How the Master Lost His Touch

by Di T

Illya leaned against the door-jamb, his head suddenly spinning again. He closed his eyes momentarily against the dizziness and willed his legs to hold him up.

"That's it then. Mandor's dead." Napoleon's voice sounded flat and hollow.

Illya forced his eyes open again to look at his partner. Earlier, rescuing Illya from the dungeon and dragging him out of the house where he had been tortured and drugged, Solo had seemed driven, almost frenetic. Now, suddenly, he appeared nearly as exhausted as Illya felt himself. He searched his befuddled mind for the other name. "Valan . . . Valandros dead?"

Napoleon nodded. "And we've gotten only two of the Thrush leaders' names. Mr. Waverly is not going to be pleased." He looked down at the ground, his mouth twisted into a frowning grimace, his shoulders drooping.

"Can we go?" Illya was shaking with weakness. After spending several days as the guest of the fanatically crazed Valandros and experiencing his unique brand of brainwashing, he could think only of sleep. He wanted this to be over. His memory was returning and the scenes from his imprisonment, now hazily recalled, were not pleasant.

"I wish . . ." Napoleon stopped, looked over at Mandor's body.

Illya reached out a hand to brush the unruly forelock from his partner's forehead. "It's over."

Napoleon sighed. "Yes, it's over."

And then Illya found himself enveloped in a tight bear-hug. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to be embraced, breathing in the scent—the familiar aftershave overlaid liberally with sweat now—and felt his equilibrium return a little.

"I thought I was too late." His partner's voice was gruff with barely-constrained emotion. They stood there a moment or two, holding each other, drawing strength. Then Napoleon released him equally abruptly. "We have to get back. Come on."

Back at the car, the girl, Leslie, wrinkled her nose ever so slightly as Illya got in beside her again and he realised he must smell unpleasantly ripe. He thought about apologising, but couldn't summon up the energy. His eyes seemed to close of their own accord.

The next thing he knew, his shoulder was being shaken and there was a blast of hot air as the car door opened to the Lisbon sunshine.

"Everybody out." Napoleon took his elbow and began to help him out of the car.

Illya blinked himself awake. "I'm fine." He looked around. Waverly and the girl were gone. "Where . . . "

"You were sleeping so soundly we decided not to wake you. Leslie's gone to her hotel. We dropped Mr. Waverly off at the airport to catch his plane—we have to take the scheduled flight tomorrow morning. I'll tidy things up at HQ here first."

Standing unsteadily in the oppressive heat, Illya squinted at his partner. Napoleon was pinching the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache. He looked grubby and sweaty and his hair was uncharacteristically untidy. Illya knew that his own appearance was a good deal worse. It occurred to him that they must look and smell like a pair of hobos. No wonder Waverly didn't want them in his private U.N.C.L.E. jet.

"We . . . stay here?" He was still having trouble summoning words in English. His head felt as if someone had been rummaging around in it and left things mixed up and untidy. They were outside a small private hotel, one he recognised as a place they had stayed in previously while on assignment in Portugal and where he must have stayed this time. His short-term memory was also playing tricks, but he had some recollection of being here recently.

Napoleon went round and spoke to the driver, pointing at his watch. "Uh—let's go and get out of these clothes," he said, turning to Illya.

Once again, Illya noticed how tense his friend seemed. Yet the normally expressive voice was colourless. He shrugged to save himself searching for elusive words and followed Napoleon into the hotel. He hoped Napoleon had not opted to keep the vacuous Leslie company tonight. He felt very much in need of his partner's solid, comforting presence after days of Valandros's dubious hospitality.

The minute the door of their shared bedroom was shut, Napoleon caught Illya into another enveloping hug, clinging to him as if his life depended on it. Illya could feel him shaking, the distress that he realised his partner had been holding onto since Valandros's dungeon palpable. For a few moments, neither spoke. They both knew it had been a near thing once again. Although he ached all over, Illya felt a surge of desire run through him, making his knees even weaker and his heart race. He pulled his partner closer and ground an already hardening erection into Napoleon, a small groan escaping his lips.

"Shh." Hands stroked his hair.

But now Illya was overwhelmed with a sudden, urgent lust. Words may have deserted him, but his feelings were back with a vengeance. He nuzzled his face into Napoleon's neck and felt a kiss on his head.

His abused brain seemed to divide itself into two. One half felt so exhausted it wanted nothing but sleep. The other half was dizzy with relief at being free, and desire for the man who had freed him.

"Make love to me."

"Later . . ."

