that he shouldn't care at this point. Illya had made these unbearable rules. If Illya found them difficult to live with, that was only fair. But his partner's stricken expression still cut him to the core. Cursing himself as a sentimental fool, he waited.

"I see," Illya said at last. "Napoleon, you underestimate yourself."

With a weary sigh, Illya removed his dark suit jacket and tie, placing them both on the back of the nearest chair. Then he sat down and commenced sorting through several days of accumulated mail deliveries.

Stunned, Solo recognized the activity as part of his companion's pre-bed, nightly routine.

"So what did you want to talk about?" he reminded Illya of his presence. He knew that although visibly preoccupied, Illya was still intensely aware of his standing there.

"I only wished to tell you that you win."

"I beg your pardon?" Solo started, having no clue as to what his partner was talking about. "What have I won?"

"This painful game we have been playing," Illya clarified. "The stakes have become too high for my liking."

Solo tensed, an icy hand squeezing his heart. Was Illya telling him they were over, after all? "Are you saying we're...through?"

Illya's chin snapped up, his unfeigned shock telling Napoleon that it hadn't been his companion's intention to toy with him. "No. I thought I made it plain in the bar that I hoped to avoid that fate."

"Then what are you saying, Illya?" Solo impatiently demanded.

"Only that I concede the field to you. From now on I leave the responsibility of scheduling our...meetings entirely up to you, Napoleon."

"You..." This couldn't be true. Solo knew he had to be missing something important. "Why?"

"Because I have failed miserably at what I attempted to achieve, straight across the board. The only thing I have succeeded at is causing us both deep unhappiness."

Solo didn't understand the sudden surge of guilt that flashed through him. He should be happy. "I still can't believe that you're serious," he admitted, moving back into the living room from his defensive stance by the door.

Illya looked up from the open phone bill in his hands, his eyes and expression almost haunted. "Contrary to what you might believe, I took no joy in refusing you all this time."

"I never said..."

Illya cut off his instinctive protest. "You didn't have to say it. Your behavior stated your feelings quite clearly."

Napoleon felt his cheeks flame at the calm accusation. "Illya, that's hardly fair..."

"No, it wasn't fair," Illya agreed in a distant tone, only Solo's familiarity with the quiet man allowed him to read the resentment behind his controlled statements. "We both accepted from the start that this liaison was potentially lethal and that we must pursue it only with the utmost circumspection and caution, yet, you have fought me at every turn."

"We never agreed, Illya. You named your terms and left me no choice but to go along with them," Solo argued.

"Terms? This is not a treaty..."

"No, but you've programmed us like a board meeting," Napoleon challenged, his own anger flaring.

"Like a..." Illya's words trailed away. "Napoleon, do you know how many nights I have sat alone in this room staring at that ridiculous device over there..." Illya gestured towards the signal scrambler. Designed to resemble a common night light it was plugged into the socket across the room. The light would flash should the scanner detect any attempt at illegal surveillance, "...waiting for it to blink, knowing all the while that you were...occupied with another somewhere?"

"And whose bright idea was that?" Solo hotly demanded. "Who was it who insisted that I continue to pursue the Playboy of the year award?"

Illya was nearly white-faced with fury. "You cannot be serious. You..." Illya abruptly checked his words. Taking a deep breath, he continued in a carefully controlled voice. "Napoleon, that suggestion was made to provide you with the utmost freedom. You have never been a man who enjoys either solitude or...restrictive relationships. Even were it not imperative that our lives appear unchanged to any hostile observation, you know that you would have pursued your...interests just as vigorously..."

"You didn't really give me any choice in that, did you?" Napoleon asked in deadly cold anger.

"Choice?" Illya repeated, as if uncertain of the translation.

"You cut me off cold from what I wanted. I tried to hold out at first, but...the more you said no, the angrier I became and..."

"Napoleon, you are not suggesting that the revolving door on your bedroom is my fault, are you?" Illya appeared openly amused by the concept.

"At first I took them out of frustration, then out of spite, because I knew that they were getting to you," Solo stiffly admitted, resisting the impulse to punch that amused smirk from those 'holier than thou' features.

"We have never been dishonest with each other," Illya irritably snapped.

"You think I'm lying to you?" Solo gaped.

"Napoleon, you have many virtues. However, constancy has never been among them," Illya said with forced lightness, obviously determined to avoid a heated confrontation.

Solo had no such reservations. "Why you self righteous...where do you get off questioning my...constancy?"

"Really, Napoleon. You have never desired such a trait in a paramour, much less allowed someone to demand such a commitment from you," Illya answered. "Let us at least be honest with each other."

"All right. You want honesty...that's what you'll get. But first, will you answer just one question for me?"

Illya gave a cautious nod. "If I can."

"Do you truly believe I'm incapable of...constancy?"

"Napoleon, when have you even considered the concept?" Illya questioned in turn, the very nature of his inquiry giving his answer.

He knew he shouldn't be hurt, but Solo found his lover's lack of faith intensely painful. "If that's true, then tell me this – why are you still in the picture?"

"What?" Illya blinked in surprise.

"Have you ever known me to keep a steady lover – any lover – for two full years?"

"Napoleon, it's part of your nature to crave variety. You've told me yourself that you lose interest after..." Illya's words faltered as his uncharacteristically slow mind finally figured out at what Napoleon was hinting.

"I usually lose interest after a few weeks, tops," Napoleon completed for his stunned companion, "but it's been two years with us, `loosha, and I'm still around."

"Napoleon..."

He was getting through, finally. At last, Illya was actually listening to what he was saying, rather than treating him like an especially persuasive confidence man whose every word had to be weighed as dangerous entrapment.

"This isn't just a game to me, Illya. I swear it. I can't help myself. Normally, I couldn't care less about...fidelity. On those rare occasions when someone loses interest before I do, I've always just moved on, but this isn't like that. When you close me out, it hurts and...and I hurt you back any way I can...I'm not proud of what I've done..."

"Napoleon," Illya gently interrupted what was turning out to be a rambling apology instead of the scathing verbal assault Solo had intended. "Come here, please..."

Napoleon stared at the outstretched hand as if it had the ability to wound him.

Realizing that his partner did, indeed, yield that unprecedented degree of power over him, Napoleon was shaken anew. Perhaps this was why he'd instinctively avoided any kind of personal commitment his entire adult life. Being this vulnerable to another person required more courage than he thought he could muster.

Nevertheless, he didn't run. After an endless wait, Solo found the strength to approach the couch. With all that was between them, he couldn't quite force himself to take that open hand, but he sat down a mere foot or so away from Illya...far closer than he cared to be to the Ice King while feeling this exposed. "Napoleon, I – I am truly sorry. All that I can say in my own defense is that...I had no idea that you felt this strongly."

That was supposed to make him feel better? How could Illya not know?

Napoleon's stare seemed to effectively convey those questions and more, for Illya shifted uncomfortably beside him.

"You may not believe this, but...it never occurred to me that I could be...anything but a somewhat more exotic dalliance among your many lovers." Illya couldn't even look at him and say the words, so close did the truth seem to cut him.

"A more exotic dalliance..." Napoleon repeated, stunned. This fiercely private man had given him his virginity...believing that the entire episode was no more than a frivolous fling for him? "Illya, you are my partner and the closest friend I've ever had. I would never jeopardize..."

"That is why I believed we lasted so long while others fell by the wayside," Illya explained. "But I never thought that you could actually..."

Hearing the unsaid, and seeing how panicked his friend was that he'd do just that, Solo gently encouraged, "Go ahead. Say it. LOVE YOU. I do, you know. Whether you're willing to believe it or not."

Solo couldn't remember the last time he'd used that particular four letter word in anything but the most superficial of contexts. He watched his partner struggle to believe him.

"Love..." Illya repeated.

"Does that displease you?"

Wide-eyed, Illya gave a negative shake of his head. "How could it? You merely...astound me."

Not knowing what to say, Solo waited for his lover to come to terms with his admittedly uncharacteristic declaration.

"Will you stay tonight?" Illya asked into the subsequent quiet.

"Do you want me to?" Napoleon questioned, meeting that open stare, drowning in the crystal depths. Those stunning blue eyes were like the man himself – so cool and clear on the surface, but the deeper he probed, the warmer and more complex the waters became. Until he'd at last touch the fiery soul and feel it ignite a similar spark within his own heart.

"I have always wanted, Napoleon," Illya stated, his voice thick and low. "And always will." At Napoleon's inarticulate reaction, Illya gave a wry smile. "You did not imagine you were alone in your affliction?"

Unable to lie to those eyes, Napoleon reluctantly admitted, "There were times I was convinced you hated me during these past six months."

"There were times I nearly did," Illya confessed, his features clouding. "All those women..."

"I was only with them because I couldn't be with you," Solo defended, wondering if they were going to have another argument.

"We have hurt each other deeply through our negligence," Illya whispered.

"Is that going to change now?" Napoleon nearly begged.

"I sincerely hope so, Napoleon. We cannot go on as before. Sooner or later, it will affect our work. That could prove as lethal as discovery by THRUSH."

"I agree," Napoleon said, sliding closer. "So what are we going to do about it?"

"As I said before, the responsibility is now yours. All I ask of you is that you would...please not flaunt your extracurricular activities in front of me."

His cruelty had scored far deeper than he'd imagined, Napoleon realized as he took in that wounded countenance. "You have my word on that. Not a one of them ever mattered, I swear it. I'll never so much as..." His pledge was muffled by the soft palm which covered his mouth.

"You don't need to make that kind of promise to me," Illya said. "I won't go so far as to say that I don't care what you do outside of my presence, for we did promise honesty, but I can live with the necessity as long as you do not – how do you say? – rub my nose on it?"

