Qu'est-ce Que C'est

by ChannelD

The blond young man struggled against the hands holding him down. They were big hands, and powerful, and the young man was slim, and weak from prolonged starvation, thirst and exhaustion. But still he struggled, because to stop struggling was to die.

He was going to die anyway. He knew it - had known it since waking up in this dark, windowless place. His death was written in blood - literally. `Die' `Die now' `You will die' and other assorted, similar sentiments were scrawled across the stone walls of his prison. He had seen his death in the pile of discarded clothes, tossed into a corner of the cell. He had wondered fearfully at them - so many of them! - but had not been left to wonder for long.

"These are from the last boy I picked up," the killer had whispered in his ear as he held a pair of torn blue jeans. "And the one before that," tossing the jeans back onto the pile, "and the one before that. When I tired of them, when they stopped being exciting to me, I threw them away. So whatever you do, boy ..." he lifted the young man, bound hand and foot with duct tape, and tossed him onto the wooden plank set up on sawhorses. "Don't bore me."

So he had struggled for as long as he could, but now he couldn't anymore. And as the hands closed around his throat, for what he somehow knew would be the last time, he looked pleadingly into those cold brown eyes. "I'll make it quick," the man said soothingly as he began to move on him. "It's more than you deserve, but I'm in a hurry to find your successor. So it will be quick."

His lips moved in a silent `thank you' and then the blackness took him down.

Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo looked at the picture on the screen. It showed a smiling blond man, a young man, college age perhaps. He was holding a tennis racket and a towel was draped around his neck. "Jack Withercroft," Waverly said. "And this ..." another picture replaced the first. "Is also Jack Withercroft."

"Seriously?" Napoleon leaned closer and stared at the face on the screen. The hair was still blond, but he sported garish eye make-up, and instead of the easy grin he wore an exaggerated smirk on lips thick with purple lipstick.

"And this," Waverly finished quietly, "is Jack Withercroft." Another picture, of a lacerated, bruised and emaciated body, naked, at the bottom of an empty Dumpster, came across the screen. They all looked at it for a moment, then Waverly turned off the viewer.

Napoleon swallowed. He had seen violent death before, of course, but something about the twisted limbs, the gaunt face, hurt him inside. He cleared his throat, but could think of nothing to add. His partner, Illya Kuryakin, was not so reticent.

"I've read about this in the newspapers," he said, and sipped his coffee. "A serial killer, focusing on young men - not boys, but not fully adult either. He abducts them from certain bars, keeps them for varying lengths of time - which have never been shorter than twenty-four hours, and never longer than three weeks - and leaves their bodies in some sort of disposal site. Three Dumpsters, two town dumps, four salvage yards and one automotive junkyard. It's tragic, but hardly our type of investigation. Surely the police -"

"Surely they are," Waverly cut him off. "But the murder of Mr. Withercroft has made it our type of investigation, Mr. Kuryakin, for reasons I will not go into at this time."

Illya frowned slightly, eyebrows coming together in the way he had when he was working something out, but it was Napoleon who spoke.

"Withercroft. Not - related to Sir Sinclair Withercroft?"

"His son. His only son."

"Was Sir Withercroft aware of that particular aspect of his only son's nature?" Illya asked, in what was clearly a reference to the photo of the boy in make-up.

"No." Waverly's face set. "Nevertheless, we have been asked, as a personal favor to the Crown, to investigate this matter. I have agreed."

"All right," Napoleon said slowly. "But why us? I mean, it hardly seems ..."

"Show the next slide," Illya said flatly, and Napoleon glanced at him in surprise. Illya sounded almost angry, and he was looking very hard at Waverly, who looked right back at him and pressed a button.

Ten faces. Ten young faces - some smiling, some grave; some caught in a candid action shot, some carefully posed. And all - all of them - blond, blue eyed, fair skinned and with a certain elegance of feature that would have made any one of them stand out in a crowd.

"Ah," Illya said quietly, and Napoleon exploded.

"Like hell!" he snarled, coming to his feet with a violence that sent his chair over backwards. "Like hell he will! This is ... this is the best field agent UNCLE has, and the best scientist anyone has! Like hell will he go out to be fodder for an insane killer with a fetish! Over my -"


The quiet voice stopped Napoleon mid sentence, and in the ensuing silence Illya went on. "While I am moved by your fervor," he sent Napoleon one of those ambiguous smiles that always made Napoleon's heart rate pick up just a little, for no reason that he had ever been able to understand, "we both know how this is going to play out. Mr. Waverly will say of course he would not force me to do such a thing, meanwhile doing something like putting one of those pictures on the wall again for me to ponder. He will offer to contact `the Crown'" - and how Illya could put those sarcastic little quotes around a phrase with just a curl of his lip and a twist in his voice Napoleon never knew - "and explain that his agent does not think these deaths worth risking his life over. Not to mention the deaths to come. Somewhere some young man with an unfortunate bent is getting ready for a night out on the town, and a killer is hunting him. Well, let him hunt. He may be surprised at what he catches next time."

"Illya, Illya," Napoleon groaned it out. "Do you really think he relies on brute force and my goodness, what a surprise, you'll take him down? Don't you think there is some sort of trickery used, like drugs, or ... or ..."

"I would think drugs," Illya said, steepling his fingers together. "He picks them up in a bar, after all. Something in their drink, then they are dizzy, and only want to sleep it off, and he is oh so kind, oh so obliging. But he's just a crazy psycho killer, Napoleon, not Thrush. He won't recognize me, or you. He's not going to have some elaborate plan, and he has no back-up. He relies on the assumption that these young men will not be reported missing right away - why should they be? They're all adults, legally at least, and are no doubt very careful that their visits to these bars are not known to their nearest and dearest. Our killer is arrogant, and that always leads to carelessness. I'll go in, he'll abduct me, and then - well." The smile Napoleon received now was Illya's best - slow, sweet, with a touch of mischief around the corners of his mouth. "Then it will be up to you."

"Like hell," Napoleon repeated, but there was no force to it now. He sat down heavily. "What makes you think he'll choose you, anyway? The city is full of blonds. Why you? You're too old," he added with a touch of spite. "Older than these ... children ..." he gestured at the blank screen "by a good ten to fifteen years. It's a waste of time."

"You let me worry about that," Illya said. "Mr. Waverly? I assume there is a plan in place?"

"Yes." Waverly lifted his eyebrows at Napoleon. "If you are quite finished, Mr. Solo? Yes? Good. Mr. Kuryakin, we have a list of likely bars where he has not yet struck. He has not, so far, repeated himself although eventually he will have to, or move his operations to a different city. He has always chosen a Friday night - no doubt to lengthen the time frame before a missing persons report is filed. It is now Wednesday afternoon. We would like the operation to begin this Friday - the day after tomorrow. Mr. Solo, I feel confident in placing back-up for Mr. Kuryakin in your hands. Mr. Kuryakin, go down to Section VIII and have them .. er, suit you up. Dismissed."

Napoleon sat in a bar that same night, nursing a drink and sweating. This whole assignment pissed him off, and that he was now sitting in a homosexual bar - for whatever reason - made him sweat. He had assumed that he wouldn't fit in, that anyone looking at him would know him for a plant, or a police officer. He had been prepared for that, to be shown up for a fake within minutes of walking in the door. He had expected heads to turn and eyebrows to rise, had expected to be asked to leave before he had even ordered his drink. Then he could return to Waverly with an `I told you so' and call the damn thing off. He didn't fit in, so Illya wouldn't fit in either. What a shame, and how could they be blamed for being normal? But he hadn't been asked to leave. His presence had been accepted, his drink set in front of him, and although heads had turned it was admiration and speculation he saw, not outraged accusation. They believed he was one of them. They thought he was that way too. In fact ... an older man took the stool beside him and said "Can I buy you a drink?"

"No," Napoleon said shortly, and looked away.

"Well then, would you buy me one?"

"No!" He fairly barked that out, and the man looked hurt.

"All right, you don't have to be so touchy about it. What, am I too old for you? How young do you like them? This is a respectable bar, you know. If you're a chicken hawk take your act down the road."

Respectable? How could that be? And a chicken hawk? What did that mean? It wasn't good, that was clear from the curl of the man's lip. Not knowing how to answer, not wanting to reveal his ignorance, he gave the man a look that made him pale. "Hey, no offence," the man said hastily. "I just thought you looked lonely, sitting here all by yourself. I'm lonely too."

"I am not lonely!" Napoleon snapped back. "Just because ..." he couldn't think of a way to finish that sentence, but fortunately he didn't have to. Illya's voice came from behind him.

"Now Napoleon, you don't have to be rude. What my surly friend means to say is that he's not lonely anymore, because he was waiting for me. Thank you anyway."

"You could have just said you were meeting someone," the man grumbled, but he seemed appeased. He looked Illya up and down, a fast appraisal, and walked away. When Napoleon turned around he saw why.

