Introduction: There is no situation in which I would believe Napoleon Solo would sleep with Illya Kuryakin. Words to that effect greeted me when I signed on to my on-line service early last Fall. Being the perverse little creature that I am, I immediately thought of an instance where they would not even consider doing otherwise.
Two nights later the story burst into my head and woke me up from a sound sleep at three in the morning. Fortunately, it was Saturday morning, leaving me free to start writing. The result is in your hands.
I have tried very hard to keep our two favorite U.N.C.L.E. agents in character, but I did take a few liberties with their surroundings.
The only thing I remember about living in the sixties was an intense desire to get out of the sixties, so I've moved everything to a modern setting. This story takes place in the nineties, a few months after a modernized version of the final episode, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair. Napoleon is in his mid-thirties, and Illya, who was always played as younger, is in his mid-twenties.
I also played fast and loose with the structure of the New York office as I couldn't make sense of the Sections the show's creators established.
I hope purists will forgive me.
"Lie back and think of U.N.C.L.E."
VISA, electric, telephone and cable . The same list of bills he had due this time of the month. All in Sharon Owens name, not Janet McGills. Either Sharon paid all the bills, or Janet handled the bills in the next pay cycle. Napoleon Solo finished sorting through the stack of window envelopes, then dropped them back onto the small basket adorning the oak desk.
This whole thing rankled. Death had stolen the dignity of two fine young women, and he was stripping away the last of it. The women had chosen to pose as roommates, but just a few minutes of examining the apartment had made it obvious that the office grapevine had been right. They had been lovers.
He wanted to respect their privacy, but the death of two members of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement had stripped away that option. The best he could do for them was invoke a few of the privileges of being the Chief Enforcement Officer and handle the investigation himself.
He walked past the second bedroom, the one that would have been occupied in a mere roommate situation, but it had little personality invested in it, the closets full of off-season wardrobes and the bed made up with stiff pillows. Nothing more than an unused guest room.
He could easily see the influence of both the women hed so enjoyed flirting with adorning the master bedroom. Sharon had loved whales and dolphins. The poster of a dolphin in mid-leap hanging over the beds headboard was one of her own photographs, part of a series of shots that also decorated her office walls. Janet would have chosen the dragon prints on the far wall. He could come up with a hundred things to reveal their secret, but so far the reason why the women had ended up in their car at the bottom of the Manhattan reservoir had eluded him. Napoleon sighed and hoped his partner was having better luck in the kitchen.
Set of spatulas, some wooden spoons, pizza cutter, an ice cream scoop.Illya Kuryakin picked up each item from the counter, examined it, then returned it to the large utility drawer it had originally come from. A wire whisk, as equally devoid of anything but the signs of wear and tear as the rest of the lot, was the last of it.
A slight sigh escaped the young Russian agent. Hed been through every drawer, every cabinet and over every surface in the small apartment kitchen. That left the refrigerator with all those bottles and jars to go through. He supposed it was too much to hope for that they would stash something in a phoney head of lettuce.
Freezer first, he decided, not yet ready to face the jar of mayonnaise. Nothing on the ice cream bar box or the wrappers of the two bars left inside. The bars themselves dissolved into an uninteresting mess beneath his examination.
He picked up the pizza box next. Unopened, but the back seam looked a bit off. Reglued? When the file folder fell out of the box along with the pepperoni pizza, Illya spared a moment to roll his eyes at the four hours hed spent looking for potential microdots, then he called, "Napoleon, how do you like your pizza?"
Once was unfortunate, twice a possible coincidence, but three times indicated a pattern. And Napoleon suspected one, a very ugly one. He pushed the file, including the photos hed marked EYES ONLY for a clearance level of his own or higher, across the table to Alexander Waverly.
The head of North American Operations for U.N.C.L.E. looked over the photos, then sealed them back up in the classified envelope. "Any possibility that the ladies took these for their own enjoyment?"
"Highly unlikely, sir," Illya answered. "The angles and quality of the various shots are inconsistent with do-it-yourself erotica in general and specifically lack the polish of Sharon Owens photographic skills."
Waverly nodded. "Blackmail material then."
"Yes, sir," Napoleon said. "The notes we found along with the photos contained some sketchy details of Project Babylon, one of our new encryptogram devices. Neither woman was assigned to that operation."
"Then they were given the choice of betraying U.N.C.L.E. or seeing the nature of their relationship exposed."
"It looks like it."
Waverly shook his head. "As a nurse, Ms McGills position lacked the clearance level necessary to even know of Babylon, making her of no use to Thrush, and I find it difficult to believe that Ms Owens would do such a thing."
"We are not entirely certain that she did, sir," Illya said. "Intelligence does indicate that Thrush has acquired parts of Project Babylon, but nothing that would have required Ms Owens clearance level. The ladies may have been murdered because they refused to cooperate. Perhaps we will know more on that matter after I have questioned her partner."
Illya glanced at Napoleon, leaving the rest to him. Oh, fine, do the easy part, the senior agent thought, but said, "It gets worse, Mr Waverly. We dont think Sharon and Janet were the first victims of whoever is behind this."
"Explain yourself, Mr Solo," Waverly said, reaching for the pipe he reserved for listening to information that he had no real desire to hear.
"Five years ago, Robert Fowler from Finance and Agent Trevor Mills were both shot and killed while coming out of a restaurant. The two men were known for spending quite a bit of off duty time together. A few days later a South American operation went sour when Thrush seemed to have somehow gotten wind of it.
"Last year, a car bomb killed Agent Shawn Williams and another man, who did not work for U.N.C.L.E. Thrush somehow came up with the plans for our Geneva office during that time period. Since none of the dead personnel had anything to do with the projects compromised we didnt spot the pattern until we discovered Sharons notes." Napoleon shifted in his chair, still uncomfortable with discussing the personal lives of his people.
Illya apparently decided to let him off the hook and dropped the final piece of the puzzle into place. "In each case, office gossip had indicated that the pair was involved in a homosexual liaison."
Waverly rewarded the Russians news with a scowl of disapproval. Napoleon knew it rankled the old man that a top secret organization would have to deal with gossiping among the staff, but when people got together, they invariably talked.
"But this is ridiculous, Mr Solo," Waverly insisted. "U.N.C.L.E. does not discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual preference. We have several admitted homosexuals in the ranks."
"Yes, sir," Illya dared the old mans wrath again. "But interestingly enough none of those people work in the Enforcement Section. That all the personnel in our section are exclusively heterosexual is doubtful given the numbers of people involved. It is more likely that sexual preferences are kept hidden to keep from clashing with the perceived image of our field agents."
Napoleon nodded his agreement while Waverly considered the notion. It left a sour look on the old mans face, but, after a moment, he also nodded. "Thrush could set back almost a years worth of work if Babylon fell into their hands," he said, tapping absently on the bowl of his pipe. "That could make them a bit anxious to try this approach again. See that they do, gentlemen."
Seeing his own puzzlement mirrored on Illyas face, Napoleon said, "Im not quite sure I understand, sir."
"Come now, Mr Solo. Babylon must not be compromised further, making it obvious that we cannot allow Thrush to pick its victims randomly. You and Mr Kuryakin should prove an irresistible target."
Quite pointedly not looking at Illya, Napoleon said, "Sir, that would mean wed have to give them the opportunity to take photos of us as well."
"Both of you have performed for hidden cameras before. I see no reason for you not to do so in this case. Do you, Mr Solo?"
Given a moment, Napoleon felt certain he could come up with quite a few, but none that would impress the old man, so he tried the only one that might. "It wont work, sir. Thrush is bound to become suspicious if Illya and I suddenly become lovers."
Waverly actually seemed close to laughing. "There would be nothing sudden about it. Your obvious affection for one another has had vague rumors floating around the office for years. Ive often suspected it myself."
That was news to Napoleon, and he opened his mouth to splutter a protest, but Illya said, "It is true, Napoleon. I have heard the whispers before, and more than one Thrush interrogator has asked me what it was like to be the lover of Napoleon Solo. Given their need, Thrush would undoubtedly be most willing to accept the notion that time had made us careless."
"Quite so," Waverly said, rising. "See that you are careless in two minutes." He left the briefing room. A file from a less sensitive case sat in front of his chair giving mute testimony to the fact that they could expect company.
Just another assignment. Napoleon said it over and over in his mind, a mantra that also tracked the passing seconds. It took him a full minute and twenty before he could finally look at his partner. "Illya, I --"
"Usually conduct your seductions on your feet," Illya said, standing.
Right. He did. So he, too, stood.
Illya moved over to him, stopping just before their bodies actually touched. He looked up into Napoleons eyes, the thoughts behind his own blue ones carefully hidden. "This is another fine mess youve gotten me into," he muttered, then put his arms around Napoleon and lifted his mouth for the taller mans kiss.