"In it," Napoleon gently corrected when the hand strayed to his cheek to allow speech. "And I am sorry about that. This much I can assure you, I won't tease you like that again."

"Thank you. You are staying tonight?" Illya checked, running the soft pads of his fingers longingly over Napoleon's features. As ever, Illya seemed fascinated by the cleft in his chin and the mole on his left cheek.

Even if it had been his intention to leave, the open desire suffusing that handsome face would have left Napoleon powerless to resist. Gasping for air, he gave a breathless nod of confirmation.

"Your eyes are so captivating..." Illya seductively murmured, leaning in close.

"My eyes?" Napoleon started, surprised. He'd never considered them anything special.

"Sometimes when you laugh, the light picks out the hazel highlights and they seem clear as a summer day. Then, there are other times, like now, when they burn dark as the midnight sky, full of mystery."

"Full of mystery, huh?" Solo leaned closer to kiss those sultry lips, smiling down at his poetic companion as they parted for air. "You're the one with the baby blues, Bright Eyes."

"Would you care to move into the bedroom?" Illya invited.

As they undressed in Illya's room, beside the neatly made double bed with its snowy chenille spread, Napoleon reflected on how much things had changed between them over the past two years. Illya, once almost pathetically self-conscious about his body, was now fearless under Napoleon's admiring gaze.

Whereas Napoleon himself...more and more of late, he found himself considering concepts totally alien to his mind set several years back. Even as recently as last week, the idea fluttering through his nervous body would have been impossible due to the resentment and contention between them. Hell, more than once in the last month, the prolonged emotional strain had prevented his injured partner from even reaching completion.

But not tonight. Solo sensed that things would be different this time. There was some subtle alteration in the air between them, more than simply a cessation of the open hostilities.

Napoleon was having an almost chemical response to his lover. Each breath increased his excitement, as if the air were loaded with pheromones or some experimental, THRUSH aphrodisiac. As they silently disrobed, he was nearly viscerally aware of every move his quiet partner made.

He could tell it was the same for Illya. Although the svelte Russian was not noticeably aroused, those incredible blue eyes glittered with excitement as they followed the progress of Napoleon's disrobing, Illya's slender chest rising and falling in rapid breaths.

When they came together in the center of the bed, it felt like a reunion, as though it had been months instead of a few days since they last touched.

"Napoleon..." Illya sighed, kissing Solo all over, lips and hands moving with near desperate urgency, "I've missed you so much... so very much..."

"I've been right here," Solo gasped, overwhelmed. "Right here, `loosha."

"No, you haven't. Nor have I."

"Ah...what are you talking about?" Napoleon tried for coherency as that busy mouth attacked his right nipple. What Illya's hand was doing to his cock and balls made clear thinking impossible.

"We have both been...hiding from each other. All the hurt and resentment keeping us from trusting ourselves to one another..." The frantic mouth moved across Solo as though it were Illya's intent to swallow him whole.

It was so like his concise partner to be able to articulate the exact nature of their problem, Solo reflected.

Had he tried for weeks, Napoleon doubted that he would have been able to phrase his feeling quite so well.

Solo ran his fingers through the long golden hair, loving the sleek slide of it across his skin.

"I want to trust myself to you," Solo whispered, arching his hips up at that descending mouth.

"I can see that," Illya smiled, not understanding.

But he would. Solo was determined that before the night was through, Illya Kuryakin would completely understand him.

For now, however, it was enough to allow that sensuous mouth to have its way with his flesh. Solo had learned a long time ago that it worked out better for them if he let Illya suck him off like this before they got down to serious loving. Illya seemed to truly enjoy the experience and, by the time Napoleon had coaxed his partner's reluctant organ into responding to him, Napoleon was usually ready for a second go.

But tonight, Solo had much more in mind.

As Illya's mouth worked hungrily on his erection, those small, competent hands stroked absently between Solo's thighs the way they always did.

As usual, Napoleon spread his legs and arched a little more in response. Only, this time he called his friend's attention back from its delightful pursuits. "Illya?"

"Mmmmn?" Illya mumbled around a mouthful of demanding organ.

Napoleon reached down to caress Illya's hollowed out cheek, running his fingertips in wonder over the point where that sultry mouth engulfed his hungry shaft. Illya always made this act seem so natural, so graceful.

"Would you do something different for me tonight, `loosha?"

Interest sparked in those hot blue eyes. Illya lifted his head from his service, giving the underside of Solo's cock a slow, provocative lick. "You have only to name your pleasure, Napoleon."

Illya meant it, too, Solo realized with a shiver, something tight catching in his chest as his somewhat sheltered lover waited to hear the more experienced agent's wishes.

"Would you put your fingers in me as I do with you?" Solo requested, loving the bemusement which clouded those handsome features.

"You have never desired such a touch before," Illya said softly, sounding more than a little uncertain.

"Please, Illya?"

The fair head nodded. "As you wish, Napoleon." Illya wore a bewildered smile as he reached for the Vaseline tub that was never far from hand when they were together.

Illya bent to renew his ministrations, his delightful attentions soon blasting all memory of his unusual request from Solo's mind.

A long, pleasure-filled time later, Napoleon felt Illya's fingers exploring an area they usually merely skimmed past.

His insides clenched in nervous anticipation at that first tentative brush of fingertips over his anus. Nevertheless, Solo, always something of a hedonist at heart, found his curiosity getting the better of him. He'd seen his partner's unfeigned delight when he'd inserted a finger (or his cock) up this particular channel. All these months together, he couldn't help but wonder what it felt like. Now he was finally going to find out.

Illya was a wizard when it came to oral sex. His partner's every move seemed calculated to excite Solo to the limits of his endurance – and no one knew those limits better at this point than Illya Kuryakin. The busy tongue and talented fingers working Solo's shaft and balls had Napoleon arching frantically up at Illya, Napoleon spreading his thighs wide in response to the pleasure pummeling his system, inadvertently offering his anus up for impalement. What Illya was doing felt so good that it left Solo eager for more...for anything.

Napoleon's eyes snapped open, the breath whooshing out of him in surprise as he felt Illya's middle finger slide straight up inside him in one clean thrust. No dawdling or tentativeness. One moment the Vaseline laden pad had been resting almost forgetfully against the guarding ring of Solo's sphincter, Illya not even testing the resistance of the muscle as he drove his friend insane with the familiar oral treats Solo loved so much. The next instant, the second knuckle of the long center finger was sliding past the surprised muscle.

Belatedly, Solo's inner body spasmed, trying to repel the intruding bulk. He closed up like a vise around Illya's slender digit, pulling a gasp from Illya.

"Ah, Napoleon, you feel so...perfect..." Illya raised his head long enough to dazedly murmur before renewing his oral assault on Solo's ever so-vulnerable cock.

For a man who prided himself on his machismo, Solo's inhibition to this particular act died a speedy death. His body responded shamelessly to Illya's mouth, that pleasure spilling over to the rest of his body.

The guarding sphincter muscle loosened up surprisingly fast, discomfort changing over to excitement as his body sampled these forbidden joys. Feeling how quickly he relaxed, Solo knew it would be the same when Illya's penis entered him.

All these years, Napoleon had thought he'd never be able to give his partner what Illya gave to him so freely almost every time they were together. The idea of allowing another man, even one he cherished as dearly as he did Illya, to...fuck him was simply inconceivable to Solo. He'd never been able to understand how Illya could let him do it to him time after time.

Even more puzzling to him was how Kuryakin managed to maintain the stability of their working relationship. For, even though Napoleon had never been personally involved in a same sex relationship before, his years in the military and other all male services had exposed him to certain issues that most of the world never even considered. Solo had seen what happened in relationships where one man habitually did the fucking, while the other regularly assumed the submissive part. The roles taken in the bedroom had a way of filtering over to affect working relationships.

From the first time Illya had suggested that they have anal intercourse, Napoleon had been worried that their partnership would be similarly affected, that because of what they did together in bed, Illya would automatically defer to him in a working situation.

But that had never happened, thank God. Perhaps it was a byproduct of Illya's unnatural self-control, but he never seemed changed by what they did. To the contrary, it was normally Illya who called the shots.

Yet, even though Solo's fears had been completely unjustified, he'd still never been able to imagine trading places with Illya. He'd never invited so much as a finger up inside him, for fear of what it would lead to. Until recently, the thought of reciprocating had never even crossed his mind.

Napoleon wasn't certain what had generated his interest in trying this. Part of it was plain terrorof losing what they had. Every day it seemed Illya slipped farther away from him, not hearing or believing any of the things Solo tried to tell him. This ultimate act seemed the one way of showing Illya what he meant to him.

An even greater portion of his motivation was guilt. Solo had never felt worse in his life than those nights when he'd come to Illya with all that anger and frustration seething inside him. The feel of that cool, pale flesh would set Napoleon's passions alight like matches to kindling. They'd come together in desperation. Illya's body always appeared ready for him...Illya's cock as hard as Solo could get it, the sphincter relaxed and accustomed to his touch...normally, when Solo would enter his partner under similar conditions, it would be the final push to topple Illya's damaged organs into orgasm. However, these last few weeks, Illya never made it that far. He was left way behind while his over-stimulated companion pounded away into his body. After Napoleon climaxed within Illya, he always did his best to bring Kuryakin off as well, but hardly ever was he successful. Solo learned that if he didn't get Illya to the point where he would come with him when he took his friend, then Illya wouldn't come at all that night. Those bitter disappointments always felt like a betrayal of his partner's trust to Solo.

Tonight Napoleon was determined to make up for all those disappointing nights and all the other hurts he'd inflicted in the only way he knew how. This was the one thing that would show Illya how serious he was about their relationship, how much he felt for him.

