(Illya decides he's had enough and Napoleon is given the job of wooing him back into the fold. Could he be courting disaster?)
Originally published in Relative Secrecy 10
The brusque statement filtered through and brought Napoleon’s attention away from the dull monthly reports he was working on. His mind quickly reviewed the current roster, searching for an assignment that his partner might have been needed for and coming up blank even as his mouth asked, “Where to?”
Illya plopped down in the nearest chair, one leg stretched out straight. “I’ve had it. I’m sick and tired of being used.” He scowled. “I want to go home.”
Napoleon looked at his watch. “It’s almost five, you have my permission.”
Illya scowled deeper. “That’s not what I meant. I’m leaving U.N.C.L.E.” He paused for a moment as if considering. “Perhaps I will return to my homeland.”
“You can’t do that,” Napoleon said in astonishment.
“Watch me.” Illya pulled himself up with difficulty and left while Napoleon just sat there, his mouth wide opened.
Illya must be in a really lousy mood. He’ll get over it.
Napoleon thought no more of it until he dropped into Alexander Waverly’s office with the completed reports. In the act of setting them down on the table before sitting, he was caught by surprise when the table revolved and came to a stop in front of him.
"What do you know about this?" Waverly demanded.
Napoleon picked up the paper and read it. It was short and to the point.
Illya N. Kuryakin
The message slowly sank in as Napoleon lowered himself to his chair. "He mentioned something about it this afternoon, but I didn't take it serious. You're not accepting this I hope?"
"In spite of what you might think, this is still a free country," Waverly said dryly, doing his best to light his pipe. His hand shook slightly showing his agitation as he tossed the match angrily into the ashtray.
It was slowly seeping in that Illya had indeed been serious about leaving U.N.C.L.E. It didn't make any sense. Their assignments of late had not been any more dangerous then usual. Napoleon made a mental note to check up on Illya's last few missions, just to update his memory. So engrossed was he with his thoughts that Napoleon only caught the last part of Waverly's speech. "...seduce him."
"I beg your pardon, sir!"
"Mr. Solo, do please pay attention. I repeat… Mr. Kuryakin is too valuable an operative to just let this go without taking steps to talk him out of it. Surely there is someway you can charm him into staying with U.N.C.L.E. Better health coverage, more money. Something he wants or needs that you can use to seduce him.
Napoleon let out a sigh of relief. For a moment there he'd thought Mr. Waverly was asking him to... No, that was too far fetched. He schooled his face to normalcy before promising that he'd do what he could and left for his office.
The door to his office slid open just as Napoleon hung up the phone, having requested the last few reports that his Russian partner had filed. Illya limped over to his desk and slapped a file folder down on it.
"Ummm. What's this?" Napoleon asked as he reached for it.
"It's the official form you requested, Sir." The last was Illya at his most sarcastic.
"Why don't you have a seat?" To the best of his knowledge Napoleon had made no such request. His eyebrows drew upward as he studied the form, a formal request for dismissal. More of Waverly's doings no doubt.
Illya hesitated before he ungraciously plopped down in one of the two chairs in front of Napoleon’s desk.
“Can we talk about this?” Napoleon asked tapping the report.
“There is nothing to talk about.” Illya scowled, scrunched down lower in his seat, and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I think there is. How about over a meal? My treat?” Food was usually a good bet for enticing Illya.
Illya looked at him through the fringe of his bangs. “Anywhere?”
Napoleon hesitated. While he was more than willing to pay, his cash supply was somewhat limited at the moment and the last thing he wanted was to ask Illya for a loan.
“How about we order take-out and eat at my place?”
Illya looked up at the ceiling and sighed. “Sure, why not?”
Napoleon was proud of his solution. He had accounts with the local takeout places, plus it would afford them more privacy for a real heart-to-heart talk.
Watching Illya get up and head for the door, Napoleon decided he was going to look into how his Russian partner had gotten the limp.
“You don’t believe in knocking?” Napoleon asked, putting away his gun.
“What would be the point? You knew I was coming.” Illya shrugged and went directly to the refrigerator to put away the bottle of vodka he’d brought with him.
“You needn’t have brought anything. I have everything we need.” Napoleon used a serving spoon to point to his freezer before going back to arranging their meal on plates.
“Ah…and just how long have you been keeping this a secret?”
Napoleon glanced up to see what the Russian was drooling over. “Oh, that. Picked it up the last time I was over there.”
The casualness of his reply belied the truth of it. The assignment would have gone much easier had Illya been along for the fun. The price of the best vodka Russia offered had been steep, but Napoleon deemed it the least he could do to make Illya feel a little guilty. After all he wasn’t above blackmail.
They ate their meal on the coffee table without chit chat. In spite of all Napoleon’s encouragement, Illya was proving extremely uncommunicative. Doing his best to curb his desire to rush things, Napoleon tried another tactic and began plying Illya with the vodka. Illya’s tongue was loosened only after two-third of the bottle was gone.
“For what purpose is our job?”