Their lips touched for only an instant before the door slid open, and Illya took a quick step backwards, breaking the contact with just enough smoothness to leave their visitor uncertain of what had passed between the two men. "Thank you, Napasha. You seem to have gotten rid of whatever it was," the handsome blond said, rubbing his right eye.
Napoleon heard the soft gasp behind him and turned to see Mr Waverlys secretary, Lisa Rogers. Oh, well played, Illya , Napoleon thought. Just last week, hed used the something-in-her-eye excuse when Illya and Waverly had walked in on one of his more physical flirtations with Lisa. Well played indeed. "Something wrong, Lisa?"
"Ah, no, Napoleon," she said, doing a credible job of covering just how flustered she must be. "Mr Waverly sent me for a file he forgot."
Napoleon picked it up and handed it to her. His glance shifted from the uncertain expression on the lovely womans face to Illya who had almost managed to slip out of the room. "My office, Illya. Ten minutes."
Illya nodded, his usual acknowledgment of an order. "Of course, Napoleon," he said, the use of his partners full name a quiet underscore of the accidental use of the affectionate Russian nickname hed used earlier. Poor Lisa had never stood a chance against the devious workings of the young agents mind.
He watched her swiftly follow Illya from the room. He knew her fairly well. She wasnt a gossip, but when troubled she always sought out a friend to talk to. He guessed that she would turn to Angela over in Communications. She, in turn, not trusting her own opinions would confide in a friend, and so it would go, one person at a time, until by the end of the day, tomorrow at the latest, everyone in the building would know that there might just be some truth behind all those silly little rumors after all. Hell, if he knew rumors, by the end of the hour the story would be that shed walked in on something far more graphic.
Napoleon sighed heavily. It was going to be a long few weeks.
Illya tossed the used alcohol swab into the wastepaper basket, then picked up a small syringe filled with a pale blue fluid. "You are certain of this, Simon?" he asked a slightly older man with light brown hair.
Simon Bainbridge nodded. "I dont want there to be any doubts about what I say, Illya," he said. "Give me the shot."
Standard procedure was to have someone from Medical give the shot, but Napoleon wanted to keep the fact that they were investigating Sharon Owens as well as her death quiet for the time being. Illya agreed that there was no reason to cloud the womans reputation with accusations of treason until there was proof, and he was quite familiar with the administration of truth drugs.
He gave Bainbridge the injection, then sat down in a chair on the other side of the small table and waited for the drug to take effect. The Russian did not like using it on a fellow Enforcement agent, but knew it would not cause the man much lingering discomfort as long as Bainbridge did not fight it. It was certainly a more pleasant option than the physical methods of interrogation Illya had also learned during his days with the KGB. Though he personally considered both sets of skills fairly useless.
Pain could be resisted, as Thrush had forced him to demonstrate more than once, while the current crop of truth drugs would prove effective only until someone figured out how to inoculate or program against them. Illya preferred to look for the truth in a persons eyes, and that was the real secret to his success as an interrogator. A face could stay passive, but without a great deal of practice, few people could keep the truth from their eyes.
The green eyes he studied now were those of a man who had just lost a large part of himself. There was a haunted, empty look to them and not a small amount of guilt. To Illya it all said my partner is dead , and he had spent the last five years doing all he could to prevent the day from coming when he saw the same look in his bathroom mirror.
A glaze seemed to settle over Bainbridges eyes, and Illya sat forward in his chair, his elbows on the table. "Simon, we need to talk about Sharon."
As Illya had suspected, Bainbridge knew relatively little about Sharons death or her possible involvement with Thrush. He confirmed that Sharon and Janet had been lovers, but that something had been wrong for the last few weeks. The few times hed seen her, Janet had seemed a bit shell-shocked to him, but when hed asked about it, Sharon would only say that her lover had been in a minor accident, then shed change the subject. Shed never mentioned Babylon or been less than her usual efficient self in the field.
Illya sat back in his chair and fitted Bainbridges impressions to his own investigation. After three years of near-perfect attendance, Janet McGill had spent the two weeks prior to her death on sick leave. Shed offered no explanation to her supervisor beyond vague references to the flu and promises to see a doctor. It stood to reason that they had received the photos the night before her mysterious sick leave had started. At that time Thrush had already obtained the information they currently possessed on Babylon, lending credence to Napoleons hope that Sharon and Janet had been killed because they had refused to cooperate. On the other hand, Janet could have been upset by Sharons decision to aid Thrush.
Illya sighed. This was pointless. Whatever had happened, Bainbridge knew nothing about it. He sat in the interrogation room with the agent for another half hour, waiting for the last effects of the drug to wear off. "How do you feel?"
"Useless," Bainbridge answered. "I couldnt save her, and I cant clear her, but Illya, I know Sharon would never have had any part in helping Thrush."
Illya stood up. "If it helps, neither Napoleon nor I believe that she did."
Bainbridge looked a bit relieved. "Then Waverly will allow the memorial service this afternoon?"
"I will not recommend otherwise."
Illya started for the door, but Bainbridge said, "Illya."
"Be careful. We work with good people, but there are enough small minds among them to make your life hell."
Illya sighed. It had only been two hours since Waverly had given them the assignment. Another fine mess, indeed.
"So they are lovers." Randal Stewart sat back in his chair and only half listened to the person on the other end of the phone relay the latest rumors about his favorite subjects.
Almost from the day Solo and Kuryakin had become partners, Stewart had made them his lifes work. Hed studied the reports on their every encounter with Thrush, examined any surveillance collected on them, and had even occasionally managed to observe them in person. He found them fascinating and had never seen a partnership that worked so well. Hed made it his goal to eventually destroy it.
Personally, hed set the odds at a little less than even against their being lovers. Solo was a sensualist more concerned with fun and games than the gender of one of his flings, and his partner was more than mildly attractive. But what little Stewart had been able to uncover about Kuryakins past indicated several unfortunate encounters with unwanted attention. It explained the Russians emotional distance from others, his lack of active sexual pursuits and made him an unlikely lover for Solo. Still, if anyone could breach Kuryakins defenses, Stewart had always known it would be Solo. The fact that Solo had obviously succeeded left Stewart with the question of what to do with the information.
Thrush Central was pushing hard for information on the Babylon device, information that either of his two favorite agents could provide, but they were also very dangerous men. Torture or drugs would not turn them, nor would threatening the life of one to gain the cooperation of the other. The two of them had some annoying agreement against that option working. While he found the notion of bedroom keyhole peeping distasteful, there was already a blackmail operation in place, and it might just be the solution here.
He found the notion of Solo caring one way or the other about who knew of his sexual practices amusing, but Solo always protected Kuryakin. The right set of pictures would threaten both the intensely private Russian and their partnership. If anything would make Solo cooperate, it would be that.
However, getting those pictures would be the problem. Hed had a special set of video cameras installed in both Solos and Kuryakins apartments months ago when they had been out of the country. The equipment was difficult to detect at all, but impossible to discover as long as it was switched off. So far, the few times hed risked turning the cameras on the information gathered had been utterly useless.
Thanks to Thrush technology, he knew Solo liked to lounge around in expensive sweatsuits, that Kuryakin worked crossword puzzles with a pen, and that both spent very little time at home. And not once in all the time that Thrush had watched had either Solo or Kuryakin ever brought a date home for so much as a drink. Not much blackmail potential there.
On the other hand, Solo had a rather strong mother hen complex when it came to his partner, and Stewart knew from his own experiences that agents tended to get rattled when other agents died. Tomorrow U.N.C.L.E. would bury two of their own, which meant the memorial service should be some time today. That just might make Solo a bit careless. Yes, he decided, it was time to turn the cameras on again.
Napoleon walked into the main briefing room with Illya at his side and almost felt a draft from all the heads that turned in their direction. At another time he would have been amused and most eager to hear the details of the current version of what Lisa had seen, but now he felt annoyed. He did not want this foolishness distracting anyone from the reason they were gathering.
Illya apparently had the same thought because he leaned close and whispered, "I should leave."
"No," he whispered back, automatically taking hold of Illyas arm. That sent a little ripple through the large room, but the Russian did not pull away. "Theyll just talk about that, and you should be here."
"All right," Illya agreed, then slipped away to his usual spot.
Napoleon walked to the front of the room, then sat down next to Doctor Leslie Graham. As the section heads of the departments the two women had worked for, they were among the speakers slated for the service.
The room quickly filled with everyone who could be spared from Medical and Enforcement, plus friends from other sections. It was the sort of gathering that Thrush and other foes of U.N.C.L.E. dreamed about, as one well-placed bomb would literally wipe out a good portion of the New York office. That sort of occurrence was why Bainbridge would be the only Enforcement agent at the funeral tomorrow. Napoleon didnt know who Leslie had authorized to attend the funeral, but U.N.C.L.E. guidelines forbade the attendance of more than two people from any one section, and section heads could not attend at all. Thus, memorial services had been established so everyone could say their goodbyes without compromising security.
