The Two Birds With One Stone Affair

by Graculus

One raid on a Thrush installation was much like any other. It was planned to the last moment, executed with pinpoint accuracy and held a myriad of possibilities for things to go horribly wrong. This time around, Napoleon was starting to wonder when something might happen, as everything seemed to be going like clockwork. It was in his nature to wait for the other shoe to drop, after all.

Not that he had all that much experience to fall back on. It had been a while since these kind of raids held any novelty, but taking charge of things was another matter altogether—that in itself presented Napoleon with a new set of challenges he was determined to master.

They'd entered this particular Thrush satrap as quietly as possible, and so far he was pleased with the results. The opposition had been minimal, with the usual sluggish responses you'd expect at four a.m., but they had yet to locate the chief Thrush: one Maximilian Brown, rumored to be somewhere in this facility.

He pushed open another door, one hand snaking inside to flick on the overhead light. The room's inhabitants moved suddenly, startled to wakefulness, one of them lunging for a pistol lying on the nightstand beside him. Napoleon shot him instinctively, the small sound of the sleep dart barely audible even in the relative silence of the sleeping installation. The gun the sleeping man lunged for wasn't even pointing in Napoleon's direction before his would-be assailant slumped bonelessly onto the floor.

The bed's other occupant had done no more than sit up, the sheet which had been covering him while he slept sliding down to pool around his hips, his eyes wide at the interruption. He looked about sixteen or seventeen and he couldn't seem to decide whether he wanted to look at Napoleon or the now-unconscious man who had shared his bed.

"Keep your hands where I can see them," Napoleon said quietly, as he crossed to check the man he'd shot. It was Brown, as he'd hoped it would be, the rumors of his preferences proving to have been right on the nail after all. "Who are you?" he asked.

"Nobody," the boy said, with a slight accent.

Napoleon looked at him again, more closely this time. Though he looked young, his eyes were old, full of experience, most of it bad. He was pale, blond haired, the only marks on him that Napoleon could see looked like fingertip bruises splayed across his hips. No prizes for guessing what his role in this whole situation had been. Still, there was something about him that didn't feel right, something Napoleon knew they had no chance to explore here and now.

"Get dressed," Napoleon said, gesturing with his gun. "You're coming with us."

He'd half-carried Brown himself, driving the boy along at gunpoint until they'd met up with another of the incursion team. Napoleon had happily handed the boy over, turned Maximilian Brown over to two more agents then headed for the power plant to lay some explosives. And that should have been the end of it, bar the paperwork.

Except that he couldn't get the boy's face out of his mind. Napoleon had no idea who he was, where he'd come from or what would happen to him. His fertile imagination kept on conjuring up scenarios involving this unknown, imagining what had gone on between him and Brown to lead to those bruises. Imagining the boy crying out, writhing beneath Brown as the other man forced his way into the boy's body.

Of course, that was assuming the boy hadn't been willing, Napoleon reminded himself, as he headed up to Waverly's office. That he wasn't someone Brown had picked up off the streets who knew exactly what he was getting himself into, who even liked that sort of attention.

That didn't stop the images from being potent, from making Napoleon twitch in response to them.

Waverly was pleased, anyway, that much was obvious by the lack of the usual scowl. The mission had been a success, and even now Maximilian Brown was probably singing like a canary in one of their holding cells.

"Well done, Mr. Solo," Waverly said, tapping the stem of his unlit pipe on a folder that doubtless contained his mission report. "Two birds with one stone, so to speak."

"Two, sir?" he asked, taking his customary seat.

"Yes, Mr. Solo." The old man's eyes twinkled, with pleasure at having bested one of his agents. "An unexpected bonus along with Mr. Brown," he continued, then spun the table so that the folder in front of him came to rest where Solo sat.

Napoleon opened the folder, immediately recognizing the face in the photograph attached to the papers. It was the boy, though in the photo he was wearing what looked very much like a Russian naval uniform.

"He's KGB?"

Waverly nodded. "Captain Illya Kuryakin."

"Then what was he doing with Maximilian Brown?" Napoleon ignored the little voice that reminded him he knew exactly what the boy—Illya Kuryakin—had been doing. In technicolor. "He's a long way from home."

"A very good question, Mr. Solo," Waverly said. "Our best guess is that he was given to Thrush for some reason."

"Does Immigration know he's here?" Napoleon asked. "We usually get told about known KGB officers entering the country, and I don't recall hearing about this one."

He glanced quickly at the information on the topmost sheet of paper, mentally calculating the boy's age and finding his estimation had been almost ten years shy of the real thing. This Captain Kuryakin was no innocent corrupted, he was a seasoned member of the KGB who doubtless had more notches on his bedpost as a result than Napoleon himself did for recreational purposes.

"As far as we can tell," Waverly said, "he's here without papers."

"What an embarrassment for the Soviet Union," Napoleon said, closing the folder. If only he could still his imagination as easily. "Nice to have some leverage for once where they're concerned."

"Indeed, Mr. Solo." Waverly had that expression on his face again, the one that usually meant trouble—with a capital T—for any agent in the immediate vicinity. "Just the leverage I've been looking for, in fact."


"It's long been a dream of mine, Mr. Solo," Waverly continued, "that U.N.C.L.E. be a truly representative organization. An organization with agents from all nations working together. But so far the Eastern Bloc's participation has eluded me, since I've no way of making the Soviet Union allow one of its citizens to join us ."

"That's understandable, sir. It's not so long ago that many of us, myself included, were fighting against communist forces in Korea."

"Be that as it may, Mr. Solo, we cannot afford to allow U.N.C.L.E. to be seen as the tool of any one government. That would be intolerable. It is for us to lead the way, not follow blindly behind whatever alliances and antagonisms occur in the world."

Napoleon nodded. He knew that was the best response when Waverly got his soapbox out, since any kind of argument would just make the old man rant longer.

"So," Waverly continued, "this morning I sent a message to the Soviet Premier, asking him to assign this Captain Kuryakin to U.N.C.L.E., effective immediately."

They knew who he was now, there was no doubt of that. It wouldn't take very long for his fingerprints to be identified, for his true allegiances to be known. The only question was what would happen to him then.

Illya didn't bother to pace the small holding cell in which he was currently imprisoned; that would be a waste of energy. He'd examined it minutely with his eyes on being put in here, picking out the well- disguised microphone and more-sloppily hidden camera quite easily, then he'd resigned himself to waiting on his eventual fate.

Not that he regretted the end of his liaison with Maximilian Brown.

On the contrary, Illya was more than glad to be away from the man, whose attentions had sickened him. He'd discovered early on that any reaction from him only excited Brown, so he'd learned to school himself to passivity, taking whatever Brown dished out without complaint. At least the man hadn't been into the more esoteric variations on the homosexual act, Illya reminded himself, and for that he could be grateful.

He was in the United States without papers. There was no excuse for that, no reason he could give that would satisfy the U.S. government, and if he was used to embarrass the Soviet Union he might as well face the fact that he would be returning to his own execution. If he was lucky.

It had been sloppy of him to be caught, to have gone along with Petrenko's half-baked plan in the first place, to allow himself to be given to Thrush as a sign of Petrenko's goodwill without protest. The colonel had hoped Illya's presence in the Thrush installation would allow him to get his hands on enough material to prove what the organization's true motives within the Soviet Union were, but Brown had never left him alone anywhere he could complete his mission.

All that had happened, all he'd done for the majority of the time he'd been with Brown, was accept the other man's more-than-unwelcome attentions. Another reason to fear his return to Mother Russia, another black mark against the name of Kuryakin should he be considered to have already shamed his country by his failure. There would be no way to prove Petrenko's hand behind all this, even if such finger-pointing would be considered anything other than cowardly on his part.

At least his family hadn't survived to share in his misfortune, Illya reminded himself, as he pulled his feet up onto the holding cell's pallet and tried to sleep.

"Sir?" He wasn't sure he'd heard that right, there was no way he could have. Could he? "You want this Kuryakin as an U.N.C.L.E. agent?"

He opened the file again, his eyes moving down the printed words till he reached the section on the boy's qualifications. A degree, a PhD, service in the Russian navy, commendations for his actions. He was qualified, there was no doubt about that, but could they trust him? He looked at the picture, his mind comparing it with what he'd seen of Kuryakin, reminding him of all that he'd assumed about him.

"He would seem to fit the bill, Mr. Solo," Waverly said. Napoleon glanced at Waverly, tearing his eyes away from the photograph of Kuryakin.

"You read my report, sir?" he asked. He'd spelled out in detail how he'd discovered Brown, that the other prisoner he'd brought back with him had been sharing Brown's bed. Napoleon was certain that medical reports, containing detailed examinations of both prisoners, had been submitted to Waverly along with his own.

"I did." Waverly paused in the process of filling his pipe, his perceptive eyes fixing Napoleon in his seat. "And I suppose you're wondering how we can trust someone who could do such a thing in the service of their country." Napoleon found himself squirming a little under that scrutiny. "Is it any different from some of the things you yourself have done for U.N.C.L.E., Mr. Solo?"

Napoleon felt his face redden a little at the reminder—his experiences had been mostly with women, but they weren't something he was proud of. As he'd grown more experienced as an agent, he'd been able to avoid such missions, and had been given the opportunity to be the back-up when any honey-trap missions were planned. It was a development he was more than happy with.

"So what do we do with Captain Kuryakin?" he asked, after he'd cleared his throat a couple of times.

"Go and talk to him, Mr. Solo," Waverly said. "Tell him he has a new job. And a new partner."

When the door to the holding cell opened, Illya looked up, more from instinct than from any desire to discover who was there. Whoever it was, the news couldn't be good.

It took a moment before he recognized his visitor. The last time he'd seen the man was hours before, his face smeared with camouflage paint. Then he'd been dressed in black, turtleneck and trousers, a dark woolen cap covering most of his hair; now he wore a smart suit, and was smiling in a way that made the short hairs on the back of Illya's neck stand on end. He'd been right, it couldn't be good news.

"So," the man said. "Captain Kuryakin. How is life treating you?" If he'd been expecting Illya to act surprised, doubtless he'd be disappointed with the lack of response. "Food okay?"

Illya's stomach chose that moment to rumble, protesting at the reminder that it had been a long time since dinner last night.

His visitor's face darkened a little and he stepped back into the corridor, the door to the cell slamming shut behind him. Illya lay back on the bed, listening to the footsteps as they echoed away down the corridor.

In a couple of minutes the door opened once more: the same man as before but this time he was pushing a small trolley in front of him.

