Friend to Fear

by paulaH

Friend to Fear
And loaded gun
Live life like the owner of a heart of stone.
No one touches,
Touch no one,
But the world gets weary when you're all alone.

    --Richard Marx, "Wait For The Sunrise"

May, 1956

He had not been raped, but it felt damned close to it. As close as a consensual sex act could get. If being coerced into accepting another man's attention could be considered consent. In the mind of Dr. Sergei Ivanovich Kourdokov, that seemed to be the case.

"Get dressed and get out," Kourdokov ordered as he cinched a robe around his not inconsiderable girth. The young blond man that still huddled on the bed sat up carefully, favoring his abused hindquarters. "Hurry up!" the older man snarled, hurling clothing at his hapless bedmate. He left his victim in the bedroom.

The slight youth snatched the garments and put them on with trembling fingers, as anxious to get out as Kourdokov was to get him out. The past three hours had not been pleasant ones. Not for him. He had no doubt as to the pleasure Sergei Ivanovich had derived from their tryst, however.

The boy knew he sustained some damage, judging by the blood that gummed his thighs together. He knew the difference between the stickiness of blood as opposed to that of semen. He stoically swallowed his pain as he pulled trousers over bruised hips, slipped his feet into his shoes and stuffed the socks into his coat pocket. Leaning over to pull on socks and tie shoes was more than he wanted to deal with right now.

He left the bedroom and made a beeline for the exit. Kourdokov stopped him at the door, grabbing his jaw in a bone-crushing grip. "Not a word of this to anyone. Otherwise, they will send you to a Siberian gulag for being a homosexual. They will believe me, you see, when I tell them how you seduced me while I was drunk."

The boy resisted the urge to break the man's neck. Instead he nodded meekly, continuing his portrayal of an incredibly young, inexperienced lab assistant. In reality, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin had not been young since his indoctrination into the KGB at eleven and he was all too experienced in the ways of the world. He had slipped into this particular role two weeks prior. Kourdokov's practice of pressuring male underlings within the facility where he reigned as head physicist into his bed had recently come to the attention of the KGB. Twenty-one-year-old Illya, with his scientific background and pretty looks, had been sent in to see if the information was true.

Kourdokov pressed a painful kiss onto Illya Nicovetch's abused lips. Illya's stomach turned when the older man's thick tongue invaded his mouth for not the first time this evening. The pig tasted like dead fish. Old, decayed, dead fish. Illya Nicovetch barely managed to restrain himself from wrenching away and ripping that tongue out of Sergei Ivanovich's face.

Kourdokov pulled away finally and released his victim's jaw. He opened the door and shoved the slight blond into the hallway. "Make certain you are not late tomorrow." The door slammed shut.

The KGB agent's blue eyes narrowed. "It is you who will be late tomorrow, Sergei Ivanovich," he whispered. He spun on his heel and left.

Even at five o'clock in the morning, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin looked resplendent in his KGB uniform as he stood at attention in front of his superior. Colonel Yuri Alexievich Tupikov studied the young man with approval. A good looking boy, he had to admit. Handsome. No, no, that was not quite the right word with which to describe the blond-haired, blue-eyed man-child before him. Pretty. Yes. The boy was pretty. He couldn't blame a man of perversions like Kourdokov for falling under the golden youth's spell. He, himself, could see Illya Nicovetch's appeal and he was most certainly not bent that way!

No wonder the slight youth originally had been chosen to be used as a lure for sexual predators. Luckily, Tupikov had noticed him and, outranking the man who handled the lures in connections if not military standing, was able to claim Kuryakin for his group. Whoring should be done by those who had no other talents deemed useful by the State. Such was most definitely not the case with Illya Nicovetch. His abilities as an impersonator and eliminator were just too valuable to waste on State run prostitution. Tupikov wondered if the boy standing at rigid attention before him realized how lucky he was. Of course he did. Illya Nicovetch was smart. Easily the most brilliant person Tupikov had ever owned.

No, this boy did not belong as a lure. Unfortunately, sometimes circumstances dictated one must do something to which he was not suited. As was the case with this operation. Illya Nicovetch had gone through the initial whore training before Tupikov had taken over his KGB education. That, coupled with his background in the sciences had made him the perfect candidate for this particular mission. Ah, well, Tupikov decided philosophically. Kuryakin knew one did whatever one must for the preservation of the State.

The young man stood without twitching a muscle under the discerning eye of his superior. Time enough for him to sweat and wonder if he is to be reassigned as a lure permanently, Tupikov decided. "Illya Nicovetch."

"Yes, Comrade Colonel?" Judging by the stiffness of Kuryakin's gait when entering the office, not to mention the agonized moans on the tape made from the bug the agent had planted on Kourdokov's bed, last night's performance had caused some pain. Yet his voice was strong and clear and he stood even straighter at the mention of his name. Tupikov would not have thought he could get any straighter.

"I have listened to the tape of your time with Sergei Ivanovich. It was most . . . interesting." Kuryakin's pale face flushed with obvious embarrassment, but his expression remained neutral, eyes focused on a spot on the wall. "After reviewing it and much discussion with Colonel Voznesensky," the man who'd asked for Kuryakin's help, "we have decided not to put Comrade Kourdokov on trial." The young officer's face hardened almost imperceptibly at the news. His control was now so good it bordered on frightening. Lure, indeed.

Tupikov snorted at the stupidity of some of his peers. Kuryakin's gaze flickered to him for only a fraction of a second before returning to his chosen spot on the wall. So. There was room for improvement. "The man has excellent connections, Illya Nicovetch." He seldom explained his actions to his junior officers, but in this case he felt it justified. He knew his young officer had wondered why a domestic problem like Kourdokov was handled by the KGB. "Unfortunately for him, this is one of those cases where one's connections can actually be a hindrance. No one wants to be an ally to a man on trial for not only coercing those who work under his supervision into having sex with him, but for homosexual deviance as well." He shook his head. "A trial of a man like Comrade Kourdokov would cause too much publicity for the wrong people. We have decided to have you execute him, instead."

Nothing twitched in the junior officer's impassive face. But the blue eyes darkened, blazing with a new intensity. Tupikov knew Illya Nicovetch disliked carrying out executions. But he seemed able to do so without remorse as long as he believed justice was served. Tupikov had no doubt Kuryakin felt Kourdokov deserved the decreed sentence.

"Method of execution?" asked the KGB killer.

"Your choice, Illya Nicovetch. As long as you are discreet."

"Time frame?"

"Today, I think." Tupikov almost never smiled in front of a subordinate, but he allowed a feral one to cross his face this time. He truly despised sexual predators. The deviation of homosexuality he could deal with, but rapists, which in his mind Kourdokov was, were abominations. "Does that suit you, Comrade Kuryakin?"

A reflection of Tupikov's cold smile was answer enough.

"This one is a good candidate." General Grigor Vasilivich Lysenko, KGB advisor to Khrushchev, tossed a dossier file in front of Tupikov. The Soviet Union had recently become a member of the U.N.C.L.E. As such, the Premier had ordered a list of likely candidates for the requisite agent, a requirement for membership in the international organization, be compiled at once. The Colonel opened the file and glanced at the picture clipped onto the front page. Black and white photos didn't give a complete idea as to a man's coloring, but Tupikov knew it without looking at the typed description. Blond hair, blue eyes, dead stare. A shiver traveled down his spine. He rarely saw that particular look in his agent's eyes since it was generally reserved for those sighted at the end of his gun. "Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin," he intoned. "With all due respect, Comrade General, I don't agree."

Cold black eyes, colder even than those on Illya Nicovetch's dossier picture, glared at him from under bushy, iron-colored brows. Tupikov had once seen a shark through a glass tank. It had glared at him with the same intensity. "He is a valuable commodity to the State," Tupikov explained. "Too much so to give his talents to a Western organization."

"All our citizens are valuable to the Motherland," Lysenko growled, his voice sounding like the low rumble of an irate wolfhound. The flimsy metal chair groaned as he shifted his weight. He was a Clydesdale of a man, tall and heavily muscled. For a man of sixty, he was in excellent physical shape. Only the silver of his hair alluded to his age. "What makes this man more so than others?" "He is a highly trained agent in many areas, Comrade General. Expert marksman, black belt in several forms of martial arts, well versed in the art of the knife, speaks several languages fluently. He is also our experimental subject in cross-training. His doctorate in Quantum Mechanics as well as degrees in other sciences have come in quite handy in the field." And because I have high hopes for his future accomplishments. Accomplishments which will reflect on his mentor as much as they reflect on him. He kept that thought to himself, however.

A baleful eye swiveled his direction. The man had shark genes in his family tree somewhere. "Surely you aren't suggesting we send a man who isn't well trained? He will be a representative of the strength of the Soviet intelligence community. Kuryakin . . ." He slurred the name as though he found it distasteful. " . . . fits that bill quite well. I know this man." A look of disgust crossed his hard, weather-beaten face. "Put his file in for consideration. On the top, I think."

It was not a request. Tupikov stifled a sigh as he added the dossier to the pile. It was another hour before they'd finished and Lysenko finally took his leave. Tupikov waited for several minutes to be certain the General did not return before he took Illya Nicovetch's file off the top and slipped it to the bottom. His thoughts churned on why Lysenko was so intent on sending Illya Nicovetch away. Lysenko had listened to his opinions on all the other candidates. Why, then, had he been so adamant about Kuryakin? Surely he would want the opposite? Routine intelligence reports on the Ukrainian revealed a friendship between Illya Nicovetch and Lysenko's son, Vasily Grigorovich. Perhaps the General did not approve. If that was the case, Tupikov hadn't a clue why.

He intended to find out.

Illya Nicovetch had scrubbed his skin raw in an attempt to rid himself of Sergei Ivanovich Kourdokov's stink. The man had lost control of his bowels when he realized the employee he'd coerced into having sex with him the night before was a KGB plant. Coward. Killing him had almost been a pleasure. Not that he enjoyed killing. He didn't. Eliminations he didn't feel were justified gave him nightmares. But after seeing the bleeding and half-dead boy Kourdokov had forced into his bed for this evening, Illya Nicovetch knew this was not an execution that would cause him to lose sleep.

A knock at the door of the tiny one-room apartment his position in the KGB allowed him interrupted his preparations for bed. He wrapped a tattered gray robe around himself before opening the door for his impromptu guest. He had a good idea who it was. He had no living family that he knew of and it was doubtful Comrade Colonel Tupikov came calling. As for friends, he had only one. As a rule, Russians shied away from KGB. If they saw one coming, they looked the other way, stared at the ground or found something in the sky to catch their interest. Looking a KGB officer in the eyes would focus his unwanted attention and no one in their right mind wanted that. They certainly didn't want to befriend one.