Napoleon leaned back in his char and cocked an enquiring eyebrow. He opened his mouth to answer, but Illya held up his hand.
“I know, I know. To make the world save, so everyone can have…relationships and be happy. But what about us? Don’t…don’t we deserve to be happy?”
“And you’re not?” Napoleon asked quietly. That Illya could possibly be unhappy had never occurred to him. Illya rarely showed feelings one way or the other.
“No!” Illya slammed his hand down on the coffee table, causing Napoleon as well as the dishes to jump. “How can anyone have a…a relationship with someone, when at any time that relationship could be used against them?”
Napoleon couldn’t bring himself to look Illya in the eye. He didn’t have an answer to that one.
Illya dropped his head onto his hands and sighed. “I’m sorry, Napoleon. I didn’t mean to rant. I’m just tired and have had too much to drink.”
Napoleon brightened. “Then you’re not leaving?”
“No, I am,” Illya said firmly. “There is nothing and no one to keep me here. I think I will go back to my apartment now.” He swayed as he got to his feet.
“Damn it, Illya. We’ve got to talk.”
“Don’t want to.” Illya’s eyes were drowsy, defiant, and beseeching all at the same time and like a fool Napoleon acceded to their request.
“At least stay the night in the spare room,” he ordered gruffly. “You’re in no condition to navigate.”
“Is that an order?” Illya asked stiffly.
Napoleon noticed that Illya’s mouth twitched slightly, indicating that he wasn’t as angry as he sounded. “Yeah.”
Napoleon guided his partner toward the spare room, cursing the fact the he found those blue eyes sexy. Leaving Illya to make use of the bath, Napoleon retrieved a pair of pajamas, leaving them where Illya could find them, then returned to the living room to clear up the remains of their meal.
Napoleon had never taken Illya’s small flirtations seriously, knowing there was nothing more to it than Illya’s penchant for teasing. Now, listening to the water in the bath run and knowing that, if Illya did leave, he’d never know what might have been, Napoleon became more determined then ever to find some way to keep Illya with him.
Turning out the lights, Napoleon asked himself a few questions. It wasn’t that Napoleon didn’t commiserate with his partner about having someone special in his life, someone you didn’t have to play a part for. He did. It was just that the Russian had never expressed the desire before. Why now?
Stopping at the doorway to the spare room, he watched as Illya slipped into the small bed, resisting the urge to tuck him in. Though Illya was not that much shorter then he, the pajamas virtually hung on his lean frame, leaving the impression that he was much less competent than he actually was. He looked so adorable tousled. Napoleon turned away in disgust. Why was he having such thoughts now? He just had to find some way to keep the pesky little Russian around.
By morning Napoleon had formulated his strategy for keeping Illya in U.N.C.L.E. Now all he needed to do was implement it.
“Napoleon, someone’s stolen my---” Illya stormed into Napoleon’s office, jerking to a stop when he caught Napoleon supervising the workmen shoving Illya’s desk into position.
“Maintenance had to do some work on the office. Since you are leaving soon and my office is big enough, I thought we’d just move you in here. Is that going to be a problem?”
“No… I suppose not,” Illya answered hesitantly. “We never did talk about when I was leaving.”
“We can talk about that later,” Napoleon said absently, his attention was on the workmen. He tilted his head and nodded his approval, before turning to Illya. “Tell you what, let’s get something to eat.”
Perhaps it was time to move on to Phase Two, he thought with a smile. It might be a little unorthodox, but he’d never know until he tried. The next step was to get Illya out of the office.
Napoleon was sitting at his desk, looking deliberately benign, when Illya walked back into the office. Sitting in the middle of Illya’s desk was a crystal vase holding a dozen long stem roses.
“Where did these come from?” Illya asked suspiciously.
“Umm, they were here when I arrived.” The lie rolled smoothly off Napoleon’s tongue.
Illya examined the card: he turned it over, looking at the other side. “No name.” He sneezed, gathered the roses, and dumped them in his waste basket.
Napoleon’s phone rang. He reached to pick it up, never taking his eyes off the expensive roses the little imp had just trashed.
“Mr. Solo. Have you made any progress?”
Damn, Waverly would choose now for a progress report.
“Not yet, sir.”
“Then get with it.”
Waverly hung up with a loud click. Napoleon put the headset down, a sigh of bitter disappointment caught in his lungs. So much for Phase Two.
Chocolates were the key, Napoleon was sure. His partner had a fondness for them, light chocolate, dark chocolate, it didn’t matter. Napoleon had always found that chocolates had a way of sweetening the most reluctant female’s disposition. It should work on one stubborn Russian.
Early the next morning, Napoleon, with an eye for precision, set an enormous box, complete with bow on his partner’s desk. Smiling with satisfaction, Napoleon decided that slipping off for a cup of coffee would probably be a wise move. He didn’t want to be around to answer any awkward questions.
When Napoleon finally returned, he found his partner squatting on the floor, staring suspiciously at the box. He stood dumb-founded and watched as Illya very gingerly undid one end of the package and then the other.