"You'll have to forgive my associates," he said, whipping off the cover from one of the plates on the trolley. "Room service here clearly isn't up to our usual standards of hospitality."

Illya stared at the food for a moment, heedless of the hunger he felt. It could be drugged, spiked with some kind of truth serum so they could discover everything he knew. Except there wasn't much to hide—they already knew who he was, after all, and he didn't have much else to tell them that they might want to know.

"Here," his visitor said, taking the fork from the tray and spearing one of the potatoes on the plate in question. "If you're worried that it's drugged or poisoned or some such." He ate the potato, puffing a little as he did so. "Hot, and not enough salt, but apart from that..."

What could it hurt? Illya pulled the plate towards himself and began to eat, ignoring the way the U.N.C.L.E. agent was watching him. He'd learned long ago that food was more important than anything, that a good agent should never turn down the opportunity to eat since he never knew when it might come again. The regular meals he'd had while a 'guest' of Maximilian Brown had spoiled him a little, Illya scolded himself, making him used to eating at consistent hours.

It wasn't long before the plate was empty, and Illya reluctantly replaced it onto the trolley.

"Dessert?" the U.N.C.L.E. agent asked. "I'm afraid it's apple pie or apple pie. The commissary isn't all that inventive."

This time Illya didn't even give him a chance to taste it first, taking the plate from him without a word and tucking in.

His memory supplied him with images of how thin this man was under the baggy clothing he currently wore, so the fact that he could inhale a prodigious amount of food without seeming to draw breath amused Napoleon greatly.

"If you've finished," he said, as he watched Kuryakin replace the plate which had formerly held a large slice of apple pie back onto the trolley, "we have some things to discuss."

Kuryakin's eyes were watchful, wary, and Napoleon decided he couldn't blame him at all.

"We know who you are," Napoleon continued, taking a seat at the other end of the pallet. He couldn't help smiling to himself as Kuryakin put as much space as possible between the two of them while making it look like he was merely shifting to try to find a more comfortable position. "Captain Illya Kuryakin of the Soviet navy, also of the KGB."

"And if I am?"

It was the first time Kuryakin had spoken since he'd come to the cell, the accent just as Napoleon remembered it. He probably should have realized what nationality the man was when they'd first met, even though his English was excellent.

"Then we have an offer for you," he said. "U.N.C.L.E., the organization for which I work. You've heard of it?" Kuryakin nodded, the merest terse movement. "My boss has been in contact with your Supreme Soviet and they've given you to us."

"I see." To say that Kuryakin didn't sound pleased would be an understatement. "For what purpose?"

He hadn't considered the possibility that Kuryakin might turn them down, or think he had that option. Not that he really did, and Napoleon was sure they both knew that.

"I've seen your dossier," he said. "You have an impressive reputation, Captain. All the more reason you'll fit right in here at U.N.C.L.E."

"Am I still a prisoner?" Kuryakin asked, looking pointedly up at the supposedly-hidden camera in the juncture of the ceiling and wall.

"No, of course not." Napoleon began to wonder when he'd started to lose control of this conversation, if he had ever had it. "I just thought it would be easier to explain things here."

"Here, where I am reminded of the tenuous grasp I retain on freedom?" Kuryakin's voice was cold, the words more a statement than a question. "Where I am reminded that I can be returned to the Soviet Union at any time, should I fail to please my new masters?"

"I can see there's little I can say that will persuade you," Napoleon said. "In time, I hope you'll see this organization isn't like that."

He got up from his seat on the pallet, making a performance of brushing down the wrinkles that had appeared on his trousers, all the while covertly watching Kuryakin out of the corner of his eye. Who, he discovered, was watching him, though not quite as covertly. Napoleon filed that particular piece of information away for further consideration.

It would not be such a hardship, Illya told himself.

Waverly would be another matter, that would take all his self-control, but the old man didn't seem to notice him at all, other than to throw barbed comments in his direction. Napoleon Solo, however, his 'partner,' would be a different story.

He'd seen Solo watching him, as covertly as he could manage, his crisis-honed instincts warning him of the surveillance even when he couldn't see what his partner was up to: telling him that Solo was looking at his ass, perhaps imagining what the two of them could be doing together, if they weren't engaged in Illya learning all there was to know about U.N.C.L.E., whether he liked it or not.

It was interesting as an exercise, learning about the organization to which he now belonged, even if only as a contrast to the KGB. Life had been simple there, no complexities of moral systems or philosophies, the only tenet blind obedience to those above you in the service of the Soviet Union. It was comforting in many ways, yet terrifying in others. It relieved the individual KGB agent from the burden of choices, but relied on the incorruptibility of those in the higher ranks. Which, of course, was one assumption too many most of the time.

Illya had played by the rules, then allied himself with Petrenko and risen through the ranks on the basis of that alliance. Privately, he'd thought the colonel a self-important boor, but that was an opinion he'd kept to himself. Publicly, Illya had done whatever he was bid, regardless of how he liked it—he wondered if Petrenko knew of his opinion and chose to send him on the missions he did as some bizarre punishment. It was a twisted enough possibility to be the truth, since the colonel was well aware how little Illya liked the role he'd so often been forced to play.

Not for the first time, when he'd been assigned to infiltrate Thrush by allowing himself to be fucked on a regular basis by Maximilian Brown, Illya had regretted his heritage, the genes that made him a slightly-built blue-eyed blond.

The unexpected outcome, of course, had been that Illya had ended up in New York, working for U.N.C.L.E.

He didn't know what Napoleon Solo wanted from him, and that was a source of frustration. Working for Petrenko was easy—the colonel told him what to do, and Illya did it to the best of his ability. If things went awry, Illya dealt with the situation and then explained himself afterwards. Here, working with Solo, it seemed he was expected to play a full part in the planning of missions. Waverly would assign them a task and then it was up to the two of them how that task would be accomplished.

Even though Solo had recently, he'd proudly told Illya when detailing the various levels in U.N.C.L.E., been made Chief Enforcement Agent, he expected Illya to be equally involved in that planning. Though it was all theory at present, since he'd not been allowed out of U.N.C.L.E.'s New York HQ since he'd been brought there by Solo a few weeks earlier. Soon, he was sure, they'd be heading out on their first mission as a team, and Illya wasn't completely certain how he felt about that.

Another day, another dingy hotel room.

Napoleon sighed as he dropped his suitcase by the bed, then turned to check out the room. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Illya doing the same, taking his own section of their shared room and examining every light fixture, every piece of furniture, utterly in accordance with U.N.C.L.E. criteria. He was suitably impressed.

"All clear," he said, when his sweep of the room was completed.

"I also have finished," Illya said, moments later, as he busied himself with his case.

Napoleon didn't need to look to see what Illya had brought with him. He'd been there when his partner had requested a variety of items from the quartermaster; he'd also been there at the armory when Illya had collected his U.N.C.L.E. Special. This was the first time they'd both been out of U.N.C.L.E. HQ as a team, and so far so good.

"Do you want the first shower?" he asked, trying to be magnanimous. He had no idea of Illya's routine, of the way he liked to do things, and a good part of their first mission was likely to be focused on learning how they both worked, together and separately.

"You do not mind?" Illya asked, glancing across at him.

"Be my guest," Napoleon said, before turning his attention to hanging up his suit jacket. Within moments Illya had gathered what he needed and scurried into the small bathroom, closing the door quietly behind him.

What seemed like only moments later, Illya emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, one towel wrapped around his hips, another hiding his head as he toweled his hair vigorously. Since Illya couldn't see he was watching, Napoleon took the opportunity to observe his partner, and decided he liked what he saw. In his mind's eye he was comparing what he saw now to when they'd first met, the paleness of Illya's skin familiar to him now, the bruises that were no longer there.

Had Illya done what he did willingly? Napoleon had to wonder, with the stories he'd heard about the KGB. It wasn't as if he could ask his partner—well, he could ask, but he might not live long enough to get a reply.

"I left you some hot water," Illya said, when his head emerged from the towel. His hair stuck out in a dozen directions, making him look even younger than he previously appeared. Napoleon's mouth was suddenly as dry as dust, and all he could do was nod and then make himself gather up his washbag.

In the steam-filled bathroom, Napoleon forced himself to take a few deep breaths, as he wondered just how he was going to get through this. It wouldn't do for him to have to go back to Waverly and ask for another partner, not after the old man had made it so very clear how important the success of this first Russian agent was to both him and U.N.C.L.E. as a whole.

Except if he couldn't control his reactions, it was likely Illya would be the one asking for a new partner.

He could tell by the way Illya was moving that his partner had been more badly beaten than he was admitting. His usual grace, that economy of motion Napoleon had admired since first watching him work out in the New York HQ's gym, was missing, replaced by a hesitancy that made Napoleon ache sympathetically just watching.

Napoleon watched in silence as Illya peeled off his sodden clothes, wincing as the evidence of the ill-treatment Illya had received was revealed. He was already bruising, one long mark across his back where he'd been hit by a plank of wood or something similar, numerous fist and boot marks on his sides and stomach.

"You should shower," he said, turning to his bag to retrieve the small first aid kit he always carried. Illya nodded, disappearing into the bathroom without a word—after a moment, Napoleon could hear the water running on the other side of the door.

He'd been close to losing his partner, first mission out. Waverly would not be pleased. They'd been separated, each taking their own objective, but something had gone terribly wrong with their plans. Napoleon had ended up both setting the explosives to destroy the research labs and rescuing his partner. Who didn't seem overly pleased to see him.

He supposed Illya was embarrassed, considering the wealth of experience he brought with him from his time in the Russian navy, let alone working for the KGB. Napoleon had no idea of the circumstances of his partner's capture, but the bruises made it clear Illya hadn't gone easily.

His clothes looked ruined, Napoleon decided, crossing to where Illya had dropped them and nudging them with an exploratory toe. There was enough blood and dirt encrusted into them to give the black material a reddish-brown appearance—if they'd been turned away by the hotel concierge when they'd returned, Napoleon wouldn't have been at all surprised.

By the time Illya came out of the bathroom, Napoleon was sprawled on his own bed, reading the room service menu with a considering eye.

Illya's face was expressionless as he emerged, one towel slung loosely around his hips, another across his shoulders. The fist and bootmarks appeared even more livid than before.

"I've got some painkillers," Napoleon said. Illya just scowled at him, so he didn't bother to get them out. "You realize that Waverly won't be pleased," he continued, laying the room service menu down beside him. "We did achieve our mission, but I'm sure he didn't plan for you to get pulverized along the way."

Illya's face didn't change, but his eyes became even bleaker.

"I see," he said. He crossed to the bed, one hand almost absently rubbing at his damp hair with the towel around his shoulders. "Is this your way of telling me you will give me an unfavorable report?"