He opened the door and Vasili Grigorovich Lysenko, also KGB and not afraid of his similarly afflicted friend, entered in his usual boisterous manner, grin wide and dark eyes sparkling. He stripped his coat off and tossed it onto a chair. "Ilyusha!" Although only two inches taller than Illya Nicovetch, he was stockier and barrel-chested. The bear of a man crushed the blond in a hug and planted wet kisses on both cheeks. "Moy droog!" he exclaimed as he released the slighter man. "Why are you undressed? Don't tell me you're going to bed already? It is far too early!" A sly look crossed his smoothly shaven face. "Or are you expecting a woman for your bed tonight?"

Illya's mouth quirked slightly at one corner in what, for him, passed as a smile. "There is no woman coming, Vasha."

"Oh ho! A man, then?" The expression on the dark-haired man's face changed subtly to a leer twinged with jealousy.

"Of course not!" Illya shivered, not from cold, but from the way his friend's gaze raked down his barely covered body. He spun an index finger in the air, then pointed to his ear. The room was listening.

Vasha ran a finger down the golden chest peeking out from behind the tattered robe. "Would you like to?" He murmured low enough that only Illya would hear.

Illya gasped, the touch leaving trails of fire that burned all the way to his groin. "No!" he choked, not sure whether he was trying to convince Vasha or himself. Too bad it came out sounding like a groan.

Encouraged, Vasha moved closer, both hands now engaged in caressing the blond's chest. "Come now, Illya Nicovetch," he purred into his friend's ear where the inevitable 'bugs' would not hear and record. "You once told me you enjoyed your time learning the arts of seducing men." His voice was deep, rich, hypnotizing. Hunger smoldered in his black eyes.

Illya's own hunger made him more than a little tempted. Vasha was right. He had found, much to his surprise and consternation, he did enjoy sex with men as much as with women. Vasha was handsome, a good friend, and the only person in the world he truly trusted. If he wanted to risk a homosexual affair, it would be with this man.

His traitorous brain flashed an image of Kourdokov's face, red and sweaty as he grunted his way to sexual completion, then twisted in fear as Illya placed the gun to his head. A reminder from his survival instincts that he couldn't follow though on his desires. Too dangerous. Forcing his subordinates into sex played only a small part in Sergei Ivanovich's execution. If it had been women coerced into his bed, he would have been tried and sent to a gulag. The fact that he'd engaged MEN in sex turned it into a crime punishable by death.

Illya sighed in regret as he grabbed his friend's roving hands and pulled them away. He angled them both to an area of the apartment not well covered by the bugs. Still, he kept his voice low. "I can't, Vasha. Even if I were that way, I wouldn't wish for either of us to die for one night of passion."

Vasha held fast to Illya's hands, preventing the blond from retreating. "A night spent making love with you would be worth it," was the whispered response. "If death is what it would take to have you, I will gladly sacrifice myself!"

Blue eyes flashed in anger. Damn Vasha! He never seemed to care whether or not he was being watched. He did as he pleased and flaunted it as though invulnerable. "Vasily Grigorovich! Death is no joking matter!"

"I'm not joking," Vasha murmured, tugging gently on the hands still held in his, trying to bring his elusive friend kissing close. He emitted a frustrated sigh when Illya resisted. "'Ilyusha, it doesn't matter! We wouldn't be killed for loving each other. We wouldn't even see the inside of a gulag. My father's umbrella of protection . . ."

"Does not extend to me," Illya interrupted, easily breaking the other man's hold. Vasha's father was extremely high in the KGB hierarchy and did, indeed, keep his son from the consequences of being homosexual in the Soviet Union. "You might be able to get away with the things you do, but I cannot." Even then, he wondered if Vasha could get away with it for much longer. The two Lysenko men didn't get along. They only saw each other when they couldn't avoid it. Illya was afraid Vasha's safety net was almost stretched to its limit and would unravel at any moment. Unfortunately, he couldn't convince his friend of that.

Vasha shook his head and laughed softly. "It is amazing."

"What?" Illya cinched his robe tighter in order to cover his exposed chest. Then he grabbed a pair of trousers from a little table in a corner and, with his back to his friend, slipped them on.

"I know many people who call themselves my friend. They all believe their connection to me gives them a connection to immunity. Yet the only man I myself truly call friend and the only one which I would want to extend such protection is the only one who doesn't believe it will keep him safe."

The corner of Illya's mouth lifted slightly. "They are not KGB." He knew he was the only one in the business that his friend associated with on a regular basis. "No." Vasha reddened as though embarrassed by the admission.

Illya ignored his discomfort as he replaced his robe with a black sweater. "Of course not. Otherwise they would not be so foolish to think a KGB connection meant they were safe from the grasp of the KGB. They are not. No one is." He hoped the other man caught the subtle warning.

"You are too paranoid, my friend," Vasha growled in annoyance as he stalked to the corner shelf which held a hotplate and samovar. As at home in Illya's place as he was in his own, he set about making some tea.

"No," Illya said. He moved to the dark haired man's side and plucked two glasses from the shelf, setting them next to a jar of raspberry jam on a nearby tiny table. "You are too trusting." To make his point, he stalked the circumference of the apartment and brought his friend's attention to the various listening devices installed within his home. At this moment, there were three. Illya checked each time he entered the small flat. He never removed them. To do so would cause interrogation. But he liked to know their locations. He also moved them so he had at least one area where he could talk somewhat freely, as long as he kept his voice down. The kitchen area was today's safe zone.

"KGB takes care of its own," Vasha muttered, obviously unimpressed with the idea of someone listening to their conversation. "And connections CAN keep one safe. You are just too independent, too much a loner, to form them. That is a mistake, Illya Nicovetch. One which might cost you your life one day." He poured the tea.

"Your faith in your father's standing within the KGB might cost you yours!" Illya sputtered, furiously stirring some jam into his glass. He lowered his voice even more. "You don't see the realities I do, Vasha!" His spoon pointed at the dark-haired man. "You are an accountant, working with the budget and deciding how much money can be spent on the Premier's birthday party. You see the face KGB shows to the world. A face with no blemishes because they have been so cleverly covered. I work underneath the theatrical makeup! Those blemishes are truly ugly! I can't tell you how many people I have had to eliminate who thought their connections would save them! They were wrong! Fatally so." He dropped the spoon to the table and snatched his tea, taking a large gulp. "You will be, too, if you are not more careful. You are not discreet enough about the fact that you prefer the company of men to women. And I cannot believe you told your father about your preferences!"

A look of surprise crossed Vasha's face. "I didn't tell him."

Fear for his friend clutched at Illya's heart. He didn't let it show, fixing the big man with a cold glare. "He knows." The one time Illya had met Vasha's father, the man assumed he was his son's lover and, as such, he threatened to shoot Illya on the spot. Illya had not mentioned it to his friend because he knew Vasha would get into yet another argument with his father. He had no wish to be the cause of more dissension in an already shaky relationship.

Vasha stared at the blond for several seconds, his big hand squeezing his glass. "It is of no concern. If anything, it should make Papa desire to protect me more."

Illya shook his head, unwilling to continue the argument. There was no point. Vasha had not seen the things he had seen; done the things he had done. The KGB bred man believed himself invulnerable and nothing a poor orphan said would get through. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I have had a tiring day, my friend, and would like to go to bed."

"Of course," the big man muttered, his voice on the cold side, obviously upset at Illya's assessment of his situation. He drained his glass and slammed it on the table. "I shall see you soon, I'm sure." He shrugged into his coat and moved quickly to the door.

"Tomorrow, Vasha," Illya's soft voice echoed across the room. "I will see you tomorrow." It was the closest to an apology the Ukrainian could manage. He was tired and more than a little irritated with his friend.

The dark head nodded. As he left, he closed the door quietly behind him, his way of accepting the olive branch.

"Damn you, Vasha!" Illya growled in irritation as he stripped and climbed into bed. Tired as he was, he had trouble sleeping. Not because of Sergei Ivanovich. He deserved his death. Vasily Grigorovich kept him awake this night. Illya spent three hours convincing himself his friend was right. By the time he fell asleep, he almost believed the elder Lysenko's umbrella of protection would assure Vasha would not someday meet Kourdokov's fate.

Tupikov found the tape of Kuryakin and young Lysenko's conversation enlightening. What he could hear of it, at any rate. He smiled ruefully. Illya Nicovetch knew of the bugs, no doubt. Any KGB man worth anything knew they were routinely monitored. Not all of them quite had the capacity for paranoia as his golden boy, however. Very little was ever gleaned from the devices installed in Kuryakin's tiny apartment. He talked so little and, when he did deign to speak, it was so softly the words were difficult to understand. That his operative did this on purpose, Tupikov had no doubt. He also had the sneaking suspicion that the young man moved the bugs when home, replacing them exactly where he'd found them when he left.

He chuckled. Unlike many of his colleagues, he didn't believe a man like that should be reprimanded. How could he fault him for craving a little privacy? Or, for that matter, doing whatever he had to for his survival, even if it meant circumventing his superiors? He didn't. He respected a strong survival instinct. As long as it was no threat to his own survival.

He rewound the recording and listened to it again. Young Lysenko's homosexuality was not in question. Propositioning Illya Nicovetch! What disturbed Tupikov most was the lack of indignity on the part of Kuryakin at the suggestion. Was his protégé a homosexual, as well? Surely not! The young man had done well in his role as a sexual conquest for Kourdokov, yes, but he did not seem to enjoy the assignment. And when Tupikov rescued him from being a lure several years ago, he appeared grateful to be spared the indignities. Not possible! He just merely accepted his friend with all his warts and pimples. That had to be it! Tupikov hated to think he'd have to lose his most promising operative to such an unimportant thing as to who helped him relieve his sexual needs.

Although it was almost too bad his agent had not taken Lysenko up on his offer. This recording would be wonderful blackmail material. Even with the lack of quality from the obvious distance of the speakers from the bug, one could identify Lysenko's voice and words. On the other hand, Illya Nicovetch spoke in tones that made his identification difficult at best. A perfect blackmail tape. Damaging to Lysenko without compromising Tupikov's agent.

