The Similar Features Affair

by

Rosemary

Sometimes it seemed to Illya Nicovetch Illya that he'd been defying the odds his entire life. From his tragic start as one of Russia's countless war orphans, to his present status as U.N.C.LE.'s #2 field enforcer, it had been an uphill battle all the way. No matter what he tried, it seemed that someone was always telling him that he wasn't cut out for the part: too thin, too underweight, too short, too...Russian. There was always something that stood between him and his desired goals.

Whatever the situation, he was always the outsider, the one who had to work three times as hard as the others simply to be given a fair chance. That was true even in U.N.C.LE., an organization which prided itself on its egalitarian principles and hiring practices. Illya had worked three years in the U.N.C.LE.'s London office without ever gaining welcome acceptance. Because of his competency, he was tolerated, but nothing more.

Illya was never quite sure precisely what had motivated him to seek a transfer to Section 2. Cold war America certainly promised no warmer a reception than London. His British coworkers had warned him, `You'll never fit in over there, old chap. It's the States, for pity's sake. They hate you Russkies more than we do, old boy.' A wink and a pat on the back had accompanied the sentiment to take the sting out of the words, but even though he had shown no outward reaction, the warnings had left a cold, hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach, reminding him that even after three years of loyal service, his British coworkers still viewed him as an outsider.

New York should have been a thousand times worse. When he'd first transferred over, Illya had steeled himself to accept his role as a virtual pariah.

Now, almost four years later, Illya sat in his bed in the U.N.C.LE. agents' Venice hotel room fondly watching while the reason he hadn't been cast into that distasteful role prepared for a date. Napoleon Solo, U.N.C.LE.'s top enforcer, his partner.

From Illya's days in U.N.C.LE.'s Training Academy, this man had been a living legend. Those early tall tales had painted Napoleon Solo as a cross between Superman and James Bond, the very best U.N.C.LE. had to offer. After nearly four years of daily contact, that glamour had yet to wear off. Oh, Illya was more aware of his partner's faults these days – the polished arrogance, the monumental self-confidence, the womanizing... Yet, somehow, in Solo even those flaws were somehow attractive. It was the brash bonhomie that permeated Solo's character that made him so appealing. Besides, no matter what Napoleon's personality quirks, nothing would ever detract from the gift Solo gave him when Illya first joined Section 2.

As Chief of Enforcement in Section 2, Solo had held in his hands the power to make the newcomer's life a living misery. Napoleon could have buried him behind a desk or trapped him in a lab doing drudgework as they had in the London office. But, against all opposition, Solo had given him a chance to prove himself in the field. Then, wonder upon wonder, U.N.C.LE.'s #1 enforcer, with his lone wolf reputation, had requested Illya as his permanent partner. To this day, he didn't understand why Solo had done that.

Logically, they should have detested each other. Their personalities were opposite poles – Solo was charming and gregarious, while Illya himself was introspective to the point of surliness at times. Yet, something indefinable had clicked between them from their very first meeting.

For Illya , his reasons for liking Solo were simple. The man had befriended him when he could have ostracized him. And, since most of the enforcement agents drew their cue from their chief, Solo's warm acceptance and open support had gone a long way in paving the path for the newcomer.

Also, Napoleon Solo was the first operative he'd ever worked with who didn't belabor the obvious. Illya's nationality had not been a major issue. Beyond polite inquiries as to how Illya was finding his new home, Solo didn't seem to mind that he was Russian. What's more, Solo hadn't once made Illya's smaller size the butt of his jokes. Initially, he had been aware of Solo watching him closely in frays, as if to ensure that he could handle himself with larger opponents, but once he'd proven his mettle, even the observation had ceased.

To Illya 's intense astonishment, Section 2 had offered him something he hadn't known since a small child – a home, a place where he was unequivocally accepted, in spite of his smaller size, foreign ways, and reclusive nature.

That he owed that acceptance to the half-naked man bustling around their room was a fact Illya rarely forgot.

"Are you sure that you're feeling all right?" Napoleon paused in his search through both their overnight bags. It appeared neither of them had remembered after-shave this trip out.

"I'm fine," Illya absently answered, unable to tear his crystal gaze from his partner's bare chest. Napoleon was still wet from his shower. Beads of water stood out like diamonds against the rippled muscles of his partner's tanned chest.

Illya's gaze unconsciously followed the trail of one droplet as it dripped down in a quick moving rivulet. The stark white towel secured just below Solo's shiny pink appendix scar absorbed the dripping drop.

"You're awful quiet tonight. Are you sure that last THRUSH guard didn't damage that brilliant brain of yours?" Solo had been heaping these praises on him since Illya had managed to figure out the location of the top secret THRUSH satrap at which Napoleon was being held and managed Napoleon's rescue.

Forcing his gaze front and center, and definitely up, Illya tried to concentrate on his partner's words and not Napoleon’s state of undress. "No. I have a headache."

To his consternation, the simple explanation drew Solo closer rather than dispersing his interest. Napoleon came to stand before him, a soap-scented hand reaching out to lightly cup his cheek. "Your vision is okay? No double images or nausea?"

Every sense reeling in reaction to that touch, Illya gave a mute shake of his head. He swore that he could feel even the brush of the ends of his hair across Napoleon's bruised knuckles, so sensitive was he to this man.

"It's a simple headache, Napoleon. Nothing to concern yourself over." Somehow, the words came out in something close to his normal tone.

"Are you sure that you don't want me to hang around?" Solo checked, appearing more than willing to cancel his date.

Wanting nothing more on this Earth, Illya forced out a chuckle. "While the idea of having you jumping to fetch and carry at my beck and call does appeal to the baser side of my nature, I believe that I will rest better without having to listen to you tripping over your own feet. At any rate, you would not wish to disappoint Miss Kyle."

Solo grinned. "Tripping over my own feet, hmmm? You must be feeling better."

"And I'll feel much better without you hovering. Please, Napoleon, go and enjoy yourself."

"If you're certain..." Solo hesitated.

"Completely," Illya averred.

"All right, then. If that headache worsens..."

"I'll call, mother. Promise." The grin Illya's droll reply earned him did things to Illya's equilibrium which did not bear close examination.

Almost against his will, Illya surreptitiously watched as Solo stripped off his towel to don his briefs.

This cheap thrill was dearly paid for. Sometimes, simply being in the same room with Napoleon hurt worse than THRUSH torture.

A shamed flush warmed his cheeks as he forcibly ripped his gaze away from Napoleon's rippling muscles. He didn't know why Solo couldn't dress in his own room. There were times he could almost believe that his friend taunted him this way on purpose. Settling back against his pillows with a weary sigh, he stared at the ceiling, contemplating his present predicament. He had always accepted that it was in his stubborn nature to buck the odds, to set himself nearly unobtainable goals, but this time he'd outdone even himself.

He had about as much of a chance of landing the penultimate womanizer Napoleon Solo in his bed as he did sprouting wings to court the moon.

"Illya, are you sure that you're all right?" Solo interrupted his morose musings an indeterminate time later.

"Napoleon, please, cease and desist this mother henning!" Illya testily pleaded.

"All right." A fully dressed Solo held out placating hands. "Remember, I'm just a communicator call away."

"I will sleep better knowing that you are so near," Illya sarcastically shot back, humor his last refuge in this impossible situation. Relieved, he saw Solo smile at their normal banter.

"Sweet dreams, sweet prince," Solo quoted in the ponderous tones of a bad Shakespearean actor.

"And the rest is silence. Or will be, if you ever get out of here," Illya responded in kind as his chuckling partner finally took his leave.

Trying not to dwell on how absurdly empty the room abruptly felt, Illya turned out the bedside lamp and settled under the covers, his heart torn with impossible longings.

Hours later, Illya's restless turnings had tossed off the covers. With thoughts of his partner locked in another's embrace plaguing him, it was quite some time before his troubled heart finally found rest, but when sleep did at last claim him, it was deep and dreamless.

Illya had no idea of how much time had passed when he first became aware of the touch, the fingertips lightly playing over his facial features. He shivered as his mouth was outlined. What felt like the pad of a thumb sensually stroked back and forth across his bottom lip until his mouth parted in a soundless gasp.

The touch was too perfect to be real, his sleep-fogged mind acknowledged. Just another wet dream, another phantom his subconscious had conjured up to fight the bitter loneliness. Illya drifted along the sensuous web his subconscious wove for him, basking in the dreamy sensations until he felt his pajama buttons undone one by one.

That piece of realism went beyond his normal...

As a rough-stubbled, undeniably masculine chin rubbed itself back and forth over the smoothness of Illya's exposed chest, his eyes snapped open, alarm shooting through him. He was reaching for the gun stuck under the mattress before he'd determined who or what was looming over him.

Illya blinked as his dream lover took on form and substance. The hand reaching for his gun fell impotently to his side as he identified his night visitor. "Napoleon?"

"Ssssh," Napoleon ordered, his dark head descending over Illya 's chest again. His partner stood stark naked beside the bed.

Illya groaned as Napoleon's mouth fixed on his left nipple, the subsequent sucking leaving him a panting wreck within seconds. Overwhelmed by the sensations, yet totally confused, he stared up at his naked friend, desperately trying to make sense of what was happening.

"Napoleon...what are you doing?" His fingers settled in the feather soft dark hair, intending to push Solo off his chest. Instead, they tangled helplessly in the short length.

Napoleon moved far enough away from Illya's smooth, underdeveloped chest to smugly reply, "That should be obvious, even to you."

Then, Solo's hands moved to impatiently tug Illya 's pajama jacket off his shoulders.

A ripping seam sounded shrilly through the breathy silence. Startled by the violence of the gesture, Illya sat up and reached for his partner's hand. "Napoleon, please... umphf!"

Abruptly finding himself flat on his back with Solo once again diligently sucking his nipple, Illya tried to deny the incontestable pleasure, as his mind grappled for understanding.

This made absolutely no sense. Napoleon had never shown any interest at all in him as a sexual entity. Why would Solo suddenly...

As Napoleon's groping hands roughly ripped his pajama bottoms from his waist, the whys of the situation became irrelevant. A hard palm groped Illya's erection without any hint of hesitation, handling his engorged cock like a seasoned hustler.

The sensations that swamped Illya's system sent his senses reeling. His logic unmoored as the delight exploded through him. Stunned, he watched Solo kiss his way down his chest, Napoleon's right hand busily pumping him all the while. So many nights he'd longed for this, dreamed of it...

Not understanding why this should happen now, Illya gave himself over to the feelings. He really didn't have any choice. The savage passion blazing through him would allow no other course.

Illya was inundated by his partner's presence. Beyond the mind-blowing touch, there was the living scent of Solo. The spicy aroma of his after-shave, the clean sweat that had broken out on his tanned flesh, and, below it all, the elusive, subtle musk...each breath more than tantalized Illya's stunned mind: it intoxicated him.

Solo's skillful hand brought him to the very brink of explosion before abruptly cutting off the pumping.

Illya gaped at the sudden cessation of pleasure. "N-Napoleon?"

"How about returning the favor?" Napoleon enquired with a beseeching arch of his brows.

Still, Solo made no move to join Illya on the bed, towering over him in an inherently intimidating manner.

"Of course." Illya was only too happy to reciprocate. Touching Napoleon was the stuff his dreams were made of. He couldn't count the number of nights he'd ached for that liberty. "If you'd lie down with me..."

"No, I want...come up here," Solo gruffly commanded, taking hold of Illya's elbow to draw him up to his knees.

Illya grabbed Solo's sturdy biceps to steady himself. He longed to question the unusual request – they'd both certainly be more comfortable in a horizontal position – but the hard set of those chiseled features discouraged all small talk. Napoleon's eyes were so dark they almost seemed black, the inky pools eminently unreadable.

A shiver blew down Illya 's spine as he failed to find the amused affection he was accustomed to seeing in his partner's gaze. There were none of the softer emotions in those hungry, dark eyes, only lust.

Almost frightened by what he couldn't help but think of as a stranger's gaze, Illya leaned up to kiss his partner.

Napoleon caught him by the shoulders, one of Solo's hands tangling in his hair to direct his mouth to the soft, dark down of Solo's chest. "We both know the score. Let's leave the hearts and flowers foreplay for the ladies, shall we?"

His cheeks flaming in shame, Illya lowered his head and followed his superior's command, sucking Solo's nipple as his friend had done to him earlier.

As his mouth worked, Illya told himself not to be foolish. He was no simpering female, needing to be wooed and pampered. Napoleon was right. They were both men; they both knew what they were here for. They didn't require such sentimental dalliances. Only...

Only, part of him was deeply wounded by the denial. Perhaps a kiss wasn't necessary between them, but it would have been...pleasant. Solo's callous rejection of the innocent gesture cast a sordid light on the encounter, making him feel ashamed of the very things he'd desired for so long.

Still, there was no denying that Solo's delectable flesh was recompense enough.

Illya nosed through the baby-fine dusting of chest hair, sucking his way down the scalloped ridges of well-defined pectoral muscles.

Napoleon was so delightful to all his senses. The salty clean flavor of his partner's flesh ran through him like his homeland's purest, most potent vodka. Solo's scent hit him like a drug rush with every breath, leaving his heart pounding a wild tattoo. As for sight...Illya rubbed his cheek over the unbroken perfection of the flat belly, loving the feel and sight of his friend. He could barely dare to allow his gaze to wander any lower, for fear of losing control completely.

"Napoleon..." he sighed, tonguing the shallow naval. His passion-dazed gaze was drawn to his left hand, noticing the sharp contrast between his own pale skin and his partner's healthy tan. His palm was resting directly to the right of Solo's navel, on the perfectly smooth expanse of skin.

Illya experienced an inexplicable apprehension as he took in that view, a disjointed sense that something was not quite as it should be. That was Napoleon's right side. There should be...

Before he could capture the elusive thought, Solo's hand stroked down the length of his back, restlessly roving back and forth over the curve of his buttocks. Solo's thumb intermittently nudged between his cheeks, flooding Illya with a burst of shivery, dark pleasure.

Trembling with desire, Illya at last focused on his partner's straining erection. Even here, Solo was beautiful. His was a beauty that was born of power and strength. The wine-dark cock rose like a flaring archetype of male sexuality from the tender pinkness of Solo's dark fuzzed testicles. Napoleon was big and thick, long and, yet, somehow elegant.

Illya couldn't have stopped himself from touching Solo at that moment had his life depended upon it. With a sense of reverence that was strangely out of place in this intensely erotic encounter, Illya gathered his friend into his palm.

The moist organ jerked and grew even larger at his touch. Seeing the effect he had on his normally suave partner, Illya felt his own shaft pulse to life with excitement so sharp that the pleasure was almost pain. He stroked his prize, learning its contours by heart, his other hand reaching hungrily for the heavy pink balls below.

Illya still couldn't get past the sense of disbelief that kept insisting that Napoleon Solo couldn't really be allowing him to touch him this way. Yet, he could hardly deny the reality of the turgid flesh in his hand or the rapid pants from above.

"Go on. Do it," Napoleon hoarsely commanded.

"What?" Illya glanced up from his careful exploration.

"Do it. Suck me."

The coarse order hit him like a slap in the face. The vulgarity was very unlike his partner. Granted, Illya had never shared sex with his friend before, so he couldn't really judge what Napoleon was like at the height of passion, but his partner's characteristic class and style had led him to expect something different. He'd seen this man face certain death and potential dismemberment without losing control of his vocabulary; that Napoleon would do so now seemed very strange.

But sex was very different from what they faced at work. It removed barriers that even bullets couldn't shake.

And, yet, Napoleon had always insisted that common vulgarity was the earmark of a stupid man.

Despite his growing misgivings, Illya bent to his task.

It had been many years since he'd performed this particular service, but he'd always had an excellent memory. Besides, there were certain things a person never forgot, no matter how out of practice he might be.

Napoleon's salty flavor proved just as enticing as Illya had always imagined. Every shallow breath he gasped in was heavily scented with his partner's musk. The combined olfactory and sensual treats were mind-boggling.

Illya sucked his partner for all that he was worth. Falling into an easy, natural rhythm that seemed to be waiting for them, he quickly rediscovered near-forgotten talents. His tongue and fingers joined in, adding extra levels to his companion's delight, were the grunts and groans from the standing man any indication.

"Always said you were...the best," Solo grunted, his voice unrecognizable with arousal.

Napoleon's hands roamed restlessly through his hair, carding the longish length through combing fingers.

Illya found himself absurdly grateful for the kind words and soft touches to his hair. It was pitiful, really, how desperately he hungered for this man's affection. He'd waited so terribly long to love his friend this way, hoping against hope that the heterosexual Solo might notice him, that he was willing to take Napoleon on any grounds his partner might name, his pride be damned.

But, somehow, Illya had always imagined something a bit more playful than this. He'd seen Napoleon in action for years. The man was a consummate sensualist. Solo would lavish hours on the simple act of kissing a woman. That Napoleon would deny him that same courtesy was painful in the extreme.

Still, even without the hearts and flowers foreplay, as Napoleon had termed it, just being able to touch his friend this intimately was a precious gift. Illya gave every bit of himself to the service he was performing, worshipping the beloved body in the only manner his role-conscious partner seemed able to accept.

Illya shivered as Napoleon's right hand left his hair to stroke down his back, the left following suit. Inevitably, the restless wanderers traced their way to his butt, cupping and squeezing with proprietary intent.

Hit with the wild pleasure, Illya gasped around the organ thrusting into his mouth at the sensations that shook through him.

One of Solo's hands remained posted on Illya's backside, while the other snaked back up into Illya's hair to draw him away from Napoleon's lower body.

"Is...something wrong?" Illya checked, doing his best to ignore the fingers insinuating themselves between the cheeks of his ass.

Wary of scaring Napoleon off by demanding too much from the gun-shy novice, Illya was doing his best to concentrate only on his partner's pleasure, even though his own body was fairly shaking with need. It seemed to his admittedly passion-fogged senses that Solo was too close to flashpoint to stop right now. Why Napoleon would delay like this was puzzling.

The very brush of Illya 's breath against Solo's saliva-slick, engorged cock seemed almost enough stimulation to push his partner over the edge.

"Nothing's wrong, Bright Eyes. Everything's going according to plan," Napoleon rasped out, his gaze liquid fire, a burning ebony that seared Illya's very soul.

"Plan?" Illya echoed, distracted by both the endearment and the fierce hunger of those eyes.

The only reply Illya received was an enigmatic smile, a smile that bore absolutely no resemblance to any expression he'd seen on Napoleon's face in the past. Even while thunderstruck by the raw, carnal beauty of the aroused man before him, the normally unflappable Illya found himself inexplicably terrified as that same vague sense of not-quite-rightness about Solo shrieking through him.

"Why did you stop?" Illya whispered once it became obvious that his last question wasn't going to be answered.

Solo's left hand was still staked out on Illya's butt while the right glided sensuously down his smooth chest to gather up Illya's heavy cock and balls in his palm.

Illya squeezed his eyes shut at the expert manual manipulation, every supporting bone and muscle he owned melting under that skilled touch.

He didn't understand how Napoleon could be so bold, so uninhibited in this. Nor could he comprehend his partner's unmistakable expertise. Napoleon showed absolutely no trace of awkwardness or hesitation. Yet, before tonight, Illya would have wagered his life that Napoleon Solo had never even entertained the concept of having sex with another man, let alone been able to bring such expertise to the encounter.

None of this made any sense. And, beyond that, there was still something about Napoleon himself that was bothering him, an inherent wrongness that he couldn't quite pin down.

Once again, Solo didn't answer immediately.

Instead of explaining why he'd interrupted his own pleasure, Napoleon continued playing with Illya's body, pumping his shaft and teasing between the cheeks of his ass until he could barely breathe, let alone think.

His breaths harsh, desperate grabs for oxygen, Illya latched onto either side of Solo's slim waist for support. As he stared down at where his left thumb rested on the unblemished expanse of perfectly tanned skin on Napoleon's lower right side, he almost caught hold of the thought that promised to clarify everything. A sudden memory flashed through his mind – a white towel secured around that very same trim waist. Water droplets beading over pink scar...

On the brink of understanding, everything blew apart.

Solo's left index finger rubbed over his tightly clenched sphincter. The quivery sensations that danced along his nerves like bubbling quicksilver, half-fear, all pleasure, blasted away all coherent thought.

"Napoleon..." he moaned, his forehead coming to rest on Napoleon's sweat-beaded sternum.

The finger pressed harder against his rectum while Solo leaned forward to nuzzle his neck.

"Ahhh..." The combined effects of the anal stimulation and the hot, shivery scudding of moist breath against his ultra-sensitive neck nearly finished him. When Napoleon's tongue peeked out to lick the tender spot behind his ear, Illya was totally lost to sensation.

Illya was shaking so hard when Solo moved back to peer down at him that he almost tumbled from the bed. Napoleon's left hand leapt out to brace his shoulder, his right gently guiding his chin up so that their gazes would meet.

"Turn around and bend over," Solo purred, his finger stroking Illya's cheekbone with intentional tenderness.

"W-what?" Illya blinked, grappling for coherency, certain that he must have misheard.

"You heard me." Solo's tone was as sensual as raw silk, so smooth and luscious as to almost hypnotize. That too-persuasive mouth lowered to nuzzle Illya's vulnerable neck. "Come on. Turn around and bend over."

A cold, visceral fear squeezed Illya's innards, its chill taking a stranglehold on his throat. Napoleon simply could not mean what he thought he did.

Unable to even speak in his shock, Illya gave a mute shake of his head, incapable of believing that his partner would make such a demand of him.

Solo's hand slid behind him again, fingers moving unerringly between the cheeks of his ass, rimming his fear-tight anus as though the other man owned all rights to him. A master of seduction, Napoleon also took hold of his cock again, bringing him back up with a few expert squeezes.

"Please turn around." The tone of command was underplayed as yet, but the steely determination of those flinty eyes convulsed Illya in dread.

"Napoleon...it's too soon for this," he managed to protest, even now wary of offering too firm an objection. Anyone other than Napoleon would have been checking to make sure he still had all his teeth after such an imperious command.

"Too soon?" Solo gave an evil chuckle. "You've waited for this for years. Don't even pretend that you haven't."

His cheeks aflame with shame, Illya couldn't deny the accusation. However, he couldn't allow this to progress any further.

Realizing that there were no pretenses left to shield him, Illya sought to hide behind his very vulnerability, knowing in his heart that Solo, as a man of honor, would respect those fragile boundaries. Throughout the years, Illya had noticed that, in spite of Napoleon's reputation as a world- class womanizer, Napoleon never despoiled true innocence. Granted, his partner might flirt with an inexperienced woman, but Illya had never known it to go further than that. He couldn't imagine that Solo would abandon his code when dealing with his own partner.