"Well, you did get yourself captured first time out," Napoleon replied, watching his partner intently. He still wasn't all that good at reading him, though he prided himself on being a quick study. Illya was an enigma still, though Napoleon had seen enough of his abilities that he was determined to understand him.

Illya nodded without looking round. He leaned over the bed, pulling one of the pillows free of the bedspread and placing it in the middle of the mattress. The towel around his shoulders joined the pile of clothing on the floor, then the towel around his hips followed it. Napoleon found himself almost mesmerized, watching the play of muscles in Illya's ass as he climbed onto the bed. All the images he'd tried to suppress, the detailed imaginings of his libido in action, came flooding back just then, making him react despite his best intentions.

"Go ahead," Illya said, after a moment. His words startled Napoleon back to awareness, breaking the fascination of watching his partner's naked body sprawled out across the bed. "If that is your price."

It took a moment for the words and their meaning to sink in. Illya had pulled the pillow into place, shoving it beneath his hips in order to raise his ass, and now spread his legs. The meaning of that particular gesture was clear, clearer than Illya's words had been, requiring no time to consider.

"You've got it all wrong," Napoleon said, his mouth dry.

"Have I?" Illya asked, looking across at where Napoleon lay on the adjacent bed. He stared pointedly at Napoleon's groin, where the evidence of his arousal couldn't be hidden.

"Some days I get a hard-on when the wind changes direction," Napoleon said, as he shifted uncomfortably. "I was not expecting you to... to do this in exchange for a favorable report to Waverly."

Illya watched him for a moment and Napoleon tried to maintain eye contact, even though it felt as though his very soul was being examined. Illya's eyes were still bleak, hopeless, and any doubts Napoleon might have had about his partner's desire to do the things he'd done in the service of the KGB were quashed forever. It was about survival, pure and simple.

Whatever it was Illya saw, it clearly satisfied him. He nodded, looking away, as he clambered off the bed. Napoleon looked away, picking up the room service menu once more to give his partner a chance to collect himself.

"Steak okay with you?" he asked after a moment, daring to glance round. Illya had replaced the towel around his hips and was picking up his disheveled clothes. "This place doesn't look like it has much of a choice."

"Whatever you're having will be fine," Illya replied, disappearing back into the bathroom.

He stayed in the bathroom as long as he could. Illya splashed cold water on his face, hoping that would deal with the unfamiliar burn of embarrassment that currently marked his face. He hadn't read a situation that wrong in a very long time; when combined with his unprecedented need for rescuing earlier on, this was shaping up to be a very bad day.

It was more than possible Napoleon could report him to Waverly anyway. That his actions just now had compounded his failure, making him even more vulnerable to his partner than he had been before. This wasn't a situation Illya was familiar with, having mostly worked alone—the dynamics of partnership were something he'd never given much consideration to as a result.

Partners, he'd been told on joining U.N.C.L.E., were supposed to back one another up. To rescue one another. To be there to be relied upon. All alien concepts to someone used to a system where the only person you could really rely upon was yourself.

If Napoleon's words weren't a threat or an attempt at coercion, then what were they? He hadn't seemed angry about the fact they'd have to admit what had happened, if anything he seemed resigned to the idea. And Illya had over-reacted, relying on his instincts which, for the first time in longer than he could remember, had guided him astray.

Illya found himself clutching the edge of the wash basin, watching the abraded skin tighten over his knuckles as his hands clenched. He felt so helpless, completely out of his depth, and he had no idea what to do next. The worst part of it all was that Illya was utterly sure, regardless of the motivation behind his partner's decision, that he'd wanted Napoleon to take him up on his offer.

The knock on the door startled him, as did Napoleon's quiet voice telling him their dinner had arrived.

Napoleon couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this uncomfortable around someone. It had taken a while before Illya had emerged from the bathroom, long enough that he was seriously considering attempting to break down the door just in case his partner had done something foolish. He wasn't sure that he knew what Illya might do next, so he couldn't rule it out.

Illya was never the most talkative of companions, and what had just almost happened made him even more reticent than usual. Napoleon found himself lost for a topic of conversation that wouldn't lead straight to what had occurred, at least in his own mind, and so they ate in silence.

He didn't expect any kind of apology from Illya. When he tried to put himself in his partner's shoes, attempting to understand just what had motivated him, he couldn't think of how such an apology might be phrased. For all Illya's past actions in the service of his country, Napoleon's association with him in recent times had taught him that his partner was reticent to the point of being painfully shy.

Illya would probably say he was better with inanimate objects than he was with people.

That reticence made Napoleon wonder, as he finished his steak, just how Illya had coped with the things he'd done for the KGB. Clearly he wasn't uncomfortable about being naked in front of someone else, but how had he really felt about having sex with people who were almost strangers to him? Was it such a casual matter after all that what he'd offered to do for Napoleon meant nothing to him?

Illya had noticed his arousal, and in another scenario Napoleon might have even taken him up on the offer. If he hadn't been so utterly repulsed by the aura of coercion in which the offer was couched.

He could imagine having sex with Illya. He could even imagine making love with Illya, if he tried hard. What he couldn't imagine was forcing Illya to do something he didn't want to do, even if Napoleon only suspected that was the case. That idea made his arousal disappear faster than any cold shower could ever have managed.

In the end, as he pushed his plate away, Napoleon decided the best approach was a direct one. Illya was still eating, spinning out the food in order to have something to do, an unconvincing tactic for someone who could usually demolish food at a great rate.

"About what just happened," Napoleon began, then the words dried up as Illya glared at him.

"The latest in a long line of mistakes," Illya said, dropping his fork onto the plate with a clatter.

"You misunderstood what I said."

"So you have pointed out." Illya shoved his plate to one side, getting up from the small table where they'd both been sitting, their proximity clearly too much for him to deal with. "I believe I shall go to bed."

Was there any point in trying to explain? He watched Illya for a moment as he busied himself with fussing over the worn bedspread. They didn't trust one another enough, and he found he didn't have the words to explain in a way he was sure Illya would understand.

"I'll take a shower," Napoleon said.

He could just crawl into Napoleon's bed. That was one possibility, though such an attempt might well get him shot. Illya turned over once more, trying to find a position that didn't aggravate his numerous scrapes and bruises in order to get some sleep.

There was always the chance that his partner hadn't meant what he said, that this was some kind of test. A test he'd signally failed, if he'd read the rejection he'd received wrongly, if he should have been more subtle in his approach to Napoleon. Should he have pretended some kind of feeling for his partner?

Illya couldn't deny his own attraction to Napoleon, even though the thought of having sex with him both intrigued and repulsed him in equal measures. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt any kind of arousal because of someone else, or interest in another person that wasn't by express command of his superiors. A loyal agent of Mother Russia wasn't allowed such luxuries.

It wouldn't be so bad, would it? Even in the short time he'd spent at U.N.C.L.E.'s New York headquarters, Illya had been aware of his partner's reputation. It was likely that were Napoleon even half as talented a lover as the rumors made him out to be, that Illya would enjoy himself a great deal—more than he'd done in longer than he could remember.

Except now he'd always wonder if Napoleon would feel obliged to him somehow, if his actions would always be associated by his partner with the abortive offer he'd so rashly made him only hours before. If he could persuade Napoleon to have sex with him in the first place.

The most annoying aspect of the whole situation, Illya decided, as he turned over again, was that he wanted Napoleon. Perhaps it was the novelty of being wanted to some extent by someone he found attractive, someone he was coming to trust. Perhaps it was the fact that he wasn't used to being turned down by people he offered himself to. That rejection was becoming more and more galling with every passing minute.

As was the fact that he could hear Napoleon's quiet and steady breathing and Illya was pretty certain that his partner was asleep. Illya scowled at Napoleon's heedless back, envying him his ability to sleep and wishing once more he hadn't been taken captive earlier. Or that he'd taken his partner up on those painkillers he'd offered.

Perhaps then he'd be able to get some sleep and escape, at least for a little while, from the realization that had just struck him. The realization that he wanted to have sex with Napoleon Solo and that he couldn't think of any way it was ever likely to happen now.

Illya had been just as uncommunicative the following morning, Napoleon remembered, as he sat down to write his report for Waverly. He paused for a moment, looking at the blank sheet of paper and wondering just where to begin. It wouldn't be fair to make it sound like Illya had been out of his depth—Napoleon wasn't convinced he himself wouldn't have fared equally badly had their situations been reversed.

His mind kept returning to the hotel room afterwards, to the odd scenario that had played out there, rather than the mission itself. At the time, Napoleon was sure he'd done the right thing, turning Illya's offer down, but as the hours passed he was becoming less and less sure of that. Illya had disappeared down to the laboratories the moment they'd set foot in HQ, without even a parting word.

Did he perceive Napoleon's rejection of his offer as something more than what it was? He'd struggled to find the words to turn it down in a way that didn't make it seem like he was repulsed by Illya himself, but Napoleon wasn't sure he'd succeeded in that. If circumstances had been different, he reminded himself, he'd have been flattered, would have taken Illya up on his offer in a heartbeat. Anything to stop the mental images that moved in procession through his brain, fueled by the sight of his partner naked, spread out across the bed in invitation.

Concentrate, he told himself, as he began to write their report. In the future, if their partnership had a future, Napoleon had already decided he'd make Illya carry his weight where the paperwork aftermath was concerned, but he couldn't bring himself to do so this time around. Though he had every intention of making Illya read the report before Waverly saw it, if only to prove he'd never intended to include anything but the truth.

If Illya would believe him, if he'd take this as proof the situation wouldn't arise in the future. If there could be trust between them.

"Here," Napoleon said. Illya looked up, startled, from what he was doing as papers were shoved in front of his face. "My report."

Illya took it, wondering just what he'd see there. He couldn't believe Napoleon would include the details of what had almost happened between them in the hotel room, but he couldn't be sure until he read it. Napoleon had moved away and was now pretending to study one of the wallcharts nearby.

Illya read the report quickly, scanning through it once, then returned to read it a second time, with more concentration on the details.

"You don't mention I was captured," he said, putting the papers down on the table in front of him. Napoleon turned, his expression almost worried. "There will be medical reports."

"We succeeded in our mission," Napoleon said. "And we're both alive and ready for the next one. That's all that will count."

"I see."

He didn't see. Looking down at the report once more Illya wondered if this was just another one of those things he'd have to get used to. The latest in a long line of differences between here and the way he'd worked before.

"It's not like that," Napoleon continued. When Illya looked up, his partner was almost standing over him, but his expression had changed to a tentative smile. "If you hurry," he said, "we'll have time to get some lunch before the old man summons us."