Pah! To what end? Vasily Grigorovich Lysenko had nothing to offer. He was an unimportant cog in the huge KGB wheel. Now, if it had been his father attempting to lure Kuryakin into his bed . . . Ah! The things he could accomplish with that!

Although . . . A wisp of an idea niggled at the back of his mind. The KGB Colonel sat back and folded his hands over his middle-aged spread, the bit of idea coalescing into a solid plan. He could use young Lysenko's interest in Illya Nicovetch to his advantage. One of the few things Kuryakin had said that Tupikov heard sounded like it was possible that General Lysenko knew of his son's perversions. Never mind! If he didn't, he would soon. Not only could he get Lysenko off his back about sending Kuryakin to the U.N.C.L.E, Tupikov felt he may be able to use it to raise his rank and power within the KGB.

This tape wasn't enough to condemn the General's son. He needed proof. Obviously young Lysenko was a very careful man if no one else had been able to get this leverage over his father. But then, others did not have command over the very man Lysenko obviously wanted. Illya Nicovetch would not like it. Not a bit. His favorite operative had a conscience. It was one of the things Tupikov liked most about the young man. He was able to do his job and do it well, yet he still maintained integrity. Tupikov wanted to keep a man like that by his side. Which was why Illya Nicovetch would just have to accept this assignment with his usual stoicism. Conscience and integrity were all well and good, but it was about time that young man learned that to get ahead, one sometimes had to make sacrifices.

Illya Nicovetch didn't like it. Not a bit. He paced outside the building which housed Vasha's apartment, wrestling with himself. He didn't notice the chill of the early spring night as his unbuttoned topcoat fluttered and swirled around him with his agitated movements like a matador's cape enticing a bull to frustrated anger. He couldn't do what Tupikov ordered! He couldn't disobey the order, either. He rubbed his hands over his face, trying to decide what to do. He snorted at himself and stopped his frantic pacing, dropping his hands to his sides. As if he had a choice. He would carry out his assignment with all the efficiency and skill he possessed. Vasha would appreciate that, at least. Bozhe moy! Why did his life have to be so difficult? Why could he not be a mere scientist, hidden away in some little lab, unaware of the real world? Well, he wasn't in some lab and this was his real world. Might as well stop acting like a small child and prepare himself. It was a distasteful task his masters asked of him. A difficult one. The majority of the things he did "for the good of Mother Russia" were so. This assignment was no different. Being friends with the target made it a bit more difficult, but his mental disciplines should see him through. Hopefully.

He stopped his pacing and looked skyward as if the Gods of the heavens would have pity on a pitiful atheist boy from the Ukraine. His gaze fell on a small, dipper-like constellation. Pleiades. The Seven Sisters. Greek sailors used to search for the constellation before setting sail. They believed if they could see Pleiades, all was well. He fervently hoped their legends were correct. He drew his emotions from all the dark corners of his psyche, rolled them into a ball and encased them in ice. This must be done. He thought about the newly installed surveillance camera hidden in his small flat, waiting to record his betrayal in all its repugnant glory and his discipline faltered slightly. He ruthlessly brought it back into line. He had no choice. Vasha would understand that.

Anger slipped from the ball and snaked through his gut. Damn Vasha, anyway! This was his fault! If he had been more discreet with his sexual proclivities, neither of them would be in this position! He'd warned his friend time and time again to be careful. That someone would use his taste for men against him. Had he listened? NO! And now Illya would pay the price just as surely as Vasha. How many nightmares would this cost him? GodDAMN the man! If only he learned a little more restraint! If he could just say "no", a word Illya had decided a long time ago was not in his friend's vocabulary when it came to physical gratification.

The only thing that could stop this runaway train was for Vasha to refuse him. The chances of that were . . . His private ranting ceased as his centers of higher thinking caught up to his anger. There was a way out of this! He almost laughed at the simplicity of it. The horror of the outcome kept his amusement in check. It would mean he would lose his only friend. If they did not do this, he would lose him, anyway. Better this way than to lose him to Death. He rushed up the two flights of stairs to Vasha's floor. The door opened immediately upon his gentle knock. The big man ushered him in, an appreciative expression on his face. "Ilyusha! To what do I owe this . . . ." His hungry gaze raked over the blond's body. ". . . pleasure?"

Illya ignored the innuendo and made a beeline for the bathroom. As the son of a KGB General, Vasha rated a large apartment with a private bath. Illya searched the small room and found it clean. He turned on the water in the sink for good measure and motioned for his friend to join him. Vasha happily complied, a look of hopeful lust on his handsome face. Illya put a finger over his mouth before he could say anything and gestured for silence as he closed the door. "I have been ordered to seduce you," Illya started, planning to coldly outline his idea. Anything else he meant to say was interrupted by Vasha's lips pressing urgently against his. Illya's mouth opened in surprise. Vasha took advantage and wound his tongue around his.

Illya ripped himself out of his friend's embrace, effectively severing the kiss. "Nyet!" He distanced himself as best he could in the confined area. It wasn't much physically, but it got the point across.

Bewilderment twisted Vasha's face. "But you said you wanted to seduce me." Illya's anger kept him from reacting to the hurt in the man's voice. He cut him off with a sharp wave. "Listen to me! I said I was ordered to seduce you! I have been given an assignment, my friend. You." The winter of Siberia was warmer than his voice.

"Ordered?" Vasha parroted.



Illya snorted and glowered at his friend in disbelief. "Please, Vasha. Can you not guess?"

Dark eyes widened and the big man leaned onto the sink for support. "Blackmail," he whispered.

Not a question, but a statement. Good. Perhaps the gravity of the situation was finally getting through his handsome but thick head. "Yes."

Vasha looked up, face devoid of color and expression. Illya had seen that look before. The face of a man who had just discovered he had been betrayed. A knife of self-loathing twisted in Illya's stomach. He hated that look on any man, even those like Kourdokov. But to see it on the face of the only person in the world to care about him, the only person for whom he cared, was too much. The ball of ice melted a little and let his compassion escape.

Illya moved closer and took his friend's hand. He gazed into the dark eyes dulled by shock and the ice in his heart gave way a little more. "You can get out of it," he said softly. "Turn me down."

Vasha's brow furrowed. "What?"

"Turn me down. They cannot use this weapon if you give them no ammunition."

"No, they can't," Vasha murmured. "But, I can't turn you down, either, Ilyusha."

"You can and you will," determined Illya icily.

"I can't turn you down, my love," Vasha groaned.

MY LOVE? Such a simple phrase, yet it slammed into Illya's gut like a fist.

Vasha stepped once more into Illya's personal space. "It is a dream come true for me. Don't you understand that? Don't you know what you mean to me?"

Vasha's words spun in Illya's mind, echoing, repeating, devastating in their meaning. Vasha was in love with him. The big man moved closer. Illya put a restraining hand on Vasha's chest. "You are my friend and I care for you. But I do not have the capacity for love. Please, say no more."

Despair and heartbreak replaced the hope shining on Vasha's face. Blinking rapidly, he took a deep breath as if steeling himself to do the impossible. His expression smoothed into a weak smile as he bobbed his head in a quick nod. "I shall turn you down."

Relieved, Illya gave him a genuine smile, something he did so rarely people usually reacted to it. Vasha was no exception. He ran a thumb down the fair cheek. "Moy droog, do not smile like that again or I shall be unable to do as you ask."

Illya shook his head. "You, my friend, are incorrigible."

A deep-throated laugh escaped Vasha. "Only where you are concerned." Illya subconsciously added the my love. Vasha straightened. "So, how do we go about this non-seduction?"

One obstacle cleared. Now all Illya had to do was convince the big man of the necessity of the specifics. "Come over tonight for our weekly game of chess. I will suggest a different game for the evening. You become incensed, insulted by the idea that a pervert like me could even consider asking a straight man like you for sex." He locked his gaze with that of his friend, willing him to understand and agree. "We must make this look good, Vasha."

The dark eyes glinted with suspicion. "I will not like what you have in mind, will I?"

Illya shook his head. "No." The corner of his mouth quirked slightly. "At least I hope not." He stared into the brown eyes. "You will have to beat me."

Horror distorted Vasha's handsome features. "No!" he yelled hoarsely. He grabbed Illya by the arms. "I couldn't do that to you!"

Illya met the other's gaze coolly. "You have to, Vasha. That is the only way. Otherwise they will realize we arranged this."

"B-but it will mean we will not be able to see each other anymore. If I were that angry with you, I would want to break off the friendship. Surely you can't want that." Brown eyes searched blue.

Illya's ice walls were firmly back in place and didn't allow his friend to see what he felt. Not the sorrow. The anguish. The fear. Nor the loneliness which now loomed ahead of him as a result of Tupikov's greed. "You have to, Vasha," he pleaded softly. "I will not be the reason for your downfall. I can't be the reason."

Vasha released him in defeat. He looked away, but not quickly enough to keep Illya from seeing the pain in the brown eyes. Before his own emotions could overwhelm him, Illya gathered them and encased them in ice once more. "Seven o'clock as usual, Vasha." He waited for his friend's slight nod before quietly seeing himself out.

By six fifty-two, Illya was dressed for seduction. He wore a black button-up shirt--top two buttons open--tight black pants, and black boots. New clothes Tupikov had provided him for this purpose. How the man knew of Vasha's fascination with black on him, he had no idea.

He waited nervously for a few minutes, then poured himself a large glass of vodka, downing half of it in the first swallow. Nerves would interfere with his performance and this was far too important. He wasn't worried about the beating. He'd endured much physical pain in his life and one more experience on a long list of such things didn't matter. No. The emotional pain, for himself and Vasha, would hurt far worse. But he considered a possible lifetime of loneliness a small price to pay for the continued welfare of the only person he had ever trusted and cared about.

Vasha's knock sounded a little timid. He frowned into his glass as he downed the remainder of vodka. Please, Vasha, don't lose your nerve. He ran a hand through his unruly blond hair, his gaze flicking to where he knew the hidden camera recorded the action, then went to let his friend in.

Illya pasted a seductive smile on his face. "Prompt as usual," he purred. He knew the cheerful note in his voice sounded sincere to the camera. To his ear, its shallowness attested to the lie. He caressed the big man's shoulders as he took his coat. Vasha sighed and leaned back into the touch. Illya schooled his face to not let the consternation he felt show. What was Vasha doing? He could hardly pull off being enraged at being propositioned if he acted like he wanted it in the first place! He jarred his friend lightly to remind him of the plan. He draped the coat over the small, beat-up sofa. Vasha spun and clutched Illya by the waist, drawing him close. He caught the smaller man's lips in a passionate kiss. Taken by surprise, Illya opened his mouth to protest but was silenced by an insistent tongue.