"Napoleon...I've never...I've never offered that to anyone before." The hand not staking out his butt rose to stroke Illya's cheek, the gentleness of the gesture leaving his heart jack-hammering against the wall of his chest as he floundered in the bottomless depths of Solo's eyes.

"But I'm not just anyone to you; am I?" the master manipulator enquired, his question tinged with the perfect degree of uncertainty.

The trap was laid.

Springing it was entirely up to Illya himself.

Illya knew this was where he had to tell Solo off. To get out of this situation alive, he was going to have to put his friend down hard.

But the hunger in those burning eyes had him mesmerized like a sparrow before a king cobra.

In that moment, Illya knew that he was lost. "You know you're not." He forced the words past a tight throat.

"Then turn around and prove it to me, Bright Eyes," Solo purred, following his request up fast with a properly beseeching, "Please?"

Prove it to him...as though Illya was some reluctant schoolgirl out with the class jock. Although it wasn't his own culture, Illya had absorbed enough of his host country's pop culture to recognize a stereotyped cliché when he heard one.

Illya had always considered such wheedling beneath the inimitable Napoleon Solo's style.

They both knew that Solo's demand would irreparably alter the dynamics of their partnership. Illya simply could not afford to surrender to Solo that way. Too much was at stake.

And yet...

The fingers between his cheeks did a bit more than graze his anus this time. Illya loosed a shocked gasp as Solo actually pierced the virgin channel.

"You want it. We both do. Turn around, my frigid Russian beauty. Let me melt the ice that keeps us apart," Solo breathed.

The finger he'd pushed past Illya 's guarding sphincter simply rested there, the intrusive probe titillating him with its uncomfortable promise of what would come should he give into this madness.

Illya shook at Napoleon's use of the word ‘frigid', unable to count the number of times the accusation had been lodged against him. Solo used it now as a challenge, tacitly daring him to deny it.

FRIGID. As much as he hated the word, it was, after all, what Illya had worked for all these years. His hard-won, unemotional demeanor was all that stood between him and ruin on a daily basis. He didn't like the idea of his closest friend thinking of him that way, but it beat the alternative. Given the choice of being called FRIGID or a FAG, he would choose the former any day. The latter label would get him drummed out of U.N.C.LE. just as quickly as it would have landed him in prison at home in Russia. He'd been running from the alternative to frigid his entire adult life. To change that now was unthinkable. Only...

Napoleon obviously wasn't bothered by the truth.

Perhaps he could at last stop running and sample some of the joys he'd denied himself all these lonely years, Illya thought. What Solo was asking of him was far heavier than anything he would have invited this early in a relationship, but, as Napoleon had pointed out, his friend wasn't just anyone. If he couldn't trust his own partner to share this with, whom, then, could he ever trust?

"Napoleon..."

The index finger resting against Illya's left cheekbone slowly outlined his mouth.

Illya could smell his own musk on his friend's skin. It sent an erotic shock through him, more vivid than any he'd experienced. Even his toes seemed to be tingling with need. And the sensations engendered by Solo's touch...when combined with the olfactory stimulation, they left him quivering like aspen leaves in an autumn wind.

"What do you say, Bright Eyes?" Napoleon questioned, leaning forward until his turgid erection brushed against Illya's smooth sternum.

Had there ever been any choice, Illya wondered, as he felt the last vestiges of his rickety resistance give way. How could he fight this when the man was offering him his own darkest fantasy?

There was no conscious decision made. One moment Illya was clinging to his sanity by the fragile thread of self-preservation, the next he was plummeting down that bottomless chasm of lust and too-long repressed desire, endlessly tumbling until he reached that core of bubbling magma where he would burn in eternal agony for this one stupid action.

Even as he gave into Solo's sweet lure, he knew he was committing professional suicide. Unable to voice his own death sentence, Illya gave a tight, acquiescing nod, his eyelids clenching shut to spare him the sight of Solo's victory.

Everything Illya knew and believed was screaming inside that he was making a monumental mistake. But there could be no turning back now, and, were he honest with himself, there had been no going back since he'd responded to his partner's first touch. For years, he'd been Napoleon's for the taking. The only difference now was that they both knew it.

Illya was shaking as if in the grip of a fever as Napoleon's sturdy hands gripped both his shoulders and guided him around, exposing his bare butt to the best advantage. Still kneeling on the bed, Illya was now facing the far wall with its ornate grapevine wallpaper pattern.

He stared at those curling vines with their thick leaves and purple fruit, memorizing every detail of their pattern as he sought for emotional distance.

It was a useless effort. He'd never been more terrified in his entire life.

Solo's flat palms reached around to Illya's chest, stroking in wide, possessive sweeps, Napoleon's iron-hard shaft grinding against Illya's spine.

"That’a boy," Solo commended as if he were coaching a little league game.

Those talented hands played down Illya's entire front, leaving him a gasping wreck in their wake as they homed in on their ultra-sensitive target.

As Napoleon gathered Illya's hungry flesh back into his palm, Illya was once again forced to mentally acknowledge that his friend could do whatever he liked with him, so long as he gave him the release his body had so desperately craved from this man for so many years. It was pathetic and shameful, but too true for him to any longer deny. He was Napoleon's, to use as Napoleon saw fit. And to his eternal humiliation, Solo proceeded to do just that.

Illya moaned as his partner nuzzled at his neck, tonguing his sensitive ear. Solo's mouth nibbled across his right shoulder before kiss-licking its way down his spine.

Illya cried out in helpless abandon as Solo's sure hands gripped his butt, squeezing possessively. Then, Napoleon's mouth found its way there, and Illya was lost, beyond reason. All he could do was react.

The nuzzles and nips Solo gave the slightly rounded cheeks were a perfect counterpoint to the feather-light roving of Napoleon's fingertips up the back of his thighs, over the gentle curves, then up and down the rounded W of the cleft between Illya's buttocks.

Desire sizzled and crackled through his nerves like wild fire. Each breath was gasped in as if he'd run ten miles with a squadron of THRUSH goons on his heels.

When the foreplay finally seemed to become too much for his partner to bear, Napoleon abandoned his cock. The free hand came up to the base of Illya's neck, urging his torso down towards the mattress, bending his ass up for better access.

His face abruptly squashed into the bedclothes, everything seemed to freeze for Illya. With his knees doubled uncomfortably under his chest like this, he was totally defenseless, completely at the other man's mercy.

Once, the mere concept of this intimate a union would have fueled Illya's erotic imagination for weeks, but now that he was actually experiencing it, he found himself inexplicably terrified, and not of the sex alone.

Illya knew that he was giving his all for love – which appealed to the romantic side of his nature that he guarded so fiercely. What's more, the encounter was Solo's idea. Illya himself hadn't had to take any chances to finally get what he'd wanted. Napoleon had fulfilled his every lonely dream tonight. He knew that he should be ecstatically happy.

Only, Napoleon's attitude worried him. Where it was true that Illya himself was giving his all for love, it was equally clear that Napoleon was offering very little of himself to the union. His face burned in shame as he recalled Solo's refusal to so much as kiss him. And for Napoleon to demand this type of complete surrender from him on their very first night together was...

"Ahhh..." Illya groaned as Solo ground his erection against his tender ass.

There was a strange sound, like a lid being turned on a jar, then Solo's pelvic grinding stopped and his partner pulled back from him.

Two fingers slid decisively between Illya's butt cheeks, moving unerringly towards their target.

Shocked, Illya felt Napoleon deposit a gooey substance on his tight-clenched anus.

Vaseline?

Distracted by the lubricant's presence, Illya's scientific mind couldn't help but wonder from where his partner had gotten the jar. In their earlier search for after-shave for Solo's hot date, they'd cannibalized both their toiletry bags. He was certain that neither of them had brought anything that could pass for a lubricant. So where had the jar come from?

The only logical answer was that Solo had purchased it while out – where Napoleon would find an open pharmacy in Venice after 8 p.m. was another question entirely – but the very fact that Solo had done such a thing was intensely disquieting. Had Napoleon planned this seduction?

The feel of Solo's slick finger pushing past the tight ring of muscle guarding the most private of entrances to his body blasted all thought from his mind.

The pain was phenomenal. Even with the thick coating of gel Solo had placed on his digit, the penetration was intensely intrusive, abrasive.

Illya sucked in a deep breath and tried to relax as Napoleon worked his finger up inside him.

"You weren't joking about being a virgin, were you? You're tight as my Aunt Gertie's girdle!" Solo exclaimed with frightening relish.

"Gertie?" Illya grunted at an especially forceful push inwards. "I-I thought Aunt Amy was your...ouuuw...only aunt."

Intensely uncomfortable, Illya gasped in oxygen during the pause which followed, vaguely conscious of a sudden tension behind him.

It was the abruptness of the resounding slap to his bare butt that startled Illya more than the pain. The sound seemed to echo in the hotel room long after its irritating sting had faded.

"Concentrate on the matter at hand, Bright Eyes," Solo growled at about the same moment his digging finger encountered an area that skyrocketed the stunned Illya straight into the stratosphere.

"Naaa-polll-eee-oooonnnn..." Illya moaned, unable to believe what that internal pressure was doing to him. His rational mind understood that Solo's finger had encountered his prostate gland. The starburst of pleasure presently pulsing through him was only the result of simple biology.

However, there was nothing the least bit simple about the transformative ecstasy shooting along his every nerve ending. It was a pleasure that he'd never known before, one that he could never have conceived of even existing. His rare encounters with other men in the past had never hinted that he could feel anything even remotely this intense. Only Napoleon could unlock such joy in him.

ONLY NAPOLEON. Illya 's sensation-stunned mind repeated those two words over and over like a sacred pledge. In his heart, he silently promised his partner that he would never willingly give himself this way to any man other than Solo. He was realist enough to understand that an enemy might take this from him by force, but never would he offer it. It...no, he was Napoleon's alone.

Perhaps this wasn't the ideal union of which he'd dreamed for so many years, but they were both only human, fallible. Not even the notorious Napoleon Solo could always be perfect. This was their first time together. He had to make allowances for their newness to each other. They had so much to learn...

Illya was certain that his friend would relax after a while and grow comfortable enough with a male lover to give him the tenderness for which he'd ached his entire life. But for now, Illya could give Napoleon this. As another male, his partner would understand the significance of the gift. Napoleon would see it for the act of love it was.

Solo's middle finger withdrew from inside him.

Illya grunted as it re-entered with a companion and more vaseline. Napoleon spent a considerable period working his fingers inside him, pumping them in and out, scissoring them open and closed to stretch the reluctant passageway.

The probes sporadically hit that magic button inside him, igniting Illya's every neuron with each, chance encounter.

Slowly, Illya recognized that the contact with his prostate was not as accidental as it seemed. Every time he became too uncomfortable with the busy fingers working relentlessly at stretching him, Napoleon would hit that pleasure spot and blast all discord from his body.

Even as he endured and enjoyed the calculated assault on his nervous system, Illya was confused by it. This was no chance discovery that Solo was employing. From the instant those fingers had entered him, Napoleon had moved with obvious intent to find and stimulate that specific site...as if he had done this a thousand times before.

Which was impossible, of course. In some respects, he knew this man better than he did himself. Illya would have sworn upon his last breath that his partner had never lain with another man in his life. Still, he couldn't escape the fact that Napoleon knew precisely what he was doing...even if he couldn't account for where his completely heterosexual partner had gained such expertise.

Eventually, Solo seemed satisfied with his progress, or so Illya assumed. Given his less-than-elegant position, there was no way to be sure, not with his face buried in the rumpled sheet and his butt elevated high in the air.

There was another prolonged pause behind him, this one heavy with intent. Then, Solo's hands gripped the cheeks of Illya's ass and decisively parted them.

Illya had never felt so exposed, so vulnerable. From his ignoble position, he couldn't even tell how Napoleon felt about...about taking another man's ass. At best, it was an awkward form of union. To a confirmed heterosexual, the act could seem repugnant or downright depraved.

Still, Solo wasn't showing any hint of bailing out on the act any time soon, so he couldn't be finding it too disgusting.

Telling himself that he had to have faith in his friend, Illya tried to relax. He knew in his heart that it was too early for them to be doing this. Their relationship aside, Illya simply wasn't prepared for this, not so soon. He hadn't even slept with another man since he'd come to America, much less...but he'd do it.

Because Napoleon asked it of him.

Illya 's eyes clenched shut as he felt Solo's penis nudge between his spread cheeks. Panic gripped his chest at the sheer bulk of Solo's organ. So big...how... Illya stepped down hard on the emotion, using years worth of training to overcome the fear. Even so, it was a near thing, his control a fragile imitation of his usual aplomb. He trembled as the thickly greased head of Solo's cock nudged at his anus, the glans feeling at least twice the size of the aperture it intended to penetrate.

Illya took a deep breath and forced his body to relax, ruthlessly exerting his iron willpower over weak flesh. This was for Napoleon. For Napoleon's love, he could withstand anything, anything at all...

Still, it was all Illya could do to hold in his scream as Solo pushed past the recalcitrant guardian muscle. The pain was unreal, worst than the most hideous torture THRUSH had inflicted upon him. Illya gasped in several quick breaths, hoping to decrease the discomfort, but nothing short of anesthesia was going to accomplish that. As he struggled to maintain control, to not disgrace himself before this man whose opinion he respected above all others, a fresh sheen of sweat bathed his skin.

"Mmmm...Christ...you're tight..." Solo grunted, forcing himself even further in, "So incredibly tight...Christ..."

CHRIST? Napoleon Solo – cursing?

Illya knew that sex removed a number of inhibitions, but in all the years Illya had known Napoleon, he couldn't recall so much as a single ‘damn' passing those sophisticated lips. Napoleon had always seemed to hold himself above such common crudities. Just as he'd never seemed interested in homosexual sex before...

Solo pushed in again, harder this time.

The resulting rush of red hot agony burned the half-formed thought from Illya 's mind. Fighting back tears, he hissed, biting his lower lip until he tasted blood.

His sphincter and rectum had clenched up tight against the painful intruder, and still Solo continued to relentlessly force himself deeper into him. "Please..." Illya cried when his controls finally snapped. "Napoleon...please, stop! I can't..."

Despite Illya's best efforts, his body froze up, clamping around the intrusive bulk inside him like a vise. Agonizing spasms coursed through him as he panted to get in enough air just to ride out the wracking pain. He'd never felt anything like this in a lifetime of torture and hardship.

"Shit!" Solo cursed as Illya's body had its revenge, squeezing Solo's engorged organ as if to force it down to an acceptable size. "That hurt. Come on, Bright Eyes, loosen up before you kill us both..."

"I can't. Napoleon, please..." Illya 's cheeks warmed in shame as he openly begged for mercy, "Please, it hurts too much. I can't..."

"Yes, you can. Come on, take a deep breath..." Napoleon urged.

"It...it is too painful. Please...stop," Illya requested with as much dignity as he could muster while on his knees with another man's penis up inside him.

"Don't be absurd. We're half-way there," Solo refused with a cavalier arrogance that Illya would never have believed of his partner.

Napoleon's hand fumbled around Illya's front, gathering his deflated organ into his palm. Pumping steadily, Solo urged, "Come on, Bright Eyes, take a deep breath and open yourself up to me."

Realizing in his disbelief that Napoleon really wasn't going to stop, Illya tried to do as ordered, aware that if he failed to sufficiently relax, he could sustain serious injury. Taking a deep breath, he struggled to release the tension from his strained anal muscles, less Solo rip him apart.

How could Napoleon refuse to stop, his wounded heart cried. How could it not matter to his partner, to his closest friend, that Solo was hurting him this way? He'd seen Napoleon treat prostitutes with more respect and consideration than he was displaying right now.

Feeling betrayed down to the smallest fiber of his being, Illya concentrated on his breathing, forcing back the tears of pain and rage that threatened to destroy him. He couldn't afford such weakness now. No matter what, he would not allow Solo to see him cry. He would maintain that much dignity at least.

But even to his own ears his breathing sounded more like sobs than normal respiration. Conscious of displaying any weakness, Illya focused his attention on calming himself.

As the raspy, desperate note cleared from his breathing, his discomfort began to ease somewhat, the combination of cool, clear oxygen and Solo's persuasive manipulation of his penis accomplishing its goal.

The instant he loosened up even infinitesimally, Solo would push that much further into his body. The intrusive bulk seemed to fight to undo every stride Illya made towards controlling the pain. Solo wasn't simply big; he felt huge. As Illya's body struggled to accept the bulk, Solo's cock felt unnaturally oversized. And hard, hard and ungiving as steel, like a poker or the bore of a .357 Magnum were being forced past his sensitive flesh. Napoleon certainly seemed as unconcerned about his parnter's plight as cold metal.

The penetration seemed to go on forever. One unending, perpetual torture session under the hands and body of the one man on this Earth whom Illya had unconditionally trusted. Solo used him as if he were a stranger. No, not even that, Illya corrected, Solo were as unconcerned about his partner's comfort as he would be of a rubber blow-up doll's. Finally, when the pain became so intense that he feared he might black out from it, Illya felt Napoleon's lower belly and balls squash against the curve of his buttocks. A part of him sagged with relief at the realization that Solo was in all the way. There would be no more of the piercing penetration.

Solo paused once he'd filled Illya to capacity, as if to savor his conquest, for conquest it was. Illya no longer had even the illusion that this was lovemaking.

And why shouldn't he savor it, Illya bitterly acknowledged. His own surrender had been utterly unconditional. In showing how much he wanted this man, how far he was willing to go for Solo's love, how much he was willing to sacrifice for this hopeless dream, he'd left himself not even a shred of dignity or self respect. He'd all but announced to Solo that he was his to use in any manner his partner wished. He could hardly blame Solo for taking him up on his offer.

But the callous manner in which Napoleon was using him, his partner's utter disregard for his safety or comfort was shattering more than Illya's pathetic, romantic dreams. It was destroying a trust it had taken them years to forge, making Illya question the very basics of their partnership itself, let alone their so-called friendship. Maybe it hadn't been the wisest course for him to reveal the depth of his feelings for this man, Illya acknowledged, but did that give Solo the right to plunder him this way? To reinforce just how pathetic and imbecilic his dearest fantasy had been?

Not allowing himself to dwell on the humiliating way he'd given himself over to this disillusionment, Illya concentrated on the pound of his heart and the raspy, too-emotional drag of his breathing.

When Solo began to thrust, however, there was no ignoring the physical reality in which he'd trapped himself. The swollen glans of that monster cock bashed into that secret pleasure spot that Solo's fingers had discovered earlier, even as the abrupt, violent thrust threatened to rip Illya to pieces.

Swamped with conflicting neural stimuli, it was the information coming from Illya's newly awakened prostate gland that won out. In spite of the incandescent rage he felt at Solo's betrayal of his trust, ecstasy exploded through him at the intense internal stimulation. The pleasure bursts hit his reluctant body like a tsunami, crashing through his defenses like a tidal wave through flimsy sandbags, carrying the stunned Illya along like driftwood in its wake.

Illya felt his anal tract finally loosen up, causing Solo's thrusts to become even wilder at the lack of resistance. Napoleon rode his ass like a rutting bull, barreling in full force, pulling all the way out to reclaim anew the territory he'd conquered. There wasn't a trace of tenderness or concern in Napoleon's approach, but at this point, Illya was no longer expecting such courtesies.

To Illya's intense humiliation, he blossomed under the near abuse. Perhaps it was merely the empathy that pulled them through so many perilous missions, but Napoleon's wildness called to something in his own soul. Illya felt his own inhibitions and restraints dropping away one by one as Solo's savage passion burned through him. He gave himself over to the primal fury of the rut as he'd never dared do before in a sexual encounter, forcefully bucking back up at Solo to plunge that poker of a cock even deeper into him, whole-heartedly assisting in his own subjugation.

This crude encounter might not have been what Illya imagined or desired, but it was real. Napoleon wanted him, was taking him places no other lover had brought his restrained heart. For the love he bore this man, Illya was willing to follow where Napoleon led, was willing even now to give Solo whatever he demanded of him.

Less resentful now that he was actively enjoying the encounter once again, Illya was almost willing to forgive Solo's earlier cavalier attitude. That his partner would demand his all in their very first encounter was startling, but not completely unexpected. Napoleon had a way of making every situation his own, from conquest to capture. His partner never seemed at a loss or in less than perfect control of himself and his environment. Although Solo normally used his charm and natural charisma to stake his claims, Illya could understand where a sexual situation with another man might push his role-conscious friend beyond his limits.

Perhaps Napoleon's fear of losing control and being dominated had forced him to assert himself in this rough fashion, Illya decided. Were that the case, it was just going to take a little time for him to show his lover that he needn't fear him that way.

Until then...this savage lust wasn't at all what Illya wanted from his partner, but he'd ride it through. He had long ago recognized that he'd walk through fire for this man's affection. In truth, there wasn't anything he wouldn't do to win Solo's heart.

"Shit, you're good," Solo grunted behind him, "so tight, so hot...so goddamned perfect. That's it, my frigid Russian beauty, let's melt all that ice..."

"I-I'm not frigid," Illya protested in a small voice, choking on how much it hurt to have Napoleon use that word now when he was struggling so hard to be what Solo wanted.

"No, you're a fucking whirlwind. That's it... harder... harder... aaaaaaghhh!"

The pounding was intense. Solo's final thrust felt like it would rip him to pieces. Then, the other man froze, buried deeper inside Illya's body than Illya had ever dreamed possible. Solo gripped him for dear life as his semen geyzered out of him.

His own body spasming in reaction, Illya closed his eyes, concentrating on internal sensation.

To his intense disappointment, he was unable to feel the streams of ejaculate as Solo climaxed, not the same way he'd experienced every excruciating detail of that agonizing impalement. Apparently, the walls of the channel weren't sensitive enough to pick up the warm spurts of semen against them. Like so much of life, it didn't seem fair to Illya that the unpleasant part be so vividly detailed while the pleasure was skimmed over.

It was a pity, Illya lamented. He would have liked to have shared that experience with Napoleon. But perhaps it was enough to feel his partner clutching at him so desperately, feel the wild pound of the other man's heart where it was pressed tight to his back, feel the raspy breaths as they scuttled against his neck, moist and erotic.

His own climax ripped through his hyper-charged system. Feeling as if his very bones were melting, he exploded all over the sheets. The outpouring seemed to go on forever, pulling every sensation it could from Illya's overwhelmed body.

Barely able to think, Illya squeezed at the hands banding his chest, holding them tight as he fought to get a grip on his run away emotions.

Now that the savage passion had run its course, Illya felt horribly vulnerable...almost bruised inside. And not just physically.

For the first time in his adult life, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin felt as if he were on the verge of tears from something other than extreme pain. He gasped in unsteady breaths, attempting to master his emotions.

In the midst of his efforts, Solo's now flaccid organ slipped out of him.