Obediently, Illya's stomach rumbled. Napoleon's smile widened.

"I would like that," Illya said, and found the words weren't far from the truth.

Soon, Napoleon couldn't remember a time when he and Illya hadn't been partners. The weeks had passed, one mission blurring into another, the bad guys and innocents all cut from the same cloth, the only constant his partner's reassuring presence.

The next time, it had been Napoleon that needed rescuing. He'd refrained from making an offer to Illya, unsure how such an off-color remark would be taken, but he'd been sorely tempted to turn the tables. Illya wouldn't even accept his stumbling thanks, Napoleon's own unfamiliarity with gratitude for being rescued making him falter over the words.

Illya seemed more at ease with him, certainly much more than he was with anyone else. Back at HQ, if other agents were around, Illya would make whatever excuse he needed to disappear, heading down to the sanctuary the laboratories provided. Sometimes he didn't even bother with an excuse—Napoleon would look around from conversation and discover his partner had slipped away.

It didn't bother him. In fact, if anything, it reassured him—he was the only person Illya seemed to trust, even a little, and Napoleon was surprised to discover he liked it that way.

He couldn't forget the offer Illya had made. Every time he went to touch himself, Napoleon found that image there before his mind's eye—his partner's perfect white ass, legs spread in invitation. It was a compelling image, a guilty pleasure he used over and over again to bring himself to satiation when no willing company was available.

Except that he wished it hadn't happened. Because then, Napoleon had convinced himself, perhaps something else might happen between them. Something that wasn't about obligation, or gratitude for rescue, or coercion of any kind. Something about trust and consideration for another person's needs. Something more than what he already had, something he'd been searching for and had never found—something equal and reciprocal.

Something Illya's actions back in that dingy hotel room had placed utterly out of the question.

He wondered if Napoleon noticed what he was doing. If he did, his partner never said, never commented on Illya's only spending time with him, only standing close to him, on his avoidance of physical contact with anyone else if he could possibly avoid it.

If he noticed, Napoleon wasn't objecting. The casual touches, the proximity, none of it were commented on. They still shared a hotel room, the situation a testament to Waverly's campaign against wastefulness, and Illya used that fact shamelessly.

He didn't walk around naked, since there was no way Napoleon would have put up with that. But he did ensure his partner got an eyeful of what was on offer. He looked after Napoleon if he was injured, insisting on giving him a backrub after one particularly vicious beating he'd received; he bandaged his partner's wounds, tended him when he was sick. In short, Illya was the perfect partner, and he knew it. He'd worked at it hard enough.

They'd become a self-contained unit, him and Solo. Illya had heard the gossip, moving at its usual speed around the corridors of HQ, the comments on how he and Napoleon were joined at the hip. It only encouraged him to try harder, to acclimate his partner to a level of reliance on him that Napoleon would otherwise have disdained, if he'd realized what Illya was doing, or if he didn't like the end result.

If other agents turned up in their shared office, as they often did in order to consult the CEA on some mission or other, Illya would disappear. Sooner or later, Napoleon would notice his absence in a way his presence wouldn't have been noticed—he left a vacuum, a space when Napoleon might turn to him for support on a disputed point, or for a more objective opinion. As if he'd go against his partner anyway.

Napoleon had commented on it a couple of times—he'd called his partner 'Houdini,' a reference Illya had been forced to look up, one that had caused him to smile to himself when he found who Napoleon had likened him to. But the comment had been jocular, more a fond 'this is what my partner is like' response than anything else.

They were growing reliant on one another; Illya recognized that. At first it had alarmed him a little, that strong streak of independence running through him making him instinctively feel such reliance was a bad idea. But Napoleon hadn't seemed worried by it, had seemed to consider it a natural outcome of their partnership, and so Illya had tried to relax.

They were probably already too reliant, if the truth were known. So far Waverly hadn't said anything. Illya had watched him carefully, watched those perceptive eyes watching the two of them. But that didn't mean he never would—the old man knew much more of what went on in U.N.C.L.E., Illya was sure, than anyone gave him credit for.

Time, and the greater familiarity that had grown between them, hadn't reduced his desire for Napoleon either. In a way, Illya had hoped his coming to know his partner better would have taken the edge off that interest, but that was one thing it had signally failed to do. He was glad Napoleon hadn't accepted the offer he'd made, knowing now that would have been a short-lived liaison at best, but he couldn't help wondering how he could bring matters to a head between them.

The rumors were still rife around HQ about Napoleon Solo, each new name another notch on his partner's bedpost. Yet none of the rumors were vindictive, none of them spoke of Napoleon as cruel or thoughtless, just made comment on his transitory interest.

And Illya had no intentions whatsoever of being just another one night stand.

He hadn't come that close to being killed in longer than he could remember. Napoleon was used to bullets zinging off brickwork by his head, inured to the intensity of a firefight, accustomed to how it felt to run from a building that was about to explode. None of those gave the same adrenaline buzz he was suffering now, or left him with the shakes this way—at least not since he'd been a wet-behind-the- ears rookie agent.

Illya, of course, had taken one look at him and known exactly what was going on. The expression in his eyes had told Napoleon that, as had the firm grip his partner had taken on his sleeve, as he helped push the last few pieces of rubble off of what remained of Napoleon's suit jacket. He'd come close to being buried alive, caught by the desperate act of the last Thrush soldier to leave the building they'd been sent to investigate. Some sixth sense had made him turn, made him yell at Illya to get out, but he hadn't been fast enough to escape himself.

He'd been convinced he'd be crushed to death, huge chunks of concrete slamming to the ground either side of him, sending up a cloud of dust which threatened to choke him where he lay. And when he'd discovered he couldn't move his legs, Napoleon had started to panic, another throwback to his rookie days.

Illya had been there with him almost before the dust had settled, a fierce intent expression on his face. He'd found himself watching his partner's hands, scraped by the rough edges of the rubble, as they left bloody fingerprints on the concrete he moved aside.

"Don't try to move," Illya said. Napoleon stifled a laugh, which swiftly turned into a cough. He could already feel his breath coming in gasps, sounding harshly in his own ears, and he tried to take some solace from Illya's calmness. It didn't work.

"My legs," he rasped, spitting out concrete dust when he spoke.

Illya's face didn't change, but his eyes did—Napoleon found himself fascinated by them, watching the emotion his partner usually tried so hard to hide laid bare there for anyone to see. If there had been anyone there but the two of them, that is. Finally he was free, half-turning where he lay to watch Illya manhandle the beam that had trapped his lower body.

"Here," Illya said, extending a blood and dust-covered hand to help him up. "There is feeling in your feet?"

There was, now. Pins and needles as the blood returned to his extremities, and Napoleon was grateful for Illya's assistance to stand. He nodded, not trusting his voice, adrenaline and a sense of the close call he'd survived warring inside him to unsettle him to the extreme. The shakes intensified, made him tighten his grip on Illya's hand—until then Napoleon hadn't realized he still held it, and Illya had made no sign of noticing either.

"Shhh," Illya said, his free hand resting on Napoleon's shoulder tentatively. "You are fine, my friend."

"This is stupid," Napoleon grated. He hated this, hated it with a passion; he understood his partner's hatred of overt emotions, for once in his life, feeling laid bare in a way he didn't like. Illya shook his head, his hand tightening on Napoleon's shoulder.

"Not stupid," he replied. "Your body, it wants to survive." He looked at Napoleon then, his eyes shuttered for a moment before they changed. "When I was a recruit..." he began, then stopped. "No, we should go."


"It is nothing." His hand slid down from Napoleon's shoulder, grasped his wrist through the shredded fabric of his jacket. "We should go."

"Not till you tell me what you were going to say," Napoleon said, though the words quivered a little even to his own ears.

"Very well," Illya said. "If we were—the phrase is 'keyed up,' yes?—we would help one another." His hand came free of Napoleon's wrist, made a universal gesture that couldn't be misunderstood.

"Oh." Napoleon considered it for a moment, feeling his other hand still warm in Illya's, abraded fingertips rough against his wrist. "We shouldn't. Not after..." He couldn't bring himself to say the words, but there was no chance that Illya wouldn't understand him.

"No." Illya began to move, heading for what used to be the door.

"Did it help?" Napoleon asked, as he forced his shaking legs to obey him, to follow Illya from what was left of the Thrush records department.

"Could it hurt?" Illya asked, without looking at him.

That was the question, wasn't it? By making the offer he'd made, weeks before, Illya had already changed what existed between them—he'd added that component to their partnership, whether they included it or not. The thought of Illya doing that for him made Napoleon's mouth even drier than the concrete dust had managed.

"Would you?" he said, suddenly, before he could change his mind. He stopped, fully cognizant of the picture he must make—the usually immaculately-dressed Napoleon Solo, suit ruined, covered in dust and grime, asking his partner for this intimacy in the middle of a demolished building.

Illya had stopped in his tracks at the question, not looking round. When he did move, turning slowly, his face gave nothing away.

"No pressure," Napoleon added. "In case you were wondering."

That got a response, that small smile he'd become so familiar with, the one he tried so hard to get from Illya. Recognition of what had happened before, but also recognition of how far they'd come in the past weeks.

"Close your eyes," Illya said, letting go of his hand. Napoleon felt oddly bereft, his hands dropping to his side as Illya moved to stand behind him. He could feel Illya's breath on the nape of his neck, that sensation making him shudder like the left-over adrenaline, but for a completely different reason. "Try to keep breathing," Illya continued, as Napoleon felt his partner's fingers move to his fly.

Any concerns he'd had about not being able to respond were driven away the moment Illya's hand was inside what remained of his trousers.

"Breathe," he told himself, as he felt his body react. What small part of his brain was still working wondered whether Illya had bothered to wipe his hands free of blood and dust before he went to work, but that small voice was soon drowned by the sensations Illya's fingers wrought.

He was talented, there was no doubt about that, those long agile fingers as skilled in playing with Napoleon as they were across a keyboard. The roughness of Illya's skin made Napoleon hiss, the calluses on his palm driving him closer to the edge than he'd thought possible in such a short space of time.

Napoleon felt his hips move, as his body tried to encourage Illya to further action, then Illya's free arm crossed his body, pulling the two of them together, pressing his ass into Illya's groin. He felt the soft chuff of breath in his ear as the collision occurred, liking the idea he was affecting his usually unflappable partner.

Then it was over, two more strokes from Illya's hand, before his softened member was gently replaced into his trousers. It took a moment for Napoleon to catch his breath, grateful for Illya's arm holding him in place, the deceptive strength of the shorter man more than adequate to the task.

