There were a number of adjectives that Illya Kuryakin might apply to
himself, if he were so inclined, but "emotional" was not one of them.
"Intelligent," "capable," "dedicated," "relentless" -- all these he would
have acknowledged. It bothered him not at all that some of his colleagues
found him intractable and obsessive, or that adversaries thought him
bloodthirsty and cruel. To his way of thinking, the actions that spurred
such conclusions were merely expedient and practical.
knew himself to be kind, on occasion -- though more often curt than
courteous -- and might admit, albeit grudgingly, that he had interludes of
being proud, testy or annoyed, depending on the circumstances. THRUSH
torture, for example, made him profoundly testy, but his endurance of such
torture was a source of pride, as was his ability to make a clean shot at
an astounding distance. As for his annoyance, well, mostly it came at the
expense of his partner. At least he had the comfort of knowing he annoyed
Napoleon right back.
He was vain about his hair, and
sensitive about his height. He refused to bristle at insults, however,
unless the insult concerned his hair.
Though some people
distrusted his Soviet background, his socialistic leanings rarely
manifested themselves. He was not political, nor was he particularly
patriotic, either to the country of his birth or the one in which he
resided. He was a citizen of the world, the passport of his personality
stamped by a half-dozen nationalities. He took his tea and spoke English
as if he were British, judged wines like the French, ate anything and
everything with the gusto of a starving Russian peasant, and valued
personal freedom like an American. He had no religion, but imagined that
under different circumstances he could have been a Buddhist.
Sometimes he demonstrated a preference for animals over humans, but
perhaps that was because fish and cats and horses never shot back at him.
Dogs he disliked, as being more disgustingly human than humans.
For someone who spent so much time in dangerous situations with
adversaries trying to kill him, he was rarely overtly angry. If asked, he
would have shrugged and said that such emotional indulgence left one open
to attack. If he was passionate about anything, it was about his work, and
about music, piano music in particular. In the relative safety of his own
triple-locked apartment, he was free to let the music of Brahms,
Beethoven, Rachmaninov or Chopin -- or Scott Joplin, for whom he had a
secret fondness -- stir him. As much as he allowed himself to be stirred.
He did not hate easily, though he had a distinct dislike of
Tchaikovsky, whom he thought kitschy and overrated. He had disdain for mad
scientists, neo-Nazis, fiendish despots and THRUSH agents, particularly
one named Angelique, though he refused to explain why to Napoleon, who
rather liked her.
As for the more pleasant matters of the
heart, well, the less said, the better. Love was a non-issue for Illya
Kuryakin, and desire could be sublimated. If people found him a bit chilly
-- more than a bit, really -- it didn't disturb him at all to be thought
Of course, another thing he was not was introspective,
so the entire issue of self-examination was at best moot. He would have
snorted derisively at such an exercise. No, Illya Kuryakin was not an
This was not an accident of genetics, a
random mutation from the raw material of his Slavic forbears, a people
with few reservations concerning outward shows of emotion. In fact, he
hadn't been born this way. Illya worked at being emotionless, the
same way he relentlessly worked at perfecting his aim, or at tinkering
obsessively to improve the range of his communicator. He monitored his
emotions closely. A long time ago he'd learned the importance of
identifying a strong emotion, analyzing, processing and shelving it into
the appropriate cubbyhole within him, before it had time to take hold. He
prided himself on his success.
Of course, he never
reexamined the experiences that had caused him to undertake such an
unnatural subversion of his nature; he had placed those wrenching memories
out of sight, inside a locked safe with armored walls, and shoved them
into the darkest, deepest corner of himself.
often accused him of being dour and pessimistic, but Illya preferred
"pragmatic." He understood that things in general rarely went as well as
expected, and even more rarely better than expected. In fact, while
Napoleon was exactly what he seemed, a mostly optimistic, idealistic
American who expected things to go his way, Illya pitied him for that
failing. Illya knew that one day Napoleon's failure to perceive the true
nature of the universe would be the death of him.
though it was more than likely that Napoleon's failure would also be the
death of Illya Kuryakin, Illya found the prospect of dying with Napoleon
singularly unalarming, compared to the prospect of surviving him.
When he imagined that, imagined what life would be like afterwards, he
felt a rush of unexpected emotion. And so he folded, spindled and
mutilated the feeling, and shelved it in a deep, dark cubbyhole, along
with other matters and memories not to be looked at again.
As it happened, this precise matter was what he'd been deliberately
not-thinking about all day, and determinedly not-feeling, in the aftermath
of their escape from yet another THRUSH trap. Pain had been involved,
physical pain of the torture variety, which had made him extremely testy
while it was proceeding, but he hadn't had time to feel the usual rush of
pride that followed a particularly imaginative escape. This time he and
Napoleon had been separated, and Illya was enduring nearly being pulled
limb from limb when there was a rattle of gunfire outside his cell.
"That'll be your Mr. Solo," the THRUSH Torturer-de-jour gloated. "They
caught him." The next sound Illya heard was an anguished scream so
soul-wrenching that it froze his marrow. But it was the smell of burning
flesh wafting through the narrow window that finally made him want to
vomit. "They've dropped him into the Pit," the THRUSH said,
conversationally. "How would you like your partner cooked -- rare or well
Everything went white for a moment.
Napoleon wasn't really dead, of course; Solo's optimism had been
completely warranted on this occasion. The THRUSH torturer, who, after
delivering the news had less than two minutes to live, though he did not
realize it, also did not know that by the time shots were fired it was
Solo who was doing the shooting, and an unfortunate THRUSH guard who'd
stumbled into the Pit. But afterwards it had taken two hours for the UNCLE
agents to be reunited, hours in which Illya doggedly went through the
motions of making his escape, killing the torturer and destroying the rest
of the THRUSH cell, contacting Headquarters and requesting a cleanup team.
Two hours of staring at a smoldering corpse and trying to keep from
passing out at the smell. Two hours during which he knew, but could
not fully process the fact that the charring body in the Pit was his
And then, suddenly, Napoleon wasn't dead,
he was quite alive and almost uninjured, just a little dirty, while Illya
became acutely aware of his own torn, bloodied clothing and began to
wonder if his dislocated arm would ever go back in its socket. But mostly
he stood gaping at his partner, while a feeling, something he couldn't put
a name to, attempted to crawl out of his gut. Whatever it was, this
unknown, unutterable something, it caused him to turn away until he
got control of it and wrestled it out of the way again. "I see you've
survived," Illya said at last, with nothing but cool detachment in his
Napoleon shot him a look. "You sound disappointed."
"Well, you had the car keys," Illya said with a hint of
sarcasm. "I'm not in the mood to hitchhike home."
curled his lip at that, and went back to calming the young blonde woman
he'd managed to pick up somewhere along the way, petting and stroking her
until she melted under his hands and curled herself more tightly to him.
Solo smiled at her, giving her a final squeeze, then looked up at Illya.
Napoleon considered him for a second, his brow wrinkling. "What?"
"Nothing," Illya said. He felt tired, more than tired. "Can
we go now?"
"Sure," Napoleon said, still frowning. "Are you
"Of course." Illya summoned his best and
chilliest demeanor, injured arm notwithstanding. Napoleon's attention
returned instantly to the young woman, and then to the helicopter
overhead, as UNCLE reinforcements arrived and took over.
They'd been successful, once again.
Illya didn't dwell
on their successes any more than he did their failures. One down, a
thousand to go, he reminded himself every time an affair was concluded.
His usual pattern at the end of a mission was to type up the report (since
his partner usually managed to manipulate him into doing it anyway) go to
Medical if forced to, take the rest of the day off if Waverly allowed it,
and then, habitually, join Napoleon for a drink or two to unwind. Then it
would be home, to listen to music: Chopin if things had gone well, Brahms
if they hadn't. Rachmaninov if someone had been killed. Beethoven if
he'd done the killing.
And then, also habitually, it meant
falling into a deep sleep -- dreamless, if he was lucky -- and waking to
business as usual the next day. A neat, compartmentalized, orderly,
Something felt different.
The helicopter ride had seemed surreal, as if he were watching the
scene instead of living it: he saw himself, rumpled, dirty, withdrawn,
slumping silently against the hull, and on the other side a still-dapper
American soothing a Young Thing who whimpered and looked up at her rescuer
with shining eyes. Illya closed his own eyes, but behind his lids lurked
the image of a blackened corpse. If only he could stop his ears against
the shriek that still echoed in them, or cleanse his nostrils of the smell
of burning flesh--
He blinked his eyes open. Solo pulled
the girl closer, and as he did so, caught his partner's eye and winked, as
if to say, "I'm getting lucky tonight." The something in Illya's
gut became an anti-something, a hollowness that was new and profoundly
Oddly, once back at Headquarters, Napoleon
offered to handle the paperwork. Though that made sense, of course, what
with Illya's shoulder being injured, usually the senior agent wouldn't
offer unless his partner were gushing blood, and even then he'd try to
stall until Illya got a pill or a tourniquet or stitches and came limping
back to do it. But this time Napoleon looked him in the eye and murmured,
"Don't worry about it. Let's go let them take a look at you."
But then there was a flutter of femininity from around the corner as
the Young Thing appeared at Napoleon's side. Solo turned to her, cooing
endearments. Illya slid away down the hall.
brief visit to Medical turned into hours of waiting and aching, then brief
agony as his shoulder was wrenched back into its socket, followed by too
much fussing over by a particularly blowsy nurse. Illya had no patience
for fussing and cosseting by buxom females; that was more Napoleon's
style, and Napoleon usually took the brunt of these attentions on himself
when they were in Medical--
--And where was
Finally Medical discharged him; Waverly waved him
off home. Napoleon did not materialize for the expected drink.
Illya dragged himself to Solo's office, only to find one of the
secretaries busily typing out the end report from Napoleon's scribbled
notes. Typical Napoleon, Illya reflected sourly. He'd managed to find a
dumb blonde to do the paperwork, after all.
But where was
Napoleon, anyway? They almost always had a drink together at the end of a
mission, unless one of them was comatose. It was a sort of ritual. And
while rituals did not resonate with Illya in a superstitious way, he found
he looked forward to this one. The entire affair they'd just ended felt
unfinished, though he couldn't imagine what more there was to do. The
adversaries were dead or in custody. His injuries weren't serious. Both of
them were alive--
A smoldering bodyó
He shoved the image away with some anger. Damn it. Where the hell was
his partner? He really needed this drink. With Napoleon. It brought
the mission to a close. It. . .
. . .it filled something
What a ridiculous thought.
Waverly frowned when Illya reappeared at his door. "Mr. ah-Kuryakin, I
thought youíd be on your way by now."
"Yes, sir. Have you
seen Mr. Solo, by any chance?"
Waverly tightened some of
the wrinkles on his face into what passed for a smile. "Why, yes, Mr.
AhÖMr. Solo had to deliver that young woman to her father. She wouldn't
let anyone else take her, was becoming hysterical, for heaven's sake.
These young girls. . . Well, I suppose we should expect this sort of thing
when Mr. Solo is involved, eh? I imagine he'll turn up some time. He'd
better, by 9:00 tomorrow morning. As must you, Mr. Kuryakin. See to that
shoulder. And be here promptly, please." The audience was concluded.
"Yes sir, tomorrow," Illya said wearily.
so he went home, where he ate something from his refrigerator, though five
minutes later he couldn't have told you what it was, took off the sling
and washed, put on old jeans and no shirt, because it was difficult to get
anything over his arm. His apartment was too warm, anyway. He went to the
stereo to find a record, but in short order rejected Brahms, Rachmaninov
and Beethoven, sneered at Chopin, pushed the Mozart aside and ignored
Joplin, Brubeck and his one recording by Jerry Lee Lewis. And finally,
stuck in the middle, he found a dusty collection of Russian balalaika
music. Why he had it, he couldn't imagine, though he fancied it might have
been a gift from some American who presumed to know his tastes. In fact,
no one ever seemed to know what made him tick. No one except. . .
No. No thinking on that subject. Tonight any thoughts about
Napoleon, disappointment, death--
Enough. Those thoughts
were folded and shoved away into another cubbyhole.
slipped the record onto the turntable, and went after a drink, starting a
little when the plaintive music began to fill his small apartment. Almost
absently he grabbed a bottle and came back to sink onto the couch.
The music was. . .disturbing. It brought back
half-remembered thoughts of his youth, of his country, thoughts faded with
time and too little examination. He didn't care for those thoughts, and he
didn't like the music; he wanted it to stop, but he was glued to the couch
by weariness. A glass was in his hand and he was surprised to find it
contained vodka. He never drank the stuff. The vodka was kept for
Napoleon, who for some reason liked to sit here in Illya's apartment and
drink it straight, like a Russian peasant, while the actual child of
Russian peasants sat across from him and drank beer, or more likely very
good Scotch. Illya often wondered why Napoleon drank his vodka; straight
vodka didn't mesh with his image as a suave American agent, and he rarely
ordered it in public. Perhaps he did it just to irritate his Russian
The thought came that perhaps he, himself,
deliberately avoided drinking it. He did not wish to consider why.
Now that he thought of it, he saw that Napoleon did a
number of things to him he didn't understand. Like making up embarrassing,
silly names to call him when he was in disguise. "Filthy." "Pussycat."
"Little Flower." "Spike." It was an odd, out of character thing for the
urbane Solo to do, to display such sophomoric humor. Funny; it only ever
seemed to be directed at him. Such special attention was
irritating. He didn't care for being singled out.
there was the way Solo sometimes spoke Russian to him. Illya didn't need
to have Russian spoken to him; he was fluent in English, despite a
lingering accent, and they were in America, for goodness sake. But still
Solo did it, inserting Russian words at the oddest times, and Illya
wondered why. It surprised him, unnerved him, made him feel--
Damn this music, anyway. He pushed himself to his feet and walked over
to the stereo, intending to change the record, but instead carried on to
the large window and threw it open. He leaned against the frame, breathing
in the smells of the city as if they were flower-scented zephyrs. It was
warm out; the breeze against his bare skin carried no chill at all.
He wasn't city-born, but after so much time spent here in
the de facto capitol of the world, he'd gone native, he supposed. The
dissonant sounds of New York City were part of the soundtrack of his life
now. New York was unlike any other city in which he'd lived, uglier than
Paris, less civilized than London or Cambridge, less cultured than Moscow.
And yet, he liked it the best. Here he had privacy. Here he had true
freedom from his past. Here he had no one's expectations to fulfill but
He was struck by the irony, as he looked at the
passing taxis and the neon and the glowing streetlights, that in this city
of seven million people he was able to be so alone. Completely alone. And
though usually that thought was pleasing, that was not the case tonight.
Tonight he would have preferred not being alone.
He drew in
a sharp breath. There was something terrifying lurking underneath that
thought, something dangerous, akin to the indefinable feeling he'd had to
push away that afternoon. Somehow he knew if he allowed himself to define
it, quite possibly it would overwhelm him and devour him.
There was a quiet scrape behind him, and a draft of air, and his
instincts reacted, even if his conscious mind did not. Adrenaline surged
and with it the need to have his gun in his hand, but dammit, the gun was
in its holster across the room, so he started to duck, preparing to roll
behind the couch, and--
"Relax. It's just me."
Illya halted mid-crouch and straightened up, panting. Light from the
window cast a soft glow on his partner's distinctive profile. "A
person could get killed breaking and entering my apartment."
Napoleon snorted. "A person could. Not me. Besides, I knocked."
"Did you? I. . .didnít hear." That was profoundly
disturbing, that someone could sneak up on him in his own residence. Illya
turned back to look out the window, waiting for his breath to even out,
for the adrenaline to drain away. He sipped slowly at his drink.
"You're sitting in the dark."
"Am I?" He
"If you're going to be moody, couldn't you
at least light some candles?"
"I don't have any candles.
Don't like them."
"So much for the romanticism of the
Russian soul." There was a pause, and silence except for the soft
susurration of fabric against fabric as Napoleon came closer. "What
brought this on?"
"What brought what on?"
"Don't act obtuse, Illya, it doesn't suit you," Solo said, a bit
"Have you come here to insult me?"
Solo's voice gentled. "You know what you are, don't you?"
"A very tired man with very little patience for riddles."
Napoleon leaned against the other side of the window. Illya could feel
his gaze. "You're melancholy, that's what."
Illya made a
face. "I am no such thing. That's a cultural stereotype. Next you'll be
accusing me of weeping drunkenly into my vodka."
accusing you of anything, tovarishch. Though you are drinking
"You seem to like it."
pay attention to what I like."
"Because your tastes are so.
. ." He let it drop, continuing only with a shrug, forgetting his
shoulder. He turned away to hide the wince.
"Does that require a response?"
not." Napoleon shifted, moving a step closer. "Okay, don't call it
melancholy. What you are, moi droog, is blue. And don't snort at
me; being blue is an American condition, okay? After all, we
invented 'the blues.' I'm not making remarks about your cultural
That drew his eyes back to his partner. "I am
not 'blue.' I am resolutely Red, as you well know."
"I'm glad I amuse you."
do, sometimes, comrade. Not right now. Mind if I. . .?" Napoleon gestured.
Illya followed the gesture and was surprised to find the vodka bottle on
the windowsill, where he'd evidently placed it, though he had no memory of
doing so. He handed it over without comment and watched as Napoleon took a
swig right from the bottle. Followed the line of Napoleon's throat as his
Adam's apple bobbed. Heard the subtle swallowing sounds, and Napoleon's
indrawn breath as the vodka hit home. Smelled Napoleon's aftershave, faded
now but still detectible, still a scent he'd recognize anywhere. Illya
closed his eyes, willing away the smell of charring flesh that he could
not seem to banish. There was no way he could really smell it still, he
knew that. It had to be a phantom of his brain, it had to--
He realized with a start that Napoleon must
have said his name more than once. "What?"
sitting in the dark, drinking alone, listening to music depressing enough
to make you want to slit your throat -- don't interrupt me, I don't mean
you're literally suicidal."
"I'm glad you realize that,
because everything else you're saying is ridiculous."
it?" Napoleon fixed him with an appraising look. "I confess I don't get
it. We won, today, in case you didn't notice."
I noticed a lot of things."
turned away, crossing to the couch. He snapped on a light as he went, but
shadows lingered in the corners of the room. "Why are you here, Napoleon?"
"I'm worried about you."
"That's absurd. Why
arenít you with Miss Whatshername?" He sat down at one end of the couch,
and went to place the glass on the end table, but missed the edge. It
crashed to the wood floor and glass shards flew everywhere. "Dammit."
He started to get up, but Napoleon put up a hand. "I'll get
it. You're barefoot." Solo looked at him piercingly for a moment, before
crouching down. "You're not usually this clumsy."
watched the dark head descend as Solo knelt in front of him to collect
pieces of glass. Perhaps it was the vodka or the music or the ache in his
shoulder, all three, or none of these, but all of a sudden his throat felt
thick. He tried swallowing down the feeling, but it wouldn't leave him.
What was this, this blue Napoleon spoke of -- melancholia?
Nonsense. Absurd, ridiculous, he was feeling this way because he was
tired, hurt, or for no reason at all. Because Napoleon--
"Why are you here?" he demanded again, appalled at the rough sound of
"I told you," Napoleon said, intent on his task.
"I was worried about you, and I--"
"--I'm not that badly
hurt, Napoleon. You've seen me worse off and not followed me home."
"You make me sound like a stray dog."
"Youíre no stray. You're an over-bred, high-maintenance, fancy
"--Gee, thanks." Napoleon picked up the last
visible chunk of glass and put it with the others on the end table. "You
should sweep, so you don't step on anything I missed."
When he didn't answer, Solo straightened up and stood over him,
looking down at him thoughtfully for a moment, before seating himself on
the cocktail table. It put their eyes at a level, and their knees close
enough to touch. "I didn't say I was worried about your shoulder. I
"We didn't have our drink," Illya blurted.
"We're drinking now." Napoleon took another swallow from
the bottle. "Gah. You're supposed to keep this in the freezer, you know.
What kind of Russian are you, anyway?"
Illya's head was
beginning to ache, and his exhaustion warred with a horrible jittery
feeling that suffused his chest. Just go away, Napoleon, he begged
Solo put down the bottle and shifted, his body
leaning in towards his partner. "The girl -- I wasn't on a date with her,
you know. Her father is Senator Eastland, and he demanded an accounting of
how she got kidnapped and a step-by-step replay of how the rescue went
down. Of course I didnít tell him we were chasing THRUSH and found her by
accident. You know these government types; I couldn't leave until he was
satisfied. Then I came right over here. Because I was worried about you."
Illya just shook his head. He wanted another drink, but the
way Napoleon was seated trapped him on the couch. His fingers twitched
until he realized Napoleon was watching them.
you," Solo said. "Youíre dropping things. You're nervous. I know you,
Illya Nickovetch. You never crack. You never show anything. Something's
wrong. I saw the look on your face back at the THRUSH hideout, and it's
still there. I can't read you, tovarishch. Please. Puhzhalusta.
Won't you tell me what's going on?"
"Go home, Napoleon.
I don't need anything. I don't need. . ." You. I donít need you.
"I think you do."
"If that's what you want."
want--" Suddenly the music, his headache, Solo's presence were too much to
bear. He pushed off the cushions, knocking Solo's legs aside, and lurched
toward the stereo. The needle screeched as he pulled it roughly off the
Napoleon stared at him as if he'd grown another
"Why do you say Russian words to me?"
Napoleon blinked at him. "What?"
"Why do you
use those words, Russian words, like puhzhalusta, khorosho,
spasibo, droog, tovarishch--"
don't know many others, and you are my friend, moi droog,
"Stop it! Don't mock me."
"--Tell me, why do you use my full name, my
patronymic, when you speak to me, if not to mock me? Or call
me those ridiculous names, as if I were your pet? Why do you insist on
drinking vodka when you come over here? I know you don't really like it."
His voice was rising, his anger, too. "Why, Napoleon, why do you do all
these things to me? Why do you even come over here? It cannot be
pleasurable for you to spend time here, when you could be with one of your
women, someone more sociable, someone more like you. Why don't you just
leave me alone?"
"Don't you know?" Napoleon said softly.
"After all this time, don't you know?"
Donít you know. . .?
It was as if Illya had crossed the border into a land where he could not
speak the language, nor understand the customs. He felt exposed; he wanted
to duck and cover, grab for a weapon. But there was no weapon for this
encroaching terror, none that he was trained to use.
"Illya?" Napoleon got up and crossed to him, put a hand on his good
shoulder and shook him lightly. "You with me?"
know, Napoleon. I don't understand what this is. I--can't interpret. . ."
"Sure you can, if you'll let yourself."
I. . ." He cleared his throat. "I haven't the. . .facility for feelings
His head jerked up in
surprise at the vulgarity. Napoleon's other hand, dry and warm, clasped
him lightly on the neck. "You have a facility for everything, Illya. Don't
pretend you don't understand. Don't pretend you don't feel, because
I don't believe that for a moment."
He shook his head,
fighting the growing panic. "You don't know--"
Illya jerked against the hands that held him. "What if I
don't want to?"
"Ah," Solo said. "Finally the truth.
You don't want to feel anything. Why is that?"
He shook his head again and took in a shuddering breath. The image was in
his mind's eye again, the acrid smoke in his sinuses. "I don't know."
"Now you're lying."
His hand itched to ball
into a fist, his fist to strike out and punch the face in front of him.
Napoleon was trying to force something out of him, and his body didnít
want to yield it up any more than it would want to give up his liver. "Why
don't you understand?" he said bitterly.
"Because you won't
tell me anything!" Solo shot back.
No truth serum he'd ever
been subjected to had felt this devastating. He didn't want to talk,
hadn't thought he could talk, but horrifyingly, words were coming
out anyway. "He told me, they told me. Napoleon. It was you. I thought it
was you. Today. In the. . ." He swallowed the bile that suddenly rose.
Napoleon's face changed, sudden understanding
dawning. "You thought I fell in that. . ."
"The Pit. He
"The smell of burning. It
was--" Illya swallowed again. Too much. It was too much, too overwhelming.
He could no longer stop his hands from coiling into fists, or his entire
body from going rigid. He kept swallowing, convulsively, kept holding it
in, but it hurt, how it hurt to breathe! He fought to make himself not
feel, and it was more painful than THRUSH torture to hold it in, but the
pain of controlling it was better than letting it out, wasn't it? He
thought his head would burst with the effort, or his chest. He tried to
pull away, but Napoleon grabbed his good arm and held on even as he
attempted to wrest himself from the iron grip. "Let go of me!"
"No. Illya. Come on. Stop running."
His right hand drew
back of its own volition, and was connecting with Napoleon's jaw before he
had time to comprehend his own actions. Pain shot up his arm, into his
damaged shoulder, and his vision went dark with the shock.
Solo staggered back with the force of the blow. "--the hell?!"
"Keep away from me!" Illya swayed on his feet; his hand
hurt, his shoulder was in agony. And still the band across his chest did
not loosen. "Just keep away, Napoleon."
"No. I won't."
Napoleon sprang at him so suddenly he didn't have time to
react. The two of them bounced off the back of the couch to land with a
heavy thud on the hard floor, Solo turning at the last instant to absorb
the blow. The crash knocked Illya's breath out of him, but he struggled
anyway, hampered by his injured shoulder. Finally Solo rolled across him,
using his weight as a weapon, pinning his arms at the wrists.
"For God's sake, Illya," Solo rasped, "Cut it out!" Napoleon's hair
was ruffled, his breath labored. "Look at yourself, look what you're doing
"I can't stop it--" he panted. Something
within was falling, breaking, smashing into glass shards, and he couldn't
put it back together, he couldn't hold it. "I can't, I couldn't, I
couldn't. . ."
"What is it? What couldn't you do?"
"Save you. I couldn't save you, Napoleon!"
Solo's face registered shock. "Illya, look at me, I'm fine,
it wasn't me. It wasn't me."
"It would have been. It could
have. It will be, someday--"
"You would have. If it had
been me, you would have found a way, Illya. I know you."
went limp. "You. Don't know me."
"Sure I do." Napoleon
released his grip on but stayed where he was, his fingers on Illya's
wrists, their chests pressed together. "I know you as well as I know
myself. I know you care for me. You care very deeply."
Illya froze, his eyes open and his mouth, too, as if he were about to
say something in protest, but nothing came out. Inside him, things
fluttered, shifted, tore apart.