Still, despite his determination, Solo had never expected to enjoy the experience. At best, Napoleon had thought he'd suffer through it as Illya had suffered during those instances when his body had served Solo's needs while Illya endured the rough use without achieving his own release.

But that was not to be.

Illya's finger moved relentlessly up inside Solo's ass as that mystical mouth sucked him for all that he was worth, rapidly realigning Solo's view point. Under that magic touch, Solo's martyristic intentions crumpled to grey ash like burnt newspapers in a winter wind. Illya once again took what the role conscious Napoleon had always considered a repugnant, slightly demeaning act and transformed it into sublime ecstasy. Considering the fact that the first time Solo had finger fucked his partner, it had been for the express purpose of stimulating Illya's prostate gland to enhance the injured man's enjoyment of sex, it should have come as no surprise to Napoleon that his own body would react in an identical manner. Yet, he was totally unprepared for the sensual explosion that rocked his system when Illya's searching fingers finally contacted that special spot. As Illya carefully applied pressure, Napoleon sky rocketed straight to explosion point, his body ready to burst.

"`loosha, my god..." he gasped, clawing at his companion's hair to force the golden head up, unable to suffer the double stimulation. "Please stop, please..."

Reluctantly, Illya allowed himself to be pushed back.

Solo felt the rotating finger freeze within him.

Completely blown away, Napoleon took in his partner's heated expression, the open hunger in those heart-stoppingly beautiful eyes. Saying a mental prayer, his gaze followed the line of his companion's body from Illya's face to torso and from there to regions south.

He heard Illya swallow as his roving gaze settled upon the gloriously erect cock.

Never before had Illya come this far so fast.

Solo supposed he shouldn't be surprised. Were their positions reversed, had Illya taken him as many times as he had Illya, the first time he touched his friend in this private spot would have been enough to send Solo over the edge. The incredible rush Illya was experiencing was impossible to miss.

"You're ready to pop," Solo observed, careful to keep any hint of triumph out of his attitude.

"Forgive me." Illya swallowed hard, a sheen of sweat glossing his high, intelligent brow. "My sole intention was to please you, but..."

Napoleon cut off the embarrassed apology. "You're a man and you want what every man wants from his lover. Don't ever apologize for that."

His calm statement seemed to totally disarm Illya, who appeared to be anticipating a volcanically explosive rejection. "Napoleon?"

"I want to trust myself to you, `loosha. Totally," Solo explained as elegantly as he could.

"You want..." Illya's Adam's apple bobbed, a fine quiver coursing through him.

"You're not getting left behind again, my friend. Tonight, you lead and I'll follow."

"You – you are sure you want this?" The visibly astonished Illya checked once he seemed able to speak.

"You've known me how long – four years now? In all that time, have I ever once made an offer I wasn't willing to back up or purposefully mislead you? Feel my body..." Solo thrust his hips up, inadvertently plunging further down on that finger still buried deep inside him. "Do it, Illya! Do it now."

Solo cried out as the finger left him.

"Napoleon..." His face glowing as if he'd just been given the world, Illya leaned forward to kiss him deep and long. When he pulled back, his gaze was inexpressively soft. "Will you turn over? There will be less discomfort if you are on your stomach."

Solo gulped at the suggestion. Illya wanted him face down? The position might be easier on him physically, but Solo would have preferred the reassurance of watching his lover's face.

Despite his reservations, he turned as requested.

"What are you doing?" Napoleon nearly squawked as Kuryakin snaked a hand under his belly to lift him and insert a pillow beneath his groin.

"It will be easier for you if there is some elevation," Illya informed him.

Less discomfort, easier on him...his partner's solicitousness sent a guilty twinge through Solo as he recalled the first time he'd taken Illya, the unbridled lust of that union. He hadn't given a thought to his partner's comfort, taking Illya flat on his back with Illya's legs dangling over his shoulders.

His mouth running dry, Napoleon gave voice to the suggestion he knew Illya would never initiate, because Illya knew how sensitive he was to roles, even after all this time. "``loosha, do you want me on my knees?"

"Napoleon, you don't have to..."

Much more of this stalling and Illya would go flat again. Solo could hear the growing nervousness in the other man's husky voice.

Without further delay, Napoleon raised himself to his knees. Mustering every bit of courage he possessed, he looked back over his shoulder to smile into his friend's abruptly pale face, "Go ahead, tiger. Hit me with your best shot."

To show he was serious, Solo grasped around behind him until his searching hand located Illya's shaft. "You feel good and ready."

The playful squeeze Napoleon gave the organ elicited a long kiss.

"Oh, Napoleon..." Illya sighed, his right hand searching beneath Solo for his erection.

The expert manual manipulation helped settle Solo's nerves, as Illya no doubt intended.

Solo felt his partner's left hand stroke down his left buttock before tentatively parting him.

Prepared for that impressive cock, Solo almost jumped out of his skin as something smaller probed between his cheeks. "What are you...ahhh..." Solo shivered as warm breath caressed that sensitive area. "Illya," he protested, his cheeks heating at the thought of how unpleasant this must be for his partner, "you don't have to...my God, Illl yaaaahh..."

The tongue tip touched him, right on the center of the muscle that had been braced for the most uncomfortable of penetrations. The touch of that delicate, playful rover, lapping and tickling the most intimate opening of his body melted Solo completely.

Unable to believe the incredible sensations rocking his system, Solo simply lay there shivering, the most willing of victims.

For an eternity, the tongue seemed to linger, paying homage to Solo's body as no other had in Napoleon's thirty-seven years. The combined stimulation of Illya's pumping hand and that wickedly sensual tongue pushed him past the bounds of sanity, leaving him on the brink of utter destruction from pleasure.

When at last the wet tormentor abandoned him, Solo was so far gone, he barely noticed the desertion.

The next event he was fully conscious of was Illya's gruff voice whispering close to his ear as Illya's body fitted itself along Solo's back, snug as an U.N.C.L.E. hand gun in its specially made holster.

"Know this, Napoleon Solo, that, whatever the future may hold in store for us, I love you – with my heart, body...and very soul." With that uncharacteristic declaration reverberating through the shaking Solo, Illya entered him.

The pain was incredible, an endless stretch that pushed him to his very limits of tolerance.

But the sensual wizard claiming his body knew all the tricks. Illya's talented hand knowingly worked Napoleon's cock and balls, refusing to allow his body to fall thrall to the discomfort.

Napoleon grunted at the stretch, feeling as if Illya were about to rip him apart. Illya felt so big, so impossibly huge...

Just when Napoleon was on the point of panicking and giving into his fear, Illya leaned in closer to his ear, nuzzling the soft flesh behind it as he murmured over and over again, "I love you, Napoleon Solo, love you..." With a helpless grunt, Illya began to thrust in time with his chant.

The familiar accented whisper sent a shudder through Solo. Then that battering ram of a cock found the secret pleasure center deep inside his body and Solo completely ignited, consumed from inside out.

"Illl yaahh!" His scream thundered through the small room, reverberating through the sparsely furnished apartment the same way the exquisite ecstasy ripped through his nervous system. There was nothing like this, nothing like it in the entire universe.

As his body exploded, he squeezed Illya's length inside him, feeling his partner tumble over the edge as well.

He didn't feel Illya's actual outpouring, the spurt or two the damaged testicle usually managed was normally barely more than a few dribbles. But whatever sensations those less than protean outpourings engendered, they seemed to rip the dazzled Illya free from all his emotional moorings. When Illya's body finally climaxed, he clutched Napoleon so close to him that the already reeling Napoleon could barely draw breath. The entire time, Solo could feel his emotion ravaged partner sobbing against his neck.

The fall seemed to take forever.

When Illya's spinning bedroom at last righted itself and oxygen once again became accessible to Solo's starving lungs, he opened his eyes...to find his face squashed in a feather pillow. He was flat on his stomach now with Illya's arms and legs wrapped around him like a baby monkey's. Illya's shaft had gone lax and slipped out of his body, but Napoleon could still feel it prodding intimately between the cheeks of his ass.

Still thunderstruck by how much he'd enjoyed the experience, Napoleon slowly took stock of himself. He was somewhat sore down there, but not horribly so. His blood was still thrumming with the vibrant rush of ecstasy, the way a metal harp string would continue to ring long after being plucked. Feeling those pleasurable reverberations chime through him, he felt incredibly at peace, with both himself and the man clutching him so tightly.

"`loosha? Are you all right?" Solo enquired when a very long time elapsed and Illya showed no indication of abandoning the death grip he had on him. He knew Illya was still awake, for he could feel the pale lashes flicking against the skin of his neck.

A slow nod and tightening of the hug was all the response Solo received at first.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Napoleon grew concerned when, after several more minutes, Illya failed to stir.

A deep contented sigh shivered down Solo's back.

"Napoleon..."

"Can I turn around and face you?" Napoleon requested, unable to raise his face clear of the pillow with his partner's hardly inconsiderable weight squashed against his back.

"Yes, of course, forgive me..." Illya rushed to free him.

"Hey, I enjoy being this close to you. I just can't speak very well with this pillow in my face."

Illya settled on the pillow beside Napoleon, gazing at him with almost rapt wonder, his arm slung comfortably tight over Solo's chest.

The feeling between them at that moment was very warm and cherishing.

"Have you any idea what you just gave to me, Napoleon?" Illya asked at last, leaning in to kiss his cheek as if unable to stop himself.

"Well..." Napoleon felt the skin beneath his lover's mouth warm, "...I suppose you mean my...virginity?"

"That, too," Illya whispered, his fingers trembling as they caressed Napoleon's face.

"That too? What else did I have to give you?" Solo questioned, confused as he often was in this complex man's company.