Somehow, that totally natural occurrence felt like a bitter abandonment.

"Come on, partner. You can't stay like that forever." Incredibly, there was a definite chuckle in Solo's voice.

Shocked, Illya felt Napoleon give his upraised butt a couple of playful swats. "Come on. Turn over, Bright Eyes, before you freeze in that position."

Unable to believe Solo's blasé acceptance of what had just passed between them, Illya rolled over onto his back, warily staring at his unaffected friend as if at a stranger.

Solo gave him a smile, once again not his partner's usual, then Napoleon reached out to rumple his hair. "You all right, Bright Eyes?"

It meant less than nothing to Napoleon, Illya realized as he took in those mildly interested features. He'd just bared his soul to this man, given Napoleon all he had to give, and his partner were behaving as if they'd just had dinner together or something equally as casual.

`Was he all right', Solo had asked. Was Napoleon being intentionally cruel?

But, search as he would, Illya could find no trace of malice in those supremely unaffected features, just an earth-shattering lack of true emotion.

His throat tightening up as if cement were congealing in his vocal chords, Illya gave a sharp nod of assent, damning himself as the worst kind of fool.

"Good. I'm going to go clean up," Solo announced, gesturing towards the bathroom which separated their adjoining rooms.

Although he hated himself, Illya couldn't help but call, "N-Napoleon?"

Solo paused mid-route to the bath, "Yes?"

Deploring the tentative note in his voice, Illya struggled to reassert his controls. "Will you...will you be back?"

"Sure thing, Bright Eyes," Napoleon grinned. "You just close those baby blues and relax a minute."

Hating that confident grin almost as much as his own weakness, Illya squeezed his eyes shut. Seconds later, he heard the shower start up in the other room. Struggling to master his blazing emotions, Illya breathed deeply and sought the inner stillness, the separateness that carried him through the worst times of his life.

But there was no way he could isolate himself from what they'd just shared in this bed, not with the sheets still reeking of sex and Solo's seed an itchy drip from inside him. Never had he felt so emotionally drained...so used and raw. Solo had left him feeling...sordid, like some cheap whore. Not even Mother Fear and her sexual sadism had damaged him this way.

Despite his best resolves to confront Napoleon, the strains and emotional demands of the night took their toll. As he lay there listening to the droning hiss of the shower's spray, a seductive lassitude crept through his stressed out system. Before Illya knew what was happening, the carefully regulated, conscious flow of breath seeped over into the easy cadence of true sleep. Weary and hurt to the core of his soul, Illya 's body instinctively sought the healing solace of slumber.

*~*~*

"Illya? It's time we were moving. We do have a plane to catch."

Illya shot up in the bed at the gentle voice. With a panicked sense of déjà vu, his wild blue eyes stared at the betowelled figure paused in his doorway, watching as the shower water once again dripped down over Napoleon Solo's livid appendix scar.

Illya was momentarily bewildered, hit by the sensual flood of all that had passed between them and his helpless sense of betrayal.

Gradually, the meaning of Solo's words penetrated. Plane to catch? That must mean...could it be morning? Already?

Belatedly, the bright sunshine streaming in through the drapes Solo had just drawn answered his question. The coldness of the passion-stained sheets beside Illya confirmed that he'd slept alone.

Had he truly expected anything different, His cynical, prosaic side challenged.

"Illya, are you all right?" Solo enquired, appearing genuinely concerned. As Napoleon stepped into the room, he sniffed at the air, which still bore the unmistakable traces of last night's musk. A puzzled frown appeared on the smooth brow, "Illya?"

"I'm fine," Illya snapped, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, unwilling to be at any type of physical disadvantage with this man ever again. "Why wouldn't I be?"

If he'd had his gun in his hand at that moment, Illya would have shot his partner dead for the blank incomprehension and wounded hurt that flashed across those handsome features at his sarcastic tone. How dare Solo play dumb after what he'd done last night!

"Is that headache still troubling you?" Solo asked, caution entering his attitude.

If Illya didn't know any better, he'd swear Napoleon was trying to judge his mood. But that couldn't be. Even a man as arrogant as Napoleon Solo must understand the anger and betrayal anyone would be experiencing after last night's...encounter.

"The headache is the least of my concerns at the moment," Illya coldly informed, staring daggers at his partner as he waited for some type of explanation as to why Solo had initiated sexual relations between them, or, failing that, an apology.

Solo shifted, as if uncomfortable under the glare, appearing genuinely perplexed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Can't you guess?" Illya countered, not thawing at all.

"Would you mind telling me what that's supposed to mean?"

The genuine lack of understanding that shot across Solo's troubled face almost made Illya believe that he'd imagined the whole affair. However, the soreness in the most sensitive, private part of his anatomy insisted that last night had been more than fantasy.

Could Napoleon have been drugged, he wondered. Was last night some diabolical THRUSH plot?

But, no...Napoleon's eyes had been clear and completely focused last night. There had been no sign of drugs or any trace of a hypnotic trance. Certainly, Solo's...athletic performance showed that he'd been in perfect health.

If anything were suspect, it was his partner's current bewilderment. In all probability, Napoleon had realized how his actions last night jeopardized their partnership and was now trying to bluff his way through the awkward morning after.

Well, if that were Solo's intent, he was in for a severe disappointment. Illya was in no mood to make this any easier for his companion. To the contrary, he wanted to see Solo squirm.

"This injured innocence doesn't suit your style, Napoleon Solo. I would suggest a different approach. Now, if you will excuse me, I'd like to shower – alone."

"Alone?" Solo echoed like a half-wit, staring at Illya as if Illya were the one who'd taken leave of his senses. "Why wouldn't you..."

Unsure if he were going for his gun or the bathroom, Illya swung his legs over the bed and took a too-hasty step. The pain in his rectum wasn't quite agony, but it came so close as to make no difference. The sensitive tissue there felt as if it had been rubbed raw with sandpaper.

"Illya, are you..?"

"Don't touch me!" Illya icily commanded, pushing his partner's supportive hands away.

Solo, a flawless actor, seemed genuinely stricken by the brusque rejection.

Good, Illya acknowledged, thinking that perhaps Solo wouldn't be so bold with his other advances in the future.

"Illya, what..."

"If you'd be so kind as to leave me to my privacy, I'd like to shower now," Illya rudely explained.

The hurt veneer never faltered. Solo looked at him as if he had no concept of what was motivating Illya's chilly withdrawal.

"All right. I'll order breakfast," Napoleon offered with endearing hesitation.

"I'm not hungry. I'll meet you down at the car in fifteen minutes. Now, if you would please leave." Illya 's chin pointed in the direction of the bathroom between their rooms, making it plain he wanted Solo out of his presence immediately.

Napoleon stared his hurt at Illya a moment longer, then blanked his face of all emotion. "All right. I'll meet you at the car. Perhaps then you'll tell me what the Sam Hill is going on here?" With that, Solo stalked through the bath into his adjoining room, closing the door firmly behind him.

Fifteen minutes later, Illya was no better composed. The shower had been an intensely painful experience. The soap he'd employed to try to cleanse the shameful reminder of his stupidity from his body had stung his distended rectum like acid. A careful, if awkward and embarrassing check of the abused region had revealed no trace of rips or actual tears in his flesh. There was no blood. Only an abrasive discomfort with every step he took, like sand granules trapped in the sensitive area.

Dressed in a dark suit and tie, with his damp hair curling around his neck as it dried, Illya took his leave of the Venice hotel room, carrying his duffel down to the car.

Solo was waiting there, leaning arrogantly against the white Buick, his arms crossed tight across his chest. Despite the glaring Italian sun, Napoleon's expression was dark and shadowed.

"Are you all right?" Napoleon enquired almost anxiously.

"Perfectly," Illya tersely replied, all the ice in Russia's great north crammed into those three short syllables.

"I think you owe me an explanation as to what I've done to merit this cold front," Solo sounded genuinely aggrieved. More than that, he sounded downright hurt, in a way Illya could never recall seeing his friend vulnerable.

"I'm afraid that I'm not subject to such selective amnesia," Illya snapped as he moved to the back of the car to place his bag in the boot.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Solo demanded, following close on his heels.

Glaring at that perfect artifice of confused innocence, Illya wasn't paying more than minimal attention to what his hands were doing. He was so furious, he could barely look at this man. "You can't imagine? Tell me, Napoleon, did you enjoy last night?" he demanded, blindly shoving his valise into the open trunk.

"Enjoy?" A puzzled expression pinched those handsome features. "It was all right, I suppose. But what has that got to do with...Illya, watch out!"

The warning came nanoseconds too late.

Enraged by the blithe dismissal of his charms, Illya had slammed the trunk lid down with all his strength. At Napoleon's shout, he became simultaneously aware of two things – Solo lunging for him and a crushing, searing pain in his left hand.

Belatedly, Illya recognized what had happened. In his anger, he'd slammed the trunk lid down on his own hand.

Napoleon, moving with inhuman speed, seemed to catch the descending hood at almost the same instant it hit Illya's hand, Napoleon flinging it up immediately.

Trying not to make a spectacle of himself, Illya cradled his damaged limb to his chest.

"Let me see," Solo commanded, investigating the injury with a tenderness and consideration he'd failed to display at the height of last night's intimacies.

"I don't think it's broken, but we'd better get it X-rayed just to be sure," Solo announced at last, seeming ridiculously relieved.

"That won't be necessary, Napoleon. We have a plane to catch," Illya denied through gritted teeth, thrown by Solo's genuine concern.

"The plane will wait. Come on."

Strangely numb inside, despite the throbbing in his bloody hand, Illya allowed himself to be bundled into the passenger seat of the car. He could feel his partner's concerned gaze digging into the side of his face all the way to the hospital. Solo made the drive in record time, speeding as though a battalion of THRUSH heavies were behind them.

Twenty minutes later, his hand swathed in thick gauze, Illya exited the emergency room's treatment room.

"How is it?” Solo asked as he jumped up from a chair in the crowded waiting room, his face tense with subdued concern.

Illya flinched at the hand that touched his shoulder, but didn't shake free of it. Napoleon's worry was unmistakable.

Seeing everything in those troubled hazel-brown eyes that he'd failed to find last night, Illya gave a weak imitation of a smile. "It is...merely bruised, not broken. You caught the hood in time." Realizing that he'd now be suffering several fractures were it not for Solo's fast intervention, he stiffly added, "Thank you."

"There's nothing to thank me for," Solo dismissed. "How are you? You didn't seem yourself this morning." Somehow, it was a question.

His wary blue eyes searched his partner's familiar features for any sign of artifice, but there was nothing dishonest there. Only unfeigned concern and the fond, almost older-brother-like affection Solo bore him. Looking into those bottomless, green-flecked brown eyes, it truly were as if last night had never happened. For Napoleon.

Maybe that's the only way he can handle it, Illya's rational side suggested. Perhaps Napoleon hadn't found whatever he'd sought in that brutal union, and, rather than openly address that disappointment, Solo was choosing to behave as if the incident had never occurred.

It made sense.

But, if Solo were just experimenting last night, why did he have to take it so far, demand so much of him?

Because that was the way that Napoleon Solo was made, Illya uneasily acknowledged. Napoleon did nothing by half measures. Last night Solo had tasted all that forbidden fruit had to offer and found it wanting. Illya had given his all and it hadn't been enough to catch his partner's heart, only his passing fancy.

Pretending that nothing had happened was the only way that their partnership could survive, Illya realized. Should he call attention to what had passed between them, force Napoleon to face what they'd shared, his partner was going to have to tell him to his face that he wasn't interested in a repeat performance. And where would their partnership be after so open a rejection?

As painful as it was to accept, Illya recognized that Solo was right. If nothing had happened, they could carry on business as usual...or attempt it.

Gathering every ounce of his courage about him, Illya tried to respond to Solo's comment about not seeming himself, numb to everything but the gaping hollow inside and the excited rush of Italian voices around them as the busy emergency room went about its daily business. "You're right. I was out of sorts. I'm afraid I didn't sleep well last night."

Illya watched his partner's eyes, waiting to see if there were even a hint of remorse or guilt, but there was nothing, only a softening that might have been concern. "You took some hit on the head yesterday. You probably shouldn't even be up. Well, you can rest on the plane. There's another flight in forty minutes. We'll just make it." Solo smiled, giving him an encouraging pat on the back.

Unable to credit how casually Napoleon accepted his decision to play along with the charade, Illya followed his partner out to the car, feeling more bruised of spirit than of flesh.

*~*~*


Three weeks later the situation had gone from bad to unbearable. By neither word nor action did Solo reveal that that night in Venice had ever happened.

Illya did his best to carry on in kind, but he found that he wasn't that good an actor. No matter what he did, his resentment seeped through. Whether it were in the form of catty comments to Solo about his partner's profligate womanizing or subtle put-downs of Solo's job performance, the bitterness oozed out. Each time Illya would make one of those acidic remarks, Solo would shoot him a genuinely wounded glance, as if unable to understand why he felt the need to intentionally hurt him.

Illya hated Solo for that deception more than anything else. He could take being used and discarded. He knew he'd never had much to offer in the romantic department, but Solo's pretension was more than he could stand. Surely, the man must feel something – some guilt or remorse – but Napoleon gave nothing away.

To his shame, Illya found himself working to bypass Napoleon's calm, even though it might cost them what remained of their friendship.

"Mmmm...the blue dress with the scoop neck?" Solo purred into the phone, the paperwork crowding his desk ignored. "Yes, I remember that one. It shimmered like sapphires against your milky skin."

Illya jotted down the next line of his report, doing his best to ignore the byplay. He was, however, aware of every breath Napoleon took. With their desks pushed up to face each other in the limited space of their claustrophobically small office, he really didn't have any choice in the matter. One could only spend so long searching through the lower drawers of a desk for imaginary files.

"I'll pick you up tonight at eight, Lucinda. Mmmm...yes." Solo's cheeks actually tinted a little. "That sounds wonderful. Till then." Finally, Solo returned the receiver to its cradle.

"Lucky Lucinda," Illya sneered under his breath, ready to explode. It was bad enough that he had to pretend that there was nothing between them, but did Solo have to go out of his way to rub his nose in the fact that he meant nothing to him at every opportunity?

"What was that?" Solo demanded, his tone uncharacteristically sharp.

"Nothing," Illya denied, bending over his paperwork.

"It was definitely not ‘nothing'. I want to know what you said."

Illya looked up at the angry face. Amused by Solo's righteous indignation, Illya returned his attention to his report.

His head snapped back up as the page was jerked out from in front of him.

"I trust that I have your complete attention now." Solo stated with deadly calm, his athletic body practically vibrating with anger. "I want to know what you said."

"It wasn't worthy of repetition," Illya admitted.

"None of your charming little asides have been worthy of repetition lately," Napoleon remarked, hurt bleeding over onto his hardened features, softening them despite himself. "Do you want to tell me what's been going on with you lately?"

"I can't imagine what you mean," Illya sweetly shot back, the very spirit of sarcasm.

"I am two seconds away from removing that snide smirk from your face," Solo warned. "As your friend, I'm asking you to explain yourself."

Illya had learned long ago how well silence could work for him. He stared his accusation at the his partner and waited for Solo to back down.

"Illya,” an Academy Award could have been won for Solo's seemingly genuine consternation, "we didn't play these one-up-manship games in the beginning when the entire Section was laying odds as to how long it would be before the capitalist and communist carved each other to pieces. We've always been...friends. What's changed?"

The unrelenting sincerity coalesced Illya's ire into an atomic core of fury that was just waiting for the proper bombardment to ignite. "You know very well what changed everything, Napoleon." Illya was barely able to keep his fury in check as he spat the words out.

"It's something I've done, then?" Napoleon checked.

Tired of Solo towering over him, Illya stood up. Not that the move eliminated the disparity in their heights. It did, however, allow him to defend himself more freely if the need arose. That he was feeling highly defensive at the moment was something that not even his rational side could deny.

"Illya?"

"Stop it!" Illya ordered, feeling inexplicably cornered. "You can ask me to pretend...certain events never happened, but you can't ask me to negate them from my memory. I told you that first morning that I wasn't prone to selective amnesia."

"Amnesia? Illya, what are you..." The intercom's buzz interrupted the question that threatened to propel Illya to violence in its exaggerated innocence. "One second." Solo turned to deal with the interruption, flicking the intercom on. "Yes?"

"Mr. Waverly would like to see you and Mr. Kuryakin in his office right away, Mr. Solo," Sarah's dulcet tones announced.

"We'll be there in two minutes," Solo promised, moving to switch off the channel.

"Napoleon, Mr. Waverly said immediately, if not sooner," Sarah informed, "He didn't seem very happy."

Solo released a drawn-out sigh. "Tell him we're on our way. Solo out." Napoleon took a moment to compose himself. "This isn't finished," Solo stated, his brow furrowed with concern. "Obviously, you believe that I've done something to purposefully...hurt you, but I swear that I have no idea what..."

"Mr. Waverly did say immediately," Illya reminded Solo. Although he kept his tone as cool as it had been this past month, something in him wasn't quite so steely. In some ways, Illya knew this man better than he did himself. Every instinct he owned was insisting that Napoleon wasn't lying to him a moment ago. His partner truly didn't understand the source of his resentment.

As he walked side by side with this man he'd spent the last twenty-one days silently hating, Illya began to reconsider his position. There was no disputing the fact that they'd had sexual intercourse, but it was becoming equally evident that Napoleon had no true recollection of the incident. Illya's jibe of selective amnesia abruptly took on new significance. Was it possible that THRUSH were responsible, after all? Had his friend been brainwashed to perform that night and then forget? If so, to what end?

Failing to find any sense in the puzzle, the preoccupied Illya trailed his partner into their boss' office.

Waverly sat at his usual seat in the center of the huge round conference table. The aging controller's black suit seemed to perfectly match Waverly's uncharacteristically dark mood. Those washed-out blue eyes glared balefully up at them from beneath demonically arched, slate gray brows. There was no welcome or warmth at all in the gaze, even when Solo turned his brightest smile on their employer.

"You called for us, sir?" Illya asked, masking his nervousness. A near palpable dread settled over him. Something was seriously wrong here.

"Have a seat, gentlemen," Waverly instructed.

Exchanging a puzzled glance at the cool tone, the partners settled down side by side on the opposite end of the table, like two delinquent schoolboys brought to task by the school's head master.

"Is something wrong, sir?" Solo asked, boldly bearding the lion.

In his bones, Illya knew that he really didn't want to hear whatever Waverly was about to say. They'd sat in these same chairs a thousand times before when cases and circumstances had left them in disgrace, and never once had Mr. Waverly glared at them the way he was now. Today there was the definite sense that they were being called on the carpet for something serious, but Illya could think of nothing to merit such a reaction. Their last mission had been a total success. They'd taken down a THRUSH satrap and retrieved a potentially catastrophic device from their enemy's lab. If anything, Waverly should be praising them.

But there wasn't even the memory of warmth in those faded blue eyes.

"Indeed, Mr. Solo. Something is terribly amiss. If you'd please look at the screen." The old man gestured at the video console in the opposite wall. With a flick of a switch, a vividly clear black and white image snapped into focus.

Illya literally stopped breathing as he recognized the image.

"Are either of you familiar with this place?" Waverly demanded, his glare digging into them both.

Illya couldn't have replied if both their lives had depended upon it, which it just might. Back home, what he knew to be have happened at that particular locale would have been enough to get them imprisoned for life. A cold sweat broke out on his brow, his heart beating double time.

Some confusion showing on his face, Solo smoothly answered, "It looks very much like one of the hotel rooms we had in Florence...no, Venice last month."

"Indeed. So it would seem. If you'd be so kind as to watch..." Another flick of Waverly's hand and the image began moving again. The camera panned to give an overall view of the room, snapping into a sharp, crystal clear close up as it focused on the bed – the bed where Illya could be seen to be restlessly sleeping.

As Illya stared in horrified fascination, a totally naked Napoleon Solo approached the bedside, where he began to sensually stroke his sleeping partner's face.

"What the--!" Napoleon exploded beside him, gaping at the screen in wide-eyed shock. Napoleon's vocalizations subsided as the Illya on the screen opened his eyes and confronted his partner.

Thankfully, there was no sound. However, that small blessing really didn't matter, not in light of the graphic scene unreeling.

As the film progressed, Illya realized that it had been severely edited. Things happened far faster on the screen than they had that steamy night three weeks past. In the soundless film version, Illya barely seemed to finish performing fellatio upon his partner before Solo was urging him over onto his hands and knees to enter him from the rear. What had to be over a ten-minute delay was reduced to mere seconds.

Illya had never been a man to indulge in peep shows or adult movies. Just seeing the sexual act captured on film was shocking enough to his sensibilities, but knowing that it was the plundering of his own virginity so coldly and crudely captured on celluloid made him want to crawl off and die.

With grueling detail, the scene played out.

Illya couldn't even look at his partner. His cheeks were burning so hot that he was astounded his entire body didn't ignite like ancient parchment.

The detail of the photography was amazing. Any porn film would have envied the shadowy close up of Illya's puckered anus right before Solo took him. Napoleon's firm, tanned stomach and his mighty genitals were shown with loving detail. No nuance of either of their expressions was missed. At no time was the viewer in any doubt that it was the two U.N.C.LE. agents performing these acts.

Mortified, Illya realized that the only way such accurate documentation could have occurred was if there had been a live cameraman present, changing angles and lenses as required. The entire time they'd been...having intercourse, there had been a stranger in the room...or near the bathroom, Illya guessed from the angle on screen.

From his submissive position on his hands and knees, Illya hadn't even been able to see his partner, let alone anyone behind or beside Solo. But how could Napoleon have missed an intruder that way? At points in the film, it almost seemed as if the cameraman must have been standing directly behind Napoleon, filming over his shoulder.

Several eternities later, the disgusting, torrid film finally concluded.

The silence in U.N.C.LE.'s controller's office was so thick, a bullet could have shattered it.

"Comments, gentlemen?" Waverly spoke at last, his voice carefully controlled.

Illya managed a gulp, but speech was beyond him. What, after all, was there left to be said? The film had already damned them both beyond any hope of redemption.

"The actors were good, sir, but they took a bit too much creative license with physical descriptions," Solo smoothly announced into the lethal tension.

"Actors?" Mr. Waverly rumbled. "Mr. Solo, you cannot seriously be insinuating that this is anyone other than Mr. Kuryakin and yourself."

"I'm insinuating nothing, sir. I'm telling you straight out that it isn't us," Napoleon insisted. "They're good likenesses, I'll give them that, but not quite good enough."

Both Waverly and Illya stared at Napoleon in various states of disbelief. Their boss was understandably suspicious. Illya was unable to credit that even his unflappable partner could tell such a bald-faced lie to their boss.