But he couldn't wait. He shook his head, looked up into his friend's brown eyes—troubled, serious, loving. "Now, need you now," he groaned, quietly.

But he flinched as Napoleon stroked up and down his back. The bruises on his lower back, legs and hips from the attentions of the guards at Valandros's place were raw and painful.

Napoleon pushed him to arm's length, hands on his shoulders. "You need—"

"You . . . need you." He didn't care if it hurt, didn't care that he was filthy and exhausted, wanted only to feel his partner's nearness, absorb his love. He squirmed back into the circle of Napoleon's arms and started to run his hands up and down the safari jacket, fumbling for the buttons.

"Are you sure you want . . ."

"Napoleon please—now." Illya lunged for his partner's trousers. A hand caught his wrist.

"Come here then."

He allowed himself to be pulled close, his breath coming quicker, and leaned against the heat of Napoleon's chest, his head on his shoulder. He lifted his face to capture the full lips and feel the roughness of that firm cleft chin against his own tender, heated skin. Sighing, he closed his eyes and opened his mouth, delighting in the familiar tongue tickling the roof of his mouth, darting into his cheeks and swirling around his teeth. He matched it with his own, exploring his friend's mouth hungrily. The kiss made blood surge to his groin and he gasped as he felt his trousers being unzipped by competent hands.

At last, Napoleon broke the kiss. "Turn around."

Illya slowly turned and Napoleon pulled him backwards against him, his arms around him, whispering over Illya's bruised body with the gentlest of touches.

Warm breath in his ear, "I'm sorry I didn't get there sooner, tovarisch. "

More kisses, moving down his neck and throat. Now Illya couldn't speak, couldn't think, couldn't open his eyes, just revelled in the loving embrace of his partner, whose hands were doing amazing things down below.

"I thought I was too late, I thought they had finished you." Napoleon intoned it like a litany, more akin to anguish than lust.

But Illya was too far gone, too needy himself for reassurance, to take notice. "Napole . . . oh, oh, please," he gasped as the hands smoothed gently over his quivering lower abdomen, tangled in the hair that grew there, and brushed his straining erection briefly in passing.

"Now. Touch me. Can't wait."

"Is this what you need?" Napoleon at last fingered the base of his cock, then grasped it firmly and began to pump it slowly. The other hand snaked into his pants and tickled between his legs and around his aching balls.

That drew a soft cry from Illya who grabbed the hand on his cock, urging it to work faster. "More."

It didn't take long. Illya's need was too urgent, too fierce. With a growl he convulsed and spilled over his friend's hand, each spurt draining his strength until his legs buckled and he felt himself lifted bodily onto the bed.

When at last he dragged his eyes open, Napoleon was lying naked on the bed beside him, hands behind his head. He smelled of soap and shaving cream and his expression was pensive.

He must have been asleep again. A curse on Valandros and his drugs! Illya closed his eyes once more and savoured the familiar scent.

A kiss on his lips. "Oh no you don't. You smell appalling. Come on, into the bath!"

"I'm hungry." He didn't want to move.

"You can eat when you're clean."

"Tea then."

"Already ordered. I phoned down while you were asleep."

Illya turned his head and looked at the naked man beside him with small amusement. "If someone brings the tea and sees you like that—this is a Catholic country you know." He pushed up onto his elbow and regarded Napoleon's flaccid penis. "I'm sorry I fell asleep on you. Did you . . .?"

Napoleon smiled for the first time since the rescue. "Well, something worked. You are stringing sentences together again."

Illya yawned hugely. "I'm tired." He rolled over again onto his side.

Napoleon got off the bed and started to take clean clothes from his case. "Bath. Now."

"All right, all right," Illya grumbled. "But if the tea comes before I'm finished, bring it in."

The tea arrived as Illya was in the bath, and Napoleon brought it into the bathroom. He was dressed, and sat on the side of the bath, watching Illya scrub himself. He stared at the Russian—his eye lighting on the numerous bruises and contusions, particularly in the hip and thigh area where he had been kicked brutally and repeatedly. His face twisted up again with concern. "What have they done to you?"

Illya looked down at his bony hips and grimaced. "Oh just the usual."

"It looks nasty. Here, let me." Napoleon took the soap and washcloth from him and washed his back, skimming gently over the reddened, painful shoulders where the boots had also made contact. Illya hissed as his ear was touched. It was very tender, as was his entire head.

"Give me the tea," he demanded.

"Let me wash your hair first. Lie back."