The form was always the same. Waverly spoke first, then the chief officer the deceased had served under. After that, anyone who wanted to could come to the podium and talk a while. The service usually lasted for hours as people came and went as duty demanded, but it always proved to be a very cathartic experience.
Waverly walked up to the podium and launched into his usual speech about sacrifices necessary to make the world a safer place for others. It should have long ago descended into the realm of cliche but Waverly always varied it just enough that it never failed to move several listeners to tears.
Napoleon stood up, then replaced Waverly at the podium. He never opted to prepare a formal speech and instead just spoke of his experiences with the agent hed lost. Hed liked Sharon a great deal and had more than a little difficulty narrowing their encounters down to a few representative stories.
As he began to talk about the first time a young Sharon Owens had reported to him, his eyes fell on Illya. The Russian was standing at the back of the room, leaning against the wall right where he always did, but for the first time Napoleon realized just how deliberate that placement was.
It kept Illya apart from the others and all that distasteful open emotion, but it also put him directly in Napoleons line of sight. For some reason, whenever he was eulogizing one of his agents Napoleon had always needed a visual reminder that it wasnt his damned fool partner about to be buried. Napoleon had known that, but until now he hadnt consciously realized that Illya did too.
He found the thought that someone knew him that well both annoying and very comforting. He also realized that he wasnt exactly dreading what would happen tonight.
Illya stood in his favorite spot in Napoleons apartment, just in front of the large picture window that afforded a marvelous view of the New York City skyline. He especially loved the view at night. Right now though, it felt like a frame, holding him up for all the world to see. But then that was the whole point.
The two men had talked about their romance most of the afternoon, settling the details in their minds and deciding just how to handle tonight. It seemed unlikely that Thrush would know of a rumor just gaining credibility in Headquarters, but assumptions had destroyed more than one operation in the past. And, in all probability, both men lived under a constant, if casual form of Thrush surveillance. No, if this was to be done, it must be done immediately.
The lamp switched off behind him, leaving only the fireplace to illuminate the room. His heart began to pound, and he lifted his wine glass to give his nervous energy a channel, but hed emptied it on the last swallow.
"Do you want some more?" He just managed not to jump at the nearness of his partners voice.
"No," he answered, surrendering his glass to the taller man.
Napoleons breath felt warm against the Russians skin. "You look beautiful in the firelight," he said, his lips nuzzling Illyas neck just above the black turtleneck sweater.
"Please, Napoleon, do not speak to me as if I were just another one of your conquests," he said, flinching away from his touch. This was not easy on either of them, so theyd sought reasons for the hesitancy of their relationship. Reasons for them to seem awkward as they worked up the courage for the trip to the bedroom. Or rather he did. He had the suspicion that this would be no trouble at all for Napoleon. "I know all your lines; Ive heard you use them often enough. Grant me some shred of dignity by not using them on me."
Napoleon sighed and propped himself on the back edge of his couch. "Weve been over this a hundred times, Illya. This is no more a casual fling for me than it is for you."
Illya glanced skyward. "This from a man who could best be described as a sexual shark. Why should I believe Im any more special to you than all the others youve lured into your bed?"
"Because Ive never told anyone else that I loved them, and I do love you."
Illyas breath caught in his throat for a moment. There was an honesty behind those words that all the play acting in the world couldnt produce. A foolish reaction and an equally foolish thought. He knew Napoleon loved him, as he loved Napoleon, but not like this.
Get on with it.His head dropped a bit, his glance fixing on the carpet. "I know, but I thought this part of our relationship was over."
"So did I, but when I saw Sharons and Janets bodies in the morgue, I realized how much you mean to me. I want to make love to you, Illya, then wake up in the morning with you in my arms so that I know that youre still alive. Still mine."
Illya sighed again. "You always tend to rediscover me when we bury one of our own. It never lasts."
"No, this time it will. This time is forever."
Napoleon reached out, then took his hand. "I wont hurt you."
Hurt. Sometimes it seemed that pain was the only constant in Illyas life. His small body and almost pretty looks made him seem somehow weak to others and the one more likely to break when answers were needed. In his time with U.N.C.L.E., Illya had been beaten, drugged, raped three times, dined upon by mutant vampire bats and almost guillotined, but it had been Mother Fear and her damnable strap against his bare back who had taught him what true pain was. He measured all other encounters with Thrushs mercy against what she had done to him. Nothing had even come close. Certainly not the rapes, and Napoleon wasnt going to rape him, so why was he so afraid?
"Of course you will," he said, finding his voice. "But I seem destined to always come running when you call."
Napoleon didnt answer, pulling him instead into the circle of his arms. Illya tried to draw upon the image of a woman as lips brushed against the hair just over his right ear. Tried to imagine some soft, feminine voice whispering, "I love you."
"And I, you," he answered automatically, while trying to focus on something to get him through the next hour without compromising the entire operation. But, while more infrequent, Illyas past liaisons had consisted of little more depth than Napoleons. A hazard of the job that left him with no strong memory to call upon. He tried to construct in his mind the fantasy woman his training had taught him to visualize when a target proved less than arousing, but his body was too familiar with Napoleons presence and his touch to push the man from his mind.
His clear and certain knowledge of his partner had saved both their lives on many occasions, but now it left him bereft of fantasy. His panic must have shown when Napoleon swept him off his feet.
"I know a trick or two," he whispered as he carried Illya to the bedroom. "Just relax."
Illya almost laughed, finding nothing at all relaxing about Napoleons hands removing his clothing or the all too soon feel of the bed against his bare back.
Lips moved slowly across his face, exploring the curve of his jaw, the line of his nose with small kisses. His own lips parted easily when the kiss reached his mouth. A tongue flicked against his front teeth, then behind them. A quick brush against the roof of his mouth tickled and almost pulled something suspiciously like a giggle from him. Unwilling to risk that indignity, he used his own tongue to urge a firmer taking of his mouth.
He shifted against the body holding him, finding it a bit difficult to lie still. His hands only trembled a bit when they reached out to caress Napoleons shoulders and back. The tongue abandoned his mouth, then the lips began to move slowly downward.
Down his neck, over his collarbone, then he gasped when the kiss closed around his right nipple. His hips shifted again, pushing upward, and he felt the press of Napoleons obvious arousal against his thigh. The man could find sexual gratification with a cabbage , Illya thought with some irritation, then moaned when the kiss shifted to his other nipple.
Again Napoleons lips began moving downward, and, to his amazement, when the kiss paused long enough to tease his belly button, Illya actually felt his own erection forming.
Pleasure and an inconvenient sense of outrage clashed in Illyas mind when Napoleons mouth finally reached his groin. Confused by the sensations, Illya tried to squirm away, but Napoleons hands reached beneath his hips and trapped him. Illya groaned his protests at the stroke of the tongue, the caress of the lips, then it stopped.
He opened his eyes at the sound of the bedside drawer opening, then watched Napoleon pull out a tube of lubricant. The beat of Illyas heart became a roar in his ears as lubricated fingers began to probe and prepare him. No one had ever touched him there with such gentleness, and he surprised himself by parting his own legs and lifting them up over Napoleons shoulders.
Napoleon kissed him one more time, his tongue doing a delightful dance inside Illyas mouth, then he drew back a bit. His warm brown eyes captured Illyas blue ones with a single glance.
Illya nodded, then forced himself to relax, a skill hed acquired to lessen the damage of a rape.
The older mans weight shifted, his hands holding Illya still, then he entered the tight passage. Sweat beaded on Illyas forehead. It did hurt a bit, but only for a moment, then the gentle thrusting began.
Napoleons body rubbing against his groin quickly pushed Illya over the edge, and he cried out in surprise as the sticky warmth of his release flowed between their bellies. A moment later, Napoleon came, the familiar sensation of a mans seed filling Illyas bottom passage. Amazing how different it felt when someone did it in pleasure instead of conquest.
After a moment Napoleon recovered himself and slipped out of Illyas body. He settled down on the bed beside the young man and pulled him close. Instinctively, Illya snuggled up against him as he had done when hed almost died of a fever in South Africa.
Napoleon kissed the top of the head nestled against his shoulder. "Good night, Illyusha."
"Good night, Napasha," he answered, and soon the sound of Napoleons breathing told him his partner had fallen asleep, leaving him to wonder just how he had managed to feel so much pleasure when never once had his mind forgotten that every touch, every taste had been Napoleon.
"Just another day at the office"
Stewart looked through the stack of photos one last time. The quality was less than he would have liked, a hazard of lifting still photos from video tape, but he found enough good shots to make things interesting.
He came up with twelve that he liked. Each featured at least one of the two agents faces and an intimate sex act. Stewart shook his head. He had to admire Solos style. He hadnt known there were that many ways to make love to a man.