“What are you doing?”
“Some one left this on my desk,” Illya explained as he carefully pulled the box from the wrapper. He cautiously picked up the top and peeked in. “Chocolates!”
“They could be poisoned. Remember Marion Raven?” Illya picked up the box and held it at arms length.
“Poison? Don’t be silly. Who would possibly try to poison you in headquarters?”
“I’m not taking any chances. I’m taking them to the lab to be analyzed.”
Napoleon stood gaping as Illya walked out the room. He rubbed his face in disgust. How could something so simple have gone so horribly wrong?
Later that day, Napoleon sat at his desk and scowled openly as he perused certain classified reports, while Illya sat at his desk going over his expense account after having returned with the verdict: “Chocolates.”
According to the files, Illya’s last half-dozen assignments had been back-to-back. Most had lacked rudimentary precautions such as backup and there had been almost no rest in between assignments.
What really bothered Napoleon was that while it was Waverly’s prerogative to assign his top enforcement agents to any mission at his whim, and though Napoleon wasn’t always notified of each and every assignment, he usually had some idea what Illya was up to. It was no wonder that Illya was tired. Not to mention limping.
It didn’t make sense, considering how badly Waverly seemed to want to keep Illya working for U.N.C.L.E. – why was he assigning him back-to-back missions?
“I’m going for some coffee. You want some?”
Illya’s question cut through Napoleon’s concentration and he looked up to find Illya standing inside the doorway waiting for his answer. A curt nod and he was back at his reading, growing more irritated as he read.
He heard the door swish open and shut, then shortly afterward swish open again. He looked up, wondering why Illya was returning so soon, to find one of the secretaries placing a file on Illya’s desk.
“I believe it’s a new assignment.” The secretary fluttered her eyelashes and gave him a bright smile, her hips swaying as she left the room.
Napoleon waited until the door swished closed behind her before moving to the other desk and picking up the folder. He frowned as he leafed through the skimpy pages. It seemed yet another assignment had bypassed his desk. The two of them had received assignments with as little information, but this one didn’t even allow for backup.
He snapped the folder shut and slapped it against his palm. Never before had he felt such rage. Gripping the folder tightly, he set out to get an explanation one way or another.
It wasn’t long before he was sweeping past Lisa Rogers, ignoring her protests of, “Mr. Solo, you can’t go in there.”
Storming into the room, not waiting for Waverly to acknowledge his presence, he tossed the folder down on the table, sending it spinning until it landed in front of his boss.
Mr. Waverly narrowed his eyes and looked down at the folder, then up at his top enforcement agent. “What’s the meaning of this?”
Mr. Waverly shot Napoleon a glare, then opened the folder, examining the papers within as he puffed on his pipe. When he was finished, he leaned back in his chair. “According to this, Mr. Kuryakin is the best man for the job.”
“Of course he’s the best man for the job. Illya is the best.” Napoleon did his best to reign in his anger. He leaned forward with both hands flat on the revolving table. “Get someone else.”
“Mr. Solo, watch yourself! You presume too much!”
Napoleon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He remembered the only time he’d gone up against Waverly. At that time Illya and Pia Monteri were trapped on an island ear-marked to be blown to smithereens. He’d backed down then; he wasn’t going to back down now.
“Look, you’ve had him on back-to-back assignments with little or no detailed information over the last couple of months. If he goes out again you’ll lose him for good.” Then he threw in what he hoped was the clincher. “Not only him, but me as well. I won’t stand for it.”
Waverly stood up and glared, nearly biting through the stem of his pipe. “Is that a threat?”
Waverly’s eyes were cold and Napoleon didn’t trust himself enough to answer. He straightened to his full height and walked out of the office. In spite of all his bluster, Napoleon was well aware that Waverly could still send Illya off if he thought it would benefit U.N.C.L.E.
His anger had not lessened one wit when he quite literally bumped into his partner.
“Watch it. Just where have you been?” Illya asked crankily as he wiped the spilt coffee from the front of his jacket with a napkin. “Forget I asked. In three days it will no longer matter.”
Just what he needed, a reminder that if he didn’t do something soon he’d soon be partnerless.
That night Napoleon had removed his watch, setting it on his bedside table. Losing his temper had been a waste of time. Okay, so Waverly had ordered him to do everything in his power to keep Illya from resigning. Why? Waverly had to be aware of Illya’s reasons for wanting to leave. Or was he? Was Waverly so focused on winning the war that he’d lost sight of what it could mean to his men? In either case, Napoleon doubted that his current course of action was what Waverly had in mind.
He liked to think his actions were motivated by the thought of U.N.C.L.E. losing one of their best agents. Unfortunately he knew that was only part of it. His main motivation was not to lose his best friend; someone he cared for more than was good for him.
His failure to woo his partner into staying with flowers and candy had been weighing on his mind and resulted in his canceling of a date he had been looking forward to all week. In recent years it had become increasingly obvious that he did his best work with his partner. And said partner had become more important to him then the mission at times.