Yet, as he stared at his friend's familiar features, it slowly filtered in that Napoleon was not lying. And, for some reason, that scared him even more than the idea of Mr. Waverly viewing this damnable film.

"I would very much like to believe you, Mr. Solo," Waverly said. "However, the proof is before our very eyes."

"If you'll humor me, sir, I can demonstrate beyond any doubt that it isn't us."

Interest sparked in those old eyes, hope and relief gentling the elder gent's voice as he agreed. "I would appreciate your doing so immediately."

"Would you mind re-running that bit at the beginning, sir?" Solo requested.

Unable to believe that Napoleon would risk showing the damning evidence again, Illya stared at his partner, trying to understand what Solo had planned.

"Would you freeze it there, please?" Napoleon requested.

Illya looked away from both his partner and the screen. Solo had asked that the film be stopped at the scene where Napoleon's stomach and genitals were revealed in all their glory. Even under these hideous circumstances, Illya found the sight of that unbroken expanse of tanned stomach and Solo's straining phallus highly exciting.

"If you'll examine the screen area to the left of the navel, sir," Solo requested. "That would be my lower right side."

"I don't see anything particularly..." Waverly rumbled.

"Now, if you'll examine the area to the right of my belly button." Giving a gamin grin, Solo stood up, undid his pants fastening and the lower buttons of his crisp white shirt, then pushed his shirt, slacks and undershorts aside to reveal his lower stomach.

Two sets of shocked blue eyes stared at the livid incision scar that marred the tanned perfection of Napoleon's tummy. Both their gazes jumped almost simultaneously to the screen. No appendix scar.

The ground dropped out from beneath him as Illya comprehended what that missing scar signified. The entire time he'd been making love to Napoleon that night, something about Napoleon's body had struck him as being basically wrong. Now he knew what it was.

He hadn't been making love to his partner that night. Revolted, Illya slowly comprehended that he'd given his virginity to a hateful stranger wearing his partner's face...

The room swum in and out of focus around him. Illya’s heart thundered in his ears as his blood turned to ice. For the first time in his life, he thought he might pass out from purely emotional provocation.

"So," Solo continued, "as you can see, Mr. Waverly, there's no way that could be me. And, if you'll recall, Illya suffered a hand injury on that particular mission, the scars of which you can still see healing," Napoleon completed. Only here did Illya detect deliberate subterfuge in his friend's attitude.

They both knew that injury had been obtained on the way to the airport.

But apparently Solo's argument had convinced Waverly. "I must say that I am gratified. It troubled me to think that two of my finest agents could be so oblivious to an intruder's presence."

"That's all that troubled you about that film, sir?" Solo questioned, openly astonished. "The content of that little doozie is enough to get anyone fired out of any organization I've ever worked for."

"I imagine it is," Waverly concurred. "But those agencies weren't U.N.C.LE., Mr. Solo."

"I'm afraid that I don't understand," Solo admitted, understandably puzzled by the trace of admonishment in the employer's attitude.

"Such biases open an agency to extortion and blackmail, Mr. Solo. My agents are neither supermen nor demigods. They are human with human failings. Nor would I want them to be otherwise. Providing that an operative's private life does not interfere with his work here at U.N.C.LE. or compromise this agency's security, I have no desire to concern myself with such details," Waverly replied.

"And this film wouldn't have compromised our security had it been valid?" Solo quizzed, the intense, studious look he wore when confronted by something new transforming his features.

"It may compromise the participants' dignity, but I see nothing in this...document that reveals U.N.C.LE.'s secrets," Waverly answered.

"You can't be serious," Solo stammered.

"Consider it, Mr. Solo. If we respond with hysteria and unthinking prejudice to this type of film, we set every one of our agents up as a blackmail target. THRUSH would have a field day. All it would take would be a camera and a drugged cocktail, and my finest agents would be out of work."

"Yes, but..." Napoleon frowned as he struggled to understand this unprecedented attitude.

"But?" Waverly prompted.

"Nothing, sir. May I ask how you responded to this...surprise package...or haven't you made reply yet?" Napoleon questioned. "I assume our friends from THRUSH are responsible."

"Yes. Roman Laverais phoned an hour ago to enquire as to when you and Mr. Kuryakin would ‘receive your walking papers' was, I believe, the phrase he used," Waverly smiled.

Laverais was currently THRUSH's top man in New York. A cut above the usual cutthroat, Laverais' plots were usually insidiously subtle.

"What did you tell him?" Solo leaned forward across the table, avidly absorbing everything Waverly said, while Illya gazed on in numbed disbelief, unable to think past the horror of his personal discovery.

"I told him that he'd have better luck pedaling such a cinematic masterpiece six blocks west in the Times Square district. Roman was not amused," the older man dryly informed.

"I'll bet," Solo snorted.

Napoleon and Waverly shared one of the hearty chuckles that characterized their relationship, while Illya remained, as he so often did, a spectator to the merriment, included by association, but not quite touched by or part of it.

Once the pair calmed, Solo tentatively asked, "Sir, what would your reaction have been if it were the two of us?"

"You saw my reaction. An hour ago I was firmly convinced that it was the pair of you," Waverly reminded Solo.

"Yes, but...well, you did seem...perturbed with us when we arrived and..." Napoleon fell silent for a moment.

"The photographer could well have been an assassin, Mr. Solo. Were those actors, in fact, the two of you, it would have been more than apparent that this...liaison jeopardized not only your careers, but your very lives. Since that was not the case, it's a moot point. Now, I believe that I've detained you both long enough. I don't wish to see either of you two gentlemen in this office before Monday. Is that understood?" Waverly asked with mock severity, a hint of paternal pride about him as he surveyed them.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Solo grinned, rising to his feet.

As it was only Thursday and they were not scheduled for a day off until Tuesday next, the dismissal was an added boon. Waverly's way of rewarding them for a job well done.

Still experiencing that strange sense of disassociation from both his emotions and the people around him, Illya numbly trailed his partner out the door.

"Can you believe it?" Solo sobered once they were out in the chrome corridor, his parnter turning to stare down at him.

As Illya met the eyes of this man who had not taken him with such gusto last month, his guts twisted inside him.

This had been difficult enough to handle when he'd believed it was Napoleon who'd...deflowered him so savagely. To find that he'd meekly given himself to an imposter... Illya's stomach abruptly rebelled, his lunch threatening to make a reappearance right here in U.N.C.LE.'s spotless, stainless steel hall.

"Excuse me," Illya mumbled. Clamping a hand over his mouth less he disgrace himself right here in front of Solo, he raced for the nearest men's room, Napoleon's concerned "Illya?" following him down the corridor.

Illya made it, just barely. Flinging himself into the first empty stall, he was copiously and explosively sick. The chicken parmesan they'd had for lunch came up in glorious, malodorous Technicolor – along with the putrid remnants of his breakfast and several snacks he'd had throughout the day. He spewed up the foul substance, plus what felt like half his guts, the spasms wracking through him like botulism cramps.

If only he could be so lucky as to have been poisoned, the pessimist inside sneered as the word FOOL, FOOL, FOOL thundered through his brain.

Napoleon Solo wanted him – what a joke.

His pathetic state of need had blinded him, made him the willing, no, the eager pawn in a THRUSH scheme that could have destroyed them both. Fortunately, it had been his career their enemies had been gunning for. This time. Next time he might not get off as easily, Illya grimly acknowledged. They both could have lost their lives because of his despicable weakness.

Even as he attempted to puke up his stomach lining, there was an unforgiving part of him that insisted he deserved the pain wracking through him.

It took forever, but eventually the spasms subsided. Squatting ignominiously on his knees before the shiny chrome bowl, Illya awaited the next cramp that somehow failed to materialize.

A dark-sleeved hand reached around him to flush the toilet, sending the bowl's reeking contents on its way. He was so far gone that he'd neglected to even close the stall door behind him. Knowing who that well-formed hand belonged to, Illya's eyes squeezed shut. His heart trying to pound its way out of his chest, Illya felt a fresh sheen of sweat break out on his already clammy skin. His breathing sounded more like sobs than breaths to even his own ears. As he knelt there in abject horror, Illya couldn't even begin to imagine what his partner must be thinking.

He cursed his own uncharacteristic weakness. Why couldn't he have hidden his reaction better? At least pretended to take it off the cuff as Solo had?

Napoleon was no fool. His partner was sure to piece two and two together. Any moment now, Solo would recall just when Illya had injured his hand on that fateful mission. Napoleon would then realize that only one of the participants in that celluloid nightmare had been an actor. And then...

Why, then, Napoleon would despise him. Forever. As a creature below contempt.

A wet paper towel descended into his line of vision to calmly mop Illya's mouth clean. Not comprehending the reason behind the attention, Illya suffered Solo's makeshift care...as docilely as he'd suffered the pretender's domination.

"Are you through?" Napoleon's soft voice checked.

Nodding, Illya wished he were anywhere but here.

When powerful hands gripped his elbows to guide him to his feet, Illya allowed himself to be lifted up. But nothing could force him to meet that no doubt accusative glare.

His back pressed to the metal door of the cubicle, Illya stared down at the tiles between their two separate pairs of different sized black shoes, unable to focus on even a single thought.

"Do you feel better now?" Solo solicitously enquired.

The ridiculously polite inquiry almost drove Illya into a fit of hysterical laughter. Only his partner could be this suave, this smoothly unruffled in the face of such depravity.

Illya gave a tight nod, still not looking up. His lungs couldn't seem to draw in enough of the vomit-reeking oxygen. He felt shaky and cold all over...as if he still might black out.

Solo's palm settled against his cheek, like a parent checking on a child's temperature.

"I think you're going into shock," Solo mumbled. "Come on, let's get out of here. Are you up to walking?"

Illya nodded, following where the gripping arm led as if in a trance. He was barely aware of the trip down to U.N.C.LE.'s garage, could only imagine the curious stares they must have earned enroute.

When they reached Solo's car, Napoleon stopped at the trunk to fish something out.

"Here, wrap this around yourself," Napoleon suggested, laying a heavy gray blanket across his partner's shoulders.

For some reason, that thoughtfulness only made his shaking worse.

They were halfway to Solo's bachelor apartment before the beleaguered Illya even thought to notice their destination. Even then, he didn't voice any questions.

For the entire trip, Illya was almost physically aware of the glances Solo kept throwing in his direction, each probe hitting like a slap in the face.

Finally, as if unable to take the quiet any more, Napoleon unleashed the demons the tense silence had kept at bay when he asked, "That...that film was...the selective amnesia of which you accused me?"

Seeing no point in denying the painfully obvious, Illya dully replied, "Yes."

Despite his resolve, Illya found his unwilling gaze drawn to his partner's face.

The anticipated contempt failed to appear. A tense set tightened Napoleon's handsome features, his skin paling noticeably. But, search as he would, Illya's worried eyes could find no disgust or contempt.

Now it appeared that it was Solo who found it hard to maintain eye contact.

"Have you nothing to say, Napoleon?" Illya practically snarled. He really didn't want to catalyze a confrontation, but somehow non-reaction was more nerve-rending than an outright rejection.

"No, not at the moment," Solo smoothly replied, very much in his inscrutable secret agent mode.

Illya had never wanted to throttle him more.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Illya demanded, his irritation eclipsing even his anxiety.

Napoleon's smile made him suspect that he'd fallen into some type of trap. His partner's next words sounded like a complete non sequitur. The smile faded from those suave features, Solo's attitude turning abruptly serious. "When was the last time you got a full night's sleep?"

"What?" Illya blinked, certain that he must have misheard. They were discussing the humiliating events documented on that piece of blackmail celluloid and Napoleon would rather talk about his sleeping habits?

"There are far more relevant issues to be discussed here," Illya reminded him, a dangerously short rein on his temper.

"Not until you've gotten some sleep there aren't," Solo refused.

"You're not serious?" Illya questioned.

"I assure you that I'm entirely serious."

"Napoleon..."

"You're exhausted. Anyone could see that. If we discuss this now, you'll be operating at an extreme disadvantage."

The open concern was so unexpected that Illya honestly didn't know how to respond to it.

"I would prefer to know where things stand between us now, Napoleon," Illya admitted at last, the car seeming far too quiet. "Do we still have a working partnership?"

The convertible had just pulled into the underground parking garage of Solo's building as Illya asked his question. Napoleon slowed to a complete stop on the ramp on the way down, turning to look at him.

Illya's stomach churned violently in response. For the life of him, he couldn't interpret the emotion in those stormy brown eyes.

"The fact that you need to ask such a question, tovarisch, shows how badly you need the rest."

Tovarisch...Illya couldn't recall Napoleon ever having used that word with him before. Solo was a well-traveled man. He was highly aware of the cultural nuances involved. More than mere friend, tovarisch was a trusted comrade. The level of acceptance implied by that one familiar word from Illya's homeland threatened to undo his brittle controls.

Blinking furiously, Illya glanced away.

When he could trust his voice, Illya said quietly, "Thank you, Napoleon...moi tovarischka."

"You're most welcome." A flash of a slightly nervous smile, then Napoleon released the brake to continue into the garage.

"Napoleon, we both know that I will rest better in my own home," Illya pointed out as Solo pulled into his reserved parking spot.

"We both know that you'll hole up in your Village digs for the duration, so don't even bother arguing. The guestroom is empty. Consider it home."

Illya sighed. He'd expected to be ostracized, not adopted.

"They're redecorating the lobby and halls," Solo announced as he stepped out of the long, silver convertible.

Napoleon proceeded to inform his shell-shocked partner of every detail of the changes being made to the building's interior as they made their way up to Solo's apartment.

Though quite articulate, Napoleon was not usually given to such inconsequential small talk. At first, Illya wondered if his partner were nervous in his company after viewing that film. Only slowly did he realize that the chatter was for his own sake. Solo wasn't demanding that Illya even acknowledge what he was talking about, let alone respond to it.

How Solo had known it would help, Illya couldn't imagine. Napoleon's voice was the most familiar constant in his world. Almost in spite of himself, he found his tension ebbing under the reassuring flow of sound. His partner was treating him the same way Solo would after a THRUSH drugging or torture, he recognized.

That unobtrusive concern was one of the traits he appreciated most in his friend. Napoleon was far more perceptive than most suspected. From the very first, Napoleon had seemed to instinctively understand his new partner's distaste for being coddled. Nevertheless, due to the very nature of their work, U.N.C.LE. agents were quite frequently in need of support, be it actual physical help or emotional bolstering. The innovative means Solo found to offer solace without being obvious about it were a constant source of marvel to Illya.

The fact that Napoleon would even want to comfort him after viewing that tape was nothing short of astounding.

At last the door to Solo's apartment closed behind them.

An infrequent visitor here, Illya eyed the lush furnishings in fuzzy admiration. His partner came from a long line of world travelers and diplomats. Nowhere was that fact more apparent than in Solo's home. Unlike scores of his countrymen, the dapper American's care in dressing and good taste were not the result of conscientious adherence to the fads of fashion. The understated elegance of Napoleon's living space could only be the result of upbringing and personal taste.

Those who were not well acquainted with Solo were often surprised by the rather old-fashioned air of the bachelor's home. Oriental carpets, classical pastoral oil paintings, comfortable red velvet, wing-backed chairs and a plush leather couch cohabitated quite placidly with the 20th century additions of television set and stereo components. The abundance of healthy houseplants bespoke of a nurturing streak in his partner's character that few would suspect.

"Are you hungry?" Solo asked as he took Illya's overcoat.

Suddenly ill at ease, in spite of how hard Napoleon had worked to relax him, Illya shook his head. "No...thank you."

Napoleon gave a nervous smile and moved to the cherry wood bar across the room. Solo returned with two triples. The clear glass he handed to Illya, keeping the amber-colored drink for himself.

Sipping at the potent vodka, Illya watched his friend fish for something with which to fill the silence.

"Perhaps it would be for the best if I left," Illya suggested.

"Perhaps it would be better if you sat down and relaxed," Solo countered. "I'll be back in a second."

His partner lingered long enough to ensure that Illya did, indeed, take a seat, then Solo disappeared into the back of the apartment.

More than slightly numb, Illya perched on the overstuffed wing chair. Staring at the gold framed picture of Solo and himself that stood on a nearby lamp table, Illya tried to figure out why his partner wanted him here so badly.

Illya wasn't an expert on human behavior by any stretch of the imagination, but it seemed to him that any man as firmly heterosexual as his partner should be repulsed by what he'd seen in that film. Yet, Napoleon had been nothing but kind to him since they'd left Waverly's office. It made no sense at all to his exhausted mind.

The vodka's warmth slowly seeped through him, taking the edge off his nervousness.

Nevertheless, Illya still jumped when his partner softly called, "Illya?" He hadn't noticed Solo's silent return.

"Yes?"

The dark eyes seemed to soften, Napoleon's entire face gentling. "The guest room is ready."

"Napoleon, it is barely two o'clock in the afternoon," Illya protested, trying to ignore how his body throbbed for rest.

"And you're barely awake. There will be ample time to talk later," Solo promised.

"I still feel it would be best if I went home," Illya groggily insisted.

Napoleon merely smiled. "Yes, of course, you do. Now, go in and get some rest. We'll talk later."

Seeing nothing to be gained by further argument, Illya drained his drink and rose to his feet. "As you wish."

"Sleep well," Solo said as Illya passed him.

It was almost a relief to be alone, Illya thought as he firmly closed the guestroom door behind him.

Taking a glance around the cozy bedroom, Illya was struck by how much this spare room more than any other in Solo's apartment reflected Napoleon's true personality. The outer rooms were for show, filled with family heirlooms and expensive travel mementos meant to impress a visitor. But this guest room that doubled as Napoleon's office showed touches of the personal that were absent from the rest of the house. The books crowding the intimidating wall shelf were a confusing jumble of the classics and adventure novels Napoleon so loved. The heavy mahogany desk beside it was covered with the detritus of Solo's private life – letters, framed photos, bills and the like.

Illya was surprised to see another photo of himself in the organized mess of the desk top. It stood right beside a picture of Napoleon's long dead wife.

A single, quilt-covered twin bed took up the wall opposite the desk, with a small night table and lamp beside it.

A stunning oil painting hung over the tiny bed. A snow topped mountain scene that was so vivid that the viewer could almost feel its winter chill. Illya thought it might be the Grand Tetons.

Illya couldn't help but smile as he took in the neat pile of pajamas and towels which Napoleon had left on the table. His partner had thought of everything, right down to a new toothbrush.

Napoleon was obviously very accustomed to accommodating unexpected visitors. However, Illya sincerely doubted that very many of Solo's other overnight guests either borrowed Napoleon's pajamas or slept in this bed.

Smiling faintly, Illya stripped down, then donned the warm, brown flannel nightclothes Solo had left out for him. As with any clothing he borrowed from his friend, the pajamas hung off his spare frame like a scarecrow's ill fitting attire.

Sighing, still not sure he'd sleep in spite of his advanced state of emotional exhaustion, he wearily slid between the cool sheets. The crisp white linen settling around him was Illya's last conscious impression for a very long time.

*~*~*


Untold hours later, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin awoke with a start. Having no idea where he was, he stared owlishly around the pitch-black room.

The softness of the incredibly comfortable mattress, the clean, fresh scent of the sheets, and his lack of physical restraints told him immediately that he was not a prisoner of THRUSH or any other wrongdoer. Fleetingly, he wondered what it would be like to have a profession where such determinations were not necessary upon awakening.

A few moments of confused blinking, and he was able to discern the shadowy shapes of the furniture around him. Recognizing the heavy desk with its glinting picture frames as his partner's, Illya relaxed. He was at Napoleon's...

As the reason as to why he was at Napoleon's emerged from his sleep-fogged brain, he tensed up again.

Perhaps he could dress quietly and slip off into the night, never to be seen again. Attractive as the coward's path might be at the present moment, it was unthinkable. If Solo were willing to deal with him after that humiliating film, Illya owed it to his friend to stick around. Besides, the mouth-watering aroma permeating the apartment made it plain that there would be no undetected escapes. The kitchen and front door faced onto the same foyer. He'd have to pass right by Solo to get out.

Rising soundlessly from the bed, Illya hesitated a fraction of a second, then decisively snapped on the light.

Normally, he would have wandered out in his night clothes without a moment's thought, but that explicit film and the no doubt sensitive content of the upcoming dialogue made him reluctant to take anything in their partnership for granted.

So, Illya changed quickly back into his street clothes. Bolstered by the familiar comfort of dark turtleneck and black jeans, Illya set forth to find his partner.

As the juicy scents filling the apartment suggested, he found his friend in the kitchen, hard at work re-heating one of the casseroles with which Solo's housekeeper kept the freezer stocked.

In the time Illya had been asleep, Napoleon had changed into what passed for casual attire in the Solo world of fashion. Napoleon's dark blue suit had been replaced by a pair of slate gray twill trousers and an indigo blue, button down shirt that shimmered under the overhead lights like raw silk.

Try as he would, Illya couldn't help but spend a quiet moment standing unobserved in the kitchen doorway simply watching his partner move. Napoleon was at the counter, sorting out two sets of crockery and cutlery for the meal which he was preparing. His partner's hands were large and powerful as he moved, but somehow streamlined at the same time – beautiful in a masculine way.

It was instances like this that made Illya despair of how hopeless the situation truly was. There were times that he could almost ignore the physical desire that gnawed at his loins like starvation cramps. Pure lust and carnal need, he could fight.

But it was these little things that ambushed him and left him defenseless. He'd never felt this way about anyone in his entire life, never been moved by such inconsequential details. They'd be working in the office, and Illya would look over and notice the red highlights in his partner's hair, or the green specks in his brown eyes, or how broad Solo's shoulders were, how pleasing his skin tone, how his severe profile was almost that of the crescent moon...the list was endless. Illya was firmly convinced that he could look at the man's toenails and wax rhapsodic. What he felt for Napoleon transcended mere desire, which frightened him more than any enemy he'd ever come up against.

Hopeless, truly hopeless. Illya shook himself out of the familiar trap of Solo watching.

Whether it were his sudden motion or Napoleon's razor-sharp instincts that alerted him to another's presence, Illya didn't know.

Napoleon looked up from what he was doing and gave his partner a warm smile that seemed to melt Illya's very bones.

How can he behave so normally, Illya marveled, his blood running cold under the full force of the other man's personality.

It shouldn't be this difficult. They'd known each other for over four years now. Solo was dealing with the situation – why couldn't he?

"I thought the smell of food cooking might entice you," Solo commented with no visible trace of nervousness. "Did you sleep well?"

His mouth inexplicably dry, it was two tries before Illya could answer. "Yes, surprisingly well...thank you. Ahh...how long was I..?" he stammered for normalcy, not even knowing how to look at Napoleon anymore.

"How long were you asleep? About seven and a half hours. It's half past nine," Solo supplied. "Are you hungry?"