"Illya," Napoleon said, his
voice terrifying in its tenderness. "I know you do. Why else would you be
Napoleon smiled at him, a small, understanding smile. "Don't worry. It'll
pass. It did for me."
"Pass. . ." His mind seemingly had
ceased all functions.
"Sure. The fear, I mean. Not the. .
.caring. That stays."
Illya stared at him.
"What, you don't believe I care about you?" Napoleon chided,
"I. . ." Though his higher brain functions
seemed to have shut down, one look at Napoleon's face was enough. "I
"That's a relief." The warmth of Napoleon's
voice matched his hand, as clever fingers traced the angles of Illya's
face. "I guess I didn't realize how painful you'd find it."
Illya's insides clenched in desperation. He, who spoke a dozen
languages, found he had no words at all for the emotions he was
experiencing, but the feeling, whatever it was, was relentless, and
despite how tightly he clamped his jaw, a quiet little moan escaped him.
Napoleon grinned at him. "Well, that's a start, anyway. The
rest of it will come to you."
Napoleon's sly grin became a
smile, not a smile of the kind he bestowed upon Young Things, or besotted
secretaries, or even Angelique. A real smile, so bright it dispelled the
shadows in the room, and sought to light up the dark, armored chambers of
Illya's besieged heart.
It hurt. The light hurt. He was
blinded by it.
He was still blinking when Napoleon leaned
closer and touched his lips to his cheek.
It wasn't much,
as kisses go, merely a seal on the moment, chaste and kind, not romantic
in the least. And yet it seared his flesh, branding him with Napoleon's
mark. He couldn't bear it, he wasn't going to be able to bear it.
"Napoleon," he breathed, overwhelmed. "Stop, please."
sorry," Solo said, contritely. "Am I hurting you?" Napoleon shifted
slightly, to move more weight onto his own arms.
Yes, Illya's inner voice screamed, yes, you are hurting me.
I cannot bear this.
Aloud, he merely said,
"Please let me up."
Napoleon examined him critically for a
moment before sighing and tugging on his wrist. "All right, partner mine,
let's get up. My knees are killing me, anyway."
Napoleon's weight off him, Illya tried to push off the floor, only to
discover his shoulder had finally had enough. Napoleon reached down and
helped him to his feet, holding him steady as he swayed. The pain of his
shoulder had turned into a dull ache that throbbed in counterpoint to his
pulse. Napoleon caught his eye and Illya looked away.
Illya. You really didn't know, did you?" Solo said, reaching over, his
thumb smoothing the deep crease between Illya's brows. "Don't hurt
yourself thinking -- it's not all that complicated, really."
"For you," Illya managed. His throat was closing again.
"Nah," Solo said. "For everyone." He leaned in closer,
running the same thumb underneath Illya's eyes. "Hey. Come on, now. It's
"Is it?" he asked miserably.
than okay. Trust me."
"I'll try," was all he would allow.
"Why the hell do you have to be so difficult?" Napoleon
said with affection, his arms pulling the two of them together, his broad
hand rubbing circles on the cool skin of Illya's back. "Damned crazy
There was no answer required for that,
thankfully, so Illya merely closed his eyes and let Solo's other hand comb
through his hair. It was a soothing, gentling gesture, and he let it lull
him from his thoughts.
"Hey," Solo said, fingering the
blond strands and tucking them behind Illya's ear. "Don't you think it's
time you had a haircut?"
"I like it," Illya murmured
out of habit, but his hands tightened in Napoleon's jacket. He felt
There was a smile in Napoleon's voice. "That's
my Illya." My Illya. "Come on, sit down, before you pull us both
down." He maneuvered both of them around the couch and sat them down,
still stroking Illya's hair. "Don't worry, tovarishch," Solo said,
his voice like warm chocolate. "You'll be all right."
nodded against Solo's shoulder, feeling the heavy wave of exhaustion drag
him under. But inside a voice was protesting that no, he wasn't all right,
and might never be again.
Napoleon crossed behind the couch and its slumbering occupant and went
into the tiny kitchen to start coffee. The process underway, he made
himself at home in Illya's bathroom to become as presentable as was
humanly possible after sleeping in his clothes all night.
He arched his back to unkink the stiffness there, and had the thought
that his partner was overdue for a new mattress; the one in the bedroom
sagged so badly that two people sharing it would be fated to roll together
into the middle. Not that Illya had been in the bed with him. Once his
exhausted partner had conked out on the couch, Napoleon had been reluctant
to disturb him. It'd seemed a waste for the bed to remain unoccupied,
however, so he'd loosened his tie, taken off his jacket and shoes and made
his way into Illya's bedroom. This morning, however, his back was
protesting loudly that he'd gotten the worst of the bargain.
Face washed, mouth rinsed with a particularly bracing mouthwash he
found under the sink, he walked quietly back into the bedroom for his
jacket and pulled out the communicator.
There was movement
on the couch by the time Napoleon came back. He perched on the single
stool at the kitchen counter and watched the straw-colored head rise and
turn towards the aroma of perked coffee.
He raised his cup in salute. "Hi." If he'd
hoped for a smile or any sort of friendly banter in return, he was fated
to be disappointed. Illya frowned, the crease Napoleon had tried to erase
the night before back in full force on his forehead. "Morning," Napoleon
tried again, keeping his tone light. "Care for coffee?"
"Mm, yes, please." Illya pushed aside the blanket Napoleon had placed
over him and levered himself off the couch with a grunt, rubbing his right
shoulder absently. He scrubbed a hand over his face and shot Napoleon a
wary look. "You stayed here?"
"Sure. You were sacked out
and frankly I was too tired to go home. Hope you don't mind that I took
the bed. You weren't using it."
"No, no, of course not,"
Illya murmured. "Coffee?"
Napoleon dropped two sugar cubes
into a cup of the dark brew and handed it over, moving slightly into
Illya's personal space. "Are you, are you feeling all right this morning?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
He knew that dismissive
tone, and was in no mood for it, not after the scene they'd had less than
ten hours before. "Well, now. Last night was pretty tough on you."
The glacier-blue eyes slid away from his, but not before
Napoleon saw something flash in them, something that made him think of an
animal pinned by oncoming headlights. All Illya said, however, was, "I'm
Frustrated, Napoleon shook his head. "Listen,
Illya, maybe we should talk about--"
"--It's late," Illya
said hurriedly, squinting at the kitchen clock. "You should have awakened
me. Waverly said 9:00 and it's nearly that."
talked to him and pushed the meeting back a couple of hours. But don't
bother getting up if you don't want to. I convinced him you shouldn't come
in at all."
Illya's head snapped up, his face angry.
"That's ridiculous! Why on earth would you tell him that?" He didn't wait
for an answer, but took the coffee cup with him and stormed into the
Napoleon listened to the door slam and poured out
the dregs of his cup into the sink, scowling at the grounds as they
circled the drain and disappeared. Well, this wasn't going well at all. A
lot had been said last night, mostly by him, but so much more needed to be
aired. It had become clear last night that his partner was struggling with
his feelings, and for a brief moment Napoleon had thought -- well,
hoped -- that Illya would finally uncork his own personal emotional
bottle. It was a vain hope, evidently, if Illya's morning behavior were to
be believed. Clearly he'd decided to retreat back into himself.
Well, he was damned if he was going to let that happen.
He crossed the short distance to the bathroom door. "Illya?"
The shower was running. Napoleon flattened his hand on the door,
resting his forehead next to it, as if somehow the barrier could be
transcended by pure thought. Please, Illya, he projected mentally
through the door, but of course there was no response. He sighed, and
pitched his voice loud enough to be heard over the rush of water. "Listen,
I'm going to go catch a shower at Headquarters, but we should talk later.
If you do insist on going in, I'll see you in Waverly's office, all
No answer. He leaned against the door,
debating whether to open it, but decided invading Illya's privacy would
serve only to upset him further. "All right, then," he said, mostly to
himself. He let himself out quietly, snapping the locks shut as he went.
If Illya Kuryakin's image was one of cool containment, Napoleon Solo's
stock in trade was sizzling charm. Among his colleagues, and especially
among the women of UNCLE, he had a reputation as something of a hedonist,
which he'd be the first to admit was true. He was a sensualist, whether
enjoying a fine wine, a fine meal, or a fine bout of lovemaking. Next to
his skin there was nothing he liked better than silk or cashmere, or
better still, the smoothness of a naked woman.
mean he didnít sometimes entertain other thoughts. Or indulge in different
sorts of sensual pleasures altogether. Addictive drugs, bestiality and
pain-games excepted, his tastes ran a rather large gamut, and he would try
anything at least once. Most more than once, if opportunities presented
themselves. In his working life, Napoleon was often pushed to his physical
limits; perhaps it was inevitable that when off-duty his personal motto,
bluntly put, was "if it feels good, do it."
At the moment
he was luxuriating in the feel of hot water cascading over him, which was
very good, indeed, at erasing the kinks put there by Illya's lumpy
mattress. The UNCLE gym was fairly quiet at the moment, and other than
those agents on their way to or from physical training he had the place to
himself. So he lingered in the shower, turning and bending under the hot
stream, letting his mind take him where it would.
was taking him right now was Illya.
Funny that the longest
relationship of any kind he'd had was with his current partner. Women came
and went in his life -- he smiled at the double entendre -- but never, or
rarely ever, had he enjoyed a relationship that he treasured so dearly
that he wanted to remain in it forever. Until this one, that is. He'd been
paired with other agents before, but none had clicked with him the way
Illya Kuryakin had. And though he'd entered into a working relationship
with the prickly Russian, it had developed rather quickly into trust and
friendship. It really was funny, wasn't it, that the person he was
most comfortable with in the entire world was so nearly his polar opposite
Trust. Friendship. What else did he want
from Illya? He'd realized from their first meeting that Illya was
attractive, despite his almost permanent glower. Napoleon, with his innate
appreciation of beauty, found Illya handsome in an unusual sort of way.
Still, it had taken a very long time to admit his personal attraction to
his edgy partner. Even so, the attraction had never crossed over into
Perhaps that had something to do with
Illya's coolness, the limits he imposed on his own participation in the
relationship. They were friends, all right, always there for each other
when a rescue was needed, forever catching each other's eye in the midst
of some dire circumstance and knowing they were on the same wavelength.
Illya had been there to support him, to lend a hand or a shoulder in
Napoleon's rare times of emotional distress, like that wrenching Terbuf
affair. But it was a one-sided relationship; the situation had never been
reversed, for Illya had never required anything of him beyond a clever
escape plan or a drink after work. Even as Napoleon's interest grew, and
Illya, despite himself, wormed his way into his affections, the Russian
remained opaque to his scrutiny. Through their close association, Napoleon
had begun to understand what went on in Illya's brain. He had not a clue
as to what went on in Illya's heart.
Last night, however,
something profound had happened. Last night he'd thought the two of them
were communicating in a way he'd always hoped to reach with his
partner, but had never really expected to achieve. Something had gotten to
Illya, and he -- tough, cool Illya -- seemed about to lay his emotions
bare. There was a vulnerability bleeding from around the edges of Illya's
chilly reserve that had allowed Napoleon to admit, finally, how deeply he
cared for his partner, and to say so not only to himself but to Illya as
Of course, he hadn't really intended to say he knew
Illya cared for him, or to tell him he felt the same way. He'd
wanted to say another word entirely. A word that surprised and scared him,
and would have terrified his partner.
He'd wanted to say he
knew he was loved, and that he loved in return.
last night he'd known he loved his partner, in some way. But until last
night his affection for Illya had existed in fairly platonic terms. Now? Well, the memory of Illya's body rubbing
against his was still vivid twelve hours later. Desire had a hold on him
now; enticing new possibilities had started to occur to him.
Surely it hadn't been his imagination that Illya might, actually, in
some way, love him, too. Maybe not in the way he himself was
contemplating, but then he'd always been more rooted in sexuality than his
partner. Thinking through what Illya had said and done the previous
evening, sentence by sentence, moment by moment, Napoleon failed to see
where he'd gone astray in his conclusions.
He sighed, his
mouth quirking up with amusement. Illya was a tough cookie. No doubt he'd
require a little more work before he'd even say he liked Napoleon.
A relapse like the one he seemed to be having this morning was not only
understandable, but probably inevitable. Well, no matter what reserve his
partner possessed in that bottled-up heart of his, Napoleon was determined
to pry his emotions out of him, because he couldn't help but feel the two
of them were on the brink of something life-changing.
the thought that someday, perhaps, he might find the two of them skin to
skin in a far more comfortable bed than the one he'd slept in last night
-- well, that sent a bolt of warmth clear through him. He let his mind
wander: Illya, that compact, muscular body next to his. Both of them
naked. The sex would be incredible--
last thought caused Napoleon's penis to jerk. Too bad there wasn't enough
privacy to do anything about that. "Down boy," Napoleon murmured,
hiding a smile. No need to rush things. If he wanted Illya, he'd get him,
eventually. Of that he was confident.
He took his time with
the rest of his grooming, enjoying his shave, combing his hair just so. He
dressed himself with care in a neat blue suit he kept in case of sartorial
emergencies. Thus attired, he strolled nonchalantly to Waverly's office,
pausing to flirt with Lisa Rogers on the way. At precisely 10:59 he opened
the door and let himself in.
"Ah, Mr. Solo. I trust these
extra hours afforded you a bit more rest?"
"Why, ah, yes,
sir," Solo answered, as always slightly caught off guard by Waverly's
possibly sincere, possibly sarcastic remarks. "Thank you so much for
pushing back the meeting."
"Not at all, Mr. Solo. I think
yesterday wrapped itself up quite neatly, wouldn't you say?" Waverly
lifted the report the lovely Mitzi had so carefully typed for Napoleon the
afternoon before. "I assume you've read your report, now that Miss
Hollinger has so kindly relieved you and your partner of the duty of
Well, there was no mistaking the sarcasm
there, but Napoleon let it pass and merely smiled. "Yes, sir. I
have read it."
"Good. Let's leave that then, shall we, and
proceed to the next affair? You'll see before you--"
"Excuse me, sir," Solo said, looking towards the door. "I think Illya
is coming in after all. Should we wait for--"
has already been and gone, Mr. Solo." Waverly reached for his humidor and
pipe. "Now, as I was saying--"
"Gone, sir?" Napoleon gaped
at his superior. "Gone where?"
"Gone on an assignment, if
you must know. He arrived shortly after nine thirty and will be on a plane
to the Middle East in about. . ." He consulted his pocket watch. "Well, as
of about a quarter hour ago."
"But, but--" Napoleon's brain
felt uncommonly sluggish. "Why? Why would he go? And his shoulder--it was
dislocated. He can't--"
"He can, and he has, Mr. Solo. It's
merely an observational posting. We believe THRUSH has an experimental lab
in the desert near Aqaba. Mr. Kuryakin was quite eager to get out in the
field, to get back on the horse, as it were. But none of this is your
concern. I have something for you that may be a bit dull for someone of
your temperament, Mr. Solo, but I trust you will persevere nonetheless.
You may ask Miss Hollinger from Research, who assisted you with the typing
of that report, to help you with this as well. You'll see before you some
recently purloined THRUSH records. I have a mind to discover what happens
to THRUSH agents when they retire. . ."
with only a part of his brain as Waverly outlined the project he was to
undertake. The rest of his mind was occupied with his partner and with
what possibly could have possessed Illya to leave so suddenly. He didn't
want to think of Illya going to such lengths to avoid him, but the
suspicion that that's what he'd done gnawed at and bedeviled him.
Later, as he sat in an office going through reams of
papers, completely oblivious to the voluptuous charms of Mitzi Hollinger,
only a small part of him considered the problem on which he was working.
The major part of his brain was considering the Illya Problem.
Forty-eight hours later, when Waverly announced soberly that Mr.
Kuryakin was missing and presumed killed or captured, Napoleon Solo felt
as if the bottom had dropped out of his world.
The hazy redness beyond his eyelids became a blinding glare
as he attempted to open them. He found himself on his back, looking
straight up into the sun, and squinted his eyes shut again. His skin felt
like it was burning, and there was sand in his mouth. And there was a
horrible pain like dull razor blades stabbing his left leg. He reached
down and felt wetness on his thigh.
Something swatted his
hand away sharply. "Ah, ah, ah, no touch. You make bleed again."
The voice was harsh and female, and spoke English with a
dreadful accent. He squinted again and found the voice belonged to a
swarthy Arab woman hovering over him, her musky perfume overwhelming in
the heat. Whoever she was, she was doing something to his leg that
increased his pain immeasurably, and he cried out for her to stop. The wet
heat on his leg grew as more blood welled out of the wound, and he
struggled to reach her, to make her stop.
caught his wrists with a forceful grip, and he stopped, his muscle memory
recalling the sensation. Napoleon! The name reverberated inside his
skull. But when he looked, the hands gripping him were dark and callused,
not smoothly manicured like Solo's, the seamed face that of a middle-aged
Bedouin, not that of his partner. Illya lay back, feeling fresh sweat
collect under his arms and bead up on his forehead. He remembered, now,
where he was, and what had happened, knew that he'd been taken prisoner
and that it was the woman's knife that had struck him. Knew Napoleon was
half a world away.
Perhaps, he thought, with a mixture of
sadness and relief, he would never see Napoleon again. And at that thought
he was filled with a devastating sense of loss, an ache less sharp than
the throbbing agony of his leg, yet somehow infinitely worse.
He clenched his jaw and willed his mind away from Napoleon, back to
the piercing pain in his leg, then took a deep breath and purposely bent
his knee. The intensity of the pain increased in a rush of nausea and
white heat, blotting out all feelings except those of physical duress, and
strangely, he felt relief, even as he let himself lose the battle with
unconsciousness. Brightness faded; all that remained was a darkness tinged
There was red in front of his eyes again when he
next opened them, but it was a cooler red, and his body felt cooler, too.
Above him the setting sun filtered through a roof of colorful stripes, a
tent billowing gently in the sultry desert breeze. He raised a hand to his
eyes. His fingertips were rusty with dried blood.
thirsty and vaguely queasy, drained to the point of limpness by his ordeal
and by the woman's crude attempts to minister to him. Despite all that, it
seemed as if a calm had descended over his soul. Somewhere along the way
he had absorbed a lesson, a lesson bitter as bile and sharp as the curved
blade that had pierced his flesh, but instructive nonetheless. It seemed
to him now as clear as a mathematical formula: pain obliterates
In the days that followed, as he pursued
the objective of his mission, Illya kept that thought before him, until,
like a red-hot poker, it branded itself on his soul.
In New York Napoleon chafed at the chains that kept him bound to his
desk, and snapped at everyone within the sound of his voice.
When his research took him into THRUSH headquarters he could barely
keep from killing everyone who crossed his path, including the aging
THRUSH accountant he'd been ordered to collect.
when the resulting contretemps led him at last to the very place in which
his partner had disappeared, he began to breathe freely again. Now he was
free to take action, to discover what had happened to Illya. The world at
last began to assume solidity beneath him.
And yet he very
nearly missed Illya altogether. As a throng of enraged Bedouins descended
upon the secret THRUSH lab, amidst bloodthirsty cries and calls for
revenge, Napoleon saw a mass of flowing robes and angry faces, and barely
registered the white-robed figure leading them. But something in the man's
posture struck him as familiar, despite an off-balance, lurching gait.
Napoleon felt a sudden surge of adrenalin in his veins. "Illya!"
The man stopped short, and held still a moment before
turning. The desert sun had burnished the face within the white burnoose
to a reddish tan, but there was no mistaking the intensity of the blue
"Illya," Napoleon repeated, relieved beyond
imagining. But when there was no response except a slight tightening of
expression, anything he would have added, any urge he might have had to
embrace his partner, quickly dissolved to dust. Illya quite simply did not
look happy to see him.
Napoleon Solo, suave spy who never
lacked for words, found himself fumbling for something to say. Anything.
What came out of his mouth appalled him. "Wish I had a
dress like that," he said.
Illya's eyes glittered at him,
and he felt instantly contrite. Illya's mouth was working, but no words
were coming out. Napoleon watched mutely as Illya reached down and
clutched his left thigh tightly, his knuckles whitening as he applied
pressure, his eyes closing, his face contorting in an expression of acute
"Illya," Napoleon said, alarmed, but further
words were prevented as the Russian opened his eyes. His face was
expressionless once again. Then he turned and swiftly disappeared down the
corridor where the band of Arabs had gone, leaving Napoleon to stare after
him, and to curse himself briefly and colorfully, before taking off after
his stubborn, intractable, perplexing partner.
disjunction between them continued throughout the mop-up phase. Napoleon
found himself growing angry, even though he knew his anger was merely
frustration and worry. For his part, Illya did nothing but answer in terse
sentences. There was no familiar banter between them. Napoleon found
himself wishing he were once again the butt of Illya's sarcastic wit --
anything would have been preferable to their near-total lack of
interaction. The job got done, but the whole balance of their working
relationship felt off.
On the plane home Illya slept, or
pretended to. Napoleon stewed, and sulked and fretted.
mission was a success. Everything else was a disaster.
In his dream, Illya is flying over a white landscape. The ground
cover is smooth, unbroken, no footprints to mar the pristine snow. He is
cold, and feels the whip of wind as it stirs his hair, but he is intent on
his destination and ignores his discomfort. His skin burns as the air
rushes past, his eyes tear. But his destination is near; he senses that,
although he can no longer see where he is going.
He is standing in a river, but his clothes are dry, and he realizes
that is because the river is frozen over, and he is frozen within it.
Figures in old-fashioned clothing--Ė muffs, furs, sable hats -- skate
around him, ignoring him, although he has started waving his hands at
them, calling their names. They circle him, puzzled smiles on their faces,
for he seems to be speaking in a language they do not understand. It is
imperative he make himself understood, because only he knows that around
the next bend, the river drops off in a bottomless waterfall. The figures,
the family, grow smaller as they skate away from him, towards their
destruction. He is hoarse with shouting after them.
He is shouting through the smoke, and his pants leg is aflame, but
he ignores it as he presses on towards the burning house. It is a small
house, old, made of wood, alone in the snowy landscape. It cannot last
through such a holocaust. Obstacles block his way: fire trucks, barbed
wire, broken furniture. The smell of candles accosts him; before him, in a
pit filled with melted wax, something bobs to the surface of the oily
liquid, something that once was alive, that fixes on him with dead eyes
and raises a charred hand in salute. For a moment he cannot look away. He
runs from the body, the bodies, shouting for help, but there are no
firemen, no soldiers, none of his comrades to help him, only he, alone.
But no matter how many feet of pockmarked terrain he covers, he never gets
any closer. The building, now glass and steel, recedes before him -- the
ground sucks at his feet, slowing him until he can barely move at all. He
calls, desperately, his heart thudding in his chest, hoping to hear a
voice in response, one voice, but there is nothing but an agonized scream
from within the collapsing building, and he screams a name, but it is
swallowed up by the roar of the fire, the scream of arcing munitions,
sirens shrieking in his ears--
Illya woke to the sound of distant fire trucks, and to the cold
clamminess of his own sweat-soaked skin. He lay back against the dampened
sheets while his brain righted itself and the sounds of the city became
familiar. New York. He was in New York, in his own apartment.
He was naked except for the bandage on his thigh, the souvenir of the
mission he'd finished four days ago. It still ached, the wound, and the
healing was not helped by the cavalier way he treated his injury. A shiver
passed through him. Though it had been warm when he'd thrown himself on
the bed in jet-lagged exhaustion, during the night the weather had started
to change. The breeze from the open window was sharpening now, and he
fought another shiver as he stumbled to his feet and limped across the
room. The cold air washed over him, stirring a memory of winter, of
. . .a white landscape. . .no footprints mar the
pristine snow. . .
Bits of his dream flitted
through his mind, too elusive to catch, leaving behind only an impression
of loss. Illya stood at the window and stared at the scene below, as he
had done so many nights, as he had that night, the night everything
And that made him think of Napoleon, of their
frantic struggle on the floor behind the couch, which still was slightly
out of its normal position. No doubt there was still glass on the floor
somewhere. There was a fine sheen of dust over everything, and Napoleon's
coffee cup still lay in the sink. He hadn't touched anything since he'd
been back. The remnants of take-out food littered his kitchen and coffee
table, but in truth, he hadn't eaten much, though he'd rediscovered the
obliterating qualities of whiskey. Other than that, all he'd done was
sleep. Or try to.
Damn him, damn Napoleon! What does he
want from me? Illya thought angrily, but right behind that thought was
another, What do I want of him? And another -- What do I feel
But the question was a disingenuous. All of it
was a lie, because he knew, knew to his core what he felt, and what he
wanted from Napoleon. The knowledge churned in him, burning him from the
inside out. He closed his hand until his nails dug into his palm, pressed
them there, feeling the pain -- I will not feel, I cannot --
willing his panic to pass, but it didn't, it wasn't enough -- he'll
die, they die-- His fist flew out and slammed into the wall.
His knuckles ached. There was a red smear across the wall.
But he was in control again.
"Just move!" Illya shouted, flinging both of them against the
far wall. The force of Illya's shove pushed Napoleon's breath out of him,
but he didn't have time to protest, because bullets were slamming into the
wall beside him and Illya was dragging him further into the alleyway.
"Where?" he managed to pant.
and two o'clock." Illya gasped back. His gun was out of his holster, and
Napoleon caught a glimpse of the bandages covering Illya's knuckles. The
white gauze was gray now, the edges frayed, though it'd only been twelve
hours since Napoleon first saw them and wondered what in hell Illya had
done to himself now.
There hadn't been time to ask
in Waverly's office, or afterwards, with the rush to get to the plane.
Briefing had taken place on board the UNCLE jet to Puerto Caldo, leaving
no time for small talk between them. Besides, Napoleon thought with
annoyance, all Illya would have said was that he was "all right."
Frankly, Napoleon was getting sick of hearing that, because
quite clearly his partner was not all right. Illya was pulling
further and further away from him, and he was about to tear his hair out
trying to figure out why.
But recriminations and/or
confrontations would have to wait. Right now the two of them were pressed
back into the shadows of a dead-end alley with THRUSH gunmen shooting at
them from a much better position than the two agents enjoyed. Napoleon
hoisted his own gun and nudged Illya in the ribs. "Left one," he said. "I
might be able to--"
Illya shook his head. "Angle's wrong."
He let out a loud breath. "All they must do is wait."
know." Napoleon shrugged. "Ideas?"
Illya bit his lip and
narrowed his eyes. Then without another word, he launched himself out of
the shadows into a patch of sunlight. Into the line of fire.