The thought of seducing his partner sexually normally would never have occurred to him and he wondered why he was seriously thinking of it now.
Sliding between the sheets, Napoleon went to sleep with strange dreams. His dreams started with images of Illya, his shy, modest smile rarely seen of late. The look of intense concentration as Illya studied some particular problem, his blue eyes hidden behind dark glasses. His flirtatious fluttering of eyelashes, demonstrating his amusement at Napoleon’s lack of luck with a female innocent. How many times over the years had Illya proclaimed, “We still have each other,” or “I’d love to hear your stories… anytime”? It was all a game to him.
He wasn’t sure why his dream took him back to his childhood days and the friend from his school days, whose name he no longer remembered. All these years he’d managed to delude himself that it was just normal curiosity about another’s body. Each recognizing in the other the same needs and wants.
Napoleon moaned in his sleep, remembering the furtive glances and even more furtive touches. The fear of being found out, as his friend eventually was, being laughed at and ridiculed, had forced Napoleon to hide who and what he was. He’d pushed all that behind him, convincing himself it was just a youthful indiscretion.
The intensity of the dream woke him, his heart beating fast enough to scare him. He could no longer hide from the truth.
The next day, Napoleon was forced to concede that Illya was indeed serious in his intentions, especially when a notice, including the last date of employment, appeared on his desk. It was with a heavy heart that he signed it. He looked into his partner’s determined face. “I suppose a farewell meal is out of the question?” he asked.
“That depends on who’s paying,” Illya responded, one blond brow raised questioningly.
Napoleon came around his desk, smiling. “I’ll pay. But only if you wear something a bit nicer.” He fingered the roll of Illya’s black turtleneck.
Illya looked down at the finger flicking the roll of his sweater, humphed once before turning around and limping off.
Napoleon adjusted his cuffs and shot a glance at his soon-to-be ex-partner, pleased to see that Illya was at least wearing a suit and tie and not his usual black turtleneck.
Opening the door, he ushered Illya in. Leading the way, Napoleon paused partway down the carpeted stairway that led into the restaurant proper and admired the old-world charm that lay below. He was looking forward to an evening of good food, fine wine and a chance to remind his partner of all the good times. On the landing, he could see the maître′d waiting expectantly.
“Ah, Mr. Solo. How nice to see you again.”
“Good evening, Carlos. A table for two, please.”
A look of puzzlement appeared Carlos’ face as he looked over Napoleon’s shoulder. “The young lady? She is …?”
It took Napoleon a moment to figure out what Carlos was talking about. When he finally did, he shook his head. “No, you don’t understand. I’m here with an associate.” He turned toward Illya and found him retracing their steps upward, patrons coming down the staircase parting in his wake. “At least I thought I was,” he muttered and hurried after his partner.
There was an understanding smile on Carlo’s face as he turned to welcome the new arrivals.
Napoleon grabbed Illya by the arm before he got to the doorway. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
“I refuse to eat here. It’s too… too… romantic,” Illya practically spat.
Napoleon turned and went down the stairs and looked over the stairwell. The maître d' reached for the menus once again.
Napoleon smiled graciously and studied the room. What was Illya going on about?
Napoleon smiled graciously and studied the room that stretched out below them. What was Illya going on about? Okay, so there was a couple holding hands, and two booths away a couple cuddling. Nothing he hadn’t done himself a time or two. And over in the corner booth, the private one… His eyes widened. Was that two guys kissing?
Napoleon’s mouth gaped open and he looked upward at Illya.
Illya looked down at him, his arms crossed over his chest, one eyebrow raised as if to say, ‘Now do you believe me?’
Napoleon shrugged his shoulders. “What can I say, the food here is terrific.”
Illya shook his head, a look of disgust on his face, before turning and making his way out of the restaurant. Napoleon gave another shrug to the maître d’ before hurrying to follow.
When they reached the car, Illya asked, “Was that charade for my benefit?”
“What charade? Okay, where do you want to go?”
Illya’s face brightened and he moved to the driver’s side of the car and held up his hand. With a sigh of resignation, Napoleon tossed the keys over before sliding into the passenger side.
The smug smile on Illya’s face should have made him suspicious, but it didn’t. When Illya pulled up to a shabby building with an expression of excitement on his face, Napoleon decided to suck it up, grin, and bear it. At least it would be cheap.
Loud music greeted them as Illya led the way down a darkened stairway and Napoleon’s senses went on alert. He expected to be attacked at any moment. They reached the bottom and entered a smoke-filled room.
“Illya!” A young girl, dressed in black from the top of her beret to the bottom of her stockinged feet, flashed a smile and ushered them to a small table, a candle the only illumination.
Napoleon squinted as he tried to make out shapes around the room. Two cups were set in front of them just as a bright light sprung up from somewhere and three long-haired individuals jumped up on stage. Napoleon was unable to tell whether they were male or female.
Without thinking, Napoleon picked up the cup and took a swallow and almost gagged. This was supposed to be coffee?