"It...probably would never occur to you..." Illya mumbled, still seeming overcome by the experience. "Napoleon...in all the years I have been...trapped within this mutilated flesh, not once has it...sustained me long enough to reach completion inside another's body. Either I lose my erection before I enter or it fails me inside...either way, the results are the same, humiliating failure. I didn't truly believe I could anymore – even in the unlikely event that you would agree to such a union. But tonight..."

"Illya, I never even considered..." Solo's words trailed away as he contemplated how horribly awry this entire plan could have gone. After the stress and strain of the past few months, their fragile relationship might not have survived another dismal failure, even if Illya's pride could weather the blow.

"I know you didn't." Illya appeared to be glowing with joy as he continued, "It never even occurred to you that I might not be physically up to the task, for which I thank you. Napoleon, it was like...like magic, as though I were seventeen years old again and still..." Illya appeared about seventeen right now, wide-eyed and radiant. "You have no idea what you've given back to me tonight. Thank you, Napoleon."

"I'm glad for you, `loosha... but, I didn't do it...you wanted me and you took me, as any other man would. You must learn to have more faith in your abilities...the faith that I have in you," Solo admitted.

Illya's fingers made a pensive study of Solo's brow. "Napoleon, when you cannot count on your...equipment to function, faith is a difficult thing."

"You function just fine," Solo protested, hugging Illya's banding arm tight to his chest.

"Even with you, I have repeatedly failed," Illya reminded, not even his present contented glow able to prevent the bitterness from seeping through.

"Failed? For god's sake, Illya, with the emotional wringer we've been putting each other through these past few months, any man would have had trouble getting it up."

"You never did," Illya reminded.

Solo forced Illya's averted face around to meet his gaze, his hand tenderly caressing the smooth chin. "You've been giving a lot more than I have. It was harder for you to fake being happy."

"What do you mean?" Illya asked.

"Illya, you were deeply angry with me, but you were still opening yourself to me in the most... intimate of ways..." Seeing Illya's confusion deepen, Solo dispensed with all subtlety. "You were angry with me and I was fucking you...using you."

"You never used me..." Illya denied. "You always tried to ensure that I came, but...my body couldn't..."

"Your body couldn't lie to you, `loosha. It knows when you're happy. Trust in that honesty." Solo leaned forward to kiss between the shadowed eyes.

"You are the only one who's ever made it happy," Illya shyly admitted.

"And you're the only man who's ever going to make me happy the way you did tonight. So, we're about even there, don't you think?" Solo grinned, the smile cracking into a tremendous yawn.

"I think that we are both going to be exhausted tomorrow," Illya predicted.

"I think you're probably right." Solo settled back into the bedclothes, drawing Illya down into a more comfortable position. "When can I see you again, `loosha?"

"I meant what I said earlier tonight, Napoleon. The choice is now yours."

Solo could feel the tension in the other man's body as he admitted, "I want to see you again tomorrow." When no protest issued, he continued, "But that wouldn't be very wise, would it?"

As Solo stared up at the ghostly whiteness of his partner's ceiling, he felt Illya's sigh tickle his neck.

"I don't know, Napoleon."

"When would you feel comfortable meeting again, 'loosha?" Solo requested, the tightness of the arms clutching him telling him that Illya was as reluctant as he to even temporarily give up what they'd found together.

"Do not put that responsibility back on me again, Napoleon, please."

As he began to consider the next safe time to schedule a night together, Solo began to understand some of what his partner must have been going through. Tomorrow would be too soon. But the day after that felt centuries away.

"What I really want, `loosha is for us to be together like this every night. To go to sleep together in each others arms and wake up every morning right next to each other...to have a normal life." Solo tightened his grip and placed a kiss on the warm, golden hair.

"It is a tempting dream," Illya agreed. "Do you truly believe you could be content with such a life?"

"If you were sharing it with me," Solo confessed.

"Ah, Napoleon, I wish it could be that easy, but...the world is not a welcoming place to a love such as ours. Even without the dangers inherent in U.N.C.L.E...."

"Would what other people think really keep you from making a life with me, Illya?" Solo questioned, unable to believe his self-contained partner would be influenced by such a thing. "No, but I think that...the labels outsiders will put upon us will...grate upon you."

"And if I'm willing to risk that?"

"Could you really give up the action?" Illya caressed Napoleon's cheek. "Paperwork bores you so easily. Sometimes, I've tried to picture the life you describe and..."

"You have?" Solo started, surprised by the notion.

"I've had many lonely nights to consider such fancies," Illya gently reminded.

"And?"

"In my heart, I want it, but...I know us both, Napoleon. Neither of us is ready for that step yet. In my bones I fear that you would grow bored within a month, while I..."

"While you?" Solo encouraged.

"I have not quite settled my score with THRUSH yet," Illya grimly admitted.

While Napoleon's hand lightly stroked his partner's flank, he thought his lover's score wouldn't be settled until THRUSH was no more.

"I suppose you're right," Solo reluctantly admitted. "It is an impossible dream. Well," he consciously brightened his attitude, unwilling to allow unobtainable pipedreams to poison what they had now, "today is Tuesday. Would Friday be too soon?" he questioned, holding his breath. The Ice King would have insisted upon next Wednesday, just to be safe.

"Mr. Waverly said that we could have this weekend off if we finish the paperwork on this last case by tomorrow night. Perhaps we could spend it together? Go somewhere, perhaps? If you don't have any other plans, that is."

The tentative quality of the request touched Solo to his soul. He could see how hard his cautious lover was trying to meet him more than halfway. "I don't have any plans. Would you care to go hiking? We could do some of that Appalachian Trail that you were talking about a few months ago."

Although roughing it in a drafty tent wasn't the sybaritic Napoleon's idea of the ideal vacation, he knew that Illya loved that type of challenge. Besides, it was one way of ensuring complete privacy.

"You would want to do that on your days off?" Illya asked uncertainly.

Normally, they squeezed that kind of outdoor adventure in only when some mission left them stranded in some godforsaken back hole with nothing to do for days on end but wait for instructions from base. And then, if there were anything even faintly feminine available, Solo would forgo the joys of nature for some more primitive primate delights. Never did Napoleon actually volunteer for such jaunts in the wilderness.

"I think it would be fun." Solo smiled, hugging his surprised companion close. "What do you say?"

"Yes, of course," Illya mumbled into Solo's chest.

Unbelievably content, Solo luxuriated in the feel of his partner lying so trustingly close to him. Napoleon knew almost the exact instant that his sleepy armful gave way to Morpheus' inducements, but was totally oblivious to his own surrender when it came.

*~*~*

CHAPTER SEVEN

To Solo, the night he gave up his virginity marked the turning point of their relationship, but not for the obvious reason. After that, they seemed to have a deeper, more instinctive understanding of each other. Day after day, Napoleon kept waiting for the sword to drop and shatter the happiness they found in each other, but the days rolled into weeks without incident, the weeks into months, and the months into years...and still they were together.

Those were the most exciting, joyful times of Solo's life. Although not even the most cockeyed of optimists would dare call the life of any active U.N.C.L.E. field agent idyllic, whenever Napoleon looked back upon his past, those three years with Illya after that night seemed damned near idyllic. No matter what happened, what trials Fate threw at him, Illya was always his safe anchor, the calm center of the heart of a raging whirlwind of bullets and betrayals. Somehow, they always managed to beat the odds; even when the chaotic forces that ruled the universe seemed to stack the deck in THRUSH's favor, they somehow managed to pull each other through it all and come out on top.

But what Napoleon forgot during those action-filled years of adventure and loving was that sooner or later, every man was called upon to pay the piper in full. More than once in the past, Alexander Waverly had remarked that he feared Solo's days on the Earth were numbered. From the time Napoleon had signed on with the outfit, he'd accepted as a given fact that he probably wouldn't survive long enough to collect a pension from U.N.C.L.E. What Napoleon had never counted upon was the perversities of Fate. When his years as an U.N.C.L.E. field operative came to their inevitable end, he didn't go out in the blaze of glory he'd always counted on.

That final mission was like so many others of his career that the details might well have blended into the endless flow of THRUSH madmen, gangsters, and femme fatales he and Illya put down, were it not for this affair's catastrophic conclusion.

Although the exact geographic location wasn't of particular significance, the case took place in a small monarchy situated on that dangerous fringe of ever changing territory between Northern Europe and the Soviet Eastern Block Nations. The ruling king, Alexi the Third, had been assassinated by a mail bomb of suspicious origin. THRUSH infiltration was suspected in the highest ranks of the government. Waverly had sent Illya and him in to uncover the THRUSH plant and safeguard the lives of King Alexi's widow and two infant sons. Before the disastrous debacle would end, the queen and her eldest son would be dead and U.N.C.L.E.'s top agent forever removed from active field work...all because Solo chose the wrong person to trust.

All the evidence in the case had pointed towards the King's brother, Chancellor Uri Mogtovin, as the culprit. The man's cantankerous personality had done little to dispel anyone's suspicions. Even the normally infallible Illya had thought Uri their man.

Virtually the last person on Earth, besides his partner and boss, whom Solo would have suspected as the killer was the princes' young governess.

Everything about the girl had breathed life and trustworthiness. From Annya's innocent blue eyes to her lilting laugh, there had been no hint of the shadows that normally lurked behind a THRUSH temptress' winsome facade. Solo, who'd dated and bedded THRUSH's finest, never suspected the charmingly inexperienced blond.

The girl had even fooled Illya. Illya had seen the light in Solo's eyes as the governess was introduced to them. When the two U.N.C.L.E. agents were alone together in the room they were sharing, Solo's lover had given him an indulging smile and told Napoleon to `go have his fun, but remember that they were on a case.' And Napoleon had enjoyed his trysts with the lovely Annya more than he had any woman in the past five years.

Something about her inspired trust. Although Solo had broken no U.N.C.L.E. rules, he'd allowed the girl into his confidence.