He picked up the phone, dialed a number, then smiled as a familiar voice answered.
"I think it is time to have a little talk with Mr Kuryakin," Stewart said. "Arrange it."
"Hes an agent, not an innocent or someone from the office who is only marginally trained in defensive techniques ," the voice reminded him. "He wont be easy to take."
"Ill have all the men you need at your disposal."
"Good. Just make certain theyre ready to move at a moments notice."
"Oh, dont worry, they will be." Stewart hung up, a smile on his face.
The tampon on his desk chair had pushed him over the edge.
For two weeks Illya had endured whispered conversations behind his back, former paramours of Napoleons bursting into tears and a variety of veiled insults. Hed discovered he possessed the amazing ability of being able to clear out the mens locker room just by walking through the door -- he imagined that Robert Gearhart had developed quite a rash by dressing before hed even rinsed off all that soap.
Two agents from the Paris office with a bad case of testosterone on the brain had tried to teach him just what real men thought of perverts like him. Instead hed showed them just why he was Napoleon Solos partner and had sent them both home with matching arm casts. Explaining his own bruises to Napoleon had required relatively little creativity.
Carol Harris had asked him on just what date he had finally succumbed to Napoleons charm so she could settle the bets in the office pool. Hed told her that Napoleon had no charm and had suggested she donate the money to the widows and orphans fund.
Art Shoemaker had assured him he wasnt the first to fall victim to Napoleons sexual appetites nor would he be the last. Dubious comfort at best. And then there was that damned button.
The large red button had been waiting in his mail bin a few days ago. I got laid by Solo it proclaimed in words designed to look scorched by heat. Actually, hed found the existence of such a thing quite amusing and kept it, but he had decided the matching bumper sticker was in rather poor taste.
All of this and more because of rumors. He wondered if Sharon, Janet and the others had been subjected to this mean-spirited nonsense or if he was just being singled out. Certainly, Napoleon had not suffered from more than an occasional odd look. Illya wasnt certain if this was because everyone was wise enough to not irritate someone with the title of Chief Enforcement Officer or if Napoleons notorious reputation absolved him of any responsibility.
In either case Illya had grown more than a little irritated with this bizarre double standard, and it was in that mood that he had returned to his office from doing some work in the lab. Still reading a report, hed sat down on something wet.
Someone had placed a tampon on his chair, then had upended a bottle of red ink all over it. Hed changed from his ruined suit into a pair of jeans and his black turtleneck, called building maintenance and requested a new chair, all with his usual calm, then a glance at the clock had told him it was a minute after noon.
Suddenly furious, hed nearly broken his finger on the phone when he had punched up Napoleons number. "Is it your intention to stand me up again?" hed snapped before his partner could even say a word. Hed actually forgotten that he had no audience and no reason to play the jealous lover, something that had done nothing to improve his mood.
"Ummm, no, Ill meet you in the commissary in three minutes," Napoleon had answered in a tone of voice that made it quite clear hed rather have dental surgery.
Illya knew he wasnt being fair, but he felt just wronged enough to not make too much of an effort to calm himself down as he went through the cafeteria line. Too tense to really be hungry, he just bought a bowl of tomato soup, then retreated to one of the back tables on the far end of the long, plain room.
True to his word, Napoleon arrived three minutes later, sitting down across from him, seemingly oblivious to the stares that had followed him through the room.
Yes, by all means, everyone watch closely. It is not often you get to witness the utter perversion of a man eating a tuna on rye sandwich with his partner."Next time order whole wheat," Illya muttered.
"You changed your clothes."
A long silence, then, "Is that all youre going to eat?"
"I am not hungry."
Napoleon moved half the potato chips from his tray to Illyas. "Eat these. Youre losing too much weight."
"And who would know better than you," he snapped, but ate the damned chips, then half of the tuna sandwich in a sullen silence.
Napoleon bolted down the remains of his lunch, obviously desperate to return to the relative peace of his office, but Illya had no intention of allowing an easy escape. "Tell me, Napoleon, is there a single person in this entire building with whom you have not had sex?" A strangled cough answered him as his partner choked on too large a gulp of iced tea.
"You have the self restraint of an alley cat," Illya hissed, his mind screaming to know why he was the one paying for Napoleons reputation. Napoleon Solo, the great heterosexual, brought low by a scheming Russian pervert. "You --"
"Illya...." Napoleons hand touched his arm, and Illya started to jerk away. Then he saw the pain caused by his reaction in the older mans eyes and despair filled him. No, Napoleons touch had always been one of comfort, never of pain. He couldnt allow anyone, not the bigots, Thrush, or even himself, to take that away from them.
"I am sorry," he said softly, his attention fixing on an imaginary spot on the table top.
The hand on his arm squeezed gently. "We need toothpaste."
Illya looked up. "What?"
"I used the last of the toothpaste this morning. If you worked at it, Im sure you could take the whole afternoon buying some more."
An afternoon away from this. He knew it would give his tormentors all the more time to plan their next round of pranks, but right now it sounded like paradise. "I will be home by seven," he said, standing.
"See that you are," Napoleon said with a smile. "Its your night to cook."
"Perhaps I shall make a souffle," he said, recalling the time hed actually attempted to cook dinner during a case in suburbia.
"Poisoning me will only result in your having to do the dishes, too."
Napoleon signed his name and tossed yet another file folder into his out bin. Being Chief Enforcement Officer gave him a certain degree of power and the best assignments, but it also tended to increase his paperwork. He scowled at the still all too high pile in his in bin, but reached for yet another file.
"Napoleon Solo doing his own paperwork? I must be hallucinating."
He smiled at the pretty redhead standing in his office doorway. Hed known that April Dancer and her partner, Mark Slate, had returned from Brazil late last night, he just hadnt expected them to make an appearance at the office today. "A mans got to do, etc.," he said.
"That usually translates as getting Illya to do it for you," she teased. "Is he sick?"
"No, just feeling a bit abused. It makes him uncooperative." A damned shame too, since the Russian tended to go through a stack of reports in half the time he did and with twice the efficiency. A trait he shared with Slate, who was undoubtedly busy writing up the reports on the Brazil mission.
April slipped into the office, then closed the door behind her. "So whats the scoop with you and the Russian iceberg?"
Napoleon blinked in surprise. "Good Lord, April, youve only been in the office a few hours and youve already heard something?"
She dropped into a spare chair. "Napoleon, I dont think anyone is talking about anything else."
"Must be a slow news day," he muttered.
"Oh, come on, Napoleon. Your sexual escapades have been the talk of the office for years, and youve loved it. Dont get all grouchy just because Illyas involved this time. I hear someone even sent him the official Solo button."
Wednesday. It had to have been last Wednesday. That would explain the Russians hellacious mood that day. He was going to have to have a little talk with his partner about the value of admitting what was bothering him.
She seemed to finally notice he was a bit upset, so she said, "Dont worry about it, Napoleon. Theyre admittedly a trifle more intense this time, but the rumors will blow over soon enough. They always do," she said.
He shook his head. "This time they arent just rumors."
To her credit, Aprils eyes only widened a bit. "Youre kidding."
"Afraid not." If he and Illya were U.N.C.L.E.s top agents, then April and Mark were a very close second and the best backup he could think of. He had the feeling that they were going to need just that. "Weve been making pictures for a blackmailer."
He filled her in on everything they knew, including the uncomfortable fact that the office grapevine could well be the starting point for the blackmailer.
She frowned. "That makes sense, but it doesnt. If Thrush already has an inside man, why would they need to blackmail anyone to get the information they want?"
"Too low of a security clearance to gain access to important information, not wanting to risk him until something bigger comes along, any of a dozen reasons, but most of them are, admittedly, a bit of a reach. We just cant take the chance of not considering the possibility."
She nodded her agreement. "What can we do to help?"
"Keep your ears open, back us up, and have Mark talk to Illya. Theyre friends, maybe he can get him to open up a bit. I dont want my partners head all messed up when things get dangerous."
"But... youre his best friend. Surely if he were going to talk to anyone it would be you."
"Right now, pretty lady, I am his problem."
She stood up, walked over to him, then sat down on the edge of his desk. "This has been hard on you, hasnt it?"
"Its harder on Illya." An obvious evasion, but true enough. While he usually preferred female partners, Napoleon had more than a few male lovers in his past. Hed even toyed with seducing Illya when the young Russian was first assigned to him, thinking that a little sex might loosen the boy up, but their relationship had moved in a different direction. Illya was his partner, best friend, and kid brother all rolled into one irritating package. Still, it had proven remarkably simple to draw on old curiosities in order to make love to him. In fact, when he was being honest with himself, he had to admit that he was enjoying having Illya in his bed.
Illya, on the other hand, had never been with a man who hadnt taken him by force or one whom the job hadnt required him to seduce. Actually, very few women fell outside of those categories either. It galled Napoleon to find himself in the lie-back-and-think-of-U.N.C.L.E. group. The inscrutable brat knew he loved him, so why did Illya insist on making him feel like such a closet rapist?