The moment the music started, he cringed. The horn was just short of ear splitting, the bass player’s strumming sounding like a cat in heat, and the pianist was pounding loudly on the keys. If there was a tune, it escaped Napoleon.
From what he could see of Illya’s face, he seemed to be enjoying it. Either that or he was enjoying Napoleon’s discomfort.
After a while, Napoleon’s stomach rumbled. He leaned closer to Illya and asked, “Where’s the menu?”
“There is none. You eat what you are served,” Illya answered without looking at him, his fingers drumming on the table in time with the beat.
Napoleon plastered a fake smile on his face and pretended everything was fine.
Napoleon grimaced as he eased the door to Illya’s apartment shut, his hand covering his stomach. The food had turned out to be just as greasy as the coffee and Napoleon was regretting letting Illya talk him out of staying at his favorite restaurant.
Illya had already loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button. “Want something to drink?”
“I’d rather have an anti-acid.”
“You know where it is.” Illya jerked his head toward the bathroom and draped his jacket over an armchair.
Napoleon wove his way through the half-filled boxes that littered the two rooms. In spite of Illya’s claim that he wasn’t particularly materialistic, there were quite a few boxes.
“Music will be the one thing I’ll miss when I go back.” Napoleon heard Illya saying as music drifted into the bathroom.
Napoleon looked into the mirror; his face held a sour expression to match the feeling of his stomach. Had Illya just intimated that he wouldn’t miss him? He opened the medicine cabinet to find it bare except for the essentials. Finding the pills he needed, Napoleon let the music sweep over him, relaxing him.
“Don’t they have music in Russia?” Napoleon called out, more to irritate Illya then anything else. It worked.
“Of course we have music,” Illya said, slightly affronted. He was standing in the doorway, two glasses in his hands. “Just not live jazz.”
“That was jazz?” Napoleon asked as he took one of the glasses and slipped past Illya to wander around the apartment, sipping his drink and peeking into the various boxes. Books, albums, clothing, and a few trinkets. He hadn’t wanted to believe it, but seeing the boxes brought it home like nothing else that Illya was indeed serious about leaving.
The sudden chuckle behind him let him know that Illya’s choice of restaurant had been a deliberate attempt on his part to annoy Napoleon.
Heaving a heavy sigh, Napoleon wondered what it was he’d done to get on Illya’s bad side. One of the open boxes caught his eye and he couldn’t resist investigating.
“Do you mind?” Illya asked, snatching a record from Napoleon’s hands.
Things had not gone as he’d planned: no good food, no excellent wine. Hell this was the first liquor to pass his lips all evening. And forget about talking, that had been all but impossible. Napoleon resisted the urge to pout; after all Illya did it so much better.
“What will you do?” Napoleon asked, more to get his mind off the thought of Illya’s lips pouting. In a way he was shocked at himself. Thoughts like these had never occurred to him in all the years he and Illya had worked together.
“Not sure. I have options. I have my doctorate. I could teach or do research.” Illya looked up from straightening the contents in the box. A smile quirked one side of his mouth. “I could even become a fashion designer.”
Napoleon snorted at the idea. “And I could work with computers. Where do you plan to go?” Napoleon looked down into his glass, watching the amber liquid swirl. “Back to Russia?”
“No!” Illya’s response was firm. “I considered it, but…” His face took on a dreamy look. “Think I might move to England, perhaps somewhere in the countryside outside of Edinburgh. It’s nice and quiet there.” He took a deep swallow of his drink and looked slightly embarrassed. “Foolish isn’t it. To want to live someplace serene?”
Napoleon swallowed most of his drink in one gulp. Then he studied Illya, really looked at him. For the first time in their partnership, he realized that he didn’t really know what made his partner tick and he very much wanted to. He shook his head, his words so soft he wasn’t sure Illya heard them. “No. Not foolish at all.”
Illya limped over to his sofa and sat down. He laughed and it struck Napoleon as being a bit bitter.
“There have been some good times, surely?” Napoleon went to pour himself another drink.
“Name one.” Illya held out his glass for a refill.
Napoleon cast his mind back.
“Aha, you can’t think of any.”
“What about the time we worked together on that case in the garment district? Remember Ramona and Jerry? Or the time we shared a house in suburbia? Oh, and let’s not forget the assignment Waverly gave us to bring down that Laslo Kurasovmat. We did a great job on that one and you got to come back from the dead, my dear Colonel Mikalovech Dohnyev.”
“Sure. Three out of how many?
Napoleon could only hope that Illya wasn’t thinking of all the times that things had gone wrong and one of them had been in danger or hurt.
“Do you normally frequent restaurants that cater to pediks?” Illya asked, out of the blue, taking Napoleon’s mind away from his gloomy thoughts.
“Huh? Pediks?” Napoleon’s Russian wasn’t quite up to it.
“Homosexuals,” Illya translated.
“Huh?” Napoleon repeated. “You’re making that up.”
Illya shook his head and said cryptically. “It pays to know the dangers around us.”
“You have something against homosexuals?”