Even when the queen and her eldest son were found poisoned, Solo never once suspected his charming playmate.

It wasn't until Napoleon found his partner unconscious on the nursery floor with Annya's necklace clutched in his hand that Napoleon was forced to face the truth.

The case and, quite incidentally, Solo's active career in U.N.C.L.E., ended at midnight upon a foggy bridge outside the castle's turreted walls.

When he'd found the baby gone, Napoleon had thought he was too late, but the THRUSH agent's need for stealth to safely exit the castle with the surviving heir in tow had slowed the girl down. Whereas, Solo raced like a maniac through the open walkways in plain sight of the watch, alerting the guards to the kidnapping as he ran.

He discovered Annya on the bridge outside the keep's walls. She was just lifting the shrieking toddler over the ancient stone balustrade above the river swollen with snow melt when Solo came upon them.

"The game's up, Annya," Solo said gently, so as not to startle the murderess into dropping the tot. "Put the baby down safely on the ground and move away from him."

"You would not shoot a woman, Napoleon Solo. Especially one whom you've shared so much with," the shapely blond replied, coy as THRUSH's Madame Gervaise Revell or Angela at their deadliest.

Solo merely cocked his gun and pointed it at the center of the woman's forehead – the very place he'd kissed Annya before leaving her bed in the wee hours of the morning.

"Napoleon, you do not fool me. You are a gentleman through and through. You could never shoot a woman." She smiled, ignoring the squirming child she held suspended over a rushing river a hundred of feet below.

"If you knew how much I want to pull this trigger for your deceit alone, you wouldn't push me," Solo warned, uneasy. As much as he wanted to kill her for her treachery, she was right. Although he'd been responsible for the death of many a THRUSH temptress, he'd never yet directly killed a woman, not like this. He knew her sex shouldn't make a difference, but it did.

"Come now. You speak like a child," she chided. "We are both professionals."

"And for that reason, you know that I will do what I must. Put the boy down, Annya."

To his intense relief, she followed his instructions and lowered the golden curled toddler to the stone bridge.

"Now move away." As the girl backed up to the opposite balustrade, Solo turned his attention to the sobbing baby. At eighteen months, the young prince had already lost his entire family. His face and voice gentling under that terrified stare, Solo spoke to the red-faced, crying baby, "It's all right now, Wilhelm. Come to me, Wilhelm. I'll take you home."

"Mama..." the baby cried.

"Come here, Wilhelm, that's a good boy..." Solo pleaded, never having dealt well with children this young.

Solo didn't really expect his singsong crooning to have any effect on the petrified youngster, but the prince obviously found this dark stranger preferable to the beloved governess who'd just dangled him over a hundred foot drop. Step by wobbly step, the baby shambled over to him.

As Solo dropped to one knee to lift the child, the trapped THRUSH agent made her move. Annya's gun seemed to appear from nowhere.

Straightening back up, Solo saw the glint of the weapon. Even as he was moving to shield the child with his own body, Napoleon's gun was discharging.

Solo was fast, but no human was swift enough to avoid a bullet fired at such close range. In a confused blur of motion and cordite smoke, Solo saw his own slug shatter the THRUSH beauty's perfect forehead. Accustomed to dealing with expert marksmen, Solo had flung himself to his right to avoid a heart shot.

What Solo hadn't counted upon was how poor a shot the girl was. It might have been the darkness which was responsible for her poor aim, or perhaps it was the memory of the previous night's caresses; whatever the cause, Annya's bullet sped to the right rather than the left as Solo had anticipated. Instead of avoiding the shot, Solo fairly flung himself into the bullet's path.

Napoleon didn't actually feel the shot pierce his body. Only the force of its impact registered. The blow hit him in the left side, only millimeters shy of the screaming child's chest. It felt as though a martial artist had just delivered a flying side kick to Solo's ribs. The force of the impact lifted him clear off his feet.

The infant prince's screams halted with frightening abruptness as they crashed to the ancient stone bridge. For a stunned moment, the injured Napoleon thought he'd crushed the child. The pain hit Solo as he was desperately checking the tiny body for signs of life.

The boy's white and yellow pajamas with their grinning clown faces were soaked with blood. So much blood...how could a tiny baby survive and lose that much blood, Napoleon thought dazedly, his vision beginning to cloud up.

It was only as he located the steady pulse that Solo realized the truth. The child hadn't been hit. The prince had merely been knocked unconscious in the fall.

The crimson flow wasn't royal blood; it was Solo's own.

Unable to rise to his feet under the waves of nausea and pain assaulting his system, Napoleon's gore-slick hand pulled his communicator from his jacket, leaving a livid, red smear on the lapel. It took four tries before he was able to assemble the pen-like transmitter's antenna. "O open Channel D," he gasped.

"Channel D open," came Lisa Rodgers' dulcet tones from the tiny radio. "Napoleon, are you all right?"

"I'm down. So's the THRUSH infiltrator. The prince is...safe...send back – send back up..."

"Napoleon... NAPOLEON??!"

The transmitter dropped to the slick stones with a metallic clatter. Hearing Section 2's dispatcher anxiously calling his name, Solo knew that he had to report in, but he couldn't move. Shivering under a sudden, consuming chill, he stared at the squawking pen, incapable of forcing his arm to reach the two feet necessary to retrieve it. His body felt sluggish, like he'd taken a couple of dozen of THRUSH tranquilizer darts.

He was cold all over. Cold and incredibly tired...

Realizing that he'd messed up big time, Solo's head sank to the wet flagstones. At least the prince was safe, he thought distantly. And Illya... As he slipped over into what he assumed would be final unconsciousness, his one regret was the he hadn't been able to say good-bye to his lover. His last night on Earth, wasted in a THRUSH agent's arms instead of his dearest love's...

*~*~*

After that, Napoleon lost all sense of time. His mind went far away, to a place where the constant pain couldn't reach him. There were lucid intervals when bright lights assaulted his eyes and hospital-gowned figures loomed over him, adjusting various intravenous tubes or prodding at him. But those moments were brief and elusive.

His only clear recollection of the four days or so following the shooting was the grim-faced sentinel posted at his bedside. Each time Solo's confused eyes would scan his surroundings, whether the sky outside the nearby window was bright with sunlight or dark as obsidian, he'd find the dour Russian sitting there out of the way of the medical staff, but obviously settled in for the duration. Sometimes Waverly would be there as well, or some medical technician going about his or her business, but usually, it was just Illya, sitting there, waiting.

"Napoleon, Napoleon... it is time to wake up!" Illya's voice called from very far away, out of the confusing dream of pain and hospitals that Solo seemed unable to break free from. There was no refusing that insistent tone.

Fearing that he'd overslept and that they were going to have to do some quick thinking to explain to Waverly why they were both late, Solo forced his sticky eyelids apart. Confused, he stared at the jungle of tubes and medical devices surrounding him, his alarmed gaze finally picking out his friend's figure from among the equipment. "I Illya?" he croaked, not at all reassured by his partner's appearance.

Haggard was the only word he could use to describe Illya at the present moment. Those bloodshot blue eyes were ringed with heavy, purple-brownish bags that stood out against the pallid skin like bruises. Lines of worry seemed to have been etched into Illya's handsome face overnight, Illya's lips pressed into such a tight line that the smile he forced at Solo's weak response threatened to crack his entire face.

"You're back." Illya sighed, reaching out to clutch Solo's biceps in a death grip. Illya couldn't hold him any lower than that for fear of disconnecting the IV drips.

"Where am I?" Solo rasped.

"Section 2's med center," Illya informed, a strange inflection to the concise reply. Illya sounded hoarse...as though the younger man were on the verge of collapse – from exhaustion, Solo realized.

"Section 2? The prince..." He started, remembering the foggy bridge.

"The prince is safe," Illya assured.

"You look like hell," Napoleon weakly observed. "That suit looks like you've slept in it for a week."

Illya gave a tired snort, his lips curving up in a tiny smile as he sank back into the plastic chair. "I have."

"Saving on laundry bills?" Solo tried for their usual banter, forcing himself not to appear so damn weak. No matter what, they always tried to stay strong for each other.

"Something like that. Napoleon, how do you feel?"

Somewhat unnerved by the open anxiety in those normally unflappable features, Solo slowly took stock of himself. Everything about Illya's attitude was telling him that he was far from all right. If this had been just a normal injury, his lover would have been sitting there making snide remarks about his tripping over his own feet or bungling the job. This deathly serious concern was frightening.

"Spacy" Solo said at last. "A little numb...and very thirsty."

"They said you may suck on these ice chips should you awaken," Illya told him, dutifully fetching a heaping spoonful of crushed ice to Napoleon's mouth.

Solo gratefully sucked on the freezing chips. "So what else did they say? How bad is it?"

"We will talk about that later." Illya's exhausted blue gaze strayed almost guiltily away.

"`loosha?"

"Napoleon, you must rest now." Illya whispered, his expression impossibly tender as he brushed the hair back from Solo's high forehead, not seeming to care if anyone should see him.

"Illya..."

"Rest now. I will be here when you awaken," Illya promised.

"You should get some sleep yourself," Solo murmured. Falling under the spell of that soft touch, a peaceful, drugged lassitude stole over him.

"I can sleep - now. Rest, love."

Smiling at that last whispered endearment, Solo surrendered to Morpheus' healing embrace.

*~*~*

For the next six weeks or so, the injured Solo lay flat on his back, connected to a veritable smorgasbord of tubes and monitors as he slowly recovered some of his strength. During that period, his increasingly more anxious questions were put off by everyone from his partner to the doctor who'd saved his life.