"Better?" Illya asked, the word almost whispered into his ear. Napoleon nodded. Better hardly covered it, but it would do for now.

It was almost too easy. The smallest of white lies at the right time and Napoleon had fallen for his offer; he'd only needed to choose his moment and adapt his technique accordingly. Illya would have smiled to himself if he hadn't been concerned that his partner not learn he'd been played like a fish on a line.

Not that he hadn't enjoyed himself, bringing Napoleon to gasping climax in the middle of what was left of the place they'd been supposed to search. And if he concentrated on that, Illya could ignore the feeling of terror that had ripped through him when his partner had told him to run, then he'd watched as the building came down around him.

For a few short moments, moments that seemed to stretch on into infinity, Illya had been as certain as he could be that Napoleon was dead.

He'd surprised himself with how that made him feel. It had been years since he'd felt that kind of pain, long-buried by other memories now, an emotion he'd ruthlessly shoved aside in order to ensure his own survival. He'd been frozen to the spot for a moment, stricken by that sensation of loss, before his instincts and training had combined to force him to search for Napoleon.

So, it was better if he thought about what had happened afterwards. That way Illya could pretend he hadn't wished it had been him in the building and not his partner. That was foolish, the weakness of emotion, not worthy of him. Except he wasn't sure any more what he was or wasn't supposed to feel—he was torn, Illya knew, between the KGB and U.N.C.L.E., hardly comfortable now in either world.

Better to concentrate on the ground he'd made with Napoleon, the leverage he'd obtained over him by what his partner had allowed him to do for him.

Much better.

It was only afterwards, when he was in the hotel bathroom removing the remnants of his suit and wondering what Waverly would say about yet another expense claim, that Napoleon began to wonder if he'd done the right thing in allowing Illya to bring him off. In the cold light of day, unaffected now by adrenaline or the relief of survival, it looked horribly like a less dramatic version of what Illya had offered before. Even if Napoleon had stated there were no obligations on either side, would Illya see it that way?

His partner was currently in the other room, reporting back to HQ on the fact that they'd nearly both been blown to kingdom come. He didn't have to listen in to ensure Illya didn't talk about what had happened between them. In the same way he hadn't told Waverly what Illya had offered him, there was no chance Illya would talk about their encounter in the demolished building—he might even gloss over having to dig his partner out of the rubble as well, if Napoleon was lucky.

Napoleon looked at his reflection in the mirror, unsure whether he recognized the man he saw there. What had he been thinking, taking Illya up on his offer? He'd been right the first time round, rejecting his initial proposition because of what it might lead to, only to allow himself to be led by his dick like a teenager. And for what? The chance to get rid of some adrenaline, to celebrate still being in one piece. The chance to feel Illya's hand on him.

He was well and truly out of his depth where Illya Kuryakin was concerned, and the sooner he admitted that to himself the better. He'd wanted Illya's hand, wanted more than that, and it had taken almost dying to allow him to admit it to himself. And now he wanted more.

Once Napoleon had indulged himself with thoughts of what might have been, but as time had passed he'd realized the futility of those thoughts. Wanting couldn't change the decisions he'd made, or rewrite the pages of the history he'd helped write.

If he'd stayed in the army after Korea, or done just about anything other than join U.N.C.L.E., like his mother wanted, who would he be now? He couldn't believe he'd be the same person without the things he'd experienced, the people who'd influenced him. The other paths he could have taken stretched out before that impossibly-naive young lieutenant like a spider's web of possibilities.

And what of the people he himself had influenced? The lives he'd saved, the lives he'd taken—even Illya, when Napoleon had made that split-second decision to bring him back for questioning. How different would Illya Kuryakin's life have been if Napoleon Solo had never walked through the door at Del Floria's?

Napoleon had made a point of not asking his new partner about the things he'd done in the service of the KGB, but they hadn't been working together long before any misapprehension he had about Illya being a completely willing participant in those kind of missions evaporated completely. Both their lives had changed forever, it seemed, because of that encounter, only it had taken longer for Napoleon to realize that was true for himself as well.

It wasn't a comfortable thought, after all, for someone as independent as Napoleon had always prided himself on being, to discover that his destiny was so closely entwined with that of someone else.

He couldn't change the things he'd done, not even the most recent decision to allow Illya that intimacy he now almost regretted. What he could do was ensure anything that happened between them was reciprocal, his only defense against whatever it was Illya had planned. His only hope was that Illya wasn't solely doing this to gain some sort of advantage over his partner now, when Napoleon thought he'd already made it clear that kind of thing wouldn't work with him, and that there was something more personal behind his actions.

He'd expected a change in the atmosphere between them, after what he had offered and Napoleon had accepted. More so than the previous occasion, since this time Napoleon had taken him up on his offer, rather than looking horrified at the mere concept.

Of course, one man's hand was as good as any other. Was that what had been wrong before, that he had been too precipitate, had offered too much too fast? Illya couldn't be sure, but somehow he didn't think so.

It took him a little while to figure it out, but when the pieces all dropped into place it was obvious. Even in the short time they'd been partners, Illya had been witness to numerous occasions of the Solo charm in action, but it was utterly different to be the focus of that charm, rather than a moderately disinterested observer. It was like being at the center of the universe, or like a bug under a microscope, one of the two. It left him feeling uncomfortable and exposed and many other emotions he hadn't experienced in longer than he could remember. Petrenko, for all his devilish plotting and scheming, never made him feel this way.

And what could he say? He could hardly tell Napoleon to go pester someone else, no matter how much he might wish to. If that were the case, which Illya wasn't sure it was. Because a small part of him liked being the center of attention. He liked being the one Napoleon sought out at HQ to eat lunch with, or having his partner turn up at the end of the working day and drag him out for dinner.

It was still refreshing in its novelty, he supposed, and ultimately Napoleon would tire of him and move on to someone else.

Except, after almost two weeks of this, his partner was showing no signs of fatigue. Illya was starting to become twitchy, looking for reasons to try to persuade Napoleon that he really needed to carry on working on some experiment or other. He was starting to tire of the enforced closeness, the intimacy that made him feel even more uncomfortable than he'd expected, the heated glances thrown his way across Waverly's circular table.

They were headed for a showdown. That was the only possible way this could end.

Illya prided himself on his self-control, years of experience of burying how he truly felt having proved an admirable quality for a secret agent. And Napoleon's attentions were fraying that control, wearing away at him like the steady dripping of water on a stone. The worst part of it all was that he both loved and hated every moment of it.

He'd wanted something more from his partner but now Illya had the chance of the real thing, it all was too much. It was one thing to fantasize about being with Napoleon, having some kind of relationship with him, rather than being just another one night stand, but the reality was different than he'd thought.

If he was feeling charitable, Illya could convince himself that Napoleon's attentions were evidence that his partner cared for him, that their casual encounter in a demolished Thrush records building had sparked something in his partner's heart. If he was feeling antipathy to the idea, he could only assume Napoleon was attempting to play him like he'd already played his partner in that very action.

He wasn't sure which option he hated more. Would it be worse for Napoleon to truly care about him, or for everything to be an act? He couldn't risk the former, it created too many difficulties for both of them. The latter he hated even more, the cold calculation necessary being acceptable for a Kuryakin to exhibit but a loathsome concept for a Solo.

He'd only had to concentrate his attentions on his partner to put Illya almost permanently off his stride. Napoleon was ardent, committed in his pursuit, determined in his onslaught on Illya's defenses against him. He knew it aggravated his partner when he interrupted something scientific for mere bodily needs like regular meals, so he made sure he did it on a regular basis. On a couple of occasions Napoleon had been sure he saw something like the light of panic in Illya's eyes before that familiar amused and cool expression dropped back into place.

There was more than one way to conquer Russia. In that endeavor, at least, Napoleon intended to be more successful than his namesake.

Now he just had to figure out when to make his move. The optimum moment when Illya would go along with whatever he wanted, when he could prove to his obstinate partner that whatever this was between them, it wasn't about leverage, or one person gaining advantage over the other. That it was about shared pleasure, shared experiences, shared desires.

All things at which he was an expert. Or at least, Napoleon reminded himself, he wasn't someone used to getting complaints about his performance, or criticism at his lack of consideration. Not that he was exactly thinking about seducing Illya the same way he set about seducing whatever woman caught his eye—this was different. Despite his predilection for dangerous women, there was something even more dangerous about the idea of dallying with Illya Kuryakin's affections if he hadn't been completely serious about the matter.

Though it was likely Illya would take some persuading, once he got over the shock of being the object of Napoleon's attentions. All in all, he was looking forward to the challenge.

"Enough," Illya said without looking up, his head in his hands.

Napoleon paused in his litany of the things he had planned for them to do that evening, Illya's words breaking through despite their quiet tone, as he'd intended. He'd gone along with things so far, allowing himself to be chivvied into accompanying Napoleon back to his apartment, against his better judgment, but his tolerance for Napoleon's attempts to run his life had finally run out.


"What are you doing?"

"Well," Napoleon said, "I thought I was telling you I'd managed to get tickets for that play you wanted to see, what do you think I was doing?"

And that was the question, wasn't it? He had no proof of Napoleon's intentions, no evidence that this concerted effort to drive him to the end of his tether was anything other than what partners were like.

He'd seen members of other partnerships in the time he'd been with U.N.C.L.E., observed the kind of co-dependence that some partnerships seemed to thrive upon, so he could be over-reacting, couldn't he? Except he doubted those other partners had been themselves attempting to gain some kind of leverage over one another by the use of sexual acts. That was hardly likely to be in the U.N.C.L.E. handbook under the relevant section.

He'd put himself in this position, by the things he'd done and the decisions he'd made. How could he complain if Napoleon was using his own tactics against him? He couldn't help wanting him, despite his own better judgment, despite everything, so Napoleon's actions now were a bitter-sweet torment.

"Having your revenge on me," he said quietly, hearing the way the words dropped into the silence between them. "For what it's worth," Illya continued, "I apologize for my actions."

An apology a day late and a dollar short, as no doubt Napoleon would shortly remind him.

"You have nothing to apologize for," Napoleon said.

"No?" He looked up, discovered Napoleon was watching him and looked down once more, studying his shoes as he considered what to say next. "Then what is all this? This... charade? This pretending you're interested in me."

More than he'd meant to say, that was certain, though Illya didn't regret the words much. His self-control certainly had slipped more than he'd thought.

As seduction scenes went, this one left much to be desired. They were both tired, Illya was patently annoyed with him and he himself was a little confused. Napoleon's instincts told him to press his advantage, but a small voice at the back of his mind warned him of the dangers of pushing Illya too far. He was a little worried how much that voice sounded like Kuryakin himself.