Illya looked ... unattractive. He was wearing something under his clothes that made him appear overweight. His hair was slicked back and darkened to a dull brown color, and he wore his black rimmed glasses. He also wore a rumpled suit with leather patches on the elbows of the brown tweed jacket; the picture of a college professor trying to discretely get his needs met. He sat beside Napoleon and ordered a beer.

"No vodka?" Napoleon asked.

"No, and not Friday night either. A mixed drink of some sort would be more in character." Illya frowned. "But not here," he decided. "This is a quiet workingman's bar. Not the sort of place our victims would choose. They'll want loud music, and a younger crowd. We'll have to try somewhere else." He took out the list and they consulted it, heads together. Illya put his finger on the fourth one down. "That one," he said decisively. "Greenwich Village is much more likely. Do you think we should meet again, or do you want to go in together?"

"Together," Napoleon said promptly - too promptly. Illya laughed at him.

"Napoleon Solo. Do I get the feeling that you are uncomfortable with this assignment?"

"Of course I'm uncomfortable with it. Sitting around with a lot of ... of ..." he faltered because Illya's eyes had hardened, and the laughter had gone.

"Yes?" he said sweetly - too sweetly. "A lot of what?"

"Well, faggots. Ow!" Illya had taken his hand and bent one finger back so far it nearly touched his wrist. Napoleon yanked it free just as the bartender rapped on the counter.

"None of that," he said. "This is a quiet bar and I like to keep it that way. If you two are going to start fighting or canoodling, take it outside."

"Canoodling!" Napoleon sputtered in outrage, but Illya simply tossed a couple of bills on the bar and walked away. Napoleon hurried to catch up. "What was that for?" he complained, rubbing his finger. "I only said -"

"I heard what you said. Don't say it again."

"All right. I don't think anybody heard me."

"I heard you."

"You asked me. And what's it to you anyway?"

Illya didn't answer. Instead he hailed a cab, and when he got into it he slammed the door in Napoleon's face. Hurriedly, he ran around the other side and got in. Illya had evidently already given the address, because it pulled away from the curb before he even got his door shut. They didn't speak all the way downtown, and the driver dropped them a block away from their destination. "Fuckin' queers," he said as Napoleon paid him, and Napoleon was so startled he was still standing there, mouth open, when the cab left with a squeal of tires. Illya didn't wait, just began walking and again Napoleon hurried to catch up. Illya sent him a sideways look.

"If I didn't know better, Agent Solo, I would think this assignment scared you."

"It scares the hell out of me. What do I say if someone ... oh, no."

This bar was as different from the first as it could be. Loud rock and roll blared from the speakers, the lighting was dim and the crowd young. They danced together; man to man, bodies pressed right up against one another. They kissed, male mouths on male mouths, open and hungering, male hands cupping male buttocks, crotches grinding. The air was heavy with cigarette smoke and another smoke too, sweet and pungent. Illya went to a booth and sat down, and Napoleon sat down across from him. Illya shook his head. "If you do that, someone will think we want company. Come sit by me - unless you do? Want more company?"

"No," Napoleon said and hastily changed his location. The booth was small, and that put him right up against Illya, their thighs rubbing cozily. A woman - no, no it wasn't. A man, with his face heavily made up, came to take their drink orders. Illya requested another beer and Napoleon made his the same. He felt ... he didn't even have words for what he felt. But he didn't like it, this apprehension, this feeling that he stuck out like a sore thumb, this - he moved even closer to Illya.

"Don't leave me, Illya," he said, half laughing, trying to cover up his anxiety. "Whatever you do, don't leave me alone in here."

`I can't believe this. What happened to suave, debonair, unflappable Napoleon Solo?"

"I'm flapped," Napoleon said. "I don't want anybody coming near me or touching me because they think I'm a ..." he stopped abruptly.

"Yes?" Illya took his hand again, toyed with his fingers. "A what?"

"A ... if I say queer is that bad? Are you going to hurt me again?"

"No," Illya said, and let go of him. "You're right. There isn't a nice word for it, is there?"

"Well, it's not a nice thing, Illya. You can't expect - aiyee!" Yes, he had really said - or squealed - `aiyee'! Because Illya had reached under the table and cupped his genitals, squeezing them but not too hard, rolling his balls in the palm of his hand. Napoleon clapped his knees together and jerked away - too far away because he promptly fell off the edge of the seat onto the floor. He blinked up at Illya, who was laughing at him! Laughing so hard he had to put his head down onto the table. Carefully Napoleon got up and sat - on the other side of the table this time, but right on the edge. Anybody who tried to be company would have to physically shove him over.

"Don't you have a nice word for that?" Illya said, and batted his eyelashes at him. "Because I distinctly felt a stirring, Napoleon. What does that make you, if it moved under my hand?"

"I don't know. I know what I'm not."

"Yes. A faggot. You're not a queer faggot. I know. Count the exits, Napoleon. I think this will be it on Friday night. For us, anyway. Whether it will be it for him, I don't know. Set up your plan for however you're going to cover me. Because once he has me, I'll have done my part. You'll have to count me out, and I'll be looking for you to rescue me. Or they'll be pulling me out of some Dumpster or other and you'll have to find yourself another partner. Cheer up," he added in response to whatever he saw on Napoleon's face. "Your next one probably won't grab your dick."

"Or break my finger," Napoleon said sourly, but he looked around, noting exits, noting the layout, feeling more confident as he did his job, the job he knew how to do. "And you can count on me, Illya. I'll rescue you all right."

"Even if I really were those ugly words you've been tossing around all night?"

"But you're not. I know you're not." He did. He had seen Illya with women - or, rather, women with Illya. They hung on him, flirted with him, chased him shamelessly and furthermore that was after he had had sex with them. No homosexual could satisfy a woman the way Illya did. Napoleon was confident of that. But Illya was still looking at him, as if that wasn't a sufficient answer, so Napoleon patted his arm. "Yes. Even if you did happen to be ... that way. I would rescue you."

"Thank you, Napoleon." Illya smiled at him, but it was a sad little smile and Napoleon peered at him, trying to decipher it. "Perhaps we should do a reconnaissance of the whole place."

"All right." He stood and Illya did too and then, to his utter surprise and horror, Illya moved close to him and put both arms around his neck.

"Dance me around," he whispered in Napoleon's ear. "Slowly."

He couldn't argue with Illya's ruse - and when had Illya taken control of this assignment anyway? But it was a good ruse, so he awkwardly put his arms around Illya's back and they shuffled from side to side, swaying to the music, moving first to the kitchen door. "Dip me," Illya said. "Dip me and you can look right through the glass."

Napoleon swallowed and dipped Illya - not so different from dipping a woman although not really like dipping his partner either, not with the extra padding. But he got a good clear look into the kitchen and saw an exit door at the very back. There was another exit by the bathrooms, but when they entered there and saw several stalls, doors closed, and too many pairs of feet under them he felt ill. Walking around the row of stalls to the sink area made him sicker still, because a hairy man was sitting on one of the sinks and a boy - surely underage to be in a bar, not to mention sucking ... Napoleon backed up so hastily he nearly knocked Illya over. Nothing about this appealed to him; it was tawdry, sleazy, dirty - but what else could you expect from ... from ... Illya was right. There was no good word for it. What else could you expect from a pack of damn faggots, he thought, but didn't say. He didn't understand Illya's attitude, but maybe Illya had a friend, or even a brother who was like that. He knew nothing about Illya's family, after all. Maybe ...he was still pursuing that line of thought when Illya said "I suppose we've seen all there is to see here."

"More than I wanted to," he said, and Illya sighed.

"Me too," he said, and followed Napoleon out the door.

There were no taxis around, so they walked towards the subway station. Napoleon was planning his strategy - himself at the bar, another pair of agents dancing, maybe someone in the bathroom? And of course a locator on Illya, somewhere - subcutaneous because it was possible he would be stripped - no, it was likely, don't be stupid. This man who might take Illya would undress him if he could, if he got away from the bar with his victim. But that wouldn't happen, of course it wouldn't. Napoleon would stop them as soon as Illya showed signs of being drugged. That bastard wouldn't put a pinkie on his partner, but one had to plan for everything going wrong and if it did go wrong Illya's transmitter would have to be ... well, subcutaneous. Without leaving a mark - or maybe they could disguise it. With a tattoo. He mentioned this to Illya, who nodded.

"A tattoo is a good idea, Napoleon. Remember, this isn't some brilliant yet disgruntled rocket scientist. He won't be expecting a trap. He thinks the police are idiots, and that no one is terribly interested anyway."

"Why is that?" Napoleon asked as they took seats on the nearly empty train. He moved closer so they could hear one another over the roar and rattle. "I mean, ten victims? And no hue and cry?"

"Ten fags," Illya said tiredly. "Who cares? This last one happens to have an influential daddy or no one would be trying to stop it yet. Ten queers, ten homos, ten ..."

"Stop it. What a horrible place that was. Why would anybody go there?"

"Where else are they supposed to meet? A church social? A pick-up at the office?"