"Starving," Illya admitted.

"Good." Solo grinned. "Take these inside and I'll get the casserole. It should be ready by now."

That same bewildered air which had marked Illya 's earlier acceptance of his partner's aid settled over him, as he took the armload of dishes and silverware. With a surreal sense of domesticity, he transferred them to the dining room.

Even though Napoleon was at his most charming, the meal was interminable. The tension was playing along Illya's nerves like a fever.

Still, Illya was in no real hurry to conclude the late dinner. The forthcoming conversation was one that he wished with all his heart could be avoided. So, long after his hunger was abated, he continued to shovel down the tasty macaroni, vegetables, and chopped sirloin concoction. Such obvious ploys could last only so long. Eventually, even his stomach reached its limits.

"More?" Solo asked.

Illya looked up from the solitary pea and macaroni noodle he was pushing around his empty plate.

Napoleon's expression made it plain that he was aware that his companion was procrastinating. The open compassion in that rich, earthy gaze was completely bewildering.

"No, I've had enough," Illya refused. "Thank you. It was quite good."

Solo's smile was the same one he would have given Illya any time during the past four years. "Dessert?"

"No, not right now. Thank you." The formality was automatic when Illya was this nervous. He always found the amenities strangely soothing, whether he was about to undergo torture at his enemies' hands or in these far more difficult personal situations.

"Coffee? Tea? Vodka, perhaps?" Solo was in his element as the perfect host.

Illya latched onto the one item that offered some promise of support. "Vodka, please."

"I think we'll be more comfortable inside. Just leave the dishes," Solo instructed as Illya made to clear the table.

Obviously, Napoleon's patience with procrastination had run out.

Feeling as if he were being walked to the wall in front of a firing squad, Illya followed his partner back into the living room. As Solo went to the bar in the corner to fix them their drinks, Illya settled into one of the wingback chairs, watching his friend as Solo moved.

"Thanks." He accepted the vodka, being careful that there was no contact between their skin.

Solo sat down on the couch opposite him, his face growing serious as he sipped his brandy. "I think we've put this off as long as possible."

"The delay was at your suggestion," Illya reminded him, annoyed to realize that he was already on the defensive.

Napoleon nodded, seeming at a loss as to where to begin.

Homing in on that hesitation as he would weakness in a physical altercation, Illya sarcastically enquired, "So, what is it you would like to talk about, Napoleon?"

"What do you think I want to talk about?" Solo countered. "And please drop the sarcasm. This is difficult enough."

"I fail to see what there is to discuss...unless you wish to terminate our working relationship?" Illya voiced his deepest fear as an angry question.

Napoleon's legitimate surprise was immensely reassuring. Illya could tell by his friend's expression that the idea of terminating their partnership had never crossed Solo's mind.

"No, never that," Napoleon assured, his attitude atypically gentle, "but we've got to talk this out, Illya."

"Talk what out? What is there to be said?" Illya coldly demanded.

"I for one am confused by what we saw in Mr. Waverly's office today,” Solo admitted, taking a nervous sip of his brandy.

As badly as Illya wanted to look away, he forced himself to meet his partner's gaze, then sharpened it until he'd pinned the other man with a piercing glare. It required every ounce of his nerve to bluff it out. When Illya spoke, his tone was prickly as a bed of nails, dripping sarcasm, "Just what was it about that pornographically explicit film that you failed to understand, Napoleon?"

The first gambit was his, were Solo's blush anything to go by. But Napoleon was nothing if not adaptable. Seeing the way the game was going, Solo dispensed with subtlety and responded in kind. Although there was no open sarcasm in his reply, its absence was far more cutting, Napoleon using his genuine mystification as a weapon. "The film itself was quite comprehensible. What I fail to understand is why I didn't find a dead Solo on the bedroom floor when I got back that night."

It was a question and challenge both.

Despite his firm resolve not to be embarrassed by this, Illya felt his cheeks heat. He knew from past experience that he'd just turned scarlet.

So much for dispassionate discussion, Illya wryly acknowledged his own defeat, glancing quickly away.

"What can I say, Napoleon?" Illya asked as the silence stretched unbearably between them, his choked tone barely recognizable.

Strangely enough, Solo seemed to be similarly affected as he replied, "You didn't want to do it. I saw that in your face. He talked you into it. He...he hurt you, and you let him. For the life of me, I can't understand why...why you let him..." The words faltered. Even Napoleon Solo's nerve only went so far.

Finding no other course, Illya gave his partner the unadorned truth. "I thought he was you. I didn't stop him, didn't kill him, because I thought he was my partner."

Not even Solo's unflappable cool was sufficient to take such a potentially volatile admission in stride. Napoleon seemed to be left speechless.

Inside, Illya squirmed, but he was careful to keep all reactions strictly internal. He made certain his face was utterly expressionless, as though he were merely relating some trivial scientific detail instead of baring the deepest secrets of his soul. Even so, he felt as if he'd been tossed naked in front of his enemies, with no place left to hide and no hope of protection.

All he had was his dignity. Illya clutched it to his naked soul like an insufficient fig leaf, grappling for the insouciance that had once been as much a part of his nature as blond hair and blue eyes.

"If your curiosity has been satisfied, I'd best be leaving now," Illya announced, rising smoothly to his feet. "I thank you for your hospitality, Napoleon. Good--"

"Sit down." Solo appeared to shake himself out of his daze. "Please..."

As much as Illya wanted to leave, he knew that there was no escaping the inevitable. It weren't as if Napoleon were someone with whom he just happened to work. Solo was his partner. There was no running away from this. Whatever happened between them would be here today, tomorrow, and as many tomorrows as their partnership had left.

That Solo was even willing to continue their association after viewing that humiliating film was incomprehensible.

Unable to refuse his partner's beseeching tone, Illya sank back down into the velvet chair, tensely gripping its soft arms.

He watched Napoleon drain his glass in a single gulp as the silence stretched. His partner appeared to be as lost as Illya himself, floundering as he struggled to find a safe approach to this topic.

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

"Aren't you...upset with me, Napoleon?" Illya curiously questioned, wanting to know the worst of it up front. "The one time I saw you confronted with this issue in the past, your reaction was quite...volatile."

As their gazes touched, Illya could see that they were both remembering that time in an Athens bar when an inebriated olive oil merchant had propositioned Napoleon a mite too persistently and Solo had left the man in need of orthodontic work.

Solo shrugged as if in reply to Illya's thought, "Yes, well...the situations aren't quite the same."

"Aren't they?" Illya challenged. To his way of thinking, his earlier admission had left no question as to his motives in engaging in the acts on that film.

"No, you're not some drunken slob. You're my partner. Besides...none of this is your doing. It wasn't your idea. You were the victim in that situation," Solo insisted.

His hope died at that simple explanation. Illya mentally braced himself for Armageddon. "Ah, that explains the calm then. Napoleon, I wasn't drugged. I was conscious and aware of my actions. As much as I would like to disclaim any responsibility for that...incident...it was my fault. If I were victimized at all, it was by my own stupidity."

All traces of color drained from Solo's handsome face. His body strangely still, Napoleon stammered, "You can't mean that you wanted...Illya, what are you saying?"

He'd just killed their partnership, Illya recognized. Solo had been able to forgive him when he'd thought it rape, but not even the worldly Napoleon Solo could accept such a failing in his partner.

When he spoke, Illya's voice dripped bitterness as he hid behind the only shield left to him. "Come, Napoleon, don't tell me that you haven't heard the whispers, the sniggering comments, the speculations... At least half of U.N.C.LE. have guessed the truth about my feelings for you. It – it is almost a joke in certain circles. Kuryakin, the Ice King, hopelessly in love with someone who wouldn't notice another man if he dropped naked out of the sky at his feet. It is laughable, really."

"I'm not laughing," Napoleon pointed out. "And neither are you. Where did you hear that Ice King claptrap?"

"That is hardly the pertinent issue," Illya protested. His embarrassing nickname was the last thing he'd thought his partner would question.

"Where did you hear it?" Solo demanded, something like anger beneath his surface calm.

"Napoleon, it doesn't matter where I heard it. It's not important."

"Not important? You risk your life for this agency every day. I won't have some pencil pusher..."

"Napoleon," Illya cut him off, "I don't care what the pencil pushers or the secretarial staff think. There are only two people whose opinions are important to me. Mr. Waverly and..."

"Myself?" Solo softly supplied.

Illya nodded. He'd already damned himself with his earlier admission. What did it matter if he finished the job now? "Yes. You." Taking heart from the unexpected, pensive air that had settled over the other man, Illya hesitantly admitted, "I...don't know what you must be thinking now, but...I would very much like to continue working with you. I realize that...you may no longer be comfortable in my presence, but if you will try to forget the events of this day, I give you my solemn word that I will do nothing to remind you of them. Ever."

Illya swore that he could hear the blood flow through his veins in the quiet that followed. His heartbeat seemed to thunder through the room like a timpani.

"Selective amnesia, ey?" Solo questioned, completely unreadable.

"If you like," Illya coolly countered, looking away.

One could stand naked in the open for only so long before seeking shelter. But there was nowhere left to hide. He'd burnt his bridges and walled up all escape routes behind him. There was nothing left but the awkward truth – which Napoleon now shared.

Illya 's entire body jerked as a powerful hand lifted his chin up. He hadn't heard or sensed Solo's quick movement.

"I don't like. In fact, I don't like it at all. You're not the only one who isn't any good at selective amnesia," Napoleon offered in a low, subdued tone, his expression deadly serious.

Illya winced, doing his best to ignore the heat of the hand still gripping his chin and the subtle scent of Solo's after-shave. Clearing his throat, he offered as normally as he could, "You'll no doubt wish to request a new pairing, then. I'll offer no objection to anything you wish to -- "

"Don't," Solo grimaced, his index finger sliding over to cover Illya's mouth.

Illya jerked his head back as if stung by the touch. He was too aware of Napoleon's larger bulk trapping him in the chair, looming intimidatingly over him.

Solo stood staring at his hand as if Illya had bitten it or slapped it away, an odd expression playing across his pensive features. Then, as if realizing how inherently threatening his position was, Napoleon hunched down beside the right arm of the chair, leaving Illya an open escape route.

"It's that bad, is it?" Solo asked in a distractingly gentle tone.

"W-what?" Illya croaked, his mouth suddenly parched. Their gazes were on a level now, and that was somehow far worse. Napoleon was too close, too perceptive...

Illya could hardly breathe in the heady proximity.

"I'm not normally this dense," Solo proclaimed, a wry twist to his lips. "Forgive me, my friend."

"For what?" Illya concentrated on his breathing, on getting the oxygen into his lungs. It didn't clear his head any, but at least it gave him the strength to keep his expression firmly schooled.

"If there were whispers, I never heard them. And you must know that no one would dare...make sport of such things in my presence." Napoleon sounded as if he were making an explanation to Waverly for a case gone wrong. "You hide your feelings too well, tovarisch, far too well. Even now, I can't tell what you're thinking, feeling..."

At least he was doing something right, Illya reflected, still dizzy from Napoleon's closeness.

"How would you feel, Napoleon, were our positions reversed?" Illya found the strength to challenge.

"How do you think I feel now, knowing how he was able to hurt you, simply because he was wearing my face?" Solo countered.

"I knew that you would never..." Illya glanced away, unable to complete the thought while gazing into Solo's green-flecked, brown eyes. Even the imposter's eye color had been off, Illya now realized, remembering how dark the double's irises had been. All brown, with none of the hazel specks of Napoleon's. "I got what I deserved."

"Don't you think that you're being too hard on yourself?"

Illya snorted at the mild question. "My stupidity could have cost both our careers, perhaps our very lives. In light of that, I'd say I got off easy."

"Easy?" Napoleon echoed. "You were raped and--"

"It was not rape, Napoleon. Consent was given. There was no force implied," Illya wearily reminded his partner. "I know you wish to believe better of me, but those are the facts. Because of a twisted longing, I allowed a complete stranger to..." Illya searched for the proper terminology, coming up with a Britishism that conveyed his meaning without the degree of American crudity, "...to bugger me and jeopardized this organization's entire security. Mr. Waverly was right. No agent that sloppy has any place in the field."

"That's utter nonsense. You're human. You made an all too human error," Solo quietly argued, not directly dealing with the nature of Illya's error yet. Napoleon was still behaving as though it were simply a wrong judgment call and not...the open depravity they'd witnessed in Waverly's office this morning.

"From the start, I knew that you would not...do that," Illya insisted. "You'd never..."

"Never say never, Illya." His awkward position of resting on his haunches apparently becoming uncomfortable, Solo lowered himself to a proper kneel. Obviously, he had no intention of ending this difficult conversation any time in the near future. "And please don't call yourself twisted."

"Napoleon, you saw..."

"It was sex, Illya," Napoleon interrupted, sounding as if he were comforting an upset child. "Sex is always raw and graphic, especially when captured on cold celluloid. What I saw was how much he hurt you."

Illya swallowed hard. "The damage was minimal, Napoleon."

"I'm not talking about physical injury. He plundered your soul that night. That film finished the job. Whether you realize it or not, you were raped that night. The only difference between what went on in that hotel room and what often happens in a prison cell is that THRUSH didn't have the common decency to do it openly."

Each word pierced Illya's defensive barriers as devastatingly as the imposter's throbbing penis had pierced his virgin body that night. Hus pretense of control shattered as a deep trembling claimed him, the kind of shakes that came after too close a brush with death. "Napoleon, stop...please?"

"It wasn't your fault, so stop blaming yourself," Solo ordered, reaching out to clasp Illya's upper arm, astonishment spilling over his concerned features when he picked up on how badly Illya was shaking. "Illya?"

Illya glanced quickly away, horrified by the emotions churning in him.

But Solo wouldn't allow him that reprieve. A warm palm settled on his cheek, firmly turning his face back.

"Illya?" Napoleon whispered when he still refused to meet his partner's gaze, "Don't hide from me. Please?"

The unconsciously sensual tone and gentle touch were too much. Unable to bear it a second longer, Illya's knocked Solo's hand away from his face and sprung from the chair. His rough gesture toppled the kneeling man over. "Don't toy with me, Napoleon. It's a dangerous game and I have absolutely nothing left to lose."

Solo stared up at him from where he'd landed on his fundament, seemingly surprised to find himself there. "I wasn't toying with you," Napoleon protested, rising to his feet.

"Then don't touch me that way. It...hurts when you touch me and...I am tired of hurting," Illya angrily admitted, his breathing harsh and irregular.

"I don't want to hurt you. It's the furthest thing from my mind," Solo assured.

"Then what do you want? Why are you being so kind to me when you should be raging?" Illya demanded, feeling as out of place in these luxurious surroundings as he was in Solo's life outside of work. There was no room for him in the world Napoleon inhabited. No place at all. And now that Solo knew his secret, Napoleon was sure to see how impossible even their friendship was...

Solo approached him as he would an injured animal. "I'm not being kind to you. You're my closest friend and I care about you. As for the other...there's no cause for rage. You've done nothing wrong."

Nothing wrong?

Illya resisted the impulse to laugh, very aware that he was treading the thin line of hysteria. He had the horrible feeling that once he started laughing, he'd be unable to stop. Ever.

Solo's hands gripped his shoulders, then cautiously enfolded him in a hug.

A hug being literally the last thing he expected, Illya stood stone-like in the embrace, afraid to relax.

How could Napoleon hold him like this after seeing that film? Why wasn't the other man disgusted by his partner's contemptible weakness?

Solo's hand rubbed across his back in wide, reassuring circles as the warmth from Napoleon's sturdy form enfolded him. There was nothing sexual in the gesture, the affection and solace so pure that not even the Ice King could refuse them.

"That's better." Illya heard Napoleon murmur as he gave up fighting and trusted himself totally to his partner, melting against Napoleon as though his limbs had turned to putty.

Illya searched his memory, trying to recall the last time anyone had cuddled him like this. Vague images from deep in his childhood played about the fringes of his consciousness, but nothing substantial. The person holding him in those almost memories might have been his mother or his grandmother. Illya couldn't recall either's face clearly. For all he knew, the person holding him might even have been some compassionate stranger who'd tried to buffer the trauma of the inconsolable losses the war orphan had endured. His entire early childhood was rife with these gray areas, places where he sensed something had happened, but which he couldn't remember.

As ever, thinking back on those days left a cold, hollow feeling inside him. But for the very first time there was something to fill the icy void.

Napoleon's vital presence seemed to seep through Illya's very pores, filling him with a warmth and well being that he'd never experienced before.

His too-cerebral mind had always been puzzled by his fellow humans' indulgences in these simple shows of affection; perhaps because he'd known so little of it in his formative years. Only now that he felt the emotions behind those enfolding arms seep through him, and experienced firsthand the blanketing acceptance such embraces offered, did Illya begin to understand.

That Napoleon appeared to be drawing as much from the contact was a source of wonder to him. Even though his immediate need was long past, Illya lingered, basking in the closeness.

"Mmmm..." Solo sighed in open pleasure what seemed an eternity later.

Illya shivered as his partner nosed through the hair at the top of his head, his breath catching in his chest as he realized that Napoleon's mouth was moving there as well, as if delivering deliberately soft kisses to the crown of his head.

"Napoleon?" Illya whispered, questioning the change in mood. There had been tension between them before, but what was flowing now was something different – stronger, yet in no way threatening.

Sexual, Illya classified, jolted by the realization. He pulled back slightly to stare up at his partner.

Illya 's action appeared to jar Napoleon out of the sensual daze that had blanketed both their senses.

"I..." Solo appeared uncharacteristically tongue-tied, "...I probably shouldn't have done that. Forgive me, my friend."

Releasing Illya with visible reluctance, Solo took a step back. The retreat was only a few inches, just far enough so that their bodies were no longer pressed together.

"There is nothing to forgive," Illya assured, wondering why the other man wasn't on the far side of the room by now, closed off behind a wall of self-righteous denial. That would have been most men's response to the sexual overtones that had filtered into their embrace, Illya realized.

"You asked me not to touch you and I went and..." The confused brown gaze shifted nervously away, Napoleon visibly discomforted.

Not even knowing if an appropriate comment existed for such a situation, Illya remained silent, watching as his friend struggled to come to terms with what had happened.

"I should go, Napoleon," Illya insisted when the silence began to weigh on his nerves.

"What good will that do?" Solo questioned. "We'll only have to face it on Monday morning. Let's sit down, have another drink..."

Without waiting for a response, Napoleon took hold of his arm and led him over to the couch.

Bemused, Illya settled on the cool, suede-soft leather cushion, waiting while his partner freshened their drinks.

"Thank you," Illya automatically acknowledged as Solo handed over a generously filled glass. He watched the other man settle into the couch's far corner.

Solo's cool while under fire rarely failed to impress Illya, but never had he been more grateful for it than today.

"May I ask you a personal question?" Solo shattered the nerve-wracking quiet after a few thoughtful sips at his brandy.

"Yes, of course." Seeing Napoleon grapple for the right words, Illya wondered if his reply had been a mite too hasty.

"Before, you told me that the grapevine said that you were `hopelessly in love'. Were you serious?"

Illya considered the question, sensing a trap. His blood seemed to thicken and freeze in his veins as he searched for a safe answer. Napoleon's amorous response to their hug changed things. Illya was no longer quite so worried about his partner disowning him entirely. However, everything he knew about his commitment-shy companion told him that Solo would not be pleased with the inconvenient truth. Still, he couldn't refuse to answer.

"That is what the grapevine claims," Illya cautiously admitted.

"Is that what you say?" Solo probed with disarming intensity.

"Did the actions in that film seem those of a man who was not serious?" Illya hedged.

"That was sex, Illya. We're both old enough to know that what a man gets up to in his bed can have little or nothing to do with his emotional life." Solo's gaze settled firmly upon his own, as if Napoleon were forcing himself to maintain that contact. "Were the rumors mistaken?"

"May I know why you ask?" Illya played for time, feeling as if there were several continents separating them rather than three feet of empty couch.

"Self preservation, I suppose," Solo explained at last, his hesitation seeming to suggest that he was as wary of exposing too much as Illya was himself.

"I don't understand."

"Illya, you're not some giggling stewardess I picked up on a trans-Atlantic flight. You're the man who guards my back, and my closest friend. We have a history..."

"Which means?" Illya prompted.

"It means that you're too...important to jeopardize merely to satisfy what might be a...passing itch on one or both our parts."

Illya's brow crinkled at Solo's words. "Is that what that was before – a passing itch?"

Put on the spot, Solo's bravado appeared to falter. The determined gaze flickered away. Napoleon gave a slow, negative shake of his head after a few moments. "No...at least, I don't think it was..."

Touched by the confusion, and what his partner seemed to be offering in this atypically awkward and stumbling manner, Illya gently pointed out, "Napoleon, at no time tonight have I sexually importuned you. Nor will I do so in the future. I understand that...this is not your cup of tea."

"I didn't think that it was yours, either," his partner admitted, Solo's initial shock still echoing through his outer composure.

"It hasn't been. Not for a very long time," Illya replied, tensed for the inevitable inquisition.

But Solo didn't seem interested in ancient history. Napoleon's next question made it clear where his concerns truly lie. "Then why now...why with that man wearing my face? And don't tell me that it was some heat of the moment act of impetuosity. We both know that wasn't the case."

"It appears that you already have all the answers." Illya tried to retreat behind his barriers.

"Don't," Solo commanded, "There's too much at stake here to play games."

Uneasy under that strangely open gaze, Illya tried to move beyond his natural reserve. In a rare show of total self-honesty, he confessed, "As I see it, Napoleon, I have much more to lose right now than you do. I don't believe that you fully appreciate how much your question is asking of me."

"Don't I? I'm asking you to be honest about your feelings. I realize that you don't even like to admit to possessing them, but it's imperative that I understand what's going on with you, my friend."

That smooth voice could lure him into his grave, Illya acknowledged, hating that part of himself that wanted to give Napoleon whatever he asked for. "Why is it imperative? Can we not just forget..."

"It's imperative because you're more than a temporary distraction. By the very nature of our partnership, anything that passes between us is vital to my...emotional life, I guess you'd call it. As much as you'd like me to, I can't turn a blind eye to your pain. You told me before that you're hurting all the time..."

"And you thought that you'd make the noble sacrifice and ease that discomfort?" Illya practically sneered, disgusted by the idea of such...charity. "Pity is a poor substitute for passion, Napoleon."

"Pity? What are you--"

"This was a mistake from the start. The fault is mine. When I realized what was happening, I should have requested a transfer. I will remedy that oversight now." Unable to look at his partner, Illya once again took to his feet and turned for the door.

"Illya!"

Hands stronger than iron gripped his shoulders from behind.

"Release me. Now," Illya demanded.

"Not until we..."