“Not at all. Some of my best friends are homosexual.” Napoleon held in a deep breath. Was he imagining it, or did Illya know?
Illya chuckled. “Considering you’re as straight as they come, it’s extremely amusing to think that you take your dates to a place like that.”
Napoleon didn’t comment; he was too busy staring down at the patterned rug, his foot tracing the pattern.
Napoleon looked up through the dark curl hanging down upon his forehead. His eyes immediately returned to the floor.
“I don’t suppose I should be surprised.”
Napoleon’s eyes quickly came up to stare at Illya, who had paused and was taking a sip of his drink.
“You always were a bit of a dandy.” There was a glint of amusement in Illya’s eyes and Napoleon breathed a sigh of relief. Illya was taking this much better than he expected.
Illya started as if a sudden idea had occurred to him. “The flowers, the candy. That was you? Why?”
That was a good question. “Ah, Mr. Waverly suggested…”
“Napoleon, there is no way you could convince me that Waverly sanctioned this… this…”
“Seduction?” Napoleon suggested. “Well, not in so many words.”
Illya stepped closer, poking Napoleon with a finger, but Napoleon was unable to make out what he was saying. Blood was rushing through his ears and other parts of him, blocking everything, including sound, as feelings kept at bay for over twenty years swept over him.
Without thinking, Napoleon grabbed Illya by his shirt front, pulling him close until their lips met. Napoleon’s first thought, when he finally was able to think, was that it should have felt strange, but didn’t. Illya’s hands had slipped down, holding lightly to Napoleon’s hips and Napoleon let go of Illya’s shirt and wrapped his arms around him.
When Illya finally backed away, Napoleon just stood there, his fingers touching his lips. He didn’t know what he was more shocked at. That he’d actually kissed his partner or that Illya had kissed him back.
Napoleon followed as Illya backed away from him, Illya’s eyes drawing him like a magnet. They crossed into the bedroom, only stopping when Illya’s knees hit the bed, his eyes lowering, breaking contact.
He held his breath, afraid of what Illya might say, and was surprised when, in a tone Napoleon had never heard the Russian use, Illya commanded, “Strip.”
“Huh?” Napoleon’s speech was lacking to say the least.
Illya raised his eyes, blue splinters of ice. “You heard me. Do you want to me to stay or not?”
Napoleon bent down and began untying his shoelaces. His body wanted this desperately, but he had the uncomfortable feeling that Illya was toying with him.
He looked up automatically when Illya, now reclining on his side, his head propped on his fist, asked in a purely conversational tone, “You’ve never done this before, have you?”
Napoleon felt his face redden as he continued unlacing his shoes. He didn’t have the nerve to look Illya in the eye and answer him with the truth.
Standing back up, he toed off the shoes. Off came his jacket, then his tie. He unbuttoned his shirt with trembling fingers, realizing how patently ridiculous this all was. He gathered his courage and raised his head, looking Illya in the eye as he undid his belt, flicked open the button, unzipped his trousers, and pushed them downward, letting them slide to the floor. Shirt and t-shirt quickly followed, landing in a heap on the floor. He stepped out of the trousers and began hopping first on one leg then the other to remove his socks. Illya’s laughter at his antics distracted him. Standing there wearing nothing but his boxers, it occurred to him that if Illya was trying to humiliate him, he was succeeding admirably.
“You just going to lie there fully clothed?”
Illya hesitated before moving to the edge of the bed and slowly unbuttoning his shirt. As the shirt slid off his shoulders, Napoleon let out a gasp of surprise. He was on the bed in an instant, gently slipping the shirt the rest of the way off Illya’s upper body, exposing the fading bruises that covered most of his chest. He’d known of the injuries, just not how badly.
“My God. How did you get those?” Napoleon breathed.
“You should know,” Illya accused.
Napoleon’s mouth hung open. His eyes closed as he remembered the last file, the one he hadn’t gotten a chance to read because of his curiosity about the file left on Illya’s desk. “I swear to God, I didn’t know.”
Illya’s looked doubtful. All Napoleon wanted to do was take that look away.
“If you didn’t, then who…?”
Napoleon brushed the hair back off Illya’s forehead. “I don’t know for sure. But when I find out…”
He didn’t get a chance to finish.
When he was finally able to get his breath back, Napoleon began removing the rest of Illya’s clothing. His hands touched lightly on a myriad of other bruises that Illya’s clothing had managed to cover-up.
He had never paid much attention to Illya’s body. Illya’s chest was lightly covered with a smattering of pale hair that narrowed as it trailed down his body. With trembling hands, Napoleon nervously set out to rid Illya of his pants and boxers, revealing what lay beneath. Once it was uncovered he couldn’t help but sigh. Illya had been the aggressor, he should at least be showing signs of arousal.
“Something wrong?” Illya asked, looking downward at his own body.
“No… No. It’s just I was hoping for a little more show of… ah… excitement.”
“You don’t appear very… er… excited either,” Illya said dryly, nodding at Napoleon’s boxers.