"Thats not what I asked you," April said, not about to let him get away with focusing her attention on Illya. "You dont like mixing any kind of love with sex. Its one of the reasons I dont qualify for that button."
"You had your chance," he muttered in protest, but it was true. Hed stopped propositioning April almost the very second theyd become friends. While sexual encounters on the job could certainly be limited, they could never be totally avoided. To see sex as part of love meant he would eventually be forced to betray that love. Even with his late wife, he had sought only mutual pleasure in the bedroom, not a physical expression of love, but it hadnt been easy. Nor was this mess with Illya.
He sighed. "Ill survive."
"Of course you will, since theres no real reason for you to be afraid of him," she said.
She shook her head. "You already have the most important commitment with him that two people can have."
Napoleon stared at her, wondering if shed injured her head in Brazil. "What are you talking about?"
"Hes your partner."
Napoleon sighed, not appreciating being told the obvious when he was expecting some pearl of wisdom that might make things easier. And he decided things had gotten far too serious, so he forced a smile and said, "Just be glad your partners name isnt Marcia or I would have palmed this assignment off on the two of you."
A shrill beep interrupted her response, and Napoleon pressed a button on his desk to open the communications channel. "Go ahead, Illya."
"Napoleon," an urgent whisper answered, "I think Im in trouble."
"A little something for the photo album"
A long walk in Central Park with a bright blue sky overhead and an ice cream cone to nibble on had done much to improve Illyas mood if not the future. At least the ice cream cone would get Napoleon to stop nagging him about his weight. And really, it had been quite a long time since he had cared what anyone other than Napoleon thought. He saw even Waverlys opinion as less than a force in itself and more of a powerful influence on Napoleon. Was that another sign?
Had he fallen in love with his partner? Thats what was really worrying him. Not the insults and the threats, but the possibility that he had done the one thing he had never wanted to do with anyone, especially Napoleon.
His feelings had not seemed to change, but every night and morning for two weeks, Napoleon had touched him in a way that made him wonder.
He shook his head, tired of thinking deep thoughts and turned his musings to dinner. He had quite deliberately set out to learn how to cook after that first miserable soufflé, and he was quite sick of take out food, no matter how elegant. A stir fry perhaps? Or....
A tingling in the back of his neck warned him that his subconscious had picked up on something, and thoughts of dinner evaporated. He walked over to a nearby hot dog vendor and ordered one of the loathsome things with everything, using the wait to glance around.
It seemed a very popular day for men walking alone in the park, he decided, his casual glance noting at least four possible Thrush agents within a fifty yard radius. Theyd almost surrounded him, but with luck hed spotted the trap in time.
He paid the vendor, then started down one of the few paths still open to him. A quick turn to the right put him just out of their sight for a moment, and, tossing the useless hot dog into a trash can as he passed it, Illya began to run.
The layout of the park long ago committed to his memory, Illya moved from path to path, doubling back and around any Thrush pursuit. A wasted effort, he discovered, when he emerged from the park to find two Thrush agents waiting for him.
They must have had every entrance covered, he realized, ducking under the arms grabbing for him. Smaller than both of them, he went low, sweeping the legs out from under one with a kick, then driving upward with his fist into the belly of the other man.
Another team behind him cut off any escape back into the park, so he trusted in luck and darted into traffic just light enough to actually be moving. He made it to the far side without incident, but the squeal of brakes and a loud thud told him at least one of his pursuers had not been so fortunate.
He ran up the alley to the right, turned left, then up another alley to the next street. He knew every street and alleyway in Manhattan, but such knowledge would also have been part of the indoctrination of any Thrush agent stationed in New York.
Through an alley, up two streets this time, left, up another alley and over the fence in the back. Did he dare risk hailing a cab? Hed picked up more than one fleeing Thrush agent by posing as a cab driver. The further he got from the park the better his odds of getting a real cab, he decided, and kept running.
But every turn he made seemed to lead him right back to another Thrush agent. An incredible amount of manpower to capture one lone U.N.C.L.E. agent not even currently assigned to a case. It must be the group after the Babylon Project, but somehow blackmail seemed a much more solitary activity. Still, he began to question the wisdom of escaping.
He decided he had to take the chance that these were the men that he and Napoleon were after, so he made a deliberate mistake and ducked into a dead end alley. In the seconds he had remaining, he yanked out the silver pen-like communicator and said, "Open Channel D, emergency relay to Solo."
"Go ahead, Illya," his partner answered after a brief pause.
"Napoleon," he said, his run reducing his voice to a breathless whisper, "I think Im in trouble."
A sharp pain in his neck brought his hand flying upward to the small dart lodged in his skin. The world started to spin, he had the absurd thought that he wished hed picked a cleaner alley, then he fell as darkness claimed him.
"Illya? Illya!" Napoleon shared a look of alarm with April and stood up without even realizing it.
"He will be quite all right, Mr Solo," an unfamiliar voice said over the communications line. "We just want to have a little chat with him."
"If you hurt him...." It was a stupid, useless thing to say, but somehow it made Napoleon feel a little less helpless.
"Oh, we wont. At least not much," the voice assured him. "Go home, Solo. Hell be returned to you before midnight."
The line went dead with the distinctive crunch of a communicator being destroyed and with it went his only way of tracing his partner.
April touched his arm. "What do we do now?"
Babylon. This had to be about Babylon, and that meant they would send Illya back to him. "Go home and wait."
A pounding headache greeted his return to consciousness. Bitter experience with Thrush tranquilizer darts had taught him not to move abruptly when waking up, so he merely blinked to clear his vision. Judging by the shadows around him, there were only a few moments left of twilight. Looked like he would be late for dinner after all.
His arms were held over his head by chains attached to thick leather cuffs fastened around his wrists. A bar cuffed to his ankles and chained to the floor held his legs shoulder-width apart. His clothing lay just a few feet away in a tidy pile on the floor. An oddly familiar setup.
He concentrated on the shadows, trying to place his surroundings, then he groaned. Theyd brought him to an old bondage club on the East side. The one that had served as a front for Thrush, until hed helped close it down last year. Hed had a most distasteful experience posing as a waiter here and had never quite been able to look at whipped cream in the same light again.
His mind did a fast inventory of all the little goodies that could still be here, and he began to wonder if Mother Fears treatment would move down to number two on his list.
His shoulders and wrists ached from supporting his weight, and the headache refused to let go but, having examined his surroundings, Illya settled into the manner of someone without a care in the world.
As usual, his disinterest rankled, and the waiting game ended after only a few minutes. A spotlight flared into life, surrounding him in a circle of brilliant white light. Theyd sought to blind him, but hed remembered the lights from before, so his eyes were closed and his headache remained a mere steady throb.
"Good evening, Mr Kuryakin," an electronically altered voice filled the room. No way to know if it was male or female.
When in doubt, be polite -- it drove them crazy -- one of his rules of etiquette for interrogations sounded in his mind. "Good evening," he said, slowly opening his eyes.
"You know, we are going to have a little talk, Illya. If you say and do the right things, you know, I may allow you to return safely to your lovers arms."
"Im afraid I do not know what you are talking about."
The voice chuckled. "You know, I would have thought Mr Solos attentions were a bit more memorable than that. But, you know, we are going to have that chat."
You know.Someone had suffered from the annoying American trait of using that phrase as punctuation around him recently, but who? "I really dont have anything to say to Thrush. And torturing me wont do you any good. I took a course in resisting."
"Oh, you dont currently posses the knowledge that we need, you know, but you can get it for us."
"I am not in the habit of helping Thrush."
"Perhaps these will change your mind," the voice answered and the expected stack of photos landed near Illyas feet.
"You know, that isnt important. What is of your concern is that if you do not cooperate with us, we will see to it that all your U.N.C.L.E. friends get copies."
Illya could not quite imagine his life getting more miserable than the last few weeks, but he managed to look horrified. "Wh--what do you want?"
"Oh, dont decide now. Show the pictures to Solo and discuss the matter. You know, we will be in touch."
For a moment, Illya dared think that was actually it, but then someone behind him pulled a black silk hood over his head. "You know, Ive always wanted to have one of Solos women," a muffled voice said in his ear.
Illya noted another reference to the fact that he just might know this man, then amended his list. Raped four times.
Illya lay naked and face down on the bed, a sight Napoleon normally would have found quite fetching, but the cuts and bruises covering the bottom of Illyas feet kept any fires cool. The young mans captors had released Illya as promised, but had given him nothing back but his jeans. Without a single dime in his pockets, hed had to walk, barefoot, all the way from the East side to Napoleons mid-Manhattan apartment.
Nothing looked too serious, but his partner wouldnt be very fast on his feet for a few days, or so they must have thought. If Napoleon knew anything at all about Illya, the Russian agent would move all the faster just to spite Thrush.