Adrenalin stabbed through Napoleon's chest, but there was no time to
think as things began to happen in a blur. The shooter on the left leaned
over the edge of the building. Illya dropped and rolled. Shots rang out.
Napoleon felt the Walther kick in his hand, and realized he'd fired. There
was a moment of stillness that stretched into infinity, and then the
THRUSH on the left somersaulted off the roof onto the dusty street.
Napoleon stepped forward, his mind trying to catch up with
his reflexes. Illya! You better not be dead or I'll kill you--
The shout came from the
shadows where Illya had rolled, followed by the bark of gunfire. There was
a muffled groan above and behind him, and Napoleon turned in time to see
the other THRUSH take a header off the roof and crash into the alley.
Illya stepped out of the shadows, gun still drawn. He
crossed to the THRUSH agents, toeing each sharply with his boot,
satisfying himself that they were dead. Then he whirled on his partner.
"What were you doing, just standing there?"
shouted back at him. "What was I doing? Are you nuts? What were
you doing, running into the open?"
"Trying to draw
their fire, of course!" Illya barked. "Did you see any other options?"
"Yes, dammit! I was working on a plan--"
"Not fast enough." Illya knelt to pick through the THRUSH's pockets.
"You asked for ideas. I had one."
"Oh, really? Well your
idea, comrade, was pretty stupid."
"It seems to have done
the trick," Illya said, laying on the sarcasm.
have been killed."
Maddeningly, the Russian merely
shrugged. He started to move toward the other THRUSH.
Napoleon felt fury boil up inside him. He grabbed his partner as he
passed, wrapping his hand around the other man's biceps, and yanked him
around until they were face to face. "You are not allowed to make that
decision," he hissed.
"It's my life," Illya replied, his
tone pure ice.
"No it isn't." He wasn't going to put up
with that crap, not from Illya. "The next time someone has to make a move
like that, if someone has to, I get to decide who it will be. Maybe
I'll decide it's me."
"That," Illya snapped, "Is not an
What the hell? "Don't forget which one of us is
the senior agent, tovarishch," Napoleon snarled back.
Illya's glare was sharp enough to flay skin. "Let go
of me," he said, in a quiet tone that carried more menace than an angry
"This isn't over," Napoleon said, releasing him.
Illya turned away without another word, heading out of the alley towards
the safe house that had been their destination before the ambush.
Napoleon watched him, a shiver trickling down his spine.
Whatever was wrong with Illya needed to stop now. If it didnít get
resolved, he was going to find himself with one dead Russian on his hands.
His hands. . .
It was only then that
Napoleon noticed his fingers were greasy with blood.
"Shit," Napoleon swore under his breath, and took off after his
There were no more incidents between the alley and
the safe house, tucked into a back street of Puerto Caldo's poorest
neighborhood, which was just as well, because Napoleon wasn't really
paying attention to his surroundings. He'd worked himself up to a head of
steam, equal parts anger and worry, by the time he pushed through the
Illya had his shirt off, the first aid kit open, and
was wrapping a bandage around his upper arm in front of the bureau mirror,
but had his gun in his hand, pointing at the door before Napoleon closed
it behind him. "Forget the signal?" Illya growled.
Illya stopped in the action of reholstering
his gun and caught Solo's eye in the mirror. He shook his head and went
back to bandaging his arm.
Napoleon stepped in to him,
trying to keep control of his temper. "How bad?"
Solo snorted derisively and Illya rounded on
him. "I don't know what's bothering you, Napoleon, but I assure you I was
simply grazed. You don't believe me? See for yourself!" Illya ripped off
the bandages, revealing an ugly but shallow gouge across his biceps, and
flung the bunched-up gauze savagely in Napoleon's direction. "Satisfied?"
Napoleon didn't flinch as the missile sailed by his head.
"No, I'm not satisfied. I'm not satisfied at all."
said nothing, but merely picked up the roll of gauze to begin again.
Napoleon slapped it out of his hand. "Napoleon!"
Illya around, ignoring the new wound. "I've had it with you,
tovarishch. I can't forever be trailing after you, asking you what
in hell's got into you, trying to figure out what's wrong--"
"Stop doing it, then."
"No. I won't. I can't. Illya,
I'm your partner--"
"That can be changed," Illya said
Napoleon stepped back and took a long breath. Illya
was looking at him, but his eyes were shielded, opaque. "No. It can't."
"Waverly may disagree with you."
will never hear about this. We're going to hash this out now."
"There is nothing to 'hash,' as you call it. Perhaps we've outlasted
"You expect me to believe that?"
"I expect nothing."
"Maybe not, but I do. I
expect a partner who communicates with me, who doesn't stonewall me and go
off half-cocked all the time, trying to get himself killed. Are you trying
to get killed, Illya?"
don't believe you."
"Suit yourself." Illya folded his arms
and leaned against the wardrobe.
Infuriating son of a
bitch! Napoleon took several calming breaths before he tried again.
"This is about that night, isn't it? Things haven't been right between us
since then. Look, I'm willing to say it's my fault. I shouldn't have
pushed you, shouldnít have said those things to you. You're a private man
and I pushed too hard--"
"I don't know what you're talking
about," Illya said, but Napoleon could see how rigidly his back stiffened.
"Yes, you do. I pushed you to open up, and you weren't
ready. I tried to make you admit things that you probably don't feel at
all. I'm sorry if I misread you."
"Misread," Illya said in
a dull voice. His eyes seemed more veiled than before.
Napoleon closed his eyes in frustration, but was not yet ready to
admit defeat. "I tried to make you open up and you hated it. For all I
know you hate me, too, now. Illya, I don't mind if you don't care about
me, okay, if that's how it is, I'll live with it, but we can still be
partners, can't we? I don't want to lose you as a friend, just because I
The change in Illya's demeanor was so sudden that Napoleon found
himself taking a step back. The intense blue eyes turned from impenetrable
to piercing in the space of a heartbeat, and he began to tremble,
vibrating like a taut string. Whether the tremors were from fury or
another emotion, Solo would have been hard pressed to say. "You think this
is because you embarrassed me?"
him warily, as one might a rabid dog. "What is it, then? Punishment for my
transgression, my temerity of trying to get inside that barbed wire that
surrounds you? You have to tell me, because I can't read your mind. Not
"You flatter yourself, Napoleon. You never could
read my mind, any more than you can understand my feelings--" The word
seemed to stick in his throat, blocking it, but he went on, his voice
rising. "You don't know, you can't begin to know me. Not what I think,"
Illya's face contorted, as if the words were razor blades ripping him
apart, "And certainly not what I feel!"
me!" Napoleon grabbed him by the shoulders. "All I see is someone who
doesn't care about his life anymore, who looks like he's ready to throw it
away for nothing--"
"--Not for nothing, Napoleon!"
"Then what are you doing? I heard you showed up at the gym
two days ago against Medical's orders, and let yourself get smacked around
for an hour by that jerk Previnger, who thinks he's God's gift to martial
arts, and who hates your guts. I've been watching you protect your ribs
all day, Illya! Look at you, you're covered in bandages, your leg doesn't
seem to be healing yet -- and don't lie to me about that, I've seen you
limping. You don't give a damn if you get shot or not. Well, you may not
care, but I do! I don't want to see you this way, because it hurts me!
So what the hell are you doing, if you're not trying to get killed?"
Illya shoved Napoleon hard until there was distance
between them again. "I'm not trying to get killed, I'm not trying
to hurt you, Napoleon, I'm trying to save you!"
Napoleon stopped short, his hands dropping to his sides. "Save me? I
can take care of myself. What do you think you're saving me from, Illya?"
But Illya was beyond listening to him. His fists clenched
and unclenched, his eyes were wild and his breaths came so rapidly he
seemed to be hovering on the edge of hyperventilation. "No. There's too
much danger, Napoleon, much too much. I can't tell you what I feel, what I
want--" His words stuttered out, choking him.
What do you want? Can't you say it?"
"I want -- I need--"
And then, incredibly, his face changed again and he gasped, "No, I can't!"
Napoleon watched, horrified, as Illya drove his wounded arm into the
corner of the wardrobe.
"What are you doing?" Napoleon
yelled. "Stop that!"
Illya didn't stop; his bloody arm
pounded into the edge of the wardrobe again and again, until Napoleon
pulled him away. "What the hell!" Napoleon panted, grabbing a towel and
winding around Illya's arm. "Jesus, Illya, what are you doing to
"Trying. . .to stop it," he panted harshly,
struggling against Napoleon. "But it doesn't stop, Napoleon, I can't--"
"For God's sake, stop what?"
eyes, wild, fevered, came up to Napoleon's, and held there for a brief
And then he was rushing at
him, driving them both across the floor.
The wall came up
to hit Napoleon in the back with such force that air was knocked out of
him. He had time only to utter a pained "oof!" and then Illya was on him
like a feral cat, hands grabbing, digging into his arms, almost tearing at
him, one muscular leg jamming between Napoleon's thighs, eyes nearly
crazed, face in a grimace of pain--
--no, not pain--
Napoleon had a
moment to grab a breath, and then Illya's mouth was on his.
It wasn't a pretty kiss. It was brutal, insistent, more like an
attack, and Napoleon had to resist his instinct to fight against Illya's
aggression. But he was held in place by the arousal that came in waves,
nearly palpable waves, from the man who now pressed him bodily against the
He's hungry, Napoleon thought, stunned. But it
was true; Illya was kissing him with the ferocity of a ravenous beast
devouring its prey. It was as if he'd been starving his entire life. And
that must be the truth, Napoleon realized with what remained of his
logical brain. Illya had been starving for something, for touch,
for contact, for affection, and God knew, probably for sex. Starving for
someone. Starving for--
Thought slipped into
sensation. Illya's muscular body pushed, rubbed, thrust against his, and
Napoleon's reacted predictably. He felt himself harden, lust driving out
any semblance of reason. The large hands roamed his torso, touching and
grasping his flesh, burning him as they burrowed beneath his clothing.
Napoleon felt the hard thrust of something against his thigh, and realized
with a shiver that it was Illya's erection.
Illya broke off
the kiss, his mouth now panting against Napoleon's neck, his hands busy on
Napoleon's fly. There was a muted rustle as the zipper went down, and
Napoleon gasped as a hot hand reached in and drew him out and started
fondling him, pulling almost painfully at his rigid flesh. The arousal was
moving beyond even Napoleon's vaunted control. Too fast, too fast! If this
was going to happen, he wanted to protract it, enjoy the sensuality of it.
"Illya," he started to say, his voice strained, but instantaneously the
feverish eyes came back up to his, a warning in them. A naked arm,
trailing blood, came across his chest, pushing him back against the wall.
"Don't," Illya rasped. It was not a request.
Napoleon fell silent.
It was Illya's show, evidently,
so Napoleon lay his head back against the wall and let himself be
plundered. His shirt was open, and Illya's sweat-streaked chest rubbed
tantalizingly against his as the busy hands resumed their work. Beads of
sweat gathered on Illya's face, and his breath was harsh as he unzipped
his own fly. For one moment he rubbed himself against Napoleon, causing
both of them to grunt. But the slight disparity in their heights seemed to
frustrate him, and Napoleon suddenly found himself yanked away from the
wall, spun around and pushed onto one of the small beds that furnished the
safe house. He lay there on his back, recovering his breath, trying not to
resist as Illya pulled at his trousers, grunting in frustration as they
caught on his shoes. Illya left the pants pooled around Napoleon's ankles
and did the same to his briefs.
It was like being caught up
in a whirlwind. Mesmerized, Napoleon stared at the frenzied creature
before him as Illya ripped off his own remaining clothing, revealing a
battered but still beautiful body. And then the body in question was
covering his, rubbing their erections together.
closed his eyes, trembling with sensation. Illya felt like steel against
him, all hard muscles and sharp bones, relieved only by the sparse hair on
his chest and the thicker curls surrounding his sex. Napoleon pushed back
against him, meeting him strength for strength. Only a small portion of
his brain remained to compare the intensity and strength of his partner to
the lush curves of his usual bedmates.
But "bedmate" was
the wrong term. For all of Napoleon's fantasies of what sex would be like
with Illya, he could not have imagined anything approaching this
intensity. This had none of the savored sensuality of romantic lovemaking,
or even the dangerous allure of his liaisons with THRUSH women.
There was danger here, no doubt, Illya was dangerous, and almost
unrecognizable in this state. This was sex, raw, wild, and, as
Illya demanded it of him, harsh and rough. Napoleon didnít care. He was
swept up by the assault on all his senses, the exquisite friction against
his cock, the animal-like sounds coming from his partner, the smells of
sweat and blood, and, overwhelmingly, the erotic vision of Illya in the
throes of passion.
The thrusts became harder and faster. He
felt the wrenching sweetness of an approaching climax, and strained upward
to meet Illya's heated flesh. Completion remained just out of his grasp,
hovering just another thrust away--
Illya jerked, suddenly,
his rhythm gone, and grabbed Napoleon's shoulders as he drove himself once
more, roughly, against him. He threw back his head and grunted words
Napoleon could not understand and wet warmth spurted and spread between
them. Napoleon thrust into the slippery heat once, twice, and came hard.
Only afterwards did he recall he'd shouted Illya's name as
Napoleon lay on the small bed, recovering his breath and waiting for
his wits to do the same. Illya was heavy and limp across him, his tangled
hair sticking to Napoleon's cheek, his moist breath ragged in Napoleon's
ear. In the hot tropical evening sweat trickled and slicked their skin,
mixing with the ejaculate now cooling between them. Napoleon was hot and
rather sticky. He didn't care. He was content to remain in this logy,
sated condition for the foreseeable future. Right now nothing seemed
terribly important except wallowing in the residual effects of pleasure.
And pleasure it had been, a novel pleasure that he found
unexpectedly exciting, considering the violence of Illya's actions.
Usually Napoleon disdained sex that embraced such overt aggression; his
life was violent enough without wrangling to prove mastery over a lover.
Besides, other than Angelique and a few random females of his
acquaintance, he was almost always the one to take the lead. On the very
rare occasions he'd had a male in his bed, he insisted on it.
Yet here he'd been called upon to submit to Illya's will, and without
question he'd yielded control. It made him wonder what else he'd be
willing to do if Illya asked it.
An interesting concept,
and one which might have called into question Napoleon's understanding of
himself. But he trusted Illya. Why shouldn't that be true in this new
aspect of their partnership?
The partner in question
twitched against him, small sharp movements that reawakened Napoleon's
desire in a delicious shiver, though he hadn't enough energy to do
anything more than raise one lazy hand to stroke the sweaty flank
plastered to him. At the touch of his hand, however, Illya froze, then
jerked upright and peeled himself away. The resulting coolness should have
been welcome. It wasn't. Instead Napoleon felt bereft.
a sigh, he blinked his eyelids open and pushed himself to a sitting
position. Yes, he really was sticky, now that he took stock of himself and
the various fluids that painted him, and immediately his fastidious nature
demanded that he do something about it. Ah. Illya's shirt was lying next
to the bed, and after only a moment's consideration he used it to wipe his
stomach and genitals. A small smile played on his lips. Illya could hardly
voice an objection.
Napoleon put down the shirt and darted
a glance around the room. Illya was seated on the other bed, his head in
his hands. Fading sunlight poked between the wooden shutters, turning his
hair orange, his skin a pale gold. He would have been a figure of
incredible beauty, not unlike Rodin's "Thinker," if his posture had not
been one of profound misery.
"Illya?" No answer. Napoleon
pulled up his briefs and fastened his trousers as he crossed to the other
bed. "Illya." He smoothed the yellow hair. Illya's hands tightened and he
murmured something too low for Napoleon to catch. "You'll have to speak
up," Napoleon said lightly. "You shorted out my ears while you were
blowing my mind." There was no response, so Napoleon sat down beside him.
"Hey. You're not being morose, I hope. You know, la tristesse. None
of that, now." No answer. "Illya?"
The broad hands came
away, finally, but knotted in Illya's lap. He looked tired, Napoleon
thought, but not from the exertion of their passion. Soul-weary. "I
imagine you'll be happy to have Waverly reassign me now," Illya said
So that's the way the wind is blowing, Napoleon
thought, not really surprised. Illya had broken his own rule of
self-containment, rocked his own orderly world. "Well, you're wrong if you
Illya shook his head disbelievingly, but
still didn't make eye contact. "I'm so sorry, Napoleon."
"Are you? Whatever for?"
"Oh, Napoleon!" Illya
sputtered with exasperation. "Please don't pretend. I behaved like a
savage. I should not have. . .done what I did." He paused, pursing his
lips into a narrow line. "I should have had more control."
"I think," Napoleon said slowly, measuring his words, "I think you've
had too much of control in your life, my friend. In my opinion you need
quite a bit less of it."
Illya ran a hand through his
sweaty hair, some of which remained standing, which Napoleon thought made
him look quite young. "You can't want to continue working with me. Not
after I gave into my baser urges like that."
Are you likely to give into them again? Because if you are, I might be
coerced into keeping you."
The blue eyes snapped up. "I
cannot believe you're taking this so lightly."
I'm putting it into perspective for you, because you don't seem to be able
to do so." Napoleon leaned in, dropping his voice to a sultry whisper. "I
like your baser urges."
Illya frowned. "Are
you being deliberately provocative?"
Illya stared at him incredulously. "You're flirting with me! I don't
believe it. What a decadent hedonist you are, Napoleon!"
"Is that supposed to be an insult?"
"You can't be
"How can you be?" Illya stood up abruptly and began to pace. Napoleon
watched, entranced, as the light and shadow played across the pale naked
skin. Illya caught him looking and stopped, and an angry edge entered his
voice. "Youíre impossible! How can you bear to be near me, and not tear me
limb from limb? What I did was -- was -- unconscionable. I assaulted you!"
Napoleon snorted. "Please. I've been assaulted by pros, and
that was no assault. That was what we decadent hedonists call passion,
moi droog. Lust. It was what you wanted. And if I hadn't wanted it,
I would have stopped you. Are you sorry you wanted it? Or that you wanted
me?" Napoleon's tone turned sharper. "Or is it that any convenient body
would have served? Because frankly, that would be insulting."
Illya sputtered in frustration. "No, I, you -- damn you,
you're turning this around, turning it into nonsense! You don't think I go
around doing this to everyone, do you? You think I'm like you, trying to,
to fuck anything with a pulse?"
"Well, I appreciate
your eliminating necrophilia as part of my repertoire, but frankly I have
no idea what you do. You don't talk about your sex life."
Illya let out a string of colorful epithets, of which Napoleon
recognized only a few. "Dammit, Napoleon! Of course I wanted you, only
you. There! Have I satisfied your vanity? Merde. Can I debase
myself any further?"
"My vanity be damned," Napoleon said,
trying to hide a smile. "Seems to me you've just proved my point from the
Illya made an indignant noise. "Oh, so now
this is a case of who is right?"
"I'm not the one turning
this into a battle, or a debate. So you wanted me. You lusted after me.
Maybe you even like me a little. In case it escaped your notice, I wanted
you, too. And lusted after you. I have since 'that night,' in case you're
interested." He reached out to run a hand down Illya's arm, then held on
gently to his wrist, his thumb stroking softly underneath. "Why are we
arguing? I have no complaints. None at all. Quite the opposite."
"You're being tolerant. Stop it, I -- I don't believe in
"Tolerant? Christ, Illya, tolerant is when I let you
push ahead of me in the cafeteria line, knowing you'll grab the last piece
of key lime pie. Tolerant is letting you think you have the last word when
"Hah. You can't--"
"--Shut up a
minute. This is not tolerant. This is me watching you finally let go and
take what you want. I'm flattered that what you wanted was me. It's a good
thing, so stop beating yourself up. "
continued to scowl, but Napoleon saw that his anger was beginning to run
down. "Believe me, Napoleon, wanting you goes against my better instincts.
Don't get a swelled head over it."
"It wasn't my head that
got swelled by that little display of yours, tovarishch." He leaned
in and waggled his eyebrows. "Well, it was, but not the head with my brain
Illya pulled his arm out of Napoleon's grasp. "Must
you be so coarse? And stop leering. You're making me ill." But the
harshness in his tone had faded, and the corner of his mouth threatened to
Napoleon grinned in triumph. "That's better.
I like it when you insult me. Feels just like home. As for coarseness, why
are you trying to bury what happened between us with euphemisms? 'Baser
instincts,' indeed. Don't make this ugly, Illya. I know you can say 'fuck'
in ten languages -- why can't you say 'made love' in any of them?"
Illya sat down heavily on the bed. "Is that what we did?"
he asked, his voice unsure. "Did we make love, Napoleon? I don't know what
to think any more."
"It was a little bit raw, but 'making
love' is how I choose to see it. Some refinements come to mind, but we can
work out the fine points later."
"Later? You don't mean
you'd want to do this. . . that. . .again?"
if you want to forget this happened, go ahead, but I'm sorry. I can't. I
don't want to forget. What I want is for it to happen again. Do you?"
"Napoleon, I-- "
"Don't over-think this.
Only you can decide if this is a beginning or an ending. And before you
start worrying, I promise no matter what you say it won't affect us being
Illya rubbed his forehead. "Napoleon. How can it
"I won't let it. I swear to you, Illya." He caught
Illya's hand and covered his own heart with it. "I swear."
Illya looked at his hand, large and tanned, against the
pale expanse of Napoleon's chest. "You're so naive, my friend."
Napoleon brightened. "Well, at least you know I'm your friend. That's
a start. So. I know what I want. What do you want?"
doubts were written plainly across Illya's face. But when he spoke, the
words filled Napoleon with hope. "I want. . .I don't want to end this,
Napoleon. Any of it."
"Good. Good. Great! Donít look so
sad. Be happy!"
"Youíre such a ridiculous optimist." Illya
released a profound sigh, what Napoleon thought of as a purely "Russian"
sound. "We will both regret this. You have no idea what a Pandora's box
I've opened, Napoleon."
"Are you concerned about what other
people may think? Or about our jobs? Because, really, I don't think
Waverly would care a bit, as long as we get the job done. And I don't plan
on telling anyone else -- do you?"
"Certainly not," Illya
said vehemently. "It's no one's business."
"I agree. Though
I know at least three people who think weíve been doing it for years. So
if that's what's worrying you--"
"No," Illya said, suddenly
grim again. "It's -- it's not that, it's. . ." He tightened his lips
against whatever he'd been about to say.
Illya's face between his hands and studied his expression. There was so
much doubt there, so much fatalism. "I promise you this, Illya.. Whatever
it is you're afraid of, I won't let it get you. I welcome this. Please
believe me." He leaned forward and pressed a kiss softly against the
down-turned lips. "Don't try to go back into the box, okay? I need you out
here. With me. Can you do that?"
"This cannot come to good,
Napoleon," Illya sighed morosely. "You must trust me in this."
"No, for once I won't. You'll have to trust me. This new thing,
well, it doesn't surprise me that we've moved on to being involved
physically. Look, I want this. I want you. I care about you, Illya, always
have. Clearly you must feel the same way or none of this would have
happened. Can we agree on that?"
Illya said nothing,
but he didn't pull away. Napoleon slowly wrapped one arm around his
shoulders and drew him in. "All right," Illya said, rather grudgingly.
"Well, finally," Napoleon murmured into Illya's hair. "So.
Does this place have a shower?"
"You'll have to make do
with a tub, I'm afraid," Illya sighed. Napoleon pulled him even tighter,
and he winced. "Easy. I've had a difficult day."
it difficult for yourself, Illya Nickovetch," Napoleon whispered, but it
was with fondness. He considered the naked form he held close to his side.
Illya was a rather colorful collection of old bruises and abrasions. The
new slice on his upper arm was red and angry. Napoleon tsked at him.
"You're a mess, and so am I. Come on," he said, urging him to his feet.
"Let's go take a bath."
In Illya's dream, he is lying on the seashore on a deserted tropical
island, half in and half out of the water. The azure sea laps gently
against his flesh, coursing up and down his body in rhythmic strokes. The
wind blows softly in his ear, sounding for all the world like whispered
words. The sand at his back is not like regular sand, it is wet and hot
and smooth, and almost seems to breathe, making him rise gently along with
it on every indrawn breath, and throbs with a steady rhythm. It is a
curious feeling, but a comforting one. The words in the wind grow louder,
their meaning clearer, and the sense of them circles through his brain and
warms him, making his body respond in interesting ways. Because the words
are telling him how much he is desired, how much he is wanted, how he is
A quiver of desire shakes him as the
warm water surrounds, lingers, fondles him, almost like fingers on his
slick skin. The sensation is exquisite. He leans in to the water's touch,
strains towards it, and the sand below him rises up, forcing him up with
it, while the wind whispering in his ear tells him to wait, hold on,
Illya, take it
"--easy, there. You trying to drown us
He flailed for a moment as his eyes came open, and
cooling water splashed in waves over the side of the tub. From behind him,
strong arms reached around to hold him still and an amused voice chuckled
in his ear. "It might be difficult to explain to Waverly if we die indoors
in a flood."
Illya blinked and yawned. "Bathtub."
"Very astute." Napoleon stood up, taking him along.
He must have been leaning back against Napoleon while they
bathed. He remembered the throbbing, breathing sands of his dream -- that
had been Napoleon's chest, pressed close against his back, Napoleon's
heart beating against him. He trembled, but not with cold. "I must have
A soft snicker. "Oh, really?" Napoleon
stepped out of the tub and reached in to pull the plug.
Illya stepped out next to him, his eyes adjusting to the low light
cast by an oil lamp. Water glistened on Napoleon's skin, shimmered on the
smooth expanse of his chest, and ran in rivulets down his stomach to
disappear into the dark thatch of his pubic hair. Illya's fingers itched
to follow the path the water took, but he kept his hands to himself.
His eyes wandered freely, however. Napoleon had a nice
chest, developed, but not overly muscle-bound. He had good shoulders, too,
the perfect shoulders from which to hang expensive suits. Illya found
himself staring at him as if he'd never really looked at him before,
though in truth he'd seen him in various states of undress many times.
He'd tended to Napoleon's injuries, held him through long, bitter nights
to preserve body heat, been trussed hand and foot to him on more than a
few occasions. There was no part of him he had not touched. But now that
he'd felt Napoleon's body against his and knew him as a lover, he wanted
to learn each part anew, to deconstruct him, run inquisitive hands over
each muscle, bone, hard plane and soft inner curve, use his scientist's
mind to categorize and then to claim them.