"Oh all right." Illya was secretly glad. He felt the lassitude coming on him again. He closed his eyes, and by the time his partner had finished with his hair, he was half asleep once more. It took a supreme effort to heave his aching body out of the bath and it was a measure of how tired he felt that he allowed Napoleon to wrap the bath towel carefully round him.

"Hmm. You look ready to drop again, tovarisch. You are not going to be fit to go out to eat, are you?"

"I'm not really hungry. I thought I was." He dabbed at his sore skin with the towel and sat down heavily on the side of the bath. Napoleon handed him his cup of tea and he sipped it. His mind wanted to make love to his partner again, slowly this time. Napoleon would expect it. He didn't want him to go to that Leslie woman. He wanted him to himself. But that first, frenzied session combined with the bath had sapped all his energy and he was beginning to feel dizzy again. He looked up at Napoleon, standing there, his face worried. "I'll be fine when I've had another sleep."

"At least you smell better now. Drink up and get into bed."

Illya complied. Once between the sheets he lay back. "What will you do?"

Napoleon straightened his tie and stood up. "First things first. I'd better get down to Lisbon HQ and tie up the loose ends as ordered. Then I'll get something to eat. I'll bring you something in." He sighed and pushed the hair back from Illya's brow. "Are you sure you're all right?"

Illya wanted to mention Leslie. Wanted to make sure Napoleon didn't go with her. Couldn't bring himself to, in case it put the thought into his partner's mind. He forced a smile and closed his eyes. "Fine. I'm always fine. You should know that by now."

When he awoke, the room was in darkness. At first he thought he was back in the dungeon and a knot of panic formed in his gut, but the softness of the bed and the smoothness of the sheets soon assured him otherwise. He looked towards the other bed. It was empty.

Frowning, both from the lingering headache and worry that his partner had decided to spend the night elsewhere, he looked at his small travelling clock. 11:15p.m. He had been asleep for a few hours. Again, he felt a pang in his gut. Napoleon must have gone with Leslie after all. He cast his mind back to earlier, when he had practically thrown himself at his partner in his desperation for sexual gratification. He had been entirely selfish. No thought for his partner's release at all—just a fast drive towards climax, orgasm and then oblivion. What had he been thinking of?

Napoleon seemed unaccountably distressed—more so than usual after a near miss. It had been a near miss that had brought them together the first time, more than six months ago now. It had been aboard Napoleon's yacht, the Pursang, and Napoleon had fallen overboard. A clumsy rescue had ensued and a session of horseplay below, as they stripped off their soaking clothes afterwards, had somehow turned into a scorching kiss that startled them both.

Adrenaline had been high. They allowed their passion to run its natural course and they made love. Love—not just sex. It was love that persuaded Illya to continue the physical relationship once they had crossed the Rubicon, expressed their love for one another this way. It was a love which both acknowledged had been there for a long time, and eventually he put his reservations about the wisdom of a homosexual relationship on the back burner.

Since then, their love for one another had remained an open secret. Many suspected, but their respect for U.N.C.L.E.'s two top agents was enough to prevent tongues wagging. If Mr Waverly was aware of how things were between them, he turned a blind eye. Both dated occasionally for appearance's sake, but Illya, for his part at least, had little interest in anyone else.

But Illya suspected Napoleon of a certain amount of infidelity. Old habits were hard to break and Napoleon had played the field during his time at U.N.C.L.E. His natural gregariousness and charm, combined with years of practice, made it impossible for him to avoid flirting with anyone who boasted more than one X chromosome. But he always came back to Illya. Told him he no longer slept with any of them. Illya wanted very much to believe him.

Their need for one another seemed to have grown as time went on, and the youthful enthusiasm for saving the world, which had fuelled them during their earlier years at U.N.C.L.E., began to give way to a dogged resignation that evil was always going to exist. Again and again, Thrush and other villains continued their perfidy, despite U.N.C.L.E.'s best efforts, and again and again he and Napoleon defeated it, only to be confronted by a new manifestation almost straightaway.

Illya turned over and shut his eyes again, but he was wide-awake now and his injuries were aching, particularly his head. Sighing, he hauled himself to a sitting position and put on the bedside light. Beside the lamp were three aspirins and a glass of water. Napoleon must have left them for him before he went out. Did this mean he'd no intention of coming back? An unwelcome thought barged its way into Illya's brain.

Napoleon hadn't come. He knew it now. While his partner had brought him to completion, there had been no answering hardness. Warmth, concern, but no excitement. He had been so caught up in his own need that he hadn't noticed it at the time. The ache in his head seemed to swell like a balloon. He swallowed down nausea.