Illya froze in shock. What are you doing? His body began to tremble with the effort to not twist away and hurl the question at his friend. He couldn't do that. Tupikov expected him to seduce Lysenko and would wonder why he pulled away when the target was so obviously agreeable. After several long seconds, he broke the kiss and nuzzled Vasha's tan neck. "Why?" he whispered so the microphones couldn't pick up his words. He didn't elaborate. Didn't have to. The other man knew what he meant.

"I want you so badly, Illyusha," he moaned loudly, knowing every word was recorded. "I always have. I can't resist you any longer."

Illya's heart sank. "Vasha." He pushed everything into that word. His concern, dismay and not inconsiderable anger. There was no turning back now! Both their fates became sealed upon the utterance of those few words. To stop would mean dire consequences.

The dark-haired man rained light kisses across Illya's jaw, finally settling on nibbling at his ear. "I understand your side of KGB more than you know, my love," he murmured so only his reluctant lover could hear. "Your failure could mean extreme punishment for you and I refuse to allow that," he continued lowly as he licked and sucked the pale neck. "On the other hand, my father could stand to be brought down a notch or two. Even so, he will protect me in order to protect himself. Stop worrying and enjoy this." He returned to Illya's lips and pressed into him. Compared to this kiss, the last one was chaste. Fingers tangled into silky blond hair, keeping the smaller man from escaping.

There was nothing he could do to stop events now. The fact that Vasha was homosexual was already established and the blackmail could still go through. If Illya stopped the proceedings now, the consequences to himself would be very bad. Vasha knew this. He also knew this was one time Illya couldn't tell him 'no.' At least making love to his friend, a desire he'd resisted for quite sometime, held much more appeal than letting Kourdokov fuck him. He'd allowed that violation for the good of the State. He could allow Vasha's loving embrace for the good of himself. When else could he follow through on his wants without consequence? At least, without any more consequence than was already slated. He grabbed Vasha by the hair and started his own insistent exploration of his mouth.

The big man moaned and suckled at the soft invading tongue even as its owner invaded his soul. How long he had wanted this! His Illyusha tasted as sweet as he'd imagined. Sweeter! He ran his left hand over masculine shoulders, deceptively muscular under the silk covering. Not as silky as the skin beneath, he would think! To test his theory, he parted several buttons from their sheaths and kissed his way down the pale throat to the well-muscled chest.

Illya couldn't help but respond to his friend's touch. So unlike Kourdokov's cold, clammy assault, Vasha's caresses left a trail of fire that burned straight to his cock. He opened his eyes to watch the big man's descent down his body. A glint of light caught his eye and suddenly he was acutely aware of the camera recording their every move. Every expression. How Tupikov would interpret the flush of lust he knew was on his face made him pull himself together. He couldn't enjoy this as much as he'd like. He had to play this for the camera. The thought had the effect of an icy shower. It cooled his ardor enough he started to lose his erection.

Vasha noticed. He frowned as he pulled away. "What's wrong?"

Illya merely shook his head. At the same time, he mentally shook himself. If the Colonel felt Illya had held back from the seduction, his own life could be forfeit. It was already too late to save Vasha from the blackmail. And his friend would never forgive him if he sacrificed himself. His strong sense of survival kicked into high gear and he pulled the big man into another searing kiss. "Make love to me." He said it loud and clear for the listening devices. He could see in Vasha's eyes that his soon to be lover heard the underlying message loud and clear, as well. Illya wanted this, too.

Vasha's strong fingers worked feverishly at removing Illya's clothes. Each loosened button was followed by a touch of lips as the dark head moved its way down Illya's body. Vasha kneeled in front of the blond as Illya shrugged the shirt from his shoulders and let it fall to a black heap at his heels. The trousers quickly fell to the big man's siege as well. Vasha sat back on his heels and devoured the exposed skin with his eyes, emotion shining brightly in their brown depths.

With a groan, he leaned forward and took the rosy cock bobbing before him into his mouth. Illya caught his breath at the incredible feeling. The portion of his brain which held his KGB training noted this was prime blackmail material. The portion loyal to his friend was appalled this would be used as blackmail material. The primitive reptilian portion didn't give a damn, caring only about the familiar tingling in his balls which signaled an impending orgasm.

Vasha's talented mouth licked and sucked at his lover's hard erection as though he was eating an exceptionally delicious ice cream cone. Illya's fingers clutched Vasha's broad shoulders, squeezing convulsively. He'd had this done to him once or twice by women, but they paled in comparison to this expert handling. It didn't take long to send him over the edge. He cried out as he exploded into Vasha's talented mouth, the desires of the primitive brain obliterating all rationality.

He stumbled a little as his knees turned to jelly. Vasha stood quickly and caught him. "You taste as delicious as I knew you would." Illya tasted himself on the other's lips as they melded in another kiss. A new experience. An erotic one. He never would have guessed. During his KGB training on bedding men, he'd always been the one doing the servicing. He gave the hand and blow jobs. And he had enjoyed it. Being on the receiving end was just as enjoyable. Too bad he'd never have the chance to experience it again.

The big man steered his slight lover toward the bed in the corner. Illya settled himself onto the mattress and watched Vasha quickly strip off his clothes. Once naked, he covered Illya's body with his own and came in for yet another kiss. Illya had never kissed so much in his life. He liked it and would have participated more if not for the inhibitions caused by the camera. He couldn't afford to forget about the camera.

Vasha's hands were all over his body. One hand constantly moved, tweaking nipples, gliding over muscles, tracing scars. The other reached between his legs and fondled his cock, trying to coax it back to life. He didn't expect much to happen in that area, but the feeling was so incredible he saw no reason to mention the fact. After several minutes of heavy petting and passionate kissing, Vasha pulled away. Illya stifled a moan at the loss. That definitely would not look good on film!

The dark-haired man pulled his trousers onto the bed and searched the pockets until he found a small container of lubricant, then tossed the garment back to the floor and offered the container to his lover. Illya glanced at the jar, eyes narrowed. Allowing the blackmail was obviously not something Vasha had decided on the way over here. It was premeditated. He glared suspiciously at him, wondering if his friend had ever planned on going through with his suggestion. Probably not, the hardheaded Cossack!

He forgot his anger as the dark eyes looked down at him. The emotions contained within their depths wasn't lust. It didn't look anything like the leer Kourdokov had treated him to as he'd disrobed. Nor the same as the desire he saw flashing in the eyes of a number of women, and men, he met in his everyday life. Could it be love? Was that what it looked like? He didn't know. No one had loved him in such a long time. Not since he'd been told his family was dead and he was a ward of the State and, subsequently, the KGB. And he'd not allowed himself to feel that emotion for almost as long. Hadn't allowed himself to feel any real emotion since he'd become a government sanctioned murderer. He could not do his job if he felt too much. He felt something now. When had Vasha managed to slip in under his guard? How had he? The object of his desire smiled and pressed in for another kiss and the answer no longer mattered.

At that instance, Illya forgot about the camera.

Two hours later, Illya lounged on the bed in total lethargy. Had to admit he'd never felt quite so satiated by sex before. Vasha had been so gentle, so tender, filling Illya slowly. Lovingly. Then he started to move in a primal dance as old as man. Illya had moved with him, anticipating Vasha's actions. They were in perfect sync and when Illya's passion had built to its peak, Vasha's seemed to have, as well. Vasha caressed Illya's cock in time with his internal stroking, bringing them both to orgasm at the same time. So that was making love. This was love. No wonder entire epic novels were dedicated to the phenomenon.

So unlike the pain and abuse of his last assignment. A thread of reality managed to intrude on the pleasant post-coital haze. Something about the present assignment. Assignment? Oh, yes. The seduction. Illya's eyes flew open. Chyort! The camera! He couldn't be caught appearing as if he'd enjoyed the previous liaison. What would someone who did this sort of assignment all the time do at this point? Get rid of the mark, of course. He gently nudged Vasha from his sex-induced sleep. "Vasha!"

"What?" mumbled the other man as he turned over and snuggled up to his lover.

Illya forced his body not to react to the hand that lazily rubbed his chest. "Time to go!"

"Go?" Vasha sat up, suddenly wide awake. "You want me to go?"

"I'm afraid so." Illya's eyes flicked to where the camera hid, then back to his friend. "It would not do for the neighbors to see you leaving in the morning."

"No," Vasha mumbled, disappointment heavy in his voice. "I suppose not." He rose, retrieved his clothes and shuffled into the bathroom. Within minutes he emerged dressed and ready to go. He donned his coat and left without another word.

Illya concentrated on the star pattern on his worn quilt as his friend moved about, unwilling to see the accusations of betrayal he knew must be blazing in Vasha's black eyes. It didn't matter that his friend had been a willing pawn in the sick game being waged by Tupikov and the General. Illya still considered himself a traitor to their friendship. A friendship he felt sure Vasha would now prudently want to end.

The quiet click of the closing door sounded loud in his ears. Loud as the dropping of a coffin lid. His throat constricted, self-loathing choking him. He swallowed a moan before it could escape, recording his own perversions for all time. Anger suddenly bubbled up at the thought of the damnable camera. And of Tupikov. His hands curled into fists in order to keep their shaking from showing up, as well. Tremors not from nerves or emotion, but from the desire to destroy the man who put him in this position. What would Tupikov do if the training he'd given to his favorite assassin were turned on him?

Illya's overdeveloped sense of survival came to the rescue, forcing the anger and hatred back into their prison of ice before they overwhelmed his good sense. The danger to himself contained, he roused himself out of the bed, unloaded the camera as Tupikov had instructed and placed the film in the pocket of his coat. He was to deliver the damning evidence in the morning. He slung the coat onto a chair and went back to bed. He didn't bother getting dressed or wrapping up in the blankets. If he were lucky, his body would follow his heart into frozen death.

Tupikov was granted a meeting with General Lysenko the following afternoon. "What is it?" Lysenko snapped in irritation. Beady eyes glared at the Colonel with undisguised dislike.

The feeling is very mutual, my dear Comrade General. Instead of voicing his opinion, Tupikov sat in the uncomfortable chair in front of the huge oak desk that dominated the otherwise austere office. He pasted on an appropriately dismayed expression. Illya Nicovetch was not the only one who could pretend to be something he was not. "Sir, something has come across my desk which I think you will find disturbing." Tupikov was not a stupid man. He knew to try blackmailing Lysenko outright would backfire, possibly ending in his own death. No, he had to make it look as though he were trying to help the General.