It was exactly
what he had feared would happen.
I must be insane, he
thought wildly. What am I doing? What have I done? Angry with himself, he
cursed his own weakness, his own inability to follow the path he'd laid
out for himself. He should have demanded reassignment the moment he got
back from Saudi Arabia -- no -- it should have been earlier, much earlier,
shortly after they were paired, the day he realized the attraction, before
he forced that knowledge into the shadows of his heart. He'd known the
dangers, known this would happen if he let his guard down.
But the odds had been stacked against him from the start. He'd wanted
to walk away, but it was impossible, because he could not begin to imagine
his life without Napoleon by his side. Maybe it was Fate. Maybe there was
nothing he could have done but yield to it.
is you're afraid of, I won't let it get you, Napoleon had said. If
only it were just that, Illya thought fiercely. If only I were my own life
I feared for.
The life he was worried about smiled
at him, a toothy smile that lit up Napoleon's face with affection, and
with the promise of sex in the not-so-distant future. Illya closed his
eyes against the heat flooding him.
"Hello? You sure you're
Napoleon's voice cut through his reverie. A towel
was wrapped around him, the threadbare terry cloth pulling against his wet
skin. Napoleon started drying him, and Illya forced himself stop thinking
dark thoughts. There was nothing to be done, anyway; the die was cast.
There was no going back to pretending he felt nothing for Napoleon. There
was no hiding behind physical pain, because in the end it only obscured
his internal turmoil, but could not obliterate it.
himself in the sensation of Napoleon's hands gently rubbing him dry.
Funny; he didn't like to be "handled" by anyone, enemy, friend, doctor,
tailor. But he was content to let Napoleon touch him, and that touch
reawakened his flesh and his arousal.
"In the bath," he
said, his voice somewhere between a sigh and a groan, "You were touching
Napoleon's eyes met his, and his lips quirked into a
lopsided smile. "Um, guilty as charged. Sorry. You have to watch me all
the time or I'm liable to fondle you in your sleep."
"Perhaps I should sleep with one eye open, then."
"Perhaps you should." Napoleon took away the towel and started drying
himself with it.
Illya watched with hungry eyes. Napoleon's
hands moved about his own damp body, sliding up his legs, down his arms,
across that smooth chest. His fingers twitched; he could almost feel the
taut skin under his hands. "If itís all the same, I think I'd rather be
awake," he said.
Napoleon paused and took a breath. His
mouth widened into a grin. "I'm feeling pretty awake right now." His eyes
darted down Illya's body and the smile became seductive. "You're awake
too, I see."
Insufferable. Teasing. Tormenting. Never at a
disadvantage, never at a loss for words. How Napoleon maddened him! The
quips, the barbs, the joking banter -- all designed to provoke and stir.
He knew Napoleon's tricks so well, as well as he knew Napoleon would never
mock him with the intention of inflicting pain.
hands maddened him, too, and excited him. They were ordinary hands with
well-kept nails, not beautiful nor artistic, yet Illya knew they could
touch beautifully, artfully, with the skill of a master. And the dark
eyes, hazel turning to deep brown -- they inflamed Illya, as well. How
he'd suffered the despair of hopeless jealousy for years, watching his
partner scrutinize every person he met, Napoleon's velvet eyes flickering
in admiration over those he found beautiful.
As they were
flickering over Illya now.
A tiny hope sparked inside him,
that somewhere, someday, there was a remote possibility of achieving
Dark, unruly fear gathered like in an ominous
cloud around the edge of his awareness, quenching the spark. Angry with
himself, he pushed the fear aside. He tried not to think about
The two men stepped into the outer room and
looked at the pair of small beds, no bigger than cots, really. A glance at
each other, and then, in sync with this, as they were with everything
else, they pulled both mattresses onto the floor and shoved them together.
Napoleon brought the lamp into the room from the bathroom, setting it on a
table, where it cast pleasing shadows over both of them.
Illya knelt on the mattress and waited, watching the flickering light.
For the moment, it felt as if he had returned to his dream. Nothing felt
quite real; there was no outside world, no mission. Nothing existed save
this room and the two men in it.
He became aware gradually
that Napoleon was speaking. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"Do you need me to tape up your arm?"
"No, it's fine,
it's not bleeding," he said absently, his eyes on his partner. Napoleon
stood by the bureau, one hand on the first aid kit, one on his hip. His
dark hair was disordered, his eyes in shadow, his body like marble.
Beautiful, Illya thought. And then another thought came to him, a thought
that carried with it a stab of desire. "Napoleon. The first aid kit."
"What do you need?" A worried look.
"Inside," Illya said, amazed at the calmness in his voice, "I think
there is some petroleum jelly."
"Yes, here it is -- what do
you want it f--" Napoleon stopped dead still, and looked at him. "I don't
suppose this is because you have a sunburn."
The box clattered against the bureau as Napoleon
fumbled for the latch. That made Illya smile. So he wasn't the only one
rattled by this.
Napoleon didn't look rattled, though, as
he sat beside him on the mattress. In the near-darkness of the room
Napoleon's eyes were still in shadow, but he tilted up his face until the
lamplight kindled orange flames in the dark irises. "So," he said. He
smiled his devastating smile.
Illya closed his eyes.
"Nyet, nyet, Napoleon."
"No? No why? No to what?"
"Don't smile at me like that. I canít think when you do
"That's the idea." Napoleon shifted, settling down
onto his side, and after a moment Illya did the same. "So."
Napoleon chuckled softly, and Illya
again thought of velvet. "Still trying to get in the last word?"
Illya opened his mouth to protest, but Napoleon drew him
into a close embrace, pulling him into a kiss. "Not. . .fair," he said
against Napoleon's lips.
"I know," Napoleon murmured, and
took his mouth again.
There was a moment where they
wrangled for control, chest to chest, limbs tangling, mouths wrestling for
position against each other. Illya gained the advantage and pressed his
partner back onto the makeshift bed. He felt Napoleon's muscles working
against his, tensile strength ready to uncoil, and he pushed back with
I'm not the one making this a
battle, Napoleon had said.
He wondered what he was doing. Hadn't he forced himself on Napoleon
enough for one day? Even in this most intimate of embraces, it seemed he
needed to be in control. So why not just yield? It came to him that
he could allow that, he must allow it, if this was to be more than
just a single night's passion between them. So he softened against the
advances of Napoleon's talented mouth, telling himself there could be no
shame in acquiescing to it.
In fact, it was a force of
nature, Napoleon's kiss. The curved lips nibbled, sucked, feasted on him,
the agile tongue flirted with his, teasing, provoking him to respond.
Utterly devastated, Illya abandoned his last defenses and welcomed
He was kissing Napoleon -- really kissing him,
not with the violent urgency of their previous encounter, but leisurely,
sensually. Heat pooled in his groin and spread upwards as Napoleon rolled
them sideways, ending on top. Illya became light-headed. It was only when
Napoleon pulled away and left him panting that he realized the
lightheadedness was from lack of oxygen. He drew in a deep lungful of air
and found Napoleon grinning down at him. He snarled. "It's not from your
technique, so stop smirking at me." But that was a lie, a transparent one,
and Napoleon smiled indulgently and kissed him again.
regained enough of his senses this time to let his hands roam Napoleon's
body. They slid across the smooth back, feeling the play of muscles there,
pausing for a moment to examine scar tissue where a knife had sliced
Napoleon just below the ribs, many missions ago. The thought that he could
have lost him then, before ever reaching this day, made him grip his
"What?" Napoleon murmured, nuzzling his
"Nothing," Illya whispered back.
slid his hands further down the solid body, cupping Napoleon's rear,
eliciting a soft moan. And then Napoleon affixed his hot mouth to Illya's
neck, and he moaned as well. His hands ventured further downward, along
the lightly furred length of Napoleon's thighs, and moved between them to
swirl in the tight curls surrounding his cock. He grasped him firmly, and
suddenly Napoleon was the one gasping for air. "Illya," he groaned. Illya
Napoleon rolled them over again, until Illya ended
up on top, straddling his thighs. He leaned in to renew the kiss, but
Napoleon winced suddenly and shifted, one hand reaching under his thigh.
The jar of petroleum jelly was in the palm of his hand. And suddenly
Napoleon did look rattled. "Illya," he said, his voice cracking,
his eyes unsure.
Comprehension dawned at how things must
appear. Napoleon on the bottom, he on top. The newness of their physical
relationship. . . How clear, how delightfully clear to know that at this
moment Napoleon was rudderless -- nervous, but willing to play whichever
part Illya decreed. He, Illya Kuryakin, was in command.
Except. . .
He did not wish to be.
It was devastating to discover what he wanted,
what he really wanted. Illya took a deep breath and smiled with what he
hoped looked like confidence. He took the small jar from Napoleon's hand,
and with his eyes locked on his partner's, scooped some of the greasy
contents onto his fingers. Napoleon's eyes shifted to follow his hand, to
track where it was headed. And so he paused for effect, despite his own
thudding heart, because no matter what he wanted, no matter how
overwhelming the rising tide of passion, it was impossible to yield so
overtly to Napoleon Solo without tormenting him just a little.
His hand paused by his own erection, as it poked upwards along
Napoleon's belly. And then he shifted, and his hand found Napoleon's cock.
His fist closed around the rigid shaft, coating it liberally, and Napoleon
groaned at the friction of Illya's firm hand. "You'd, ah, better quit
doing that or it's going to be a one-act show we're putting on here."
Illya said nothing, but stroked him once more before
climbing off his legs. He stared at the man before him. Sprawled out on
the mattress, legs splayed, erection thrusting upward, eyelids heavy with
desire, Napoleon was the dark-haired god of debauchery. Illya thought he
had never seen a more erotic sight.
With a shaking hand, he
reached out and placed the jar beside his partner, unable to look him in
the eye any more for fear of climaxing right then and there. The heat
between them now was almost too intense to bear. Still not saying a word,
he lay down beside him, on his stomach.
said, in a slightly strangled voice. "You want me to. . ."
"Yes." Beside him, Napoleon sighed raggedly. And then nothing happened
for a long moment. Napoleon did not touch him. "Napoleon?"
"Are you planning to. . ."
A longer pause. "Sometime this evening?"
Illya frowned. "Are you nervous? I. . .assumed
you'd done this before."
"Once or twice."
"So this will make three. Get on with it. Please."
"Is this some cunning new form of torture?"
"Is there a problem?"
"Forgive me. It's just that. . ."
"What?" He turned
onto his side, faintly exasperated, and found his partner staring at him
with such tenderness it took his breath away. "What is it, Napoleon?" he
asked, his tone gentling.
"It's just. . .yes, I've done
this before, Illya. But this is the only time that matters."
Absurd, the way those words, that
voice, were red-hot flames licking his skin. "Oh, Napoleon." He sat up,
put a hand behind Napoleon's neck and kissed him softly. Their eyes met
briefly. "Please." He kissed Napoleon again, a little more urgently.
Illya lay down and Napoleon shifted beside him, finally,
and a warm hand stroked down his back from shoulders to buttocks, then
back up again. He arched into the hand, as a cat might, then gasped softly
as the hand continued downward, stroking between his cheeks. He felt
Napoleon move again, felt the heat as a muscular leg pressed against his
own, while all the time the hand remained where it was, stroking,
massaging. Napoleon stretched out over him to nuzzle at the nape of his
neck, his other hand underneath him, circling a nipple. He pressed into
Napoleon's fingers, reveling in the jolts that skillful hand induced.
His nipple was released and he groaned in frustration, but
Napoleon's mouth was on the move again, his hot tongue stoking fire down
the length of Illya's back, following the same path his hands had just
taken, down to the base of his spine.
Gooseflesh raised on
his skin. It was extraordinary, being tasted in this way, but he had only
a moment to savor it. Napoleon shifted again, back further, and then two
strong hands were pulling his buttocks apart, and, incredibly, that tongue
that had excited Illya's mouth so devastatingly a few short minutes ago
was sliding between his cheeks, moving downward, until it found its
It was as if a lightning bolt had struck at the
center of him. "Napoleon!" he cried, writhing. Napoleon
chuckled, and the vibration set Illya off in another twitch. Napoleon's
tongue swirled around the puckered opening until Illya thought he would go
mad. His hands clutched at the mattress cover, tangling in the thin
fabric. Napoleon's tongue stiffened and entered him, and he drove his
swelling erection into the mattress, nonsense syllables streaming from his
Napoleon's tongue withdrew, to be replaced by a slick
finger. The finger was thicker than the tongue, and less pliant, and he
stilled momentarily and gulped in several mouthfuls of air, coping with
the sensation. Napoleon paused too, for a moment, before pushing in
further, stroking deeper. He is inside of me. Part of him is inside me.
It was his last coherent thought before Napoleon moved deeper and
stroked against something that set off sparks behind his eyes, turning him
into a gibbering mass of overeager nerve endings. The intrusion of
Napoleon's finger sent him to his knees, his rear high in the air, pushing
back against the hand that even now was working another finger in beside
There was nothing like this feeling, nothing
he'd experienced before, and if he'd neglected to tell Napoleon that he'd
never, ever had sex with a man in this way, well, Napoleon didn't have to
know, because no doubt he would have balked at doing what he was doing
now, which was, in brief, driving him into a frenzy.
"Tovarishch, tovarishch," Napoleon crooned, "Easy, not so fast,
take it easy--"
"No, no," he babbled in response. And then
the hand touching him so intimately was slowly withdrawn, and he cried
"No, no!" again, at its absence.
"Still with me?" Napoleon
said softly in his ear.
"Don't. . .leave. . .me. . .like. .
Napoleon laughed gently. "Wouldn't dream of it. Are
"For God's sake, Napoleon!"
"Here we go." One of Napoleon's hands spread his buttocks, and then
the blunt head of his partner's cock pressed between them. He held his
breath, tightening up at the first intrusion. "Breathe, Illya," Napoleon
said, sounding a bit breathless himself.
As in all things
in their partnership, he did as Napoleon directed. He breathed. The large
erection pressed in a bit more. It was painful, there was no getting
around the fact, and his breath hitched.
did not sound so sure, now.
"Go on," he forced out between
"I don't want to hurt you."
"Napoleon! Do it."
He heard Napoleon sigh, and the
heavy spear pushed into him another inch. His body started to resist,
started to force out the intruder stretching him. His own erection wilted
as he grappled with the pain, and he bit his lip, forcing himself to
silence. It was a struggle to breathe; each indrawn breath sounded to his
own ears like the gasps of an asthmatic. "Stop, stop a minute."
"Illya, you're too tight--"
begged, and he heard Napoleon make a little noise deep in his throat.
Clearly it was costing him to keep still. "Just. . .just give me a
He forced himself to breathe evenly, forced
himself not to move, and shortly he found he could endure the sensation.
"All right. Go on."
"Illya, are you sure--"
"--Go on!" he growled, and Napoleon went on. The pressure
increased as Napoleon pushed into him more, burning and stretching him to
the point of endurance. A cold sweat broke out on his skin. It was too
much, too much. How on earth did men do this? He thought he was going to
have to give up, tell him to stop, pull out, but Napoleon pressed in a
half-inch more and suddenly something jolted inside him, as it had before,
only better than before, much better, worlds better,
something that lit him up from the inside. His penis twitched and started
to rise again, and he moaned and pushed back and opened to his partner,
wanting more. Another push, another slide, and Napoleon was sheathed in
"There we are," Napoleon whispered, his voice
"Yes." It was all he could manage.
"God. Illya," Napoleon rasped against him, his breath stirring
the hair at the nape of Illya's neck, his chest against Illya's back, like
the dream, just like the dream, "If you could see this, see us, see me in
He groaned, pushing back harder, wiggling his ass
against Napoleon's groin.
"Okay, hold on," Napoleon said,
sounding for all the world like he was barely holding on himself. There
was a strange sensation, an emptiness, as Napoleon pulled back, back,
nearly out of him, and then slid in again, all the way into him, striking
unerringly against that sensitive spot within him, electrifying him. So
good, so very good. Napoleon panted in his ear; he felt balls pressed
against his buttocks, felt the wiry pubic hair on his over-sensitized
skin, and then Napoleon was doing it again, plunging into him a little
faster, grinding their bodies together, and again, a little harder, and
then again, and again.
There were no words to describe the
sensation, the fullness, the completeness of having Napoleon inside him.
Illya felt strong arms encircle him, pull him from his hands and knees
back onto muscular thighs, felt a hand encircle his own erection, felt the
other being who was separate and yet not separate from him move him like a
puppet, but he was beyond caring. Each stroke that pulled back and pushed
into him again lay his nerve endings open, drove flames into his body,
bright lights into his brain. His head fell back against a solid shoulder.
The hand on his slick erection stroked him in counterpoint, working him
relentlessly, and he felt himself coming apart at the seams, slowly,
slowly unraveling. He let go of the last vestiges of control, let himself
thrust back with abandon, unashamed to cry out in passion as the thick
heat speared him over and over with abandon, driving him toward a frenzied
climax. Behind him, around him, inside him, someone was saying his name,
only it wasn't quite his name, it sounded like Illyusha, Illyusha,
and that was wrong, that wasn't who he was, not who he was now,
but the thought dissipated because suddenly his climax was upon him,
wrenching him, and he was falling, falling apart, exploding, coming for
what seemed forever, dimly aware of a strange keening coming from his own
Behind him Napoleon arched up, his strokes growing
shallow and irregular. The hands on his hips turned into vises. Sweat
dripped down onto Illya's skin as Napoleon grunted loudly and came in a
hot rush. Illya felt the thick cock twitch inside him, and the sensation
made him pulse once more himself, a stutter of come jerking out of him for
a second time.
The hands left him and like a marionette
whose strings are cut, he collapsed forward onto the mattress. A heartbeat
later and Napoleon landed across his back, pinning him under his heavy
limp weight. Illya could barely breathe, but he didn't care. He didn't
care if he never breathed another breath.
A long, long time
later the weight lifted, and there was a transitory pain as Napoleon
pulled out. He didn't care about that either. Napoleon rolled off him, and
the sparkles behind his eyes retreated as air came back into his lungs. He
heard a deep, satisfied sigh. "Do you suppose there's enough water for
"Unghrr," Illya grunted into the mattress. His body felt as if he'd
stuck a finger, or maybe his cock, into an electrical socket.
A soft chuckle answered him. "All right, stay there."
Another long stretch of time passed. Possibly he dozed off. He came
back into reality as Napoleon gently pulled him by one arm until he was
lying on his back. Something warm trickled between his cheeks and down he
inside of his thigh, and he realized with whatever brain cells remained
that it was Napoleon's semen, which gave him a little frisson of
desire, though no part of his body could have responded effectively at
A cooling cloth stroked across his stomach,
his inner thighs. "Jesus, Illya, what you look like. You look thoroughly
"I think I'll keep you
like this, ravished and quiet and cooperative."
"I knew it was too good to last." The cloth, now
cool, slid between his cheeks and he winced. Napoleon's hand stilled. "Are
you that sore?"
His eyes came open. Napoleon was staring at
the cloth with an unreadable expression. "It doesn't matter," Illya said.
"I knew you were too tight. I knew it. I hurt you."
Napoleon's tone held guilt and pain and something else Illya couldn't
"No, no you didn't," he protested, sitting
up, but in doing so winced again at the soreness.
Napoleon was on his feet. "It shouldn't--" He paused, and comprehension
dawned. "This was the first time for you, wasn't it?"
"Wasn't it?" An accusation?
"Yes, but what possible difference can that make? I
"--You wanted me to hurt you, didn't you?"
Illya stared at him incredulously. "Of course not!"
Napoleon glared back, furious. "Why 'of course?' You've
used every other possible means to hurt yourself, why not me?"
Illya got to his knees. "Are you insane?"
you?" Napoleon moved away from him, anger carving deep lines around his
eyes and mouth.
"I cannot believe you would think--" Illya
fought against his own growing anger, knowing it would only make things
worse. "Napoleon. I promise, no, I swear to you that's not the way
it was. For God's sake, I would never use you in that way. Never!" His
throat was tightening up again, emotion rising to the surface. "How can
you think that of me?"
Uncertainty crept into Napoleon's
face. "Why, why didn't you tell me, then? Why did you let me be so rough
with you? Why did you let me think you'd done this before?"
"Would you have gone through with it?"
"Maybe. I would
have taken more time, I would have been more aware, gentler--"
"--And what if I couldn't wait, what if I had to have you right then,
not gentle, not slower, but just the way it was? Not to hurt
myself, but to have everything, all at once, and feel it all. To
feel! I haven't felt anything in a very long time, Napoleon. I
needed--" He bit his lip until the wave of emotion receded. "I
wanted this. I wanted you, and I wanted you in that way, right then, no
waiting, no gentleness. My God, Napoleon, it was. . ." He let out a deep
breath. I was happy, he thought.
"But I hurt you,
"--No! You haven't, not in any way that matters. But
this is hurting me, that you'd think I'd manipulate you like that.
There are two of us here, Napoleon, and I have as much right as you to
want what I want. Havenít you been at pains to tell me that? Repeatedly?"
"Illya. Illya." Napoleon dropped to the mattress beside him
and ran a shaky hand through his dark hair. "I have. I have said that, and
I meant it. I'm just. . . I saw you in pain, and thought about you hitting
your arm that way, and I thought. . . I don't know what I thought."
"This is my fault. I apologize."
not, it's. . . Sorry. I don't want to doubt you. I don't doubt you. You
scared me, that's all. You scared me to death."
"No," Napoleon said, moving toward him, looking him
in the eye. "No more of either of us being sorry. I don't know I why I
thought that. You've always been straight with me--"
"Perhaps you might consider using another word, under the
"What?" Napoleon looked at him and narrowed
his eyes. "Is that you making a joke with me, Illya?"
of us has to make clever conversation, Napoleon. My turn, I believe."
Napoleon barked out a surprised laugh and wrapped his arms
around him, pulling him tight against him. "Illya, Illya. Shall we start
"I donít think I'm up to a third round, Napoleon."
Napoleon snorted softly in his ear, moving them both to lie
again on the mattress. "That's not what I mean, you decadent hedonist, and
you know it."
"Ah, so I'm the decadent one, now?"
"Absolutely. I've never seen such wild abandon."
"Try a mirror."
"Ha." Napoleon pulled him tighter. He
yawned hugely and rubbed his face in Illya's hair. "I suppose we should
grab some sleep while we can. God, what a pair we are."
"Pair of what?" Illya said, licking Napoleon's collarbone.
"Spies. Partners." Napoleon murmured, already half asleep. "Lovers. .
And fools, Illya thought. He frowned. Banishing
the thought, he pulled his partner, friend and lover closer.
Hong Kong. Paris. Rio.
scientists. Rampaging crime lords. Armed invasions.
Geneva. Algiers. Nepal.
bees. Lethal inventions. Doomsday weapons.
Business as usual.
Yet for Napoleon Solo, it
wasn't usual, not by a long shot. True, missions came and went with brutal
regularity, leaving him jet-lagged and sartorially damaged, weary and yet
satisfied with a job well done. As always, Illya Kuryakin was at his side,
providing flawless backup and insidious infiltration and daring escapes
and general ruthlessness.
But that was only the half of it.
Because the passion with which they pursued their jobs
couldn't hold a candle to the passion that burned white-hot between them
when they were off the clock. Napoleon's odd quirk of naming missions
spilled over into his private life; secretly he thought of what he and
Illya were engaged in as "The Blisteringly Hot Affair." He kept that to
himself. Illya would have mocked him mercilessly.
encounters always began the same way, with Napoleon initiating intimacy
and Illya slowly, almost begrudgingly, succumbing to desire. It was
no challenge to get him into bed, but once there Illya fiercely held
himself in check, as if fearful of the intensity he'd shown at their first
encounter. Napoleon would urge him on, assuring him that he was capable of
handling whatever Illya threw at him. And still Illya would resist. It was
almost comical, Napoleon reflected, how Illya fought for mastery, not over
his partner, but over himself.
But eventually he would lose
the battle, and once unleashed, Illya's passion would overtake him,
driving him almost desperately to completion. Napoleon lived for those
moments, the tipping point when Illya's defenses would crumble and he
would give in to his own sensuality. In those moments he proved to be a
creature of not-entirely-unexpected sexual voracity. Each time ended with
the frantic urgency Illya had displayed the first time they were together.
He attacked sex the way he attacked food -- ravenously, insatiably, giving
over his appetite to the smorgasbord of Napoleon's body, leaving Napoleon
limp and boneless as a slab of gravlax.
Not that he was
complaining, mind you. Luckily for him, Illya's years of self-denial (not
to mention all that gymnastic training, Napoleon mused, smirking) made him
an incredibly creative and intense lover, who was willing to try anything
Napoleon suggested. Which in turn made Napoleon eager to return the favor,
though sometimes it took substantial cajoling to make Illya admit to
specific desires of his own. They were fairly evenly matched, and coupled
with the edgy competition that always existed between them, it made for
some inventive and exhilarating sex.
Yet, oddly, in one
area they weren't equal at all. For all his utter abandon in bed -- not to
mention in the Jacuzzi, on the floor, the couch and the dining room table
-- Illya refused to address the larger issue, which was what exactly was
going on between them. Not the acts themselves; he was quite willing to
talk during sex, explicitly and erotically, but he would not -- absolutely
refused to -- discuss their affair. If Napoleon's conversation turned to
their future plans, or even to the possibility of a mutual vacation, Illya
would blatantly change the subject. And on the several occasions, lying
there sweat-soaked and satiated, that Napoleon had pulled his partner
tighter and started to tell him what he meant to him, to use the word
"relationship," Illya would have none of it. The eternal crease between
his eyes would deepen, and his mouth would tighten into a frown. "No,
Napoleon," he'd say, with a note of desperation. "Don't say anything." Or,
sometimes, his voice level and emotionless, he would state, "It is what it
is. Please stop." And Napoleon would stop.
Napoleon to do so, but he was no fool. This had already become more than a
dalliance to him, and he assumed that it was the same for Illya. Well,
maybe that was his own wishful thinking, but in any case, something still
lurked underneath Illya's outward demeanor, something that perhaps not
even he himself understood. Whatever it was, whatever secrets or fears
lurked within, troubling his soul, Illya would not or could not bring them
into the open. For now, his body was Napoleon's, but his heart still
remained his own.