"I suppose not." He had never really thought about it. "But what a way to live. Who would choose that?"

"An interesting question, Napoleon. And the interesting answer is - no one. No one would choose this life. Think about that when you're calling us - them - ugly names. This is my stop."

Us? "So it is." He watched Illya get up, then caught his jacket sleeve. "Illya. I don't know how I've hurt you tonight, but I see that I have. I'm - I'm sorry."

"Thank you, Napoleon."

"Lunch tomorrow?"

"Yes. I'll meet you in the cafeteria at noon." The doors began to close and Illya shoved his arm out, rammed them open. He left without another word, and Napoleon watched him until the doors closed all the way and the train pulled out of the station.

Napoleon dreamed, although he didn't know then that he was dreaming. He was sitting across the table from Illya, in that same noisy bar, although it didn't seem dismal and degenerate to him now, as it had before. It seemed pleasantly raucous and filled with high spirits. The mission was over, successfully ended, although it was funny that he couldn't remember exactly how they had achieved that end. He worried about that, a little, then dismissed it. What difference did it make? What mattered was that they had won. Evil had lost, and Illya was sitting across from him, alive and well and untouched by the darkness they had pursued and vanquished. Illya was talking, and although Napoleon couldn't understand what he was saying - and why was that? Was he speaking Russian? Napoleon didn't care. He didn't care what Illya was saying, only that Illya's eyes were smiling at him, Illya's face was flushed and so dearly familiar - he reached across the table and took Illya's hand, rejoicing when those strong, competent fingers closed around his. Habit made him look around nervously, expecting condemnation, but he saw none. The faces of the other men in the bar were approving and welcoming. He saw Illya put his free hand under the table and shivered with anticipation, knowing just what Illya was going to do, opening his legs to give him easier access. Illya reached under and cupped his genitals, squeezing his balls but not too hard, rolling them in his palm and Napoleon gave a great cry and came.

"Illya!" He jerked awake, panting and gasping with pleasure as his seed pumped from him. "Illya," he repeated, and touched himself, feeling his cock give one final throb. Then he blinked, horror growing. "Fuck," he whispered and felt himself again, hoping that he was wrong, hoping that he hadn't - but he had. The unmistakable evidence was on his stomach, on his pajama bottoms, on his sheets. Illya. He had dreamed of Illya, and come ... what the hell? He scrambled out of bed, ripping off the sheets, stuffing them into the trash can. He tore off his pajamas and jammed them in on top of the sheets. Then he ran for the bathroom and turned on the shower. Hot. Hot as he could bear and a little hotter than that. Then he stood under it, wanting to flinch from the steaming spray but refusing to, watching his skin turn red as he scrubbed and scrubbed, as if that would fix it, as if that would .. he looked up and for a moment he could see Illya, plain as day. Illya, as he had been the day he and Napoleon had drunk too much, talked too late, and Illya had stayed over, sleeping on the fold out couch in the living room. On the couch. Didn't that prove - didn't that show - Illya had slept on the couch that night as he did every time they talked too late, drank too much - together. It happened more often than Napoleon now wanted to admit.

At any rate, that morning they had been jolted from sleep by a summons to headquarters, so to save time they had showered together. So what? Men showered together all the time. He himself had used communal showers in the army, at Survival School, on numerous other occasions. He and Illya had, of necessity, shared much smaller spaces than Napoleon's luxurious stall shower with its two sets of shower heads and two heated seats. So he had showered at one end, and Illya had used the other . At some point Napoleon had looked up to see Illya, head tipped back so the spray washed through his hair and down his back, and for a moment Illya had appeared so very beautiful to him that he had wished himself an artist, so he could capture that beauty, all that white and gold and pink and blue - like a Monet painting. But that didn't mean he was queer for Illya, not at all. He could recognize and appreciate male attractiveness - he had known that Sabine, for example, was a very handsome man - just as he could appreciate a sunset, or a mountain chain against a dark blue sky.

Still, Napoleon turned off the water and hastily got out of the shower because ... well, because. He was clean and scrubbed and it was - two-thirty AM. He groaned aloud but sat down with his briefcase and went over the plan again. He would arrive first, and sit at the bar. Illya would come in about forty minutes later and try to blend in. And they would wait for their man to show interest in the bait dangled before him. If Illya thought he had spotted their quarry he was to come up to Napoleon and flirt with him, getting close enough to give Napoleon his information without arousing suspicion. There would be two men out back, two men drinking and dancing, and another man in the bathroom. Across the street four agents would be sitting in a car in the club's parking lot. How far they would let this go was still undetermined. Ideally they should let him capture Illya, get him into a car or cab and then they would follow, but Napoleon was uncomfortable with that. Too much could go wrong. No, as soon as a helpful stranger began trying to get Illya out of the bar they would pounce. But just in case, the locating device would be injected into Illya's arm, and covered with a suitably aged tattoo. It all seemed foolproof but Napoleon knew too well how many things could go wrong. Still, it seemed that they had covered their bases as well as could be expected.

And maybe their man wouldn't show. Maybe he wouldn't take the bait. Illya's age still seemed to Napoleon to be a drawback. He was youthful looking, true, with that mop of blond hair, that smooth, fair skin, that tight, athlete's frame ... he shifted position, automatically making more room for his penis which was ... oh hell no! He pushed back from his chair and stared at it. Hell no! He got up and went into the bathroom where he masturbated himself to climax while resolutely thinking of women - of Angelique, mainly. He thought of her full breasts, and her narrow waist flowering out to ample hips and buttocks. He thought of her long scarlet nails, which she raked down his back in just the right way at just the right moment. He thought of her red lips, her carefully coifed blonde hair. And he came, but it was sad, somehow. He knew it was sad as it happened, and when he had finished he looked in the mirror and whispered, "Illya?"

Napoleon was sitting at the bar on Friday night. He was wearing his work suit, and nursing a glass of white wine. He found himself very glad that they had made the earlier visit, because not only was the layout clear in his mind, but he no longer worried about being outed as a heterosexual. No one could tell. Why this surprised him he couldn't have said, but it did. It was true that he was older than many of the people on the dance floor, but there were other men his age and older at the bar, in booths, dancing with younger men. He wondered how well Illya would do dropping about ten years off his real age. He wondered what made Waverly think a man fixated on youths barely out of their teens would take the bait of a man in his thirties. He wondered ... and then Illya blew in, and he didn't wonder anymore.

Blew in was the right description, because a gust of wind accompanied him through the door, as if he'd planned it that way and who knew, Napoleon thought, maybe he had. Maybe he had waited for that wind because he knew how it would draw attention to his entrance, how it would ruffle his hair and give him the appearance of some wild storm spirit. Maybe he had ... but Napoleon couldn't think anymore, could only stare.

Illya was in skin tight black leather, pants and jacket. The jacket hung open, revealing a white T shirt that showed every line of Illya's chest, and his flat stomach. The pants clung to him like ... like a lover's hands, cupping his buttocks, surrounding his groin where his cock was plainly outlined against his thigh. His hair sparkled with raindrops in the light and his face was flushed, blue eyes brilliant. He was the most beautiful thing Napoleon had ever seen, and erotic as a ... as a ... Napoleon couldn't think of a comparison but it didn't matter. His own cock was hard just looking at Illya and when he was able to tear his eyes away and look around he saw that everyone was looking at Illya, that just by walking in the door he had drawn all eyes to him.

Without going to the bar, or even sitting down at a table, Illya moved to the center of the dance floor and began moving to the music, unconcerned by the absence of a partner. His eyes were closed , his lips slightly parted and Napoleon realized he had forgotten to breathe for the moment. He gasped, and then a man walked up to Illya, tapped him on the shoulder and began to dance - not with, because they weren't touching, but in front of him. Illya gave him a dazzling smile and put both hands on his waist, pulling him closer. They danced together, and Napoleon watched sharply. Was this their man? He didn't look it, but Napoleon had been told repeatedly during the briefings that their man would not look out of place here, or someone would have remembered him already; that their man was probably ordinary looking. Napoleon looked at him and memorized his face and when he heard the bartender call `Nick!" and the man turned his head, he memorized that too. The bartender waved a piece of paper at him, but Nick turned his back. The bartender swore.

"Fuckster thinks he's blowing off his tab he's got another think coming," he said grimly, and came out from behind the bar. He approached Nick and took him by the arm. Nick was protesting, Napoleon could see that much and he had good reason, because by the time he had given the bartender a banknote and turned around, Illya was dancing with somebody else.

It was hard keeping track. Illya had partner after partner, and Napoleon committed each face to memory. Eventually Illya came over to the bar and sat down beside Napoleon. He ordered a rum and coke, and shook off his jacket, revealing that the white T shirt was wet with sweat and his golden skin showed through it in a way that made Napoleon's dream of the night before return to him with force. Even as he tried to adjust his position on the bar stool to conceal his arousal, Illya turned those blue eyes on him and gave him a devastating smile. Napoleon smiled back, he couldn't help it.

