The Prisoner of Love Affair
Some things you never forget. The face of the Nazi who killed your grandmother before your eyes when you were six. Your first black belt test. Your first commander. The feeling that shot through you when trembling fingers finally opened that letter informing you that U.N.C.L.E. had really accepted you. Or the day you finally admitted to yourself that you'd somehow inadvertently managed to fall in love with your partner.
Of all the events in Illya Kuryakin's somewhat checkered life, it was this last that haunted him.
No, more than haunted. It had stolen his soul, imprisoned both his intellect and better sense. It took only one glance around the crowded, loud nightclub for Illya to know how far he had fallen under his companion's spell. He had as much business being here in the Sand Dune as a mangy stray did in a pedigree competition. Less, for at least the mutt had a chance of finding a mate at such a venue. All Illya was interested in was the man sitting across the table from him, and, for all the hope Illya had of achieving his goal, Napoleon might just as well have been on another continent at the moment.
Illya was not accustomed to admitting defeat. Rarely had he encountered anything stronger than his own will. He was a man who'd always challenged others' perceptions of himself. He'd taken this small, blond body that nature had locked him in and, through sheer willpower, turned it into a deadly efficient killing machine. He'd learned four languages, gotten his Ph.D.s in chemistry and quantum mechanics, learned more about espionage than was healthy for a peaceful night's sleep, and taught larger, stronger opponents the danger of confusing size with competency. In short, he'd forged himself into one of the best agents Waverly had – all of this done through the power of his own will.
One by one, he'd systematically taken each of his weaknesses or shortcomings and turned it into an asset. His body was smaller than most, so Illya made damn sure he was faster and better trained than the giants. His Russian blood gave him a moodiness and artistic sensibility that were considered handicaps in his business, so he'd all but amputated his emotions, always taking great pains to make sure that he was the most rational, logical agent that Waverly had ever taken on. From what others might view as a pitiful dearth of natural resources, Illya had forged a near perfect agent. Most of his coworkers thought of him as untouchable, the man of ice, and, privately, he was pleased by the appellation.
In his arrogance, Illya had come to believe that there was nothing he couldn't do if he set his mind to it. What he'd forgotten was that everything in life worked on a system of checks and balances. He didn't understand how he could have overlooked the very first natural law he'd learned – that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. There was no light without darkness, no strength without weakness, no gain without sacrifice. Ignore your feelings long enough, and eventually your heart would present you with a feeling impossible to ignore.
In retrospect, it was all completely predictable. He'd thought himself above infatuations. Looking down from his icy, unapproachable peak, the detached scientist in him had never once realized that he was setting himself up for a fall from which recovery might be impossible. In all his carefully controlled years at U.N.C.L.E., it had never occurred to Illya that a personality with such a driving will and mind would perforce possess an equally determined heart.
Until now, Illya had managed to evade all emotional entanglements. In fact, he had done this too well; it had been his lack of attachments to women that had brought about the rumor that had led to his banishment from Russia. One simple rumor, and he'd found himself exiled – the booby prize the Soviets had sent to appease the U.N.'s demand for a trained espionage agent from each of its members for the new U.N.C.L.E. organization. His superiors had given him away because, sooner or later, they knew Illya would become an embarrassment. Better it be this new U.N.C.L.E. organization that was scandalized, than the Russia's own.
Deep down, Illya supposed he should be grateful. Had he been any less efficient, that particular rumor would have landed him in a Soviet prison. Instead, it had only cost him his homeland.
In America, where Russians were regarded with suspicion by most, it had been easy to remain detached. So, for a time, his mind and heart had been in accordance with his decision to live alone. For nearly six years, he'd managed to exist without needing another. No comforting embrace, no sex, barely ever a date, and then, only with the opposite sex, girls he dated so that the rumors would not start here as they had in Russia...six years of abject loneliness, which he suffered in dignified silence.
Then his heart had gone and thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the coolly efficient life he'd carved for himself. One evening at dinner after an especially trying case, Illya had looked over at Napoleon Solo while his partner was regaling him with some improbable romantic anecdote. To his mystification, he'd felt something unexpected stir in his blood, something lethal that was bound to cost him his entire world – one way or another. He'd been running scared ever since.
Unlike all the others he'd been attracted to and successfully avoided, Napoleon Solo wasn't someone he could ignore. The excuse which had always been Illya's last resort, that this person would distract him from his work, just didn't cut it where Napoleon was concerned. Napoleon wasn't a distraction, to the contrary, he was so much a part of the job that Illya couldn't begin to separate the two. Napoleon stood for U.N.C.L.E. – and U.N.C.L.E. had Illya's complete and unwavering devotion. And from that laudable dedication to duty, this impossible longing had been born.
Over the years, their partnership had come to symbolize the essence of what U.N.C.L.E. stood for in Illya's mind. That two such disparate people, with such different personalities and backgrounds, coming from two historically antagonistic cultures, could work together in a job that required absolute trust in the other, showed that the ideals upon which U.N.C.L.E. was founded were more than pipedreams. The world could exist in peace, if only its various inhabitants could learn to do what Napoleon and he had done and step beyond the conditioning of their separate societies.
Of course, Illya had never envisioned himself as stepping this far beyond the conventions upon which he'd been raised. To actively desire another man...it was almost unthinkable.
In the quiet recesses of his heart, Illya had always suspected where his true desires lay, but there was a damn sight of a difference between vague suspicions and outright desire. To hunger for another man's body – especially this totally unobtainable womanizer – was pure insanity. Back in Russia, when the rumors hadn't been true, when Illya had merely suffered from non-specified longings, the accusation had cost him his entire world. But this...this feeling could cost him more than he could survive losing.
Illya wasn't certain what U.N.C.L.E.'s stand on homosexuality was. When Waverly had interviewed him, Illya had felt it his duty to inform the older gent as to why the Soviets were so willing to permanently part with his services. Illya hadn't wanted the KGB to use the very thing that had made him expendable as its toehold in U.N.C.L.E. He knew his own people well enough to recognize that they wouldn't be above blackmailing him with the false rumors that had made him so expendable. Waverly had seemed to believe him when Illya had sworn that the accusations of his being a homosexual were unfounded, but his boss's tolerance might change now that those long-ago suspicions were realized. Even here in America, the Land of Anything Goes, such attachments between members of the same sex were frowned upon.
But the attraction existed. It burned in his blood, day and night, demanding a recognition he dared not give it. Hopeless. From the start, it had been hopeless. Illya knew this; and yet, he still found himself powerless against these feelings.
His partner was the closest friend Illya had on the planet. Napoleon would willingly die for him, he knew, but this...
Illya's mind balked at the very idea of even broaching the subject with his lady-loving partner. Napoleon Solo was the last man Illya could imagine being attracted to a member of his own sex. Napoleon spent 99% of his off-duty time pursuing beautiful women, and a good portion of their on-duty time flirting and arranging assignations. By Illya's count, Napoleon had been out with no less than sixteen women this month, and it was only the eighteenth.
The situation was utterly and entirely without hope.
All Illya dared pray for these days was that he'd be able to keep his secret.
"Illya! Are you even listening?" the object of his brooding reverie demanded, leaning in close to be heard over the loud pop music blaring from the speakers.
"But, of course, Napoleon," Illya smoothly replied, making damn sure that his features didn't reveal the effects those bottomless dark eyes were having on his equilibrium. Staring into their rich chocolate depths, Illya felt as if he were well and truly drowning.
This was what it was to be in hell, Illya thought, to be forced this close to something you craved as frantically as your body did air, and be unable to touch it, to have to remain outwardly unmoved when all you dreamed of was inches away. It grew worse and worse with each passing day. Every time they were together off duty like this, Illya could feel his insides twisting into tight, strangling knots.
"What was I saying, then?" Napoleon quizzed, a playful light replacing his partner's subdued irritation.
Drawing on his gift for instant recall, Illya managed to call forth the gist of the words he'd barely listened to. Given their current surroundings of the latest Manhattan hot spot, with its caged go-go dancers and flashing strobe lights, also bearing in mind the speaker's rather predictable interests, Illya was hardly surprised by the subject. "You were saying that the blonde woman in the shocking pink miniskirt on the other side of the room has a day job in the building across from Del Floria's tailor shop."
Illya felt his partner's delighted chuckle dance through his blood like champagne bubbles.
"Sometime you must tell me how you do that," Napoleon laughed.
"Do what?" Illya asked, defenseless against the charming smile that had lured battalions of females to this man's bed. Illya didn't know when he'd first started noticing how physically appealing his tall partner was, but now there was no forgetting it. Unless they were on duty and under fire, he was always uncomfortably aware of his partner's body.
"You were a million miles away and not listening to a word I was saying," Napoleon noted. "No, don't even bother to deny it. I know you too well, my friend. Yet, every time I call you on it, you're always able to tell me exactly what I was talking about."
"Perhaps it is not my attention that was straying," Illya suggested, trying not to notice how Napoleon's hungry gaze kept drifting back to that smiling Barbie doll in the shamelessly short pink skirt. "Aren't you going to approach her?"
"Later, maybe. Right now I want to talk to you." Napoleon paused, as if uncomfortable with what he was about to say, looking down into the clear depths of his dry martini as if for inspiration.
"Yes?" Illya encouraged, not liking his friend's serious countenance.
Napoleon shifted in his chair and cleared his throat. "Lately, you've been...well, you haven't been yourself. I was just wondering if something was bothering you." The last was a carefully phrased question.
"How have I...not been myself?" Illya asked tensely, trying to subdue the panic that flared through him. "Has my job performance altered? Did Mr. Waverly...?"
"No, Illya," Napoleon quickly interrupted. "It's nothing concrete, nothing Mr. Waverly would ever notice. But I...there seems to be a sadness in you, my friend, an ache that never quite leaves your eyes these days."
Illya dropped those eyes, lest they further incriminate him. How could he have ever imagined that Napoleon Solo would miss something like this? His partner's empathic barometer was infallible. Napoleon read and played emotions as effortlessly as a maestro violinist played scales. That was Napoleon's greatest strength. Illya couldn't count the number of times his friend had charmed them out of certain death. There was no way Napoleon could miss desire this strong, not when Napoleon himself was the object of that hunger. There was more chance of a shark overlooking the scent of fresh blood in his hunting grounds.
"I don't mean to pry," Napoleon continued, sounding almost nervous, "I was just...concerned."
Illya stared about the garish nightclub in which he presently found himself, taking in the scantily clad women gyrating in cages up above them and the scores of animated, inebriated singles laughing and dancing. Abruptly, he realized that his partner had cause for concern. Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin had no business in a place such as this.
Ruthlessly suppressing every emotion he owned, Illya blanked his face of feeling before turning back to his companion. About to shrug off Napoleon's inquiry, Illya's attention was captured by a pop song playing over the club's deafening speaker system. In America, they did nothing in a small way; unless the music was loud enough to shatter one's eardrums, it was barely worth playing. So far tonight, Illya had tuned out the melodramatic noise through sheer willpower, but now that he'd stopped concentrating on blocking it, it crashed over him like a flood tide.
Illya did not care for pop music as a rule. He preferred the more cerebral strains of jazz, fancying himself above the crude, simplistic tunes that filled New York's radio airwaves. Once again, Illya found himself painfully reminded as to the true reason he eschewed this music. It had nothing to do with the sophistication of the material. Rather, it was the pop music's ability to twist the emotions that Illya so despised.
The song playing now was one of the worst offenders as far as emotional manipulation went. A Frank Sinatra tune that his partner was inordinately fond of, one Sinatra had recorded with his daughter Nancy.
In spite of his best resolve, Illya found his attention riveted to the music as the latest hit song began:
"You know I stand in line until you think you have the time to spend
an evening with me.
And if we go some place to dance, I know that there's a chance you won't be leaving with me.
And afterwards, we stop into some quiet little place to have a drink or two.
And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like I love you..."
Illya had never really paid attention to the lyrics before. Tonight, they hit him like a freight train, bypassing every one of his emotional guards as they pummeled his raw and aching heart. They seemed to perfectly capture the torment of his current emotional crisis.
Trying to shake off the effect of the words, Illya stared off at the dance floor. Instinctively, his gaze homed in on the girl with the hot pink miniskirt...the person his partner would no doubt be leaving with tonight, if Napoleon ran true to form – and when didn't Napoleon make his conquest? Napoleon might be his best friend, might be concerned about him, but it was that cheaply dressed stranger with whom his partner would be leaving this place. There wasn't a single doubt in Illya's mind on that score.
Drowning in the utter misery of this bleak situation, Illya felt the last spark of hope he'd harbored die. Even if he dared speak, what could he possibly say? Napoleon, I am in love with you... The very idea was absurd. If Napoleon didn't kill him outright, his partner would certainly want nothing further to do with him in the future. Searching his tortured heart, Illya couldn't find a single truth that Napoleon would even want to hear.
"Illya?" His partner's voice intruded into his morose musings. "Are you all right?"
Starting out of his daze, Illya focused on his companion, reading the worry in those handsome features. "I am fine, Napoleon. I regret any concern I may have caused you. I am going to call it a night now and return home. Thank you for the invitation."
And before Napoleon could utter another word, Illya was on his feet and hurrying for the exit.
"Illya? Illya!" Napoleon's voice followed him as he sliced through the throng of twisting, bouncing young people on the dance floor. Had he any sense, Illya probably would have avoided the thrashing crowd, but the most direct route between two points was still a straight line, even if it did lead across the dance floor.
Once outside the club's heat and humid press of bodies, the chill autumn night hit Illya like a slap on the face. Shaking with the sudden cold, his heart pounding as though he'd just escaped a THRUSH prison, Illya leaned back against the cool hard bricks of the building and attempted to gain control of himself as he took his bearings.
He wasn't that far from home. He could walk, which was fortunate, for he'd never find a cab now. Incredible as it seemed, he'd spent – what? – three hours in that horrid pickup joint, totally content to sit at his partner's side while Napoleon watched the go-go girls dance.
Yes, his friend had sufficient cause for worry, Illya grimly acknowledged.
The dark Chelsea side street was deserted at this late hour. Illya's troubled gaze followed the black silhouette of an alley cat as it scampered from the safety of a car to the stygian shadows between two apartment buildings across the street.
He felt a great kinship with the little creature. Like himself, the feline was another denizen of the shadows on the run. Only, unlike his soul mate, those dark places offered Illya no refuge.
Illya gave an internal groan as his partner hurried up to him. Why had he stopped here? Why hadn't he kept going? Had he wanted Napoleon to find him?
If Napoleon had been concerned before, he was openly worried now. Slightly out of breath, the shivering American shouldered into his coat as those deep, perceptive eyes of his scoured Illya. "Are you all right?"
"As you can see, I am fine," Illya replied, nothing welcoming in his tone or attitude.
"Then why did you run out on me?" Napoleon demanded, strangely unangered.
On some level, Illya wished that his friend would be angry with him. The open concern in Napoleon's expression...hurt.
"I didn't run out on you," Illya coldly corrected. "I simply...needed air."
He watched as his tone and frosty distance registered on this acute man. To his bewilderment, the worry didn't leave Napoleon's face. Rather than being repelled by the natural defenses that had kept everyone else at bay, Napoleon stepped in closer, almost close enough for Illya to feel his friend's body heat. With the icy wall at his back and that tempting organic fire beckoning to his hungry flesh, Illya felt trapped between two poles.
"You left your coat behind," Napoleon said, handing over the garment that Illya only now noticed draping Napoleon's elbow.
"Thank you." Illya stiffly accepted his overcoat, feeling like a naughty schoolboy. Damn, but this man had a way of disarming him. Sometimes Napoleon could do so with nothing more than the social niceties.