There were other symptoms that all was
not right with his partner, though the instances of self-injury and
recklessness had stopped completely. Twice he'd awaked to find Illya
thrashing about in the throes of an intense nightmare. Napoleon recognized
the cold sweat, inarticulate cries and rapid breaths coming from his
partner; he'd suffered more than a few post-mission nightmares himself
over the years.
But Illya's bad dreams didn't occur after
missions, no matter how bloody or dangerous they were; in fact, in all the
time they'd been partnered, Napoleon had never before witnessed him having
any kind of sleep disturbance. Two incidents were not enough to form a
pattern, however, so Napoleon waited, hoping they had been aberrations. It
was certainly pointless to ask Illya what he'd dreamt of. Napoleon didn't
even try. But he wondered what distressing images haunted Illya's
subconscious, and what had brought them on.
And then there
was his strange reaction the other night. Napoleon had mostly cured
himself of the habit of making up silly names to call his partner, since
Illya ignored him or growled in response. But the other night Napoleon
hadn't been able to curb his tongue, and in the heat of passion had
murmured a tender variant of his lover's name. Once, only once, he'd
called him "Illyusha."
It wasn't really the same as calling
him "Little Flower" or "Filthy" -- the name had come spontaneously from
Napoleon's lips, as it had the first time he'd made love to Illya, that
golden evening in Puerto Caldo. It was a sweet sound, "Illyusha," and
Napoleon supposed he must have heard it somewhere. But the immediate
reaction had been startling, to say the least. Illya, lip curled,
had pulled back instantly. Did this diminutive of his name mean Napoleon
thought him a child? he demanded. Was he treating him as one of his stable
of silly women? Did Napoleon think he needed to have sweet nothings
whispered in his ear?
Napoleon had laughed uneasily and
apologized quickly, eager to return to more pleasurable activities. But
later, when Illya had fallen asleep, Napoleon wondered at the vehemence of
Napoleon sighed and pulled over to the curb,
reminding himself once more that pushing Illya to admit his feelings would
certainly serve only to distance him. He'd tried that once before and
almost lost him, hadn't he? He wasn't ready to try again. So, what to do?
He had no answer except to leave things as they were. But the issue was on
his mind, permanently nested there, or so it seemed.
the moment he pushed it slightly aside and got out of the car. He took in
a lungful of crisp October air and crossed the sidewalk.
"Fancy meeting you here."
Napoleon stopped with one
foot on the step down to Del Floria's, and set his smile before turning.
"Well. Look what the wind has blown my way."
"I hope you
don't think it's an ill wind, Napoleon."
He inclined his
head infinitesimally. "More like a hurricane, if I know my Angelique."
Her beautiful face made a little moue of discontent. "A
hurricane? Should I be insulted?"
Napoleon stepped back up
onto the sidewalk to lean against the stone railing, making a mental note
to pay more attention to his surroundings when approaching UNCLE
headquarters. "Certainly not. I just mean you're a force to be reckoned
She smiled at him, peering sideways from under her
lashes. False lashes, if he wasn't mistaken; falseness certainly suited
her. "I think I shall take it as a compliment then, mon cher."
"Do, please." His eyes flicked over the perfect example of
female pulchritude lounging ever so casually against his convertible. Her
pale champagne hair and white dress against the light blue of the Caddy
made the entire scene resemble an ad from a glossy magazine. "So,
Angelique, a little bird, a little THRUSH to be exact, tells me this is
hardly a coincidental encounter."
Angelique cooed. "I honestly don't believe you trust me." She pouted out
her perfect lower lip.
"'Honestly' is not a word I'd apply
to you, actually," Napoleon said, smiling charmingly to smooth the insult,
while part of his brain considered her lip, comparing it unfavorably to
the lower lip of another blond of his intimate acquaintance. He wondered
idly how that other blond would react to Angelique's presence. Probably it
was for the best that he and Illya were taking care to arrive separately
"Insult after insult. And after I've come all
this way to bring you a present." She uncoiled from her carefully arranged
pose and undulated towards him.
"I hope it's not another
one of your little pets. I'm afraid that spider you gave me last time met
with an untidy end."
"No doubt at the hands of that
humorless machine you call your partner." She reached over to adjust his
lapel and Napoleon tried not to flinch. The memory was all too clear of
Angelique pinning a deadly boutonniere on him.
hands were still on his lapel and Napoleon removed them gently.
"Humorless? Not at all. Once you get to know Mr. Kuryakin, he's a very
She took a step back, her smile never
wavering. "Hmph. I'll pass on getting to know him, if you don't mind. But
don't you want to know what I've brought you, darling?"
know I'm dying of curiosity."
Napoleon kept his face
neutral as Angelique spun around to look at the source of the voice. Illya
was standing a mere foot behind her, and Napoleon knew she hadn't heard
him approach. Of course, he hadn't seen him approach either, until Illya
was nearly upon them, something he wouldn't be admitting any time soon.
"Well?" Illya bit off the word tersely.
When she looked back to Napoleon Angelique's eyes briefly glittered
with ice. "Call off your dog, Napoleon, or I'm leaving. And you won't get
your present." With that she turned her back deliberately on Illya, as if
he no longer existed. "And you will want this present, I assure
The two men's eyes met; Illya scowled and moved away
to lean against the car, filling the space Angelique had vacated. "All
right. You have my attention," Napoleon said, no longer smiling.
"Something very unpleasant is about to happen, Napoleon,"
Angelique murmured, hardly above a whisper. "From THRUSH Central.
Something very, very big, and very nasty."
narrowed his eyes. "You'll pardon my skepticism, Angelique, but the day
hasn't yet arrived that you sell out THRUSH to UNCLE. You're much too
committed to ruling the world."
"Darling, I have no
objection to ruling the world. But that assumes there's something left
worth ruling, something that bears a resemblance to the world to which
I've grown accustomed."
He felt a cold finger roll up his
spine. "That bad?"
"Pretend you're going to sneeze."
"Just do it, please, Napoleon."
Obviously she felt they were under observation. "All
He let his nose wrinkle as though a sneeze was
coming, and Angelique opened her tiny white handbag and pulled out a
crumpled handkerchief. "Judge for yourself, Napoleon," she said quietly,
thrusting it into his hands.
"Achoo," he enunciated
clearly, and mimed sneezing.
She gestured "keep the
handkerchief," and dropped her voice. "Be careful. Do you understand me?"
"Your concern touches me deeply, Angelique." He dabbed at
his nose and shot a look at his partner. Illya immediately straightened
and crossed the sidewalk to stand behind Angelique's shoulder.
She glanced briefly at Illya, then turned back to Napoleon. "I
wouldn't want anything to happen to you, darling."
"How kind of you."
"Well, three's a crowd, so. I must
be going." Angelique leaned in to plant a kiss on Napoleon's cheek. Behind
her, Illya's expression remained cool.
Angelique," Napoleon said, without a trace of warmth.
"Ta-ta, darling." She spun on her heel and exited, detouring around
his partner, who stubbornly refused to shift out of her way.
Illya frowned at him. "You'd better give me that, Napoleon. Of course,
for all we know it's saturated with contact poison and you're already
"She had it in her hands first, so I doubt that."
"The creature was wearing gloves. I'm amazed you didnít
notice, the way she was pawing you."
Napoleon looked into
severe blue eyes. "My, you are jealous, aren't you?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Illya muttered, opening the door to Del
"No, really, I'm flattered," he said in his most
Illya shushed him, scowling, and they went
"The handkerchief contained a capsule." Illya said, tossing the lab
report onto the round table.
"What were the alarms about?"
"I trust you took precautions with it, Mr.
Kuryakin." Waverly clamped his pipe more tightly between his teeth. "I
hardly need tell you I distrust that young woman's motives."
"So do we all sir," Illya replied, looking pointedly at Napoleon.
"Why, ah, yes, I completely agree," Napoleon said. He
couldn't resist an impish grin at Illya as Waverly picked up the report
and started thumbing through it. "Um, the alarms I heard. . .?"
"It contained a fine powder," Illya said, ignoring him, "the chemical
formula of which is yet to be determined. Chemical and Physics are working
on it, in strictest isolation. We have ascertained that it has no
radioactive or explosive qualities."
"That is fortunate,"
"Unfortunately, more extensive testing
is virtually impossible. The moment the powder was exposed to air, it
froze the receptacle in which it was contained. The freezing continued
exponentially, spreading outward in a roughly circular pattern, reforming
everything it touched into crystals."
Adrenaline kicked up
a notch in Napoleon's bloodstream. "How far did it go?"
nearly lost Isolation Lab 2."
"Good Lord." Waverly's bushy
brows knit together.
"Ah. Hence the alarms," Napoleon said.
Illya continued grimly. "We managed to stop it by pumping
all the air from the chamber. Otherwise there's no telling how far it
would have continued. Indefinitely, perhaps."
. ." Napoleon let the question drop off. He had a sudden image in his mind
of frozen lab rats. Frozen technicians. Frozen, dead-- Oh, God.
"No, no one was injured. It transformed
metal, glass and plastic, fusing it all together. It had an equal effect
on vegetable fiber; Dr. Haouli's crocus was destroyed. But there is as yet
no information on what would happen if it came in contact with a human
being. There was no time to try with a test animal."
as well," Napoleon said under his breath. Illya raised an eyebrow at him.
"Is it contained now? Or is it going to start again if you let air back
"No." Illya tapped his reading glasses on the report.
"We found the vacuum rendered the previously active powder permanently
inert. The capsule was like a bomb waiting to go off, but once it had done
so, it was stopped permanently by removing all the air. And I mean air,
not just oxygen. Depriving it of oxygen alone had no effect. It reacted
only to the removal of a normal atmosphere.."
"But. . ."
Napoleon said, "If this thing were exposed outside, in the open air, how
would you stop it?"
"How indeed," said Illya.
A heavy silence fell around the table.
Angelique was worried," Napoleon murmured.
gentlemen, becomes how to stop this before it is released."
"Angelique has left us a clue, if we may trust her," Illya
said. "Which I am not entirely certain we can. In between the layers of
thin fabric was sewn a microdot. Enlargements of the text are in the
"Yes, yes, and I see there is a photo." Waverly put
it on the table and rotated it to Napoleon. "What do you make of that, Mr.
"It looks like. . .some sort of lab. In a rural
setting, if the window is any indication." He picked up the photo. "Snow
outside. A winter scene."
"Not necessarily," Waverly
demurred. "In the mountains, or the far north, there can be snow nearly
any time. Or perhaps in the deep Southern Hemisphere--"
believe, sir," Illya interrupted, "that it was taken somewhere to the
east. The Soviet Union, to be exact." Both men looked at him. "The man in
the foreground has been identified as Nikola Holodny. He's a Hungarian
national recruited by the Soviet Union several years ago. A researcher at
the Ministry of Science, with highest clearance. But the KGB suspects he's
also working for THRUSH."
Napoleon looked at Illya. "The
"Well," Illya said slowly. "I know people who know
"Quite," Waverly said shortly.
that's not the interesting part. He's using Russian equipment -- you can
see the mark on the oscillator if you look with a magnifying glass,
'Sdelannyi v Novosibirskye.'"
"'Made in New
Siberia,'" Napoleon translated, pleased his faulty grasp of Russian
extended that far. "Didn't that used to be 'New Nicholas,' after Nicholas
"Yes. You can understand the need to rename it."
"Well, of course." Napoleon couldn't keep a slight smirk
off his face.
"And are you saying the photo is from
Novosibirsk, Mr. Kuryakin?"
"Siberia may be the location,
sir, but I would suggest the town of Izledovangorod."
I heard that name before?" Napoleon asked.
"You would if
you read scientific journals, Napoleon."
"I read them,"
Napoleon protested. Illya's look brimmed with skepticism. "Sometimes."
"Then of course you know it's a new town, literally
'Research City,' built from scratch in 1958, and that since then it has
become a center of Soviet scientific education. Mikhail Alexeyevich
Formentov, a physicist and mathematician, was one of the initiators and
the first Chairman of the Siberian Division of the U.S.S.R. Academy of
Science. He and a group of prominent scientists -- Lavrentyev, Sobolev,
Khristianovich and others -- played a decisive role in attracting gifted
researchers from the western regions to the development of Siberian
science. Formentov was very enthusiastic about the new center of Science.
The deep faith in the idea made him and others move to Siberia and start a
completely new enterprise."
Napoleon watched his usually
poker-faced partner grow in enthusiasm as the story unfolded. He wasn't
used to seeing him this way, except, of course, when they were in bed
together. Napoleon smiled inwardly at a memory -- on their first meeting
he'd imagined the serious Russian devoid of passion, and feared that the
lack would prevent a successful partnership. Laughable, really, in
In fact, over the last month their working
relationship had been as good as it had ever been -- possibly better than
before they'd become involved. Each seemed more attuned to the other,
ready to respond to danger as if a sixth sense had been added. Perhaps it
was like a one-eyed person suddenly receiving the gift of binocular
vision. Napoleon's perspective had changed, and, he imagined, so had
Illya's. They saw things from new and clearer angles these days.
Their personal and business lives, though intertwined,
outwardly were kept strictly separate. If Illya of late had found fewer
reasons to pursue solo assignments -- no pun intended -- Napoleon was more
than content to have his partner continuously at his side. Evidently Illya
felt the same way; the last time Napoleon had been ordered on a mission by
himself, Illya had found a reason to accompany him, and had actually taken
heat from Waverly for doing so.
The partner in question was
saying his name, and Napoleon snapped to attention.
I'm certain Mr. Solo can tell you that VEP-1, the first accelerator with
colliding beams in the world, was been built in Izledovangorod in 1961.
Oh, 'VEP' means 'colliding electron beams' in Russian, Napoleon."
"Oh, does it," Napoleon muttered back. Revenge will come,
my fine Russian, he thought savagely.
"Yes, well, that's
perhaps more than we need know, Mr. Kuryakin."
"But just because that piece of equipment was made in
Siberia, it doesn't necessarily follow that the photo was taken in
Izledovangorod, or even Siberia, for that matter. The U.S.S.R. has allies
with whom it trades."
"True, sir. But there are references
throughout the document to 'Ivory Tower' -- " Illya leaned over their
superior's shoulder -- "here, for example, and here." Napoleon got up and
peered from the other side. "In context, it is clear that "Ivory Tower' is
THRUSH's code name for the project. I would suggest that THRUSH looks upon
the academic setting as a sort of 'ivory tower,' a rather unrealistic
locale, to their philistine minds, untouched by the vagaries of a very
real world. Besides," he added, stepping back to address both men,
"Izledovangorod was built on the foundations of a tiny town known for one
famous landmark. The Church of Svyatoy Basil No longer used for
religious purposes, of course," he hastened to add.
course not," Napoleon said without irony.
"But it had one
famous architectural feature: Belaya kolokol'nya. The white bell
"I see," Waverly said. "Well, gentlemen, at the
very least that seems a place to start."
"What?" Illya said, barely looking up from his paper.
"What do you mean, 'what?'"
"I mean, what do you want?
You're staring. Go back to ogling the stewardess and let me read."
Napoleon feigned insult. "You wound me. Have you looked at
the stewardess? This airline must hire them by the pound. Lucky for them
they got the Jumbo Economy size."
"You're speaking of the
flower of Soviet womanhood. On behalf of the people of the U.S.S.R., I
should be insulted."
Besides, the Giantess notwithstanding, aren't you the same Napoleon Solo
who once said, 'There's something irresistible about a woman in uniform?'"
"Or a man," Napoleon dropped his voice to a husky whisper.
Illya's eyes snapped up and the newspaper went down on his
lap. "I should have known that's what this is all about."
Napoleon grinned at him. Illya was attired in the uniform of a captain
in the Soviet Navy, and Napoleon thought he looked very smart, indeed.
"What can I say? The navy from the motherland has landed and I surrender."
"Imbecile," Illya said, but he hid a smile.
"You've conquered me! Aren't you going to bang your shoe and shout,
'We will bury you?'"
Illya stopped smiling.
Napoleon's communicator beeped. He slid out of the seat and pushed his
way into a tiny lavatory before extricating the pen from his pocket. "Solo
"Mr. Solo?" Waverly crackled through the
communicator. "Are you in a secure location?"
wrinkled his nose at the pungent odor around him, and steadied himself as
the plane changed altitude. "Secure enough, sir, though not particularly
"Well, try and endure, will you? We have some
information for you. . ."
His trip back down the aisle was
impeded as the hefty stewardess blocked him bodily and fixed him with an
unblinking stare. "My sobirayems'a prizemlyatye sya. Vozvratitesye k
vashemu mestu, gospodinu!"
"Um, certainly, fair lady."
Romance languages were Napoleon's forte; his Russian was terrible, and
other than the word "Mister" said in a commanding tone, he hadn't caught
her meaning. He slathered on the charm. "If you'll pardon me. . ."
"Menya zovut Olga. Ya hochu imetye vashih
mladentsev," she said, and now she was simpering at him.
"Sit down, we are about to land," Illya's dry voice said behind him.
"Is that what she. . ."
"That, and 'my name
is Olga, I want to have your babies.'"
"You're making that
"That won't help you. No doubt she's a good Soviet atheist." Illya
turned towards him, dropping his voice. "What did Waverly want?"
"Well, evidently a few of our fine feathered friends have
been seen crossing the border into Russia, heading for parts east. Several
members of THRUSH Central. And the lovely Angelique."
delightful," Illya growled. "I do hope she remembered to pack her
fur-lined stiletto pumps."
Napoleon laughed. Illya scowled.
They'd come in on false papers, to avoid embarrassment for the Soviet
government (or, as Napoleon assumed, to avoid interference from it) but at
Novosibirsk a U.S. diplomatic passport for "Llewellyn Forbush" of the U.
S. Department of the Interior did little to ease Napoleon's way into
Siberia. Met with suspicion, questions, a little shoving masquerading as
an accident and muted curse words and snarls, he would no doubt have ended
up detained and questioned, despite his alleged status, except for the
adamant insistence of the angry Soviet Naval officer at his side. Illya
hammered away at the bureaucratic suspicion surrounding them, barking
rapid-fire Russian at an assortment of officials who seemed unwilling to
admit an American citizen into the vastness of the Soviet interior without
interrogating him, or at least examining his luggage. The words flew too
fast for Napoleon to follow. Despite Illya's tenacity, it was not until he
dropped a significant phrase that the official in charge conceded the
They moved away from the desk and Napoleon whispered
furiously to his partner. "I know my Russian is rusty, but did you just
tell them you're GRU?"
"Your Russian is worse than rusty,
but yes, I did say that. Don't look at me like that, Napoleon. It worked,
"Yes, but. . ." How to ask this. . .
"Are you with the military police? Or. . .KGB?"
course not. I'm with you."
"Ha ha. I mean, before you came
to the U.S. -- were you with them? You seem to know people--"
"Napoleon," Illya said with some annoyance. "I hardly see how that
Not a definitive no. Interesting. Napoleon
let the matter drop, but as they stepped out of the airport to hail a cab,
he picked up the thread again. So far Illya had been imperturbable as
always, totally focused on their mission, but Napoleon had to wonder if it
was odd for him to be back in the U.S.S.R.. Certain no one was within
eavesdropping distance, he put a hand on Illya's shoulder. "It occurs to
me that in our entire time together, you've told me less than nothing
about your life before you joined UNCLE."
off the hand and looked around him with suspicion. "Napoleon," he said in
a harsh whisper, "Is it not enough you know the places on my body where
your touch will drive me insane?"
That caused a flush to
radiate up from Napoleon's groin, but he knew Illya was just trying to
divert him. Napoleon did not intend to be diverted. "I just thought, here
you are, home again, and--"
"--I am not home, Napoleon,"
Illya said sharply. "Get that idea out of your mind."
Napoleon blinked at the vehemence in his voice. "And why is that?"
"Why is what?"
"Why don't you consider this
home? I mean, I know it's Siberia, and you're from the Ukraine, but it's
all the Soviet Union, so surely there's a sense of returning to your
"--I have no roots. Now if you don't mind, I see a
taxi, and you need to keep silent, because the driver is no doubt an
informant of the KGB that so interests you."
let it drop, again.
From the air, the Siberian countryside
had looked spare, with patches of dense pine forest and occasional farms
dotting the snowy earth. In character as a diplomat, Napoleon wondered
aloud -- for the cabby's benefit -- just how farmers scrabbled a living
from this barren terrain.
And Illya, in character as his
guide and military escort, reminded him in a superior tone that these were
collective farms and no one would be allowed to starve in the U.S.S.R..
"Ah," said Napoleon. Illya's act was a good one, all pride
and arrogance and superiority over the decadent American way of life. And
Napoleon found himself wondering what Illya really felt, in the deepest
part of his being, about America, and about Americans. It was funny,
wasn't it, and rather odd, that despite their alleged intimacy they'd
never fully discussed their political views. He turned and contemplated
Illya's profile, as his partner looked out the window at his homeland.
I have no roots, he'd said.
Napoleon profoundly sad. True, his own family was scattered now, and he'd
moved around as a child, but still he could point to places like Westport,
Connecticut, where he'd spent summers with his Aunt Amy, or Haddon,
Kansas, where he'd gone to high school and had his first real girlfriend,
or the waters off Northern California, where he'd learned to sail under
the direction of his maternal grandfather. Those places held memories for
him, even if the people were long gone, and he still felt connected to
them. To think that Illya had no such feeling for any place, or any person
-- it was unimaginable.
In fact, there was a great deal he
didn't know about his partner, even after all this time. Before now, he'd
never felt the need to inquire; he'd taken him at face value, taken their
professional relationship for granted. Clearly Illya believed in UNCLE and
in his working partnership with Napoleon, so it had seemed unimportant
that one of them came from a democracy and the other from a communist
state. It hadn't mattered to Napoleon for the entire length of time they'd
been partnered that Illya occasionally sniped about America's class system
and he in turn mocked Illya's proletarian tastes. It hadn't mattered that
they were from nations that were constantly teetering on the raw edge of
the Cold War.
Or maybe it had mattered. He realized, with a
flash of shame, that he'd ignored the issue of their nationalities because
he simply didnít want to think about it. He'd never wanted to think about
Illya in that way. As an enemy. As the "other."
It came to him, bouncing in the spring-less back seat of
the taxicab, that now he was ready to find out everything he'd studiously
ignored for two years, even if it hurt to do so. He yearned to know
everything about his partner, little things, big things, the vast number
of details that made Illya who he was. Sure, he could tell you what music
Illya liked, and he could predict with certainty what Illya would choose
from a menu, or which side of the bed he preferred. He knew what Illya
liked when they were in that bed together, what made him moan, what made
him catch his breath and tremble. He'd mapped every scar, every birthmark
and stretch of skin of Illya's body, but what of his soul? What did he
believe in? UNCLE? Marxism? Socialism? Nothing? More importantly, what
made him the man he was? What had he been like as a child? What was his
family like? Did he have siblings? Who were his past lovers? What
did he want from life?
The intensity of his thoughts shook
him, as did the sheer number of unanswered questions. A helluva time to
be thinking about this, Napoleon! Dammit. Why did these questions have
to become important now?
There was only one possible
conclusion. He'd known for weeks that this was more than another of his
casual affairs. He'd even admitted to himself that he might be in over his
head. But sitting here in the harsh Siberian light, watching the cold wind
ruffle Illya's hair, Napoleon knew his feelings went far, far deeper even
than that. He was profoundly, irrevocably, desperately in love.
He tossed that idea around his mind for a moment, let his brain and
his heart savor what it felt like to be in love -- not only that, but to
be in love with a man -- and to top it all off, a man who happened to be
his socially awkward, perpetually difficult, constantly irritating
Napoleon leaned back heavily against the cracked
leather seat. I am in love with Illya.
revelations went, it actually was singularly unsurprising. In fact, he
felt fine. He felt better than fine. He felt great.
All well and good, but what of Illya's heart and
mind? No matter what he suspected, or what he hoped was true, the reality
was he had no accurate information on what Illya felt about him. He
sighed heavily. Illya heard him, and turned to look, eyes narrowing.
"Eto mesto, tovarischi," said the driver. "V
"We are here," Illya said stiffly,
completely in character.
Napoleon mentally shook himself
out of his thoughts. The cab screeched to a stop in front of a rather
mediocre-appearing edifice that belied the name "Hotel Superior."
They gathered their few bags, went inside, registered, went to their
rooms. . .
. . .and promptly made "Llewellyn Forbush, U.S.
diplomat" and "Capt. Yevgeny Kurmatsov, U.S.S.R. Navy," disappear.
Sixty miles from Novosibirsk, the scientific community of
Izledovangorod rose like a city of the future out of the snowy rural
landscape. To Napoleon, the shining towers and glass-sided buildings
looked like nothing so much as an exhibit from the current New York
World's Fair mistakenly plopped down in the Russian steppes.
From their perch on one of the highest buildings, they had a perfect
view of the town. Far beyond the grid that made up the city center of
Izledovangorod, the famous white onion dome of the Church of St. Basil
glinted in the thin sunlight. At the other end of the town was the
building containing Nikola Holodny's office. They'd been on a rooftop
across from it for hours, and Napoleon was chafing under the forced
inactivity. The fact that the temperature hovered around 20 degrees
Fahrenheit did nothing to improve his mood. It wasn't exactly snowing,
just weeping occasional dribs of sleet which slithered down his face and
under his collar. Snow in October. Yeesh.
Sleet. Snow. . .
The white surrounding them made Napoleon's mind stray to
THRUSH's lethal substance. Incredible, that something existed that could
freeze everything in its path. What would the world be like if it got
loose? Starvation, destruction, worldwide genocide. . . The shiver that
shook him had nothing to do with the temperature.
there," Illya's voice said suddenly, "See? Next to the Akademiya Zemnyh
"The whatsis?" He banged his hands together,
trying to restore circulation.
"The enormous concrete and
glass high rise."
"Which enormous concrete and glass high
"The one across Bulyevar Geroyev."
"The wide street with the trees in the middle,
Napoleon. The Academy of Terrestrial Sciences. The building we've been
watching since noon."
"Sorry. My brain is freezing. Damn,
"This? I find it rather balmy."
"You're balmy, that's what. What am I supposed to be seeing?"
"Getting out of the black Lada. . ."
Ladas are black."
"Your sarcasm regarding Soviet
automobiles and architecture is duly noted, so you may drop the pose of
obnoxious American. If you can. Hmm. Nikola Holodny has interesting
Angelique, for one. Another woman I don't recognize. A big fellow, a
guard, perhaps. And Gustave Teckler."