"All alone?" Illya purred, and his eyes went to Napoleon's crotch, where his erection was embarrassingly evident. "Ah." His smile widened. "Is that for me?"

"Yes," Napoleon answered hoarsely. "As a matter of fact, it is. But you have too many suitors for me to take it seriously."

"Suitors?" Illya said, and burst out laughing. It was an infectious sound, and the people who hadn't already turned to look at them did so. "Is that what you call them?" He leaned in closer to Napoleon and now Napoleon could smell his hair, a wild clean scent despite the perspiration that was sticking his bangs to his forehead. He swallowed and, before he thought, put his face right in it, inhaling deeply. Illya sat very still for it, then turned his head and nuzzled Napoleon's neck. His voice, when it came, tickled Napoleon's ear.

"See anyone of interest?"

"Besides you? No. You look - amazing."

"Thank you." Illya shifted so his thigh pressed up against Napoleon's. "Of course, it's hard to say just what we're looking for."

"A tiger in the sheep pen," Napoleon said, and Illya nodded.

"Exactly. And all I've seen are sheep so far."

"You're no sheep," Napoleon said, and Illya arched an eyebrow at him.

"Oh? What would you call me, then?"

"A golden eagle. But a young one, too young to know the danger he's courting by flying so low."

"Napoleon Solo. That was positively poetic. So I don't look too old for my role?"

Had he thought that? Hard to remember now, looking into those wonderful eyes, that perfect face. "Be careful," he said involuntarily. "If he's here, he'll want to take you down. He won't be able to resist you." He swallowed hard. "Like I can't."

Illya's smile faded, and for a moment they just stared at one another, and then Illya leaned in, kissed him on the cheek - brief and so piercingly sweet that Napoleon couldn't move for a moment, couldn't move, or breathe, and then Illya was up again and dancing with somebody else. An older man, who looked as if he couldn't believe his luck. Then Napoleon's eyes, traveling around the room, stopped. Focused in on one face, one pair of eyes.

The man was perfectly ordinary looking. He seemed to be in his late twenties, his hair was a sandy nondescript brown and his face was eminently forgettable. But his eyes - dark and hooded - were fixed on Illya and the expression in them made Napoleon's hand move to his weapon before he checked himself The man looked hungry, and angry - but there was a self satisfaction there too, as if he knew his hunger would be satisfied, his anger vented, before too long. Even as Napoleon thought that the man rose, crossed the floor. He moved with an athlete's grace and Napoleon thought that he was probably in much better shape than his appearance suggested. He reached out, caught Illya by the shoulder and turned him around. Napoleon snapped their picture with his little camera, disguised as a cigarette lighter, because he knew, he just knew, that this was their man.

Illya knew, too. Napoleon could tell by the barely perceptible stiffening, the heightened awareness of danger that showed itself in a solidifying of his stance, his body at the ready. But none of that showed in the smile he gave, and in a moment the two of them were dancing.

The man didn't dance very well - his desire to hold onto his partner hampering their moves - but Illya didn't seem to mind, he smiled again and let the man hold him, let the man whisper in his ear, let the man lead him to a table. When the stranger walked over to the bar, having to wait for the bartender's attention, Napoleon got up and crossed to the table. He sat down across from Illya and leaned in.

"That's him," he whispered. "I'd bet the farm on it."

"Me too," Illya said, and shivered. "He is currently getting me a drink, and after I finish it I am sure I will become very sleepy, and quite incapable of defending myself. How far ... how far do we take this?"

"He drugs you and gets you out of here. As he's putting you in whatever transportation he has, we move. That far and no farther."

"Good," Illya said. "Looking into his eyes is like ... like looking into a black hole. There's no soul there. Those poor boys - appealing to him for mercy would be as useless as appealing to a tidal wave, or a wild boar. I'd as soon not wake up alone with him, Napoleon."

"You won't," Napoleon promised and then a chilly voice said,

"Excuse me, but this is my table. And my date."

"He came in alone," Napoleon protested, but he stood up.

"I'm no one's date," Illya said coolly. "But I'll have a drink with you, Michael, and maybe another dance."

"Oh, we'll dance," the man said, and smiled. Seeing that smile Napoleon wondered that the other young men hadn't fled shrieking into the night, instead of sharing a drink with him. "We'll have the dance of your life." He set the drink in front of Illya and, without a tremor or a trace of hesitation Illya picked it up and drank it down. Napoleon couldn't breathe for a moment, in the face of that courage. Illya pushed the glass back over and grimaced.

"Scotch?" he said. "I asked for rum and Coke. This tasted awful." Napoleon heard the warning and moved away, pressing the button on his communicator that would alert the back up team. He could hear the man offering apologies for the mistake, blaming the bartender, and then Illya made a choked little sound. "Oh. Oh, I don't feel very well." He leaned back in his seat and let his head drop back. The man, staring at the lovely clean line of Illya's throat, made a sound of his own, an animalistic growl. "Oh dear, and I was having such a good time," Illya went on, and his words were slurred now. "Now I'll have to leave early. I'm never drinking Scotch again. You owe me cab fare, since you've ruined my evening."

"I'll do better than that," the man promised, and came around behind Illya, helped him to his feet. Illya leaned against him, knees buckling and the man put both arms around him, waltzed him away from the table. "Oh, how we'll dance ," he sang, "in the night, in the dark." They were closer to the door now, and then came the sound of a police whistle.

Before Napoleon could react a wave of men in blue stormed the club, swinging their nightsticks. All around him men screamed and ran, jamming up the back exits. Tables were knocked over, glass shattered, the heavy scent of many different liquors filled the air. "Fucking faggots!" one police officer was shouting as he swung his club. "Damn ass fucking homos!"

Napoleon groped for his identification, held it up as he tried to make his way towards the door. Somehow he did it, but when he got outside, the street was full of police officers, of frightened fleeing men, of observers who shouted encouragement to the police. There was a small group of young men, too, who had locked arms and were chanting "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it! We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" Even as Napoleon looked wildly for his back-up team, for the man in brown, for his partner ... the police wave broke over the group of protesters and rained blows on them. Flashbulbs were going off all around as the press arrived in force. It was a full scale riot, and in the melee their quarry, and his captive, had disappeared. Napoleon stood in the street, heartsick, horrified, and frightened.

`I'd as soon not wake up alone with him,' Illya had said, and `You won't,' Napoleon had confidently replied, but now ... now the plan was in disarray, the predator had brought down the golden eagle, and all was lost.

No! He pulled out the locating device and turned it on. Strong and clear the signal came, and he barked orders into his communicator, commandeered a police vehicle that had been left unattended and running and, as his team tumbled into the back seat, he took off with siren blaring and tires squealing.

He'd gotten about ten blocks, downtown into the Canal St. area, when the signal stopped. It stopped as abruptly as if it had been cut off, or cut out, or thrown into a river, or ...Napoleon pulled the police car over to the curb and got out, gesturing to another agent to get behind the wheel. He held the receiver up, turned slowly in a complete circle. Nothing. He investigated the device, made sure everything was set correctly, shook it, whacked it against his hand. Nothing. Nothing.

He lost his mind for a moment then. It was as if he were two men - one carefully rechecking the device's settings, getting into the passenger seat, calling headquarters. The other man was on his knees screaming Illya's name, banging the device against the ground. And, although no one else could see that man, at that moment he was the real Napoleon Solo.

Because he had promised, hadn't he. `I don't want to wake up alone with him', Illya had said. And `You won't, Napoleon had promised. But Illya would. He would wake up and instead of UNCLE's clinic, instead of his partner's face, he would be looking into the soulless eyes of the man who had, by an appalling stroke of luck, taken him away. The man who would now spend the next hours or days killing him. Raping him, torturing him, and killing him. "Nooo!" the invisible man on the ground howled and then someone said, in an uncertain voice,

"Sir? Mr. Solo? To HQ?"

Napoleon fell back into himself - his only self - with a jolt that made his hands open and the receiver clatter to the car floor. "Yes," he said tersely and picked it up, handling it with infinite care now, checking it out to be sure he hadn't damaged it. But he might have, mightn't he, so his first stop at headquarters would be to get another one. And maybe that was all it would take. Maybe the device had been damaged in the riot at the bar, or even earlier . First step, try with another transmitter. Second step, begin triangulating on the last location it had given. Because if the miniature transponder under Illya's skin, under the fanciful phoenix he'd had tattooed on the inside of his left wrist, hadn't been cut out or destroyed, that meant that Illya had been taken somewhere that blocked the signal. Underground, most probably. If it was Thrush Napoleon would have thought of lead walls, of jamming devices, but this wasn't Thrush. This was a perverted sociopath who probably did have some sort of dungeon set up for his victims. "Illya," he whispered as the car pulled up outside Del Floria's. "I'm coming, Illya. I won't give up, I will never give up. I'm coming, partner. Hang in there."