Illya had gone straight from the front door to the shower, pausing just long enough to drop the folder full of photos on the coffee table. The shower had cleaned the wounds, leaving Napoleon with the unenviable task of applying the antiseptic.
He wet the cotton ball with peroxide, then hesitated a moment. "This is going to hurt."
"Just get it over with," Illya muttered around the pillow cradling his head.
At each touch, Napoleon felt the lean body tense beneath his hands, but Illya didnt utter a sound. "Those pictures..." he said, falling back into his part to distract them both from what he was doing.
"I do not want to talk about them."
"Illya, why did they give them to you?"
"They wanted..." he paused a moment, the only indication of just how badly Napoleon was hurting him, "Babylon."
"They made a rather sweeping threat, but you can assume we will be the subject of office gossip for a long time to come."
"Illya, gossip and suspicion is one thing, evidence is another." Finished, he set aside the cotton and peroxide, then picked up a tube of antiseptic ointment. At least this shouldnt hurt as much. "Waverly will have to act on it."
"U.N.C.L.E. does not discriminate on the basis of gender, age, religion, nationality or sexual preference," Illya spat back the text of the manual handed out to every new hire.
"That sounds all very grand and noble, but in practice it doesnt work that way and you know it."
"Do not say you know, and you should have thought of that before you seduced me."
"I cant help it if youre adorable when youre sulking," he said, moving to sit on the bed beside Illyas knees. "And youre always sulking."
"I am not. I just have more important things to think about than how to seduce the newest member of the secretarial pool."
"I told you, Im all through with that." He rested his hand on the back of Illyas thigh. "Were you... um...."
"Raped. The word is raped and, yes, I was."
"I need to take a look."
Illya sighed and lifted his hips a bit. Napoleons hands parted him the rest of the way. "There doesnt seem to be much trauma," he said, rubbing the antiseptic into the mildly swollen tissue just to be on the safe side.
"Of course not. Im perfectly capable of dealing with an unwanted entry, Napoleon, and he wanted to establish dominance, not to create pain."
Napoleon tried not to apply the words to himself and thought of how much he would like to kill the man who had done this to his partner. Not that it would please or impress Illya. Dealing with the emotional trauma of torture, including rape, was a large part of an U.N.C.L.E. agents training, but no one had ever mastered it as Illya had. The first time the young man had been raped during their partnership, Napoleon had been certain the calmness hid a great emotional trauma, but eventually hed realized that it did not. Since the goal of a rape was to humiliate, Illya had simply decided he would not be humiliated. When pushed on the matter, he would give Napoleon an impatient look and list all the things that had been done to him that had physically hurt him more.
Shaking his head with something between admiration and amazement, Napoleon pulled the covers up over Illya. "If Waverly sees those photos, our careers are over. At best well end up on permanent desk duty."
Illya didnt answer him.
"Illya, he could reassign you to the Moscow office."
"Then hell have you deported. Youre still a Russian citizen."
Illya twisted up and around to move into Napoleons arms. "I cannot do it, Napoleon."
Napoleon had spent the better part of the day worried sick about his partner and, for a moment, he indulged himself by holding Illya. It cost him to break the embrace, but his hands tightened around Illyas upper arms, pushing the blond back so he could see his face. "Will you stop me?"
Doing a masterful job of looking truly miserable, the young man shook his head. "No."
He pulled the lean body back against him, and captured the soft lips with his own, but Illya stiffened suddenly and pushed away from him. "Did you get rid of the cameras?"
"The drapes are drawn," Napoleon muttered, reaching for him, but Illya slapped away his hands.
"They are closed in half the pictures, as well. Somehow theyve managed to plant cameras inside your apartment. Dont touch me again until you have found them," he said, then pulled the covers up over his head.
Well played, Illya , Napoleon thought for about the millionth time since this assignment began.
Even using the photo angles as a reference, it took almost three hours to find and extract four tiny video cameras the size of a disposable lighter. Ingenious little trinkets, theyd actually been mounted in the walls. The lab should have a field day with them, but he guessed that they were actually some sort of transmitter with a camera on the other end of the link. He would be most interested in finding out just how they managed not to register on the scanner he routinely used to check his apartment for this type of device. He locked them in his briefcase; then, with a yawn, he returned to the bedroom.
He stripped off his clothes, then crawled into the bed. Illya had fallen asleep a long time ago, but he stirred at the motion in the bed. The Russian settled into his usual spot, his head on Napoleons shoulder. With a smile, the older man kissed the top of the blond head, then fell fast asleep.
In the morning they woke up, made love, then got ready for work. It wasnt until Illya was fixing his tie in front of the mirror that he remembered the cameras were gone.
Do not say you know....Stewart stopped the tape and frowned. Hed found the first viewing rather entertaining and more than a bit informative. Alexander Waverly turning out to be a closet homophobe was more than he could have hoped for and almost insured Solos cooperation. But something had nagged at him enough that hed decided to watch the tape again.
He rewound it a bit and replayed the small segment again.
Do not say you know....Of course, Kuryakin had picked up on the speech pattern. Damn.
It had been a calculated risk allowing his rape. With the others, raping the non-agent of the pair had driven a psychological wedge into the relationship that had helped split the couple a bit mentally when theyd needed to be united. Hed known it wouldnt work in this case since both of them were agents, and Kuryakin had too much experience with that sort of torture.
Still, his man had insisted on it, saying it was part of his payment. Stewart found that disgusting and utterly unprofessional, but hed needed the bastards cooperation, so he had not forbidden it. A mistake.
He picked up the phone, then dialed. "We may have a problem," he said as soon as his contact answered.
"Illya has a bad day"
The chains had held him approximately two inches off the floor, and Illya had the impression that his rapist had been forced to bend into him. That made him about five feet, eleven inches tall. Hed felt a bit of a paunch pressed up against his back, and the body had lacked power. A lean build then, but probably about 190 pounds. Hed smelled of garlic. A pity the computers did not track what personnel had for lunch.
Illya finished coding in the general descriptors, then keyed in the search personnel files command. Within a few moments thirty-four possible matches appeared on his screen.
He eliminated fifteen based on their security clearance. Too high or too low to fit the profile of the inside man. He had to be someone who could not gain access to Babylon, but knew of it.
Another ten were dismissed for the simple reason he had not talked with any of them in the last few weeks. Two more worked in the labs and had the usual rough skin typical of someone constantly washing his hands between experiments. He would have noticed that. Of the remaining seven, only three suffered from the annoying habit of dropping you knows into every other sentence. One of them was Art Shoemaker.
Now he remembered. "You know, Im not trying to find out if you and Solo are doing anything," Shoemaker had said. "But you know, you shouldnt look so down-hearted. You wouldnt be the first to fall into Solos bed, and you wont be the last, you know. Next week someone else will be in the hot seat." The comment had seemed mean-spirited given that Shoemakerd had every reason to suspect he was talking with someone who was in love with Solo. Solo. Not Napoleon. Not Napoleon Solo. Just Solo. The same way the man from last night had referred to Napoleon.
A lot of circumstantial threads, but he felt quite confident that he had found his man. He called up Shoemakers file and started reading. Forty-one, hired as a electronic technician level three when he was twenty-one. He had a mid-level security clearance, and though he hadnt done any actual work on the Babylon project, he was definitely among the large number of personnel who had access to the information Thrush had acquired. Only two promotions, both due to level changes rather than merit. Not the most unlikely candidate for Thrush recruitment.
Satisfied that he could convince Napoleon and Waverly, he picked up a nearby phone and dialed his partners extension. He rolled his eyes as Napoleons voice mail answered. "This place is becoming altogether too much like IBM," he muttered after the beep. "I think I have identified my friend from last night. Do give me call when youve finished with whomever youve cornered in the supply closet this time."
He hung up, copied the pertinent files onto a disk, then with a nod of thanks to the personnel manager, he left the department and headed back to his own office.
He spotted Shoemaker in the hallway behind him as he rounded the corridor to the technical areas. It was where the man worked, so it might be a coincidence, but it did remind Illya that hed neglected to tell Napoleon just who he suspected.
Brilliant, Illya, just brilliant.There did not seem to be any way Shoemaker could harm him in the middle of U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, but Illya had the uncomfortable feeling that he was in trouble. Keeping his pace steady and hiding his movements as best he could, he pulled a pen from his pocket and wrote Napoleons name on the disk. When he rounded the next corner, he took advantage of the brief second he was out of Shoemakers line of sight and palmed the disk into a stack of inter-office mail awaiting pick up.
That duty taken care of, he decided to find out what was on Shoemakers mind, so he stopped at the water fountain for a drink. It didnt surprise him when the older man also stopped. "My mother always said it was a bad habit," he said, leaning against the wall next to the fountain.