"The ex-Nazi? Head of
THRUSH Eastern Europe? Really. Give me those." Napoleon took the
binoculars and focused them across the boulevard. "Well, will you look at
that. I thought UNCLE Northeast had him in custody."
was part of a trade, as I remember."
"Good grief. What was
Beldon thinking, letting him go?"
"Keep watching the office
window. I want to know when they get there." Illya was doing something
with his scope that absorbed his total attention.
comrade captain." Napoleon grinned, which made his frozen face muscles
ache. "Hello, here we go."
Illya crawled up next to him,
bringing warmth to Napoleon's right side. He wondered briefly if there'd
be a nice warm interlude in their future, tonight, if possible, but that
probably was wishful thinking. It looked to be a long, long, night, and a
cold one, and he groaned inwardly at the thought of a warm bed, and his
partner's hot body. Like last night, when he'd been awakened by Illya
licking him all over, like a hungry tiger--
He stopped the
moan before it escaped his lips, and his cock twitched at the memory. He
sighed. Better stop thinking about these things or he was going to be cold
"Holodny doesn't look happy,"
Illya said, watching the window through his telescopic sight.
"What I wouldn't give to hear what Teckler's saying. Can you lip
"No, but I can interpret their gestures. He's very,
very annoyed, and poor Holodny is very, very afraid."
Angelique is pretty quiet, looks like."
"Mm, yes, well, you
would be watching her, wouldn't you?" Illya muttered. "Who's that other
woman, do you think?"
"No idea. Maybe Teckler brought his
"Like on a vacation?"
"Wait a bit, they're moving."
pair of agents watched as the THRUSH entourage and their seemingly
unwilling associate exited the building and stood arguing on the sidewalk
for a minute. The THRUSH goon grabbed Holodny by the shoulder and started
towing him to the parked sedan. "Trouble in paradise?"
"Looks like they're all going somewhere," Illya murmured in Napoleon's
ear, "Do you want to stick to Plan A, or shall we follow them?"
"Hmm. . .how about I follow them and you sniff around Holodny's
"I think we should stay together."
"No," Napoleon said. "I need you to look for Holodny's notes. I'll
follow them, but for all we know, they may all just be going out to
"All right," Illya said, sounding dubious. But he
slid back from the edge and started gathering his things. "Keep in touch."
"Don't I always?"
"No," Illya said,
matter-of-factly. "Don't make me come after you."
that backwards. I'm always coming after you, tovarishch."
A black-gloved hand closed on Napoleon's forearm. He looked
up to find a severe expression glaring back. "I'm serious, Napoleon. Be
It was on the tip of his tongue to make a joke,
but something about Illya's face made Napoleon hold back. "I will," he
promised, closing his own gloved hand over Illya's and squeezing it hard.
Illya nodded once and vanished over the edge of the building.
The group on the sidewalk was piling into the Lada. Napoleon headed
for the stairs.
Darkness was falling, though it was barely four o'clock. Illya pressed
himself further into the far wall of the office, away from the curtainless
windows, and applied himself to picking the lock of Nikola Holodny's wall
safe. The office itself scarcely looked as if it had been touched, but in
fact he'd spent the better part of an hour rummaging through documents,
looking under furniture, checking pockets in Holodny's lab coat and
rifling through his desk. So far his search had uncovered Holodny's
day-to-day work for the Akademiya Zemnyh Nauk, but nothing of his other
research. If there was anything significant worth finding, it had to be in
It was clear that any super-secret work the
scientist was undertaking was being done elsewhere. Illya had strolled
unnoticed through the corridors of the Akademiya by assuming the demeanor
of a harmless graduate student, just one of many passing in the halls. It
was much the way he'd escaped notice back at Cambridge. In glancing into
the laboratories as he passed, he noticed each was monitored by cameras.
Illya smiled mirthlessly. He knew very well that in this suspicious land
someone was always watching. If Holodny was doing secret work for THRUSH,
he wasn't doing it here.
One more turn, the lock clicked,
the knob turned easily in his hand, and the safe popped open, revealing
more papers. He grabbed one, but though his eyes scanned the page, his
mind was elsewhere. He really wanted to call Napoleon, who hadnít checked
in yet, but there was no telling if he was in a place where the
communicator's beep would go unheard. It rankled him that Solo had
separated them, even though it made complete sense. But a pall of unease
hung over him, leaving him profoundly disquieted. He should have insisted
on accompanying Napoleon.
He'd felt a sense of foreboding
since the moment they'd touched down, an inexplicable jittery sensation
that had grown with every moment they stayed. And now he was sure of it:
something terrible was happening, or about to happen.
checked his watch. Fifty-seven minutes since they'd parted on the roof.
Why hadn't Napoleon checked in to say where the THRUSH car was headed?
Illya hissed in annoyance. "Where are you, Napoleon?"
forced himself to pay attention to the contents of the safe. It didn't
yield any information on the freezing-substance, but it did tell him
Holodny was making far more money than the usual pay of a
government-sponsored researcher. A huge pile of bank notes, in the
currency of several nations, filled a locked box at the rear of the safe;
a bankbook for a numbered Swiss account was stuffed inside an envelope.
The amount on deposit made Illya's eyes widen. "Nikola, you have been a
very, very greedy boy."
The communicator clipped to his
vest went off with a shrill beep. He snapped it open. "Napoleon, where
"--Listen carefully," Napoleon said urgently. There
were raised voices in the background, and the soft whirr of machinery.
"There's not much time. I found the lab. They're fighting over--"
A man's voice was shouting. "Razve vy ne ponimayete to,
chto vy delayete?" Do you realize what you're doing, Illya translated.
"Speak English. Or German, Dr. Holodny. Something
civilized." Gustave Teckler, most likely.
"We're not under
safe conditions here!" The heavily accented Dr. Holodny was tense with
agitation. "You do not understand. If this is not controlled--"
"I thought you said it was completed." Teckler again.
"It is. But it is quite unstable. We don't have the counteracting
measures completed yet. You can't let--"
"--THRUSH gave you
until today. You said it would be ready for trials today. I'm sure
you would hate for THRUSH Central to be disappointed." Another voice,
female, and very, very cold. Not Angelique; the mystery woman, then.
"You might want to listen to him." That
pseudo-British accent was Angelique. Illya raised his eyebrows. Daring
to disagree with THRUSH Central? "I've seen the early results, and it's
horrible. What if it did--"
"Be quiet!" The other woman.
"You're on thin enough ice already."
voice whispered into the communicator. "You won't believe who she is.
"Vy tam! Chto vy delayete zeds?'"
Illya's heart lurched. The voice was loud, and
angry, and it was yelling What are you doing here?
"Damn it!" Napoleon groaned. "I've got company--" Silence, but
for the sound of running footsteps.
Answer me!" Illya's heart was thudding now, sickeningly. He caught himself
counting the seconds until Napoleon's voice came back.
"Illya--" Napoleon's breathless voice dissolved into a burst of
static. "Need you to--" More static. Illya's hands clenched and
unclenched. ". . .ivory tower. No time. You've got to get here--"
Illya gritted his teeth in frustration. "Come on, come
To his relief, Napoleon's voice returned, but
what he heard only confirmed his worst imaginings. "Oh, hi," Napoleon was
saying, with the deliberate calm that meant he was in trouble. "You sure
are a big fella. You're not by any chance with the Soviet Navy?"
There was a grinding noise and the communicator went
Proklyanite eto k chertu! Damn it to hell!
He left the safe door wide open and bolted from the room.
Let the authorities find the bankbook and the money. Let Nikola Holodny
explain himself to the KGB. He didn't care. He didn't care about anything
right now, except getting to Napoleon.
He was down the hall
in seconds, his body carrying him away on autopilot, managing through
instinct to keep from drawing attention. But inside, his mind was busy.
You're not by any chance with the Soviet Navy
I need your help, Illya. Now.
"It's been a while, Mr. Solo."
"Not long enough, Dr.
The brunette woman started a little at his remark.
Then her far-too-perfect face pulled into a parody of a smile. "I'm
impressed. What gave me away?"
"Well, your utter disregard
for humanity was a pretty strong clue. Plus, I overheard Gustave here call
you by name. I have to say, doctor, the makeover is excellent. As I recall
you used to be a blonde," Napoleon flexed his muscles against the grip the
THRUSH thug had on him, but to no avail. "Of course, I didn't have time to
find out if you were a real blonde."
Egret curled her lip. With the swiftness of a striking viper she slapped
him hard across the face.
"Well, okay then," Napoleon said,
licking blood from the corner of his mouth. "I guess the date is off." He
looked around. The vaulted wooden ceiling of the church crypt contrasted
with the white sterility of the modern lab. "Nice set up you have here,"
Napoleon said casually. "The holy and the unholy, all under one roof."
"Shut him up." Teckler gestured and a beefy hand slammed
over Napoleon's mouth. It smelled of garlic and gun oil and coupled with
the residual dizziness from Egret's blow, forced Napoleon to sway with
nausea. "We'll deal with him later. Now, Dr. Holodny. I want to see what
we've been paying you for."
"But I'm telling you, Herr
Teckler--" The scientist was visibly trembling. His eyes kept straying to
the small stoppered beaker on a lab table next to him. "Can't we postpone
just a bit? I'm certain by next week--"
"Now. Or I will
shoot you and have Dr. Egret conclude the test."
eyes were terrified. His voice crept into a nasal whine. "No, please. The
isolation room is not airtight, Herr Teckler. I beseech you not to--"
"Enough!" A shot rang out and Angelique, standing well to
the side of the small group, gave a little yelp. Napoleon's eyes turned to
her, and then to the brunette woman. Smoke curled from the end of a
snub-nosed revolver in Dr. Egret's hand. Her face remained impassive. "I
can't abide weak men," she said coolly.
Holdony looked with
surprise at the blossoming red stain on his lab coat. His right hand came
up to clutch at his chest, and he made a gurgling noise deep in his
throat. He started to fall, his left hand grabbing at the counter for
support in the last act of his life.
And then it happened.
Napoleon watched, aghast, as Holodny scrabbled for purchase
and hit the stoppered beaker by mistake, knocking it over. Time seemed to
slow as the glass tilted, rolled across the counter, and fell over the
side, hurtling towards the concrete floor.
another shriek from Angelique, more desperate, this time, a shouted curse
from Teckler, and a surprised "What?" from Egret, who had turned away.
Teckler was the only one who moved. He lurched forward,
sticking out both hands to try to catch the glass before it hit, but he
wasn't fast enough. The glass shattered on the floor, breaking the vacuum
seal and splashing the lab table and the dead scientist's leg, and
spilling minute drops onto Gustave Teckler's shoes.
moment, no one breathed.
The results were terrifying in
their swiftness. Tiny white crystals began to form on every surface the
substance had splattered. The crystals grew towards each other, until they
formed one white mass, which began to expand outward at an alarming rate.
The white crept up the dead man's leg, transforming clothing and flesh
alike into a frozen mass. It was, Napoleon thought, as if Holodny's corpse
were slowly being changed into an ice sculpture.
happening? For God's sake, what's happening?" Teckler yelled,
backing away. But the circle of crystals pursued him, and the toes of his
shoes had started to turn white as well.
"Take off your
shoes!" Angelique cried. "Quickly!" Her face was a mask of horror. She
withdrew from the crystals, moving closer to Napoleon. Teckler grabbed
at his shoe, trying to wrench it off, but it wouldn't come off, and he
inadvertently brushed against some of the crystals. Almost instantaneously
the white stuff was also on his fingers. He tried to shake it off them,
and when that didn't work, wiped his fingers against his pants, where it
began to spread as well. A terrified mewling sound began deep in Teckler's
Dr. Egret watched Teckler's contortions with an
expression of intense fascination. "Remarkable," she said. "It's even
converting human flesh." Napoleon swallowed the bile rising in his throat.
Next to the counter, Gustave Teckler opened his mouth and
began to scream.
It was a sound of both abject terror and
horrible anguish, and it struck Napoleon as cold as the slowly freezing
dead body in front of him. Teckler was hopping as if he were barefoot on
hot coals, then lost his balance suddenly and fell face forward onto
Holodny's corpse. The crystals began their relentless crawl onto his face
and when they reached his eyes his scream turned into a shriek, his
whitening fingers clawing at his face, leaving rivulets of blood that
swiftly turned to streaks of white.
The hand over
Napoleon's mouth slipped as the man behind him twitched in terror at the
horrifying sights and sounds. Napoleon wrenched himself sideways, slipping
out of the thug's grasp to chop him on the neck. The man dropped in place
like a sack of bricks.
He turned to find Angelique, arms
wrapped around herself, staring at him imploringly. "Do something,
Napoleon! Stop it!"
"We have to get the air out of the
"How are we going to do that?"
don't know, I donít know." He picked up Teckler's briefcase. "Maybe
there's something in here about it, or an air vent, or--"
Egret was pointing her gun at his heart.
"Don't be a fool," he said, fed up with her stupidity, fed
up with THRUSH's insanity. "Do you want to die, doctor? Do you want to see
the end of the world, or would you like to live a little while longer?"
She laughed, a barking sound like the bitch she is,
Napoleon thought. "I'll survive. I always do."
this time," Napoleon said savagely. "If you want to live, you'll figure
out how to stop this."
"So sorry." She began to inch
towards the door, keeping one eye on the encroaching crystals. Her gun
wavered between the two of them.
"You can't leave me
here!" Angelique shrieked. "I'm THRUSH, just like you!"
one is like me," Egret said. "And frankly, I don't like the competition."
"Competition won't matter, Dr. Egret," Napoleon rasped at
her. "Everyone's as good as dead if we don't stop this."
She shrugged. "Good-bye, Angelique. Farewell, Mr. Solo." Her finger
tightened on the trigger.
Napoleon threw the briefcase at
her and flung himself sideways as the shot rang out. The briefcase
deflected the shot from his heart, but the bullet caught him in the upper
thigh, instantly numbing it. He fell heavily, pushing Angelique as he
fell, both of them missing the expanding whiteness by the narrowest of
margins. He rolled sideways. When he looked up, Dr. Egret had gone,
leaving behind only a latex mask and a brunette wig.
staggered to his feet, Angelique catching his arm to help him, which,
under other circumstances, he would have found amusing. But the time for
amusement was long past. "What stops the air?" he panted, looking around
wildly. If only Illya were here, he'd know the answer, he'd have some
scientific plan, some arcane knowledge to help stop this thing. But Illya
wasn't here, and there was no telling if he would be. "Think, Angelique,
think! Did they ever mention anything? Any counteragent?"
Angelique was moaning, staring at the crystals, which had now consumed
most of the counter and both bodies. Teckler had stopped making noise, but
his limbs still twitched. Napoleon tried not to look at him. "It can't be
stopped, it can't, it can't--"
"For God's sake, Angelique!"
Napoleon said harshly, his eyes scouring the lab for something, anything,
to use. His gaze traveled over a fire extinguisher and inspiration struck.
"What about carbon dioxide? Something that pulls the oxygen away from a
fire, stops it from spreading--" The words died in his throat with a
realization. Not a fire extinguisher--
"Fire -- we can use fire to eat up the air! Find
something to use as an accelerant." He moved toward another counter,
limping badly as red-hot pain suddenly lanced up his hip. He bit his lip
against the pain; this was no time to pass out. "Help me, Angelique, if
you want to stop this! Do it! Now!"
His orders seemed to
snap her out of her reverie. She found a container of liquid marked
"flammable" and together they splashed it liberally on the creeping
whiteness. A sheaf of papers from Teckler's briefcase was soaked with it.
"Will it work?" The THRUSH woman's voice trembled. She
literally was wringing her hands.
"Let's hope so," he said,
flicking his lighter. He touched it to the papers.
went up in a sheet of flame.
Illya ran the last half-mile up Formentov Prospekt toward the Church of
Svyatoy Basil. The church and its famous white onion dome lay hidden
around a curve at the top of a rise, but there was something about the
light in the twilight sky, a strange glow over the top of the hill that
looked wrong, very wrong, the kind of wrong that drew his heart into his
throat and made the sweat on his body turn to ice. Adrenaline coursed
through him. He rounded the last turn and skidded to a halt, his mind at
first unable to process what he was seeing.
The tower was
engulfed in flames.
A white landscape--
The sense of wrongness that had plagued him since
they'd entered the country exploded within him, panicking him. "Napoleon!"
he shouted into the wind.
--alone in the snowy
landscape, a small building, old, made of wood--
The hill and its lonely church undulated before him, seeming to shift
away as his sight telescoped. Nausea gripped him as he tried to move
forward on legs that suddenly would not obey him. It was a living thing,
this fire, a beast that sizzled and popped as it consumed the church with
voracious hunger. Illya stared at it and was filled with dread, a
stultifying, nameless dread that defied logic. He closed his eyes and
shook himself hard. He had to go inside. If Napoleon was still in there--
It took an act of will but he made himself move. The slate
sky was like a shroud over the scene; he felt its weight pressing on him,
dragging him down. The powdery snow crunched underfoot like brittle bones
being ground to dust. His legs carried him unsteadily on, until he was
close enough to see that only the far half of the building was consumed,
the ancient wood crackling as the orange flames licked at it. There was a
door on this side, its peeling paint a blotchy, leprous red. All he had to
do was get to the door, reach it, but
recedes again, the ground sucks at his feet, slowing him until he can
He staggered forward, forcing himself
towards the building, stretching out his hand until it closed on the iron
handle. Suddenly the heavy door flew outward, nearly catching him a blow
to the head. A figure hurtled out into the cold, smoke billowing behind
Illya whipped around and grabbed her
as she tried to push past him. He registered her labored breathing, the
terror in her eyes. He didn't care. "Where is he? Where's Napoleon?"
"He's. . .he's. . . " Her eyes, wild and huge, finally
fixed on him. "It got out. . .spreading. He started the fire to kill it."
"Napoleon!" he shouted at her, shaking her so hard her head
bobbed on her shoulders. She was coatless and wore no shoes. He didn't
care if she froze to death. "What happened to him?"
Egret. Couldn't, couldn't get up the stairs. I tried to help, I tried--"
"Oh, I'm certain you tried," Illya spat at her. Shot,
Napoleon shot. How bad? His heart thudded against his chest. Napoleon
shot, perhaps dead, perhaps not, perhaps burning alive--
A smoldering corpse--
He shuddered. "Take
me to him!"
"I won't go back in there!"
will!" Illya spat. "And he'd better be alive, or I swear I will shoot you,
She threw her head back. "Go ahead! I'm not going
back. What if it's still there? What if it's still spreading--" She
struggled against him and he held on tightly. "Let me go!"
Pozvolyte mne idti! the boy is crying, Let me go!
Illya's head whipped around. Another voice was shouting
the same words, a child's voice, but in the gathering gloom he saw no one
other than the two of them. Angelique was struggling again, begging him to
let her go, but he ignored her pleas. He threw the door open again,
dragging her with him, but at the last moment she twisted sideways,
wrenching from his grasp. She backed away, her face triumphant, and then
turned to flee down the hill. There was no question of following; his
mission lay before him, not with her capture. He took a deep breath and
went through the door.
The heat hit him like a juggernaut,
forcing him back a step. The smell of charring wood was overpowering,
overlaid with the mixed odors of metal and chemicals, and the sharp tang
of burning electrical wires. The oily soot drew into his nose and mouth
with every choking breath, coating his palate. The far wall was on fire,
the leaded glass windows buckling and popping out, crashing to the floor,
but the smoke mainly seemed to come from a dark doorway beyond the altar.
Illya crossed the nave, obstacles block the boy's way, gouges in the
earth, barbed wire, broken furniture, taking care to avoid the broken
wooden pews piled haphazardly about the space. The crucifix was long gone
from the altar, as was the icon of Sacred Basil, but a lone saint carved
into the wall stared back at him, its blind eyes accusing.
He stepped onto the raised altar and stopped, reeling, catching
himself on the altar rail. The smell was all around him, the scent of wax,
and his reason told him it was merely the old drippings from centuries of
candle wax melting as the wood burned, but
A young voice, the child again,
the boy is crying in terror and remorse, and what did it mean, "the
candle, the candle?" Illya scanned the debris-strewn church but couldn't
see a boy, couldn't tell where the crying was coming from. Behind him a
beam crashed deafeningly to the floor and spewed flames onto the tinder of
the wooden pews. He blinked and let go of the rail, making his way to the
doorway. "Napoleon!" he yelled into the inky blackness, "Napoleon! Can you
There was no answer. The door opened onto a
staircase; deep below, faint light from the flames glimmered through the
obscuring smoke. There might be signs of life down there, or merely
bodies, Napoleon's among them. There was no way to tell from here.
He took in a lungful of the thick air and descended
The passageway was black with smoke, and with
each step down the creaking, moaning staircase the air grew hotter,
fouler. Impossible, it was impossible to see what lay below him. He yelled
out again, fighting a coughing jag. "Napoleon!" the boy is calling
again, begging, crying in desperation, Let me go to them, Pozvolyte
mnye idti k nim! Ya ne ghotel delatye eto! I did not
mean to do it! His eyes burned and watered, stung by the
ash-filled air. It was impossible, but he had to keep going; Napoleon was
down here, somewhere, and he needed to find him, he needs to find them.
The boy is crying, the boy does not want to wait, he will find
them, he will save them, even though he is to blame--
Choking, throat swelling, he was suddenly unable to breathe. Something
was happening to him, something terrible that he couldn't name, and the
panic welled up, leaving him clinging to the stair rail until the vertigo
passed. He moved again, slowly descending the staircase, feeling his way
in the darkness, calling and calling until his throat hurt and he is
hoarse with shouting after them, but they do not answer any more.
He stumbled a little, his ankle turning as something
skittered by him and ran up the steps. A rat, perhaps, fleeing the inferno
below. Another step, and another. The metal railing was scaldingly hot
beneath his hand. Flames flickered and he caught a glimpse of something on
the floor below, something charred that once was alive, something horrible
that seemed to raise a hand in Death's salute, admonishing Ty
ubiliih! you have killed them! and he cried out, slipping,
falling, barely managing to catch himself as the railing came away from
the wall, but still he felt as if he were descending, falling into a
bottomless pit, falling forever. "Are you here! Please answer me!" but in
response there was only an agonized scream from within the collapsing
building, a woman's scream, Pomogitye nam! Pomogitye nam! My
umirayem! Help us, we are dying, help us
"Illya, down here!"
A voice, a
familiar voice! "Can't see you!" Illya shouted into the thick darkness,
his pulse racing. "I can't see you, I can't reach you!" His voice sounded
tight and shrill -- there didn't seem to be enough air in his lungs and
he is trying to reach them, but he can't get to them, the flames are
too hot, the smoke too thick. His ankle ached and his hand
burned from touching the red-hot iron railing and he is too small, too
weak to fight the hands holding him back.
right here, Illya, right below you." There was a painful wheeze. "Tried
to. . .stay near the floor."
keep coming down."
He scrambled forward until his
foot hit something soft. A hand grabbed his ankle. The panic settled a
little as he squinted into face blackened by soot but grinning at him. "I
knew you'd come."
"We have to go! We have to get out!"
"No. . .kidding. . . Help me. . ."
down, acting on instinct, groping in the darkness. He grabbed an arm and
pulled, clutching a little too tightly at the body leaning heavily against
him. Alive! "I've got you," Illya exulted, "I've got you, I've got you,
"--Yeah, you got me. Let's go."
There was a creak and the steps beneath them wavered. Illya coughed.
"The stairs. . .not secure."
"We'll be careful, then."
Be careful, you must be careful, moya lyubov, put
out the candle--
He faltered, and the
weight in his arms shifted. He heard a hoarse exhalation followed by a
curse. "Leg, numb, couldn't climb. . ." The words ended in a fit of
choking. Illya said nothing. His eyes scanned the darkness, looking,
searching. Where are they? The arm over his shoulders tightened as
he pulled them both upwards, slowly, limping towards the pale rectangle of
By the time they reached the top he was
lightheaded with lack of oxygen. The stairs rumbled and sagged beneath
them and as he pulled them both across the threshold, the steps collapsed
into the pyre below. The body in his arms was dead weight, so he grabbed
an arm and leg and hoisted his burden fireman-style, ignoring a grunt of
protest. No time left, none at all.
He staggered under the
heavy weight on his shoulders, struggling to breathe as he made his way
through a nightmare scene from hell, a gauntlet of fallen beams and
burning pews. Step by painful step, he drew them closer to safety.
A sharp crack above signaled the death of another window.
He looked up, his vision swimming, and saw the window buckle, saw the
shards of glass as they fell, saw the woman's silhouette in the window,
the little girl, her nightdress aflame, the other boy, a baby, red flames
crawling up into the cradle; the boy hears them dying, can smell them
dying, and he wants to vomit, to die himself, and he screams Oni
vnutri! Oni goryat! They are inside! They are burning! burning,
The cold air was sharp as needles on
Illya's scorched skin as he burst through the door to fall on his knees in
the white snow. The other man rolled off his shoulders and came to rest
several feet away on his back, where he lay panting. Red covered his left
leg from knee to waist, the blood beginning to stain the pristine
whiteness of the snow. Illya retched painfully for a few moments, bringing
up bile from his guts and smoke from his tortured lungs. When he was done
he pushed himself back, away from the blood, away from the snow, and
turned his face towards the fire.
"I. . .knew. . ." There
was a cough, loud and deep, and then the sound of lungs wheezing as they
struggled to cope with clean air. "I knew you'd get here in time." Another
Illya barely registered the words. Slowly,
every muscle protesting, he staggered to his feet and stood there,
weaving. His head throbbed. His throat was raw with shouting, constricted
nearly to the point of closure. The fire was raging. There is no
time. He took a shaky step, fell down, and struggled up again.
"Where are you going?" There was a rustling sound behind
him. "I destroyed Holodny's crystals. I think I destroyed them. There's no
"--Ya dolzhen naijti ih," Illya
said in a flat voice. "Oni vsye yesche vnutri. Oni goryat."
"What? Illya?" A painful grunt, and the crunch
of something moving on the snow. "I didn't understand. What did you say?"
"I must find them. They are still inside." They are
calling, shouting for help and the boy, he, he must find them. They are
burning and he must help them--
There's no one left alive down there, Illya, Teckler and Holodny are dead
and Egret got away. And Angelique."
Illya shook his head
impatiently at the meaningless words. He turned to see the man, whoever he
was, trying to rise from the snowy ground. "Can't you hear them? Oni
"'They. . .burn?' They're burning? Who?