If Illya was still laboring under the misapprehension that he was anything other than utterly serious about him, Napoleon knew his first objective was to set him straight. In a manner of speaking.

"What makes you think I'm pretending?" he asked, knowing the wisdom of staying just where he was during this particular conversation. Somehow Napoleon got the message that closer proximity could prove hazardous to his health. "Illya?"

"This is ridiculous," Illya said, getting up from the sofa. "You've had your joke, Napoleon."

He moved without thinking, placing himself between Illya and the door. There was no doubt in Napoleon's mind that his partner could still leave, but probably not without causing more damage than he hoped he'd be willing to inflict. Probably.

"No joke," he said. Illya had stopped, as he'd hoped he would, just outside arm's reach. His eyes were wary, the expression so familiar from the first time they'd really spoken, in the holding cell so many months ago. "I never joke about things like this."

Frustration and confusion were replacing wariness in Illya's face as he spoke and Napoleon's instincts made him tense a little at the heightened atmosphere between them.

"I see." He knew by now that was Illya's way of giving himself a chance to consider before he committed himself. "Then you are serious." Napoleon nodded, still watching his partner's face. This wasn't quite how he'd envisaged things going, but he was still hopeful for a positive outcome. And at least Illya hadn't tried to twist him into a pretzel. Not yet, anyway. "You wish to take up my original offer?"

Napoleon sighed. Full circle. It looked like that particular scene would always be between them. Should he have acted differently? Where would they be now if he had? Would they be standing here, having this kind of conversation? Would they even still be partners? He had no idea.

"That wasn't what I had in mind," he said, hoping Illya would appreciate his honesty. "I prefer my relationships to have a little more give and take than the kind you seem to be used to."

There was silence as that sank in. He thought he could see the moment when Illya understood him written in his partner's eyes, even though his face didn't really change.

Suddenly Illya didn't seem to want to look at him, didn't seem to know what he wanted.

"I'll see you at HQ tomorrow." Napoleon stepped away from the door. "Go on," he said, when Illya paused. The door closed quietly behind his partner and Napoleon wondered whether he'd done the right thing after all in letting him go.

Illya wasn't completely sure how he'd managed to find his way back to HQ, only that his instincts had told him to seek sanctuary there rather than in his own apartment. In some ways, the two places were alike—his apartment was provided for him by U.N.C.L.E., after all—but this was at least somewhere he was minimally in control of what happened.

And that control was something he desperately needed, now more than ever.

He'd thought Napoleon devious but hadn't realized the depths of what he was planning to do. His partner's quiet words had turned Illya's world upside down, whether he believed them or not.

If he believed Napoleon to be telling the truth, if that were possible, then he wanted more from Illya than he thought he was able to give. If Napoleon was lying, then he was far more subtle than Illya had ever given him credit for, knowing just where Illya's weakness lay and exploiting it ruthlessly. He didn't want the latter to be true, no matter what the alternative cost him.

He didn't sleep that night, his thoughts too restless to allow it, choosing instead to fuel himself with coffee and look forward to the following day. Waverly had already told them they would be leaving on a mission, and Illya could only hope that action would prove an adequate distraction for his partner, giving him something else to think about other than how best to utilize his seduction techniques.

The thought of sharing a hotel room with him filled Illya with something akin to dread. Illya found himself wishing for any alternative, even a simple courier job that would allow him to put some time and space between him and his partner.

Napoleon seemed his usual cheerful self when he arrived at their shared office, but Illya was certain he looked thoughtful. He didn't mention how rumpled Illya doubtless looked, or the fact he was still wearing the same clothes as the previous day, and for that, at least, Illya was grateful.

Having given the matter more thought, he couldn't believe Napoleon was anything other than utterly serious. Which possibility terrified Illya more than almost anything he could think of. On further reflection, he'd discarded the possibility Napoleon was playing some kind of subtle mindgame with him as being out of character for his partner—they might not have been working together all that long, but he knew Napoleon Solo well enough to be convinced it just wasn't his style.

"Come on," Napoleon said, the words startling Illya from his thoughts. "It won't do to keep Waverly waiting."

With that he was almost out of the door, leaving Illya scrambling in his wake, forcing him to snag his jacket with one hand as he followed his partner and struggle to put it on as he hurried down the corridor.

To say Illya's feathers were ruffled would be an understatement. That had been Napoleon's first thought on entering their office, only to find his partner already there, still dressed in the same suit he'd been wearing yesterday. A sure sign that, last night, he'd come back to HQ after their little contre-temps, rather than heading home.

Time now, though, to concentrate on work, rather than on the delightful subject of just how he'd like to ruffle Illya's feathers even more.

Illya was by his side as they reached Waverly's office, that calm façade in place once more, and Napoleon had to work hard to suppress a smile at the sight of it. Now he knew it to be a façade, that was, not a true representation of the man himself. It was nice to be one of the few people who knew Illya better than that.

He'd have to tread carefully, though. One false step and Illya would doubtless react badly—if last night's events had taught him anything, they'd taught him that.

The mission briefing was all he'd expected it would be; yet another Thrush plot that threatened to destroy civilization as they knew it, another madman with an equally insane idea that had to be stopped in a ludicrously short space of time. Same old, same old. Napoleon didn't bother to look at Illya as Waverly outlined what he wanted, knowing just what expression of competent ruthlessness he'd see on his partner's face. Much the same as the one he himself projected, he supposed, minus the ready charm.

Not that Illya couldn't be charming, if he wanted to be, Napoleon had no doubts about that. It was just that most of the time he couldn't see the point of it. Blunt honesty seemed to be his preferred tactic, which was one of the reasons Napoleon had been so blunt with him the previous night—he hoped Illya appreciated the irony of the situation.

"Good luck, gentlemen," Waverly said, his words signaling the end of the briefing. Napoleon got up from his seat, picking up the dossier that lay in front of him, and headed for the door. Illya was there, beside him, as he always was.

He couldn't remember what it was like before Illya, not now. He'd had other partners—Waverly hadn't approved of him working alone though he himself had preferred it—but there hadn't been any with whom Napoleon had clicked quite like he'd done with the irascible Russian. And there certainly hadn't been any he'd wanted to pursue, wanted to bed, wanted more from than reliable back-up and a good line in conversation on a boring stake out.

Somehow he wasn't sure Illya would believe him if he told him that.

"So," he said, as they reached their office once more, "want to bet Waverly's only arranged one room for us again?"

Illya's look was enough to answer him, cold enough to leave frostbite on him if he'd allowed it to. They both knew the old man's parsimonious ways, even if Illya hadn't been working for U.N.C.L.E. all that long.

"I promise your virtue is safe with me," Napoleon said, sitting down at his desk once more.

Virtue? That was a joke, it had to be. Illya was under no illusion that Napoleon didn't know exactly what he'd been doing for the KGB for the past six years before his sudden acquisition by U.N.C.L.E. He had no virtue left to fight for, even if he'd wanted to. Even if he hadn't come to the conclusion that he'd put up no struggle where Napoleon Solo was concerned. Even if that very thought didn't annoy and frustrate him.

But he didn't have the words, that was the problem. The words that would tell Napoleon just what he really thought of him, that would drive some kind of wedge between them sufficient to make his partner understand that he wouldn't be treated that way. That perhaps Waverly had made a mistake in partnering them, hoping against all hope that partnership with Solo hadn't been one of the conditions of his tenure with U.N.C.L.E.

"Must you persist in this ridiculous..." The words turned to ash in his mouth as he caught sight of the expression on Napoleon's face. "I see."

"We have a mission to complete," Napoleon said. "And that comes first."

Chastened, Illya nodded, but he couldn't deny to himself that he was pleased with Napoleon's attitude. At least this way they could ignore whatever it was that was developing between them, at least until after the mission was over. And as for what would happen then, he could only hope they'd both be alive and unharmed enough for that to be an issue once more.

He turned his attention back to their mission dossier, somehow managing to ignore any further thoughts of his partner and the possibilities of what might lie between them as he did so.

Of course, Napoleon reminded himself, as he ducked the shards of stone created by another ricochet, there was something to be said for not planning ahead. It had been such a good idea, Illya's response to it had told him that for certain, that he'd known pressing his advantage with his partner was best deferred till after the mission was over.

Except that hadn't accounted for the possibility that he and that self-same partner, currently wearing his tie as a tourniquet to prevent him bleeding to death in short order, might not be around to do anything of the sort.

"Lie still," he hissed to Illya, inching towards some kind of vantage point on the Thrush soldiers who had them pinned down. He didn't look at Illya—he didn't need to—the litany of muttered Russian curses was enough to tell him his partner was still conscious and still furious.

It had been his fault, after all, or that could easily be considered to be the case.

He'd been the one who'd decided where their attempted break-in to the plant would take place, ignoring the dour look Illya had given him and choosing not to ask Illya just why he had that particular expression on his face. His mistake, and, given the chance, not one Napoleon planned to make again.

He let off a couple more shots, pulling back quickly with a smile on his face at the cut-off cry from one of their assailants.

This time he did look at Illya, whose face was even paler than usual under the camouflage make-up, a dark wool cap covering his hair except where a few strands had escaped. Napoleon curled his fingers into his palm, gripping his gun tighter, rather than give in to his urge to tuck those strands back. That wouldn't help either of them right now.

"Anything?" he asked. Illya nodded. "How long?"

"Thirty minutes," Illya replied. "Maybe longer."

They had no choice. They'd have to hold out till back-up arrived, or else who would Waverly get to scowl at because they'd botched this particular mission?

"Right," Napoleon said, turning back to keep watch. He could hear Illya moving a little behind him, but didn't turn around.


Illya's voice came from beside him. He didn't jump, didn't even twitch at his partner's proximity, and for that, at least, Napoleon was grateful. The last thing they both needed, if they were going to survive this, was for him to cast any doubts on how much he trusted Illya. He glanced round. Illya's U.N.C.L.E. Special was shoved into his free hand.

"Let me at least load your gun for you," Illya said. "Since I seem to be of little use otherwise."

Napoleon handed over his weapon reluctantly, changing Illya's gun to his usual hand as he tried to accustom himself to its unfamiliar weight. He was sure it was a fraction heavier than his own Special, and the grip felt strange, much rougher, perhaps because of its relative newness.

"We'll be out of here soon," he said, ignoring the way Illya snorted at those words.