"Pardon me?" Illya said, then took another swallow from the cold stream of water.
"The "you knows". She said that they were irritating. People tend to notice things that irritate them, dont they, Illya?"
"Its possible. Now, if youll excuse me," he said, but Shoemaker caught hold of his arm. Though taller and heavier, they both knew that the technician was no physical match for Illya, which meant he must have some other advantage. Best to wait and find out what it was.
"You kn--" he caught himself and smiled. "Since Solo started bedding you, its been a lot easier on average guys like me to get a date. One of mine works in personnel.She was just horrified that you were checking through the computer files. Thought you might be looking for information on potential rivals."
"You were the one who pointed out I had good reason to be jealous," Illya countered, giving his arm a twist, then a jerk to free himself from the restraining hand. "Now, I believe we both have work to do."
Shoemaker smiled. "Did you know that Solo takes his watch off when he works out in the gym?" he said, holding up the watch Illya had given Napoleon for Christmas two years ago. "Oh, I didnt steal this, you know. I just made a little trade. The one I gave him is a bit fancier."
"How generous of you."
"You and I are going to leave this building and get in a car waiting for me."
"I press the button on the little box in my other hand and a needle pops out of his new watch to shoot a nice concentrated dose of a special Thrush poison straight into his vein. Death is instantaneous."
Illyas feelings about Napoleon had been in an uproar, especially since this morning, but one thing had not changed since they had first gone on a mission together -- he would die to keep that irritating American alive. "You win." For now.
Damn it, where was that blasted Russian?Napoleon had spent the better part of the day working with Waverly and Mark Slate to create a phoney version of Babylon just loaded with goodies for Thrush, something Illya would have been far better suited for. But his partner had been in such a snit since this morning that Napoleon had decided it would be easier on his nerves to use Slate instead.
What was the big problem, anyway?Theyd awakened aroused and had done something about it, something theyd both undeniably enjoyed. Hell, hed forgotten about the lack of cameras until he was in the shower but, of course, Illya hadnt believed that and had given him a look that implied hed moved Napoleon from the duty demands category to the rapist side of the list. Well, that might be a bit too harsh, he told himself. Vile seducer was more like it.
Hed hoped, no, hed assumed that Illya would eventually cool off, but hed disappeared the moment theyd entered headquarters. Frustrated and out of patience, hed been seriously considering the merits of turning the irritating blond over his knee, when hed heard the voice mail message.
He should have known Illya would have filed away every detail about the man who had raped him. He must have recognized something, but hed been too busy throwing a fit to tell Napoleon what it was. A quick phone call verified that Illya had spent some time in personnel, but that had been hours ago.
A sick feeling began to churn his stomach. He snatched up his phone and dialed. "Dancer, grab Slate and report to my office immediately," he snapped when April answered her phone, then he hung up.
Illya wasnt in the building, that much he knew for certain. All the temper tantrums in the world wouldnt keep his partner from immediately answering a page. And only trouble would keep him from answering his communicator if he were outside.
Hed just finished calling all the standard exits when Mark and April arrived. He filled them in, then concluded, "He must have gone out one of the emergency exits." Or he was dead, stuffed in one of the closets, but Napoleon refused to consider that for more than an instant.
Mark shook his head. "That would have triggered half a dozen alarms. Illyas good, but even he doesnt know how to by-pass all those systems."
"Easy answer is one of the electricians who service them."
A call to technical revealed that Art Shoemaker had also gone AWOL. So they had the name, but the where was more important. And why had Illya gone with him?
The ropes cut into wrists already slick with blood. Illya consoled himself with the fact that it would make them easier to slip out of. Of course, he would not be able to stand once he did. He bit down hard on the rubber ball buckled into his mouth. A fancy gag and cheap rope, but at least he did not have to worry about giving Shoemaker the satisfaction of hearing him scream.
Not that it was likely. He hadnt screamed yet and his back was starting to grow numb against the whip. The man lacked Mother Fears style, but he made up for it with enthusiasm. He had a good tie running for the number one slot, might even win if he didnt accidentally kill Illya first.
Tired of the repeated violations, he tried to twist away when Shoemakers hands settled onto his hips. That only earned him the handle of the whip against his right temple, and the room began to spin. He fought to steady his vision and keep his body relaxed while Shoemaker enjoyed himself.
He couldnt afford to pass out. He knew Napoleon would come for him -- he always did
-- but his partner didnt know about the booby-trapped watch. Restraints and all, he had to think of some way to warn him. That meant staying alive and conscious, but he couldnt lose much more blood and manage either.
He tried hard not to think about the fact that his life depended on the efficiency of the inter-office mail. Instead of every hour, the deliveries had been running twice a day, on a good day, but if Napoleon got the disk, hed find the text Illya had marked.
Shoemaker had been one of the electricians whod de-bugged the bondage club after the U.N.C.L.E. raid. Hed taken part in three other clean-up operations, and this place was one of them. His and Napoleons only chance was that his partner could find him before Shoemaker killed him, then used his dead body to lure Napoleon into a trap.
Illya heard rather than felt Shoemaker finish. Hed gone relatively numb there as well. After a moment, the whip cracked again, and Illya glanced skyward. Didnt this man ever get tired? Tired, so tired....
Napoleon stayed low as he moved toward the warehouse. The area seemed to be crawling with Thrushies tonight, but he was in a rather dark mood, so that suited him just fine.
He shot the first two guards he came upon, his silenced weapon not making much noise, but as he drew closer to his destination he opted against making even that small sound and pulled a knife from his boot. Illya was the expert with the blade, but the Russian had spent a good deal of time making certain that his partner was quite proficient as well.
The loading dock seemed the best point for an unobserved entry, so Napoleon slipped around the side of the building. A guard stood at the door he had in mind. He took hold of the tip of the blade, then threw it. The knife struck smack in the heart.
The guard looked surprised, then died.
Napoleon checked the door. Locked. He pushed a small glob of an incendiary compound into the lock, stepped to the side, then hit a transmit button on his watch. The lock melted in a brief, intense flash of heat. He pushed the door open, then moved quickly into a shadow.
Since the U.N.C.L.E. raid last February, the warehouse had stood empty, but the light was on in the office area. He moved toward it. A guard, whose attention should have been on the big dark emptiness around him, was watching intently what was going on inside the office.
Napoleon moved up behind him with ease, grabbed his head and with a fast twist broke his neck before he could make a sound. Lowering the body to the floor, he got his first good look inside.
Oh, God, Illya.His partner was hanging in the center of a room the size of an average hotel lobby. Shoemaker stood close behind him, the motion of his body making what the bastard was doing obvious. Before Napoleon could move, the traitor shuddered, then stepped back from his prisoner.
Napoleon opened the door as Shoemaker picked up the whip. The heavy leather struck Illya once as Napoleon raised his gun. It took everything Napoleon had in him to remember the mission as he aimed, then fired.
The soft cough of an U.N.C.L.E. special pulled Illya back from the darkness, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw half the whip fall to the floor. The bullet had split it in two. Nice shot , he thought, somehow finding the energy to lift his head enough to watch Napoleon step into the room. Hoping Shoemakers attention would stay on his partner, Illya began to twist his wrists and pull.
"Get away from him," Napoleon ordered, his gun trained on Shoemakers chest.
"Youre early, Solo," Shoemaker said, obeying, but Illya knew the little box had to be hidden in one of his hands. "That wasnt part of our bargain."
"Neither was killing Illya."
"Ah, but he has to die, you know. He knows who I am, and even if he didnt, his loyalty to you is certain to vanish the first time you stray, you know. Then his conscience would make him turn us both in."
Next time Napoleon played the jealous, noble part, Illya decided, while, with small movements of the hand furthest from Shoemaker, he motioned for Napoleon to come closer. White hot pain flashed through him as the ropes slipped from his wrists to the fleshy part of his hand. One more pull would do it.
Napoleon held up the briefcase. "This is what you wanted, so give me the negatives and go."
Yes, a nice phoney but impressive-looking Babylon would neutralize Thrush communications for quite some time. Illya understood the strategy, but knew this would be a lot simpler if Napoleon would just shoot the bastard. Closer, Napoleon, come closer.He knew he would collapse when his arms came loose, but if he could get some control.... Damn it, Napoleon, Im supposed to be your lover, so stop being cautious and rush over here to save me.
Shoemaker shook his head. "I dont think so, Solo. Youre too dangerous. I cant let you live any more than I could the others, you know. Once youre no longer any use to me, I just have to get rid of you."
"Is that what happened to Sharon and Janet?"
"Actually, I had to get rid of them because dear Sharon was not being cooperative. In another day or two, she might have figured out who I was, you know."
"So either way, anyone dealing with you ends up dead."
"Yes, but I think Ill make an exception with your little blond baby doll, at least for a while. Hes so much fun to play with, you know."