There's no one left!"
Illya's head pounded and he clapped
his hands to his ears. How could the man not hear the screams?
"Oni goryat!" He turned back to the fire.
a grunt of pain behind him, and then fingers latched onto his calf. They
weren't strong, the fingers, but he was weak himself and they stopped him
in his tracks. "You can't go back in there! Illya! Stop!" Boy,
stop, boy! The old man, the neighbor, is holding him back, saying it's too
late, you can't save them, they are beyond help.
"Let go of me! They are burning alive!"
"No!" There was
a rough pull on his leg and Illya crashed down onto the snow, struggling
violently against the hands holding him down. "Dammit! What's wrong with
you? There's no one there! Illya!"
"Liar! They are! Mischa i Katya i mama--"
Katya, her nightdress aflame, Mischa in his cradle, the red flames
climbing up the sides, Mama screaming through the window, help us, help
us, Illyusha, get help, but "I can't! I can't--" He fought against the
hands, the grip, but a body was atop him suddenly, holding him down. "Let
me go! I have to save them!"
"Illya, Illya, for God's sake,
what's going on? Who do you mean? There's no one!" Through blurry eyes
Illya saw a soot-covered face, an expression of alarm. "It's all over. You
saved me, remember? Remember? Illya, remember?" He was held flat
against the snow, on his back, hands stretched out in the mockery of a
cross. "Illya, listen to me--"
There is no
time! Why wouldn't the man let him go? " I must go to them!" he
shouted, and the boy was crying now, he was crying, the hot tears
coursing down his cold face, leaving streaks in the dirt and soot, his
voice tight and shrill, a child's voice, "Don't you understand? Eto
moya oshibka! It's my fault! It's my fault!"
"What are you talking--"
"I didn't put out the candle!"
Ne proveditye svechu, moyego malenykogo cheloveka, my little man, don't
waste the candle "--She told me, but I didn't, I--"
"Who? Who told you?"
"--Mama, I was angry and I went to
the river and then I heard it, there was exploding and the fire came!" He
clutched the man by the shirt to stop his hands from shaking, but the
shaking only got worse. "They were inside and I couldn't reach them, they
were burning, all of them, the smell -- I killed them! I couldn't save
them! I couldn't save any of them! It's my fault, my fault, my--"
"Illya! Illya! Listen to me!" The old man is shaking
him, the man was holding him, pulling him from the snow to hold him
close, so close, against his heaving chest. "Please! Stop, Illya," the
kind voice was saying to him, "That's not happening now. Whatever happened
to you, Illya, I'm sorry, so sorry, but it's not happening. That was a
long time ago. Now, right now, you saved me. Do you hear me? You did it.
You saved me, Illya."
The voice was thick with
emotion, and the arms that held him, cradled him, were soothing, rocking
him like the arms of a father, or a mother. Or a lover. Familiar arms.
Something broke inside him; he stopped struggling, and then he was
weeping, crying for them all, for the mother and the daughter and the baby
and for the boy he had been. The arms held him tightly and rocked him, as
the voice kept speaking urgently in his ear. The strong arms, the voice,
he knew them, they were familiar to him, as was the scent of the man, the
warmth that enfolded him. "N. . .Napoleon?"
A soft voice in
his ear. "Yes."
He shook violently as images rushed at him,
flooding him. Fire, death, family. Ashes, all ashes. "What's happening?"
"Something terrible. I think it happened to you a long time
ago, Illya. But it's over now."
But still, there was the
cold reality. . ."My fault, my--"
The arms tightened around
him. "No, no. It isn't. Listen to me, Illya. You pulled me out of the
fire. You saved me. Do you understand? Here and now, Illya, you saved me."
"I. . .saved you." He clutched more tightly at the shirt.
"I saved. . .Napoleon."
"Yes, yes, you did, Illya
Nickovetch," the voice said, breaking. "You saved me. You always save me."
He released a shuddering breath and pressed his face
against Napoleon's chest to feel the strong heart beat beneath his cheek.
And nothing was left but the roar of the fire, and the
distant wail of sirens.
This time, there were no dreams.
Blistering heat, then
cold, then warmth again. Dense blackness, then bright white light, sirens
melting into voices, the stench of ashes and death, the sharp tang of
alcohol, disinfectants, cleanliness.
The softness of snow.
The softness of feathers.
Light faded in and out. And then
He awakened slowly, his limbs heavy underneath
the bedcovers, his jaw popping in an enormous yawn. He lay there taking in
the new sounds, feeling disoriented, not yet willing to open his eyes. A
man was talking, his voice quite familiar, but somewhat roughened.
"Yes, sir. Tomorrow morning, 0800 hours."
Illya came more fully awake, listening.
"Thank you. And
thanks for the help with the Russians."
An odd, tinny voice
followed. ". . .keep this confidential." It took Illya a moment to
comprehend that it was Waverly, coming through Napoleon's communicator.
"Yes, sir, completely confidential, I understand." Napoleon
coughed and cleared his throat and the oddness of his voice subsided
somewhat. "Thank you again. Solo out." A click and a metallic slide
punctuated the end of the conversation. "Hello there. Sleep well?"
Illya blinked his eyes open, not bothering to question how
Napoleon knew he was awake. His throat ached abominably. Evidently a wood
rasp had been dragged through it while he slept. He tried to speak and
fell into a coughing spasm.
"It's from all the smoke.
There's water next to the bed."
The cool water from the
ceramic mug felt wonderful on his seared throat. Illya scanned the room,
searching for familiarity, but found none, except in the gently amused
expression on his partner's face. Napoleon leaned back casually in an
overstuffed chair set against the far wall, his crisp white shirt a stark
contrast to the fading ochre wallpaper behind him. "Where--" Illya began.
A frog had taken up residence alongside the wood rasp, apparently. He
cleared his throat and tried again. "Where is this?"
"Why are we still in Siberia?"
"Waverly thought we'd better let things die down a bit
before heading home."
Die down a bit. . . Events of the
recent past seemed murky, and evidently his expression said as much. "The
authorities were not amused that we burned down their famous landmark,"
Napoleon explained. "I think they're still holding it against us that we
gave them the slip at the hotel."
"Did we complete the
Napoleon leaned forward, elbows on knees. "Yes,
I'm relieved to say. Our boys have been all over the site, and there's no
sign of the crystals."
"Good." Illya sighed, coughed again,
and took another sip of water. "What about Angelique?"
a whisper. Egret's vanished, too."
When he looked up,
Napoleon was staring at him thoughtfully. "We already talked about this,
Illya frowned. "Did we? I. . .don't recall."
"Don't you remember sitting around the hospital with me and
then coming here?"
Illya shook his head.
Napoleon examined his face intently. "Huh. That's interesting. No
memory at all?"
"No," he lied. In fact, the murk was
dissipating. An uncomfortable metal chair, the hospital corridor, doctors
working on Napoleon, questions from the local police, a feeling like
sawdust in his lungs. . . yes, he remembered the aftermath, at least some
of it. It seemed far away, as if it had happened to someone else.
Strangely unimportant. But the other, the other memories--
"You feel all right?"
He forced himself away from the
other thoughts, the ones that chilled him, and took stock of himself
physically. "My head aches. My hand hurts." He looked at his right hand
and found it bandaged.
"You burned it," Napoleon said.
"Dragging me out."
"Oh." He flexed his hand. The burning
staircase. Of course.
He looked up again and found Napoleon
frowning at him. "What time is it?" he asked, deliberately looking away,
as if for a clock.
"Nearly eight. In the evening. You slept
fifteen hours straight."
"I don't remember that."
"Well, you wouldn't, would you?" Napoleon chuckled, and
moved towards the bed. For the first time Illya noticed his crutches.
He pulled himself up against the headboard and made a move
to rise. "Forgive me, Napoleon. Your leg, how is it?"
"Not too bad." Napoleon waved him back down and sat on the end of the
bed, grunting slightly. He lay the crutches against the bed and patted his
thigh. "Hurts like hell, but went straight through without hitting
anything important." He grinned at Illya. "Go ahead. Tell me how lucky I
Illya shook his head. "I'm sorry."
"You're sorry you had to carry me, you mean."
play the fool. You could've been killed."
said, casually reaching to touch him. "Not a chance of that. Not with you
out there to rescue me."
Their eyes met for a moment, until
Illya dropped his gaze. Try as he might to block them, the devastating
memories of the fire were coming back in a rush. His breath quickened. If
only he didnít have to remember, if only Napoleon would stop saying--
In desperation he shifted his focus outward, turning to
look around the room, and in shifting managed to move out from under
Napoleon's hand. Wallpaper, he catalogued. Slanted ceiling. A finished
attic, perhaps, well kept, despite its air of genteel shabbiness. A
comfortable room, two beds, two heavy duvets on the two beds, four
pillows, a small cabinet on the wall that no doubt hid an icon. "Not a
"No, it's a safe house, more precisely the home of
Sascha and Mila Rymarenko." Napoleon paused, and his expression softened.
"--Who are they?"
people who happen to be on the payroll of UNCLE. Illya, we need to--"
"--Rymarenko. They're Ukrainian?"
You can ask them. They don't speak much English, that's all I
know." Napoleon gave a heavy sigh and passed a hand over his
face. He looked tired. "I'm wise to what you're doing, you know."
"And what's that?"
"You're deflecting the
conversation. Wouldn't you rather talk about what happened?"
"The mission is over."
"Not the mission. About what
happened to you a long time ago. What you remembered. That was your
family, wasn't it?"
He'd been expecting it, but all the
bracing in the world couldn't have prevented the wave of shame from
crashing into him. He felt it happen, and then he was drowning, sinking
under the weight of the truth the memories had revealed.
Napoleon was looking at him with, what -- kindness? Sadness? Pity? He
felt naked under that gaze, exposed and vulnerable. Surely Napoleon must
see, must understand now what he truly was. He reached for his instinctive
walls, the invisible, impenetrable barrier that he maintained between
himself and the world.
But he couldn't summon the barrier
any more, not with Napoleon, and he cursed him for it.
"Please, Napoleon. I'm very tired." Illya lay back and turned his head
away. His hands clenched in the covers and his pulse kept pounding. The
urge to flee was strong, but perhaps if he didn't look at Napoleon, the
conversation would stop, this would all end.
No such luck.
"Illya, can't you tell me about it? I know it must have been terrible for
you, what happened to you--"
"It didnít happen to
me, Napoleon, don't you understand? I made it happen!"
"Illya." Napoleon's voice was unbearably gentle. "You didn't--"
"--You know nothing about it. Now. . .please. Please don't.
I can't talk."
The silence filled the space between them
like a noxious gas.
"Fine, no talking," Napoleon said, at
last. An edge had crept into his voice. "How about a game of cards? Some
witty repartee? Something to eat, then? I'm hungry, so you must be
"No thank you."
If you fill your mouth you'll have an excuse not to talk."
"Napoleon, stop it."
word was said sternly and he turned his face back to his partner.
"Napoleon, I will not discuss it. Any of it. The mission is over, and we
survived. Nothing else matters."
"Nothing else matters?
You matter, Illya, you matter to me! I need you--"
to save the mission despite my interference."
-- are you crazy?"
The flight response intensified; his
heart was beating so rapidly by now he thought he might pass out.
"You're hungry." Words tumbled out in a rush as he pushed aside the
bedclothes. "No sense in you starving, let me get you something to eat.
You shouldn't be on that leg. I'll just go, I'll go downstairs and get you
some food." He slid out of the bed, but Napoleon caught his arm.
"Don't do this, Illya. Stay. I don't need to eat. I need
"The one thing you don't need is me."
"No?" Napoleon's grip tightened. "Hey. Weíve been through
the wringer together, tovarishch. And we survived -- again! I think
we should celebrate that fact."
"I'm leaving." He pulled
away. The suitcase he'd left at the hotel was standing by the bed. He
grabbed clothes at random from it and began to dress. He had to get away,
get out of here, before the hold he had on himself evaporated.
Behind him he heard Napoleon struggling to rise. The crutches made a
soft click, click on the wood floor. "Where? There's nowhere to go.
Not even a decent restaurant. Listen, we can tell Mila to bring us
something, and eat it in bed. Pure decadent extravagance. Come on. What
He faced Napoleon.
faÁade crumbled. "Please, Illya. Please talk to me."
was something about Napoleon's handsome face, an expression on it Illya
had rarely, if ever seen before. Uncertainty. Uncertainty that went with
the pleading sound of his voice. And there was hurt, too, great hurt. It
pained him to see that, to hear it, in someone he cared for so
For once he let himself admit how much he
cared, and didn't try to push the knowledge away. But acceptance didn't
assuage his own pain; it only intensified his guilt. He had cared for
others, too, and look what he'd brought them.
Still, he felt a rush of shame for treating Napoleon so. He nearly
wavered then, nearly turned to him to gather him in an embrace. But the
thought, cold as an icicle, stabbed through him: Imagine how much worse
pain I am capable of inflicting.
There was only one
remedy. "I'm going to leave UNCLE, Napoleon. I'll tell Waverly when we get
Napoleon was stunned. "Why? Why would you do that?"
"It will save him having to dismiss me."
"What on earth -- You've done nothing wrong! Hell, you were a damn
hero out there." Illya was close enough to see the thoughts course through
the other man's face. Quick thoughts, desperate ones as Napoleon scrambled
madly. "Look, Illya, you've been through a lot. You need some time off,
time to sort things out. So do I. Why don't I get Waverly to give us a
couple days, maybe a week, so--"
"Napoleon, it's for the
"Don't be sorry, and don't be an ass." Napoleon
grabbed at his arm, and one crutch fell heavily to the floor. "You saved
my damn life, Illya. Now is not the time to act like you messed up in some
way, unless you're saying my life wasn't worth saving."
"You know that's absurd."
"Do I?" Napoleon released him
roughly, and limped back a step. "I'll tell you what's absurd, it's this
tortured act of yours. I've had enough of it, moi droog, I've had a
belly full of it. Damn it, Illya, out there on that hill I learned things
about you that showed me how truly brave you are, especially with what you
were reliving. Yeah, you fell apart. So what? Who wouldn't, under those
circumstances? But no matter what was going on inside you, you held it
together until we were safe. You fought through it, Illya, long enough to
make a difference. You know what real bravery is? It's being afraid and
doing the dangerous thing anyway. I thought that's what you were, someone
to admire, a brave man who wouldn't give up. Was I wrong?"
"That's nonsense and you know it."
"Save your admiration, Napoleon. You saw bravery out there.
I saw. . .I saw someone who killed his own family. That's who I am, who I
really am. Given enough time, I'll destroy you, too. Maybe not tomorrow,
but some time, some mission. I'll fail you like I failed them--"
"--Bullshit. You don't really believe that."
He said nothing, leaving silence for his answer.
Napoleon's face darkened. "Know what? I don't admire you. I donít even
like you. Not when you wallow in self-pity like this."
"Whatever you say." He turned towards the door, barely able to
see before him.
"Great," Napoleon barked. "This is the
second time you've tried to walk out on me. So what's next -- you going to
have me up against the wall again? Screw my brains out to prove to me how
dangerous you are? Frankly, I'd rather we used the bed, because my leg is
Illya shuddered to a stop, his hand on the
"Well, that is your pattern, isn't it?" Napoleon
went on brutally. "First you threaten to walk out, like Sarah Bernhardt
giving an exit speech, and then you grab me and show me your 'baser
urges.' Not exactly make-up sex; what is it, guilt sex? No,
exorcism sex, right? Well, fine. You need an exorcism, I'll be your
priest. You want me to excuse your shameful acts? Want to show me how
terrible you really are inside? Dump your sins on me, Illya. Go ahead --
Te absolvo! Because if that's what it takes to help you get through
this, forgiveness for your real sins and your imaginary ones, I'm willing.
I don't care if you drown kittens or killed the Romanovs, I forgive you.
I forgive you. I will always forgive you!"
delusions you have of your power over me, Napoleon, I assure you you're
"Really. And I suppose I'm mistaken that you're
"I know what I'm capable of. You're better
off without me. I'm quite clear about this and I have no regrets."
"You should. You should have plenty of regrets if you walk
out of here. Damn it -- damn you! Don't you understand what I'm saying?
Haven't the last few months told you anything? You don't think I need you?
Jesus, Illya, I--"
Napoleon stopped. A look came over his
face, one that wiped away the anger and frustration and replaced it with a
calm, almost serene expression. "That's it, Illya. I told you once I cared
about you, but you know what? That was a cop-out. I love you. I should
have told you then, but I didn't want to scare you. Well, you're scaring
me now, so damn the consequences. I love you, I love you, and I
won't let you walk out of here, because you know you feel the same way
"Donít put words in my mouth, Napoleon." He
threw the door open.
"So I was wrong, after all,"
Napoleon's voice was steel. "You are a coward."
flinched, but shut the door behind him without looking back.
The gunmetal grey wall felt cool as ice against Illya's back as he
loitered in the outer hallway outside Waverly's office, not even bothering
to pace. Even though his appointment wasn't for another ten minutes, it
felt better to come early and wait here. Clearly nothing was going to be
done about the mountain of paperwork that had piled up in his absence; he
couldn't seem to focus his mind on it, and the walls in his office had
seemed oppressively close. It was hard to make himself care about mundane
The door in front of him whispered open and he
straightened his posture. Napoleon stood framed in the doorway for a
second before stepping forward, limping slightly and leaning on a
silver-handled ebony cane. Despite himself, Illya smiled. Napoleon hadn't
wasted any time ditching the crutches for the extravagant accessory; even
wounded, he insisted on cutting a dashing figure.
smile faded. Soon enough Napoleon's charming eccentricities would no
longer be a part of his life. It wrenched him to think that, but he told
himself he was doing what was best for both of them.
Napoleon's eyes caught his, and flared with warmth. "I haven't seen
you for two days."
Illya deflected the implied question.
"How are you feeling? Your leg, I mean."
and waved the cane. "Well enough. I'm on leave."
advantage of it. Don't come back before you're mended."
"I'll try." Napoleon's voice was light, but his face belied it. He
gave a little gesture back towards the office. "He's ready for you."
Illya answered with a small nod and started to pass.
He forced a smile. "It will
be all right, Napoleon."
"Of course it will." Napoleon put
a hand on his shoulder. "I only wish you. . ." He stopped himself. "Come
see me after you talk to him, all right?"
The door slid
open, saving him from answering. Illya stepped through and heard the soft
whoosh behind him.
"Come in, Mr. Kuryakin."
He crossed the thick grey carpet. Alexander Waverly sat behind
his desk, three-quarters turned away from the door. The old man continued
to scribble something onto a paper, and Illya waited patiently, taking
care that his hands not twitch. This was hardly the time to betray nervous
Besides, he wasn't nervous, not really. He had
a sense of inevitability about this meeting, that was all. No point in
At last Waverly closed his fountain pen and
turned to look at him. "Mr. Kuryakin."
"Please sit down."
So it was to be a long debriefing,
rather than a short sharp execution. He would have preferred the latter,
but he was trained for obedience, so he pulled out a chair and sat.
"Let me see now," Waverly said, opening a file folder. "I
have your notes here on the recent, ah, mission in Izledovangorod. I see
that both Dr. Holodny and Gustave Teckler met a rather nasty end, which
Mr. Solo corroborates. A shame we didn't recover their notes. You'll be
happy to know that our people have been over the area with a fine tooth
comb, as it were, and thanks to Mr. Solo's quick thinking, we have not
seen any sign that the THRUSH crystals survived the fire. At least we may
be glad of that."
Waverly got up
and went to open his humidor. He fiddled with the tobacco, and with the
pipe, but then shut the lid without actually filling it. Illya watched him
carefully, memorizing Waverly's characteristic actions, imprinting the
image in his mind. He wanted to remember Waverly just this way: the
absent-minded professor with the hidden ruthlessness of a samurai.
The UNCLE chief walked to the window and contemplated the
view. "You may wonder why I wanted to see you privately, Mr. Kuryakin,
rather than in tandem with Mr. Solo."
Waverly turned to look at him. "Indeed?"
natural you should wish to speak to me separately after the recent events
in Siberia. Mr. Solo's performance in the field was exemplary. Mine was. .
.well, the report explained what happened." He cleared his throat; the
taste of the burning building still ghosted on his tongue. "Sir, I've
written a letter of--"
"In a moment. Now, you state in your
report, Mr. Kuryakin, that your own behavior during this affair was
somewhat under par."
That prompted a short, bitter laugh.
"Under par? A disaster."
"Please explain your reasoning,
then. Your notes are rather sketchy on the subject."
I--" He swallowed. "Regretfully I cannot excuse my actions."
"I don't ask you to excuse them, merely to tell me what happened."
"Very well. I let a THRUSH agent escape. I should have
insisted on accompanying Mr. Solo to the lab. If I had done so, I might
have recovered Holodny's notes, and prevented all of the deaths and
Napo--Mr. Solo's injury. I made no attempt to verify that the substance
had been destroyed completely. I forgot the mission, and was concerned
only with rescuing my partner. I couldn't stop the destruction of a
building that was a Soviet national treasure. I behaved in a thoroughly
unprofessional manner, and was unable, through my weakness, to provide any
assistance to our people when they arrived -- is that enough for you,
Waverly ignored the impertinence. "You suffered smoke
inhalation, Mr. Kuryakin. Both you and Mr. Solo were removed to hospital.
Surely you cannot expect--"
"--No sir! More than that. I
panicked, I was. . .incoherent. Incapable. Out of control. Useless." His
voice had risen unexpectedly, and he made himself stop talking. Waverly's
eyes were piercing him, and he looked down to find his hands knotted on
Damn Waverly. Over the past 48 hours, he'd
managed to cloak himself in the guise of his former self, cool, efficient.
Controlled. Waverly was breaking open his facade, dredging everything up
again, not just the facts, which he'd been prepared for, but the feelings,
too, from the claustrophobic panic inside the burning building to his
complete breakdown in front of Napoleon.
All the details
were sharp now, so sharp they seemed outlined in white light. The
hillside. The hospital. Sitting in a metal chair, forgotten, while people
in white coats bustled Napoleon away. Impatient medical personnel speaking
to him. His own automatic answers. The one observant nurse coming to him
with an oxygen mask, forcing him to use it. And through it all, never
ceasing, the barrage of memories from so long ago, devastating, revealing
memories of his shame.
"Mr. Kuryakin." Illya pulled out of
his reverie and looked up into his chief's wrinkled face. "Mr. Solo tells
a different version of events."
Illya felt the blood rise
to his face. "He doesn't understand."
him, which surprises me." Waverly harrumphed and cleared his throat. "So
you are thinking of resigning. I assume it's not just because of this
recent business. Because even if mistakes were made, which is debatable,
the mission was a success. You've made mistakes before, Mr. Kuryakin.
Everyone has. But on balance you've always landed on your feet, wouldn't
you say?" He didn't wait for an answer. "It's a rather thin excuse, this
affair in Siberia. So what is the reason, truthfully?"
have. . .personal reasons."
"Do you, indeed. And what might
those be? You're healthy, you have no dependents that require your
attention. So what is it? Tell me."
"I don't believe my
partner can trust me any more."
"I think you know that is
He felt the heat of another flush. "I don't
deserve his trust. I can't. . .I can't trust myself."
see. How long have you worked for us, Mr. Kuryakin?"
The change of
subject put him on guard. Waverly was too full of subtleties for such a
swift change to be accidental. "Eight years, sir, counting my training."
"And very good training it was, too. Top of your class." He
flipped a page and Illya realized that the file was his own, his personal
record. "You showed promise from the beginning of our association, young
man," Waverly continued, "Which is remarkable considering the unfortunate
start you had in life." Illya's breath hitched, but Waverly either did not
notice or did not care. "In 1956 you were barely twenty years old, and you
already had one advanced degree. As I said, remarkable. Your people gave
you a good education. Whatever the disagreements between the East and
West, the Soviets do deserve our gratitude for that. And yours, I should
"Yes, yes, of course I am grateful to them. As I am to
you and UNCLE for Cambridge."
"Yes, quite." Waverly said
dismissively, and flipped back another page. "Before Paris there was
Moscow, and other academic honors. A brief stint in the military. And even
earlier, schooling in Kiev. But Cherkasy is where you are from, is it
not?" It was not meant as a question and Illya did not reply. "Yes. You
were born there. And yet you came to Kiev at a very young age, to live
with your father's relatives." His eyes swept back to the page. "After
your family was killed, in November of 1943."
He looked up,
startled. "How do you--"
Waverly peered at him over the top of the
folder. "You're not the only one who knows people in the KGB, Mr.
The unease had turned into full-on distress. Napoleon
had told him. Napoleon told Waverly what I did. "Sir, I--"
Waverly continued smoothly, as if he hadn't spoken. "The Ukraine
has always been under siege, from ancient times until our own,
unfortunately. Many times." The old man moved back around to his desk,
file still in hand, and put down his pipe. "Everyone wanted it -- Russia
plundered it cruelly and annexed it for her own devices. A people caught
in the cross-fire, I would say, isn't that so?"
"And in more recent times, as well. In the autumn of 1943,
for example. The Nazis were in retreat, badly beaten by the Soviets.
They'd come expecting to roll over a people they considered inferior to
the Aryan race. Now they were leaving with their tails between their legs.
You are aware of that."
"Every Soviet child learns this." What, what
was Waverly saying?
"I should imagine so. And they would do well
never to forget it." Waverly moved slowly to the large circular table and
picked up a green folder. He opened it, just as slowly, and his eyes moved
over the page. "The German Army was ordered to leave complete destruction
in its wake. Heinrich Himmler himself told the SS. . . here, let me read
this to you -- quote, 'leave behind in the Ukraine not a single person, no
cattle, not a bushel of grain, not a railroad track. . .' Appalling. Over
two million houses and buildings burned and destroyed. In some villages
the German army ordered all the people into the church and set fire to it.
Sometimes they did that in town halls, or schools. The homes of the people
in the path of the German Army were to be burned down, the people driven
out or murdered on the spot, the relatives of dissenters held as hostages.
Terrible. Terrible times, terrible tragedy."
His hands had gone
numb. He felt disembodied, as if he no longer had substance. Yet his mind
was working overtime, hearing with crystal clarity each word Waverly
uttered. Every Soviet child learns this. . .but had he, really?
Where had he stored that knowledge, why did it seem so shockingly new?