Lysenko's cold, shark-eyed expression didn't change. "And that would be?"

Tupikov placed the reel on the desk. "A film, Comrade General. It shows your son in a, um, rather compromising position," he said in a low, conspiratorial tone. That got a reaction. Bushy gray brows shot toward the balding pate. He pierced the round canister with a searching look which Tupikov could almost believe saw through to the damaging film hidden within. The beady black eyes spun back to skewer him with the same intense gaze. Tupikov barely kept himself from squirming under the x-ray stare, suddenly fearful that perhaps the rumors of Lysenko's mind reading abilities were steeped in truth. The Colonel berated his weakness when he visibly sagged after that stare shifted to the office door. "Galich!" Lysenko's bellow rattled the pens on his desk.

The door opened and the General's assistant entered and stood at rigid attention before his superior. "Yes, Comrade General?" he said, snapping off each word in the proscribed crisp, military manner.

"I wish to view this film. In private, Galich."

"Yes, Comrade General." Galich left with the film, then returned several moments later announcing all was in readiness. He led them to a room setup with screen, movie already threaded into the projector and several uncomfortable chairs. "Do you wish for me to run the film, Comrade General?"

"No. Colonel Tupikov can do that. Did you turn off all surveillance?" "Yes, Comrade General. And the room is clean of new ones."

Lysenko nodded a dismissal. "Make certain we are undisturbed."

"Yes, Comrade General." Galich spun smartly and marched from the room, closing the door solidly behind him.

"Wait!" Lysenko ordered before Tupikov could start the film. He checked the room quickly and expertly. He grinned, a truly frightening sight, when he found an activated hidden camera. He deactivated it and the listening device he'd also found. He let off an exaggerated sigh. "I had such high hopes for Galich," he murmured. "Such a waste of a promising young life." He shook his head, then sat in one of the chairs. "You may now begin the film."

Tupikov blinked. He knew of Lysenko's ruthlessness, but missing, or even planting, surveillance on his superior was not only common, but expected. To kill him for doing his duty was a trifle harsh. The Colonel mentally shrugged. That, too, was not unheard of. He dismissed Galich's fate from his mind, flicked off the lights and flipped on the projector. Although he had already seen the film, his attention stayed riveted to the screen. Even as repulsed as he was by man on man sex, he found the coupling between Illya Nicovetch and Vasily Grigorovich highly erotic. He couldn't explain why. Perhaps it was the ethereal beauty of the slight blond, but he thought it more than that. Although he didn't believe for a minute that Illya Nicovetch was homosexual, the affection Tupikov's young protégé held for the other man was obvious. At least it was to Tupikov, who had learned to read the subtleties of his agent's body language. He doubted Lysenko saw it, however. On the other hand, the love Vasily Grigorovich had for Kuryakin practically jumped off the screen.

An unexpected twinge of regret for putting the two men into this position stabbed his conscience. He quickly squelched the undesired emotion. It was for the best in the long run. Most assuredly for himself and Illya Nicovetch. Very possibly for young Lysenko, as well. Tupikov could only imagine what life in the shadow of the General could be like. Bringing the big man down a notch or two could only bring satisfaction to Vasily Grigorovich.

When the film ended, he turned the lights back on and waited in anticipatory silence as the General continued to stare at the now blank screen. The moment of truth was at hand. Tupikov, who considered himself a master at manipulation, a label that his job upheld, was certain he'd baited his fish well. Now all he needed was for his prey to set the hook.

"So," Lysenko said in a dangerously quiet voice, "you mean to blackmail me."

This was the most difficult part of Tupikov's plan. He didn't discount Lysenko's power for a moment, a mistake many a dead man had made. Outright blackmail with this man was destined to fail. Bringing potentially damaging material to such a powerful man's attention, on the other hand, could bring great reward. As long as he played it right. "Oh, no, Comrade General! That is not my intention at all."

"That is your agent fucking my son, is it not?"

"Yes, sir. However, I did not authorize the seduction or the film," he lied smoothly.

"I assume you have already had Kuryakin eliminated?"

This reaction was anticipated. "Young Kuryakin is not the culprit either, Comrade General," he purred in his best diplomatic style. "Indeed, he is the one who brought me the film. He was ordered to do this by Colonel Voznesensky." He hated the bastard and had no remorse for setting him up for the fall. He had no doubt Illya Nicovetch would back up his assertion. He believed the young man's sense of survival outweighed his sense of right and wrong. "Kuryakin recently did some work for Voznesensky's section. He did not question orders coming from the man so soon after having done so. When he completed the assignment, he brought the evidence to me, just as he did on that last job he'd performed for Voznesensky."

Tupikov met the baleful glare of the General with an expression worthy of one who had honesty and righteousness on his side. The Colonel decided not to be worried Lysenko would see through him. After all, he was who had taught Illya Nicovetch the art of impersonation, dissembling, and pretense.

"You are telling me you are uninterested in blackmailing me, Tupikov?"

Tupikov stared Lysenko in the eye as he lied through his teeth. "None whatsoever, Comrade General." He paused for dramatic effect, then smiled slyly. "Although I had hoped you might reward me for bringing this to your attention before any damage is done."

The answering smile appeared more feral than conspiratorial. It sent a chill down Tupikov's spine. "Of course, my dear Tupikov. I have much to thank you for." The frozen tone belied the friendly words. For the first time, Tupikov doubted the wisdom of his plan.

Lysenko steepled his fingers before him and stared at the Colonel for several long seconds before looking away while breathing a deep sigh. "I accept your explanation. And I will see to it that you are not sorry for bringing this to me." His gaze flickered back to Tupikov, then away to once more fixate on the blank screen. "In the meantime, we must take measures to thwart anyone else's attempt to use my son's unfortunate affliction against me."

Tupikov relaxed, comfortable with his new favored status in the eyes of this powerful man. "Of course, Comrade General. I shall do anything within my power to help you."

Lysenko bared his teeth in what might pass as a smile. On a shark. "I knew I could count on you, Colonel Tupikov. I think the best way to stop such blackmail is to eliminate the source of material. Don't you agree?"

Tupikov frowned, unsure of Lysenko's meaning. "Please forgive my thickness, Comrade General, but how do you propose to do that?"

"Elimination of the problem, Colonel. Isn't that your section's specialty?" His section's specialties: infiltration, entrapment, and elimination. Tupikov's eyes widened. Surely Lysenko didn't mean what it sounded like? "Sir?"

"Simple. Eliminate my son and we eliminate my Achilles heel." He waved his hand toward the mute screen. "I remember Kuryakin's file from the other day. His skill in eliminating such problems is excellent. I think it only poetic that he should do the job." Black eyes narrowed. "Don't you agree, Colonel Tupikov?"

Tupikov swallowed the lump in his throat. "Of course, Comrade General." Swimming with this shark might not have been such a good idea, after all. He, himself, was a ruthless man. Had to be in his profession. But he'd always held onto his integrity. Killing in order to keep Mother Russia safe and morally clean was an evil he not only accepted, but embraced. But ordering a killing merely for his own personal gain was something he'd never done. Well. It appeared he would start now. He had no choice, really, and saw no point in moaning over it. He could live with his own conscience in this circumstance.

The question was, could Illya Nicovetch? It was very possible it would destroy his favorite agent. Tupikov gave a mental sigh. He would hate to lose the young man, but his own need to survive superseded his desire to bring his protégé with him into the upper echelons of the Party. Still, there was a better chance that Kuryakin's strong will to live would see him through this situation, no matter how painful, and keep the talented agent by Tupikov's side.

Illya hurried toward Colonel Tupikov's office, nervous about what kind of assignment his superior had for him this time. He could only hope it wasn't as horrendous as the last two. He did not enjoy being sexual bait for predators like Kourdokov. And, although he couldn't say he hadn't enjoyed making love to Vasha, the fact that he did it to betray his friend, even with Vasha's approval, ate at his heart. Vasha, Tupikov, and the rest of the world might truly believe Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin had a block of ice for a heart and a Siberian snowstorm raging through his veins, but it was a lie. He had emotions. Very powerful ones. He'd just learned at a young age that to show them was to show weakness and to show weakness meant death. But they made their presence known to him in the most painful of ways.

As he strode into Tupikov's domain, his step almost faltered at the sight of General Grigor Lysenko. He recovered before making such a misstep, although he was fairly certain the Colonel hadn't missed his mistake. He would pay for that later, he was sure, with exercises that would hone his ability to ignore distractions. He only hoped he didn't have to pay for his ordered liaison with the General's son first. He had a sinking feeling that would be infinitely worse. He knew his face didn't betray these thoughts as he straightened to attention in front of the two men.

"Comrade Kuryakin," Tupikov said with exaggerated politeness.

Not good. The Colonel never called him by his last name. The fact he did so now did not bode well. A trickle of sweat made its way down his back. What terrible fate awaited him that his mentor would be so standoffish? Death? He wouldn't blame Lysenko if that were to be the case. Illya felt he deserved it for the betrayal of his only friend. Almost hoped for it.

"General Lysenko has an assignment for you." Tupikov's voice had a hollow ring to it. Illya didn't like it. Under the Colonel's tutelage for the majority of his KGB career, Illya had learned to pick up subtle nuances in his superior other people would miss. Those nuances told Illya several things. Tupikov was not happy about this new assignment. Tupikov did not want to give this new assignment to his agent. Tupikov had no choice.

A chill ran down Illya's spine. For Tupikov to feel impotent in this matter didn't give Illya a feeling of confidence. He had never known his mentor to be powerless. But his tone suggested he was powerless now. Illya steeled himself for whatever orders Lysenko had for him, hastily reinforcing his defensive walls of ice, becoming an iceberg more solid and unyielding as the one which sank the unsinkable Titanic.

"Comrade Lieutenant Kuryakin." Lysenko stepped close, his face mere inches from Illya's, eyes glaring and challenging. Illya didn't answer, knowing the man was testing his response. The General hadn't asked a question. First rule when dealing with superiors: Never answer a question that wasn't asked. If he responded, Lysenko would believe he was intimidated. He was, but he was a stickler for the second rule: Never let them see your fear.