Illya was now faced with another dilemma. It was freezing out here. Common sense dictated that he don his coat immediately. Yet, if he just shrugged into it, he was going to brush right up against Napoleon's body. If he didn't want to dare such close contact, he was going to have to move to the side in obvious avoidance. Illya chose the coward's path, taking two small steps to the side and one forward, completely sidestepping his partner.
It was too much to hope that his friend would fail to notice. Illya watched as his companion's smooth brow puckered in a puzzled frown.
"Illya, we need to talk. Now."
"Napoleon, it is two a.m. and..."
"I'll make that an order if I have to," Napoleon insisted in his normal tone, the iron will that made this man such a formidable opponent underplayed as yet.
In the six years that they'd been partnered, Napoleon so rarely pulled rank on him that Illya often forgot that the other man had the ability to do so. Napoleon never treated him like a junior agent or anything other than a complete equal, but the fact was that Napoleon Solo was still the second in command in the New York section, answerable only to Mr. Waverly.
"As you wish," Illya acceded without grace, very aware of the fact that his friend had picked up on the tightening of his controls. "What would you care to discuss?"
Napoleon stared at him for a moment, something dying in his eyes. Hope, perhaps, Illya thought. Then, Napoleon sighed and said, "Not here."
"I am not going back into that club," Illya announced, firm on that count.
Napoleon nodded, his gaze scanning the deserted street. "No, not the Sand Dune. We need some place quiet...yes, that will do. Come along."
Illya tried to relax as his partner's hand gripped his upper arm. Napoleon all but marched him into what Illya assumed to be a bar across the street from the go-go club. There was no name above the establishment's front. The windows were all dark, smoky glass. They admitted no prying eyes and emitted no light from within, reflecting back only the passersby on the street. At first, Illya thought it might be a new jazz club he hadn't visited yet. Such places often had low-key fronts to discourage any but the serious music lover.
A quick glance around the smoky, shadowed interior was enough to prove Illya mistaken in his guess. This was not, as he'd thought, a new jazz club. With the way his luck was running tonight, it only stood to reason that Napoleon would drag him into a gay bar. There wasn't a mini-skirted female to be seen within. And, although there was nothing explicit going on, there was no mistaking the sexual orientation of the bar's clientele.
Illya felt his partner freeze beside him as every eye in the place turned their way. In his dark business suit and tie, Napoleon was grossly overdressed for this casual place, whereas Illya himself...there was a young brunet at the end of the bar wearing a turtleneck and dark pants that could have been pulled from Illya's own closet.
Illya waited for his partner to realize his mistake and drag them back out, but after a moment of frozen shock, Napoleon looked over at him.
"What the heck?" Napoleon shrugged. "It's a bar and it's quiet. There's a booth in the back. Come on."
They had barely gotten ten feet before the inevitable occurred.
Once or twice in the past, circumstance had forced Illya to slip into an establishment such as this to avoid capture. He'd learned the hard way that his slight stature and longish blond hair were a beacon for trouble.
Both he and Napoleon froze as a deep voice asked Illya, "May I buy you a drink?"
The man who stepped forward to touch Illya's elbow was huge. Built like a linebacker, there wasn't an effeminate bone in his body. The stranger had a stylish mustache, an affable, round face and a friendly smile. The strong body looked like it should grace a cigarette commercial, the ones that always featured those rugged, good-looking cowboys. In a different kind of world, Illya might have been interested. The world he inhabited, however, left him mortified by the come-on.
Illya was still searching for a refusal that would be firm enough to get his point across without getting them expelled from the bar when Napoleon took the necessity of rejecting the man out of his hands.
Without blinking an eye or cracking a smile, Napoleon reached out and took Illya's hand in his own, giving the same good-natured "Sorry, pal, this one's with me" that Illya had heard Napoleon use a million times when someone would try to horn in on his partner's date. To complete the impression, Napoleon did precisely what he always did in such circumstances to alleviate any lingering resentment.
Leaning over the crowded bar, his suave partner caught the bartender's eye and ordered, "Give my friend here another round on me and then please bring a double vodka, straight up, and a dry martini to that table over there. Okay?" With that Napoleon thrust a five dollar bill at the bespectacled proprietor and told him to keep the change.
Typical Napoleon style. Both the bartender and the good-looking stranger who'd come on to Illya were smiling when the U.N.C.L.E. agents moved to their table.
The fact that Napoleon had yet to free his captured hand left Illya's heart pounding madly against the wall of his chest. It was beating so loud that he was surprised Napoleon didn't hear it. Of course, his hand was sweating so much that at this point it was probably all his partner could do to hang onto the clammy limb.
Initially, Illya was concerned about how he'd dismiss the physiological evidence of his fear. They both knew that sweaty palms and nervous gulping were totally out of sync with Illya's normally implacable veneer, but then he realized that nearly any straight man would have a similar reaction in this particular environment.
If anyone's behavior were suspect, it was Napoleon's. Napoleon was almost too much at ease here. His partner wasn't gaping at – what most heterosexual men would have considered – the freak show around them. Illya knew that his partner had to be as conscious of the two men sharing open-mouth kisses in the booth directly across from their own as he was himself. But, although Napoleon's gaze roved in that direction, it didn't linger...nor did it shrink guiltily away. Those perceptive brown eyes just took it all in, sweeping over the place as they would any other locale, checking for threat and then moving on. For all the notice Napoleon was taking of the clientele, they might as well have been back in the Sand Dune across the street.
"I'm sorry if you're uncomfortable here," Napoleon said once they'd settled into the booth. Napoleon had removed his coat and relaxed, as if for a long stay, while Illya perched in his overcoat, ready to flee at a second's notice. It was all he could do to resist the temptation to hide his face as Napoleon calmly continued, "But it was the closest place. It's out of the cold and quieter than our last stop."
"Napoleon, if we are seen here..." Illya began, seriously concerned for both their reputations.
Back in Russia, he'd never even seen the inside of a gay bar – if they even had them – and yet his superiors had shipped him off as a homosexual. For security reasons, U.N.C.L.E. often kept tabs on its highest ranking agents off duty. If they were caught here together now...
"What?" Napoleon asked.
"Excuse me?" Illya felt his eyes narrow in confusion.
"You said 'if we're seen here'..." Napoleon prompted.
Abruptly wondering how much Napoleon had imbibed in the last club, Illya began to question if his companion were aware of the nature of their current refuge...but then he remembered how Napoleon had taken his hand on the way in and announced that they were together. His flesh was still burning from that touch. No, Napoleon definitely understood where they were; why, then, was his partner playing the innocent?
"Napoleon, this is a homosexual bar. If we are seen here...together..." Too nervous to meet Napoleon's eyes, his own gaze fluttered away, stopping at the absorbed couple sharing a bench in the booth across from them. A blond and a brunet. The contrast instantly brought his partner and himself to mind, although the dark man's hair was almost black and that blond was much closer to his companion in size than Illya was to Napoleon. The pair hadn't come up for air yet.
Illya could feel his friend studying him as he watched the busy couple.
Eventually, that steady gaze drew his own back. Illya found himself intensely uneasy under that stare.
"I've been in gay bars before," Napoleon stated.
Too nervous to even think about what he was saying and totally unnerved by the action in the next booth, Illya protested, "Undercover, of course...but if we are seen here now, together, in our off-duty time..."
"Not always undercover, Illya," Napoleon corrected in the careful tone of a man feeling out a possible conversational land mine. Napoleon's dark eyes were level, though an uncertainty seemed to linger behind that outward calm.
And, with that single sentence, Napoleon changed everything, sending Illya's preconceived notions of the world crashing around him.
Illya physically started at what amounted to a confession, every nerve in his body thrumming in astonishment. The torture of his unrequited feelings, his anxiety over their being seen here, the two men kissing nearby, all of it was forgotten under the shock of the implications of Napoleon's quiet statement.
Napoleon Solo had been in a gay bar, for reasons other than espionage? The idea was staggering.
Before Illya could make any reply, let alone process the information, the bartender arrived with their drinks. Both agents gave a slight jump as the rotund individual placed their glasses before them. "Here we go. If there's anything else I can get you, just ask." The hopeful light as those bespectacled brown eyes lingered on Napoleon's handsome features spoke volumes to Illya. Vaguely, he wondered if his own desires were that transparent.
"Thank you, my good man," Napoleon acknowledged, outwardly unperturbed.
But Illya, who knew this poseur so well, could finally see the nervousness underlying Napoleon's calm. He knew that it had nothing to do with the bartender's interest and everything to do with Napoleon's bold statement of a moment ago. The truly impressive aspect of Napoleon's anxiety was the fact that there wasn't another soul on this planet who would even suspect the suave agent was ill at ease. In his own way, his partner was even better at hiding his true feelings than he was, Illya acknowledged.
Where Illya himself would have ruthlessly suppressed all emotion – thereby revealing just how deeply something had disturbed him – with Napoleon, it was far more subtle. The signals were so tiny that even Waverly would have missed them: a tightening of the skin around those perceptive eyes, the good humor just a bit too bright to be entirely genuine, the slightest acceleration in breathing that only Illya, who was aware of this man's every blink, would notice.
"I see that I've shocked you," Napoleon said once the stocky bartender with his little metal glasses was gone. Napoleon wordlessly passed over the vodka.
"I..." Illya tried to be polite and deny the observation, but he couldn't have been more astounded if his partner had dropped his pants in front of a group of nuns. "Yes, I'm afraid you have. I would never have suspected you had knowledge of...or interest in a place such as this."
"It isn't the place a man has interest in when he frequents this kind of establishment, my friend," Napoleon countered with an ironic twist of an eyebrow.
"Touché." Illya gave a small, nervous smile. Assuming an equanimity that he didn't truly possess, he quietly questioned, "This choice of venue was not entirely accidental on your part, then?"
Napoleon's serious gaze studied him a minute before his partner gave a slow, negative shake of his head. "No, not at all. I...wanted to see your reaction."
"I see," Illya replied; although he didn't at all. None of this made any sense. As always when forced into an emotionally threatening situation, he fell back upon his main credo in life, the American saying that the best defense was a strong offense. Forcing icy steel into his voice, he quietly demanded, "And was my reaction...suitably entertaining?"
The notion that Napoleon knew precisely how he felt about him and was toying with his emotions skittered through Illya's mind. Napoleon was not a cruel man by nature, but he was a vain one.
"This isn't about entertainment." Napoleon's retort was just the soft side of a snap.
After six years of partnership, they both knew precisely which buttons to push to get on each other's nerves. Recognizing how quickly this scene could devolve into something ugly, Illya made a conscious effort to tone down his sarcasm. "Then, perhaps you should explain what 'this' is."
Although Napoleon didn't appear exactly comfortable with the subject matter, Illya saw that his partner did relax somewhat at his change in tone.
Napoleon stared down at his drink for a long moment, stirring the martini's clear depths with a toothpick-speared olive.
Illya felt himself unconsciously tensing at the unintentional delay. Napoleon Solo was the most articulate man he had ever met. For his friend to be choosing his words this carefully, the matter had to be grave.
"Back at the other club before you...left," Napoleon began at last, each word a slow offering as the speaker seemed to judge the reception of every syllable; Illya couldn't recall the last time someone had gone to such pains to avoid offending him-- "...I told you that there was a sorrow in your eyes that never seemed to abate. It only recently occurred to me that...that I might be the cause of that pain."
There, it was out in the open. Finally.
Illya was almost relieved to have his secret revealed. At least there was no further need for pretense. However, its revelation did leave him feeling horribly exposed, which he could tell was not his partner's intent. He'd never seen Napoleon work so hard to sound casual.
Illya had to admire the other man's courage. Never in a million years would he himself have had the gall to address the issue as openly as Napoleon had done. His partner had virtually tossed a primed hand grenade onto the table between them. Those quiet little sentences had that much potential for destruction. For all his outward calm, Illya could tell that his friend was waiting for that grenade to blow him apart.
Having no clue as to what the proper response would be to the suspicion Napoleon had voiced, Illya covered with a neutral, "Was that a question?"
It never hurt to test the waters, to ascertain the other man's certainty, Illya decided. His pride might still be salvaged here.
Napoleon's subdued reply laid that hope to rest. "No, it wasn't a question." A tense pause followed, in which Illya could tell that they were both working very hard to ignore the necking couple at the next table, before Napoleon ventured, "Are you suggesting that I've...misinterpreted the situation?"
Now it was Illya's turn to stall for time. His gaze dropping to the scarred wooden table top, Illya outlined the cardboard Rhinegold coaster beneath his vodka. "If I answer 'yes' to that, the problem vanishes forever."
"Is that what you want?"
Cornered, Illya sought a safe escape. But there was no safety in subterfuge. He could lie now and make Napoleon feel the fool for his bravery in openly tackling this problem. But sooner or later, the truth would surface. Then Napoleon would resent him for humiliating him this way. In the end, he simply sighed and met those patiently waiting eyes. "What I want is...equally as absurd as that lie would be, Napoleon."
"You know what we are. The job--"
"Will kill us both before retirement," Napoleon interrupted. His partner's tone was calm, but there was something almost desperate in his eyes. "We've given up all hope of a normal family life for U.N.C.L.E. When the time comes, we'll sacrifice our lives as well. I don't think either U.N.C.L.E. or Mr. Waverly would begrudge us what little comfort we might grab before then."
Illya tried, but he couldn't hold that gaze, not with the way those words made him quiver. He wondered if Napoleon would see how he was shaking, wondered why Napoleon would even say such a thing.
Napoleon speaking about emotional solace and lost hopes of domesticity? This was so surreal, it almost seemed a dream.
Napoleon made it sound like this was something that he had wanted as well. But Illya knew that his partner had never looked at him in 'that' way before. No man who bedded as many women as his friend did could harbor these tendencies...could he?
Illya studied the nearby wall before responding. He tried to decide if it had originally been beige or white. Years of smoke had stained it to its present brown, but had it started out innocent and pristine, or slightly sullied like himself?
Finally, Illya could bear the silence between them no longer. It only seemed to accentuate the absorbed "mmmms" and moans drifting across from their neighbors' table. He actually found himself wishing for a return of the Sand Dune's deafening sound system.
As he made his decision, Illya's rational side branded him a fool. Deep down, he knew he should leave here now, not pursue this topic. Nevertheless, he found himself commenting, "You almost make it sound like...something you've longed for, rather than a passing whim."
"What makes you think it isn't? Something I've longed for, that is," Napoleon specified.
Illya's chin jerked up as his gaze flew back to his partner's face. "No lies tonight, Napoleon," he hissed. "They could prove lethal."
Illya meant the threat. If Napoleon were toying with him about this, he'd kill the man slowly and take pleasure in every moment of it.
Napoleon nodded his understanding. "No lies. And, I stand by what I said." Was Napoleon saying that he wanted him?
No, that was blatantly impossible. But, still...
Desperately needing to believe this particular fantasy, Illya did his best to inject some reality into this surreal scenario. "You are not a man to suffer unrequited love," he pointed out. "You change paramours as frequently as you do your socks. If you had felt these things for me in the past, you would have..."
"I would have – what?" Napoleon demanded in a fierce whisper. "Propositioned you when I didn't have a clue as to how you felt about this sort of...encounter? You don't show your emotions, Illya, not the ones that really count. I knew that you considered me your friend, but until very recently, I never suspected it could be more than that."
"You are not a shy man…." Illya persisted, needing to stick to reality and dispel this insanity before it progressed any further. Even in the unlikely event that Napoleon was serious, this pipedream would get them both killed.
"You're right. I'm not shy. We're partners, and maybe I should have had more faith in that, but I am still your superior officer. Do you understand the position I would have put you in had I...made this type of overture and you were...uninterested? Even now, I still don't know that it was right to speak of this to you, only..."