Then reason reasserted itself. By the time he had woken up, Napoleon had already bathed. That was it. He must have masturbated in the bath. But the niggle in his brain reminded him—he wasn't even hard. He didn't want you. He wanted to go with Leslie. Chyort!

Illya gulped the aspirins and drank some of the water. Just as he put the glass down, he froze as he heard a key turn in the lock and the door open. But the tread was familiar.


"I thought you'd be asleep."

"I was. What's that?"

Napoleon held up a paper bag. "Dinner, although I think this counts as a midnight feast."

Illya snatched the bag. He wasn't actually hungry, but he had to keep up the pretence. As Napoleon sat heavily down on the bed beside him, he surreptitiously sniffed for any lingering feminine perfume. No aftershave. There was the smell of his partner's soap and the particular essence that olfactorily said 'Napoleon.' But there was something—something sweetish and flowery. His gut churned.

"What took you so long?" He couldn't stop himself from asking it.

"Not having you to write the report for me, mostly."

Napoleon stood up and started to undress. He looked weary. Was it a sated weariness? Illya's stomach clenched again at the thought. He shut his eyes against the ache in his head.

"Are you going to eat that?"

He started and looked guiltily in the bag, which contained a roll of bread and some strong smelling sausage. His stomach revolted and he almost gagged. Napoleon took the bag from him, a concerned expression on his face, which immediately changed to anger.

"That bastard Mandor. I should have killed him myself!" he growled.

"It was Valandros." I couldn't care less who it was. Why didn't you want me?

Napoleon frowned, his face twisted with frustration. "It was Mandor behind it. Valandros took you to get at Mandor. I should have killed them both!"

"I was betrayed by Mandor," Illya muttered. It had popped into his head.

"What?" Napoleon angrily threw his trousers onto the chair, careless of the creases, and got into the second bed, wearing his underwear. Illya felt a wash of dismay.

"Nothing." He hurriedly turned out the bedside light once more so that his partner would not see him.

Images of people shouting, Leslie peering at him, wrinkling her nose in distaste, and Valandros and Mandor laughing at him, haunted Illya as he lay half awake, half asleep, listening to his partner tossing and turning and sighing. At one point he came to with a start when he heard Napoleon cry out, "No! Leave him alone!'

Dawn was breaking and the light in the room was pale grey, leeching all colour, but he could see Napoleon quite clearly in the next bed. He was thrashing from right to left, then suddenly he sat bolt upright. " . . . repay you Mandor, personally!" he declared.

Illya slipped out of his own bed and went across to his friend. Napoleon's eyes were open but unseeing. He pushed him gently back down and pulled the sheet up to his chin.

"Shh, Napoleon. It's just a dream." He smoothed his partner's hair off his face. Napoleon needed a haircut. Despite himself, Illya smiled.

Napoleon mumbled something unintelligible and closed his eyes once more.

In the morning, Illya got up first and went into the bathroom. He was standing at the basin with his face still half covered in shaving cream when Napoleon came in to use the toilet. "Sleep alright?" he asked, flushing and coming up behind Illya to peer over his shoulder into the mirror.

"Yes thank you." Illya lied. He wanted to kiss Napoleon but he was covered in shaving cream. "How about you?" He knew the answer.

But Napoleon answered, "Fine."

What happened to trust between us? Why are you lying to me?

Napoleon pointed at Illya's chin. "You missed a bit." He rinsed his hands and returned to the bedroom. When Illya emerged from the bathroom he was dressed, except for his shirt.

Slowly, uncomfortably aware once more of his injuries, Illya put on his own clothes while Napoleon went to the bathroom to shave. Often, they had sex again in the morning, even if they had done it the night before. Once was never enough for Napoleon, especially after a near miss. Near misses seemed to make him even more amorous and Illya bleakly recalled several nights in the recent past when neither had got much sleep, but by morning felt languid and sated, despite the odd minor injury. He'd been bruised this badly before, they both had, and still made love. He sat down on the bed again, despondently.

Napoleon came out of the bathroom, dabbing his chin with the towel, a spot of blood near the mole on his face. "I cut myself."

Illya had never known Napoleon to cut himself shaving before, even under difficult circumstances in the field. He patted the bed beside him. "Here, let me look."

Napoleon sat down and Illya took the towel from him, dabbing the tiny cut, which was nonetheless bleeding profusely, with the towel. "It's not bad. Hang on." He got up and went over to his suitcase, rummaged in his own shaving kit and came back with a small tube. He applied the styptic inside to Napoleon's cut.

"Ouch! That stings!"