Napoleon checked out his own condition. Illya was right. He covered himself self-consciously. “I can’t help that. It’s my first time.”
A look of disbelief appeared on Illya’s face as he scooted until his back was against the headboard. He drew his knees to his chest and rested his chin on them, and peered quizzically at Napoleon. “Let’s get this straight. You are… er… queer?”
Sifting his weight to one leg, Napoleon winced at the unfortunate label.
“Aren’t you sure?” Illya’s eyes were full of mischief and he looked as if he were trying not to smile.
An embarrassing question to be sure. As a young boy, Napoleon had always preferred looking at men and boys over girls. That wasn’t so bad, most boys at that age didn’t like girls either. It was the wanting to touch other boys that set him apart. He’d been rather proud of his body and loved displaying it until it was impressed upon him, by means of a severe spanking dealt out by his father, that this was unacceptable behavior.
When he was a little older he’d been elated to find someone else who, like he, preferred males. But the hurt and ridicule his friend suffered caused him to try to change how he felt. To live a lie until he believed the part. Not showing the world his true face, lest what happened to his friend happen to him.
“At school, because I was quiet and retiring, it was assumed by some that I was also… homosexual,” Illya said, stretching out seductively. “One thing I learned is you can’t always tell a book by its cover. I was propositioned by the most unlikely people.”
“Are you… you know?” Napoleon couldn’t bring himself to say the word.
Illya looked at his feet, his face taking on a thoughtful expression. “I don’t really know. Men, women… it depends on the individual.”
It occurred to Napoleon that Illya was taking this all remarkably well. That instead of lying there so seductively posed, Illya could be shouting and screaming the same obscenities his school friend had been forced to endure, in any one of the many languages he knew.
In the meantime, Illya was pushing the covers down and slipping in between the sheets. There was a twinkle in his eyes that had long been missing. “Are you planning to stand there in your underwear or are you planning to join me?”
Leaving his inhibitions, as well as his boxers, behind, Napoleon dove beneath the covers that were held so invitingly open.
Napoleon’s nose twitched at the odor of sex. Hair tickled his nose and Napoleon breathed in deeply. The scent of Illya replaced the strong scent of sex. One hand rested on bare flesh. Beneath his palm, the bare skin wasn’t soft and silky like he was used to, but more muscular. His hand glided upward and encountered hair where no woman would have any and he couldn’t help smiling.
For Napoleon, last night had been liberating. Illya had taken the lead, but Napoleon’s natural instincts soon kicked in and he managed, with little effort, to drive the Russian wild.
His ears picked up Illya’s even breathing and he knew the Russian was still sleeping. It should have felt strange holding another man so close, but it didn’t. In fact, it felt more natural than all the nights he’d spent with women.
His thumb moved over a hardened nipple and he couldn’t resist tweaking it. A slight tremor and an intake of breath let him know that Illya was awake.
“Want to do it again?” Napoleon asked, his voice husky with desire, while he nuzzled Illya’s neck.
Illya turned into his arms with a muffled chuckle. “I see I’ve created a monster.”
Napoleon blew a raspberry in response. An urgent need to answer nature’s call distracted him and he slipped out of the bed with a muttered, “I’ll be back.”
With an immodesty that surprised even him, he scurried to the bathroom. As he relieved himself he wondered, if now that he knew the joy one could experience with another man, he could ever again resist temptation.
Then it hit him. Christ, he’d spent last night having sex with his partner. What must Illya think of him?
“What are you thinking about?” Illya asked as Napoleon shook the last drops off his flaccid penis and moved to the sink to wash his hands.
He turned his head and saw Illya was leaning casually against the doorjamb, absentmindedly toying with his morning erection. In all the years they had worked together and shared assignments, he’d never seen Illya so uninhibited.
He pretended to check his reflection in the mirror, feeling the bristles on his face. His eyes were on Illya, blond hair in disarray, his face, too, covered in bristles. It struck him that not wanting Illya to leave had had a lot to do with enjoying his company, their working well together, and needing his friendship. The sex they’d shared was a bonus.
The question had certainly caught Napoleon off guard. He waved his hands about, looking for a towel while he tried to think up a sensible response. “I don’t usually do things like this…”
“With a man?” Illya’s blue eyes, inscrutable as usual, slowly moved upward until they engaged Napoleon’s reflection. He pulled out a hand towel and tossed it over on his way past to take care of business, not an easy thing to do given his condition. “Yes, we’ve gone over this before. Consider our little tryst a farewell gift.”
Napoleon tossed the towel aside and returned to the bedroom, sitting on the side of the bed, his thoughts in turmoil. Here he had finally accepted who he was and Illya was pulling the rug out from under him. When he considered all the men he knew, Napoleon couldn’t picture doing with any of them what he had just done with Illya.
Shit. This wasn’t supposed to be about him. He was supposed to be talking Illya into staying, not taking sexual advantage. But hadn’t that been at the back of his mind ever since he thought it was what Waverly was suggesting?
“You look distressed, my friend.” Illya stood before him, the bruises covering his body a blend of pale yellow and green in the morning light.