"Only?" Illya gently prompted, touched by how troubled his moral friend still was by the impropriety of a superior officer importuning a subordinate.
"Only I couldn't stand the hurt in your eyes for another minute," Napoleon completed, appearing more nervous than Illya had ever seen him. "You could still take me to Waverly for this..."
And in that instant, Illya picked up on something he'd never encountered in Napoleon Solo before – fear. Napoleon was afraid. Not of any professional repercussions of this discussion, Illya sensed, but of the very ethics of addressing the issue at all.
"For what? You've said nothing to incriminate yourself. If anyone here has cause to speak to his superior, it is yourself. As you pointed out, it is my behavior that has been...unprofessional."
"I never said any such thing," Napoleon quickly denied. "You've never been anything but completely competent. I was...taking a shot in the dark that this could be the root of what was bothering you. The fact that I guessed correctly doesn't make the situation any easier. I know this is difficult for you, that you don't care for emotional entanglements, but I don't think we can continue to ignore this. If we don't address this issue now, sooner or later, it's going to blow up in our faces and get us killed."
"Are you propositioning me, Napoleon?" Illya asked far too bluntly, the scientist inside him needing to know exactly what they were discussing.
Napoleon's handsome face creased in a frown. "I wouldn't put it quite like that."
"Then what are we discussing here?" Illya demanded, terrified of giving in to his longings for this desirable man. Even now, before they were even involved, Illya could see how this relationship would go. Napoleon would fill all those hollow places inside him, teach his dour Russian spirit things about passion he couldn't even imagine, and then Napoleon would move on to his next conquest, leaving him behind, shattered.
Illya had long ago answered the age-old debate about whether it was better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all. Losing Napoleon that way would kill him. It might sound pessimistic or melodramatic, but it was the truth of his soul. Loving Napoleon from afar might be difficult, but he knew he could survive in that kind of limbo. God knew, he'd been living there the last six years. But to discover how much more he could have, and then to lose it, that he was not strong enough to withstand.
"Our future?" Napoleon carefully suggested, with just the right amount of hope thrown in. The man could seduce a saint, Illya thought as his partner's earnest expression shivered through him. "This isn't about a quick roll between the sheets. That would be too easy. There's too much at stake here and I...just don't know what to do."
That had to be a first. Illya couldn't recall the last instance in which his resourceful partner was stumped.
"There is nothing to be done, Napoleon," Illya said in a soft, sad voice, the tone one might use to break terrible news to a beloved child.
"What do you mean 'there's nothing to be done'?" Despite the subdued volume of the inquiry, the emotion behind it was quite fierce.
"You are American, my friend. Your people all believe that life is like a Disney film. That there is nothing that cannot be changed, if only one believes deeply enough and works at it. Clap your hands hard enough, and the fairy will live," Illya illustrated his point with a snatch of an animated film Napoleon and he had brought young Chris Larson to see a few months back. Only after Illya had made the allusion, did the irony of doing so in their current locale strike home. "But Russians know better. We see the world as it is, with the understanding that there are some things that simply cannot be changed. Hence, the vodka. This is my problem. I will handle it..."
"It isn't just your problem," Napoleon countered. "Didn't you understand what I was trying to say before?"
"I understood. I simply did not believe you." Perhaps he should not have stated his doubts so bluntly, but Illya was unused to discussing his feelings with others. He wasn't like his partner. He didn't know the language of the heart, the correct turn of phrase that would inform without hurting. All he had was his inconvenient truth.
"Why would I make such a thing up?" Napoleon demanded, his voice hoarse, anger sparking in his passionate eyes.
"I'm not saying that you are without feelings for me, Napoleon, merely that your feelings are of a different, more transitory nature. Although you are not a man of strong commitments, you are a loyal friend. As you said, my...pain bothers you. There is much of the libertine about you. Easing that pain might not be the odious chore to you that it would for another, more conventional man."
"Odious chore...my God, Illya, I...I dream about you." Though Napoleon started speaking in his normal voice, the last ended in a strangled whisper.
Illya searched those serious, shocked features for some sign of subterfuge. The fact that he didn't find any hint of pretense didn't mean that Napoleon was telling the truth. Both of them were appallingly convincing liars when the situation demanded. "You must forgive my doubts. I'm afraid your active social calendar makes you a very poor candidate for someone suffering from unrequited love."
"You're certain of that; are you?"
Hearing the cold anger, Illya tried to reason with his friend, "Napoleon, you are out with so many women, you don't have time to dream of me."
"And whom do I ask to dinner before almost every one of those dates?" Napoleon challenged, his eyes turning hard, visibly hurting. Illya had never seen such a vulnerable expression on Napoleon's face in his life.
"How many times have I asked you to go to dinner or a movie this week alone?" Napoleon pressed.
Illya froze, no longer on certain ground here. Since their first year together, it had become a tradition between them. Each night before leaving the office, his partner would invariably ask Illya what his plans were. When Illya would mention the book he intended to read that night or whatever his solitary entertainment might be, Napoleon would usually invite him out. It had gotten so that Illya rarely even took those invitations seriously, seeing the offers as his friend's way of making sure that Illya knew there was a social life open to him should he ever choose to leave his shell.
The invitations were jokes, nothing more. Still, thinking of them left Illya uneasy, and the hurt hiding in his confident partner's gaze did nothing to abate that feeling of undefined guilt.
"I..." Illya faltered, suddenly unsure of himself.
"You tell me 'no' every single night. Maybe once a month, you agree to do something with me," Napoleon accused. "I'm not like you, Illya. I can't sit around in an empty apartment night after night, eating my heart out over something I can't have. So, I find...diversions to fill the time, but they don't mean anything. You are my Dulcinea. Don Quixote's dream lover."
His heart a painful lump in his throat, Illya endeavored to keep his cool. "You have a great many 'diversions,' then."
"What would you have me do? Court one and mislead some poor girl into thinking that she means more to me than a one night stand? I might be a libertine, as you call me, but I'm not a complete cad."
Cold fear shivered through Illya. It would be so easy to get caught in this trap. Napoleon was so earnest, his expression almost tortured, for all that the suave super-agent was visibly struggling to maintain his cool.
But that was how the infamous Napoleon Solo operated. His need always appeared genuine. How else could the man have wheedled his way into so many beds?
Determined not to be another of his partner's countless dalliances, Illya persevered. "Napoleon, I have known you six years now. You have never revealed the faintest hint of interest in me before. If you were me, what would you believe?"
"I am you," Napoleon whispered.
Completely at a loss now, Illya questioned, "What is that supposed to mean?"
"You say that I never betrayed any interest in you. Well, the same could be said of you, my friend. Only, you don't show any emotion at all. Even now, I can't tell if you're repulsed by what I've admitted or..."
Sensing that beneath his tightly controlled exterior, Napoleon was truly disturbed by his reticence, Illya lowered his gaze and softly confessed, "You know that I am not repulsed."
The question hung in the air between them until Illya hesitantly raised his eyes again. Meeting Napoleon's gaze at that moment was the hardest thing Illya had ever done in his life. He felt completely naked, utterly exposed. "You do."
"Then why are you giving me the cold shoulder? I want to make you happy."
The moment heavy with intent, Napoleon's right hand slowly reached across the table to lightly touch Illya's left fist, which was gripping his vodka glass in a death hold. There was something terribly tentative in the handsome American's expression, something that might be easily broken.
Illya reacted without thought. All he could see were the walls of that sensual trap closing in on him. The instant those warm fingers made contact with his knuckles, pure instinct had Illya snatching his hand away as if he'd been burnt.
Napoleon froze at his withdrawal, pulling his offending hand immediately away.
Illya caught the despair that flashed through those dark eyes. It was the look of a man who'd just seen his most treasured dream crumble to dust. Then all emotion shut down and Illya was facing the cold player, the spy who could kill a total stranger on command and not lose a minute's sleep.
"Napoleon, I..." Illya floundered, not knowing what to say.
But Napoleon obviously wasn't in the mood for excuses. With lightning speed, Napoleon shot to his feet and grabbed up his coat. "You're right. This was a mistake. I will not repeat it. Good night, Illya."
Before Illya could intercede, Napoleon had turned on his heel and was gone.
The entire scene was over almost before Illya's shocked mind could process it. He opened his mouth to call after his retreating friend, but his fast- moving partner had already cleared the bar.
Realizing that he was under observation, Illya turned, then flushed with shame. The couple at the next table were no longer exchanging saliva. Two pairs of eyes, brown and blue, stared at Illya with an emotion that was uncomfortably close to pity. The couple had probably been as aware of the U.N.C.L.E. agents' conversation as Napoleon and he had been of their foreplay, Illya recognized.
Sighing, Illya tossed back his vodka. He waited for its burning heat to fill him, then rose to follow. As he made his way through the crowded bar, nobody stopped him. From the few glares he met, Illya received the guilty impression that everyone had witnessed the cold way he'd rejected his partner.
In retrospect, Illya acknowledged that his reaction had been totally uncalled for. All Napoleon had done was reach out to touch his hand. Napoleon hadn't kissed him or done anything improper to publicly embarrass him. In his bones, Illya knew that his partner would never do anything to disgrace him.
The only reason Napoleon had talked to him tonight was out of concern for Illya's own low spirits. Doubtless, Napoleon would never have broached the subject at all, were it not for his own transparency, Illya recognized. His friend certainly hadn't deserved to be treated so poorly.
In all the years he had known Napoleon, this was the first time Napoleon had ever run from him. Normally, it was Illya himself who withdrew from emotional situations. He couldn't count the number of times when one of his partner's innocent questions would send him scurrying for the emotional refuge of his empty apartment. He'd never realized how it felt to be on the receiving end of this, to be the one left standing somewhere, uncertain as to what had caused the dramatic abandonment.
Well, Napoleon was usually mystified about the cause. In his present case, Illya was painfully aware of the reason for his partner's withdrawal and his own transgression.
Predictably enough, there was no one on the street when he reached it. Napoleon was nothing if not a master of evasion. Compared to his partner, Illya was a rank amateur, as his current situation painfully proved. He was perfectly aware that if their positions had been reversed, they would still be sitting in that bar discussing their problem. Had he made a move on Napoleon that his partner hadn't been prepared to deal with, Napoleon would have turned it aside with some smooth conversational gambit. Instead, with his typical blundering when it came to these sensitive issues, Illya had dealt his closest friend a heartless blow, treated Napoleon like a leper. And he had absolutely no idea how to make this up to his partner.
Shivering in the chill autumn night, Illya eyed the garish neon lights of the Sand Dune across the street, wondering if Napoleon would have returned there. But the flashing blue and purple entrance seemed too jarring a contrast after the embracing, dark shadows of their last stop. The go-go joint wasn't the kind of place a man went to lick his wounds. No, Napoleon had probably headed for home.
Orienting himself, Illya turned right and hastened towards the nearest uptown avenue, which turned out to be Sixth. At this ridiculously late hour, traffic was nonexistent, as were available taxis. The huge avenue was as dark and deserted as the day after a holocaust. The only movement came from some windblown newspapers which were rustling up the street like eerie white tumbleweeds.
Watching the newspapers fly by, Illya could just see the illuminated top light of an occupied yellow cab disappearing uptown, way off in the distance. He sighed, instinct telling him that the infamous Solo luck had proven true once again. Three-thirty in the morning, only Napoleon would be fortunate enough to stumble upon a cab. Being a mere mortal with a mortal's lot, Illya was presented with the gloomy prospects of a long wait for the train or postponing the no-doubt awkward interview until tomorrow.
His conscience insisting that this could not wait, Illya gave a last thought to his comfy bed, a quick ten-minute walk away from where he now stood, and headed towards the Twenty-third Street stop of the nearby F train.
A frustrating hour later, Illya was finally exiting the subway stop closest to his partner's upper eastside digs. Pausing on the chill street, he could see the red and green lights of a tugboat moving on the slick black ribbon that was the East River a couple of blocks over from where he stood. Dawn was still a long way off this time of the year. Not a hint of pink showed on the Queens horizon on the other side of the river. He might very well be the last man on Earth, he felt so alone, and just about that lost as he approached Napoleon's apartment building.
Part of Illya was hoping that the windows would be dark, that Napoleon would be out and this embarrassing scene delayed until he'd gotten some much-needed sleep. His luck ran true to form, however. Napoleon's living room windows were brightly illuminated behind their white shades. They were actually the only lights on in the entire apartment complex.
Taking a deep breath, Illya garnered the courage to beard the lion in its own den. He paused upon entering the elegant foyer with its mahogany paneling and vase of fresh cut flowers, waiting for the gray-uniformed doorman to announce him, but the bored-looking man only waved him through.
"Aren't you supposed to announce me?" Illya challenged the muscular black man, appalled by the lack of security. It seemed if one were paying for these privileges, they should be dispensed.
"Mr. Solo told me that you had a key and were not to be questioned, no matter what time of the day or night you arrive, Mr. Kuryakin. If you prefer, I could buzz you up," the doorman offered.
"No, that won't be necessary," Illya relented, realizing that he was taking his own bad mood out on the hapless man. He'd pulled night shift enough himself to know how draining it was to be working while normal people slept. "Mr. Solo is in, then?"
"He got back about forty minutes ago. He's probably still up."
Another thought stopped him cold as Illya moved for the elevator. "Was he alone?"
There were far too many street corners between Chelsea and here for Illya to assume that his upset friend would remain on his own tonight. Although Napoleon was a man who rarely indulged in pleasures for which he had to pay in cold coin, a rented companion was not outside the realm of possibility. Not on a night such as this. The last thing this situation needed was another tawdry complication. If Napoleon were busy, Illya would forgo seeing him until tomorrow.
"Yes, sir. Unusual for Mr. Solo on a Friday night, if I may say so." The man winked and grinned, his dark face lighting up with good humor.
"Very well. Thank you," Illya acknowledged and forced himself to move to the elevator.
The smooth chrome doors opened immediately when he hit the up arrow. Almost ragged with exhaustion, Illya pressed the seven button and propped himself against the green metal wall. He was all too aware of the fact that there was every possibility his partner would slam the door in his face when he arrived. With good reason.
In no time at all, the elevator discharged him onto the seventh floor and Illya stood before the thick wooden door marked 7D. Left with no other choice, he rang the doorbell; although what he really wanted to do was turn and run.
Illya could almost feel the change in the quiet around him, could sense his partner poised on the other side of the door, gun in hand, at this unexpected, late-night interruption.
"Who's there?" Napoleon asked, his voice as controlled and deadly as the bullet that would meet a wrong reply.
"It is I, Illya. May I speak to you, Napoleon?"
Another pause followed, this one longer than the first. Illya truly did not know if Napoleon would even consent to see him after their previous debacle. But, to his great surprise, the door swung open.
"Come in, before we wake the entire building." Napoleon's subdued tone matched his grim visage. There was no smile, no cheery greeting, none of the usual amenities that normally awaited Illya when he visited here. Napoleon's face seemed almost pinched around the mouth and eyes, as if he were holding back a great deal of emotion. Those eyes were a little red, but completely dry. Illya thought that their color was probably caused by the lateness of the hour, rather than tears. Other than the few times they'd been subjected to tear gas, Illya had never seen his partner cry. It was the one thing he didn't know if he'd be able to deal with.
Still, there was a haunted look about his partner that did not sit well with Illya, a bleakness that was totally out of character for this normally unflappable man.
It didn't appear as though Napoleon had even been attempting to sleep, for he was still almost fully dressed in what passed for his idea of casual. His partner's suit jacket, tie, and shoes were gone, but he still wore his neatly tailored black trousers and his white button-down shirt. The top two shirt buttons were undone, revealing the crisp white undershirt beneath. Illya did his best to ignore the perfect musculature of the forearms showcased by the rolled up sleeves, but despite his best attempts, he could almost count the dark hairs there.