Illya knew what had happened as soon as consciousness began to return. He was bound ...no, as he shifted position and heard the rattle of metal ... chained to a hard surface of some sort. He was flat on his back, with his legs spread and elevated. He couldn't quite picture it, and didn't want to open his eyes yet, not until he had a clearer idea of where he was and who - if anyone - was with him. One thing for sure, it wasn't Napoleon. Whatever had happened after he passed out at the bar, Napoleon had lost him. Lost him. `I don't want to wake up alone with him,' he had said to Napoleon, only half joking, and `You won't," Napoleon had replied, not joking at all. But here he was. So something had gone wrong with the plan, and their quarry had drugged him and taken him away, just as he had done with the others. Illya shivered. The others. He opened one eye just a crack, then the other. He was looking at a wall on which words were scrawled in a red substance. Blood? He didn't think so. It was too red, too glaring, for dried blood. It was meant to look like blood, though, meant to terrify some civilian waking up here. The words were also meant to terrify.

"Die." "Die now." "You will die here." Rather melodramatic, but no doubt very effective, especially if you were really picturing the killer scrawling it in his victims' blood. In one corner was a pile of clothes, his own leather pants and jacket on top. So he was naked. He looked down at himself and saw that he was indeed naked, and that his legs were propped up on cement blocks, the ankle chains wound round and round them. Legs apart and up, arms chained over his head, more chains over his chest - very dramatic indeed. His eyes returned to the bundle of clothes.

They were pathetic. He could see blue jeans and a red top, a suit jacket, and a pair of wingtip shoes. All the finery from all those poor young men, who had dressed up and gone out to a bar with such hopes of meeting someone with whom they could be themselves, let their real desires show. And it had brought them here. Here, to this cellar. He looked around - concrete walls, no windows, concrete ceiling and floor. A flight of steps led up and out of sight in one corner.

His own tattoo caught his eye. Was the transmitter working down here? Probably not, or Napoleon would have been hot on his trail already. Poor Napoleon. What was he going through now? And poor him. Because that pile of clothes spoke his fate as clearly as the words on the wall. And if he was indeed out of range with his locator, the odds that he would be rescued were slim. He had to think now. How was he going to survive this for long enough that Napoleon would find him? Because Napoleon would be looking, Napoleon would bring all of UNCLE's resources to bear on finding him, Napoleon would put all that dark focused energy of his into finding him. It was Illya's job to escape if at all possible, and if not, to remain alive. Some of those poor boys had been dumped within twenty-four hours of their abduction. Others had been kept for up to three weeks. He had to place himself in the latter group.

He couldn't react as an agent. This man would kill him instantly if he even suspected that Illya was any sort of police officer. No, he had to react like a civilian. How would the man he had been pretending to be, a young man who dressed outrageously in black leather and flaunted himself in a homosexual bar, react to unexpected capture and imprisonment?

Like a caged bird, Illya thought. Napoleon had compared him to a golden eagle, and that thought nearly undid him. His breath caught, his chest hurt suddenly. Oh, Napoleon. Then he put it aside. A golden eagle. A wild, free creature, now abruptly and cruelly confined, shut away from the sun and the fresh air. He would be beside himself, he would be terrified, he would be absolutely frantic to be free. He wouldn't control his emotions, he wouldn't retreat behind an agent's training. He wouldn't have an agent's training. He would ... and then a door opened and slammed shut, and footsteps started down the stairs.

"Help me!" Illya cried loudly. "Oh, please, whoever you are, come and help me! Help me help me help me!" He struggled, pulling on the chains, yanking and tugging, abrading flesh and, incidentally, getting splinters in his bare ass from the wooden plank he was secured to. "Please please -" he stopped as the man came into view.

It was the same man from the bar sure enough, but anything ordinary about his appearance was gone now. His teeth were bared in what was supposed to be a smile, but wasn't. His hair was mussed and he was sweating. Sweating with desire, Illya thought, heart sinking. In one hand he carried a whip. In the other, some sort of cattle prod. Oh, this was going to be bad. And he couldn't even withdraw from it, couldn't use his torture training, could only endure and suffer and, ultimately, die. Napoleon, he thought in despair. Oh, Napoleon , come save me. Please.

He screamed at sight of the implements, screamed and tried again to get free. "No!" he wailed. "Why ... why are you doing this to me? Please don't hurt me, don't ..."he sent a terrified look at the writing on the wall. "Don't kill me!"

"Then don't bore me, little one," the man said in a hoarse, raspy voice. "Don't bore me and I'll keep you around for a while. But I will kill you. Yes, I will."

"Why?" Illya wept. "I never did anything to you, I never did anything to anyone. Why?"

"Because I like to. I hate you, you fucking little faggot, so I like to hurt you, and I'll love killing you." He moved closer, activated the cattle prod and pressed it into Illya's stomach. This scream was unfeigned and as the cattle prod moved lower, and lower still Illya screamed again and again, writhing in agony, pulling fruitlessly against the chains and wishing desperately that he would hear more footsteps, that he would see Napoleon come down those stairs, but there was no rescue, just pain and pain and more pain and, eventually, darkness.

He woke to pain and the terrifying sensation of drowning. Liquid was pouring down his throat and he gagged, choked, and drank. He was thirsty, terribly thirsty, but it was coming too fast, faster than he could accept it. When it stopped he coughed, retched and a gag was thrust into his mouth, keeping the liquid in him even as he strangled on it. It was close, and he could see those eyes watching him with a clinical curiosity - would he drown on his own vomit? Or not? It might not matter to this man either way, except as a matter of interest, but it mattered to Illya, so he fought to control the spasms, fought to quiet his stomach and his gag reflex and finally was able to draw a breath through his nose.

"Ah," the man said thoughtfully, and withdrew the gag. Illya lay and panted, feeling the room tilt around him. Drugged again, and he detested being drugged, but at least he wasn't thirsty for the moment. He clung to the chains around his wrists, needing something solid to hold on to. The man set the empty glass down. "So you want to live," he said, and began unlocking the ankle cuffs. Illya thought of kicking him, hard, maybe even fatally, but already the drug was taking his strength, already he was too weak. And why was he being set loose? His hands now were free, and he rubbed one with the other. Then, over the man's shoulder, he saw the flight of steps and the light - light! Shining down from above - the stairs must lead outside, and the door must be open! Illya shot a look at his tormentor, who had turned away and was arranging something on a table. Illya couldn't see what from here, and he didn't care to. Instead he twisted and fell off the table, stumbled to his feet and headed for the stairs. He had to get out of here, he had to get out of here, he had to ... he tried to run up the steps but the drug had him now and he fell, crawled, dragging himself step by agonizing step towards the sunlight, towards freedom. Then he heard the man laughing behind him.

"That's it, little worm, crawl. Crawl for your life - but you'll never make it." The man's tread could be heard now, coming up behind him, coming after him. Illya moaned and tried to pull himself faster but it was useless, he could see that. He couldn't even cry out, didn't have the strength. The man was leisurely pursuing him, was only waiting until he was almost there, was only tormenting him for the sheer pleasure of it but Illya couldn't help it, he kept trying anyway and then, as he reached for the last step and the sunlight hit his tattoo he thought suddenly that maybe the signal could be heard now. Maybe he was far enough above ground that Napoleon could hear it, could find him. The man laughed again, reached over and pulled the door shut. Then he grasped Illya's ankles, pulling him back, dragging him down the stairs and he fought desperately for another moment, another second of sunlight, but the hands on him were inexorable and his fingernails broke on the stone steps as he scrabbled franticly for a hold that he couldn't get. The man dragged him down, picked him up, threw him back on the plank with bone jarring force. Illya still fought, feebly now and uselessly but he fought because he had to, because he wouldn't give up, he would never give up.

"Stupid boy, don't you know you're dead already?" the man said as he turned Illya onto his stomach and mounted him. "You were dead the moment I saw you in the bar, flaunting yourself for all those men, dancing and laughing and all the while dead. Dead, dead, dead. You fucking little queer you're dead!" He shouted those last words, shouted at the top of his voice and then he rammed his cock home in Illya's ass and Illya screamed again because that boy would scream, wouldn't he. He would scream and cry and beg for his life so Illya did too, although he couldn't help thinking how much better it would be to withdraw, to close those hard earned shields around himself and leave this man nothing but a body to play with. But if he did that, the man would kill him outright, from boredom if for no other reason. So Illya cried for his lost freedom, for his forfeited life, and the man laughed and cursed him and struck him on the head with his fist until Illya's ears rang and finally the blackness took him again into its hot smothering depths.

Napoleon was jolted from his seat by the sound of the transmitter. He had been going over the reports pouring in from all the agents he had sent out with copies of the man's picture. It was plain old fashioned police work now, people pounding the pavements, showing the photo in drugstores, supermarkets, post offices, banks, libraries, tobacco shops, subway stations, taxi stands, rental car agencies. There had been several hits, and Napoleon had been going over them intently when the whistle of Illya's locating device came to his ears. He lunged at the computer console, triangulating furiously; downtown, further down ... and then nothing. It stopped as suddenly as it started and Napoleon was left staring in frustration at the map of lower Manhattan. For a moment he almost despaired, and then he heard footsteps behind him and turned.