“Am I? Your friend, I mean? I should have seen what was happening, not waited until you were about to leave me to do something. And I certainly shouldn’t have had sex with you. It was unfair.”
“Napoleon, everything about you is sex and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy last night.” Illya sat on the bed next to Napoleon, leaning close in a supportive gesture.
Napoleon took that as encouragement enough to ask, “Enough to stay?”
“No.” Illya pushed himself off the bed and grabbed a robe to wrap himself in.
Napoleon gathered the rumpled sheet around himself to cover his own nakedness. He went to the window and pushed back the curtain to look out. Illya’s firm response had hit a sore spot and he needed the time to come up with an alternative plan. “What if I insist that you not be sent out on any more assignments without me?”
Illya surprised him, coming up behind him, wrapping his arms around him and resting his head on Napoleon’s shoulder. “I can see Mr. Waverly going for that,” he said dryly.
Relaxing into the embrace, Napoleon spoke with more confidence then he felt. “He’s not going to have a choice. Mr. Waverly’s going to find out what it’s like to go up against his Chief Enforcement Agent.”
Illya squeezed him tightly and shook his head. “If that were the only problem…”
Napoleon turned a questioning look over his shoulder.
“You haven’t been listening. I could take the constant injuries. They go hand and glove with the job. What I want… need… is someone to… I don’t know….”
“I think I know what you mean.” One could wish for a normal relationship with someone, but in their line of work it wasn’t really feasible. Even though he dated often, getting closely involved was not in the cards. It was much too dangerous. Yes, he not only understood, he was tempted to join Illya.
“Now can you understand why I must leave?” Illya whispered in Napoleon’s ear.
As much as it hurt him, Napoleon knew he had no right to ask Illya to stay. Waverly be damned. He wanted Illya to stay for his own selfish reasons. Even now, his body was telling him that he was the one who needed Illya, and not just at work. He realized he hadn’t been courting Illya so much for U.N.C.L.E. as for himself. He couldn’t think with Illya’s arms around him. He pulled away.
“If it’s companionship you want, you’ll always have me. You can move into my place, or we could get a place, a retreat in the country… Connecticut perhaps?” The more Napoleon thought about, it the better he liked it. He could see them sharing a cottage in the country, sharing a bed, expanding their love lives. Last night had only been a tantalizing glimpse of what they could enjoy.
Illya laughed and shook his head. It was obvious he could follow Napoleon’s thought processes. “And I suppose we could do this in relative secrecy?” There was an amused quality in his tone. “Napoleon, my friend, you are living a pipe dream. It won’t work.”
Napoleon let out an exaggerated sigh. Illya was probably right. Damn U.N.C.L.E. But Napoleon was nothing if not determined.
He decided it was time to play dirty. “I need you, Illya.” He dropped the sheet he was wearing, letting his need show. There was a doubtful look on Illya’s face, so he decided to up the ante. “Who else could save me from all the female Thrush agents in the world?”
Illya’s laughter followed him as Napoleon took his bare self to the bath, doing his best to keep his dignity in place.
Napoleon had just started sudsing his body when the shower curtain was pulled aside. “Decided to join me?”
Illya stepped into the tub and drew the curtain back into place. “I just want to reiterate — Waverly would never, ever let us get away with it.”
“Why not? There’s nothing in the bylaws that says we can’t have a private life.” Napoleon was treading on thin ice here; he’d never actual read the U.N.C.L.E. bylaws, just skimmed through them when he first joined. “Besides what can Waverly do?”
From the look on Illya’s face, he thought Waverly could do quite a lot. Napoleon frowned. Maybe Waverly had already done something. Maybe that was why Illya was getting those strange assignments.
“Illya? You don’t suppose Waverly thinks we are already… involved?”
Illya mulled it over as he soaped Napoleon’s back. “It would explain a lot if he does.”
That didn’t seem fair. Here Illya was being punished for something they hadn’t done. Something tickled at the back of Napoleon’s mind. He had to work hard to concentrate and ignore what Illya’s hands were doing to his body.
It was something Waverly had done — no said. “According to this, Mr. Kuryakin is the best man for the job.” Napoleon blinked. He’d been so angry he hadn’t notice Waverly had known no more about the assignment than he had.
That meant there was someone else who was trying to drive Illya away. Should he bring it to Illya’s attention? But if he knew, would Illya just use it as one more excuse to leave? Napoleon jumped when Illya’s hand made contact with his genitals. He looked down at the hand fondling him, then up into mischievous blue eyes. Now was not the time to bring it up. Later. Much later.
“I intend to have a nice little talk with Mr. Waverly. If you promise to stay, he may be willing to overlook it.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
Napoleon thought it through and gave a shrug. “There’s still the cottage outside Edinburgh. I’ll even join you.”
Illya snorted. “Can you promise me more sha-co-lats?” A teasing grin joined the laughter in his eyes.
Napoleon reached for his partner. Perhaps courting the Russian hadn’t been such a disaster after all.