Had Illya been home for almost an hour, he'd be in his pajamas by now.
Illya stared around the brightly lit room, relieved to see only a steaming mug on the coffee table, and not the martini decanter he'd feared. Napoleon wasn't a heavy drinker by nature, but he'd had cause tonight.
The living room itself was strangely cozy, not at all the fancy bachelor pad Napoleon's lifestyle would lead one to expect. The overfilled, floor-to-ceiling bookcase that ran the length of the left wall betrayed his partner's passion for the written word.
The furnishings were chosen more for comfort than style; although the combined effect was quite pleasant. A large, overstuffed sofa held court in the center of the room. Its tasteful green and brown, floral print upholstery complemented the two chairs that flanked it. The matching, wing-backed easy chairs were a forest green, the rug a discreet beige. The final, homey touch were the side tables. They were the same dark, highly polished wood as the coffee table and bookcase. Mahogany or possibly walnut, Illya thought.
Instead of the television set that dominated the living room of most American households, Napoleon's furniture clustered around a marble fireplace. There was a fire crackling in the hearth now. From the height of the flames and generous amount of untouched wood left, it appeared Napoleon had just lit it. The cheery flames seemed to reach out and embrace Illya's weary spirit. Of all the luxuries Napoleon's high-priced apartment offered, it was only the fireplace which Illya envied.
But he wasn't here to admire Napoleon's hearth or home decorating abilities. The nature of the silence behind him reminded Illya of the trouble between them.
Illya turned to face the man he'd so deeply offended.
Napoleon's expression stopped him cold. Illya had seen it a thousand times before. It was the brave face Napoleon put on when their enemies would come to torture them when they were in chains, the pride that carried him through when there was nothing left with which to fight. That such a look would be turned on him, Napoleon's own partner, was highly unnerving, especially since Napoleon hardly ever gazed at him with anything other than affection or fond exasperation.
Seeing it, Illya couldn't quite contain his shock. No one had ever given him the power to hurt them before like this. It was obvious that Napoleon was waiting for him to wound him again. For all that they were friends, he'd never suspected that he could be this important to Napoleon.
Taking a nervous gulp, Illya sought to clear the obstruction from his throat so that he could speak. It felt like he'd swallowed a hand grenade. "I came to apologize. I reacted badly before."
Illya winced. Even in remorse, he was awkward and bumbling. The words had sounded like a challenge to even his own ears.
Still keeping his standing position on the far side of the room, out of the firelight and direct lighting, Napoleon shrugged. "No apology is necessary. It was an honest reaction. I appreciate your coming here, but I really think you ought to go home now. I'll call you a cab."
The polite formality shivered through him like an icy downpour. "Napoleon, I..."
"You what? You haven't changed your mind. I can see those barricades in your eyes. You've offered the necessary apology. I've accepted it. There's nothing else to be said or done here." It was Section Two's number one enforcer talking now, the master strategist who could apprehend the murkiest of tactical situations at a single glance. This was Napoleon's version of Illya's own Ice Man.
The presence of that cool alter ego here worried him, for it showed Illya that he'd broken something he might not be able to fix, perhaps even the emotional trust that was the bedrock of a friendship that logically should not exist at all.
"Napoleon, please," appalled, Illya realized that he was practically begging, "I did not intend to hurt you before. I am sorry."
Belatedly, Illya realized he'd set himself up for any number of vicious comebacks. In the ensuing, ponderous silence, he imagined he could hear the most predictable, the "Then God help me if you ever try" that most anyone would have thrown in his face, but no words were spoken for the longest time.
When Napoleon finally broke that silence, his partner let him off easy. "You're not to blame. I forgot one of the oldest rules of the game. You can't be faulted for reminding me of it." Napoleon's dark gaze dropped to his stockinged feet, as if to hide his expression.
Not that Illya needed to see Napoleon's expressions to know what his partner was feeling after all these years. Even the impenetrable super agent was readable after a fashion.
"What rule is that?" Illya gently questioned.
"You don't gamble what you can't afford to lose."
Now it was Illya who looked away. When he could trust his voice, he ventured, "Have we lost our friendship, then?"
"I didn't mean it that way," Napoleon instantly assured, firmly, but still not quite himself. There was an edge to his partner's attitude that Illya couldn't place.
"Then what did you mean?"
"It's not important. Not anymore," Napoleon evaded.
"Look," Napoleon straightened his shoulders, firming his stance, "it's late. I suggest we put this entire night behind us and forget it ever happened. You've made your position clear. We still have a working partnership. There's nothing else to be said."
"But..." Illya tried again, feeling as though everything were slipping away from him. There was a distance between them which had never been there before, and which he realized might never be gone again.
"You can't have this both ways, Illya. You've made it plain that you don't want me. You can't expect me to bare my soul to you. That's too much to ask, even for you."
"Not 'don't want,'" Illya softly corrected, "but 'don't dare.' There is a difference."
"I'm not going to argue semantics with you. You've made your position clear; I'm abiding by your decision. I won't force you in this...I can't."
Illya didn't want to see Napoleon this way. The arrogant, emotional manipulator that his partner could often be, Illya could walk away from in a second. But this quietly suffering man bypassed every one of his protective walls.
Which was precisely what Napoleon intended, Illya told himself. Only...
Illya knew his partner, better than he did anyone on this planet. He'd seen Napoleon connive, scheme, and seduce countless times in the past, but he'd never seen this indefatigable fighter look so beaten. Every instinct Illya possessed was telling him that this was no scam. Finding a courage he didn't know he owned, Illya softly requested, "Perhaps you could define what 'this' is?" At Napoleon's blank expression, he clarified, "You said that you wouldn't force me in 'this.' Earlier in the bar, you claimed that you weren't propositioning me, but that you dreamed of me. I...I am confused. You are not normally a man who speaks in circles, Napoleon. Either you desire me in 'that' way or you do not."
"What difference does it make? You've already ruled out the possibility."
The tense rigidity of Napoleon's stance was so unlike Napoleon's normal relaxed, confident posture that it took Illya a moment to interpret the body language. He'd so rarely seen this man telegraphing defeat before that it was astonishing in this personal setting, but Napoleon was standing there looking as though he'd lost everything that mattered to him in the world. All because of him.
Reevaluating the situation, Illya cautiously ventured, "You...startled me when you reached for me in the bar before."
He was taking a chance, laying his own vulnerability out in the open like that. They tried so hard to appear perfect in each other's eyes that they would rarely admit to so much as an ache or scrape. Speaking so openly about his fear made Illya feel as if he were baring his deepest secrets.
But Napoleon didn't mock him. Instead, he shook his head and quietly denied, "I didn't startle you. I repulsed you. You pulled back from me like...like you'd stuck your hand into an open cesspool or a vat of acid."
The accusation hit like a physical blow.
The honesty was apparently too much for Napoleon. No sooner did Napoleon finish speaking, then he turned his back on him, staring off into the shadows of his unlit bedroom. Napoleon looked like he was waiting to be torn to pieces.
All his resolves weakening, Illya approached the taut figure from behind. He could tell that Napoleon was so sensitized to him that he didn't have to watch to know that he was closing the distance between them. With every step Illya took, Napoleon's tension seemed to increase proportionately, until his partner was tensed so tight, it seemed his muscles would snap from the strain.
Illya halted as close to his friend as he could get without actually touching him. He could feel the heat pouring off Napoleon's body. His sinuses were tickled by his partner's expensive aftershave and the sweeter, more alluring male scent of Napoleon himself.
Taking a deep breath, Illya tried to master his reeling senses, but Napoleon was simply too near. He could have ignored the aftershave, but never Napoleon's natural aroma, and every breath brought another blast of that heady bouquet.
Slowly, Illya's thunderstruck eyes registered the fine quiver that was coursing through this man he'd always considered invincible. It was hard to see at first, Napoleon controlled himself so well. But when Illya looked at those broad shoulders and the powerful forearms revealed by his rolled-up sleeves, he could detect the barest tremor.
His mouth running dry at the discovery, Illya tried to find some words that would not come across wrong. He was hopeless when it came to the finer emotions. All he knew was killing and hurting. Solace and nurturing were utterly alien to his emotional makeup, almost beyond him. Whenever he tried to be supportive, Illya knew that he inevitably came across as condescending, and he could not afford to have that happen here. He'd received so little real nurturing in his formative years that Illya truly had no clue as to how to go about this, but for Napoleon, he would try. When he found his voice, it emerged as a choked-back whisper. "You know that you do not repulse me, Napoleon."
"I saw your face," Napoleon practically hissed, holding himself so tight that Illya could almost feel the effort it was taking Napoleon to contain his turbulent emotions.
Recognizing how deeply he'd wounded, Illya softly denied, "No, you saw my fear."
"You've never feared anything in your life." Napoleon voiced the preposterous claim as though it were a law of physics, something totally incontestable.
Giving up all pretense, Illya confessed, "Nevertheless, you terrify me. Please, we need to talk." Illya carefully laid his hand on the burning heat of that hard-muscled back. The cotton was so smooth beneath his palm, hot and slightly damp from its proximity to Napoleon's flesh.
Napoleon's entire body seemed to jerk at the contact, as if Illya had delivered a powerful electric shock with the light touch.
His partner's continued silence was unnerving. Illya found himself speaking to fill the tense void. "You must understand," he said to that stiff back. "The game of love comes so easily to you, my friend. I don't have your...emotional resiliency. If I were to...open my heart to you and within a week find myself as redundant as all your other paramours..."
Napoleon swung around so suddenly he nearly unbalanced him. "I would never do that to you. Not ever."
"I have seen you do it to a thousand others, Napoleon," Illya sadly reminded, avoiding those passionate eyes, lest he lose all control.
"They weren't you," Napoleon insisted.
"And what do I have to hold you that the others lacked?" Illya demanded, spelling the cold facts of life out for them both, so that even if Napoleon were to forget the truth, he, himself, would be reminded. "I am not beautiful, charming, or humorous. I am not skilled in love play. I am barely civil. My last date complained that she could receive warmer embraces from a snowman..."
Illya had expected his worldly friend to smile as he listed his shortcomings, perhaps even laugh at that last pathetic confession, but Napoleon remained deathly silent. All that changed was the expression in Napoleon's face and eyes, which for some reason Illya could no longer avoid. The hurt hardness melted by slow degrees from carefully guarded distance to utter sympathy. In fact, Napoleon almost appeared pained by the revelation.
"She didn't know you," Napoleon said in a tone intended to comfort.
"Nobody knows me," Illya denied, not seeing how it really mattered. He'd been isolated so long he wouldn't know how to deal with anything else at this point. He couldn't even talk to his closest friend.
"I do," Napoleon whispered. "I know you – both the cold face you show to the world and the secret one you keep hidden."
Illya's eyes squeezed shut at the seductive murmur. Was it possible? Could Napoleon know him that well?
Illya could feel that troubled gaze digging into him, slicing through his defenses until he felt that he had nothing left to hide behind.
"But you don't want to hear that; do you?" Napoleon gave a low sigh. "I knew that this was a mistake from the start. I should have let you go earlier tonight. I'm sorry."
His awareness of the other man's body heat told him Napoleon was drawing away. Inside, Illya panicked. He couldn't let this opportunity pass, couldn't allow his fear to destroy the only chance he might ever have of holding Napoleon – if only for a handful of nights. Before his partner could escape, Illya's hand shot out to anchor him in place. "I need to know what...what you require of me." He opened his eyes and stared straight into Napoleon's emotion-strained face.
"What do you mean? Are you saying you will?" Napoleon looked almost as though he suspected he were being teased.
Illya ignored the last question, answering the former instead with, "I am...out of my league here, Napoleon. My experience – with either sex – is...minimal and if I had to grade my own performance in this area..."
Illya shuddered as his friend's hands gripped his shoulders. He felt so ashamed, way too vulnerable because of his lack of knowledge in these matters. A man his age should know how to behave in a sexual situation – what to say, how to make his feelings clear to the person he cared for most in the world. But...sex had never been easy for him, nor had it ever been like this before. Previously, it had never mattered to Illya what some strange woman might think of him, but with Napoleon...he was terrified of losing his partner's respect, of coming across as a total bumbler.
Napoleon stared intently down at him as he grated out, "This isn't about performances. You've got nothing to prove to me or to live up to."
Illya searched those bottomless brown eyes for some sign of subterfuge, some hint that this was just another overused line in Napoleon's romantic repertoire. Perhaps he was so besotted that he couldn't even read his partner anymore, but Napoleon appeared sincere.
Illya forced himself to remain perfectly still as Napoleon's right hand left his shoulder and approached his face. He would not flinch away from Napoleon again. He'd already made that particular mistake once tonight. So, Illya watched that hand approach as he would a poisonous snake. Deep down, he wanted to flee; but like a cobra's ensnared victim, that was no longer an option.
Napoleon seemed to release an in-held breath when his palm actually made contact with Illya's left cheek. Keeping a close watch on his face, Napoleon playfully rubbed his thumb tip over his cheekbone and the bridge of his nose.
Even that harmless caress was enough to make him shake.
Illya stood there trembling with the knowledge that this was really about to happen. His reaction to that was as much one of fear as of desire. The most frustrating part was that he knew Napoleon could read it all in his eyes, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it, for his inexperience was something he simply couldn't hide. Napoleon's expression was too gentle, too understanding.
Unable to bear the exposure, Illya closed his eyes again. At least that way, he wouldn't see his own downfall.
He felt Napoleon move closer. Illya stood still, not even breathing, his mouth pursed tight in anxious anticipation. Napoleon would kiss him, and his world would shatter around him...
But, as always, Napoleon Solo's actions were beyond prediction. Instead of his tightly guarded mouth, it was Illya's forehead that was the recipient of Napoleon's attentions. Illya gasped as the lightest of kisses was placed on the spot directly beneath the fringe of his bangs. He felt careful fingers discover the texture of his hair, the shape of his skull as Napoleon continued to gently kiss his brow.
"Do you like this, Illya?" Napoleon quietly questioned, sounding worried.
Reluctant to chance what his voice might reveal, Illya gave a tight nod. Too much was happening at once. Napoleon's moist breath against his skin, the kiss itself, what it was doing to his body.
Illya had achieved erections before during foreplay, but not this fast or this hard. His penis had tightened at the first brush of Napoleon's lips and was now an uncomfortable pressure in his trousers. He couldn't get his lungs to work right. There was no air in the room; the temperature seemed to be rising dramatically; and he was beginning to feel dizzy. Perhaps THRUSH had gassed them, his dazed mind clutched for an explanation.
Then Napoleon's kiss moved from the center of his forehead to his left eye, and Illya knew that it was no nerve gas affecting him. It was just Napoleon.
Illya felt his partner's tongue sweep across his eyebrow, Napoleon giving a throaty "Mmmmmm, salty," before exploring the shape and texture of his eyelid and lashes, all the while subjecting the sensitive area to that moist fall of warm breath.
Then the delicate tongue tip moved to probe the tear duct in the corner. Stunned, Illya quivered as Napoleon licked up and swallowed the traces of sleep that had started to accumulate there. No one, positively no one had ever done that before. The fastidious side of Illya's nature found the concept positively repugnant, but the more immediate, primal part of him shook in wonder. If Napoleon would do that when they hadn't even kissed yet, what wouldn't his uninhibited partner do once he was granted free license to the rest of his body?
Illya choked in a ragged breath and grasped hold of Napoleon's elbows to hold himself up. The hit of oxygen did nothing to clear his mind. All he could smell was the pine-forest scent of Napoleon's aftershave and the clean aroma of his friend's flesh.