Alexander Waverly was looking at the map as well, and his face was drawn. He seemed to have aged twenty years since Napoleon had reported that the plan had failed, and Illya was gone. "A police raid," Waverly had said, and Napoleon, mute with self loathing, had nodded. Waverly had sighed, and said no more about it. He didn't apologize for using Illya - Napoleon never expected that he would - but he gave Napoleon all the resources he asked for and more; he leaned on local law enforcement agencies until they opened their files and added their personnel and, like Napoleon, he stayed in Headquarters. Their eyes met now and the frustration in the older man's matched what Napoleon knew was in his own. Then Waverly turned away and Napoleon called the men under him, who contacted those under them, and the huge apparatus that was UNCLE's search team turned towards all points south.

Illya never knew how many times he crawled, dragged, hauled himself up those stairs, only to be dragged back down. His fingers were raw and he could see a trail of dried blood - his blood - crusted on the steps. His repeated escape attempts amused his captor enormously, and sometimes Illya thought that was the only thing keeping him alive. The man had even stopped pretending that he wasn't letting him loose on purpose. Instead he walked beside Illya, keeping up a running commentary - "Oops, you lost another nail there. Careful of that last step - it's a big one." And always, always, as he pulled Illya back, as he chained him down again, he marveled at his will to live.

"But why do you want to live?" he asked once in what sounded like genuine curiosity. "You're a freak, an abomination. You'll never marry, or have children - even if you hadn't met me, you'd never have a normal life. Every decent human being's hand is against you. God is against you. Why would you want to maintain such an unnatural existence?" And when Illya, accustomed to these apparently rhetorical questions, didn't answer he gave him a savage cut with the whip. "Why!"

What would this boy say? Illya tried to sink further into character because conversation was dangerous to any disguise and this man was not stupid, despite his lunacy. "I love my life," he whispered finally. "I love dancing, and meeting people, and I love the outdoors, and movies - please! Please let me go! I won't tell anybody about you, I promise! Please please ..." he struggled frantically against the restraints and when he saw the whip rise he struggled harder, crying out against the pain as the lash descended again, and again, and again. Then he was released, pushed onto the floor and whipped across it, whipped up the stairs, but this time he was pulled back down just as his arm reached the door, the sun flashing across it then the door closed, leaving him in the dark. Leaving him to be raped there on the stairs, staring up at the freedom beyond his reach, out of his view. He wept all the way through it, wept as he was brought back down, wept as he was chained, straddled, choking on the man's cock - erect again - what stamina he had! He never seemed to tire of it.

"Don't you bite me, you little piece of shit," the man said, as he always did at these times, and Illya nodded, as he always did. He tried to make it good, using his own expertise in this area, sucking and licking and drawing the orgasm from his captor with practiced skill. Anything for another day of life, anything to give Napoleon time to find him. The man liked it, that was clear, although he always punished Illya for it afterwards, with the cattle prod, or the whip, or his own rough hands. "Whore!" he raged this time, raining blows with both fists, making Illya writhe and twist.

Eleven times now the transmitter had come alive, sending out its distress call. Sometimes it went on for a little longer, sometimes it was only a flash and then gone. Napoleon didn't know what was going on but he remained on high alert, and whenever the channel opened he set all the computer banks working on it. "It may only be our man toying with us," Waverly had said once, voice hoarse with fatigue. If he slept at all - and he must sleep, just as Napoleon had to sleep - it was snatched naps in his chair - again, just like Napoleon. "He may have found the transmitter already."

"I know. But I don't think so."

"What do you think, then?"

"I think Illya's found a way - some way - to get his signal through. I think he's crying out to me for help." He hadn't meant to say that last, and certainly hadn't meant for his voice to break the way it did, but Waverly only patted his shoulder briefly before turning away. Napoleon stared at the screen. The pavement pounding was still continuing, the focus narrower and narrower each time, but there were still countless streets to walk, countless dry cleaners and take-out restaurants and building superintendents and doormen to question. Napoleon wanted to be out there with the rest of them because this forced inactivity was eating him alive, but he could do more good here and he knew it.

In the long hours when there was no data to analyze, no reports to pore over, no signal coming over the airwaves, he found himself thinking about that night in the bar - in particular about that small crowd of young men standing arm in arm outside.

"We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" They had seemed - proud of what they were. How could that be? Napoleon was willing to accept that this was, as Illya had implied, some unfortunate accident of birth, of genetics. Because Illya was right. No one would choose that life, always hiding, skulking in the shadows to get the basic physical needs that everyone shared, met. But those other men - they had boasted of it. "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" As if ... as if the problem lay with society at large, and not with them. And the police had savaged them even more ferociously even than those frightened businessmen in their suits. Not one of those young men had been standing when it was over - all beaten into the ground, handcuffed and thrown into the police wagon. Like - like Illya had been, beaten, bound and taken away. Illya - oh, Illya. Napoleon clenched his fists. Hang in there, Illya, he thought. I'll find you. I swear it. I'll rescue you and ... hold you and never let you go, his mind whispered. Then the transmitter came to life - only for a second, but it was enough to narrow the focus considerably. That final bit of information must have ruled out enough other areas so that Napoleon was staring at a ten block radius in SoHo. He came to his feet, punched the keys that would send the map to the investigators, and called Alexander Waverly.

Illya turned his head and looked dully at the man, who was approaching him carrying the key to the cuffs. His heart sank. Not again. Not another desperate struggle up those stairs, more taunting and torment, more pleasure for this sadist, all in the fading hope that he was doing something to help himself. How long would this boy continue to struggle? Illya himself felt like giving up. He felt that death would be preferable to one more moment of this terrible existence. `They thank me at the end,' the man had whispered in his ear more than once as he raped him. `They thank me for their deaths. You will too, my golden prize - although not so much anymore boy, eh?' This with a savage thrust that had wrenched a moan from Illya's lips. Now, lying here, he thought about that. No, he wasn't golden anymore. He was filthy and starving and dehydrated and no doubt looked as near death as he felt. He might be grateful for it to end at that. Then a harder, flinty resolve resurfaced. No, he would not be grateful. For one thing, he still wanted to live. For another, he would have failed at his task, which was to stop this man. If he died now it would all be for nothing, and somewhere another youth would dress up for a night on the town, hoping for romance or adventure, and instead he would find this. So Illya only looked at his captor as his wrists were freed, as he was pulled into a sitting position, and whispered, as he had so often before.

"Please. Please don't ..." then he saw the glass full of an amber liquid. He shrank from it, no pretense required. Was he to be poisoned now? It wouldn't fit the pattern - all the other victims had been strangled.

"Drink up," the man said cheerfully. "It won't kill you," he added, and put it in Illya's hand. "It's the same as I gave you at the club."

Illya dropped it as if it had burned him and the man snatched it out of the air without spilling a drop. "No - no, I don't want it. I don't like it." That was the truth. It had sent him spinning into a giddy half conscious state in which he had been dimly aware of being manhandled out of the club, into a car, aware of being driven away - and where was Napoleon? He had heard what sounded like sirens and police whistles and had thought that was his rescue, had passed out with that thought, but he must have imagined it all because no rescue had come - no rescue had ever come. The man clucked in mock concern.

"But you do want it," he whispered, and brought his other hand into full view. In it was a long, sharp knife. Illya turned and tried to throw himself off the board, away from the wickedly gleaming blade, but with his ankles still chained all he managed to do was fall awkwardly and hang there. The man pulled him back up by his hair and put the knife right in his face. Illya froze.

"You want it," the man repeated, and put the glass into his hand again. Illya held it, shaking and cold and afraid - so afraid. What was coming now? "Unless you want to be fully conscious and aware while I sever your hamstrings. Ah ah" tightening his grip on Illya's hair and placing the blade against his cheekbone. "I wouldn't spare you even that much except that the shock might kill you outright otherwise. And while I do want you dead, I want to see first if you will still try for those stairs with your legs hanging uselessly behind you. Will you? Will you drag yourself screaming and bleeding up towards the daylight? I wonder."

It was as if a switch had been thrown, shutting off the frightened untrained boy and turning on the agent. Illya's mind snapped into gear and he thought, `No. I have to end this now. I might well bleed to death if he does that and then it's over - and I will have failed. I will have failed and another boy - maybe hundreds of other boys - will die terrible lonely deaths. But if I kill him, then what? I'll still be chained here. He keeps the keys in his pocket, and maybe I can get at them, but maybe not. Maybe I'll die here, of thirst and starvation, with only his decaying body for company. But I will have done my job.' All this raced across his brain in the split second it took him to smash the glass against the edge of the table. He locked eyes with his tormentor and had the enormous satisfaction of seeing shock and fear leap into them, and then he drove the jagged edge into the side of the man's neck.