Infuriated by Solo's gall, Illya's elbow lunged back for where his partner's midsection should have been...only to contact empty air. Truly angry now, Illya spun, knocking Napoleon's hands away with a nasty, well-placed shuto chop.

Panting for breath, he glared up at Napoleon, just waiting for an excuse to wipe up the floor with this infuriating egotist.

"At least I've got your attention now," Solo drolly commented, rubbing at his bruised right wrist. As if he were aware that he was courting death, Napoleon kept his distance, according Illya a respect that Napoleon Solo didn't usually allow show when outnumbered by armed THRUSH heavies. "This is not about pity. There is nothing the least bit pathetic or pitiful about you, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin . You're my partner, the deadliest man I know. It is your very...formidability that...worries me in this situation."

"What are you talking about?" Illya demanded, in no way placated. "And speak plain, Napoleon. You have a tongue that would charm serpents out of their lairs. Be warned, this serpent bites. I will not allow you to patronize or toy with me. There is nothing this could be except pity."

"It isn't pity," Solo insisted, "I swear it. What I meant was that even though you're important to me, probably the most important person in my life at this moment in time, you don't let me close to you. Not where it matters. You say you bite – do you think I don't know that? I rely on you unconditionally in both my professional and private life, but if I were to walk into headquarters tomorrow and Waverly were to tell me that you'd shipped home to Russia, I wouldn't be surprised. I know that you don't want to be in this situation, that...whatever you feel for me...happened against your will. Don't you think I understand how impossible this is for you?"

Illya's throat tightened up so hard that he thought that the emotion lodged there would choke him. "Then why can't we simply let this pass? If you already know...whatever I might feel for you...why must you hear the words from me?"

"I don't need the words," Solo whispered, equally subdued as he took a cautious step closer. "But if this is just a passing urge, I don't intend to risk our partnership or friendship on it."

"Napoleon, I have repeatedly told you that you needn't risk anything. I am asking nothing of you..."

"Except that I ignore your suffering. I'm sorry. I can't do that, my friend. I, ah, made an interesting discovery during that film today." Napoleon waited, then asked almost crossly, "Don't you want to know what it was?"

"I will not play this game," Illya denied, forcing his gaze from those mesmerizing dark eyes.

"It's not a game and you are going to hear me out. After that, if you still want to leave, I won't stop you."

His anger overshadowing even his embarrassment, Illya glared pure blue ice at this overbearing man whom he wanted so badly. "Very well, what did you discover?" He bluffed it out, doing his best to appear completely uninterested.

"You must understand, Illya, I am not by nature a possessive man. In fact, I prefer to date women who don't want to be owned or tied down. It makes life that much simpler. However, today while watching that film, I found myself filled with...I don't know what name to give it. When I saw that man...with you...I hated him, and not just for humiliating you with that blackmail attempt. My motives were far less noble than that. I-I felt as though he were taking something that was mine by right."

It was not an easy confession for Napoleon to make, Illya could see that. But he couldn't afford weakness or sentiment at this point.

"And now you wish to stake your claim?" Illya snidely suggested, distancing himself from the issue because he wanted so badly to believe that Napoleon meant what he was saying.

"Right now I'd like to punch you one," Solo snapped. "Must you be this difficult?"

The genuine confusion in his partner's tone was hard to ignore, but Illya turned a deaf ear to it, knowing that if he gave so much as an inch of ground, his entire defense would crumble. "I am not one of your females to fall simpering at your feet at your every smile."

Solo's gaze hardened, a dangerous light flashing through it.

Illya braced himself, sensing something nasty in the offing. He'd set himself up for any number of insults with that last cheap shot.

Why was he being so horrible to Napoleon when all his partner was doing was telling him how much he valued his friendship, Illya wondered.

"It's not a smile that's going to bring you to my feet." Solo's tone was smooth and controlled, just like his next move.

Quicker than lightning, Solo's hand darted out. Grabbing hold of the neck of Illya's black turtleneck, Napoleon hauled him up to him.

Illya's response was automatic, the same judo throw he employed without thought every time someone of superior girth and strength tried to manhandle him.

Unfortunately, Napoleon knew those same moves by heart. Solo countered the throw with a fast twist, his hip hooking his smaller partner off his feet as if Illya were weightless.

Abruptly finding himself sailing through the air, Illya did the only thing he could think of and swept the taller man's legs out from under him mid-fall.

"Ugggh..." someone grunted as they crashed to the floor.

It was very much like one of their gym workouts, only there were no floor mats to cushion their fall. They landed in a painful tangle of elbows, knees, and shoulders on Solo's deep pile carpet.

A stunned moment to catch their breath, then they were at it in earnest again, engaging in an embarrassingly primitive struggle to see which alpha male would end up on top. The dominant position see-sawed back and forth between them as style and technique gave way to vicious determination.

In the sweaty struggle, it got so that Illya didn't even know why they were wrestling this way. All he knew was that he didn't dare lose.

Time and again, it seemed that Solo's superior weight and strength would win through. At those points, it was only sheer panic that got Illya out of the larger man's holds. Back and forth, they rolled across the living room, shattering no doubt priceless bric-a-brac in their enthusiasm.

When one of the antique red velvet, wing-backed armchairs tumbled over, Solo winced. As if unable to stop himself, Napoleon turned to assess the damage.

It was then that Illya made his move. Gathering every bit of strength and willpower he possessed, Illya rolled them over in that fleeting second when Solo's attention was divided between the fight and his antique chair.

Napoleon released a pain filled grunt as Illya landed on top of him.

Before Napoleon could reverse the move, Illya grabbed hold of his friend's silken collar. The flat of his forearm landed firmly across Solo's tender throat and dug in, using a nearly unbreakable chokehold to subdue the larger man.

Panting for breath, the pair glared at each other, that moment when each acknowledged Illya's victory seeming frozen in time.

The stasis threatened to hold forever, which was fine with Illya, who was determined to savor this victory to its fullest.

They'd never fought in earnest before, not when both of them were in their right minds. Their mock sessions in the gym usually ended in a draw or, more rarely, with the larger Solo claiming the win.

That Illya would end up on top in a real struggle seemed to stun them both.

As Illya lay there so awkwardly on top of his friend, feeling Solo's life blood thrum beneath the sharp bone of his arm, feeling every difficult swallow and breath that his friend gave, Illya began to realize how foolish the altercation had been. He wasn't even certain what they were fighting over – or for. That he was the one who'd escalated the situation to this ridiculous stage weighed heavily on his normally unemotional conscience. This was the most irrational, unnecessary fight he'd ever...

Illya gasped as the stasis suddenly shattered. His waist was pressed tight against Napoleon's. Even through the four layers of clothing separating them, he felt Solo's penis pulse to life and go rock hard.

In his shock, Illya didn't know what to say.

As ever, Solo recovered his social footing first. Whether it were a result of the choke hold or emotion, Illya didn't know, but Napoleon's voice was atypically gruff and raspy. "To the victor belongs the spoils," Napoleon croaked.

His gaze cautious and watchful, Solo slowly moved his hands up from where they were tangled in Illya's torn, perspiration soaked turtleneck to his damp hair.

The silent acknowledgment that Illya could stop him now by applying just a fraction more pressure to his hold to choke Napoleon out passed between them.

Illya was seriously tempted to do just that. He couldn't comprehend how he'd lost control of the situation again. The man was utterly exasperating. Even when Solo wasn't on top, when Napoleon found himself in a position that would daunt most men's confidence, Napoleon still found a way to turn the situation to his advantage. It was an uncanny ability, one of the things that Illya normally admired most in his friend. However, at the present moment, he could cheerfully have strangled the man for that aggravating trait. That he was positioned to do just that with a flick of his wrist did not make the situation any easier.

Common sense told him to complete the choke and clear out of Solo's apartment while his friend was recuperating.

He saw that Napoleon knew he was seriously contemplating that option. The nervous glint in those bottomless, earthy eyes as Solo lifted his hands to his hair revealed that his partner knew he was courting, if not death, at least a bout of unconsciousness with his unmitigated gall.

The long graceful fingers sifted through Illya's sweaty hair.

Looking as if he expected to be choked out any moment, Solo cautiously drew Illya down into the one gesture Napoleon's duplicate had viciously refused Illya – a kiss.

The shock of those warm lips beneath his own was uncanny, too intense to be real. Illya had often daydreamed about what it would be like to be kissed by Napoleon Solo. The reality was nothing like those lonely, late-night fantasies. Never could he have anticipated the softness of his partner's lips or their pliancy, or how they clung to his mouth and molded themselves to Illya's stiff, stubborn frown.

He found that Solo's romantic renown was in no way exaggerated, much to his dismay. In spite of his determined, toughest resolves, Napoleon got behind his guards, in a manner his cynical mind would never have anticipated.

He'd always pictured Napoleon as the ultimate seducer: wily, oily, ruthless in the pursuit of his own pleasures. No mere mortal stood a chance against the man. One touch of those lips and a block of ice would combust like dry kindling sprinkled on a bed of glowing coals. Clothes would be shed and promises broken before the unfortunate trapped soul could even draw a calming breath. The sex would be instantaneous, utterly raw and carnal, the victim hopelessly ensnared by Solo's irresistible lust before the captive even knew what was happening. At least, that's how Illya had always imagined it would be with Napoleon Solo.

But Napoleon wasn't at all like Illya's cynical expectations. Although that kiss rocked him down to his molecular structure, it was not the show of hot technique and raw lust Illya had imagined. Instead, an endearing air of bemusement clung to Napoleon, as if he couldn't believe this was really happening to them. For all its intensity, there was no force behind that kiss. Napoleon wasn't insisting that he give in to it, rather, his partner's hopeful mouth seemed to court response by fitting itself to Illya 's needs. There was a tentative quality to Napoleon's yielding lips, as if his friend dreaded breaking the fragile spell they were weaving with too forward a move.

The tender promise of that sweet mouth was more than Illya could take. Before their mouths could open to each other and this madness progress beyond safe return, Illya broke away with a strangled moan. Panting under the fire in his blood, he rolled over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling high overhead, not even allowing himself to think.

"You do that quite well," Napoleon commented a long time later in a strangely subdued tone.

Pretending not to hear, Illya simply lay there. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this situation.

"Are you all right?" Napoleon solicitously inquired after a prolonged silence, sounding his suave self again.

Giving a breathy snort at the preposterous question, Illya coldly replied, "No, I am not ‘all right'. That is quite possibly the stupidest thing you have ever said to me."

"I sincerely doubt that."

Illya could hear the smile in the fond voice.

Too confused to respond to the other man's infuriating equanimity, Illya did his best to ignore his companion. Even as he tried to tune Solo's presence out, he knew that he had about as much of a chance of ignoring his partner as he would ignoring his leg being on fire.

"Illya?"

Whether it were the moist brush of breath across his cheek or the very way Solo voiced his name, Illya found himself shivering.

"Yes?" To his relief, the syllable emerged in his normal frosty tone.

Solo took his time voicing his thoughts, "That was... incredible."

"It was a kiss, Napoleon, nothing more," Illya firmly dismissed, still not daring to meet this charmer's eyes. "You've had thousands like it."

"Not like that I haven't," Solo denied, going on in a startled voice. "The grapevine is very wrong about you, my friend."

The non sequitur was so out of place that his scientific mind was temporarily distracted from the humiliating emotional scene. "What is that supposed to mean?" Illya testily demanded, thinking only of how the rumor mill had circulated his deepest, most closely guarded secret. But nothing in Napoleon's attitude seemed to suggest that he was trying to capitalize on the fact that it was almost common knowledge that Illya was in love with him.

"You're no block of ice. That kiss just about melted me down to my toenails."

Illya sighed. Leave it to his partner to fixate on the sensual aspects of a situation. It was more than obvious that Napoleon hadn't yet appreciated how difficult this development made their working relationship. And they hadn't even had sex. Illya shuddered to think what would have happened if he hadn't come to his senses and called a halt to this madness.

"I would feel complimented were it not so common an occurrence. You must admit that you have a low threshold when it comes to...this type of stimulation, Napoleon," Illya remarked, trying to remain distanced from the topic.

"Do you think this is common - with another man?" Solo asked, his calm veneer shattering to reveal his bewilderment.

Before Illya could react to the change in tone, Solo rolled onto his side, throwing an arm and leg across Illya, glaring angrily down at him. "I don't understand you at all, Illya. Why can't you accept what I want to give you...what you say you've wanted for so long?"

"I never said..." Illya denied, too aware of the press of that muscular body against him.

"No, you never incriminated yourself. Never admitted to feeling anything, in fact. That's okay. I understand that you can't. But...couldn't you simply...humor me?"

"To what end?" Illya demanded, he could feel his facial muscles tighten as he confessed. "Napoleon, I may have already destroyed our working partnership through my stupidity last month. I cannot allow..."

"Ssssh...nothing's been destroyed," Solo soothed, petting Illya's hair as though he were an overwrought child. "I promise you that. All that film did was...open my eyes to...new possibilities." Napoleon's voice was more purr than whisper.

Knowing that he had to get out of this situation now, Illya said the first thing that came to mind. "And now no man is safe from your charms. I've done the world a terrible disservice."

"Is that what you think of me?" The hurt was not affected.

"Forgive me, Napoleon. I spoke in haste. But you must understand. I cannot afford to become another of your romantic conquests."

"You're my partner, Illya, not a one night stand. You..."

"I am very old-fashioned in many respects, Napoleon. I don't...share well," Illya faltered, unable to explain why this scared him so.

Frustration flashed through those green-specked brown eyes before Napoleon's handsome features quirked into a small, slightly amused smile. "Do you always demand commitments and vows of undying love up front with your...men friends? For heaven's sake, we've barely kissed yet." As the silence stretched, Solo prodded, "Well, do you?"

Napoleon was obviously going to beat this particular horse into the ground. Sighing, Illya gave his friend the rather embarrassing truth. "I do not have ‘men-friends'. I can't afford to. I especially cannot afford to become involved in your games of romantic roulette. Has no one ever said ‘no' to you before, Napoleon?"

"You're telling me that you don't want to become... involved with me?" Solo said slowly, as if Illya's refusal had just surfaced now and not been the running topic of their conversation for the better part of a half-hour. The arrogance was truly astonishing.

"At last you are hearing me."

"If that's the case, then what was that film about? You're not about to suggest that my double gave you promises of undying fidelity?" Solo demanded.

Illya felt his cheeks warm at the indelicate suggestion. "There are times when your crudity can be quite appalling," Illya snapped, pushing Solo's binding limbs away and sitting up.

A grip tighter than an iron manacle snagged his right forearm.

Illya stared down at the offending hand, then turned to his partner's face and arched a pale questioning brow. "Let us not start that again, Napoleon. I will not be forced or manhandled."

"Then answer the damn question. Why him and not me?"

Illya did his best to remain unembarrassed, counting on bluntness to make his partner back down. "He ambushed me at a weak moment. There was no time to think, no question of refusal. He simply would not take no for an answer."

Much like the original, Illya irritably realized.

A chilling, speculative light entered Solo's gaze. "Is that how you prefer it – with no chance of refusal? That way you can't be held responsible for anything that happens. I'll play that game if you want."

Illya knew a moment of true fear as he recognized what Napoleon was proposing. Abruptly conscious of that steely grip pinning his arm, he chose his words with care, going to great lengths not to further inflame the situation. "I am not so warped as that. Force is as poor a substitute for passion as pity; and I have had my fill of substitutes."

"I could show you passion like you've never known, my friend," Solo offered, endearingly contrite. His face and eyes promised things Illya didn't dare consider as Solo lessened the force of the hand holding him in place.

That quivery sensation fluttered through the pit of his stomach again. Faking disdain, Illya gave a breathy snort. "For the moment."

"For as long as you want it," Napoleon corrected.

"Do not make promises you do not intend to keep, not on the basis of a single kiss," Illya warned.

"Is that all you think this is about?"

"What else could it be?" Illya shot back, too tired of arguing against his desires to monitor either his inflection or expression.

Therefore, he was completely puzzled by the sudden change in Solo. Gone was the predator, the restless seducer. In his place stood Napoleon Solo, a man whose courage and honor had yet to play him false.

"What else?" Bafflement clouded Napoleon's lethally handsome features. "You really have no clue, do you?" The suave charm dropped away, a tentative quality replacing it. Solo looked as though he were genuinely at a loss as to how to proceed.

"Clue to what?" Illya stiffly demanded, unwilling to allow the earnestness to get behind his guards.

Solo seemed to rethink his strategy. Always fast on his feet, he slowly asked, "Would you satisfy my curiosity on one subject?"

"Perhaps," Illya warily conceded, carefully extracting his wrist from Solo's grip.

Napoleon let him go immediately. "Just what do you think you are to me?"

Illya blinked. Instinct told him that this had to be a trap, but, for the life of him, he couldn't determine its purpose. Stalling for time, he hedged, "Excuse me?"

Solo's sensuous lips pursed, one end twisting up in a rueful half-smile. "I'm asking you what place you believe you hold in my life?"

"Place? I am your partner."

"And?" Napoleon prodded.

On far more dangerous ground here, Illya replied, "And, I would hope, your friend."

It was as if the words were forced out of him at gunpoint. After speaking them, Illya felt strangely exposed. He looked to the incongruous figure Solo presented, the sophisticated man hunched in the middle of the living room carpet like a little child at play. Illya waited, his body as tense as before a THRUSH interrogation.

"That's all?" Solo hounded.

Intensely uneasy, Illya dropped his gaze. "I don't understand what you're asking of me, Napoleon." He felt, rather than saw, his partner draw closer.

"I'd love to get my hands on the person who taught you to distrust like this."

Confused by the husky comment, Illya's gaze darted to the nearby face.

"You say you're my friend as if you think yourself one among hundreds," Solo pointed out, his inflection oddly sad.

"You are very popular, Napoleon," Illya pointed out, still not seeing where any of this was leading.

"With the ladies," Solo said. "But how many men count me their friend?"

Illya paused, confused when not a single name or male face emerged from the scores of coworkers they dealt with on a daily basis. There were dozens of men with whom Napoleon might joke, chat, or pass the time of day, but none of those relationships extended anywhere outside the office, even so far as a shared lunch.

"You are busy with your social life," Illya covered, buying time to consider, somewhat startled by this discovery.

"No one's that busy," Napoleon replied with studied calm. "As far as men friends go, you're it. Some of it has to do with my being Section 2's #1 enforcer. There's always a competitive edge, a certain...professional envy that separates me from the rest. You were always the only one who never held my position against me. From the first time we were briefly teamed when I was on that London case six years ago, you treated me...the same as you did everyone else."

Illya felt his gaze narrow as a frown puckered his features. "How could I hold your position against you? If it weren't for your position, I'd still be slaving away in London section's lab."

To this day, he hadn't understood why Solo had asked for him as a partner when Waverly had named Napoleon his second in command.

"No, even before you transferred there was none of the usual...one-up-manship that goes on with other U.N.C.LE. agents," Solo persisted. "Against all odds, we got along from the very start. That always meant a lot to me."

Illya searched for some sign of subterfuge, but could read nothing feigned in Solo's attitude. Could his partner truly be unaware of the debt Illya owed him?

"Napoleon, I was in no position to throw stones. Because of my nationality, I was a virtual pariah in the London office. Surely, you knew. Before your brief posting there, I was regarded as the next Philby. If anyone displayed unexpected tolerance, it was you."

And it was on this lethally handsome, laughing man's throwaway suggestion of a transfer to the New York office that Illya had taken the risk of his life and relocated to cold war America...all on the strength of Solo's casual bonhomie. In retrospect, the transfer had been sheer madness.

"No, I didn't know," Solo said thoughtfully. "Is that why you've put up with me all these years?"

The sudden flash of smile belied the uneasy shadows in Napoleon's perceptive eyes.

"I would hardly call our friendship a hardship to be `put up with', Napoleon," Illya assured, not knowing how to handle a Napoleon Solo who was anything less than a hundred percent confident. "Were that the case, we would not be in this situation now."

"Careful there," Solo warned, his attitude light, playful, "That almost sounded like an admission."

The sheer cheek of the man was irresistible, Illya acknowledged as a small smile tugged at his lips. "Take it however you want," he allowed, climbing to his feet, "I'm going home now."

"Don't, please..." Solo urged as he, too, attained the vertical. "Stay?"

"We've been over this territory already," Illya said as he straightened out his clothes.

"You've never run from anything in your life. Don't run out on me now," Solo beseeched.

"I am not running," Illya calmly denied. "I am going to walk down to the street and hail a taxi."

"Are you going to hail a taxi every time we're alone together from now on?" Napoleon questioned in a deceptively mild tone.

"What?" Illya glanced up from the rip in his sleeve that he was attempting to conceal.

"You can bail out tonight, but how is that going to get us through tomorrow and all the other tomorrows after that? The problem isn't going to go away simply because you choose to ignore it."

Illya gave a sad smile, knowing all too well the way of Solo's world. "Tomorrow or the day after that, some fetching creature in a mini skirt will capture your interest and the problem will resolve itself. Good night, Napoleon."

Solo's stare was liquid fire. "Go now, if you must, but this isn't finished, my friend," Solo warned. "I'm not put off that easily and no fetching creature in a mini skirt can compete with what you've got to offer."

A chill blew down Illya's spine as he faced the master manipulator. Even as Solo made his threat, the silver tongued American made the prospect sound appealing, a dark, seductive pleasure.

But threat it was. Illya made no mistake in that. It wasn't the kind that would have them rolling around on the floor again, toppling furniture, and testing each other's physical limits. No, this was far more insidious.

As Solo spoke his warning, Illya could see his future unfolding before him, mission after mission that left them alone together in some hotel room, with Napoleon testing his resolve. Trying it on, until finally Illya would break...for break he would. They both knew it. It was simply a question of persistence, and Solo was the most persistent man with whom he'd ever had the misfortune of locking horns.

Illya knew he couldn't live like that...waiting for the ambush to happen, always on guard. Sooner or later, he'd succumb, and if it happened during a sensitive mission, it could cost them both their lives.

No, this had to stop here and now. Whatever the cost.

Blanking all emotion from his face, Illya enquired in his coldest tone, "You're not going to let this drop, I take it?"

The negative shake of Solo's perfectly groomed head was instantaneous. "No, I'm afraid not.”

Nodding to himself, Illya made the same type of split second decision that had been responsible for his transfer to the States all those years ago. "All right, then. Let's get on with it..." Illya turned towards his partner's bedroom before his better sense could prevail.

"What?" Solo gaped, as stunned as Illya had ever seen him.

Illya glanced back over his shoulder, his tone scathing as he voiced his explanation, "I don't intend to spend the next six or eight months arguing this issue. Nor do I intend to live my life in constant dread of being alone in a room with you. You say that you will not drop this subject, I believe you. Mr. Waverly has given us the weekend off. Rather than wait for the ambush, I'd prefer to get this over with now. By Monday, you should have worked this madness out of your system...if it takes even that long. So, come, Napoleon. Claim what your double had and leave me in peace."