Blue eyes as arctic and barren as the Siberian wastelands met those black as a shark's. Lysenko frowned and took an involuntary step back, obviously taken aback by the eyes of the killer in such a young face. Illya knew the reaction, having seen it far too many times in his career. Few people were ready to see Death staring at them from a face many described as angelic. People found it disconcerting. Illya lifted his chin, pleased to know a man as powerful and ruthless as the General was not immune to the disturbing image.

Lysenko scowled as he quickly regained his aplomb. "So, you are truly a wolf in sheep's clothing." Illya remained perfectly still as the man walked a circle around him, sizing him up. In front of him once more, the General stared hard at him for several long minutes. Illya didn't flinch, didn't move, didn't even blink as he waited for Lysenko's conclusions. Finally the gray head nodded. "You have trained him well, Comrade Colonel. He is, indeed, the best man for the job."

Illya resisted the urge to throw an inquiring glance at his mentor. Even so, he could see Tupikov out of the corner of his eye. The man looked pale and decidedly nervous. Yet another first in a morning of firsts. His superior was not acting like himself at all and it filled Illya with a sense of foreboding. He had a sneaking suspicion he would need every ounce of his control just to hear his orders, much less carry them out. His stomach knotted as he thought of the probable reason for those orders to be coming from Lysenko. He had turned the film of his and Vasha's liaison over to Tupikov this morning. And now . . . There was no doubt. The assignment had something to do with his friend. Something bad. Something he was trained to do. He clamped down on the terror that gnawed at his heart. Somehow he managed to keep his inner turmoil from showing on his face.

"Do you wish to know what I expect from you, Comrade Lieutenant Kuryakin?" Lysenko snarled. The man was so close, Illya could smell the borscht and vodka the General had for lunch. The breath flowing over him was chill as the winter wind. Not the warm breath of a living man, but that of a corpse whose body had not accepted the fact that it was dead.

Illya's voice was strong and clear, revealing nothing of the fear that gripped him. "Yes, Comrade General. I serve the Soviet Union!" A feral smile formed Lysenko's face into an imitation of a Death's Head mask. "Of course you do, Comrade. As do we all. And to that end, I must ask you to eliminate a threat to our Soviet way of life. Are you willing to do this for your Motherland?"

No! No! Please, no! Please let me be wrong! "Yes, Comrade General!"

Lysenko shoved a picture under Illya's nose. "You do know this man, do you not?"

Illya knew who it was even before looking at it. He hardened his heart until it felt like a stone in his chest before glancing at Vasha's smiling face. He returned his impassive gaze to Lysenko. "Yes, Comrade General," he said in an emotionless monotone. "I know him."

Lysenko hesitated as though waiting for something more. Illya kept his unrelenting stare on him. He would not, WOULD NOT allow this man to see his pain! Robbing the General of the satisfaction was his best, and only, revenge.

"Of course you know him, you little homosexual bastard!" Lysenko's lip curled in anger and disgust as he hurled the picture at his subordinate. Illya didn't break his stance as the picture hit him in the face, then fluttered to the floor. The General's face turned red. His breath came hard and fast. The very image of fury. "Ah, but Tupikov tells me you are not a homosexual, but were merely doing your job when you fucked my son!"

"Comrade General," Tupikov interrupted.

"SHUT UP!" Lysenko bellowed. Tupikov backed up, hands raised in a gesture of surrender. Lysenko's black gaze returned to Illya. "It is because of you my son must die, Kuryakin! I want you to remember that every day that you live and he does not! I want you to think of that as you bleed the life out of him!" His rage was palpable as it washed over Illya in a firestorm that left him burned to cinders.

"Sir?" Illya couldn't keep the slight tremble from his voice.

Lysenko noticed the slight crack in the wall of ice and pounced on it with a vengeance. "Vasily Gregorovich Lysenko has summarily been tried for his crimes against the State. You, Comrade Lieutenant Kuryakin are to carry out the sentence of execution. You are to watch him die, then call for cleanup. If you do not do this, I shall give the assignment to someone who can and you shall share his sentence. Are my orders clear, Comrade Lieutenant?"

"Yes, Comrade General!" Illya's voice did not seem to be coming from him, but from far away. An echo in a large, empty room. He felt strangely detached. Oddly enough, he felt nothing else. No fear. No worry. No pain. No dismay. Not even self-loathing. He was . . . numb. That was it. Numb. His heart had truly turned to stone. Frozen for all eternity.

"They had better be." Lysenko stalked from the room, slamming the door behind him.

Tupikov observed his protégé for several minutes. Illya Nicovetch continued to stand at attention, completely unmoving. His blue eyes stared blankly ahead, never once flickering. Not even blinking! The spark the KGB Colonel so admired in his agent was gone. It was as though Death himself now resided in the slight body of the young blond man. Concern and fear made his heart skip a beat. He did not wish to lose Kuryakin if he could help it. Much as he hated to admit it, and he never would to anyone but himself, he considered the young man before him as a son. Lysenko might be able to sacrifice the son of his flesh, but Tupikov couldn't sacrifice the son of his choice. It was the very reason he'd planned on taking Kuryakin out of the field and training him as his assistant.

"Illya Nicovetch?" he said softly. When there was no reply, he spoke a little louder. "Illya Nicovetch!"

"Yes, Comrade Colonel?"

No inflection. None whatsoever. Tupikov's heart sank into his stomach. It hurt to see his agent like this. Damn! He shouldn't be sentimental about a subordinate! Allowing the young man into his soul was a huge mistake! He knew better! But, it happened and he couldn't seem to extract the boy now. "You do not have to do this."

Illya Nicovetch finally blinked owlishly as though returning from someplace else. He looked at his superior. Tupikov was foolishly glad to see hope in those blue eyes. "Sir?"

The Colonel felt bolstered by the returning of life to the young man. He smiled. "I can assign the task to another agent."

"Why?" The hopeful fire in the blue depths died, smothered with returning iciness and a hint of something else. Rage. The young man was outraged. "Why did you order me to seduce him?" It was a question no subordinate would normally ask, even in a fit of anger. It spoke volumes about the boy's emotional state.

"I needed leverage. Lysenko was insisting I send you away on a dangerous long-term mission," Tupikov answered truthfully. Kuryakin deserved it. "I . . ." Should he admit it? He decided it would be better if he did. "I care about you, Illya Nicovetch. I have plans to pull you out of the field and groom you to move up in the ranks into a job more like mine. But I believed Lysenko would leave you alone in exchange for my silence, as well as gain me a possible promotion." He sighed. "If I had known Lysenko would order his son's death, I would not have done it."

Illya Nicovetch stared at him long and hard, obviously not caring it wasn't in his best interest to do such a thing to his superior. Finally he looked away. "I believe you."

Tupikov squeezed a slight shoulder, compassion coloring his voice. "I can handle General Lysenko enough to change the agent, but I cannot countermand his order of execution. I am sorry, Illya Nicovetch, that I cannot keep your friend alive. I'm afraid the best I can do is keep you from having to kill him yourself."

Illya's rigid control abandoned him and he slumped under his mentor's sympathetic hand. Vasha was a dead man. He could not stop that now. But he could make sure he was not alone when he died. As convoluted as it sounded, Vasha deserved to die at the hands of someone who cared about him. Someone who would share his pain and mourn with him as his life seeped away. "I will do it," he rasped.

He turned away from the compassion in his superior's eyes. He didn't need it. He had to be hard now. Cold. Ice. Otherwise he would not be able to carry out his orders. As it was, he had no intention of making Vasha die the slow, painful death his friend's father desired. He would make it quick. He cared nothing for the threat Lysenko had thrown at him. Once he killed his friend, it no longer mattered if he lived or died. He might even do it himself and save Lysenko the necessity of finding another assassin to carry out his elimination. He let none of his thoughts show on his face as he let himself out.

Tupikov watched Illya Nicovetch as he left his office. Worry chewed at his gut. His favorite agent was lost to him, one way or another. No doubt the General would find a way to kill him if he stayed here. He sighed. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. Well. No point in moaning about it now. If he must lose Illya Nicovetch, he would rather lose him to a new life rather than death. He pulled Kuryakin's dossier from the bottom of the pile of possible agents for the U.N.C.L.E. and placed it on top. He placed the small stack into his briefcase and snapped it shut. It was time to make his recommendation.

It was especially cold tonight. The warming trend that had accompanied spring's thaw seemed to have abandoned the Moscow streets, giving way to a return of winter's freeze. Illya turned up the collar of his already buttoned coat, but felt no warmer. Of course not. The chill wasn't coming from the air around him. The spring night, though nippy, still held that promise of warmer days. No, the freeze came from within him. So cold inside.

He shouldn't be out here like this. Too many people coming home from their job. A number of KGB personnel and their families lived in the building. It would not be good if an outranking officer caught him pacing in front of his home. Still he stalked back and forth, back and forth, like a wolf searching for a way into the hen house. Deja vu pressed in on him as he remembered the last time he was here. He'd paced then, too. He furtively glanced upward, superstitiously searching for Pleiades. Although the stars were clear, he couldn't find the Sisters. Ancient Greeks would not have set sail, taking the inability to see the cluster as a sign of bad storms. The irony of the situation was not lost on him. Come now, Illya Nicovetch, he chided. It's not as if this is the first time you've faced this outcome before. No. It wasn't. He'd dealt with it countless times for far less important reasons. He took a deep breath. No turning back now. He'd made up his mind, struck a deal, and now he had to go through with it. Of course, his fear was not for himself, but for Vasha. And for his friend's reaction to what must be done.

Taking another deep breath, Illya walked into the building and up the stairs. He walked slowly, feeling like his feet slogged through the thickest mud, yet arrived too fast. His hand hovered in front of the door, fell without knocking. Was this the only way? He wracked his brain for what seemed like the thousandth time and came up with the same answer he had every other time. Yes. This was the only way. The alternative was unthinkable.

Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin had long ago buried his emotions behind an impenetrable wall of ice and stone. Learned how to live without any real feelings outside the occasional anger, the one emotion he couldn't seem to completely control. His only weakness, the key to breaching that wall was respect. Those whom he respected--not the kind he gave to children or women or the elderly, but the kind that was earned--sometimes managed to glimpse behind the barrier. Vasha had found a way inside completely.

Because Illya had let it happen, his friend's life hung on a razor sharp edge. It was his fault. He should never have allowed Vasha entrance into his soul. He slammed the wall back in place. Crushed his fear beneath them. It was for the best. Vasha didn't belong here. Courage found, Illya knocked.

The door opened and Vasha's tired face perked at the sight of his friend. "Illyusha!" His eyes narrowed as he noticed what the blond wore. "But you are in your uniform. This must mean you are working." He said it as a statement, but arching of the eyebrows made it into a question.