Napoleon's kisses moved on to his cheekbone, following the bone line almost to his ear before slanting back across his face again. Illya had never been kissed like this before, so slowly, so elegantly. Undergoing Napoleon's slow seduction, he recognized that he'd never really been kissed before, period. Not by someone who had true feelings for him.
Perhaps it was sheer vanity, but Illya had seen his partner romancing dozens of different women, and never had Napoleon seemed to pay this kind of attention to detail. They had to have been at this for over ten minutes already, and his partner hadn't even kissed his lips yet. Napoleon seemed totally absorbed with stroking his hair and sampling his facial features.
Finally, Napoleon approached his mouth. There was no great fanfare, no tension-laden pause. Napoleon's tongue simply lapped across his cheek, slowing when it reached Illya's mouth to outline his lips.
The shiversome barrage as that sensitive swab tickled the tiny, invisible hairs there quaked through Illya. He'd always expected Napoleon's technique to be hot and steamy. The man was a master of seduction, after all. Napoleon had romance down to an exact science. He'd always imagined that after one touch they'd be rolling around the floor in typical Napoleon style, clothes shredding and bodies banging in the sensual equivalent of a runaway freight train.
But in this, there was none of the selfish rush towards completion. There was a refinement to every one of Napoleon's touches, an overwhelming sense of tender care. Admittedly, Illya's personal experience was slim to nonexistent, but to his bewildered mind, it almost seemed as though his partner were catering his actions to Illya's own need. There was nothing typical about what Napoleon was doing to him. This...this was almost worship.
Up until the second Napoleon had touched him like this, he had been simply existing, filling in time, not living. With every second Napoleon caressed him, Napoleon was teaching him what it meant to be truly alive. There wasn't a single cell in Illya's body that wasn't tingling from this contact. Illya was so overwhelmed that he could barely retain the wherewithal to do his part of kissing back.
When he did, Illya tasted the sweet traces of coffee that lingered in his partner's saliva. It was almost like one of those Godiva chocolates that he loved so much. The natural taste of Napoleon's mouth was the rich, dark chocolate, that surprise burst of coffee flavor, the tasty filling. Illya knew that with no trouble at all, he could live on these kisses.
To his astonishment, Napoleon's mouth was fully as seductive as his touches. Illya had never felt a kiss this alive and responsive. Napoleon's lips sucked and kneaded against his own as if kissing were an active contact sport like soccer. And yet, there was utterly no sense of competition, no underlying, hidden agenda. Napoleon was acting as though the kisses themselves were the only thing he wanted out of this, like it all wasn't some calculated assault to get into Illya's pants.
Finally, Illya needed air so badly that he had to withdraw. They were both so involved that he had expected to have to fight his way free, but the instant he gave that nonverbal request for space, Napoleon's mouth obliged him by letting go.
"Are you all right?" Napoleon murmured.
Emboldened by the warmth of those rich, dark eyes, Illya reached up to stroke through his partner's hair. It was so smooth, soft as a baby animal's fur.
Illya saw Napoleon gulp in response to his touch, an uncharacteristic air of trepidation entering his partner's attitude. Napoleon was watching him with that anxious, vulnerable quality again, everything in his expression seeming to say that it wouldn't take much for Illya to wound him, deeply.
It was all too much. The kiss, that look...
"Could we sit down?" Illya suggested, the wobbly condition of his legs informing him that he wouldn't be vertical much longer otherwise. Reading the uncertainty in those normally confident features, he slid his left hand slowly down Napoleon's arm to loosely grasp his partner's hand. "To answer your question, I am more 'all right' than I have ever been in my entire life, Napoleon."
Napoleon's smile was so bashful, so delightfully boyish that it bypassed all his defenses. All Illya could do was offer a smaller, bemused version of it and nod. "Really."
His reply appeared to be sufficient for Napoleon, however.
Napoleon's fingers twined with his own, the action startlingly unselfconscious, as though it were the most natural thing in the world for them to hold hands this way.
"Would you prefer the couch...or the bedroom?"
Reading the cause of the hesitation behind the latter suggestion, Illya froze for a moment. He'd very much like to visit Napoleon's bedroom, but to do so at this point would be too firm a statement of intent. Illya knew that he was only surviving this moment to moment. But how to explain that without causing offense?
To his astonishment, Napoleon removed the necessity of doing so. Seeming to read his very thoughts, he offered, "Perhaps the couch, for now?"
"I...yes, the couch, thank you. I'm sorry to be so..."
Illya fumbled for a suitable adjective to describe his current condition and came up blank. So, what? Bumbling? Inept? Embarrassingly inexperienced? Illya hadn't a clue as to what type of excuse he could use and still retain any shred of dignity.
Napoleon's mouth moved in to silence his apology with a brief kiss, the tenderness of which left his senses swimming. Illya drowned in its sweet depths until thought became impossible. Feeling that same overwhelming, dizzying emotion swirling through him, Illya gave a weak push against his partner's chest, needing to clear his head before he was swept away by the floodtide of pleasure.
When Napoleon pulled back, he softly stated, "Sorry. I got carried away again, but...I never thought to have you here at all, Illya, not like this. Whatever we do, or don't do, that is for you to decide. I'm not going to risk everything by rushing you."
And, somehow, those words gave Illya the courage to be more open with his partner. Releasing Napoleon's hand, he took a seat on the corner of the couch amidst the pile of throw pillows. Picking one up, he studied its bright green and blue pattern as he admitted, "I just feel that this must all be...very boring for you. You've had so much experience with these things that it must be very frustrating to..."
"To what? Have someone here that my touch means something to? Someone who knows me, and all my weaknesses, and is still brave enough to trust me, despite all that? You don't bore or frustrate me, tovarich. You...astound me. I don't know that I could trust me, if I were you."
Illya paused a moment to carefully choose his words, then offered, "I think that we are both...treading dangerous ground here. We both have our own particular reservations. I just...can't believe you'd feel these things for me, while you..." Illya couldn't guess what his friend's fears might be, now that Napoleon knew he wanted him. To Illya, it seemed that all the power had been placed in his partner's hands with that single admission. Surely, Napoleon must know that.
"While I...? I could wake up tomorrow and find you hate me for seducing you. Or, the far more probable scenario, sooner or later you will become bored with me and move on."
"Bored with you? Who could tire of the infamous Napoleon Solo's charms?" Illya couldn't help but laugh at the absurd notion. He could no more imagine voluntarily quitting Napoleon than he could giving up eating. It was Napoleon who habitually moved on to newer, more exciting conquests.
"Don't look so amused," Napoleon said, his gaze troubled. "Women leave me all the time. In fact, to be perfectly honest, in most cases it's not my choice."
"They're looking for husbands to father their children. Not superspy playboys with a lower life expectancy than their last car."
Illya considered that. The somber shadow darkening Napoleon's eyes told him how frequent the experience was. Once again, his partner's words in the bar tonight came back to him, that seemingly out of character bout of wistfulness over the family life U.N.C.L.E. denied them.
"I'm not looking for someone to father my children, Napoleon," Illya assured with a gentle smile.
"Perhaps not, but I could still disappoint you. You've had...feelings for me for a long time. Reality hardly ever lives up to fantasy, my young friend. Although I'll do my damnedest, I may not live up to expectation. And even if I do...I'm eleven years older than you. Sooner or later, that's going to make a difference."
Stunned by how seriously worried Napoleon was about all this, Illya answered in the only way he could think of that wouldn't end them up in a long debate. There were other pursuits he was far more eager to get back to. "What are you saying? That I'm not young enough? That you're going to want someone younger than me?"
For a minute, Napoleon obviously thought him serious, but then a slow smile spread across his face and he shook his head. "For someone who claims inexperience, you have a knack for saying precisely what needs to be said."
"I speak only the truth, Napoleon. I could never grow bored with you."
Napoleon gave a loud swallow and protested, "Never's a very long time, Illya. Right now that decade doesn't mean much, but in ten years when I'm old and sagging, you will change your mind."
Illya was more than slightly stunned by his partner's objection. Napoleon was thinking of this in terms of years, of decades? Hearing only the whisper of permanence that he would never have expected of this man, Illya gently shook his head. "Never."
"You can't say that. No one can be that sure of how they'll feel five, ten, or even twenty years down the line," Napoleon softly challenged.
Every word his partner spoke convinced him that Napoleon intended more than the handful of nights Illya had expected this to last. His confidence growing with every syllable Napoleon uttered, Illya insisted, "I can, where you're concerned."
"You sound so sure. I've seen a bit more of the world than you, my friend, and..."
"You haven't seen me, Napoleon, not in this capacity. You fear I'll grow disinterested, turn away from you...what could tempt me from your side that I haven't encountered in all the years I've known you?"
The truth behind his argument was not wasted on his astute friend. Visibly touched, Napoleon hoarsely questioned, "You've felt this way for all the years you've known me?"
"From Day One?" Napoleon seemed totally flabbergasted by the concept.
"No, not quite that long," Illya demurred with a soft smile.
But Napoleon was like a bloodhound on a trail now, obviously unwilling to abandon the conversational topic. "Then how long?"
"Perhaps it was the third time we met."
"The third time?" Napoleon echoed.
"Do you remember Garrett Martin?" Illya quizzed, reaching out to re- appropriate Napoleon's nearby hand. It was much larger than his own, strong and yet oddly streamlined. Illya studied its contours as he brought up the painful subject.
"That fool," Napoleon said, his free hand creeping up to play with the hair over Illya's ear as he slid close enough to share body warmth again. It almost seemed to Illya that Napoleon was responding to the unconscious body language that revealed Illya's hopefully well-concealed distress over this subject. "I haven't thought of him in forever. What's he have to do with anything?"
It was all Illya could do to keep from smothering his partner with grateful kisses.
Garrett Martin had been one of Section Two's top three enforcers when Illya transferred over. The Brit had made Illya's life a living hell with his commie jokes and thinly veiled aspersions on Illya's loyalty during his first six weeks here. Illya had been on the point of quitting U.N.C.L.E. when Napoleon and McAllister returned from an extended operation.
Until the day he died, Illya would never forget the way Napoleon Solo had verbally flayed Martin for his smear campaign against U.N.C.L.E.'s only Russian agent. Napoleon hadn't even met him privately at that point. Illya had been nothing but a new face in Waverly's meetings to him. Napoleon had simply found Martin's behavior morally offensive and taken care of the problem. Within a month, it had been Martin who'd tendered his resignation.
"You didn't even know me and you defended me against his accusations," Illya gently reminded. "That's not something I could ever forget. You...made a lasting impression that day."
Napoleon's cheeks actually filled with color. "Illya...Martin was an embarrassment to U.N.C.L.E. It wasn't anything I did personally for you..."
"No? Every other agent in this section witnessed his baiting and yet none saw fit to intervene. You were the first..."
"I was his superior officer. It was my job to oversee his behavior. Mr. Waverly had worked long and hard to find a Russian who would be able and willing to work for U.N.C.L.E. Martin's behavior was jeopardizing the integrity of this agency."
Illya considered that for a moment before continuing, "Even so, Mr. Waverly did not take issue with him. It was you."
Napoleon chuckled, his hands doing distracting things with Illya's hair. "I think Mr. Waverly was using Martin as a test run for me."
"What?" Illya tried to think beyond the feather-fall of soft locks against his neck, but it was very hard. His neck was way too sensitive and Napoleon had discovered a new form of entertainment. Napoleon seemed almost obsessed with his hair.
"I'd just been promoted to top enforcer then. I think the old man let that situation go on as long as he did to see how I'd handle it when I got back from Nairobi," Napoleon explained, leaning in to nuzzle through the longish fall of gold behind Illya's left ear.
Convulsed with icy shivers, Illya could barely remember his own name, let alone follow any type of conversational trail. Nevertheless, he gave it his best, if highly distracted, effort. "You...handle...things... very...well...mmmmm..." Instinct had him arching his neck up towards that talented mouth, even though he knew it would be his complete undoing.
"Was that a compliment?" Napoleon practically purred as he stared down at Illya, his gaze very warm and, there was simply no other word for it, loving.
Somehow strangely unafraid, even though common sense was screaming that he ought to be terrified to be in such a compromising position with this charming philanderer, Illya gave a bold shake of his head and denied, "No, merely a statement of fact. I won't lie to you, Napoleon. Certainly not to bolster your ego."
"But you just said..."
Napoleon looked positively adorable when he was confused, Illya decided. He lightly brushed his fingers across his partner's cheekbone and explained, "I told the truth."
The simple explanation seemed to completely disarm his partner. For a long time, Napoleon stared down at Illya's face, as if memorizing every feature, then he appeared to almost melt into a kiss.
Illya immediately opened his mouth to the ardent tongue that tickled his lips.
Napoleon's hands gripped his shoulders, pushing him to lie back on the couch as Napoleon sagged on top of him. Napoleon was a warm, hard weight pressing down on him. Illya had never lain with anyone this heavy or hard-muscled before. It was so different from his previous experiences with women that all he could do was lie there, his hands running over that broad, powerful back as Napoleon vacuumed his tonsils.
When Napoleon withdrew for air, Illya blinked up at his friend's face. The firelight was flickering in golden-orange bursts across Napoleon's handsome features, giving the slightly sweaty skin a burnished cast.
The soft lighting did wonders for the already lethally attractive American. Illya had never seen anything so sensual in his entire life. He grew harder from just looking at Napoleon with the firelight dancing across him. This was so much like one of Illya's late-night fantasies that it seemed positively surreal.
"Dear God," Napoleon surprised him by gasping.
"Mmmmm--what?" Illya roused himself enough to ask.
"You probably won't want to hear it," Napoleon warned, charmingly self-conscious.
"Hear what?" Illya turned his head to press a kiss onto the sweaty palm that was cupping his face. His tongue tip poked out to sample the moisture there. He was so far gone that he even found the salty-metallic flavor of this man's sweat arousing.
"How...incredible you look. The firelight's as smitten with you as I am. It's turned you to living gold."
Though Illya knew that he should be wary, knew that honeyed flattery flowed from this man's tongue as freely as water down the raging falls of Niagara, the words warmed him deep inside.
Fingering Napoleon's sharp profile, Illya asked in utter seriousness, "And are you...smitten with me, Napoleon?"
The glib response Illya anticipated never came. His eyes oddly shadowed, Napoleon nodded.
Picking up on the puzzling near-fear, Illya stroked Napoleon's smooth hair in a calming rhythm. Closing his eyes tight, his partner pressed his cheek against Illya's chest, burying his nose in his black turtleneck as his arms tightened spasmodically around him.
Startled, Illya returned the hug. Not understanding its cause, he rubbed Napoleon's back and kissed the top of his partner's head as Napoleon all but clung to him. There was a desperation to Napoleon that unsettled him.
"Can you tell me what's troubling you, my friend?" Illya whispered after a while.
He felt Napoleon's body tense. Not looking up, he spoke against Illya's shirt-front. The deep vibrations rumbled sensually through Illya's chest. He was so unaccustomed to holding anyone this way that the intimacy of the embrace itself kept overwhelming him, so he had to concentrate doubly hard on what Napoleon was telling him.
"It's...easier when your heart stays out of the game. I...it's been years since I really cared about anyone who walked through that door. I'm not used to these feelings anymore."
"And you think that I am?" Illya gave a hollow laugh. "I am not even used to sex itself, Napoleon."
That got Napoleon's attention. His friend peeked up at him, his entire face an unasked question.
Reading the questions that his partner was too well-mannered to voice, Illya stiffly supplied, "I have been with five women in my entire life. On all five occasions, it was a disaster."
"You mean you've only done it...five times? Not had five ongoing relationships?" Napoleon didn't seem to be able to keep himself from asking.