Waverly turned a page, regarded it for a moment, and then,
surprisingly, pulled out the chair next to Illya's and sat down, putting
aside the file. "On the third of November, 1943, the Germans bombed the
town of Cherkasy. They destroyed the railway station, the town hall, and
then continued southwards, burning farms. It was a horrible day for the
people of Cherkasy. Hundreds of people died that November 3rd."
vise was squeezing his lungs. "My birthday," he whispered.
know," Waverly said, very quietly. "A terrible tragedy, to lose one's
family in that way, when one is so very young."
The world, his
world and his understanding of it, was shedding its old, disfigured skin,
leaving a clean new reality in its place. The Nazis destroyed the town.
. .She gave me a candle in a special cake. . .they ordered complete
destruction. . . she told me to blow it out and save it, because candles
were not to be wasted. . . they burned the farms. . . I killed. . . they
killed. . .
He became aware that Waverly was speaking
to him in a low, calm voice, one Illya had never heard him use before. "I
wondered at the randomness of war, when a shell passed me by and killed my
friends. I wondered why it had spared me and taken the others. I have seen
many men and women die in battle, Mr. Kuryakin. I have lost partners; I
have lost many young people like yourself and Mr. Solo, and each time,
each time, I grieve.
"But at least as adults we have
experience with the human condition and the senselessness of violent
death. For a child to lose everything in one fell swoop. . . I imagine it
would be devastating. Such an experience would stay with one for life, I
should think." Waverly's eyes seemed huge under his shaggy brows. "How
does a child's mind encompass such a loss? Why does he live, he wonders,
and not his mother, not his brother? And if, perhaps, he was annoyed
with his brother for some childhood wrong, or angry at his mother because
she wanted him to do a chore, who knows what might transpire, and what
might remain in the child's heart and mind long afterwards? It might seem,
after a time, as if he were somehow complicit in their deaths. Did
he cause them to die? Did his life come at the cost of theirs?"
Waverly reached over and put a hand over Illya's wrist. It was the
first time, ever, he remembered such contact with his superior.
"Illya," Waverly said, and the use of his given name was shocking,
threatening his tenuous grasp on composure. "This I know: there is evil in
the world, evil, and random chance, and terrible accidents, and all of
these things kill. But guilt may be the greatest destroyer of all, because
it eats at us, even the best of us, killing slowly from within, from the
"Is there. . ." Illya began, and then faltered.
Something was stirring inside him, trying to break free. "How do. . ."
"Is there a cure for it, were you going to say?" Waverly patted
his arm and withdrew his hand. "Only the truth, young man. And the
knowledge of one's own importance in the world. One's importance to
others. We need you. Mr. Solo, most of all, needs you." At Illya's sudden
glance, Waverly smiled. "Come now. You must know that."
moment Illya thought wildly, Waverly knows. But it didn't matter if
he did or didn't. He was too overwhelmed by the magnitude of Waverly's
gift to care. Because there was more than just the truth here, there was a
key to unlock not only his past, but his future.
The old man
cleared his throat and went in search of his pipe. "I have a mission
coming up in a week or so that I would like you to undertake. You and Mr.
Solo, of course. I hope I may count on you." Waverly paused for a beat,
and went on without an answer. "In the meantime, Mr. Solo is on medical
leave. Do be a good fellow and keep an eye on him, won't you? See he
doesn't get in trouble."
"I. . .yes, sir," Illya mumbled, his mind
"Very well. That is all."
He stumbled to
his feet. "My letter sir, I--"
"I'm afraid I've misplaced it.
Write another. If you still wish me to read it."
"I. . ." He stood
for a moment, awkwardly caught between speech and flight. "Sir, I. . ."
But the old man was back at his desk, and merely grunted in
He stumbled from the room and down the corridor, mind
racing. People passed him, but he scarcely noticed. It was not until the
doors of his own office closed behind him that his legs gave way. The last
vestiges of control dissolved, washed away by the great relief coursing
through his body.
Out of the ashes of Illya's heart, something was
flickering to life.
The setting sun spilled over the terrace, through the French doors, and
across the floor of the apartment, burnishing the wood with molten gold.
Napoleon paused in the act of closing the doors, struck by the beauty of
the light, and leaned heavily against the door frame. Late October was
always beautiful in New York, and never more so than at sunset, when the
entire city was lit with an almost unearthly light. Autumn, with its
palette of glorious, dying leaves, always made him ache in a way that
could not be articulated.
The glass in his hand was nearly
empty. He tilted it to drain the last drops, feeling the cold liquid burn
a trail down his throat. His eyes fell on the panoramic vista twenty
floors below him, but for once he wasn't reveling in the view. In truth,
he wasn't seeing any of it, not the turrets of the far skyline, or the
hundreds of sparkling windows, nor even the multi-hued trees of Central
Park. His focus was entirely internal; in his mind's eye was another
gold-tinged evening, a shabby safe-house, a thin mattress flung on the
floor. And Illya, bronzed by the light, looking back at him through
The ache gathered, coiling like a snake
around his heart.
I've lost him.
He'd known it in the corridor outside Waverly's office when he'd seen
the look of finality on Illya's face, his closed face. Illya had made his
choice, and there would be no backing away from it. He could not be argued
out of a decision, nor pleaded to, Napoleon knew from brutal experience.
Once he'd made up his mind, no one was as stubborn as his partner--
He caught himself. Not his partner. At least not for much
Cool wind whipped through his shirt and Napoleon
stepped back inside. He brought the glass doors together roughly, with a
loud bang, but even in the warmth of the room he shivered. He exhaled
heavily, his breath leaving a trail of moist vapor on the glass, then
rested his forehead against it and squeezed his eyes shut.
Maybe he'd been deluding himself all along about Illya's attachment to
him; perhaps he'd created it out of whole cloth from his own wishes. After
all, Napoleon thought with bitterness, hadn't he declared himself, back in
Siberia? Apparently that hadn't mattered, not from the way Illya walked
out without a look back, not even coming by after seeing Waverly. That was
the bitterest pill of all; he hadn't even come to say goodbye.
So, Napoleon thought, I'm supposed to do nothing, just go on. Alone.
Which would be worse, he wondered, losing Illya as his
partner in the field, or as a more intimate partner in his bed? It was
hard to separate the two. Their partnership wasn't just about the work --
it was about how they existed almost as one person, acting as one, both
breathing the same air and thinking as if with one brain. There were no
self-imposed controls for Illya when they stood, hip to hip, fighting
their way out of impossible situations. He didn't distinguish Napoleon
from himself when making lightning-fast decisions, or improvising a plan,
or cold-bloodedly taking out the opposition. He just existed, as Napoleon
did, for and with his partner. They were closer even than lovers, at times
Closer than lovers.
thoughts. He would miss Illya most when he was alone in his apartment, as
he was now, with nothing left save lingering images and sensations,
memories of Illya against him, his face transported by passion, beyond
speech, yielding to the sweet torture between them. Either way, in either
regard, losing him was inconceivable.
his spine. It was inconceivable, all right, and unacceptable. Illya wanted
to go? Well, he wouldn't let him go easily. There was something to be
done, there must be, something to say, something he hadn't thought of yet.
Illya mustn't leave like this, damn it, he wasn't allowed to go
this way. The glass in his hand smelled of vodka, and something triggered
inside him, sharp emotion welling up, spilling over. He turned away from
the terrace and its light, its reminder of things that were dying, and
hurled the glass in the general direction of his fireplace, to smash it
there into a thousand pieces, just as he himself was shattering--
--except there was no crash, no explosion of glass.
It took a moment to register. Slowly Napoleon lifted his
Illya stood by the fireplace, the glass in his hand,
considering it as if it were a priceless objet d'art. He glanced up, an
almost apologetic look on his face. "I have excellent reflexes."
Napoleon released his breath. "So I see."
"Wasteful." Illya turned the glass in his hand, holding it up to the
light. "If you're going to break glasses, don't start with the crystal."
Slowly, Napoleon took air back into his constricted chest.
"Thanks for the tip."
He watched as Illya sniffed the glass
before placing it carefully on the mantel. "Vodka martini. Drinking alone?
I've heard that's a symptom of the blues. It's an American condition." A
small smile played around his lips. "Or perhaps that's just a cultural
Napoleon didn't smile back. The banter was
easy, but meaningless, and they both knew it.
to the bar, examining the bottles. "It's better to drink with a friend."
"So I'm told."
There was a pause, one that
stretched past the bounds of comfort. Illya remained by the bar, but made
no move to pour himself a drink. His eyes hovered just over Napoleon's
shoulder, as if watching the sunlight fade on the terrace.
Napoleon couldn't bear the silence. "You always were a good cat
Illya shrugged. "It seemed only fair. As I recall
you did the same to me."
"That explains the deja vu I'm
"You made it easy. You left the locks off.
Almost as if you were expecting me."
Was there a question
in Illya's remark? "I wasn't," Napoleon said, more harshly than he
intended. It was no more than the truth, after all.
see." Nervous. Illya sounded nervous.
The ache inside
Napoleon's chest shifted and released infinitesimally. "But I hoped."
Something glittered in Illya's eyes, just the strange
sunlight, perhaps, but for the moment they lit up as if a fire had been
stoked within him. The coiled pain around Napoleon's heart yielded a bit
Yet Illya's next words chilled him. "I'm so sorry."
So. There it was. This was the goodbye, the coup de grace
he'd been expecting.
"I don't know where to begin, I--"
"Don't begin, Illya. Just. . .don't. Not if this is
goodbye. Because I'm not giving you up without a fight." Napoleon squared
himself, ready to do battle. "I don't want to hear anything about me not
being able to trust you, and I don't want any of that crap about how
you'll get me killed, because you never will, you'll always be there for
me, I know it, and so do you. Illya, you saved me, and--"
"You're wrong." Illya's eyes flickered at him. "You're very wrong."
"Damn you, I'm not--"
Listen." Illya finally relinquished his white-knuckled grip on the
bar and moved towards the terrace doors. "Napoleon. Do you remember that
night in my apartment?"
It was painfully clear which night
he meant. "Yes, of course."
"When you said those things to
me, when you forced me to listen, I. . ." Illya shook his head. "You can't
imagine what that was like for me. Rather like being flayed alive. You
meant well, I know, but everything began to unravel and I couldn't seem to
make it stop. Ideas, memories. . .it was overwhelming. I panicked. I think
I would have preferred to die, rather than feel--"
knew you were trying to--"
"--Napoleon, for once let me
finish talking, will you?"
Napoleon raised his eyebrows at
the familiar exasperation in Illya's voice. Funny how calming it was to
him. He held his tongue.
Illya nodded. "Thank you. I told
you it was a Pandora's Box, remember? Because of you I couldn't force the
lid shut again. I cursed you for doing that to me. You can be an
unremitting bastard, Napoleon, you know that? Once you see weakness you
keep pushing at it, and pushing. You pushed me hard, until you made me say
what you wanted to hear. How much I wanted--" He swallowed. "How
much I wanted you." Illya paused, and took in a deep breath. "You know
what I hated the most? The fact that it was true."
wanted to speak, to move, but he didn't dare. The room was completely
still, as if the outside world did not exist. Illya shifted his position,
turned away to stare at the terrace. "I did want you. With you, Napoleon,
I almost forgot what could happen. I was happy, can you imagine that? Me,
happy. There's a concept for you." He laughed shortly, but it was a dry,
mirthless sound. "When I almost lost you again in Siberia. . ." His
shoulders hunched and his hands clenched and unclenched at his side. "It
only proved I'd been right the first time. There was no happiness to be
Napoleon waited as Illya fought to still his hands
and make his tense shoulders relax. "The other, the other memory. . .I
didn't expect that. But afterwards, I thought it was one more reason why I
needed to leave you, to get away from you, before you consumed my life
completely or I destroyed yours. I told Waverly you didn't understand what
happened to me." He shook his head, then closed his eyes briefly. Napoleon
waited. "But I find that I am the one who didn't understand. A great many
things, as it turns out."
talk too much, Napoleon. You talk too much, and you think you're right all
the time, and you don't understand that things can't always go your way."
Illya shook his head and strands of gold fell into his eyes. "I said you
were wrong, before, and it's true. You're very wrong. I didn't save you,
Napoleon. You saved me."
The permanent crease
between Illya's eyes was nearly smoothed out, his eyes clear and
untroubled, as finally, finally, he looked at Napoleon and didn't shift
away. "You saved me, Napoleon. You did that. You saved me from the
cold-hearted, terrible man who wore my clothes and carried my gun, even
though he didn't deserve being saved. You saved me from him, and you made
him understand, after a fashion, that maybe he deserved saving after all."
"He did deserve it. You do deserve it. You
do, Illya." Napoleon found his fingers pushing Illya's hair from
his face, and he couldn't seem to stop. "Sorry, my turn. Honestly,
tovarishch, I didn't think you knew that many words to string
together." His hands came to rest on Illya's shoulders. "You forget I know
the secret, my friend. Your heart's not as cold as you pretend it is. I
couldn't love you if it were."
Illya smiled back at him,
but there was sadness in his face as well. "That's what you believe in,
isn't it, Napoleon? That's even why you do your job. You believe in it. In
the idea of love."
"I have to," Napoleon said simply, "Or I
couldn't go on. And you, Illya, what do you believe in?"
The smile faltered. "I can't even say the word without choking over
it. How can you care about someone who can't even say the word?"
"Words don't matter."
"Don't they?" Illya
shrugged. "Perhaps not. But I can't -- that is, I want you to
understand anyway, how I. . .that I. . ."
matter," Napoleon said, rescuing him. "I know, Illya. I always knew, even
if you didn't."
One blond eyebrow raised. "You know
everything, do you?"
wonder everyone wants to shoot you. I'd better keep an eye on you, or
someone might succeed. You're a smug bastard."
impugning my sainted mother's virtue." The coin dropped. "Does this. . . I
mean, are you?
Illya's eyes were unreadable, and Napoleon's heart lurched again,
caught between hope and dread at what message they held. "It would seem
that I am a coward, after all," Illya said, after a moment. "I
can't do this alone."
said softly. "My life."
Napoleon pulled him close, clung to
him so tightly he heard Illya exhale under the pressure, but he couldn't
have pulled back if he'd tried. "My God. My God, Illya. You're not
A dry whisper tickled his ear. "Didn't I just say
that? You should pay closer attention."
"Know what? You
are terrible." He relaxed his grip slightly. "What made you change
your mind? What the hell did Waverly say to you?"
I didn't know already." Napoleon could hear the self-mockery in Illya's
voice. "But I finally understood it. I suppose I'm a dreadfully slow
"No. You're just stubborn."
yes, that is true. Oh, and he gave me orders to watch you."
"Orders?" But that was as far as he got, because Illya was
pulling back, yanking his head toward him, and their mouths were pressing
together, Illya's hands on his face, holding Napoleon while he overwhelmed
"Was that Waverly's order, too?" Napoleon
murmured breathlessly, after a while.
"Hardly. Perhaps I
have a problem with authority, as well."
"No perhaps about
it, my little Bolshevik."
Illya groaned. "Spare me another
"It suits you. You make so much trouble
all the time."
"Only for emperors."
stifled his laugh in Illya's hair. "Would you prefer 'Illyusha,' then?"
Illya paused before answering. "No. That's of the past,
Napoleon. Some things, I think, are best remembered, but left behind." His
serious tone lifted. "You're very creative. I'm sure, to my horror, you'll
come up with something."
"It's a promise," Napoleon said,
enjoying how Illya grimaced. "You know, I was going to tie you up and keep
you in my apartment, if you insisted on leaving."
the best you could think of? Really, Napoleon. What would you do without
me thinking for the both of us?"
"Who's the smug bastard
Illya didn't answer. Instead he pulled back, looking
thoughtful. "What do you suppose the reward should be for saving a life?
Tell me. Tell me what you want and it's yours."
"Cooperative, aren't you?"
"Just this once. To make up
for all the trouble."
"You think one favor will erase it
"You haven't seen the favor."
shuddered with desire. "It'd better be good."
at him in a way that raised goose bumps of pleasure on Napoleon's body.
"Come to bed and you'll find out."
Lying back on the bed,
naked, Napoleon watched his partner -- and yes, yes, you're still my
partner, still mine -- as he slowly, almost teasingly, disrobed before
him. The last article of clothing dropped to the floor and Illya climbed
languorously onto the crisp cotton sheets beside him. "What's your fancy,
Napoleon?" he asked in a voice redolent of dark back rooms, where all
manner of appetites might be satisfied.
went dry. Speech for the moment was impossible, with that devastating low
purr, that seductive scrutiny. He lifted his right hand and stroked his
thumb gently over Illya's bottom lip, which parted to suckle his finger
inside. The wet heat made Napoleon throb with anticipation. "I love your
mouth," he breathed.
Illya relinquished his finger and
smiled knowingly at him. Dear God, when had Illya turned into such a
demon? His eyes, his voice, his smile, all promised debauchery of the sort
Napoleon could scarcely imagine. And Napoleon had an active imagination.
But Illya's favor, when it came, was not one of wild
abandon, nor was it delivered with his usual insatiable voracity. For once
he was not burning in his own fire, fighting himself for control and then
hurtling headlong towards completion. In place of the frenzied desperation
was slowly-escalating passion, as Illya meticulously devastated Napoleon's
body and mind with the skill he'd always possessed, and a patience he'd
never before demonstrated.
There was warmth and affection,
too, alongside the passion, complementing the long, heated strokes of his
tongue against Napoleon's flesh; there was gentle humor in his discovery
of Napoleon's ticklish spots, places neither of them had known, given the
blistering heat and speed of their earlier liaisons.
was a worried sigh, too, when Illya encountered the bandage on Napoleon's
leg, the reminder of Egret's bullet. The strong hands went still for a
moment, before stroking lightly along Napoleon's inner thigh. Illya leaned
in and kissed the bandage, softly, sweetly, as if his touch could heal.
"Does it hurt?"
"Not so much. Nothing hurts very much,
Illya, not any more."
"Good," Illya whispered into his
thigh. "No pain, ever. Not again."
"For either of us,"
Napoleon murmured, sharing the fantasy, but knowing full well physical
pain was inevitable, given the lives they led. He gasped and arched as
Illya's lips coursed upwards to nuzzle at his groin. "Jesus!"
Without the frantic urgency, there was
nothing but tenderness from Illya's hands and mouth. And when his lips
finally fastened on Napoleon's eager erection, he drew out the exquisite
torture, lovingly taking his time bringing Napoleon to the edge over and
over again, until Solo could barely think of his own name. And when,
finally, Illya relented and plunged his mouth down to draw Napoleon
deeper, he swallowed around Napoleon's cock and Napoleon grunted his name
and came in hot fountains down his throat.
He lay there,
panting, as Illya crawled up next to him and lay there, grinning like the
Cheshire Cat. "That was. . . that was. . . some favor."
tip of Illya's tongue came out to lick the corners of his mouth and the
grin turned dangerous. "Who says I'm done with it?"
Napoleon tried to get a grip. He looked down and found Illya stroking
his own erection, a sight so riveting he felt his deflated cock stir.
"What about you? What do you want?"
"I can think of some
things," Illya said.
"Really." Napoleon swallowed and yes,
his cock was definitely showing interest. Amazing, so soon after he'd come
Illya's eyed him appraisingly. "What's your
pleasure now, Napoleon?"
"You, you're my pleasure." But he
knew what he wanted, and though it was rare for him to want it, right now
he desperately needed to capture Illya with his body. Within his body. He
half-closed his eyes and leaned back against the pillows, raising one leg
in invitation. Illya watched him, his eyes glittering with heat. Napoleon
felt suddenly, absurdly shy, so rare an occurrence that for a moment he
couldn't speak. Love. It really is love. "Would you," he said, his
voice raspy with need, "I mean, I'd like you to. . ."
laughed softly and leaned closer, his breath sending chills rattling up
and down Napoleon's spine. "Napoleon. You can say 'love' in twenty-two
languages, but you can't say 'fuck me?'"
back, abashed at his own delicacy, and then pulled Illya to him, sealing
their mouths together. In a while he pulled back and sighed raggedly
against Illya's mouth. "Imejte pol so mnoy."
Illya snorted. "You just said 'have a floor with me.'"
"All right then, have a floor with me."
'Zajmites' lyubov'yu so mnoy.'"
"'Make love to me.'"
threaded his fingers through the silky blond strands and drew Illya
closer. "Make love to me, then. Make love to me, Illya."
"Ah," Illya said, his voice carefully neutral, but his eyes
shining,. Napoleon smiled inwardly. If we were playing poker
right now, tovarishch, I'd win. I know all your tells.
Hands were busy over him, now, gentle hands that
seemed everywhere at once. And then they were focused, pushing inside him,
cool and slick with some sort of substance that Illya had evidently
materialized out of thin air. Endlessly resourceful, that Illya, Napoleon
thought, arching into the clever fingers.
in themselves were incredibly arousing, but then Illya was lifting his
legs, careful of his injury, stroking him as he pressed himself inside
unhurriedly, and the sweet pleasure/pain was filling Napoleon, causing him
to thrum with electricity. All the time in the world, that's what it felt
like, as if Illya were in no rush for anything but to stoke the flames of
pleasure for his partner with measured, devastating strokes. He found
himself pushing back against each thrust, opening himself, reveling in the
Illya leaned forward slightly, changing his
angle, and the gentle waves of pleasure that had rolled through Napoleon
became engulfing torrents. He let himself loose with abandon, not caring
if he moaned or yelled or called out incomprehensible gibberish. Please,
he begged the Fates, or God, or any of a number of lesser deities, please
let us stay like this forever, on the knife's edge of passion, partners in
this, partners in everything.
Some prayers are answered,
and some are not, and his climax couldn't be forestalled forever, no
matter how much he wished it. Illya's hand closed around his cock, and
that was it -- claimed both inside and out, he bucked sharply and came
again, all over Illya's hand and his own stomach. His bones seemingly had
turned to jelly; in a state of satiated bliss he noted the change in
Illya's rhythm as he, too, neared climax. Patience had its limits,
evidently. Illya thrust into him several more times, the strokes
shortening and becoming erratic. Above Napoleon Illya's breath roughened,
and then he flexed and shuddered to a vibrating tautness. His face
contorting, his mouth falling open, he thrust again and spent himself into
his partner's welcoming body.
After a time, in a dim state
of awareness, Napoleon felt his legs being lowered, felt Illya separate
from him. He could do no more than lie there in a happy stupor as Illya
crawled up next to him, drawing up the sheet to cover them both. An arm
slid over him, pulling him closer, as the warm length of his partner
stretched out against him. Moist lips delivered a gentle kiss to his
shoulder. "Now," Illya whispered. "Now the favor's done, and I
shall go back to being contrary."
"Good. That's the Illya I
know and love." Napoleon turned to look at Illya's face, so close as to be
slightly out of focus. "Did I mention I love you?"
times. I assume it's for my mind." Illya burrowed into his neck and sighed
deeply. "Now shut up and let me have the last word."
In his dream, Illya is flying over a white landscape. Below him, the
surface is smooth, unbroken, unwrinkled, save for the gently rising hills
underneath the covering of white. He soars gently, wondering at the
whiteness, so reminiscent of snow, his skin warming with the first rays of
morning sun, and for some reason his eyes tear. But his destination is
near; he knows where he is going.
himself sleeping. He is lying on a white, cool surface that smells of soap
and ironing and sex, while next to him the gentle rise of a warm body
breathes rhythmically in deepest sleep. There is comfort in the sound, for
it reminds him that he is not alone. Illya smiles. He remembers a family
-- a father who died bravely in war, a golden-haired mother who doted on
him, a sister he teased, a baby brother he made laugh. He loved them, and
they loved him. Though they are gone now, they are remembered, and he
knows they would be happy for him, for once again he has a place in the
world, a place where he is cherished and needed. Loved.
In his dream, his heart is at last unfettered. "I
love you," he whispers to the sleeper beside him.
The form next to him sighs and turns, mumbling softly in sleep.
Eyes still closed, Dream-Illya reaches out and runs his fingers through
short, thick hair, down a stubbled cheek, across sensual lips that curve
into a smile at his touch. His fingertips feel electrified. The sleeper
wakes slightly and snakes an arm about him. Illya is drawn into the curve
of the other body, close enough to feel warm breath softly ruffling the
too-long hair behind his ears. Perhaps he should cut it; it would be nice
to feel this breath on the skin of his neck.
Dream-Illya sighs in contentment, and reaches over to embrace the
sleeper. He turns his face into the warm neck, smells the scent of the one
he loves, who loves him, and at last opens his eyes.
It is not a dream.
Story Notes:Once more, frost will trace its patterns,
I'll be haunted once again
By my last-year's melancholy,
By that other wintertime.
Sincere thanks are due to Betty, Kellie and
Erin, a trio of dream betas who were endlessly supportive and creative in
solving the problems I threw at them. Ya lyublyu Vas ot osnovaniya
moyego serdca, ladies!
The Russian phrases in
this story were written using the online program http://translation.paralink.com/.
Any mistakes, therefore, are due to the mechanical translator. It is a
The city of Izledovangorod is fictitious,
but it is based on the actual city of Akademgorod, which was built on the
outskirts of Novosibirsk in 1958 to be a scientific mecca, specifically to
draw the greatest scientific minds in Russia to Siberia. The founders and
scientists mentioned, other than Nikola Holodny, are quite real.
Waverly's information about the Nazis is based on true incidents,
and Cherkasy is a real place. The Ukraine was long thought of as the
breadbasket of Russia, and Russia itself had annexed it through violent
occupation. What the Soviets missed in 1941 the Germans destroyed in
1943-44. According to Soviet Ukraine, the retreating Germans "razed
and burned over 28,000 villages and 714 cities and towns, leaving millions
of people without shelter."
Himmler on September 7, 1943 ordered
SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Prutzmann to "leave behind in Ukraine not a
single person, no cattle, not a ton of grain, not a railroad track. The
enemy must find a country totally burned and destroyed." The German Army
was ordered to leave total destruction in its wake so 18,414 miles of
railroads were ripped up, mines were flooded, industries that the Soviets
missed when they had occupied the Ukraine were dynamited, wells were
poisoned, and over two million houses and buildings were burned and
Erich Koch ordered during the 1943 retreat that "the
homes of recalcitrant natives ... are to be burned down."
finally, although the story was not based on or suggested by any other
sources, during the writing of Phoenix I came across a poem by
Boris Pasternak that contains the following stanza:
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