The surgeon's handiwork was never far from Solo's thoughts. Every time he so much as attempted to move, the agony that gripped his chest reminded him of it. In his many brushes with THRUSH over the years, Solo had more broken ribs than a southwestern barbecue did spare ribs. From the feel of the damage, Solo figured that at least four of his ribs had been broken.

And the scars on his chest from the surgery...

Every time the nurse changed his dressing and Solo would see the location and extent of the gruesome patchwork of livid stitches, he couldn't believe that he was still breathing.

All the doctors would tell him so far was that his recovery was satisfactory. Meanwhile, the frustrated Solo felt like something the cat had better sense than to drag in.

After six endless weeks of doing nothing, Solo was finally allowed out of his bed. But even that small victory was a disappointing experience. Physical weakness was not something Napoleon Solo was accustomed to. His shaking legs, wobbly muscles, and spinning head left him in a state of constant frustration.

His temper growing shorter by the hour under the aggravating lack of information and the constant pain of this excruciatingly slow recovery, Solo was ready to chew iron by the second month of confinement, finding that being stuck in the hospital was worse than being in a THRUSH prison cell. At least in the THRUSH cell, his partner would be working to free him instead of conspiring with his captors.

It had been weeks since he'd touched Illya in anything but the most casual of interactions. Not that his aching, stitched-up body left Solo in the mood for anything adventurous. He simply missed the intimacy. Having Illya so close to him, and so anxious about his well being, but being restricted from offering the most basic reassurance of touch for fear of what others might construe, was a constant source of resentment to him. Never had Napoleon felt the constraints inherent in their same sex relationship as bitterly as he had these past eight weeks. All he wanted to do was crawl into his lover's arms and spend the whole day in that sheltering embrace.

"Good morning, Napoleon," the object of his thoughts brightly greeted. Although Solo's heart leapt at the familiar, beloved Russian accent, he glowered at his friend as Illya took a seat by his bed.

It was the same chair Illya had been glued to every working hour for the past sixty days. The amount of time U.N.C.L.E. had granted Illya for this bedside vigil was in itself alarming. Normally, Waverly couldn't spare either of them for more than seven days at a stretch, but, with the exception of a few emergency calls which had taken Illya away for a few endless days, Solo's lover had been here the entire time, making the unbearable slightly more palatable by his mere presence.

"Either you tell me what the Sam's going on or you can clear out of here right now, Illya," Napoleon threatened, determined to have the worst out in the open.

"Napoleon," Illya sighed, "you doctor has already told you..."

"My doctors have been telling me exactly what they think will make me feel better."

"Is that not the point?" Illya calmly enquired, placing a stack of magazines and doctor approved goodies on Solo's night table. "The sooner you are better, the sooner you will be out of here."

"I want you to tell me the truth, `loosha," Solo pleaded. "How bad is it, really? We both know that nothing has ever kept me down this long before. Christ, Illya, they still won't even let me leave this floor. This nonsense of the bullet passing close to my heart just isn't cutting it any more. I should be better by now."

"You have seen the scars, Napoleon. You understand the nature of the injuries involved. That bullet shattered on two of your ribs and perforated your left lung, going on to nick your aorta."

"My aorta?" Solo gaped.

Illya gave a slow nod. "A tiny piece of the bullet lodged within it. There was much bleeding into the adjacent tissue..."

The worry lines which now seemed permanently etched into Illya's handsome face told Solo precisely how touch and go the surgery had been. Even now Illya still appeared relieved each time he walked into his partner's hospital room and found Napoleon conscious.

"So what does all this mean?" Solo asked. "When will I be able to return to work?"

The clear blue gaze shifted away. "Napoleon, you are fortunate to be alive. Let us concentrate on your recovery before..."

A chill such as Solo had never known shivered down his spine as he watched that well-loved face. He'd kissed or licked every millimeter of those features a thousand times and more, he knew what every nuance of each fleeting expression meant. The look Illya Kuryakin was trying to hide from him now scared Napoleon to death. "Okay, out with it. What aren't you telling me?"

"Napoleon..."

"Don't `Napoleon' me. Tell me the truth, goddamn it!" Solo roared.

His rare excursion into profanity had its desired effect. The already pallid Illya went bone white and gave a reluctant nod.

"You will not be returning to active field duty, not with that piece of shrapnel in your heart." Illya sounded as if he were reciting a weather report, but his electric gaze was haunted, tortured like a man seeing his worst nightmare come to life.

For a long time those words `won't be returning to active field duty' bounced around inside of Solo's mind, the sounds as devoid of meaning as a pebble banging around in an empty oil barrel..

"I... see," Napoleon managed at last, numb to his bones.

"Napoleon, Mr. Waverly has already set up a new position for you. You will be his personal aid, his second in command, responsible for all field strategy in Sect. 2..."

"We're already responsible for most of that," Solo grimly reminded, barely keeping reign on his tempestuous emotions. "All that you're saying is that I will be stuck in the office...a useless paper pusher..."

"Napoleon, that is not true. You know it. Please, you must not upset yourself..." Illya pleaded.

"Not upset myself? Have you considered what this means...to us?" Solo's whisper was hoarse, gruff with unsheddable tears.

"To us?" Illya gave him a blank stare.

"We won't be partners any more," Solo spelled out the unbearable facts of life for his friend.

"We will still be working together. You will be guiding my every move," Illya argued, his eyes as stricken and miserable as Solo felt, for all Illya's outer calm.

"Do you think I could send you off into danger and just sit there waiting to hear if you survive?" Solo shot back, his lurid imagination already outlining a thousand disastrous scenarios as he recalled all the occasions they were forced to rescue one another.

"We already spend most of our missions apart, pursuing different angles of the same problem, as it were," Illya pointed out. "This wouldn't be so very different."

"But we're always there to bail one another out when things go wrong, " Solo reminded, unable to count the number of times his partner's unflustered voice had come out of his little pen transmitter to calmly inform Solo that Illya was in danger of imminent death. "I'll be on the other side of the world now when you need me."

"Napoleon, you are seeing only the dark side of this issue. Please..."

"Illya, there isn't a bright side to this. It's the end."

"You aren't thinking clearly," Illya sighed.

"I won't be any damn paper pusher. If Waverly can't use me in the field, then..." Solo drew a quick, frightened breath, "... then I'll retire."

"Don't be ridiculous." Illya snapped.

"What's so ridiculous about it? You know as well as I do that I'd be worse than useless in the office. My flair has always been in the field..."

"Napoleon," Illya interrupted, his try at reason a visible strain upon him, "you have trained your entire life to do this job. You cannot simply throw it away without a moment's thought. You are being irrational."

"What would you do if they cut you off from the action?" Solo demanded.

Illya's mouth, open in protest, snapped shut. Napoleon could see how tempted his partner was to give him a placating response, but even now, after five years as lovers, they stood firm in their conviction that there be no lies between them.

"You see, we're not so different, after all. You couldn't do it either," Solo announced into the sudden quiet. Illya sat silently watching him for what seemed an eternity before abandoning the blue plastic chair to come closer. Illya lowered the hospital bed's guard rail before carefully seating himself beside Solo.

Not knowing what Illya intended, Solo waited.

Then Illya reached out for him.

As those arms closed around him, Napoleon was glad that he was no longer attached to the intravenous tubes anymore. This was the first decent hug he'd had in two months. He clung to his lover's solid form, allowing Illya's familiar scent and warmth to seep through his tense, hurting body.

"I know that you are afraid, my friend. I am, too," Illya murmured into Solo's shoulder a long while later. "But we cannot make any hasty decisions."

"I can't be stuck in an office while you're out there in the line of fire," Napoleon insisted.

"It will be difficult, Napoleon, but Fate has left us little choice this time," Illya sadly replied, his fingers tenderly stroking through Solo's hair.

"We could both resign," Solo whispered fiercely, hugging his partner with all his might. "We could have that dream we always wanted, have a real life – together."

"Ah, Napoleon..." Illya sat back to look at him, his face soft with regret. "U.N.C.L.E. is all either of us know."

"That's not true, Illya," Solo argued, encouraged by the thought of them both getting out of the game alive. "You know science and..."

"I turned my back on that path a long time ago," Illya said. "Besides, we would not be together were I to pursue that line of work."

"We could still live our lives like normal people do, Illya. Even if we couldn't work together, we'd still be able to make a life to share. One home, one..."

"Napoleon, U.N.C.L.E. is all that I am fit for – all that I know, all I want..." Illya objected.

"All you want?" Solo sharply enquired, hurt.

"Not all I want." A pale hand reached out to touch Solo's cheek. "But U.N.C.L.E. is where I feel the most useful. It is not something I could give up, Napoleon."

Solo looked away, not wanting the perceptive gaze to see the stinging tears he was fighting back as his dream turned to dust before his eyes. "I can't feel useful there behind a desk, Illya. If I can't be out in the field with you, I will resign."

"Would you throw our relationship away so hastily?" Illya asked in a guarded tone.

Napoleon's gaze shot back to his partner's face. "What do you mean?"

"Napoleon, you know U.N.C.L.E. agents can afford no weak links in their armor, no hostages to fortune. That is why active field agents so rarely marry."

"You're not telling me anything I don't already know," Solo said, not knowing where Illya was leading.

"Should you entirely disassociate yourself from U.N.C.L.E., our obvious reason for continued close contact would be eliminated. If we were to continue to...share the things we have these past five years, our relationship would become..."

Hearing the word Illya couldn't seem to force himself to utter, Solo completed the thought for him. "A liability?" Reading agreement in those troubled, crystalline eyes, Solo's blood turned to ice. "Are you saying that if I resign, you won't see me again?"

"Napoleon, this is not the time to discuss such things. You are upset now. You must concentrate on recovery. Then we can assess..."

"You could do that?" Solo demanded, unable to believe what his lover of five years was telling him. "You could just turn your back on me, walk away and never look back?"