Illya gave a tight nod and forced himself not to blush. He kept telling himself that this was just fact. There was no shame in it. Even so, it was extremely difficult to meet this accomplished Lothario's eyes at that moment. But Illya made himself hold Napoleon's gaze.
"And there have been no men?" Napoleon softly inquired.
His throat running dry, Illya gave a negative shake of his head. Only five women, no men, and no pleasure out of the sex he'd known...he was as close to a virgin as one could get in this promiscuous age. But Illya did not wish to be a virgin, not with this jaded sensualist, for in his heart he knew that to win and keep Napoleon, he was going to have to be truly something special in the lovemaking department. For the life of him, he had no clue as to how he could even begin to compete with the talented paramours who had wooed Napoleon in the past.
Having braced himself for amusement, Illya couldn't comprehend the gentleness that entered Napoleon's gaze at that moment. Surely, his partner must think him a bumbling fool.
"I...don't have any true talent in the romance area, I'm afraid," Illya said.
"That's nonsense," Napoleon denied, shifting up to take his weight on his hands so that he could stare down into the supine Illya's face. "Take it from someone who's spent the last twenty minutes reeling from your kisses, you've got more than enough talent. It isn't...all done by the numbers with you. You're more here with me than anyone I can remember in a long time, Illya. It's as though you put everything you are into each kiss."
Illya felt his brow furrow as he absorbed the other man's words. Napoleon sounded so sincere.
Was this what it was like for each of Napoleon's women, he wondered, this gradual erosion of one's final defenses? Did Napoleon make them all melt like this before he moved on to greener pastures? And if Napoleon did, how did his victims survive it?
Deciding to lay all his cards on the table, Illya looked down at the open top buttons on Napoleon's shirt front and whispered, "Maybe that's because I can't hold anything back from you."
As his gaze was focused on his partner's neck, Illya couldn't help but notice the convulsive bob Napoleon's Adam's apple gave in response to his candor.
Propping himself up on one arm to keep from crushing Illya into the couch cushions, Napoleon reached out with his free hand to cup his cheek and guide his doubtful face back up. "You don't have to hold back, not from me."
Finding it far too easy to drown in those earnest brown eyes, Illya waited until his silence fully focused Napoleon's attention on him. "If I fall alone in this, it will destroy me, Napoleon."
Illya watched his warning hit hard. Napoleon didn't even attempt to shield his feelings. "I'm not screwing around here. I swear it. If I hurt you, I hurt me. If you fall, I'll catch you, tovarich. I'll always be there to catch you."
And with those words, Napoleon took his mouth again, as well as his heart. Illya couldn't have held back if he'd wanted to.
A small moan of surrender escaped Illya's reddened lips as Napoleon's full weight blanketed him again. The exclamation was absorbed into the earth- shaking kiss. As Napoleon's tongue entered him, Illya's hands restlessly roamed Napoleon's broad back, as if searching for a last finger-hold to keep him from plummeting over that chasm that they were both so afraid of. It was useless, Illya realized, for he was already gone, spiraling endlessly down to his destruction.
But as promised, Napoleon didn't abandon him there alone. His partner went gushing over that edge with him. Napoleon clung as if for dear life to Illya's smaller frame as the passion they were unleashing between them flooded their systems.
Illya was inundated with an aching tenderness, a tingling need for touch that left him weak, barely able to function.
For all that Napoleon was more accustomed to such intimacies, Illya was relieved to see that his partner seemed as equally affected. Napoleon's face was flushed, his gaze heated and barely focused, his body trembling as his partner worshipped him with mouth and hands. The moist fall of Napoleon's breath on his sensitive neck was causing shivers that threatened to shake Illya apart.
"More...please?" the normally articulate Napoleon begged as his hands gripped the bottom of Illya's turtleneck.
To the overwhelmed Illya's surprise, Napoleon waited for his nod of assent before pulling the shirt from his trousers.
Once permission was given, Napoleon stripped both undershirt and turtleneck from Illya's body in one smooth move.
As Napoleon's right hand tossed the garments over the back of the couch, Napoleon's left captured both Illya's wrists and held them pinned to the sofa arm behind his head. The quiver that squiggled through his stomach ran the length of Illya's body as those hungry brown eyes surveyed his bare chest.
In his insecurity, Illya had always considered himself pitifully unendowed there, but there was no mistaking Napoleon's pleasure with the naked, hairless skin revealed.
His hand still binding both of Illya's above the pillow, Napoleon lowered his head to rub his cheek from one flat breast to the other, then back again.
Though Illya knew his partner had shaven before they went out this evening, the hour was late and Napoleon's chin and cheeks were once again stubbled with tiny bristles of beard. They grated against the tender skin on Illya's chest like sandpaper. Illya hissed at the abrasive contact, excited by it despite the discomfort.
On his next sweep back, Napoleon's tongue peeked out to lick a pink bud of nipple, instantly transforming the flesh into a tight, peaked pebble. As Napoleon sucked at it, Illya's body twitched with desire, bucking helplessly up at his partner as tiny sparks of pleasure uncoiled into roiling waves of flame within him.
It was too much. He'd never felt anything like this before. He had no control over it; rather, the feeling owned him; before long he'd be sobbing over the intensity. Illya knew that he couldn't survive so much as another second of it and remain the same person he'd been when he walked in Napoleon's door tonight.
He needed some breathing room again. His hands tugged for freedom, needing to push away and reestablish his calm center, but where Napoleon had been very obliging the last few times Illya had called a halt to their lovemaking, Napoleon held them tight this time.
"What is it?" Napoleon hoarsely whispered.
Illya met that heated gaze and tried to explain. "I--I can't think when you do that, can't breathe, please...let me..."
"You're not supposed to be thinking now, just feeling. Relax, allow me to love you," Napoleon begged.
Illya tried to do as requested, tried to just go with the flow, but no sooner did Napoleon's mouth return to sucking his nipple than those same terrifying sensations went swirling through him. His body was going crazy: his breathing was totally erratic; his heart was slamming against the wall of his chest as though it were fighting its way out; and his neural path...the incandescent joy was singing every neuron he owned. Illya could almost feel them melting down one by one. As for what this passion was doing to his stomach, his guts felt twisted in knots, overwhelmed by this never-before felt arousal.
Napoleon was killing him. He absolutely had to regain some measure of control...
Pure panic instinct guiding him, Illya twisted his body and jerked against where Napoleon held his wrists locked above his head. "Stop...please..." he pleaded.
At his cry for liberty, Napoleon raised his head to stare down at his face. Illyalay still as his partner took his measure, barely breathing as the other man seemed to evaluate just how serious he was about escape. Illya could almost feel Napoleon digging into the deepest recesses of his soul to uncover his most private secrets. That Napoleon could read him that well was terribly frightening, but somehow reassuring at the same time.
Everything would be all right now, Illya told himself, struggling to still the wild patter of what had once been a calmly regulated heartbeat. He was fighting for air like a captured dove.
Napoleon would see how much these strong emotions were upsetting him, how totally unaccustomed he was to such intimacy. Doubtless, his partner would back off and let him calm down before they progressed any further.
Only, it seemed to be taking Napoleon an awful long time to see what he needed. Illya found those eyes utterly unnerving as they dismantled his soul.
After a few unbearably uncomfortable minutes, Napoleon appeared to find what he was looking for. His dark eyes glittering bright as jewels, Napoleon's right hand moved to his own waist, where Napoleon unhooked his belt and fumbled it free. Unlike Illya's shirts, the belt was not flung away.
Illya gulped as his partner's brow arched in a silent question. Once again, he was not consciously aware of making any decision, but Napoleon nonetheless read him again or detected something in him that Illya himself didn't even know existed.
Moving slowly, giving Illya ample opportunity to protest, Napoleon transferred his belt to where he held Illya's hands captive. An arch of Napoleon's left eyebrow asked a question his partner probably would never have been able to voice aloud.
The breath caught in Illya's chest, his heart seeming to slam to a shocked stop as he apprehended his companion's intent. Napoleon meant to bind him?
His mind was flooded with such horror that for a moment Illya couldn't think, much less respond. The whys of it were beyond his ability to comprehend. He hated to be restrained under any circumstances. Napoleon knew that. Why, then, would his partner demand this of him on their very first time together? Were there some dark twists to his friend's sexuality that he'd never suspected? Did Napoleon need to subjugate him so totally?
It didn't make any sense. Napoleon already knew how desperate he was for this. If Napoleon had ordered him to roll over and raise his ass up to be taken, Illya knew he probably would have done it. And if he knew it, it followed that Napoleon did as well. If his partner already understood that Illya was his to command, why would he require restraints?
Illya searched his partner's familiar features for some clue as to Napoleon's true intentions, or barring that, some reassurance, but all he could see was the set mask of resolution that Napoleon wore in crisis situations.
Finally, Illya was left with no choice but to croak out, "Why?"
Napoleon was quiet for so long a time that Illya began to fear that his companion wouldn't reply, but finally Napoleon answered in a low voice, "Because it's the only way you can accept pleasure, my friend." When there was no instant repudiation of his surmise, Napoleon cautiously continued, "You've stopped us each time you've come close to losing control tonight. You flinch at my touch and squirm away from my caresses, not because you don't want them, but because you want them too much and are afraid to trust that need. Another few minutes, and you'll be pushing me off again so that you can get your emotions back under control. Will you tell me that I'm wrong in this?"
His mouth too dry to even attempt an answer, Illya's eyes sank closed. Slowly, he shook his head "no."
No, he knew that Napoleon wasn't wrong. Everything in him wanted to try to moderate the wild ecstasies racing through him, to control the feelings and set them at a level he could bear, which would probably be somewhere near his usual state of numbed existence. Napoleon was right. He feared passion as nothing else.
Napoleon's hand released his captured limbs to gently brush his cheek. The tenderness of the gesture was enough to choke him anew. Although he was now free to move as he chose, Illya left his arms up above his head. He couldn't help but tremble when Napoleon whispered, "Will you allow me to take you where you've never been before? I promise, I won't let you fall alone."
In answer, Illya lowered his arms and stretched them out in front of him with his wrists crossed. As Napoleon moved the belt towards him, Illya hoarsely suggested, "Perhaps behind my back would be better? I can get out of anything in front, and...my hands will be in your way."
"Won't it be too uncomfortable in back?" Napoleon asked, his concern almost palpable.
Illya swallowed hard. "No, I am used to such discomforts."
"Illya, I don't want you suffering."
"Pain does not frighten me, Napoleon, but..." he gulped again, "...you will have to teach me pleasure. And this is the only way I won't fight you on it." With that, he pushed Napoleon up to a kneeling position and sat up himself. He twisted his arms behind his back, then turned to present them to his partner. After a moment's hesitation, Napoleon moved to deftly knot the belt around his wrists. They were both so accustomed to this that they could secure a prisoner with nothing more than shoe laces when necessary. Nevertheless, Napoleon seemed to leave an awful lot of slack in the knot.
Illya tensed as the hard leather closed in around him. It was a good knot, but not tight enough to hold him. "Tighter."
"If I can escape, I will, and...I wish to know you this way."
He heard Napoleon gulp, then his partner murmured, "As you wish."
In seconds, Illya found himself secured as tightly as their THRUSH adversaries would have been. He gave an experimental tug, but the strap held tight, digging deep into the tender flesh of his wrists to discourage further attempts. He was well and truly bound.
"Good enough?" Napoleon checked.
The reality of the situation settling on him, Illya nodded. He was now completely at the other man's mercy. He knew that he could probably still escape using his legs in a few judo maneuvers, but such actions would be far too brutal to employ with his partner...his lover...his captor.
To his astonishment, Illya felt his insides quake at that last thought. His shock came from the acknowledgment that it wasn't all fear making him tremble. There was a part of him, a dark, deeply hidden side, that was strangely excited by the idea of Napoleon mastering him.
But while the slightly kinky scenario was turning him on, Illya could plainly see that his partner was visibly unnerved by it. Napoleon's face was set so grim that he looked as though he were at his closest friend's funeral. "Have you never done this before, Napoleon?"
"What? Tied a lover up so that they could have sex with me?" Appearing almost ill, Napoleon shook his head. "No, this is a first for me."
Not liking Napoleon's almost guilt-ridden attitude, Illya realized that he was going to have to relax Napoleon if either of them were going to enjoy this. "I, too, am a complete novice to such love games, but..." Illya grappled for the calm confidence that allowed him to assume any role undercover, finishing with a suggestive arch of his brow, "but I am yours to command."
His false bravado worked.
Napoleon hissed in reaction, clearly totally derailed from his guilt trip by Illya's bold come-on. Close as their lower bodies were to each other, Illya couldn't help but note how the bulge at his partner's crotch twitched and expanded.
"Mine to command?" Napoleon echoed, his voice shaky as he tested the waters here.
Excited, and terrified, Illya nodded, "Yours, to do with as you please, bound here at your pleasure. You need only reach out and take what you desire."
His eyes glittering wildly, Napoleon grated out a warning, "It's a dangerous game you're playing here, my friend." Napoleon's breathing was so heavy that it was a wonder he could speak.
Knowing that he was getting past Napoleon's vestigial moral inhibitions, Illya continued, "And you are a master at this art, so, instruct me...master..." Illya tried the word out, just to see what would happen.
The already unfocused gaze practically glazed over. Seeming to move on sheer instinct, Napoleon pushed him back against the couch with a strangled groan and landed on top of him.
The breath knocked out of his lungs, Illya winced as his bound hands caught their combined weight. The leather strap dug mercilessly into his skin, Napoleon's weight nearly crushing him.
The heat burning through Napoleon's white cotton shirt was phenomenal. His partner seemed hot as a furnace, and just as heavy as the cast-iron contraption. Napoleon's starched collar scratched painfully at his neck as his partner tried to mold them together.
Illya had expected to be ravaged within an inch of his life. He wouldn't have blamed Napoleon for losing control after the way he'd titillated him. But, although amorous, all the roughness seemed to leave Napoleon as soon as their flesh made contact. Framing Illya's face with both palms, Napoleon hungrily took his mouth again, but there was no force used. Napoleon simply kissed and kissed his lips until Illya poked his tongue into his lover's mouth in total desperation. He drank Napoleon's kisses the way he remembered guzzling water when he'd been lost in the desert, the affair in which he'd pretended to be Lawrence's son in Arabia, with a thirst that only grew stronger for all his attempts at slaking it.
In his need to touch this incredible man, Illya kept straining at his bonds, but the belt held tight. The resulting pain only added to his excitement.
His state of utter defenselessness was honed in again as Napoleon's fingertips stroked over his bare chest, teasing his erect nipples with feather-light brushes that set his body on fire.
Breaking free of the kiss, Illya bucked and twisted. Instinct insisted that he escape until he could get the pleasure back to a manageable level, but that wasn't happening, not with that expertly secured belt binding his hands and all of Napoleon's weight holding him down. He was left with no choice but to experience every aspect of Napoleon's foreplay – if such loving torture could be called that. Illya had experienced pain to this ultimate degree, but never delight. It was mind-boggling, completely transformative.
His body was feeling things that he'd never dreamed possible. Every nerve ending, every cell was alight with energy, thrumming from those touches that barely touched. It started as a nebulous, fluttery, twisting sensation in the pit of his stomach and radiated out to all extremities. His arms and legs were trembling from what Napoleon was doing to his nipple. The tiny, near invisible hairs that covered most of his epidermis even seemed to be standing at attention from the caresses. As for his penis...it felt as though it would literally explode off his body, and Napoleon hadn't even removed his pants yet, let alone touched him there.
When Napoleon added his tongue to the sensual mix, Illya nearly reached meltdown. The talented tip circled each nipple in turn before commencing a lightning fast vibrating against it, the way a man might use his tongue to excite a woman's clitoris, Illya realized.