Illya grinned. "Do you want to bleed all over your clean shirt?" He caressed Napoleon's face and kissed him on the chin. "There, see—it's better already."

"Hmm. Put that instrument of torture away and let's go find breakfast. The plane leaves at 9:30, "

That was it then. There was plenty of time, but breakfast was more important. Illya got up, replaced the styptic in his shaving kit and fastened his suitcase. Napoleon finished dressing, putting on his shirt and tie with care, fastening on his shoulder holster, then shrugging into his suit jacket. He went to the mirror to arrange his hair and inspected the cut carefully once more, as if checking that it didn't spoil the perfection of his appearance. Uncharacteristically, he frowned at his image in the glass.

Illya decided to give it one more try. He went up behind Napoleon and encircled his waist with his arms. He nodded at his partner's reflection. "Gorgeous as ever, but you could do with a haircut." He smiled and laid his head on Napoleon's shoulder.

Napoleon seemed to jump, as if from a reverie, and tousled Illya's own hair. "Hey—that's my line! Come on, let's get you fed before the journey."

Neither spoke very much during breakfast or the drive to the airport. On the plane, Napoleon seemed restless and wandered up and down the aisle, once disappearing into the First Class section and not reappearing for a considerable length of time. Illya tried to read but he still had the vestiges of the headache and he didn't seem able to concentrate. Whatever drug Valandros had given him was taking its time clearing his system.

Napoleon came back to his seat and leaned back, closing his eyes. Illya decided to take this opportunity to go to the toilet. If Napoleon was going to sleep, he didn't want to have to push past him later. The rear toilet was engaged, so he walked down to one at the front, between the first and second-class sections. As he was approaching it, he saw a blonde woman come out and head back into First Class.


Illya's heart gave a lurch and the nausea of yesterday returned with force. She hadn't seen him. Glasses were not a fashionable accessory and she obviously eschewed them for the sake of appearances, preferring to peer near-sightedly. He hurried into the small toilet, locked the door and stood, leaning on the tiny sink, taking deep breaths.

So that was why Napoleon was so keen to walk up and down the plane. He and Leslie had probably arranged this assignation last night. Maybe Napoleon had even decided to travel by the scheduled flight so that they could meet once more. It was certainly odd of Mr Waverly to waste U.N.C.L.E.'s budget on flight tickets when there was the private U.N.C.L.E. jet available with only himself and Lisa Rogers aboard.

Illya splashed water on his face and waited for his insides to calm down. Gradually, as his heart slowed back to normal, his usual sanguine reason returned. Why was he surprised? Wasn't Napoleon behaving entirely in character? How could he possibly expect him to give up the habits of a lifetime forever and stop chasing every girl he clapped eyes on?

But as he used the toilet, another thought occurred to him. When he and Napoleon had first had sex—made love—Illya had been against it becoming a regular event. He had wanted it but was convinced it was a one-off aberration. He was worried about his position as U.N.C.L.E. New York's only Russian agent and mindful of what would happen to him if he were returned to the Soviet Union in disgrace. Napoleon had convinced him otherwise and they had continued the relationship in secret.

He had given up his security for the sake of his partner and their relationship. Surely Napoleon could make sacrifices too. Although Illya had his suspicions that Napoleon might have spent the odd night with a woman, there had certainly been nothing as blatant as this. Never had Napoleon had sex with him and then gone straight out and slept with a woman.

Except they hadn't really had sex. Napoleon had masturbated him and he hadn't reciprocated. Illya flushed the toilet and washed his hands, frowning at his reflection in the mirror. The churning in his stomach had quieted, but he still looked pale and tired. No wonder Napoleon wasn't interested in him. He opened the door and made his way back to his seat.

Napoleon watched him as he squeezed past to the window seat. "You okay? You were a long time."

Illya sat down, leaned back and closed his eyes. "I'm fine."

"Well you don't look it. Head still bothering you?"

Illya opened his eyes again and turned to Napoleon. "I told you. I'm fine. I saw Leslie." Chyort! Why did he say that?

"Oh her." Napoleon rolled his eyes. "She's like a limpet."

"Did you know she'd be on this flight?" He couldn't stop himself. Be quiet Illya! You'll only make things worse.

"No, but it doesn't surprise me. She no doubt heard when Mr Waverly and I arranged it."

Illya nodded and went back to his book, somewhat mollified. However, following dinner, for which Illya noticed Napoleon had even less appetite than he did, one of the stewardesses came up and whispered in Napoleon's ear. Illya didn't hear what was said, but he saw his partner smile and nod, then stand and excuse himself.