Solo's eyes hardened, but not fast enough to mask his wounded expression. "You really are a cold blooded S.O.B. at times."

Score one to the Russians, Illya thought. This was the closest he had ever heard his partner come to cursing, and even now, Solo spelt the initials out rather than use the invective itself. But the infamous Solo cool had been shattered; there was no doubt about it.

Thinking that if he got Napoleon mad enough, he might yet escape this heartache, Illya pressed his advantage. "I believe ‘frigid' is the correct term. At least, it's the word I hear most often. Even your substitute employed it. I warn you, Napoleon, you'll get little joy of this."

A plethora of fast changing emotions flashed across the handsome face. To Illya's utter consternation, it was not anger which won out. To the contrary, all irritation seemed to drop away from Napoleon, his features gentling to the point where his expression alone raised a painful lump in Illya 's throat.

"I don't believe that. I don't believe it at all. You're not frigid," Solo declared, approaching Illya in an utterly non-threatening manner. "You hide your feelings, true enough. But that doesn't mean you don't have them."

"I..." It was as if concrete had been poured in his throat and was even now congealing, sealing his vocal chords shut. That lump grew bigger and harder, choking him.

That the first person to see beyond his protective facade to what lay below would be Napoleon Solo, the man he'd longed and suffered over for so many years, was the cruelest twist Fate had ever thrown him. When he'd decided to go through with this, Illya had known that come Monday, his heart would be broken in pieces. Now, he'd be lucky to get out alive.

"Sssh..." Solo hushed, gathering him up into another of those incredible hugs, to which, for some reason, Illya found himself especially vulnerable. "It's going to be all right."

Once again, Napoleon simply held him, held him while Illya shook like a man suffering ague. Illya kept waiting for his partner to take advantage of his weakness and make a sexual advance on him, but Napoleon simply cuddled him close, seeming to take as much comfort from the contact.

Slowly, the shaking passed.

Once it stilled completely, Solo took a half-step back, his right hand rising to card through Illya's longish hair.

His breathing a shuddery affair, Illya stared up at Napoleon, trying to figure him out. His emotional controls were in ruins. At the moment, he'd do anything Napoleon asked of him, consequences be damned.

Breathless, Illya waited for the ultimate seducer to claim him, terrified of the price he was going to have to pay for this breakdown of control. Had Solo taken him before when he had his emotional guards up, he might have been able to bluff his way through. He might have managed to hide how much the sex meant to him, kept some vestige of dignity at the inevitable Monday morning abandonment. But now...

Now he was lost. Heart and soul. Nothing would save him.

Still as stone, Illya awaited his downfall.

As their gazes bled into each other, Illya found surprise in Solo's eyes, surprise and real hunger. There was something else as well, an emotion Illya had never seen there before and didn't know how to name.

Napoleon's breath fell in hot, rapid bursts against his cheek, the hand stroking through his hair not quite steady.

Abruptly, that trembling hand pulled back as Solo stepped determinedly away. "Go on. Get out of here."

"W-what?" Illya rasped, as shocked as if Napoleon had pulled out his gun and shot him.

Solo's face was torn, as if he were fighting everything inside himself. "Go home, Illya."

Too stunned to count his blessings and make good his escape, Illya stammered, "Don't you want…?"

Napoleon's eyelids sank shut for a moment, stillness claiming him before they reopened to stare down at him. "I want. Very much, but..." Solo faltered for a second, as if grasping for an explanation, "I don't have many rules in life, my young friend. One of the few I stand by is that I don't...I don't allow myself to despoil innocence."

"Innocence?" Illya echoed, truly confused now. Napoleon was so terribly serious. But calling him innocent was tantamount to calling THRUSH beneficent. "Napoleon, that film must have demonstrated to you that I am far from innocent."

Solo shook his head, an air of mystification surrounding him as he spoke. "No, it's still there. In your eyes, in the way you...touch me. I don't know how, but, God help me, it's still there. I won't be the one to destroy it. So, go home, Illya. And relax. There won't be any sneak attacks or ambushes. If ever you come to my bed, it will be because you've chosen to, not because I've blackmailed you into it."

Unbelievable as it was, Illya sensed that his friend was serious. After winning through, the master of seduction was going to allow his prey to walk away unscathed? Because Solo thought him an innocent? It made no sense. How could anyone who'd viewed that film accuse him of innocence?

He watched Napoleon take a deep breath in a visible attempt at control. A quick glance down that long, muscular body told Illya that his partner had a problem that wasn't going to go away with a few deep breaths. More than simply embarrassing, Solo's erection must hurt like hell. And still Napoleon was going to allow him to walk?

This was not at all how his cynical mind had pictured his friend. This was the penultimate seducer, the ruthless womanizer?

Still skeptical, Illya chose to test Solo's probity. "And if I choose to linger?"

Anger spilled into the frustrated gaze. "Don't toy with me. You've made it plain that you don't want to be with me."

"Not ‘don't want', Napoleon. Don't dare," Illya softly corrected, watching for any sign of subterfuge. "There is a difference."

"Don't argue semantics with me. Just leave. Please. Before I do something we'll both regret."

Drawn by the sincerity, Illya edged closer, pulled almost against his will. "I, ah...owe you an apology, Napoleon, for misjudging you."

Solo clenched his eyes closed as Illya laid a tentative hand on his arm. "Illya, don't. I'm not very good at resisting..."

The rest was smothered as Illya reached out, hooked Solo's head and pulled the taller man down into a kiss.

There was nothing like it in the universe, Illya decided. Kissing Napoleon Solo was the most unforgettable thrill of his life. The simple contact played through him like a drug, flooding his nerves, drowning his common sense in a riptide of pleasure. Once again, it was as if a current of raw electricity were unleashed within him as their mouths met in fevered hunger.

Whose lips parted first, Illya had no idea. All he was aware of was drowning in the sweet depths of Napoleon's mouth.

Their tongues touched in wet, shivery caresses, exploring the hidden recesses of each other's mouths. Fastened to each other like kissing gourami fish, the slick muscular swaths fell into a secret dance, so intensely erotic that it left them both quivering with need.

It wasn't until his mind was actually spinning from want of air that Illya finally pulled back.

Gasping in the cool oxygen which was scented with Solo's after-shave and the more subtle, salty sweat, Illya could only stare at his partner in wonder.

That Napoleon appeared equally affected by the contact was the most shocking aspect of all.

"He...your double refused to kiss me at all that night," Illya said into the breathy silence, unsure why he felt compelled to tell his friend the unpleasant details. "He...he said such heart and flowers foreplay was for the ladies only."

Solo winced, his fingers stroking across Illya's cheek with near reverence. "I'm sorry. He was a beast, and a fool, besides. Anyone can see that your mouth was made for kissing." Napoleon leaned in and stole a quick, juicy kiss to demonstrate his point before continuing, "That beautiful mouth of yours was the very first thing I noticed about you."

"You...noticed my mouth?" Illya frowned. "But you said that you never thought of men...that way."

"I didn't, at least, not consciously. I just admired it. Like a work of art. So sultry and sensual." As Solo's forefinger outlined the area in question, he seemed to consider his words before cautiously admitting, "To be honest, I thought that mouth was wasted on you."

Illya gave a small smile, hoping to dispel the sudden uncertainty shadowing the dark eyes. It was painfully obvious that Napoleon was feeling his way through this encounter like a blind man painstakingly checking every inch before moving forward. "Now that's more the Napoleon that I know."

"You're not angry?"

Illya shook his head. "I prefer the truth, no matter how inconvenient."

"How about sharing a little truth with me, then?" Solo asked with sudden sobriety.

Illya nodded, aware of what was coming. He was not disappointed.

"Why did you kiss me like that? I was ready to let this drop..."

"I..." Illya glanced down, then met the patient gaze. “All dissembling aside, the grapevine was correct. I've...wanted this for quite some time now."

"And all that denial before...you were worried that I'd use you and discard you like my double did?" Napoleon probed. At Illya's tight nod, Napoleon continued, "So what's changed now?"

"Nothing, nothing's changed," Illya reminded himself.

Napoleon's brow creased with puzzlement. "Then why…?"

"I just decided that it was worth the risk. I'll take tonight, this weekend, and however long you offer to me and pay the price whenever it comes due."

"You speak as though this will blow apart in your face any second," Napoleon commented, lifting a hank of blond hair and releasing it to fall back against Illya's neck strand by sensual strand.

Shivering at the silky sensation, Illya gave a sad smile. "I have just entered into a...homosexual liaison with my hopelessly heterosexual partner, who is also my immediate superior. If this were a mission, how would you rate the chance of success?"

Napoleon's rich brown gaze softened sympathetically. "Are you always this much of a romantic?" Solo questioned, leaning in to nibble Illya 's ear. "This isn't a mission and I'm not acting as your superior right now. This is strictly personal. One friend to another."

Hissing at the physical assault to his hypersensitive ear, Illya explained, "I am a realist, Napoleon."

"No, you're a pessimist. Asked if the glass is half full or half empty, you'd succinctly report that the glass is cracked and won't hold liquid at all."

Despite himself, Illya chuckled at the absurd, if accurate, imagery. "I am Russian. We are born pessimists."

"You've got to have more faith in your partner, my moody friend. This is never going to work otherwise," Solo mildly reprimanded, cuddling close.

As Illya eased nearer, he frankly admitted, "I don't even know what this means to you. Last month I placed my faith in blind lust, to disastrous ends. It has taught me caution."

Napoleon's hands closed behind Illya's back, drawing him into a supportive embrace. The hot press of the other man's body against his 's tense form blasted all resistance from him, try as he would to keep his mind clear. Napoleon was simply too close. The scent and feel of him too overwhelming.

"I'm not him," Napoleon whispered, kissing his way down Illya 's neck. "I'm the genuine article. Your partner and friend."

"I know." His left hand played restlessly across Solo's broad back as his right sifted through the short, incredibly soft brown hair. Often, he'd wondered what Solo's hair would be like if he allowed it to grow out even a little.

"And that scares you even more, doesn't it?" Napoleon ascertained, no trace of mockery or condescension in his attitude. Only concern. "Can you tell me why?"

Illya wanted to refuse to answer, to hide from being that transparent, but a part of him that he could no longer deny craved reassurance, no matter how false. So close to those magnetic brown eyes, he had no hope of refusing. The truth spilled from his lips like blood from a bullet wound. "When it all falls apart with the real thing, I will lose it all."

"You'll never lose me," Solo murmured.

It was as close to a promise as this promiscuous man ever got, Illya supposed. Obviously, Solo hadn't thought this completely through. The sex would burn itself out, as it always did, and since that was all that had drawn Napoleon into this unusual relationship, he'd stray, as was his nature. Napoleon's love was a winter gale, taking its victim by storm and then moving on. Illya had no illusions about where this would lead, even if his partner did.

Still, it was kind of Napoleon to try to reassure him. And, staring into those affectionate eyes, Illya knew his partner meant the words as he said them. A wolf could not be blamed for its nature.

Not wanting to shatter the sweet illusion, Illya stroked Napoleon's cheek, the gesture almost bittersweet as he stood on tiptoes to plant a kiss on the chiseled jaw.

"Your eyes are always so sad," Napoleon whispered into the closeness. "Let me make you happy, my friend. Please?"

The concrete back in his throat again, Illya gave a painful swallow, then admitted, "You may do as you will with me, Napoleon. I've stopped saying no."

Powerful hands gripped his shoulders like steel talons. "I won't hurt you, I swear. Try to trust me?"

Inexplicably terrified by this gentle charmer, Illya nodded wordlessly.

Then Solo bent to turn the contact of their mouths into another of those stupefying reality transformers.

Not even a vestige of his resistance left, Illya clung to the taller figure for dear life as Solo vacuumed his mouth. The word helpless didn't begin to describe his current emotional state.

Shaking like a panicked virgin, Illya allowed himself to be led to the master bedroom. Solo's talented mouth and deft hands made coherent thought, never mind protest, impossible.

Hair in disarray, cheeks flushed with passion, Illya stared bemusedly about his surroundings. In all his previous visits, Napoleon's bedroom door had remained firmly shut.

A jealous guardian of his own privacy, Illya had never violated that closed door in deference to the tacit `no trespassing' sign it implied, but he'd never been able to stop himself from speculating...no, fantasizing, about what lay on its other side.

Napoleon Solo's private lair. The den of iniquity where it all happened. Illya had imagined this room to be a cross between a sultan's seraglio and the boudoir of the emperor for whom his partner had been named. Illya had pictured something lush and sensual – hanging wall tapestries, smoking braziers, or their twentieth century counterparts of buttons that dimmed lights and started the stereo, but there was none of that.

To Illya 's utter relief, his expectations were dashed with his first sight of the room. This was no sensual playground, no den of excess. Like the living room, this one was elegantly furnished. The heavy, matching mahogany armoire, night tables and bureau breathed their owner's masculinity. The left wall was a floor to ceiling, built in bookshelf, also mahogany. Its shelves were crammed with the thick volumed classics that Napoleon loved so well and some well chosen personal memorabilia. The rug was dark and plush, practically swallowing one's feet. The walls were a demure beige, not a single tapestry or smoky brazier to be seen. And the bed...

Illya nearly chuckled at its tasteful simplicity. The plain mahogany headboard and footboard were solid and utilitarian. There wasn't any ornate carving, no holes or rung to which a handcuff could be attached. There wasn't a hint of silk or satin. Nothing but plain, respectable white linen.

This discrete gentleman's chamber was the place Napoleon seduced his women? It looked far better suited to Illya's own ascetic past times.

Solo's rich, erotic chuckle tickled down Illya's neck as they stood paused in the doorway. "And what were you expecting – a bordello?" Napoleon accurately guessed.

Embarrassed, Illya tried to ignore his heated cheeks. "Are you reading minds now?"

"Just an educated guess." Solo shook his head in denial.

"This...is not what I expected." Illya's straying gaze paused upon the pair of gold-framed photographs on his partner's dresser. There were only the two gilt-edged photos centered on the lace- covered chest of drawers with Solo's brush and comb neatly laid out before them.

The first was a very old brown and white picture of Solo's parents and Aunt Amy. From the youthful smiles of the three, Illya suspected it was taken long before the accident that had claimed the lives of Napoleon's parents. Illya had met the maiden aunt who'd raised his friend from toddler-hood, but never had he imagined that the proper old lady had been such a beauty in her youth. There was something of Napoleon in her smile. That familiar glint made Illya suspect that, although the lady had never married, she'd probably had her share of suitors.

The second photo startled him. It was one of Napoleon and himself taken at an U.N.C.LE. function several Christmases past. It was a candid shot that had caught them both giggling like school kids, champagne glasses in hand as their heads bent close together to be heard at the crowded table.

Not aware of moving, Illya slipped out of Solo's arms and crossed to the dresser to examine the shot.

"My...ah...blatant sentimentality surprises you?" Solo softly asked, coming up behind him.

Illya recalled seeing another picture of them both out in the living room as well. He shook his head in mute denial, unable to determine what he felt at seeing an image of himself here, in Napoleon's bedroom.

Aware that the denial wasn't completely honest, Illya admitted, "Perhaps a little."

"Just what did you think it was that attracted the ladies to me?" Napoleon asked, his oddly serious expression belying the light tone.

"I rather thought it might be what we are about to do here together," Illya hazarded.

Solo's rich chuckle shivered down Illya's spine, so close was the other man again.

"Yes, I am greatly accomplished in that area, I'll give you that. But the true trick to romantic success is knowing what the ladies want to hear. I get further than most men because I'm willing to be sentimental, to whisper those sweet nothings necessary to win them."

Too aware of how much that gilded tongue and their previous dialogue had swayed him, Illya turned to face his partner. "That is hardly reassuring to someone whom you've just...wooed and won."

"Ah, but I haven't won you yet," Solo corrected.

"Napoleon!"

His sharp tone seemed to penetrate.

"Do you want me to start lying to you?” Solo questioned. “You asked for the truth, no matter how inconvenient. We both know what I am. If my life depended upon it, I couldn't name all the women I've dated or count the promises I've broken.

"But the...sentimentality – for want of a better word – isn't all show. Some things do matter. You, for one. Despite what you might believe, you're not like the others who've visited this room. Look around you. You're the only one whose picture you'll find. There isn't even one of my dead wife," Napoleon offered.

Still not sure what Napoleon was trying to tell him, but sensing how genuinely upset Solo was, Illya hesitantly reached up to cup his partner's smooth cheek, feeling the tiny bump of mole beneath his palm.

"You needn't try so hard, Napoleon. You've already won this particular gambit."

"This isn't a game, damn it," Solo rasped, both his hands moving to roughly frame Illya's face.

Seconds later, Solo's hungry mouth engulfed him.

It was rather like the free fall sensation a skydiver experienced before his chute opened, Illya decided as the wild, frighteningly intense emotions rushed through him. His hands moved to dig into Napoleon's shoulders, as if to convince himself that he wasn't really plummeting to his death. It only felt that way.

Before Illya realized what was happening, Solo had maneuvered him over to the bed. Busy, skilled fingers slipped the jacket off his shoulders. The hem of his torn turtleneck was tugged from his trousers, then roughly pulled over his head the instant they separated for breath.

A quick drag of oxygen, and that relentless mouth was on him again, courting him to his destruction. Swimming in sensation, all he knew was the press of that hard body against him and the fevered union of their mouths.

As Solo's tongue thrust deep into him, his partner's hands restlessly roamed his back, dipping ever lower.

Illya groaned as the roving palms approached his butt, a sweet, bitter yearning twisting through his groin as he anticipated the touch to come.

Napoleon did not disappoint him. Solo's palms cupped the mounds of his ass like he owned the territory. Both Napoleon's index fingers pressed up the crack from below, digging in deep as he gave a perfectly judged squeeze.

Always silent during sex, Illya was stunned to hear his own voice cry out loud at the pleasure that washed through him.

"Napoleon..." he gasped as Napoleon pulled back for breath. More dazed than under a THRUSH drug, he incredulously murmured, "Napasha...please..."

A veritable shower of kisses cascaded over his facial features. Solo licked at his eye brows, sucked on his cheek and chin, devoured his neck, then tortured the sensitive spot behind his ear, while those busy fingers squeezed and manipulated his ass all the while.

Never had his ascetic soul been touched like this. Napoleon showed no fear, no hesitation as he made every exposed inch of Illya 's body his own.

Illya was dizzy, almost terrified by the intensity of his own feelings. He was barely aware when he was pushed to the mattress. His arms were guided over his head; Illya held them there as if chained while Solo bent to strip the undershirt from him.

Through pleasure-slitted eyes, Illya watched his partner's dark head lower towards his chest. While that hungry mouth worked its way from his neck down, Solo's fingers played through the damp, dark blond hair at his armpits, tacitly ordering him to keep his arms upraised in the traditional gesture of surrender.

Illya was groaning non-stop now, the guttural stream interspersed with tiny, pathetic mewling sounds of the purest need. He was completely out of control, his dignity and reserve part of the distant past. He belonged more to Solo at that moment than he had any other man. Not even when Illya had been at the peak of subjugation, with the imposter's iron hard cock buried deep inside him, had he been owned this thoroughly. At this moment, he was completely Napoleon's, to do with as the other man saw fit.

Solo saw fit to strip off his trousers and briefs at that point, moving the encounter to an entirely different level.

Afterward, Illya could never say with complete certainty just when Napoleon had removed his shoes and socks. As if by magic, he just suddenly seemed to be lying naked on the bed before his fully clothed partner. Illya shuddered as the cool linen caressed his over-heated butt, gooseflesh claiming his entire body. He felt like the proverbial virgin stretched out for sacrifice.

The hot glitter in those avid, dark eyes only made him shiver all the harder. Illya was intensely aware of the fact that his arms were still stretched over his head in ultimate surrender, his engorged penis rising to point Solo's way in near accusation.

Napoleon was staring down at that area, as if unsure what to do now that he'd achieved his desired goal.

Frozen in his need, too aroused for even embarrassment, Illya shamelessly pleaded, "Please, Napasha...I haven't even seen you yet..."

Starting, as if belatedly realizing his fully clothed state, Solo’s fingers rose to undo the buttons of his silk shirt, its sapphire shade tinted near black in the low light. Napoleon's movements as he began to undress were slow, deliberately sensual.

Transfixed as a cobra's victim, Illya watched the slow, natural strip tease. And tease it was; though Solo did precious little to provoke. There were no exaggerated hip movements or wiggles, none of the theatrics that others had employed in vain attempts to incite his cool desire. It was frightening, really, how well Napoleon understood him, his sensibilities. As if on instinctive level, Solo seemed to recognize that Illya would find anything overt lewd. Napoleon did it all with his smoky eyes and nerve-wrenchingly slow movements.

Solo made him wait after every button was undone, wait until Illya's nerves were screaming and the sweat was pouring from him in gallons, when it was all he could do to resist the urge to leap from the bed and rip the garments from his friend. Then, and only then, would Napoleon move on to the next button.

Once Solo had them all undone, he didn't peel the shirt open as Illya had hoped. He just left it hanging on him, with the slightest show of chest hair and bare skin peeking through the open slit.

The lack of undershirt puzzled his scientific mind, making him wonder if Napoleon hadn't planned this seduction, after all. But he had no time for such deliberations, not when he was faced with a flesh and blood Solo.

Ever so gradually, Napoleon eased the now open shirt from his shoulders. Illya's breath caught in his lungs as the expensive garment dropped to the floor. It was uncanny, really, how something he'd seen a thousand times before and trained himself to ignore could turn his world on end.

Napoleon was perfect. There was no other word for it. A man at his prime, Solo's physique seemed to breathe good health and well being. The musculature of his chest was incredibly well developed, not brawny, merely...defined. The smooth white skin was interspersed with the proper amount of body hair, an artful sprinkling that swirled across the same area Illya ached to kiss. His partner's stomach was trim and flat, Solo's abs scalloping down in a perfect washboard pattern.

Only one thing prevented Napoleon from achieving the classic view of ideal beauty – which held that the object must be flawless – the livid appendix scar which Solo's double had not carried. Never before had Illya been so happy to have anything fall short of the ideal.

"I trust you're not disappointed?"

Hearing the genuine note of concern and realizing how he must be staring, Illya licked his suddenly dry lips and shook his head. "Oh, Napoleon..."

Seeing something like bashfulness enter his partner's features as Napoleon's hands moved to his trouser fastening, Illya recognized how hard this next part might be for his heterosexual friend. Sitting up, he hoarsely requested, "Please, allow me to..."