Illya was helpless against the unique sensation. Napoleon was totally destroying everything he was, melting the ice that had protected him his entire life. There would be no more pretending that he didn't feel, no more denying the emotions he'd never allowed to exist. Right now, he was nothing but feeling.
This tingling pleasure was devastating every defense he'd ever had, and there wasn't a single thing Illya could do to prevent it. All he could do was cry out, his inarticulate moans begging for a mercy that the belt binding his wrists guaranteed he'd never find.
His normally controlled body was shaking uncontrollably now, the way it would after a THRUSH torture session.
Illya jumped as he felt Napoleon's right hand slide down his stomach. Unlike Napoleon's former forays, this one didn't stop at the waistband of his pants. Instead, that burning hot palm covered his straining erection.
Illya dragged in a deep breath, knowing that this was going to be the worst shock to his controls yet, maybe more than he could bear.
Illya thought he'd braced himself to be touched there, thought he was prepared. What he forgot was that he was with Napoleon Solo, not a normal human being. This master of ecstasy did nothing as expected. Instead of openly stroking or squeezing him, Napoleon simply placed his hot palm over Illya's moving flesh while Napoleon's teeth simultaneously gripped his left nipple. At the exact moment Napoleon finally squeezed his cock, his teeth cautiously applied pressure to the bud of flesh trapped between them.
The supernova of delight spiraling out from his penis seemed to collide with the sharp pleasure of that almost-pain from his nipple somewhere in the vicinity of his bellybutton. They crashed and roiled together, causing a nerve-melting burst of sensation that washed through his every cell. Illya couldn't have kept his scream in then had both their lives depended upon it. The combined stimulation left him weak, almost insensible.
His normal ascetic self destroyed, Illya was so far lost in feeling that he was only vaguely aware of his partner undoing his trousers and peeling his pants and underwear from his body. Where his shoes and socks went was a complete mystery, for he had absolutely no recollection of losing them. All he did know was that he was suddenly completely naked before his fully dressed companion, and he didn't care, not one bit.
Napoleon's eyes fed on him for a long moment. Once, such close observation, when combined with the fact that Napoleon was still clothed, would have been enough to send him scurrying for physical and emotional cover. But right now all he wanted was to be touched. He didn't care where or how.
Illya was completely cognizant of his own vulnerability. He knew that he was lying here stark naked with his hands bound behind his back, a veritable plaything to the other man's whimsies. Incredibly, it didn't matter to him in the least. His pride, his dignity, all were forfeit, totally unimportant.
For the first time in his life, he wasn't trying to hide. He didn't care if someone knew that he had needs. Yesterday, he would have been mortified for anyone, even a lover, to know that he could be this desperate for simple affection and touch, but now, he wanted Napoleon to know how much he moved him. Never before had there been anyone with whom he felt comfortable enough to be this vulnerable with, to be this totally dependent upon. Illya knew that he ought to be horrified and frightened, but, strangely enough, despite his securely tied hands, he felt as though Napoleon had freed him with this gift.
He met Napoleon's gaze, faced the open hunger there with a unique sense of wonder. His partner's rapid breathing, the flush in his cheeks, all told him that his friend was holding on by a very slender thread.
Utterly astonished, Illya realized that he had done this to Napoleon, that touching him had aroused his experienced partner to the point where the suave Casanova could barely hold himself back. For all that it had happened through no effort of his own, it was an accomplishment which Illya took pride in. No matter what, Napoleon was always cool, always in control of a situation.
In his insecurity, Illya had never thought he could be enough to satisfy Napoleon on any level. Perhaps it was the kinky scenario of making love to someone in bondage that had made the difference or maybe Napoleon had been telling the truth all along, and he really did bear strong feelings for him; whatever the case, Illya was pleased to see how aroused the other man was.
"Are you all right with this, my friend?" Napoleon hoarsely inquired, his shaky right hand rising to push Illya bangs back from his brow. "I can release the belt, if you'd like."
Illya turned his face into Napoleon's hand to kiss the sweaty palm. "Not yet." A glance showed him that those dark eyes were watching him with near- worship. Taking courage from that, he fought past his habitual reserves and admitted, "I...I like being at your mercy."
He saw Napoleon's eyes widen in surprise, then Napoleon bent to kiss his lips again.
Illya trembled as he never had in his life, shaking in every limb as though from a raging fever. This was an affliction of sorts, Napoleon fever. The endless kiss, each touch, only fueled the burning flames consuming him. Napoleon certainly didn't give him an opportunity to recover, for his partner's hands ceaselessly roamed all over his bare flesh as their mouths kneaded each other.
When Illya's senses were once again swimming, Napoleon pulled back for air. A few gulps and that talented mouth fixed on his body again. Beginning at his neck, Napoleon sucked and licked his way down his front.
It was the most exquisite torture Illya had ever undergone. No inch was missed: his shoulders, his flat breasts, his ribs, concave stomach, and tender lower belly all received the extravagant laving. He was so excited, he could barely breathe.
When Napoleon reached his groin, Illya's reality completely realigned. His partner had told him earlier tonight that he'd been to gay bars before, the unspoken communication being that Napoleon had had sexual experience with men. Somehow, Illya had failed to absorb what that information meant. Now, it was vividly made clear to him.
Napoleon touched him without a trace of hesitation, boldly collecting his penis in his right hand while his left worked his heavy balls.
"You're beautiful here, Illya, so beautiful..." Napoleon murmured as they both watched his pale hand work the angry red flesh.
"Napoleon, pleassse....ahhhh..." he sobbed as the dark head lowered over him, hot, liquid suction absorbing his burning shaft.
Illya's cries transformed into desperate mewls of delight as the pleasure rocked through him. The ecstasy jolting him defied comprehension. His incoherent begging went unnoticed. All he could do was ride the feeling out, and hope that it didn't kill him.
Napoleon's mouth was the most incredible luxury he'd ever experienced. The way his partner employed his tongue, the heat, the wetness...all were more than Illya had ever imagined possible. And the suction! He was certain Napoleon would draw his hair from the top of his head through his penis with the power of his sucking.
The fire it left in his loins was burning up his reserved scientist mind from the inside out. His sobbing was constant now, tears streaming unnoticed down his face as he watched his friend's head bob diligently up and down on him. The flickering light from the flame in the nearby hearth cast dancing shadows across his partner's handsome face, transforming Napoleon from solid flesh to the stuff of fantasies. As he swallowed Illya's pulsing cock deep into his throat time after time, Napoleon looked like some seductive wraith, a breathtakingly handsome incubus who would steal his victim's very soul through his lovemaking and make all subsequent partners seem bland by comparison.
Illya knew that Napoleon wouldn't have to work hard for that honor. No mere mortal could ever live up to this. He could search the world far and wide and never find so talented a lover.
As for stealing his soul, Napoleon already owned it. Illya's love and gratitude were almost bright enough to eclipse this dizzying rush of pleasure. That Napoleon would do this for him, be so enthusiastic in his giving, was a marvel to him. He'd only ever known disaster with bed partners. No one had touched him like this. No one had loved him this way. Napoleon was the first, and only one, who ever would, Illya resolved.
Then his nervous system exploded and all resolution, all thought was lost in the dismantling ecstasy of climax. His entire body seemed to liquefy and gush out in the stupefying geyser of sensation. Illya could feel the thick, creamy ejaculate fountaining out of his sensitized cock, but he couldn't see it, for his partner drank down every drop.
Finally, Illya had no more left to give. He sighed in regret as his penis deflated and the wildfire searing his system at last subsided.
Only when he was empty did Napoleon raise his head back up. Illya had never seen anything as erotically beautiful as his partner's flushed face and swollen lips. The firelight danced over the glistening, puffy red mouth like moonlight over winter ice.
"Napoleon," Illya sighed as he attempted to reach out to caress a passion- flushed cheek. He winced as the sharp pain in his wrists reminded him of his captive state.
"You are superb," Napoleon murmured, making Illya shiver as he lowered his head to rub his cheek against the stark whiteness of his belly.
"Please, I must touch you..." he begged as the feel of that rough beard stubble abrading his skin set him to trembling again.
After a moment, Napoleon sat up beside Illya's hips on the limited space of the couch. "Of course. I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking straight."
The gruff quality to Napoleon's tone and the pronounced bulge in the front of his trousers gave Illya some idea as to why his friend might have been a little distracted.
Shocked, Illya realized that his companion hadn't come. It had all been for him. Napoleon had taken no pleasure for himself, which went against absolutely everything he'd ever thought about his promiscuous partner's sexual behavior. He'd always imagined Napoleon to be a gentle lover, but one who thought of his own satisfaction first.
Unless, of course, there was another explanation as to why Napoleon had failed to reach orgasm; the insecure part of his mind suggested a far more logical reason. Illya knew that he was so inept that he'd had to be tied down to accept pleasure, perhaps...perhaps Napoleon had been bored with having to do all the work.
Frozen in horror by the idea, Illya was barely aware of being moved. As Napoleon helped him up to a sitting position so that his partner could undo the belt binding his hands, Illya looked back over his shoulder and asked in a small voice, "Didn't you want to make me yours, Napoleon?"
"What?" Napoleon's voice still sounded strangely distracted, all his concentration seeming to be placed on undoing the belt.
For a moment, pain washed all worry from his mind. Illya gasped as the leather strap came loose and circulation returned to his hands. As ever, the sensation was exquisitely agonizing. But unlike most torture sessions, there was instant relief. Napoleon's healing fingers were right there, rubbing sensation back into the blood-starved limbs. Soon, the gentle friction had staved off the worst of the discomfort.
"I'm so sorry, Illya," Napoleon whispered, visibly horrified, his palms continuing to rub up and down the outside of Illya's arms long after the blood flow had recommenced. "This wasn't a very bright idea."
"I'm fine, Napoleon," Illya testily insisted, pushing those hands away before they made him totally forget. "I'd appreciate it if you'd answer my question."
"Question?" Napoleon echoed, staring at him in the most disturbing manner. His partner's dark eyes were bright as the polished buttons of a teddy bear's eyes.
"You – you didn't come before. Didn't I...please you?"
"Please me? My God, Illya..." His dark gaze still lit with that distracting inner light, Napoleon gave a strangely bashful, boyish smile and continued, "You pleased me so much that I couldn't take my eyes, or mouth, off you. All I wanted to do was watch and touch you. Not to shock you, but I almost came in my pants. I haven't done that since I was a kid."
Trying very hard not to blush, Illya persevered, "But your own pleasure...I thought you would take me."
That knocked some of the brightness out of Napoleon's gaze. Seeming shocked, Napoleon stammered, "On our first time with your hands bound behind your back? Are you crazy?"
Illya looked down, abruptly feeling naked. "I wanted..."
Gentle hands stroked his cheeks, urging his face back up. "When you're comfortable with me, we'll do anything you want. I promise. But right now, we go slow and easy."
"But you got nothing out of what we did before," Illya insisted, feeling like an upset child before the other man's calm.
Napoleon kissed his forehead with such open affection and joy that it seemed to make everything all right. "I got to touch you. That was enough for me."
Illya swallowed hard. "But you are still unsatisfied."
"I was kind of hoping that you'd do something about that now." The hint of uncertainty, the touch of shyness flavoring Napoleon's response was highly endearing.
"Your wish is my command, Napoleon." Illya smiled, marveling that Napoleon could be so oblivious to the power he had over him now.
His partner's fingers carded through his longish hair. "No commands, tovarich. You do whatever you're comfortable with."
Staring at that extraordinary, fully clothed body, Illya was momentarily at a loss. "I don't know where to start," he confessed, stroking the warm white cotton covering those broad shoulders and chest.
Napoleon's right hand reached out to capture Illya's. "You have beautiful hands, Illya. I'd love to feel them on me."
"Do you want to remove your clothing?" Why he should feel shy now, after what Napoleon had just done to him, was a mystery. But he did, and couldn't quite hide it.
"Do you want me to?" Napoleon asked back, seeming almost bashful now that it came to his own unveiling.
Illya nodded. "Very much."
Napoleon's gaze locked on his as he moved to undo his shirt. Illya gulped as the button-down shirt hit the floor beside the couch, his hungry stare fixed on the snowy white of Napoleon's undershirt. Even through the layer of cotton, Illya could see the ladder of well-defined abdominal muscles. Then that final barrier was removed and Napoleon's chest was revealed in all its splendor. Admiring it, Illya couldn't decide if he was more taken with the musculature or the artful fall of body hair.
When Illya reached a tentative hand out to sample the territory, the hair won out over muscle. He liked the look of the hard, athletic torso, but it was nothing when compared to the soft, furry warmth of Napoleon's hairy chest.
Napoleon gasped at the uncertain contact.
"Did I hurt you?" Illya checked, pulling his hand quickly back.
"Hardly. I'm just a little close, that's all."
About to ask "close to what," Illya bit back the imbecilic question. The unsteady rise and fall of that sturdy chest was enough to tell even a neophyte like himself how much discomfort Napoleon was undergoing.
"Then perhaps you should lie back and allow me to handle the rest?" Illya suggested.
"Are you sure?"
Staggered by the warm feelings this man's consideration raised in him, Illya nodded and leaned forward to place a light kiss on the soft area between shoulder muscle and sternum, his right hand trailing the thick pelt of hair down the center of his partner's chest. Allowing himself to be guided back onto the couch cushions, Napoleon hissed like a tire that had been stabbed with a knife, a long drawn-out sound.
Illya tried to study the body laid out before him with something like objectivity, but it was impossible. Just the sight of Napoleon lying there waiting for his touch filled him with such a conflicting jumble of protective impulses and sheer carnal lust that he could barely hold a coherent thought, let alone make any type of detailed observation. All he knew was the magic of the firelight and the other man's incredible beauty in its shifting glow.
Because those passion-reddened lips looked somewhat lonely, Illya lowered his head for a kiss. Napoleon's mouth fastened onto his like an upset limpet. Their tongues shared a wet, intimate dance before Illya finally pulled back for air.
Tempted by Napoleon's heaving chest, Illya gulped in a quick shot of oxygen before bending to sample the seductive line of his partner's long, slender neck. He was surprised by how rough the skin was beneath his nuzzling kisses. Belatedly, Illya realized that Napoleon, being far more hirsute than he was himself, had to shave his neck as well.
At his first tries, Illya experienced a burst of uneasiness, concerned about how his nonexistent technique would rate with this sensual connoisseur. It only took a few moments to realize that he need not have worried. Napoleon was so strung out that he could have taken a blow torch to his partner's flesh and the other man would have seen it as relief. Napoleon was moaning quite satisfactorily, His partner's strong hands playing restlessly over his bare back as Illya bent over him.
Napoleon tasted wonderful, salty and somehow sweet at the same time. The texture of the skin against his tongue was utterly addictive. Illya couldn't get enough of the man. Every lick, every nibble to the luscious skin was as much for his own pleasure as his partner's. Nor was Napoleon the least bit displeasing to the touch. While his mouth feasted on the tender flesh, Illya's palms and fingers made a thorough tactile examination of the area.
Napoleon glorified in the attention, were his nonstop moans anything to go by. That he could so please his experienced friend was a great relief to his worried mind.
Taking his time, Illya kissed his way down Napoleon's chest. The flat buds of nipple were something of a challenge. He'd never considered his own nose large before, but somehow, it kept getting in the way when he'd try to suck those brownish-pink nubs. Whatever he was doing, it appeared to be enough for Napoleon. The gaspy moans from above transformed into nonstop, guttural groaning.
Hungry for more, Illya moved lower. Napoleon went wild when Illya's tongue discovered the shallow depths of his partner's navel.
He'd never thought to hear the great Napoleon Solo beg for anything in his life, but his partner did so now without any shadow of shame or restraint.