"Message from Leslie?" Illya couldn't help growling.

"I won't be long. Get some more sleep. You look terrible."

"Oh Napoleon." Just go—don't bother to lie to me.

Despite his misery, Illya slept the rest of the journey. He awoke just as they were about to land and quickly realised he felt much better. The headache had all but gone and the pain from his bruises was a mere background discomfort. They disembarked and collected their luggage without saying much to each other. He was surprised that Napoleon shared a taxi with him rather than Leslie. In fact, apart from a desultory wave, Napoleon didn't even acknowledge her. He must be sparing his feelings and Illya was grateful for that at least.

It was still early afternoon in New York. He and Napoleon lived in the same apartment block these days, which was convenient for their particular arrangement. They were not due to report in to HQ until the following day unless Illya wanted to be checked over by the medical team, which he certainly did not. He was somewhat surprised when Napoleon exited the lift at his floor and accompanied him to his apartment.

"Do you want to come in?"

"Well I'm not seeing you to your door for any other reason."

"I don't have any coffee."

"Tea will be just fine. "

By the time Illya had made tea, Napoleon had kicked off his shoes and made himself at home. He had selected a record and was putting it on the turntable of Illya's hi-fi. Illya put the cups down on the coffee table, moving a pile of papers to do so. He sat down and took off his own shoes. The opening bars of 'Pictures at an Exhibition' sounded clear and crisp through the excellent speakers.

Napoleon sat beside him and examined his fingernails.

The 'Promenade' played through. They sat in silence, Illya drinking his tea, Napoleon still staring at his hands. At length, he said, "I have something I need to tell you."

Oh oh, here it comes! Illya said nothing, sipped his tea.

Napoleon went on, quickly, "I think I may have a problem."

"Oh?" The music had changed to xylophone and strings, overlaid with menace. Illya waited.

Napoleon picked up his tea, then put it down again. He sighed.

Illya continued to say nothing. Damn it Napoleon. Just come out and say it. Tell me it's over between us.

"It's kind of embarrassing."

You bet it is! He looked up at Napoleon, who refused to meet his eyes, but picked at the fingernail once more and whispered something so softly that Illya didn't hear it.

"What?" he demanded.

Napoleon said it again, a little more clearly. "I'm impotent."

This time he did hear it. He put his tea down carefully. His heart was thudding. "Say that again."

"You heard."

Illya couldn't stop himself grinning from ear to ear. The butterflies that had been trying to burst their way out of his stomach gave way to a rush of relief that doused him from head to toe.

"It's not funny, Illya!" Napoleon looked cut to the quick.

Illya wiped the grin off his face immediately. "Sorry. It's just that . . ." The promenade music came on again. He leaned back against the sofa and took Napoleon's hand in his. The nail was torn. "It's just . . . since when?"

"Nearly a week." Napoleon leaned his head against Illya's shoulder. "I haven't been able to get an erection since you were taken prisoner. " He sighed, his expression tragic.

Illya stroked Napoleon's hair. "Hmm. Nearly a week. Never happened before, huh?"

Napoleon sat upright. He looked shocked. "Never. I've always been able to get it up," he said, indignantly.

"All right, take it easy. Of course you have."

"Sorry. It's just, well . . . you know . . ." Napoleon trailed off in embarrassment.

"I know. You have your reputation. Do you think it might have been caused by—um—worry?"

Napoleon rolled his eyes and ran a hand through his hair, causing the forelock to fall down over his forehead. "Worry? What would I have to worry about? My partner disappears and I discover he's probably dead or at least brainwashed to a vegetable. I'm landed with an airhead woman . . . what are you laughing at?"

Illya couldn't control himself. He tried to keep a straight face but it just wouldn't stay. "So . . . so what's new?" he managed to splutter.

"What do you mean . . . oh, I see." Napoleon began to smile too.

"Although I can see the prospect of my imminent demise might leave you a little—um—limp."

"Hmm. I wish you would at least try to take this seriously."

"But you must know it happens to everybody at some time." Illya reached out a playful hand to the front of Napoleon's trousers. "And anyway, I'm glad you didn't get it up when I wasn't there to enjoy it."

Napoleon covered Illya's hand with his own. "But even when I got you back it didn't work." Illya pressed harder. Napoleon closed his eyes momentarily. " Mmm. That feels good though."

"You see. No problem." Illya made it sound very Russian. He knew it amused Napoleon when he said it like that.

But Napoleon's face became serious again. "I was so angry. I should have shot Mandor myself. I owed it to you."