Oh. He forgot he hadn't changed. No matter. It worked toward his end. Perhaps Vasha would obey his demands if he thought it official. Illya nodded curtly. "Da."

Vasha stepped aside and motioned him in with exaggerated flourish. "Then come in, Comrade Lieutenant."

Illya ignored the sarcasm he heard in the other man's voice. He brushed by Vasha and immediately set about searching the apartment. He removed every listening device he could find. To be on the safe side, he checked again, silencing Vasha's alarmed questions with an irritated wave. When he was finished, he returned to the bedroom, snatched a suitcase from the room's closet and set it on the bed.

Vasha followed him into the room, a frightened look on his face. "Illyusha? What are you doing?"

"You are leaving Russia," Illya stated flatly as he started to fill the bag with clothes from Vasha's dresser.

"What?" The big man grabbed Illya by the shoulders and spun him to face him.

"I'm not leaving Russia! Are you crazy?" He glanced over his shoulder as though the Devil was about to storm through his front door. The Devil or the KGB. Sometimes the two were indistinguishable from each other.

Illya broke out of the bruising grip. "Perhaps." He resumed packing. "I have arranged for you to be taken out by an underground group. We must meet them in two hours." He'd met them through a previous assignment. He'd infiltrated the group with the orders, as always, to learn their route, their people. Then he would give the information to Tupikov and the pipeline would be destroyed, the traitors arrested. He had done just such an assignment on numerous occasions, convincing himself he worked for the best interests of his country. Until he met the leader of that particular group of dissidents, Yuri Andreivich. Handsome, charismatic and completely dedicated to helping the artists, writers, and others whose only crime was to think for themselves and disagree with the Party escape. Illya admired the man, liked him and, in the end, respected him. He couldn't bring himself to turn Yuri Andreivich and his followers over to Tupikov. Instead, a few brave members offered themselves in sacrifice. Illya handed them over along with a false route to be destroyed while the real group remained intact.

He supposed it could be considered a treasonous act, but he didn't feel that was the case. He was helping Mother Russia to save her children from the narrow-minded men who controlled the Party and the country. He hoped that one day the stifling yoke of the greedy Party leaders would be destroyed, and Her estranged creative citizens would find their way back to the Rodina's loving embrace. Respect. Once again, that weakness had allowed Yuri Andreivich to slip past Illya's wall. When this was over, if he survived, he would seal those cracks and strengthen his wall in such a way no one would be able to break through ever again. He snorted to himself. Doubtful it would be a problem. He didn't expect to survive.

Vasha stood rooted to his spot, openmouthed and shocked. After several long minutes, the spell broke and the big man's face twisted in anger. "You are talking treason!" He snatched a handful of clothes from the suitcase and flung them to the floor. "You are going to get me killed! Worse, get yourself killed!" He flung a desperate look at his silent front door once more. "I'm surprised we haven't gotten a visit from one of my neighbors because you removed the bugs!"

Illya picked up a shirt and pair of pants. "They won't come. The removal of the listening devices was approved and expected." He'd asked and received permission from Tupikov, using what he knew was the man's soft spot for his protégé. He'd never used that tool before, refused to, and regretted the trouble Tupikov would have because of it. But he had no alternative. Tupikov once told him he needed to learn how to be more ruthless. He seemed to have finally mastered the lesson. He wondered if his mentor would be proud of him.

"What . . . How?" Vasha sputtered in complete bewilderment. Good thing the man worked in Accounting and not in the field. He had the most expressive face.

"Doesn't matter." Illya knew better than to tell his friend what his plan meant to himself. Vasha would never go along with it. Just get him out of the country and the rest would work itself out. As he reminded himself earlier, he'd faced the idea of his death many times before. It no longer scared him. At this point, he might even welcome it. But he doubted his friend and one-time lover would agree. "All that matters is that we make the meet and my contacts smuggle you out."

Illya suddenly found himself propelled backwards, his breath whooshing out of his lungs as Vasha slammed him into a wall. His friend's red face loomed close, lips pulled back in a snarl.

"Are you a traitor, Illya Nicovetch?" Vasha smiled humorlessly. "But of course you are! But a traitor to only the Motherland or to me, as well?" His hand wrapped itself around Illya's throat, squeezing slightly, but not enough to block air or prevent speech.

Illya could see the hurt and betrayal in dark eyes, the true culprits behind the rage. The wall trembled under the onslaught of his lover's pain. "Not to you, Vasha," he whispered. "Never to you."

Vasha's gaze seared into his own. A few seconds later, the pressure from the hand slowly lessened, the big man apparently finding what he searched for in the blond's eyes. "Then why, Illyusha?" His voice was no louder than Illya's.

"Because I do not wish to see you dead." Illya pulled the now unresisting hand from his throat and squeezed it, then released. He refroze the thawing ice around his heart. "This is the only option."

The color drained from Vasha's face, its normal tan turned white and pasty. "Dead?" His eyes widened as he came to the proper conclusion. An even deeper look of betrayal crossed Vasha's features. Saddened his eyes. He turned away, walked to the bed and dropped beside the suitcase. "So. My father didn't give in to the blackmail. He would rather see his son die than his career." His stricken gaze found his friend's blue eyes. "Your superior ordered my elimination?" Even now he tried to spare Illya's feelings. He knew how much the KGB assassin hated referring to his kills as executions.

Illya didn't want to tell him, but not telling him the truth was merely another form of betrayal. There was too much of that between them already. He lifted his chin. "Yes." His heart constricted. It wasn't fair! It wasn't right! A man as gentle, loving, and good as Vasha didn't deserve to die for something as insignificant as who he liked to sleep with. Or whom he loved. Yuri Andreivich and his friends were right. People like Vasha belonged in a place where those qualities were appreciated, not considered liabilities.

Illya approached his friend, took his head in his hands and tilted it upwards. He dropped a tender kiss on his lips. The kiss deepened and became more passionate. He pulled away finally. Reluctantly. "We must go. They will not wait for you."

Vasha frowned. "Me? You mean us, don't you?" Alarm replaced the frown. "Illyusha! Don't you?"

Illya shook his head. "No, my friend. I am not leaving. I cannot."

"But why? If I have to go, why not you, as well? You will die if you stay here!"

"I think your father might let you go, just as long as you are no longer around to be a liability. Myself, on the other hand . . ." He sighed. "He would hunt me down like a wild animal and kill me. Besides, I am no traitor."

Vasha's expression darkened, the storm of rage brewing once again. "And I am? Is that what you are saying, Illya Nicovetch?"

"Of course not!" Illya growled as he turned away and closed the suitcase. "But leaving to avoid death because of something so trivial as loving another man is understandable in every other country in the world except this one. On the other hand, disobeying my orders and deserting my post would be considered treasonous in any country."

"You seem to forget, I am KGB as well. I, too, would be deserting my post." Illya shook his head. "It is not the same." He snapped the metal clasps on the case and set it on the floor. "No, my friend, I will happily face the consequences of my actions as long as I know you are still alive somewhere in the world."

He heard the squeak of the bedsprings as Vasha stood, but couldn't bring himself to face his friend. Strong arms wrapped around his waist and his lover's smooth, velvety baritone filled his ear. "What of me, my love? How happy do you think I will be living when I know you are dead because of my perversion?"

Illya closed his eyes in dismay. "You are not perverted. Kourdokov and his like are perverted. Loving someone, be it man or woman, does not fall into the same category and should never be considered a perversion."

"Very well, then. How happy do you think I will be knowing you died because of my love?"

"Oh, Vasha!" Illya spat, violently wrenching away from the loving arms. He stalked to the opposite side of the room, the bed between them as a visible drawing of the lines. He crossed his arms to place even more psychological distance. "Have you not realized exactly who ordered me to carry out your execution?" The big man flinched at the hated word. Good. "It was your father, Vasily Grigorovich. Your father prefers his only son dead rather than pay Tupikov whatever it is he wants. He has put a price on your head, and it is a pittance."

"My father?" Disbelief warred with horror to dominate the expression on Vasha's face. "No. You must be wrong." He shook his head. "Tupikov lied. I'm sure of it."

"No, my friend. I know it was your father. He gave me the orders in person." Vasha closed his eyes in pain, fists clenched at his sides. He stood not moving for several long moments. Illya wanted so badly to go to him, but if he did, he wouldn't be able to let Vasha go.

A single tear fell down the big man's cheek. He swiped it away with the back of his hand and, taking a shaky breath, he turned his hurt gaze to Illya. "So you were right all along. He never loved me, you know." He laughed humorlessly. "He never even liked me. I always knew he wished I'd never been born."

"I wish I'd been wrong," Illya whispered, not disputing any of what his friend had said. "But I wasn't. And I'm not wrong about your leaving the country, either," he added in a stronger voice.

"I can't leave without you."

"You have to. I CANNOT kill you. I WILL NOT. And when it is discovered that I did not do as ordered, someone else will be sent after me. I have no place to go, Vasha. You may be KGB, but you are an accountant. Whatever country you wish to flee to is very likely to grant you asylum. I, on the other hand, am a KGB assassin. Even if I wished to run with you, no country in this world will welcome me. And if one did, Tupikov would have to hunt me down. Your father would see to that. No matter how much Tupikov likes me, I have no illusions as to who would lose in his mind if it came down to my survival versus his. So you see, Vasha, my life is forfeit. I have no choice in the matter. You, however, do." Illya's throat was dry, unaccustomed to talking so much at one time.

Vasha stood, stunned. He stared at the floor, chest rising and falling in great heaving gasps, jaw clenching in a fight for control. "You are right, Illyusha. I do have a choice," he said, his voice soft. He looked back up, defiant brown eyes catching Illya's gaze. "I choose to die at your hands so I may save your life."

"No." Illya's hard voice left no room for argument.

Vasha argued anyway. "I will not let you sacrifice yourself for me!" The vehemence in the big man's voice surprised Illya. "You are being selfish, Illya Nicovetch. You cannot live with being the cause of my death so you make me live with being the cause of yours."

The statement stabbed into Illya's stomach and twisted viciously. He couldn't sentence his friend . . . lover! At least be truthful about it! . . . to the same prison he, himself refused to face. Once more it appeared he had no choices. He swallowed the pain and horror that lumped in his throat. Grief burned in the pit of his stomach, erupting into a conflagration of flames that spread through his veins and into his heart, evaporating the ice he'd worked so hard to acquire. The wall crumbled under the agony, his carefully contained emotions pouring through the rubble. He couldn't do it!