"Napoleon, you are upset and..."

"I'm not talking about some damned equation. I'm talking about us, goddamn it! Answer the question!"

"Napoleon..."

Illya was practically begging him to desist, but Solo knew this man far too well. He read the truth in the tortured blue gaze, and felt the last handhold in his universe give way in response.

So, along with everything else, he'd lost Illya, too. Everything he knew and held dear...gone forever...

In that instant, Napoleon knew that if pushed Illya to choose between their love and U.N.C.L.E., he would come out the clear loser. It made no sense. Solo knew that in Illya's entire life, he was the only person Illya had allowed himself to love. And that love wasn't mere lip service. Illya's feelings weren't faked. They were solid and real, yet, though it might kill his partner, he would sever all ties with him were Napoleon to quit U.N.C.L.E..

The truly pathetic part was that Napoleon knew and loved this man so well that he fully understood Illya's reasons, as bitterly as they cut him. If Solo were out of U.N.C.L.E. and they remained lovers, their relationship would not only become a security risk for U.N.C.L.E., it would actively endanger Solo's life – something Illya would never willingly do, even if it meant giving up the only love he'd ever known.

But understanding didn't make the truth any easier to accept. Like a marble statue frozen in ice, Solo sat there in his hospital bed and simply stared at this man whom he suddenly felt he didn't know at all.

The awful silence was finally broken by a familiar beeping from Illya's suit jacket.

With an irritated scowl, Illya assembled his transmitter pen. "Open Channel D. Kuryakin here."

"Mr. Kuryakin," came Waverly's lulling voice. "Have you informed Mr. Solo of your departure? Your plane is ready."

Illya shot Solo an apologetic glance, "No, sir. I was just about to..."

"Well, make your farewells brief." the Englishman advised. "There is a team waiting in Athens to take you to the island in question. If you are to be there on time, you must leave immediately."

"Yes, sir. I'm on my way to the airport now. Kuryakin, out."

"Well, I guess that settles that question," Solo sarcastically commented as his partner put away his transmitter pen.

"Napoleon..."

"How long will you be gone?" Solo questioned, ignoring the pleading expression, feeling betrayed down to the smallest fiber of his being.

"Four days. A week at the most."

Napoleon gave a considering nod. Four days to a week, that should give him enough time to arrange everything, save his partner the awkward good-byes. His heart felt empty and aching at the mere thought of what he must do. But with everything he'd suffered in these past two months, he knew the one thing he couldn't survive was watching Illya walk out on him. If a break was to be made, Solo's pride demanded that he be the one to do it, clean and fast, with no malingering. He'd be nobody's...liability, not even Illya Illya's.

"You heard the man," Solo snapped. "Make your farewells brief and get out of here."

"Napoleon..."

"You made your choice, lover." Solo used the last word like a dagger, seeing Illya wince as its point struck true.

"There was no choice here. You are behaving like a child and we do not have the time to discuss this properly. When I get back..."

"You have a plane to catch, don't you?" Solo practically sneered, wanting to hurt Illya as badly as he'd been hurt in the last five minutes. "Duty calls and all that."

"We will discuss this further when I return," Illya whispered, almost white-lipped with fury as he rose from the bed.

"Right," Solo snorted, watching his lover turn and walk away.

Illya's spine was straight as a flagpole, his hair glinting like spun gold in the early morning sunlight. Then the hospital room's door slammed behind him, closing that phase of Napoleon's life for what he thought would be forever.

That very afternoon, Solo requested a meeting with Mr. Waverly to tender his resignation. The old man didn't even seem surprised by his choice. Waverly reluctantly accepted his decision, making sure that Napoleon knew that, should he change his mind, that there would always be a job waiting for him at U.N.C.L.E.

Three days later Solo transferred himself out of the U.N.C.L.E. medical facility and into a private hospital. That U.N.C.L.E. hospital was the last contact Solo had with the agency he'd devoted his whole life to supporting...and his last contact with the man who'd won his reluctant heart all those years ago.

*~*~*

CHAPTER EIGHT

"We h are here, sir." An unfamiliar voice, so deeply accented with a Middle Eastern slant as to be almost incomprehensible, interrupted Solo's thought.

With a start, Napoleon stared from the dark-skinned, white turbaned cab driver to the doors of the Alexandria Hotel. His morose trip down memory lane had left him all but oblivious to the traffic snarl that had tripled the time it took to get home.

Not understanding why he should feel so empty and lost after all these years, Solo absently paid the cab fare and made his way up to his Aunt Amy's penthouse suite. Absurd as the notion was, he felt as if he'd just lost Illya all over again tonight.

He was halfway through his second martini when the phone extension down to the lobby rang.

He snagged the receiver and pressed the blinking extension. "Yes, Calvin?"

"I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Solo," the young black man explained, "but there's a foreign gentleman here who insists on seeing you immediately. His name is Illya Kurowski or something like that. He's not on you visitors list, but he was so insistent..."

"That's all right, Calvin. Send Mr. Kuryakin up." Solo sighed. He should have known he'd gotten off too easily. Obviously, it was his partner's intention to beat this dead horse into the ground.

The young man's deep voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper, "Are you sure, Mr. Solo? Those guys who knocked me out last week sounded Russian, too. This dude's givin' me attitude like you wouldn't believe. I can call the cops if you want...or handle it myself."

The eagerness in his youthful doorman's voice at that last suggestion was hard to miss. Solo knew Calvin was still chafing at his inability to stop the two THRUSH agents who'd forcibly removed Napoleon's `kidnapped' ballerina from his penthouse last week. "No, Mr. Kuryakin is not KGB, Calvin. Send him up."

"If you insist, Mr. Solo."

Smiling at the open disappointment in the kid's voice, Solo waited for the elevator to deliver his uninvited guest while he tried to collect his thoughts.

All too soon the front door buzzer sounded.

Braced for battle, Napoleon opened the door.

The figure poised on his threshold wasn't quite what he expected. Illya's flushed face and hair were dripping with sweat. His partner's normally immaculate dark suit was rumpled, his tie askew, and shirt soaked through with perspiration. Illya looked like he'd just raced across town. Little wonder Calvin was so reluctant to admit the foreign gentleman, Solo decided.

"May I come in?" Illya stiffly asked.

Napoleon stepped wordlessly aside and opened the door, unable to stop himself from taking a heavy drag of the air as his friend passed him. Even after all these years, the fresh, warm scent of Illya's sweat was the same.

As Illya brushed past Solo, he commented, "Your doorman is a most disagreeably recalcitrant individual."

"He thought you were KGB," Solo explained, watching the sweaty man as if his partner were a dangerous spider. "You look like hell. What happened?"

"I am not as much in shape as I thought," Illya offered. "May I please have a glass of water?"

"You ran here?" Solo asked as he fetched a liter of cold Perrier and a tall glass from the bar.

Illya shrugged. "I could not catch a cab."

Solo waited as his guest thirstily consumed the spring water, watching his visitor as Illya took in his surroundings.

"This is very elegant," Illya said at last, seeming pleased by the regal, old world charm of Solo's living room.

"Thank you." Napoleon observed the amenities as if Illya were simply another stranger whom business commitments had brought to his home. When it seemed his friend wasn't going to initiate any further conversation, he demanded of his breathless friend, "So what was so important that you couldn't wait for a cab?"

"You left the cafe rather abruptly," Illya stated, his clear blue, hawk-like gaze scouring Napoleon's face.

"I told you I was tired," Solo evaded.

Illya opened his mouth to speak, but then the roving blue gaze settled upon the picture inside the doorway. Over twenty years old, the shot was the one of the two of them holding the prototypes of the U.N.C.L.E. guns...the guns that were now in the special U.N.C.L.E. wing of the Smithsonian.

Illya was still sweating as he moved to get a closer look, his face thoughtful and strangely sad as he took in the photograph. "This is a peculiar picture to hang."

"It's the only one I had of the two of us," Solo explained, feeling oddly embarrassed by the exposure of his blatant sentimentality. Then, because he couldn't stand the waiting, he demanded, "Is there any particular reason you're here, Illya? As I said earlier, I'm tired." A tired old dinosaur, just a few steps short of ending up in that special U.N.C.L.E. Smithsonian wing himself.

"I came to apologize," Illya said softly, still staring at the picture, seeming nearly recovered from the physical exertion of his run.

"Apologize?" Solo blankly repeated. "What for?"

Simply watching how the lamplight glimmered through Illya's perspiration damp hair caused a familiar, nostalgic ache deep inside Napoleon.

"I suppose the transgressions are so many that you would have to ask that question," Illya quietly noted. "However, it is what happened in the restaurant which brought me here specifically."

"What happened in the restaurant...?" Solo began, doing his best not to reveal how deeply the casual dismissal of his question had hurt. Illya's presence here told him that he hadn't fooled anybody, but Solo's pride demanded that he at least keep up the pretense of ignorance.

"I...believe that you misinterpreted my meaning," Illya said.

"There wasn't anything to misinterpret," Solo denied. "As you pointed out, there is nothing to be said at this late date. It was a foolish question, better off left unasked." Reclaiming his martini, Solo took a long sip and sat down on the leather couch. "Let's just forget that I ever asked it and go on from there."

The absolute silence that fell raked along Solo's nerves like a combine tractor, leaving him feeling raw and exposed.

"I did look for you, you know," Illya offered at last.

Solo snorted at the statement. "I didn't exactly cover my trail, Illya. If you'd wanted to find me, I was highly visible."

And in fifteen long years, Illya had never come. Even when Illya walked away from U.N.C.L.E. and there was no outward obstacle to their being together, he still hadn't tried to find him.

"I did find you, Napoleon, three months after you left," Illya protested.