Reading naked relief in those handsome features, Illya slowly reached out for the trouser fastening. Taking firm hold, he carefully undid the top, feeling those brown eyes burning into his down-bent face as he approached the zipper. Even in the dim light, Illya could see the erection straining beneath its silver tracks.

"Oh, god!" Solo gasped as Illya's fingertips lightly skimmed over the concealed, hungry flesh.

Careful, in case Napoleon had dispensed with his briefs as well as undershirt, Illya eased the zipper down. Stark white cotton peeked out the open front.

"What – what are you smiling at?" Solo grated out from beneath clenched teeth, "Or do you simply enjoy torturing me?"

"Yes, I do enjoy torturing you, but that wasn't what I was smiling at. I just thought you might have dispensed with underwear completely to...facilitate certain situations. Like this one."

"There are decency laws, you know," Solo informed in an aggrieved tone.

"And what would you know of such things?"

"Enough to stay out of the pokey."

"Indeed." Illya chuckled as he stared up at the panting face, unable to believe how...easy it was with Napoleon: easy to laugh, easy to permit himself to feel, easy to love...

Knowing love with this man to be a fool's course, Illya thrust the thought from his mind and reached out to unveil his friend. Sex, he could handle. Love was a fairy tale he'd ceased believing in long before puberty. And, yet, the treacherous, totally unprecedented warmth sweeping through him defied any other definition. The very fact that he was willing to ignore common sense and rational, professional considerations to do this with Napoleon revealed how dangerous the feeling was. At no other time in his life had he risked so much for purely emotional motivations.

"Is everything...all right, Illya?"

Totally distracted, Illya started at the gentle touch to his cheek, belatedly realizing that he was simply staring at Solo's revealed genitals. Napoleon's trousers and briefs were now down around his ankles.

"Yes, I..." Illya shook himself out of his daze to shyly admit, "You are very beautiful, Napoleon."

It was an honest appraisal. His well-endowed partner was incredibly appealing. Solo wasn't quite as dark here as his double, Napoleon's penis more a blushing pink than an angry red in color. Nor was the genuine Solo as large there, much to Illya's relief. Napoleon was big, but he was no monster.

"As are you beautiful, my friend," Napoleon smoothly murmured, adding almost as an afterthought, "In a masculine way, of course." Solo's fingers rubbed against Illya's stubbled jaw.

"It takes some getting used to, doesn't it?" Illya smiled, deciding that he liked the way Napoleon looked at his naked body.

Solo appeared almost grateful for the candid statement. "It's all so new to me...thinking of you in these terms, touching you this way..."

"But some things are the same, no?" Illya checked as he gathered Napoleon's heavy genitals up into his palm. The immediate surge of eager flesh answered the question for them both.

"Mmmmm...yesss..." Solo hissed, his eyes sinking shut, his back arching as he reveled in the sensation.

In a strange parody of his encounter with the double, Illya squeezed and stroked his partner to straining fullness. Only then did he lower his head.

"Illya, don't...you don't have to...ahh...oh, God..."

Illya smiled around the flesh that filled his mouth, as pleased by the pleasure he gave as he was by the act of giving it. Napoleon tasted so good – salty and clean. The outer skin of the shaft was so soft. Velvet over living steel...

Absorbed in the intoxicating joy of doing this for his friend, Illya eagerly sucked his partner to explosion point.

"Illyaaa...stop, pleazzze..." Solo begged, his firm hands landing on Illya's shoulders to push him away.

Disconcerted by the abrupt gesture, the one thought in Illya's head was how Napoleon's double had done the same thing, just before the imposter demanded that he turn over to be sodomized. The memory still shamed him.

Recalling that he had in fact told Solo to take what his double had had, Illya wondered if Napoleon was about to make a similar demand. Solo had seen the damning film, so his partner knew how that night had gone. Although the idea of...doing that with the real Napoleon didn't disgust him, he wasn't certain that he was emotionally up to such an encounter. What they were doing now was nearly more than he could handle. He wasn't used to feeling this much during sex. His involvement with Napoleon made everything new here, made it hard for him to remember that this was just another form of physical calisthenics. With each touch, he began to recognize that for the first time in his life, he was truly making love.

Almost afraid, Illya looked up at his partner for explanation for their sudden parting. He heard the catch in Napoleon's breathing as their gazes touched.

Solo's left hand rose from Illya's pale shoulder to gently cup his cheek. The other hand buried its fingers deep in Illya's hair as Napoleon swooped down for a kiss.

Once again, Illya's mouth was thoroughly possessed. The experience left his mind reeling, left him so pleasure drunk that he didn't care what Solo might have planned.

"What is it?" Napoleon whispered when he at last pulled back for air. His fingers stroked over Illya's features in an oddly cherishing gesture, the way one might pet a frightened kitten.

Illya gulped, then forced the words out. "Do – do you want me to turn over?" He damned the fear that gripped him, barely recognizing the small voice as his own.

"Turn?" The puzzled tone gave way to shocked understanding. Napoleon actually froze as he figured out what was troubling his partner. "No! Good God, Illya, how could you think such a thing?"

Napoleon's genuine consternation making him feel an even bigger fool, Illya groped for an explanation. "When you stopped me that way, I thought...I did promise you what I'd given your double," he reminded his partner.

"I don't want what he took," Solo denied, the hardness in his eyes making Illya think that he'd probably insulted his partner by suggesting such a thing.

"Then what do you want, Napoleon?" he asked more softly, the breath seeming to catch in his chest at Solo's expression.

"I want what you've never given anyone, my friend," Napoleon murmured, bending to place a light, almost reverent kiss in the center of his forehead. "I want you to drop your barriers and let me into your heart. Let me give you the pleasure you've denied yourself all these years. Please, my friend?"

Illya ripped his gaze away, knowing that there was nothing he could refuse those eyes. "You – you don't know what you're asking."

"Don't I?" Solo's fingers stroked his averted face. "I know that you'd prefer to die rather than admit to an emotional need. You'd rather roll over now and let me savage you like that animal did, but that's not my style. I understand that you don't want anyone getting close enough to touch you, let alone love you. But I think you waited too long with me. I'm already that close and I'm not backing off. Let me all the way in...please?"

Illya tried to rally his reserve, asking as normally as possible, "And if I don't let you in; what's the implied 'or else'?

"What do you mean ‘or else'?" Solo questioned, sounding confused again.

"Whenever you make such bargains, there is always an ‘or else', Napoleon. Do not forget how long we've worked together."

"I told you before that this isn't a mission. I'm not out to overthrow you or trap you with words."

"Yet, you ask me to give up my only protection. In effect, you demand that I surrender completely to you," Illya shot back, knowing that he was fighting for his life.

"I'm asking you to trust me. In light of our current circumstance, it's hardly an unreasonable request."

"And if I...can't? What then?" Illya challenged.

"My God, you sound like a trapped animal. If you can't, then you can't. We continue as we are...which is hardly unpleasant."

"Then why is it so important to you that I..."

"Drop your guards?" Solo completed when Illya fell silent. "Because while you're keeping me at arms' length to protect yourself, you're doing everything in your power to send me into orbit. I...I don't want to be out there alone, Illya. Normally, I wouldn't care, so long as the sex was good, but, like I said before, you're different than the rest. I don't want to spend the remainder of my life wondering just what this might have been if we'd had the courage to be just a little more honest with each other."

This was the silver-tongued tempter who'd lured scores of women to his bed, Illya reminded himself, even as he shook inside at the power of those words. He dared Solo's gaze. Never had Napoleon seemed so earnest, so utterly sincere. But Illya knew that his partner wore that identical expression every time a case demanded that he worm his way into some poor woman's bed.

"What are you thinking?" Solo asked when the silence seemed to wear on too long.

"That my grandmother was right. You should be very careful what you wish for." Illya stared bravely up at the naked man before him...the only man he'd desired for more years than he cared to remember.

Napoleon was already completely aware of his true feelings for him. Illya knew that further denial would only be a sham, a salve to his wounded pride. But, by all the gods, he needed that salve.

"What...what do you require of me?" Illya asked at last, his voice as shaky as his nerves.

Napoleon hunched down before him, his erection still painfully pronounced. His partner took both of Illya's hands in his.

Both of them pretended not to notice how badly the other man was trembling.


Napoleon took each balled fist to his lips in turn, laying a soft kiss upon the callused knuckles that had broken many a bone in their day. "What do I require of you? Only that you enjoy yourself, that you allow my touches to touch you." With that, Napoleon leaned forward to suck Illya 's left nipple into his mouth.

The action was so unexpected that all Illya could do was groan. His own shaft, deflated by the emotional stress of the past few minutes, sprung back to immediate life.

"That's it...don't think, don't worry...just feel..." Solo throatily encouraged as he pushed Illya down flat onto the bed, following him down.

Napoleon seemed to be all over him, licking, kissing and nuzzling his chest, neck, and face. It was like an affectionate tidal wave crashing over him, drowning him in pleasure.

Instinctively, Illya's hands reached for his friend, returning the touches where he could. But he feared that he was too inundated by Napoleon to be much of a lover. The firestorm of passion Solo unleashed upon him was more than his scientific mind could withstand. When Napoleon's hands moved to explore Illya's penis, he felt totally ravished. All he could do was whimper, the delight exploding through his nerves more searing than agony.

"Napoleon, please...please..." he begged, not even knowing for what he pleaded. At that moment, Napoleon could have carved the living flesh from his bones and he would have made no protest.

What Solo did at that point was perhaps more astounding. Without any sign of hesitation, Napoleon bent his head and sucked Illya's flaring cock head into his mouth.

"Ahh..." Illya cried out.

His partner's lack of experience at this particular act was readily apparent. Though diligent, Napoleon didn't seem to be able to take more than the very tip of the shaft, but the very idea that he would try was as earth shattering as the sensations inspired.

However unfamiliar Napoleon might be to fellatio, he nonetheless understood the nature of pleasure. As his mouth worked at Illya's delight, Napoleon's fingertips lightly trailed through the thick blond fuzz downing his thighs, convulsing him with shivers.

"Napoleon...Napoleon..." Illya murmured, the name a prayer of both thanks and wonder.

Time and space were reeling around him when Napoleon finally lifted his head from his task.

Deprived of the glorious suction, Illya released a beseeching mewl of protest that his stoic heart would never have credited himself capable of emitting.

Solo groaned at the sound, rolling over on top of him.

Illya grunted as that hard, muscular body blanketed him. He was especially conscious of the press of a certain enlarged organ against his own equally excited body part.

Napoleon's mouth brushed his. Whisper-soft at first, the kiss deepened by slow degrees, like melting butter, merging until they were breathing the same air. Their tongues touched, performing a sensuous, wet dance between their mouths.

Illya's hands played over the silken warmth of his partner's back while Napoleon's fingers carded through his hair.

Then Solo's hips began a slow, sensuous rocking that sent them both skyrocketing to a different plane of reality.

Illya reveled in the sensations storming through him, unable to believe that so much joy could come from such simple contact.

The passion here was like none that his disillusioned soul had ever known or dreamed possible – all consuming, but without even a shadow of the force or danger that had lurked in each of his previous encounters with others of his own gender. Illya knew that Napoleon could – doubtlessly would –break his heart, but at that moment, he knew with equal certainty that the older man would never intentionally hurt him during sex.

With every move, Napoleon made it plain that his bedmate's pleasure was as important to him as his own. Napoleon was so incredibly affectionate, so loving, lavishing kisses and dalliances at a point when most men were blinded by passion to everything but their own climax. Even while mere breaths away from orgasm, his partner still made it feel like every touch, every kiss was intended for Illya and Illya alone, Solo treating him as if it were Napoleon himself who'd pined for this union. The kiss perfected, oxygen soon became a pressing issue. The emotions raging through them now were just too raw for the synchronized, shared breathing they'd perfected.

Solo's mouth reluctantly tore away from his. Napoleon's spine arched back with his next pelvic thrust. His partner's hands dropped to Illya's wide shoulders, his fingers digging in deep as his body reached the final crest of pleasure.

As Napoleon exploded against him with a long groan, Illya felt his own delight flare past the bounds of all previous experience. The ecstasy was incandescent, blazing bright as a magnesium flare. His body convulsed, spurting stream after thick, creamy stream against Solo's flat belly. He felt as if the pleasure were branding him, searing not only his nerve endings, but his heart and soul as well.

Climax seemed to go on forever for both of them.

Consciousness a thing of the past, Illya just floated on sensation, letting it own him. All that existed was the joy of the moment and the man above him...Napoleon, whose very soul seemed to be meshing with his own during the unnatural suspension of reality.

Even as he thought it, his scientific mind cursed himself as an utter fool. Souls meshing together – what sophomoric dribble. If Napoleon ever suspected he'd thought such a thing, his partner would surely burst a vein laughing.

As abruptly as it had exploded, the pleasure peaked and disseminated, leaving Illya gasping for breath, even as he grappled for emotional mooring. He thought of a hermit crab stranded on shore by the retreating tide. He felt very much like that little creature, blinded by fierce sunlight, naked, and vulnerable. Solo was that sun, and if he didn't pull back soon, there'd be no saving himself. Instinct told him to withdraw fast, to dive into those sheltering waters and keep swimming downwards until he found safe ground again, so deep and protected that the sun's light would never touch him again, never threaten him.

But, it was next to impossible to distance himself while lying here in his partner's arms, what with spent semen and sweat cementing both their groins together. Napoleon's scent and warmth permeated him, his partner's heavier weight all but flattening him into the mattress. Ignoring Napoleon now would be tantamount to ignoring being dropped into a vat of hydrochloric acid.

Considering the analogy, Illya decided he'd much rather be tossed into the acid vat. He had no idea what he'd say to his partner...

"My God..." Solo gasped as his arched back head finally lowered from the near yoga stretch ecstasy had initiated.

Illya's insides seemed to squiggle as their gazes met.

Napoleon's eyes were still very warm and approachable in smoky aftermath. His partner bent the few inches necessary for their swollen lips to touch.

The tenderness of the resulting kiss almost destroyed him. Illya clung to the fleeting emotion, dreading what would follow. Napoleon had required him to feel this union as he had no other, and now that he had, Illya knew that he would pay the price for his foolishness.

Curiosity had been satisfied. For all that it had been...quite an incredible experience, Illya knew that he had felt this much more than his partner. In the end, his basically heterosexual friend hadn't been able to handle more than simple frottage. Depending on how much Napoleon had enjoyed it, either an easy let down or abrupt rejection would follow.

Illya knew that if their partnership were to survive, he had to let go of this...now. The last hour had to be erased from his reality. All he could hope was that Napoleon would be able to do the same, that his partner wouldn't hold this against him...

"You're incredible," Solo murmured as they parted from the kiss, spreading a trail of light, playful kisses across Illya 's facial features.

This not being the usual prelude to abandonment, Illya's breath caught in his chest. With every bit of willpower he possessed, he squelched the surge of hope that blossomed through him, telling himself that Napoleon was still high on the feeling. Once his partner came down, things would radically change.

But the seconds gave way to minutes, and still his partner did not pull away. The kisses and petting kept up, tender, loving exchanges that Illya could never remember sharing after sex before.

"Mmmmm..." Napoleon sighed at last, drawing far enough away to stare into Illya's face. "You've got that look again. What's up now?"

"Nothing," Illya quickly evaded.

"You were the one who wanted honesty, no matter how inconvenient," Napoleon reminded, reaching out to stroke his cheek with a gentleness Illya could hardly credit. "What's the matter? Didn't I...live up to expectation?"

"What?" Illya blinked, shocked by the note of genuine uncertainty in his partner's voice. This was not going at all to plan.

"After all that waiting, the real thing might not have stood up to fantasy," Napoleon explained in utter earnestness. "I know I was...less than bold, but you must give me the benefit of the doubt, Illya. This was my first time down this particular road. Next time, will be much...smoother."

"Next time..." Illya echoed, relief gushing through him.

"I guess I'm making too many assumptions," Napoleon said slowly, his eyes shying away.

"Wait a minute," Illya urged as the other man withdrew from the embrace by the simple expedient of rolling off and away, "You think me...dissatisfied?"

"I wouldn't blame you," Napoleon said tensely, sitting up beside him. "You're used to..."

"I'm used to men who think only of their own pleasure and shoot out the door before I can get my eyes open afterward, Napoleon. Before, I was...braced to lose everything."

Napoleon went very still for a long minute, his strangely hurt eyes boring right through him. "Seriously?"

"The truth – no matter how inconvenient, remember?" Illya restated, quietly confessing, "I was...closing down so the...brush off wouldn't hurt as much..."

"Brush off - are you crazy? For heaven's sake, we just made love, Illya. How could you think that I'd..." Napoleon's words stilled as his perceptive gaze seemed to read what Illya had been through in the past in the no doubt strained set of his face. Napoleon bit his lower lip, then slowly relaxed onto the bed beside him, turning on his side to face him across a shared pillow. "I told you before that you'd never lose me."

Having asked for honesty, Illya could hardly give less himself. "I...didn't believe you."

To his bewilderment, the bald admission seemed to mollify Napoleon's ruffled feelings. "Still don't, from the sound of that. I guess it's just going to take time."

"Time…?" Illya repeated, the word a question.

"Just to refresh your memory, you did promise to give me however long I wanted." At Illya's puzzled expression, Napoleon quoted Illya's own words back to him, "Before, you said `I'll take tonight, this weekend or however long you offer'. I have every intention of holding you to that."

The challenging tilt of brow and Napoleon's intense expression told Illya that his partner meant the words.

At the moment. As for the future...

Who could tell? By the very nature of the career they'd chosen, they already lived their lives from moment to moment, death an ever-present shadow. Although his pessimistic Russian spirit balked at such cockeyed optimism, Illya was very well aware that an entire lifetime could be made up of stolen moments. Especially moments like those they'd just shared.

"Do you?" Illya replied, something of his normal, urbane wit flavoring the reply. Inside, he felt wobbly, almost more afraid of this than the abandonment he'd anticipated.

Napoleon, who'd seemed primed for an argument, grinned at whatever he heard in his tone. The joy spread across his handsome features like the first splashes of sunlight on the eastern horizon at dawn. "You can bank on it, my doubtful young friend."

Hearing the promise that remained unspoken, Illya gave a shaky smile. Common sense was whispering that this was only a temporary reprieve, that Napoleon would soon tire of him and he'd be alone again. His rational mind knew that he had as much chance of holding Napoleon Solo as he did taming the wind.

But he was Napoleon's partner. As such, he held a unique position in Napoleon's life. Although he mightn't have known it before, he knew now that he was important to Napoleon on levels he'd never even suspected. Even from here, Illya could see the picture of them both on the dresser across the room. He found himself taking heart from that small show of sentimentality.

Rationally, Illya mightn't have a snowball's chance in hell of holding this man, but, as his partner took pride in admitting, Napoleon was not a rational man. Solo was an emotional one, given to romantic whimsy and flights of poetry that would make most of the men they worked with cringe to even contemplate uttering. If Illya could catch Napoleon's heart, and hold it, he might have a chance.

But how to succeed where literally hundreds of others had failed, Illya wondered as he tentatively opened his arms to his friend. As Napoleon cuddled up to him, surprising him by resting his dark head against Illya 's chest rather than forcing the smaller man into the protected role, Illya was determined to succeed where all others had failed.

Illya was aware of his own shortcomings, how ill-suited he was for prolonged intimacy. He was a loner, born and bred, but...under it all, he was lonely. Napoleon was the only one who'd ever eased that ache.

His preference for solitude aside, Illya also knew that he was no great lover. He could and would do without sex for a year if necessary, while Napoleon couldn't go a week without it. The night-life upon which Napoleon thrived, bored him to tears. Upbringings, ideologies...in most things they were at separate poles of the spectrum. They had so little in common that it was often a wonder that they could work together at all.

And, yet, though Illya had no idea what it was, he obviously had something that attracted Napoleon. Out of all the operatives in U.N.C.LE., Solo had chosen him as partner. Maybe it was as simple as Napoleon had made it sound before, the fact that he had always accepted Napoleon as he was. Was it possible that Napoleon's romantic escapades were simply an extension of his partner's search for acceptance? Napoleon was a complex man, with equally complex needs. Even in this age of social reformation, it would be difficult for him to find someone to meet those needs.

Napoleon didn't fit into the neat, little boxes most women wished their future husbands to inhabit. As handsome and charming as Napoleon was, he was also a man who had a highly dangerous profession, a job that had to take precedence over his private life. Few women were willing to make the type of sacrifices that marriage to an U.N.C.LE. agent demanded. For long-term relationships, women generally preferred men who were stable and, most importantly, home.

The idea that his partner's bachelor status wasn't necessarily one of personal choice was a new thought. Yesterday, Illya would have dismissed it immediately as utter nonsense, but lying here with Napoleon clinging to him for dear life, it persisted, making a strange kind of sense. Napoleon had been happily married until that accident had claimed his young wife. From every indication, his partner probably would have married Clara Rivers, had she been able to handle the demands of his job. Napoleon had never spoken of it at length, but the drunken night they'd spent in Rome after they'd sorted out the Terbuff Affair had given Illya the sense that Napoleon's broken engagement with Clara had left him more than a little gun-shy.

If Napoleon's philandering were truly the result of his failure to find someone who could accept both sides of Solo – the ruthless agent as well as the sentimental lover – then this might have a chance of working out, after all.

"Napoleon?"

"Mmmm?” Napoleon sluggishly roused himself, inadvertently melting Illya 's heart with the sleepy kiss he deposited on his chin as he peered up at him.

Staring into those warm, sleepy eyes, the question died on his lips. Illya decided that he would not attempt to bind the wind, but would instead offer it succor for as long as it chose to rest in his arms.

"Nothing important," Illya softly dismissed.

"You sure?" Napoleon yawned, pillowing his head back on Illya's smooth chest.

Illya stroked through the short, soft hair.

"Positive. Only..." he needed to say something he knew neither of them were ready to say or could let pass by unremarked upon once spoken.

"Mmmm?"

Illya stumbled for a moment, then took heart from Napoleon's half-asleep state. His friend probably wouldn't even hear him. "The...grapevine didn't lie, Napoleon."

Ridiculously tense, Illya waited for his world to self-destruct, but Napoleon slept on, oblivious. Almost disappointed, he sighed and maneuvered the covers up around them without jostling his precious armload too much.

Illya had stilled and was just about to abandon himself to Morpheus when a quiet whisper breathed across his sternum, "Neither did I. I’m in this for the duration."

Sensing that any further discourse on this particular subject risked shattering the birthing emotion, Illya's arms squeezed tighter. He pressed his lips against the feather soft hair at Solo's crown to tell his partner that his words had been heard and accepted.

An answering kiss on his chest seemed to firm the deal.

Then, ridiculously happy, Illya closed his eyes to dream...a dream that was for once not one of lonely solitude.

The End

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