Vasha launched himself over the bed and took the smaller man into his arms before he could bolt. Illya started to resist, to fight his way out of the loving embrace. Why? Because he didn't deserve the love Vasha wanted to give! He, Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin, was being asked to kill the only person he cared for since he was six years old. A soothing hand ran down his back. Illya slumped, the fight in him dying. He buried his face in his friend's muscular shoulder.

Vasha tilted Illya's face up and leaned down to kiss him. Something broke free from its icy prison inside Illya's heart. There was no longer a reason to deny what he felt for the big man. They would both be dead soon, anyway. He pulled Vasha closer, turning the kiss from a gentle foray into a passionate torrent. They took turns exploring each other's mouths, delighting in each other's taste. At the same time, they maneuvered themselves to the bed, falling onto it together, neither willing to let go. The bed creaked dangerously under their intertwined bodies, but neither man noticed.

Illya feverishly pulled at Vasha's white shirt, desperate for a feel of the warm skin beneath. Vasha helped by ripping the shirt open, sending buttons flying in all directions. He snatched at Illya's gray sweater, yanking it over his head. He discarded both onto the floor without a second thought. The rest of their clothing was disposed of just as quickly.

Illya rolled them both until he was on top, staring down into Vasha's beautiful dark eyes. They shined with a love Illya never thought he would see. Oddly enough, the sight sent shockwaves of arousal to his groin in a way no physical stimulation had ever accomplished. "I lied to you before," he told Vasha, knowing this as his last chance to tell his friend--his lover--how he felt for him. He also knew it was most likely the last time in his life he would ever utter them, not expecting to ever find someone who could get around his barriors as Vasha had managed. Somehow that thought made it more important to say it now. "I love you, too."

Vasha closed his eyes and moaned. "You don't know how long I've wanted to hear you say that." He pulled Illya down into a sweet kiss, filled with the love in his heart. Illya had never felt anything quite like it. Eventually the kiss ended and Illya started to explore the body beneath him. Fingers, mouth, and tongue found places that tickled, places that made Vasha jump, and places that made him moan and writhe. Illya concentrated on the those spots, soon turning his dark-eyed lover to a mass of nerve-endings.

"Please, Illyusha," Vasha groaned, sounding like he was on the verge of incoherency. He blindly patted the small table beside the bed and grabbed a tube from it. He held it up. "Make love to me. Now!"

Illya took the tube. "Turn over," he rasped, his own need equal to that of his friend.

"Nyet, love! I want to see your face." Illya nodded and slowly prepared Vasha's puckered opening. He inserted one, then two slick fingers, moving them until he once again had Vasha gibbering in unbridled pleasure. He quickly lubricated his painfully hard cock and pushed into the body beneath him, making him one with the man who had manage to melt the ice around his heart. They both moaned at the same time, reinforcing the surreal sensation of being one single being instead of two separate ones. He moved gently at first, although his primal brain screamed at him to fuck Vasha hard and fast. He pushed the urge aside and thrust in and out, varying his rhythm and depth to give Vasha maximum pleasure. He found the sensitive prostate which sent Vasha into orbit everytime he brushed it. That, too, he doled out in just the right measure.

The big man's hands roved over Illya's body, bringing their own brand of delight. Illya voiced his pleasure in no uncertain terms. He took Vasha's straining cock in his right hand and stroked it. It didn't take long to bring the overly excited man to the edge. Vasha cried out as his orgasm hit, jettisoning ribbons of white from his pulsating cock. The new tightness around his own cock sent Illya over the edge as well and he spent himself into his lover's body.

Illya slumped over Vasha for several seconds, waiting for his heartrate to return to normal. Finally, he pulled out of the beloved body and lowered Vasha's legs. He crawled up to lay beside his lover. Vasha snaked an arm around him and pulled him closer. "I love you, Illyusha," the big man declared. "I want you to always remember that. Even now, as you do what you must do, I love you." Illya hugged Vasha's chest. "I can't do it, Vasha. Please don't ask me to." His throat closed, feeling as though the hand that had squeezed it earlier had returned to finish the job.

"I will not leave Russia," Vasha murmured into blond hair, kissing the top of Illya's head. "I will not flee from my home. If you don't do as you have been ordered, they shall kill you and send someone else after me. I cannot have that blemish on my soul. I care too much for you."

"I can't do it!" Illya groaned in agony.

"You must. I want you to." Vasha put a finger under Illya's chin and raised it until he could look into the miserable blue eyes. "There is nothing we can do to stop it. It is inevitable. Please don't let it left to a stranger to carry it out."

He was right. Illya knew there was no choice in the matter. Vasha would die, and the only choice left was to who pulled the trigger. Vasha deserved to choose his killer. Illya would do his job. Then he would turn his gun on himself.

Vasha took Illya's face between his hands. "Promise me you will live," he said as though he could read Illya's plan in his mind. Considering what they'd just experienced, the splash of gypsy blood running in Illya's veins could believe such a thing possible. "Please, Illyusha," Vasha continued. "Live for me. As long as you are alive, a part of me lives as well."

A short, insane laugh escaped Illya. Kill him in order to keep him alive. How poetic. He didn't see it, though. His body might continue to function, but his humanity, which was where the memory of Vasha would reside, would not survive. Anyone who could kill someone he cared about--loved!--was not human. Although, he supposed the fact he didn't want to do it made him vaguely human.

He did what he always did when threatened with pain beyond his endurance. He slammed the runaway emotions back where they belonged, rebuilt and refroze the wall, then detached himself from the proceedings. All that was left was a sort of buzzing numbness. Rather like frostbite.

Vasha pulled away. "Illyusha, look at me!"

Illya did as he was told. Why not? It seemed he always did as he was told. Like any good little automaton. Vaguely human.

"Promise me you will do everything in your power to live," the other man commanded.

"I promise," Illya intoned. Of course. Live to obey. Obey to live. Vaguely human.

The big man searched Illya's face, concern puckering the skin between his eyes. Perhaps he was looking for signs of life. Unfortunately he wouldn't find it there. Vaguely human.


"Yes?" Not very loud. Not very strong. But a response, nonetheless. As any well-oiled machine would respond. Vaguely human.

"How will you do it?"

"I brought a poison."

Vasha nodded. "Will you hold me until I am dead?"

Hope and the need to be close to another human being in his last moments of life glittered in his eyes. How ironic. Not funny. Never funny. But ironic Vasha would choose to spend his remaining life with his killer. Someone who was only vaguely human.

Still, Illya nodded his acquiescence. As he sat vigil over his friend as the poison he'd slipped into the vodka he'd brought Vasha, he felt no grief. No pain. Nothing. His heart was a block of ice. Cold. Hard. Unyielding. He could never let the ice melt. To do so would surely mean his destruction. And that would break his promise.

May 1986

Illya Nicovetch Kuryakin stood on the balcony of the darkened penthouse, a bottle of vodka in hand. Napoleon, proper gentleman that he was, would fuss if he saw his former partner in the U.N.C.L.E. drinking his vodka without benefit of the social trappings, such as a glass. Illya took a defiant swig. It didn't matter since Napoleon wasn't here and he was alone. Alone with only his thoughts as company on a night he'd rather not think.

So he drank in the hopes the vodka would numb the memories. He still remembered, so he chugged some more of the volatile liquid. Russian rot-gut, as Napoleon would call it. Napoleon. He missed him. That must be why he was more maudlin than usual on the anniversary of Vasha's death. Vasha's murder, a silky voice echoed through his mind. He shied away from the direction that thought took him by draining more of his bottle.

The penthouse door opened and the front room's light came on. Illya spun around, hand going for the gun he started carrying again after rejoining U.N.C.L.E. three years ago. It hadn't cleared the holster when he recognized the figure resetting the security system. "Napoleon!" he said delightedly, standing in the open patio door. He considered hiding the bottle, but decided against it. "What are you doing here?" He hadn't expected his live-in lover for several more days. He was supposed to be at a computer trade show in Los Angeles, not home in New York.

"I decided to cut my trip short," Napoleon explained as he walked toward him. He glanced at the bottle gripped in Illya's hand, then glanced around the patio. Looking for the nonexistent glass, no doubt. Napoleon's eyes narrowed and his lips pursed momentarily in disapproval, but he didn't say anything. He merely relieved Illya of the bottle and took a drink. He put the bottle down on the patio table and pulled Illya into his arms. "I didn't want you to be alone tonight."

He didn't say it was because he was afraid of what Illya might do if left alone on this most important of dates. He didn't have to. He'd been that way ever since the Russian had told him about Vasha. Illya wrapped his own arms around the other man's waist. "I told you I would be fine," he scolded softly, trying to sound cross.

"Of course," Napoleon said flatly. He wasn't fooled for a second. The pleased smile playing around Illya's lips must have tipped him off. Or maybe it was the vodka bottle sans glass. Either way, he was having none of it. But, ever the gentleman, something which Illya didn't aspire toward but appreciated in his lover, Napoleon turned the blame to himself. "Well, I wasn't fine. I missed you too much. You should have come with me."

"I have . . . "

"A new fashion line to work on. I know." Napoleon tightened his grip. "So, my dear Mohammed, since you wouldn't come to the mountain, I decided to bring the mountain to you." He leaned in and pressed his lips to Illya's. His tongue asked for and received entrance into his mouth. When they broke the kiss, Napoleon leaned back and smacked his lips as though still tasting Illya's mouth. "I'm not in the mood for your Russian rot-gut. I'm going to get us some wine. And glasses." He dropped a quick kiss on Illya's lips and disappeared into the apartment.

Grinning, Illya turned and walked to the balcony railing, looking into the heavens as he did thirty years before. It was hard to see the stars with the light from the apartment shining so brightly. The light suddenly switched off as Napoleon doused it on his way back out. The stars sprang into clarity. His gaze was automatically drawn to Pleiades, the six visible stars twinkling brightly against the inky black background. He could just make out a ghost of a seventh Sister, an unusual occurence.

He smiled as he thought about the Greek mythology surrounding the constellation. All was indeed well since he let Napoleon into his heart. A more recently learned legend surrounding Pleiades came to mind. Dakota myth said that when someone died, their spirit returned to the bosom of the Seven Sisters. He liked that one. As Napoleon came up behind him and enfolded him in his loving arms, the gypsy in his soul knew that Vasha was that seventh ghostly star.

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