"He's dead, isn't he? And Valandros. And we got two of the Thrush leaders' names."

"Mr. Waverly wanted all three. He gave me hell in the car when you were sleeping."

"He should be grateful we stopped Mandor's little game. You stopped it. I've not been worth much."

Napoleon grimaced. "You going round looking like death warmed up hasn't helped. I've felt so—guilty!"

"But I'm better now, and the main thing is, you rescued me." Illya took his friend's face in his hands and kissed him gently on the lips.

Napoleon sighed, but returned the kiss. "I guess so."

"And for that, I am grateful. Come here." Illya put his arms around Napoleon and hugged him.

A whiff of something sweet and flowery made him start. "What's that smell on your collar?" He recognised the perfume from last night.

"Smell?" Napoleon frowned, pulling out of the embrace and sniffing his lapel.

"Yes. It's on your jacket. And don't tell me you've changed your aftershave because I know what you like and that isn't it."

Napoleon sniffed again and then grinned. "Oh that's Maria at the desk in Lisbon! You remember her." He made his voice high and approximated a Portuguese accent. " 'Oh Meester Sollo! I am so 'appy to see you! Come and see your leetle Maria again.' I do believe the woman has no sense of smell—she always wears a gallon of perfume and leaves a trail wherever she goes."

Illya made a face. "Eww! Take it off so I can make love to you." He pulled his partner back into his arms.

But Napoleon was serious again. "I don't know if I can get a hard-on, Illya," he muttered into Illya's neck.

"Never mind about that. You haven't given it much of a chance." Illya stroked the back of his neck. "Relax and it will happen."

"And if it doesn't?"

"We'll have some fun anyway." The music on the hi-fi sounded fanciful, the Tuileries. Illya smiled. He didn't care whether Napoleon could get it up or not at present. He was just happy to have his lover to himself. His stomach growled and he remembered he had hardly eaten since breakfast, which was a long time ago.

"Shall I order some pizza? I'm hungry."

"It's the middle of the afternoon."

"Yes, but in European terms it's dinner time. Besides, I really am hungry."

Napoleon sat up. "Let's go out and get something. We've been sitting on a plane too long."

"I'm surprised the Old Man hasn't sent for us. He doesn't usually give us the afternoon off."

"Oh he's in Africa till at least tomorrow. Didn't I tell you? He and Lisa flew straight there from Portugal. That's why we had to get the scheduled flight home."

Illya smiled. Another mystery solved. Napoleon had not opted for the scheduled flight to get a chance to see Leslie again after all. He thought she was an airhead. He had said so. As they both stood up, he suddenly wanted to feel his partner's nearness again and he caught him round the waist in an embrace.

"Kiss me."

"Now with that I can oblige."

The music went very quiet, a slow marching rhythm. They kissed long and hard, their tongues snaking round each other's mouths as if discovering them for the first time. Illya felt his legs start to tremble as they always did when Napoleon kissed him, and within seconds he was rock hard. He smoothed his hands over Napoleon's round buttocks and gave a little experimental thrust against him. He thought he could feel an answering hardness although he could not be sure. It didn't matter anyway. Not yet. Not now,

He breathed in Napoleon's ear, "Can we make a detour to the bedroom?"

"A moment ago you said you were starved."

"Starved of you. Now, please." He licked Napoleon's ear, then breathed into it. That lingering sweet scent reminded him of the way he had felt last night. He frowned and pulled the jacket off his partner's shoulders, revealing the shirt and shoulder holster underneath. Much better.

His own jacket followed and then he took up where he had left off. He thrust his tongue inside the narrow canal of Napoleon's right ear. He was rewarded by a twitch of the hardening bulge pressing into him. "Napoleon, I believe we may have some action."

The music reached a crescendo and in time to the pulsing rhythm, Illya pushed Napoleon backwards into the bedroom and thrust him onto the bed. He straddled his hips and bent over, capturing the full lips with his own, kissing him deeply as the music died away again in the background, to be replaced by the promenade.

"Get your shirt off. I want to feel your skin," he breathed.

Shoulder holster and shirts were followed in quick succession by the rest of their clothes, which tangled in a pile on the floor beside the bed. Two pairs of eyes stared as Napoleon snaked his underwear over his hips to reveal a healthily burgeoning erection.

"Look at that!" Illya, back in his place straddled over Napoleon's legs, bent over and licked the enlarged member as if it were an ice cream cone. "Mmmm. Lovely."

"Ah—it does appear to be up for it."