By the time the medics had ensured he was floating on a cloud of morphine, the makeshift tourniquet his partner had furnished replaced with a proper one, Illya was starting to wish they'd got themselves out of the jam they'd been in. Even if the rational part of his brain kept reminding him how unlikely that was, the prospect was better than having to listen to the gloating tone in the voice of the agent currently talking to his partner.

As if Henderson could measure up to either of them. They'd been unlucky. It happened sometimes, even to the best of agents.

"How're you feeling?" It was Napoleon's voice and Illya made himself turn to it, forcing his eyelids open even though they felt like lead.

"I am fine," he said. Was his voice slurred, or was that his imagination? "I would be better if Henderson would shut up."

Napoleon laughed.

"I'll see you back at HQ, partner," he said, patting Illya gently on the shoulder.

The words were on the tip of Illya's tongue but they remained unspoken. He didn't want Napoleon to leave him, that sudden desire hitting him like the morphine had, making his head spin. He chided himself for the weakness—he could only blame it on the loss of blood.

The next time Illya opened his eyes he was in Medical.


It was acceptable, wasn't it, for one partner to ask after another? Illya was sure that was within the remit of partnership, as understood by U.N.C.L.E. Anyway, at the moment, he wasn't sure he cared either way.

"Right here." Illya turned his head far enough to see Napoleon sitting by the bed, a magazine on his lap. "I know you're not a morning person, my friend," he continued, "but this is ridiculous."

Illya tried to sit up, tried to ignore Napoleon getting up from his seat to help him, firm hands assisting him.

"I am quite capable..." he said.

"Humor me," Napoleon replied, not removing his hands. "After all, it isn't often I get to manhandle you in public." Illya felt his face redden. "Or in private, for that matter," Napoleon continued, his voice much quieter. "Yet."

"You need not think," Illya began, then caught the amused look on Napoleon's face. He wouldn't rise to the bait. Nothing was worth that. "Thank you for your assistance," he said, hastily. "It is much appreciated."

Napoleon nodded, still looking amused. Much like the cat who has the cream, Illya decided, wondering if he really liked being the subject of that amusement. After a moment's thought he decided he didn't really mind. It was better than the alternative, after all.

Napoleon found he was quite enjoying the separation, if only because it heightened the pleasure he got from the time he spent with his partner. Illya had been sent home to recuperate, told to rest and eat regularly, and Napoleon was making sure he did just that. In the end, their brush with death hadn't been as close as it could have been, with Henderson and his fellow agents turning up in the nick of time, but that didn't stop Napoleon thinking about it.

It wasn't an idea that sat well with him. Napoleon couldn't stop thinking about what might have happened, about the possibility of Illya dying because of something he did or didn't do. He'd been playing with Illya, intrigued by the challenge of getting his partner to open up to him, never taking seriously what the repercussions of that might be for both of them.

Illya was becoming used to the idea of Napoleon just turning up on his doorstep—in fact, Napoleon wondered if he was becoming accustomed to the concept of their spending time together once more. Certainly, while he still complained about taking time off work, the one thing Illya didn't complain about was his partner's solicitude. All of which gave Napoleon hope that Illya wasn't running scared from what he fully intended would happen when his partner was back to full health.

This evening, he'd stopped off to pick up pizza on the way over to Illya's, reasoning that if he turned up with food he'd be even more welcome. Illya answered the door, his bare feet padding across the threadbare carpet as he left the door swinging open to turn back to whatever it was he was doing before Napoleon arrived.

"I come bearing gifts," Napoleon said, shutting the door behind him with one hand as he balanced the pizza box with the other. "Illya?"

"In the kitchen," Illya said. "You'll find plates."

Out of the corner of his eye, as he headed into the kitchen to do as he was bid, Napoleon saw Illya emerge from his bedroom, pulling on a sweater to cover the shirt he'd been wearing when he opened the door.

"Is there anything to drink?" he asked, hearing the sofa complain under Illya's sudden weight. Napoleon had seen the way Illya treated that sofa, so he wasn't surprised it always sounded like it was about to collapse, the slightest amount of weight on it causing the wood to creak loudly.

"There should be beer. You brought some yesterday, didn't you?"

Napoleon smiled as he rummaged in the fridge. Somehow Illya didn't sound like he minded his partner visiting, but it appeared he was more offended by the idea of being inhospitable enough that Napoleon had to bring his own alcohol.

"Are you allowed alcohol yet?" Napoleon removed one of the bottles from the fridge, then paused with his hand on the door, waiting for Illya's answer.


"That means vodka later, after I go?" Napoleon asked, the silence that followed his question giving him the answer he'd expected. He closed the fridge door, picking up the pizza as he headed into the living room.

Illya didn't look round from where he was sitting.

"Here," Napoleon said, pushing a piece of pizza into his partner's hand before sitting down on the sofa beside him. "The sooner you get well, the sooner you come back to work."

Illya looked at the pizza—it reminded Napoleon of the expression he'd seen on Illya's face when he was studying something particularly interesting through a microscope. He took a mouthful of his own pizza to prevent laughing out loud. Something told him that would be a reaction Illya wouldn't be too happy with.

"I am already well," Illya said. He looked at the pizza once more, then took a healthy bite from it, before demolishing it in a couple of mouthfuls. "The doctors at U.N.C.L.E. are too cautious."

"That's what you think," Napoleon said, shoving the plate towards Illya so that it scraped across the coffee table that stood in front of them both. "Here."

"This pizza is disgusting," Illya said. Napoleon noticed his opinion didn't stop him from taking another piece. He'd had better pizza himself, certainly, but that was another matter completely. "I cannot believe the doctors forbid me from drinking alcohol yet condone me eating this kind of thing."

"And I can't believe," Napoleon said, as he put the half-eaten slice of pizza back onto the plate, "you're pretending you give a damn what the doctors think. But regardless of that, until they say you're fit enough for full duties, then you're out of action."

Illya snorted again, a sound Napoleon had become intimately familiar with over the time they'd been partners. It covered a multitude of expressions, but was most often used as a scornful response to something or other. Since he shared his partner's view of the Medical section's overly-cautious attitude towards Enforcement Agents, he couldn't find it in himself to disagree.

"I am fine," Illya said. "And I'll prove it to you." With those words, but with no other warning, he shoved the last small piece of pizza into his mouth and moved suddenly across the small space between the two of them.

The lack of activity was making him twitchy. He wasn't used to it—the KGB certainly didn't coddle their agents the way U.N.C.L.E. did, preferring to throw them back into the fray as soon as they were even minimally ready. That was his only excuse, and in hindsight Illya wondered whether that was an excuse that would work.

The element of surprise worked in his favor, allowing him to pin Napoleon back against the arm of the sofa, briefly at least. His partner's body was solid and warm and so very real beneath him, his eyes wide with surprise. Other parts of his body were reacting too, Illya discovered, as the two of them were pressed together, parts of Napoleon's body that reminded him suddenly of all that had passed between them previously.

Napoleon didn't struggle, didn't speak, his silence giving Illya ample time to consider his alternatives. He could make light of this, try to pass it off as a result of his pent-up energy, or he could take advantage of it and see what happened. He'd been expecting something to happen between them, and that something had then been delayed by his being injured.

It only took Illya the briefest of moments to realize he was reacting too, reacting to the closeness he'd not experienced for quite a while. As much as he'd hated what the KGB asked him to do, at least it gave him an outlet for his own desires, an excuse to express them one way or another. An outlet Illya hadn't had for a number of months, something he hadn't expected to miss.

"If you're planning any more surprises," Napoleon said, "could we move somewhere more comfortable?"

It was the matter of fact tone, the obvious lack of surprise in his partner's words now the initial shock had dissipated, that spurred Illya into action. He backed away, immediately missing the sensation of Napoleon's warmth beneath him, even as he mentally back-tracked to see how he'd arrived at this strange destination. It wasn't that he'd forgotten all that had passed between them, more that his instincts had taken over, making him react in a way he would never have done given a chance to think about it first.

He decided he didn't like the expression on Napoleon's face as he watched his partner straighten his jacket, frowning a little at the wrinkles Illya's over-eager hands had made in the sleeves.

Napoleon got up from the sofa without speaking, and headed, not for the apartment door as Illya expected him to, but into the bedroom.

That had been a pleasant surprise, Napoleon decided, as he began to remove his clothes. Not one he'd been expecting from Illya, though in his wildest fantasies his often-stoic partner had turned into a passionate lover who'd swept him off his feet in the most over-blown of romantic encounters. Usually that kind of imagining made him laugh, even more so when he thought about recounting it to Illya.

Though he'd moved quickly, he'd expected Illya would be right behind him, but it took a few seconds for his partner to move from the sofa. Napoleon was already removing his pants before he saw Illya standing in the doorway out of the corner of his eye.

"What are you doing?" Illya asked. He didn't venture in, just stood there, a puzzled expression on his face.

"What does it look like?" Napoleon asked, as he dropped the last of his clothing onto the neat pile on the nearby chair. He was conscious of Illya's gaze, feeling the weight of it, conscious of his own nakedness as he'd never been on the countless times they'd shared a hotel room, or showered together in the gym at HQ.

"This is not necessary," Illya said. He still hadn't moved from the doorway and Napoleon wondered if he was hanging onto the doorframe for support, even as he climbed onto Illya's bed.

"Isn't it?" he asked. It took a moment to get the pillow just where he wanted it, leaving him feeling even more exposed than before, if it was possible to be more exposed that being utterly naked. "It was this kind of offer," he continued, "that started all the problems between us."

"That is an over-simplification."

He didn't answer, chose not to argue, just closed his eyes.

Illya wondered if his fingers were leaving dents in the wood of the doorframe as he watched Napoleon carefully position himself on the bed. Not that he was in any mood to pounce on his partner, no matter what an enticing picture Napoleon made naked and sprawled there. The world had turned upside down, it seemed, so there had to be something Illya could hold on to, even if that something was the doorframe.

"Do you think that's what I want?" Illya heard himself ask. He was amazed how normal his voice sounded, how steady despite the way his heart was currently attempting to hammer its way out of his chest.

He'd taken a couple of steps into the room, almost without noticing.

"Isn't it?" Napoleon asked, as he opened his eyes. He might have looked relaxed, even lying there with his legs spread, but his eyes told a different story to anyone who knew him. Illya's stomach did a slow steady roll at the expression in those eyes, the look of resignation there. His partner was prepared to do this, if it was the right thing to do.

"No." His voice was a little too loud for the confines of the room.

"It wasn't what I wanted either," Napoleon said, his gaze unwavering.

"I know that now," Illya said. It was as close to an apology for what he'd done as he ever intended to get. "I don't want that from you. But it's all I know."