He screamed and clawed at it, staggered away, caromed off the wall, bounced back and grabbed Illya by the throat. There were no more sounds from him but blood poured, gouted, sprayed from the wound as he squeezed. Illya gagged, fought, pushed at his face, hands slippery with blood. There was a long moment when it seemed the killer's final act would be murder, but then the deadly grip slackened and the man fell to the floor. Illya could hear the scuffling noise as he convulsed, and then he was still.

Get the keys! Again Illya threw himself off the table, towards the man now instead of away. He grabbed the sleeve of his shirt and dragged him closer, closer still. As he was trying to maneuver the body to get at his pants he saw the keys.

They were on the floor against the bottom of the stairs, where they might have fallen, or where he might have thrown them in those final death throes. There they lay, the instruments of Illya's freedom, the simple objects that would save his life, only at most ten feet away. It might as well have been ten miles. Illya stared at them for a moment, then pulled himself back upright. Bending over, he struggled with the ankle cuffs, but it was useless. He was trapped. Trapped here in this torture chamber, away from the sun, away from the light, away from fresh air and away from Napoleon.

Slowly, Illya lay down on his back and stared at the ceiling. Trapped. He would lie here and die, then. Maybe Napoleon would come. He would still be looking, Illya knew that, but if the transmitter hadn't worked, or hadn't worked for long enough, Napoleon could look for the rest of his life and never find Illya here. Maybe at some point someone would investigate this house. Maybe his captor had a job, had family or someone who would look for him. Bills would remain unpaid and, Illya supposed, eventually someone would come to see why. But all of that would be too late for him.

He sighed, a deep sobbing sound. Well, he had done his job. There would be no more deaths. To die doing one's job, to die saving innocents, wasn't the worst way to go. At least he would be alone, not jeered at or tormented. He wouldn't have to say `thank you' to his killer for a relatively quick death. He wished Napoleon had found him. He wanted to see Napoleon badly. But he had done his job. That would have to be enough.

It had been three days since the transmitter had last beeped. Napoleon sat at his console and worked to narrow the field, using every resource UNCLE's extensive system supplied, wishing for more, wishing for technology that didn't even exist. When the screen finally gave him a curt message indicating that it had done all it could do, and that the five square block area in SoHo was as close as he was going to get to pinpointing Illya's location, in the absence of further data, he put his head down on his folded arms and felt a great tearing rending pain in his chest, in his head, in his whole body.

His heart was broken. He knew it. He felt it. His heart was finally and irrevocably broken because he had loved Illya Kuryakin with all the best that was in him, and now Illya was gone. And Napoleon had never told him, never showed him, never even let himself understand that the reason he hadn't been able to give his heart to any of the women who had crossed his path was that his heart was already given away. To a man. To another man, and how trivial that seemed now, in the undeniable light of the knowledge that this had been the great love of his life and he had ignored it because it wasn't wrapped in the package he had expected. And now Illya was gone, beaten and choked to death by this warped sociopath for no better reason than that this was how he got his sexual thrills. Illya wasn't dying to save the world, holding out against Thrush torture to keep some valuable information secret. He hadn't even stopped the murder spree, but was just one more passing pleasure, one more broken discarded body. A huge sob tore itself from Napoleon's throat. If only he had another chance, a chance to look into Illya's eyes and say, "I love you. I need you. I ..." what? How did you propose to another man? And why had he let such petty considerations matter? Even to himself. Even to himself he had let the fact of Illya's gender keep them apart. Another sob rose but he forced it down. He would not dishonor Illya's memory by falling apart here in headquarters. He would ... and then his communicator went off.

"Solo here."

"Mr. Solo. Sir!" It was Rogers, one of the agents he had out in the field knocking on doors and showing that lone photograph. "We have an identification! Several of them! A deli, a take-out pizza joint, a drug store!"

He came out of his chair so fast he banged his thighs painfully on the desk. "Where are you right now?"

"Corner of West Houston and Mercer, sir. This has to be his neighborhood. He must live right around here."

"I'm on my way. Keep asking. Try and find somebody who has an address. Call in the rest of the team. I want to go in full force. Call me with any further information. Out."

Napoleon drove full speed to the location Rogers had given him. When he jumped out of the car he saw Rogers talking to a teenage boy with a pizza company's logo on his shirt. Rogers waved him over excitedly.

"We've got him, sir. Tell him." This last to the boy, who swallowed and turned to Napoleon.

"He was such a jerk to me," he began awkwardly. "I mean, I know I'm not brawny or anything like that but he always called me `little fairy boy' and `Miss Pizza Pie" and all -" Napoleon interrupted him.


"I'll show you," the boy said, and started down the street. As the agents trotted beside him he kept talking. "One night he tried to kiss me. I mean really kiss me! On the mouth! Fucking faggot!" He spat the last two words with such venom that Napoleon recoiled a little. Had it only been a few short weeks ago that the same words had come from his mouth? The boy was going on, as he turned a corner. "So I followed him home. I thought I'd key his car, or smash his windows or something. But when he went inside I ... " he flushed miserably. "I lost my nerve," he finished in a lower voice. "I thought he might come out and catch me, and he scared the piss out of me really even though I kept telling myself that was stupid. So I just went away."

"It wasn't stupid," Napoleon said shortly as they turned again. "He's a murderer. He would have killed you without thinking twice about it. Where -"

"Here," the boy said and pointed to a rather shabby tenement with barred windows. "He went in right there."

Napoleon ran up the stairs and put a small wad of plastic explosives in the keyhole. It blew open with a very soft pfft and the door swung open.

The smell of death came out to meet them and for a moment Napoleon thought he would break, right there, in front of civilians and agents alike. If there was a dead body in this house it was most likely Illya's. He shook off the thought and went inside, his team behind him. Napoleon gestured for them to spread out, and said to one of the NYPD representatives "Take the kid back to work. Whatever this is, he doesn't need to see it." The officer nodded and went back outside.

While some of the men searched the house, Napoleon looked for a basement door because why else would the transmitter not work? Underground, had to be - this wasn't some posh Thrush installation with fancy blocking equipment or shields. No, the simplest explanation - but there was no basement door. He went back outside, around to the back, and found a dismal little courtyard, surrounded by abandoned buildings. There was the door. It was set slantwise into the back wall, and Napoleon kicked it - once, twice. It flew open.

The stench of rotting flesh rolled out in a wave that made Napoleon gag. He pulled his shirt up to cover his face and went down the steps, gun out, aware of his back-up, also coughing and retching. "Sir," the man said, and pointed down at the stairs. Napoleon looked, saw the blood, saw the broken fingernails, and almost lost the battle with his stomach. Illya, he thought. Illya being dragged down these stairs, hanging on till his nails tore off. Illya ... he looked away.

At the bottom of the stairs was a dark, dirty little room, in the center of which was a large wooden plank resting on two sawhorses. Chained to the plank by his ankles, his arms hanging over the sides, was Illya.

He was barely recognizable; emaciated and filthy and naked, covered with welts and burns and bruises. Illya. Napoleon had to stop for a moment before he crossed over to examine the body, to find some way to unfasten him - it. No, him. This was still Illya, and deserving of careful and respectful handling. The scream of agony building inside him would wait. His heartbreak would wait. Everything else could wait until this was finished in a way that would bring Illya honor. And where was the killer? Surely he was gone. No one would live in this house with this stench. Something must have alarmed him and - Illya's eyes opened.

Napoleon really thought he might have a coronary right there on the spot. His heart jolted in his chest, stopped beating, thudded spasmodically for a moment. He had to cough, he staggered, he put a hand out to steady himself. Alive! But how - what matter? He leaned over Illya and, incredibly, Illya smiled at him. It was a very small smile, and even that made his parched lips crack so a trickle of blood ran down the corner of his mouth, but it was a real smile, and it was for him.

"Illya." His voice was steady and he was amazed at himself. "What - who" he didn't even know what he was asking, but then Rogers said,

"Over here, Mr. Solo."

"What's over there?" Napoleon snapped, angry at the distraction, then thought - the body, of course.

"Our man. Looks like Kuryakin got him."

Napoleon looked over Illya and sure enough, lying curled up on the floor was the man whose picture he had shown all around the city. A jagged hunk of glass protruded from the side of his neck and the maggots were busy around his face.

"Help me," Illya whispered, so faintly that Napoleon had to put his ear right to his mouth to hear him.

"We will, Illya. We'll get you out of here. Bring me the bolt cutters," he rapped out and Illya shook his head.

"Keys," he articulated more clearly. "Over there. At the bottom of the stairs. I thought I could get them , but no ..." And then Illya's eerie composure broke. "Get me out of here, Napoleon. I'm so thirsty, I'm so sick of his stink, please ..." he struggled against the restraints. The keys were put in Napoleon's hand and he unlocked the ankle cuffs, lifted Illya into his arms, not caring about the smell of his unwashed body, of his long proximity with the corpse; grieving over the terrible lightness of him, rejoicing in the warm breath he could feel on his neck. He ran up the stairs.