"Please, Illya. We both know that until last week, we hadn't seen hide nor hair of each other for over fifteen years.

"It was a July afternoon. Three months after you left the hospital. I drove out to your Aunt Amy's summer house in South Hampton on a Tuesday afternoon."

Solo's gaze snapped from his drink to Illya. "I spent the entire summer recuperating there that year. Mr. Waverly was the only man from U.N.C.L.E. who ever visited the beach house."

"Nevertheless, I was there," Illya insisted. "Your car was in the drive the day I came, yet there was no answer at the house. I walked around the side to the private beach and saw you there."

"And it wasn't important enough to speak to me?" Solo demanded hotly, furious at this additional, unknown rejection.

"You were not alone, Napoleon," Illya said in a low, quiet voice. "When I arrived, you were busy testing out the beach's privacy with a shapely blond who had a strawberry birthmark on her left buttock."

Solo stared at his friend, recalling the girl, but not her name. "You could have interrupted. You know you always came first with me, Illya."

"Put yourself in my place, Napoleon. I didn't know what I'd come to say, only that I had to see with my own eyes that you were alive and well. You had left me and U.N.C.L.E. to start a normal life. What right had I..."

"Wait a minute. I left you? Who was it who said we couldn't...be together if I resigned?" Solo protested this skewered view of what had happened between them all those years ago.

"You never waited to test my resolve," Illya said stiffly.

The soft-spoken accusation raised the hairs on the back of Solo's neck. "You were quite insistent upon what would happen should I resign, if you will recall."

Illya stood there in the doorway, simply staring at Solo for the longest time, as if to judge the veracity of his explanations. Then he loosed a question which blew the very foundation out from under Napoleon's self righteous indignation.

"Napoleon, think back. When was I ever able to deny you anything? Even after all these years apart, you come to me and tell me that you need me, and I find myself breaking a sacred vow for you. Do you truly believe that I could have gone through with my threat? Or that you would not have talked me around to your way of thinking in time? When it came to you, I always...had pathetically little pride," his dignified partner reluctantly admitted.

Solo read the truth of what Illya was saying in the depths of those well remembered eyes...as if Illya's rumpled, sweaty appearance left any doubt as to how much the man still cared for him.

Was it true, Napoleon wondered. Would it have been that easy to change Illya's mind?

Once again, Napoleon found his universe rapidly changing around him, but not at all in the direction his disillusioned mind would have anticipated at the start of the night.

Not knowing what to say, Solo asked, "Sit down. Please, Illya."

Illya looked poised to sprint from the penthouse.

After a momentary hesitation, his unkempt partner perched at the far end of the couch.

Solo could only imagine how exposed his friend was feeling after admitting to having no pride. Illya's self respect had always been his dearest possession.

Straight back to that night in the THRUSH cell when Solo had first seen what his young friend had suffered at their enemies' hands, he could recall Illya insisting how he would never be an object of pity.

Recognizing that after Illya's brutal self honesty, the other man's pride would require a similar show of trust on his behalf, Solo offered his own truth. "I...I wasn't thinking very clearly back then, Illya. I – I felt like I'd lost every purpose I had for living - you, the job..."

If anything, Solo's halting explanation appeared to add to his companion's distress. "And I should have anticipated your reaction. After all, it was you who had been wounded. Forgive me, Napoleon. I appear to have failed you on all counts."

"Illya," Solo said gently, touched beyond words by the other man's generous acceptance of responsibility for what Napoleon knew to be his own irrational behavior. "We were both afraid and confused back then. Perhaps neither of us is truly at fault."

Illya gazed down at the green Perrier bottle he held in his hands and confessed, "When I left U.N.C.L.E. after Janus' betrayal in Yugoslavia, it seemed that too many years had passed without contact to even consider...that you might want to hear what I had to say." As if worried that he'd perhaps revealed too much, Illya quickly finished, "I came here tonight to...clear the air and ask your forgiveness."

Solo shook his head in amazement. "There is nothing to forgive, my old friend."

"Thank you." Illya swallowed hard and shot him a quick glance, his gaze shying nervously away when their eyes met. "I trust that I have not...compromised our present working relationship by coming here tonight."

"There's little chance of that happening," Solo assured, glad to see a quick smile spark across his partner's pale features.

"Good. In that case, I won't keep you from your rest any longer. I'll see you tomorrow in Sir John's office."

As Illya prepared to retreat, Solo used the name he hadn't spoken in over fifteen years, and even back then it was rarely uttered outside the privacy of their bedrooms. "`loosha?"

Illya froze, his tense back turned to Napoleon.

As Illya to face him, Solo had the absurd impression that it required all his partner's formidable courage to do so.

"Was clearing the air all you wanted?" Solo enquired, his voice unconsciously dropping into a tone of silken persuasion.

"I..."

"The world is a very different place than it was fifteen years ago, Illya. What was unthinkable in 1965 is now commonplace."

"What are you..?"

"The first thing I thought about when that voice over my pen called me back into service a week ago was that it was the perfect excuse to see you again," Solo confessed. "What I'd forgotten was that in this day and age, we don't require an excuse. If you want, we could still have that dream that was so impossible twenty years ago."

Trapped in those startled blue eyes, Napoleon prayed that his old lover would see his heart, rather than his receding hair line and weathered visage.

"If I want..." Illya mumbled.

Thinking that he heard agreement in the dazed uttering, Solo rushed to pursue his advantage, laying himself wide open to the biggest rejection of his life. "Nothing has changed for me. Fifteen years may have passed, but we're still the same two people. The bodies come and go, but you're still the only one in my heart, ``loosha."

Napoleon saw his gentle words hit his partner like physical blows.

"There – there haven't been any bodies for me, Napoleon. I fear that you would find... the prospects singularly disappointing," Illya stiffly admitted after a long moment.

It wasn't a `no'. That was all that Solo heard at first.

Only slowly did the additional information Illya offered sink in.

"You – you haven't allowed yourself a lover in fifteen years?" Solo stammered, the idea beyond his ability to conceive, even though it confirmed his earlier suspicions.

"There was no one who...caught my fancy," Kuryakin explained.

"Illya, I've seen the women you work with. That blond model was so hot for you that they'd have to hose her down."

"And how long would that last once she learned the truth about me?" Illya asked softly. "The personal embarrassment aside, I could not risk the damage my...secret might do Vanya''s should it become common knowledge. Besides," And here those handsome features became very soft and strangely shy, "who could hope to follow in Napoleon Solo's footsteps?"

"Illya, please don't make light of this," Solo begged. "To deny yourself comfort all these years..."

"What comfort could such superficial attachments bring me, Napoleon? There was ever but one pair of eyes that did not make me feel...less than a man when I stood naked before them."

"You've never been less than a man," Solo corrected, crossing the room to stand close to his partner. Not daring to touch, he simply basked in Illya's nearness.

Looking up at him, Illya flushed and swallowed hard. "And you have been...most gracious tonight. However, it's been too long for me. My body no longer responds..."

"Poppycock," Solo murmured, reaching out to lightly stroke a single index finger down Illya's high cheekbone to his pouty upper lip.

The half-frightened gasp Illya gave at whatever feelings Solo's action generated was all the answer Napoleon needed.

Pulling Illya tight to his chest, Solo's mouth swooped down to hungrily claim its prize. After a moment of frozen shock, he felt the other man's resistance crumble, Illya surrendering heart and soul to the kiss, feeding on Napoleon's avid mouth like a starving man.

When they withdrew for air a breathless eternity later, Illya clung to him, pressing every inch of his delightfully compact body up against him. "Napoleon?"

"Mmmmn?" Napoleon murmured, hugging tight as he could.

"Do you really believe we could try again, after all these years? I...I could not bear to lose you again," Illya haltingly admitted.

"We're not going to try this time, `loosha," Solo gently corrected. "We're going to succeed. This time out I intend to hold onto what's mine."

His near proprietary announcement brought a smile to Illya's lips. "Of course, you understand that will work both ways."

Not quite trusting that mild tone of voice, Solo nodded his agreement. This close to heaven, he wasn't about to argue terms. If Illya wanted him to tattoo `PROPERTY OF ILLYA KURYAKIN' across his brow, he was more than happy to do so. "Whatever you want, it's yours, `loosha."

Illya reached up to frame Napoleon's face with both hands, his expression oddly intense...and uncertain. "What I want is you, Napoleon Solo. All mine, with no timesharing with other bodies. As you said earlier, it's a different world out there."

It was, after all, only what Solo had desired for them from the start. After fifteen years, they should have been strangers to each other. Illya's demand should have been totally out of place coming so soon after reunion. But to Napoleon, it was like coming home.

"All yours," Solo promised, leaning in for another kiss. "You whistle up the tune and I'll dance to it. I promise."

"I believe a tango is called for at the moment," Illya observed, his normal scientific detachment very far from his features at the moment. "There is just one other thing..."

"Yes?" Solo sighed, running his hands down that broad back, lightly skimming the still flat, muscular ass.

"We are neither of us what we were twenty years ago. Napoleon, when you came to me a week ago and asked me to work with you in U.N.C.L.E. again...I did so because it seemed the only way to be with you..."

"I know," Napoleon absently agreed. "It was the same for me, `loosha."

"Napoleon..." The arms around Solo tightened almost painfully as Illya continued, "It has taken over fifteen years to find each other again. I don't want to risk what time we have left playing spy games we have both outgrown."

Dear, sweet Illya, being so careful of his vanity...

"No more spy games, `loosha," Napoleon vowed, licking down Illya's sweaty throat, loving the taste and scent of the man.

Illya laughed at the no doubt ticklish attention.

"You ready for that tango now?" Solo questioned. With a delighted chuckle, he led the way to his bedroom and their new life together.

THE END

Contact Author