The slender hips bucked up at him, Napoleon's body pleading for things his partner obviously couldn't bring himself to ask of him. Illya abruptly recalled Napoleon's promise that they would take it at Illya's own pace, which was no doubt why his partner had refrained from requesting what he needed aloud. That Napoleon would remember such a thing now, at the height of passion, was incredible.
Illya had never seen his friend suffer so. Napoleon looked as though he were light years beyond simple pain, into a level of torture that was almost unfathomable. His friend's handsome features were strained with suppressed need, the skin of his face almost scarlet and dripping with sweat.
That Napoleon could need him like this was...heart-wrenching. In some ways it meant more to Illya than the pleasure Napoleon had given him a few short moments ago.
Taking pity, Illya fumbled at Napoleon's bucking waist. Just catching hold of the button and zip was an effort; his friend was shifting so much. Finally, he got a firm grasp on the fastening. A little sweaty struggling, and the pants were open. A quick tug peeled trousers and boxer shorts away, and Illya was at long last presented with the object of his desires.
Though caused by different stimuli, Napoleon's relieved sigh echoed his own.
Staring at that full, blood-engorged penis and the heavy balls nestled in their dark bed of pubic hair, Illya finally understood why perfectly sane women flung themselves at this man's feet as often as they did. Napoleon was made to be worshipped. At the peak of heath and vitality, that strong, well-hung body was an artist's dream. It certainly was Illya's own.
His hand was shaking as he reached out to touch the pulsing cock. His first impression was one of wet heat, then hardness. The weeping cockhead was moist and hot, more like velvet-lined steel than mere human flesh.
Napoleon gasped at the hesitant contact, his entire body jolting. Illya saw Napoleon's fingers dig into the couch cushions, clawing at the fabric with a desperation his friend was obviously unwilling to turn on his partner's skin.
Responding to that need, Illya palmed the frantic organ and tightened his grip, grasping Napoleon the way he would his own penis.
"Yes, yesssss...God, yessssss...." Napoleon groaned.
With the same sense of awe he experienced whenever confronted by the majesty of a natural wonder, Illya pumped the hungry flesh. He felt almost humbled by the other man's enjoyment of his less than expert ministrations. He, Illya Kuryakin, was the cause of this delight. That knowledge was almost as heady a brew as the wildly erotic sight of his partner on the verge of climax. No longer would he think of himself as a clumsy bumbler. If he never had another night of pleasure such as this, Illya would always think back on these perfect moments and know that he had pleased at least one person on this planet.
No sooner did Illya entertain that burst of confidence than fate stepped in to send it crashing around his ears.
For no apparent reason, Napoleon suddenly reached out and grabbed Illya's pumping fist, harshly grating out, "Stop, please..."
Shocked by the abrupt rejection, Illya simply froze.
What could he have done to displease, Illya fretted. He'd pleasured himself a thousand times this way. He was certain his grip wasn't too tight. Was there some exotic slant to this of which he was unaware, something everyone else knew from practice, but which he had failed to learn?
"D-did I hurt you?" Illya nearly stuttered, shame keeping his gaze focused on the organ in his hands. He still had no clue as to what he'd done wrong. Napoleon's shaft certainly looked aroused...
"No, of course not," Napoleon murmured, those maddeningly sensual fingers of his carding through Illya's hair again.
"Then what did I do wrong?"
A very loud silence followed his hurt question. Then, Napoleon's hands left his hair to gently lift his face up.
"You've done nothing wrong. I...I just wanted us together." Napoleon shot the words out in a rushed whisper, as if embarrassed by them.
"What?" Illya blinked up at his partner, trying to understand what Napoleon meant.
"Would you lie on top of me?" Napoleon ran his index finger slowly down the line of Illya's nose. "You're ready again; I can see that. For so long I've dreamed of feeling you against me..."
Not even an ignorant beginner like himself needed to be asked twice. That pleading gaze pierced Illya's heart like fishhooks, Napoleon's need seeming to reel him in. Without conscious thought, he found himself easing his weight down onto his partner.
"Careful there," Napoleon smiled as their groins nestled together, Napoleon's hands moving to guide him into a comfortable position that wouldn't injure them both.
The experience was amazing, like settling onto a human hearth-fire. Napoleon's flesh was so hot, it seemed to burn him all over. And when their aroused shafts crushed and nestled together, every nerve ending Illya possessed sparked to life.
This was as up close and personal as it was possible for two people to get, Illya decided as Napoleon's palm stroked over his back in wide, reassuring circles. Then both Napoleon's hands cupped the cheeks of his buttocks and all thought ceased.
First, Napoleon squeezed the mounds together, setting off a major volcano of delight through his loins. After that, Napoleon began to slowly rock his hips back and forth, the hands on Illya's butt urging him to fall into the rhythm.
At that point, Illya was prepared to jump off a cliff edge at this man's bidding. He fell happily into the horizontal dance, rocking back against Napoleon as they attempted to transfer their consciousness into each other's body through an open-mouthed kiss.
The dance was beautifully erotic, totally satisfying. A few minutes after they started that luscious undulating, Illya felt his friend freeze beneath him.
Illya winced as Napoleon's fingernails dug deep into his shoulders. Then, Napoleon's mouth broke free of the kiss to release a resounding roar. His partner's hips bucked up against him in a violent thrust seconds before Illya experienced the amazing feeling of having his lover climax against him. The wet stickiness spurted against his lower belly and thighs, even as his own body exploded in pleasure.
For the second time that night, Illya was helpless against the ecstasy that ripped through his system. It was like being shattered in a kaleidoscope of feeling, all the separate pieces of himself blasted apart into a stained glass mosaic of sensation, a jumbled puzzle of existence where nothing was real, save the quicksilver delight that had exploded his world in the first place.
Stunned beyond thought, totally overwhelmed, Illya sought his more experienced partner's gaze, only to find Napoleon in a similar state of transformation. Napoleon appeared almost ripped apart by the feelings he was experiencing. His partner's head was thrown back, his face a rictus of agonized ecstasy, as though not even this worldly romancer had ever experienced pleasure like this. That Napoleon was sharing those exact feelings made it even more meaningful. Illya had never seen an expression of such awe on Napoleon's face before.
After a moment, Napoleon's chin lowered and his mouth closed as his gaze sought out Illya's. When their eyes touched, another burst of delight swept through Illya's insides, almost as though Napoleon had reached out and squeezed his cock.
And something more happened at that moment, on a deeper level that defied explanation. A spark seemed to shoot straight into Illya's heart, binding him to Napoleon as Napoleon was in turn bound to him, almost as though a door had opened between their souls. It was like an electric charge shooting straight through him. The gasp his partner released at that instant told him that Napoleon felt it too.
For a fleeting minute, it seemed that Illya knew everything about his partner: every secret desire, every hidden hurt and fear, every dark place that Napoleon allowed no other to view. It wasn't thought-to-thought like that strange device they'd once encountered on a case, but more a holistic overview of the other man's psyche.
Illya not only learned of those hidden places; he felt them on a visceral level, each of Napoleon's wounds more bitter and vivid to him than his own tragedies – which he could almost sense Napoleon simultaneously exploring. The most overwhelming facet of the complex web of emotion that made up his partner was the prevailing sense of isolation, how totally lonely Napoleon was beneath his veneer of social charm.
The shock each felt at the unique insight was a shared affair. Trying to make sense of it, they stared into each other's eyes, clinging to each other's sweaty bodies as the world came apart around them, the only safe place in those dizzying moments of orgasm being the sanctuary they'd found in each other's gaze.
They hung there together at the peak of ecstasy forever before the world slowly began to reassemble into a recognizable pattern around them and that strange door between their souls slammed closed as abruptly as it had opened.
Illya's body finally seemed drained. With a last feeble twitch, his penis deflated and the maelstrom of sensation calmed, stilled, then died. Napoleon was already limp against him. The sticky result of their union was a cooling, slightly itchy puddle between their squashed bellies.
Taking a deep breath, Napoleon closed his eyes – to compose himself, Illya realized.
Abruptly, inexplicably anxious, Illya had no idea what to say, what to expect from his friend. Illya knew that his initial fears had been proven groundless. Napoleon hadn't had any difficulty finding pleasure with him. If anything, it was the opposite problem. The feeling they'd unleashed in those final seconds of unity was something neither of them had counted upon, certainly not his commitment-shy partner. To be so known was...terrifying. There could be no more hiding, no more pretenses, for either of them.
Finally, Napoleon's eyes reopened.
Illya's breath caught in his chest as he waited for the clichéd line that would destroy him, the quick backpedaling to deny the relevance of what they'd just shared.
But Napoleon said nothing; those dark eyes simply studied Illya for the longest time.
"You felt it, too, then," Napoleon whispered at last, nothing the least bit questioning in his tone or content.
Illya knew he should lie, that the only chance he had of keeping Napoleon was to underplay that last unprecedented contact. But he could no more lie to those eyes than he could stop loving this man. So, instead of denying the truth, he gave a tight, affirmative nod of his head and waited.
"Can you live with it?" Napoleon asked, the grip of his hands on Illya's shoulders betraying the strong emotion hiding behind his carefully controlled features.
"I don't know what 'it' was," Illya offered when he found his voice, his eyes asking his more experienced lover for an explanation.
"Neither do I," Napoleon confessed. "It was...strange. For a moment there, it was like I was you, like I'd slipped over inside your skin."
Taking heart from his partner's lack of anxiety, the scientist in Illya demanded, "Napoleon, there must be a rational explanation. Things like this just don't happen."
"I know. Things like that don't happen – normally, but this wasn't normal."
"What do you mean by that?" Illya questioned, trying to keep the cold fear out of his heart, trying to maintain the level of trust that had brought them to this state. But when Napoleon claimed that what they had wasn't normal, a whole chasm of doubt opened up inside him and he was overwhelmed by the same fears and insecurities that had insisted for years that his womanizing partner could never settle for him. His stomach and throat were twisted so tight with dread at the moment that he felt he might throw up.
The damnable softening of those all-seeing eyes told Illya that his every fear had been read. Napoleon's hand tentatively stroked across his right cheek to brush his hair back as Napoleon quietly explained, "I never wanted to get that close to a lover before. But with you...I wanted to melt into your skin and...that's pretty much what happened."
"But wishing does not make a thing happen," Illya stubbornly insisted.
"No? Then how do you explain us being here together, like this?"
Napoleon's attitude being far too casual for his liking, Illya growled, "Napoleon..."
"All right, it doesn't happen normally, but...we're closer than most lovers. We almost read each other's thoughts on the job as it is."
Napoleon's level stare was oddly comforting as he asked, "How many times have you looked at me when we're under an enemy's gun and known precisely what moves I wanted you to make, without our ever once having sat down beforehand and said 'if X happens on this mission, you will do Y'?"
"That's different," Illya denied.
"We've worked together for years. We know each other's capabilities and preferences..."
"You've read me like that from our very first mission, my friend," Napoleon countered. "From our first job together on, I never had to worry if you were going to back me up or miss a cue in a crisis situation. You always picked up my leads, made the moves I couldn't tell you needed to be made..."
"That is simply good training, Napoleon."
"Then why don't I have that rapport with Slate or any of the older agents? I've worked with them all, Illya, some for months on end. You're the only one who has ever read me like that from the start. There's always been a special connection between us."
Though he was pleased by Napoleon's words, their content still disturbed him. "But..."
"This really bothers you, doesn't it?" Napoleon gently acknowledged.
Illya shrugged. "I am a logical man. I don't trust mysteries."
"Maybe it's not so mysterious. We've been used as human guinea pigs way too often. THRUSH has used so many drugs and machines on our minds that anything is possible."
"I suppose," Illya reluctantly allowed, mind alteration a concept he could accept.
"It could even have been our imaginations," Napoleon offered after a pause.
"Our imaginations simultaneously projecting such an experience?" Illya challenged. "That is extremely unlikely."
"So it was real, then." Napoleon broke eye contact, looking down.
"Too real, perhaps?" Illya asked in a low, hurt tone, desperately scrambling for defenses he no longer possessed. It was so hard to even think of separating while lying squashed so close to Napoleon, with his partner's scent and warmth tingling through him with every breath.
"You tell me," Napoleon shot back, the suave agent sounding just as scared. "That was...intense. Your privacy has always been of paramount importance to you."
"Not more important than your friendship," Illya shot back.
Seeming to hear the truth in that, or perhaps recalling what that strange contact had revealed to him, Napoleon's eyes tentatively flickered up to his face. "You could live with that...live with me, knowing...?"
"If what you said before was true and this is more than a casual fling to you, I would prefer that you know me that well," Illya stiffly informed.
"You would?" Napoleon appeared stunned.
"And you could live with 'it'?" his partner uneasily questioned.
"'It' is you, and I could very easily live with you," Illya assured, not even thinking of the double meaning to his words as he leaned over to plant a soft kiss on Napoleon's pointy chin.
"Mmmmmm?" Illya asked, having been distracted by the clean line of his partner's jaw. "Would I what?"
"Live with me?"
Illya froze, unsure if he'd heard correctly. "Was that an offer?"
Napoleon's gaze was level. Only the grip of his fingers on Illya's shoulders and the tightness around his mouth and eyes revealed his tension. "Yes."
"You are...serious?" Illya questioned, still unable to believe that he could be offered that which his heart had always longed for.
"I told you earlier this evening, I've never been more serious about anything in my life."
There was no doubting that Napoleon meant the words, Illya knew this man inside out and he'd never seen Napoleon so sincere. However, he'd also never seen his partner remain faithful to a single lover for more than a handful of days. But how to say that without destroying everything was a mystery to Illya.
"I would very much like to, Napoleon..."
"But?" Napoleon prodded, looking braced for the worst.
"But I know myself. I – I couldn't share you with others were we living together, so perhaps it's best if we remain..."
"I wouldn't ask you to share me, period."
Reminding himself to breathe, Illya tested the waters with a sardonic, "Forsaking all others...?", certain that the degree of commitment implied by that quoted vow would shake Napoleon back to his senses. This great romancer simply could not mean what he was saying.
But instead of balking, Napoleon merely inclined his head in agreement and whispered, "I plight thee my troth – if you can believe in me."
The cynical scientist inside Illya would have had more success believing in the tooth fairy than Napoleon Solo's ability to remain faithful to one person for longer than a week, but...
Napoleon had never let him down or lied to him. What faith Illya had in humanity came almost solely from this man's steadfast loyalty and friendship. Every single day, Illya placed his life in his partner's hands on the job. Would it be that much harder to entrust his heart to his friend, he wondered.
His prolonged silence seemed to play on Napoleon's nerves, for Napoleon continued in a soft tone that didn't begin to cover his disappointment, "I realize it's a lot to ask..."
"No, it is not." Almost stammering under the weight of Napoleon's hopeful stare, Illya continued, "I shall find reason to believe, Napoleon. And if I cannot, you will provide it for me. Yes?"
The puzzlement passed quickly from Napoleon's handsome face. "Yes, I will. It will be my pleasure, my friend."
It wasn't Illya's way to openly grin, but the warmth in those bright eyes bypassed every one of his guards and despite his best efforts, he felt the corners of his mouth tugging up. "Somehow, I suspect that the pleasure will be a shared one."
His more emotional partner had no such inhibitions. Napoleon's face lit up like a small child's on Christmas morning.
"But for now," Illya said, "we are both weary. Would you mind showing me your bedroom now?"
"There's one or two things I want to show you first," Napoleon replied.
Before Illya could question what things, he found himself drawn down into another of those kisses that blasted all sanity from his mind. Acknowledging that Napoleon would not have to work very hard to provide those reasons to believe, Illya happily entrusted himself to his partner's safekeeping, hoping this fantasy would last, for life.