He'd never talked about what he did for the KGB. Illya knew Napoleon had read his dossier, the first time they'd met he'd been in another man's bed after all, but he wondered how much of the reality of it Napoleon understood.

"I'm sure we can do something about that," Napoleon said, rolling over onto his side. "Get over here."

He moved hesitantly into reach, then Napoleon's hand took hold of his sweater, pulling him closer, pulling him down onto the bed beside his partner. Illya didn't resist, how could he?

There was a small part of him that wasn't sure he trusted Napoleon, but the resignation had fled from his partner's eyes, replaced with a devilish enjoyment that boded well for both of them.

Napoleon was already half-hard, even as he seemed to be concentrating on removing Illya from his clothes. Illya felt himself respond at the sight of Napoleon's arousal, wincing a little as his partner's unexpectedly cool hands slid under sweater and shirt to reach warm skin. Where Napoleon's hands went they left a trail of fire behind them, the quirk of his partner's mouth and the twitch of interest from other areas showing this wasn't all one-sided.

"Let me do that," Illya said, half-sitting to pull off his sweater and drop it unheeded next to the bed. Before he could lie down once more, Napoleon's mouth was on his skin, following the path laid by his hands across Illya's torso.

"Lie back," Napoleon said, lifting his head to meet Illya's eyes. That devilish expression was still there.

For once in his life, where his partner was concerned, Illya decided to do as he was bid.

He had to admit it had been a calculated risk. Once the opportunity had presented itself, with Illya showing some kind of interest in him and being well enough to enjoy this without ending up back in Medical, Napoleon had known in a split-second what his next move should be. Illya wasn't an innocent, someone he could sweet talk into bed, or a dangerous Thrush like Angelique, who'd delight in trying to best him.

As he'd suspected, Illya had been working from limited experience. He'd made an offer that was linked to his survival, before Napoleon's advances had left him with no frame of reference to work from. Sex for any other purpose than the extraction of information was an unknown for his partner and that was a lack in his education Napoleon intended to correct as soon as he could.

If Illya didn't choose just to take him up on what he was offering.

Napoleon had been willing to go through with it, if he had. It wouldn't have been the first time he'd been on the receiving end, though he didn't have all that much experience. He didn't expect that Illya would be rough with him—Napoleon considered himself a good judge of character and somehow he couldn't see that streak of malice in his taciturn partner.

And if it was what Illya needed, what better reason could he require? Though he couldn't lie to himself and say he wasn't glad when Illya refused that, particularly when his level of trust in his partner was so amply displayed by what he had chosen to do instead.

He'd had no intention of coercing Illya into anything; that really wasn't Napoleon's style.

Illya was tentative, his face still worried, even as Napoleon concentrated on removing his clothing. Or at least enough to allow himself access, his hands insinuating themselves under Illya's shirt to skim across the muscles hidden there. His partner might be shorter than him, and seem slighter, but what there was of him was compact muscle.

His hand brushed across the bandage on Illya's arm, the only reminder of how close they'd come to disaster on their last mission together. Napoleon knew he couldn't allow himself to think about that, not now, or he'd be distracted by it. He glanced at Illya's face but his partner's eyes were closed, an expression of almost rapture changing him back to the sullied innocent he thought he'd seen in Brown's bed so many months ago.

It wouldn't take much to please his partner, that much was clear from his response already, but Napoleon had no intention of leaving him just satisfied. He intended much more than that, meant for Illya to become reliant on him, meant for the experiences they were about to share to become addictive.

When had that changed for him, Napoleon wondered. When had this become more than just a challenge and turned into something more important?

"Lie back," Napoleon said, as his hands made short work of the fastenings on Illya's pants, then skimmed them off his legs. His underclothes were already distended, tented by the erection Illya didn't even try to hide, his hands too busy gripping the bedclothes as Napoleon turned his attention to his partner's arousal.

He didn't give himself time to think, didn't give his partner time to realize what he was about, freeing Illya's erection and taking it into his mouth within a matter of moments. Illya's eyes snapped open at the sensation, though they took a moment to focus. Napoleon wished his partner could see himself, lying back on the bed like a debauched angel, eyes wide as Napoleon turned his every attention to taking him to the brink of climax and no further.

Though he was rusty, out of practice, Napoleon was confident he could do this forever, keeping Illya poised at the edge of losing control, before pulling him back over and over. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Illya's hand, gripping the bedclothes so tightly the skin across his knuckles turned white, and he could hear the hesitant sounds Illya was making.

Encouragement? A plea for mercy? Napoleon couldn't tell.

Illya had encountered few in his service of the KGB who'd been at all interested in whether he received any pleasure from the experience they shared. He hadn't been there for his own gratification, he'd been there for whatever information he could extract or to provide blackmail material that could be used later. As a result, as he'd admitted to Napoleon, his experiences had been somewhat limited.

He'd given enough blow jobs in his time, but rarely been on the receiving end. Napoleon seemed to know exactly what he was doing, providing supporting evidence for the rumors that flew around HQ concerning his proficiency as a lover. Except that he didn't seem to be keen on the idea of Illya coming any time soon.


Was that his voice, that pathetic half-whispered plea? He felt Napoleon's answering chuckle, the vibrations pushing him infinitesimally closer to the edge. Not close enough though.

Illya freed one of his hands from its death grip on the bedding; his fingers insinuated themselves into Napoleon's hair, disarraying it from its usual well-ordered state. As he did so, Napoleon let his mouth slide from Illya's erection, leaving it glistening with saliva, his eyes dark with arousal. Illya swallowed nervously at the expression he saw there, the uncharacteristic lack of control from his usually urbane partner.

"Turn this way. Onto your side," Napoleon said.

His hand rose to rest on Illya's arm, fingers brushing the bandage there once more. Illya's eyes followed Napoleon's hand. He'd almost forgotten he'd been injured, except when an ill-considered movement made him remember. Certainly he hadn't remembered before now, not when all his concentration had been focused on the pleasure his partner was giving him.

Illya did as he was told, his erection aching for the touch of Napoleon's hand, or for the return of his mouth.

"Patience," Napoleon continued, lying down in front of him so they were close together, Illya's tumescent cock pressed against Napoleon's ass. Having so often been the other side of this position, or ones very much like it, Illya wondered at this new sensation.

"I don't..." he began. This wasn't what he wanted—hadn't he already turned down that particular invitation?

Napoleon laughed, before shifting slightly on the bed so that his thighs trapped Illya's cock between them. Illya hissed at the movement, the friction causing his erection to harden even more.

"Just relax," Napoleon said.

In hindsight, he shouldn't have been surprised by it. Napoleon realized now that he should have put the pieces together more accurately than he had—Illya was experienced in some ways but utterly naive in others. There would be things his partner had experienced, things he had gone through that Napoleon didn't like thinking about, yet to other sensations and experiences he was as innocent as a newborn.

The head of Illya's cock pressed hotly against his perineum, the length of Illya's body equally pressed against his back, his arm only now coming tentatively round to pull Napoleon yet closer still. As if he still feared rejection from the man who'd brought him so close to the climax he clearly desired.

At least he'd begun to thrust now, and Napoleon went with the movement, relaxing into Illya's embrace as his partner moved. He felt himself harden, closing his eyes as Illya's experienced hand closed around his erection, coaxing him ever closer to satiation as well.

Illya's hot breath fanned across the nape of Napoleon's neck, feathering the short hairs there. After what seemed an eternity, Illya's rhythmic thrusts seemed to falter. Napoleon felt the hot pulse of his partner's emission, the sudden sensation helping to push him over the edge alongside Illya.

When he opened his eyes, what felt like hours later, the only sound he could hear was their rasping breath. Illya was still wrapped around him, the hand that had brought him off having slid to Napoleon's hip, the warm solidity of his body still pressed against Napoleon's back.

He'd wondered if Illya would stay, or whether these new experiences would make him leave, a strategic withdrawal in order to consider what had happened and how to deal with it.

"What happens now?" Illya's voice was very close to his ear, the words almost whispered as a result yet still loud enough to be heard.

He wanted to turn in his partner's embrace but somehow Napoleon knew that would be a bad idea. If Illya was trying to make sense of what had happened, there was no point in making him unnecessarily uncomfortable about it all.

"I don't know what you mean," Napoleon said. Illya's arm shifted slightly, as if he was about to move away—he rested his hand on his partner's arm, keeping him in place, for this conversation at least.

"We are partners, yes?"

"Of course." To Napoleon that seemed an obvious response, one he didn't even need to think about. He could feel the tension in Illya's arm as he spoke, muscles tightening under the skin where his hand rested.

"Do partners always do this?"

He couldn't help laughing, though there was always the chance Illya would misunderstand him. Napoleon thought of the others he'd been partnered with, for weeks or months until Waverly had decided it wasn't working out.

"No," he said. "Not all partners do this."

"I see." There was silence for a moment. Napoleon was certain if he listened hard enough he'd be able to hear his partner thinking. "This will change things between us."

Illya sounded disappointed at the idea, a reaction Napoleon hadn't expected but had to admit to himself he was delighted by.

"It doesn't have to," he said. Napoleon hoped that was true—only time would tell, he supposed. "Our choice."

"And if I choose not to repeat what has happened here?"

Napoleon didn't realize his grip had tightened on his partner's arm till he heard Illya hiss—he had to make an effort to relax his hand, to swallow past the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him at that possibility. He'd tried hard to ensure that wouldn't be a decision Illya would want to make, but he knew there was no way he could force his partner into anything.

"It has been most enjoyable," Illya continued, as if nothing had happened. "And I believe there is still much for me to learn."

Illya's embrace tightened and Napoleon let his hand slip away.

He'd underestimated how much his life had been turned upside down by Napoleon Solo and the organization for which he worked. How much things had really changed for him since working for the KGB, and how much he himself had changed.

Illya closed his eyes and tried to sleep, not wanting to let go of his partner, not even for a moment. A ridiculously melodramatic gesture, but he couldn't think what else to do or say. Napoleon had been affected by his words, he couldn't ignore that, by the implicit decision his almost-innocuous question had posed.

Not that he'd ever believed Napoleon would force him to do anything he didn't want to, not once he'd come to know his partner better than when they'd first started working together. It was a miracle that his initial misjudgment, his considering Napoleon by the same standards he would once have applied to Petrenko, hadn't destroyed what he now valued so much. Luck, for once, had been on his side, he supposed.

He wasn't used to trusting anyone, to being able to rely on anyone, either personally or professionally, so this was all new. In more ways than one, Illya was exploring unknown territory.

But at least, it seemed, he wouldn't be doing so alone.

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