Napoleon finally moved close enough, and the blond baby doll decided hed put up with quite enough. He jerked hard, then fell free, shifting his weight so that he toppled into Napoleons arms. Illya didnt even try to pull the gag free, instead his hand darted to Napoleons wrist, his fingers pushing between the watch face and his partners skin.
He felt a sharp prick, but no sensation of poison moving into his system. Guessing the plan and hoping he could match the symptoms, he stiffened, then went limp and concentrated on looking like he wasnt breathing.
"Illya!" Napoleon screamed, sinking to the floor to cradle the body in his arms. "Illya!"
Illya had gone for the eyes-open-dead look, so he could see Shoemaker walk over to them. The man picked up the briefcase and the gun Napoleon had dropped when hed found his arms full of bleeding Russian. "Such a waste to love a man like you so much that he would die for you, you know."
He pointed the gun at Napoleons head, and for one moment Illya feared that U.N.C.L.E. had decided getting a phoney Babylon into Thrushs computers was worth the lives of two agents, then Napoleon said, "You only made one real mistake."
"I dont give a damn what anyone thinks of my sex life," he said, then called, "Mark!"
"Perimeter is secure, Napoleon," the Englishman said, stepping into the light. "Drop the gun, Shoemaker. Your men are all in custody."
Illya pushed hard against the floor, propelling himself up and knocking Napoleon away from the gun muzzle, his partner holding onto him tightly enough to also pull him out of the line of fire.
His shot spoiled, Shoemaker swung the gun around and fired blindly at Mark, who ducked instead of returning fire. He took the opportunity to cut and run. Mark hurried after him, no doubt under orders to make his escape look convincing.
Over. It was all over.Drained, Illya sagged against Napoleon. He felt the older mans hands working on the buckle behind Illyas head, then the ball was eased from his mouth. The relief to his aching jaw granted him a bit more energy, and he muttered, "Next time you die. Your grief is utterly unconvincing."
Napoleon glanced pointedly from the gag in his hand to Illya. "He bought it."
"He also thought I was one of your women.Hardly a sign of someone with an ounce of sense. And...." The room started to spin. "And... I think I shall pass out now...."
Stewart glared at Shoemaker. "You damned fool," he hissed, shaking in cold fury. "You just had to have your fun with Kuryakin, didnt you?"
Shoemaker shifted from one foot to other, squirming like an errant child called to the principals office. "You have Babylon, what more did you want?"
"You blew your cover and jeopardized our entire operation. Is it really necessary for me to point out that U.N.C.L.E. wont rest until they capture you?"
"So get me out of the country," Shoemaker said, growing bolder. "I was tired of playing the mole for you anyway."
Stewart backhanded him hard across the face. "Ill get you out of the country all right." He pulled his gun, then fired.
The bullet struck the startled U.N.C.L.E. traitor between the eyes.
"Clean this mess up!" Stewart snapped at one of his subordinates. That loose end taken care of, he wasnt quite certain why he was so angry.
Despite the best efforts of that fool Shoemaker, Thrush had won. Babylon was on its way to Thrush Central, Kuryakin was in the hospital and out of commission for at least two weeks and U.N.C.L.E. itself was in an uproar over the revelation that there had been a traitor in their midst. All in all a most satisfying conclusion for everyone but himself.
He had sparred with Solo and won, but Solo did not know that he existed. It spoiled the victory. Soon, he promised himself. Soon they would meet and that would be sweet indeed.
"What about the pictures?" his contact asked. "Will you send them to U.N.C.L.E.?"
His mood improved, he turned and smiled. "Not yet. I think Ill let them worry for a while."
Illya lay face down on the hospital bed, his body assuring him that he would neither be sitting nor sleeping on his back for at least another few days. He curled a little bit onto his side, propping his head up on his pillow so he could talk with the man sitting on the side of the bed. "How did you know about the watch?"
"You wont like it," Napoleon warned.
"I seldom like anything you have to say, so you might as well tell me."
"He couldnt use physical force on you, and a weapon would have been picked up on our scanners. That meant you had to choose to go with him."
And you know my only weakness is wanting to keep you alive.It all made perfect sense, but he still found it perfectly irritating. "You are an insufferable egoist."
Napoleon scowled, but Illya could see the affection in his eyes. "And you dont value your own life highly enough. If I hadnt started checking everything around me that was even remotely electronic...." He sighed. "Damn it, Illya, try guarding your own life for a change."
"That is not my way, Napoleon. Nor is it yours." He shifted his hand to rest on Napoleons forearm. "We each protect the other from his carelessness. It is not the best of systems, but it does work reasonably well."
Napoleon gave his hand a caress. "You always seem to be the one who ends up in the hospital."
"That is only because you are more careless, and I am better at my job than you are."
"Miserable brat," Napoleon said, ruffling Illyas hair.
"Yes, I have been that of late. I am sorry, Napoleon. I allowed my confusion over our relationship to affect my judgment. It will no longer be a problem."
"Does that mean youre no longer confused?"
Illya had to fight not to laugh at the look of fear in his partners eyes. That would have been cruel for he knew how terrified the man was of commitments. "Do not worry, Napoleon, I do not expect you to... marry me? My feelings for you remain as they have always been. It was only my arousal at your touch that confused me for a time."
"I am quite good at that sort of thing."
"You are being insufferable again."
"Well, it is one of the reasons I am rather popular with the ladies," Napoleon said, looking altogether far too smug for Illyas taste.
"I knew it could not be your personality."
Napoleon clutched dramatically at his chest to acknowledge the barbed comment, but then his manner turned more serious. "Illya, it really is all right to enjoy having sex with me. Not every damn thing must be endured."
Perhaps not, but that was also his way. Still, he thought of how it felt to lie beneath Napoleon and found himself reluctant to say never again. "While having you inside me was... not altogether unpleasant," he said, "I do remain uncertain as to whether or not I wish to be with you in that manner again."
"Thats okay, kid," he said, brushing Illyas bangs to one side. "I can restrain myself, even if you are beautiful when youre aroused."
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "That is not exactly something I ever expected to hear you say to me."
"Youll survive it, tovarish." The American leaned over and kissed Illya on the forehead. "Surviving is what you do best."
Illya reached out and took hold of the Americans hand. "A necessary skill when one is Napoleon Solos partner."
The door opened, but Illya did not try to remove his hand from Napoleons when Waverly walked in. "Good morning, gentlemen," the old man said. "I trust you are feeling better today, Mr Kuryakin. We cant have you lollygagging around for too long."
"I shall do my best to effect a speedy recovery, sir."
"Excellent. Someone has to look after our Mr Solo here, and you seem to be the only one up to the task."
It was a horrible and all too obvious clich\'e9, but Illya found that he could not resist it. "It is a dirty job, sir, but someone has to do it."\par Napoleon gave him a look that told Illya he was quite fortunate that his backside was far too tender for a well-placed swat.
"Youll both be pleased to hear that Thrush communications seem to be having a few problems, courtesy of Mr Slates computer virus. It should take them months to effect repairs."
"Thats good news, sir," Napoleon said, "but I have the feeling that theres a but hidden somewhere in there."
"Quite right, Im afraid," Waverly said. "A search of the warehouse where Mr Kuryakin was held has failed to turn up the negatives of your blackmail photos."
"Sounds like well be seeing them again."
"Undoubtedly. Well, it shouldnt prove too much of a problem. Oh, they may muddy the waters a bit but, if we make it clear that the two of you were on assignment, things should get relatively back to normal."
Napoleon made a harumph sound.
"Yes, Mr Solo?"
"Oh, nothing, sir. I was just thinking that if we had a broader definition of normal, six good people might still be alive."
Waverly considered that. "Perhaps, but though the times are changing, we cannot expect them to change overnight."
Illya thought of the tampon on his chair, the rude comments and the constant stares that had followed him everywhere the last few weeks. It would all go away now. For him. But, despite all his misdirected anger, he had lived with unpleasant labels most of his life -- a side benefit of being one of the few U.N.C.L.E. agents recruited from the former Soviet Union before it became the former Soviet Union. One more should not cause him much concern now that he understood how he felt. "Perhaps we could give change a little push."
Napoleon gave him that perplexed look that said he didnt have the faintest idea what his partner was thinking. "Illya?"
"If we say nothing and merely go on as we have always done, they will continue to tell their tales and play their pranks, but eventually they will grow tired of it. Some of them may even come to accept that the world is not a simple place. In any case, it will be easier on the next person who falls under suspicion."
"But it wont be easy for you, tovarish."
"Once you resume your amorous pursuits, I will become just another of your former lovers. The worst of it will stop then. The rest will be easy enough to endure."
A slight nod from Waverly drew the two mens attention to him. "Well, Mr Solo, the decision seems to be yours. Do we release the details of your assignment?"
Napoleon smiled, then drawing it up to his lips, he kissed the back of Illyas hand. "Let em guess."