"It's missed me." Illya sighed. Why had he mistrusted this man, this partner of his? Would he ever feel secure? What was an international agent doing needing security anyhow? He smiled at himself and concentrated on repaying his partner for saving his life in the best way he knew how.

The music became quick and darting. Illya attacked Napoleon with his tongue, unconsciously using the rhythms to make his assaults on his partner's skin into a wild, playful dance, which had Napoleon gasping and hissing as all his erogenous zones were targeted in quick succession.

When at last Napoleon was begging for mercy and his cock was straining upwards towards Illya's teasing mouth, the Russian suddenly engulfed it with his lips, revelling in the salty, musky taste and breathing gustily into the thick black hair that curled beneath his cheek. He felt his partner's hands tangling in his own hair as the cock thrust into his mouth, threatening to choke him.

But Illya was more than a match for this. He played Napoleon to screaming point, bringing him to the edge of orgasm again and again, then switching to his nipples, suckling them and nibbling and all the time breathing soft, Russian endearments.

And as the music reached the final crescendo, called the Great Gate of Kiev, he felt his own orgasm begin. Wrapping himself around his partner's leg, he plunged his hand between Napoleon's legs, massaging the heavy balls, and his mouth right down to the base of his cock, ground his own cock against the slick skin of the quivering leg, sucked for all he was worth and Napoleon was his.

They lay, panting, unable to move or speak. After what seemed like an age, Illya felt Napoleon stir and he snaked his way up so that his head lay on his partner's shoulder. Napoleon stroked his hair and they lay, content with each other's silence, for a further few moments until Napoleon said, "Well, how did it do?"

Illya could feel a smile wash up from his toes but he checked it. He sat up and regarded the now flaccid organ critically. "I think it may have passed muster."

Later, as they sat in a small, exclusive Italian restaurant that they occasionally splurged on, Napoleon poured Illya some more wine. He had insisted on this being his treat and Illya wasn't arguing. The bruises still hurt but were nothing he hadn't endured many times before. The headache still niggled, but his mind was clear and his soul was content.

"What am I going to do about Leslie?" asked Napoleon, suddenly.

Illya looked up from the ravioli he was wolfing down. "What about her? I thought you said she was an airhead."

Napoleon's face looked wry. "She is, but she's harmless—just a would-be goodtime girl, looking for a rich husband. I promised her a date."

Illya put down his fork. "I doubt if you qualify for that designation on our salary."

"I know, I tried to tell her that, but she doesn't listen. I promised to take her out Wednesday night. It was the only way I could get rid of her on the plane. You were looking so sick, and she kept demanding that I come and sit by her to keep her entertained, when all I could do was worry about you."

A tightness filled Illya's chest and he recognised it as pure happiness. "I have an idea," he suggested.

"I can't break the date. I promised," Napoleon warned.

"Oh no, you can go on the date. Only I'll come along too."

"We can't do that! I'll feel like a teenager—this is my friend, Illya. He goes wherever I do. " Napoleon started to laugh.

But Illya was not to be put off. He was not letting that woman get her talons into his partner again. "Not if I come as your chauffeur. I'll dress the part, I promise. I can take you to a club or wherever, drop you off, then after a decent interval, come and pick you up to take you to your next appointment."

"Which, I take it, will be with you."

"Of course. What do you think?"

"Hmm. It might just work. I'll bribe her with a parting gift. How about pearls?"

"Napoleon! She's a gold-digger. You don't want to give her the impression you are rich. Mind you, she could do with some pearls of wisdom to fill the void between her ears."

"You can be very demanding. Did you know that?"

"That's not demanding. That's just watching my assets."

Napoleon laughed. "Well I'll watch your assets any time!" An unexpected lull in the conversation going on around them caused his words to hang in the air. Illya felt the blush creep up from his chest to the top of his head.

"Napoleon!" he chided. "People are listening."

"Let them listen. They are just jealous I'm with you."

Illya's blush deepened. Napoleon seemed so sure of himself now. This was the Napoleon he loved, the one he shared his life with. A thought occurred to him. "I have an idea what you can give Leslie."

"Oh yes?"

"I saw a book advertised in the Sunday newspaper. It's a directory of all the millionaires in the country, or it might be the world. I can't remember, but that should give the little jet-setter some bedtime reading. She'll forget all about you in no time."

Napoleon laid down his fork, crumpled up his napkin and sat back in his chair. His brown eyes were luminous with warmth in the candlelight. "You are one smart Russian."

Illya felt a surge of love towards him which transcended embarrassment. He had to physically stop his hand reaching out to caress his friend's cheek. "I know."

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