Somebody had better have called an ambulance, do I have to do it all myself, doesn't anybody else have any initiative ... but the ambulance was there and he was ashamed of the silent diatribe. They took Illya from him, strapped him to the stretcher, lifted it inside and Napoleon scrambled up after him. "Rogers!" he called, and Rogers poked his head in.

"Mr. Solo?"

"Take over here."

"Yes sir!" Rogers saluted with alacrity, face brightening. As he turned away Napoleon heard him shout, with a new authority "You there! Set up the crime scene tape! Keep those people away! Mr. Solo put me in ..." and that was all Napoleon heard as the doors swung shut, the siren began its wailing call and the ambulance took off. Rogers had command, and he was obviously pleased as punch about it. It's an ill wind, Napoleon thought, and laughed out loud. He laughed and laughed, ignoring the voices shouting at him but then came a tiny pinprick in his arm and it suddenly seemed much easier just to put his head down on the stretcher beside Illya's and go to sleep.

Napoleon rose when Alexander Waverly entered the room. He had woken up here, in the hospital, lying back in a big recliner facing Illya's bed. The sight of him had brought Napoleon's heart into his mouth. Illya looked so fragile lying there, white faced and emaciated. They had cleaned him up, and the blond hair lay soft and loose around his face. The filth that had matted it to his scalp was gone, as was the dirt on his face and body. His skin seemed translucent, the bruises and other injuries Napoleon remembered seeing hidden now by the sheet, which was drawn up to his neck. Still he shivered, as if holding the cold of that dark cellar, and Napoleon's first act was to summon a nurse for a blanket. She brought one, heated and soft, and Napoleon took it from her, draped it over Illya's still form, tucking it securely around his shoulders. Then he pulled the chair closer and just sat there, watching his partner sleep.

He hadn't thought about his own behavior until Waverly entered, and at sight of him Napoleon flushed. He had become hysterical, like some silly woman, to the point where they had had to sedate him. He had never had such a lapse of control in his life. He didn't know what to say to Waverly now, but before he could even try to speak Waverly clapped him on the back.

"Well done, Mr. Solo," he said heartily and Napoleon blinked at him. Well done? What did he mean? He shook his head, but Waverly went on. "I do not believe anybody else would have - could have, brought the focus and intelligence to this situation that you did, and I do not believe anything less would have sufficed. Mission accomplished, a murderous lunatic taken down - thanks to Mr. Kuryakin - and our agent returned, safe and sound."

"Is he?"

"Yes. The doctors expect him to make a full recovery."

Napoleon had to sit down again, then, newly furious with himself, struggled to rise. Waverly put an arresting hand on his shoulder. "Stay where you are, Mr. Solo. You look tired."

Tired! That was such a massive understatement that Napoleon almost laughed again, but managed to hold it in because who knew if he would be able to stop? He cleared his throat. "About the episode in the ambulance," he began awkwardly, and Waverly's hand tightened briefly before releasing him.

"Think no more of it, Mr. Solo. You are - we are only human, after all. A week or so off to rest and recover, and you will be back to your old self again."

Will I? Napoleon thought. His old self was not - was certainly not - in love with a man. Well, that wasn't true. His old self didn't know he loved another man. This new self - what did he know? He looked at Illya again, and his chest tightened. Illya, he thought, and as if in answer Illya stirred, made a choked sound of protest and Napoleon reached out, took his hand. "Illya," he said, out loud this time. "It's all right. You're safe here, with me - er, in UNCLE's hospital," he amended quickly, aware again of Waverly watching him. But when Illya shook his head, moaning deep in his throat, he leaned much closer. " "Illya? Do you hear me? It's Napoleon, and you're safe with me."

Illya relaxed, hand turning so his fingers curled around Napoleon's. After a moment his breathing evened out and the fingers went limp. Napoleon covered them with his other hand.

"We prefer that enforcement agents, especially field partners, not be romantically or intimately involved with one another," Waverly said calmly and Napoleon froze. He couldn't even form the denial on his lips although they weren't involved, of course they weren't involved - either romantically or intimately. But Waverly's cool, even voice went on. "But it happens, we recognize that it happens and why it happens, and are willing to take these things on a case by case basis. The job is the important thing, don't you agree, Mr. Solo?"

Mutely, Napoleon nodded.

"They will keep him here for a week, because they assume he is going home - alone - to his fourth floor walk up. Of course if he were going elsewhere, somewhere with an elevator, and someone to keep an eye on him, they would release him earlier - possibly as soon as the day after tomorrow. Think about it, Mr. Solo." Then those grey eyes were piercing his own, seeming to see right into his soul. "Think about it very carefully. I have a great deal of regard for this young man. I would not care to see him treated cavalierly."

"No sir," Napoleon said and again came this rending tearing feeling inside - but it wasn't painful this time. It was like a chick in the egg, with the shell cracking open and the sunlight pouring in. "I understand."

"Yes, I believe that you do. Good day, Mr. Solo." He left and Napoleon leaned back in the chair, very carefully, as if it were he who were fragile, he who might shatter into a thousand pieces at any moment. Without that hard shell around his emotions, without the easy charm barricading the door to his heart, what was he? Who was he? A ... a faggot? A fucking queer?

Illya stirred again but there were no sounds of distress this time. He stretched, sighed, turned his head and those great blue eyes were looking directly into his. Napoleon swallowed. Well, he thought, I guess I am queer. I'm here, I'm queer ...he laughed and there was no hysteria in it this time, just the rich sound of a man who has realized that the joke is on him. Illya smiled, but his eyebrows drew together as if he were puzzled and Napoleon supposed that he was.

"What's funny?" his voice was so faint Napoleon had to lean in closer, and that brought the scent of Illya's hair right into his nostrils.

"I am," he answered, and kissed Illya's cheek.

"You are?" Illya looked more puzzled than ever, then, as if the reality of the kiss had taken a moment to reach him, he blushed. Delighted, Napoleon kissed the other cheek.

"Yes. I am."

"Why are you kissing me?" Illya demanded, sounding a little more like himself. "What was in that shot they gave you in the ambulance?"

"Maybe it was truth serum," Napoleon said, and kissed Illya's nose. "I love you. Do you know that? I love you."

"Oh. Well, that's very nice of you. Thank you. I - um, I appreciate it. You're a good friend to me too."

"Just a good friend?" Napoleon asked wistfully. "Are you sure that's all there is?"

"I don't know what you mean, and I'm too tired and too thirsty to think it through." He did look tired, desperately tired and, remorseful, Napoleon slid one arm under his neck, lifting him slightly, and with the other hand held the water glass to his lips. Illya drank, but his brow was still furrowed. When he finished, Napoleon eased him back down, and lifted those fingers to his lips.

"I love you," he said again. "With my whole heart. Do you ... do you think there could be something for us? The two of us?"

"Your career path ..." Illya began and Napoleon shook his head.

"Mr. Waverly just practically gave us his blessing. As long as the job doesn't suffer, he's willing to turn a blind eye.

"All your women ..."

"All my women," Napoleon agreed equably. "I'll still have to keep up that façade, I suppose, and so should you - actually a little better than you have done heretofore. But under the façade - that façade that only you ever saw through - is a man who was utterly broken at the thought of losing you, a man who is right now terrified that he's misjudged things horribly, and that you're about to freeze me out, call me ugly names, and request a new partner. Are you?"

"Why would I want a new partner," Illya whispered. "When the one I have is the very best. I knew you'd come, Napoleon. I wasn't sure you'd be able to find me under there, but I knew you'd be looking, I know you're the best, and I was sure you'd come - eventually. Maybe not in time ..." he laughed a little but his voice shook and Napoleon threw it all away and gathered Illya into his arms, careful of the IV tubes, careful of the injuries, but not caring that they might be observed, not caring a damn about that.

"I am so sorry that it took me so long. If it weren't for that transmitter - it would beep and fall silent, beep and beep and beep and shut off ..." he saw again the bloody trail on the stairs, the fingernail parings on the step risers.

"Yes. He'd let me -" and Illya broke then, not into tears but into a terrible silent shaking that shook Napoleon too, shook the whole bed. He shuddered and clung to Napoleon and whispered against his throat about the nightmarish climbs, the laughter, the whip and the cattle prod driving him forward, the hands grabbing his ankles and dragging him back down, and all the time his own desperate hope that those few seconds at the top of the stairs were somehow bringing rescue closer.

"And they were," Napoleon said, and it was his face that was wet. "Every time it came alive so did we. That's what finally let us narrow it down enough that good old fashioned pavement pounding was able to do the rest."

"How ..."

"He pissed off some kid working at a pizza joint, so the kid followed him home. He'd planned some sort of retaliatory vandalism, but at the last minute he was more spooked than angry so he left without doing anything."

"Fortunately for him."

"And for you. Because he led us right to his doorstep. When I smelled the body I thought - I assumed -" he couldn't go on. Burying his face in Illya's hair he held on tightly, no longer sure it was he doing the comforting. In answer Illya stroked his back lightly. Comfortingly.

"Yes. Fortunately for me, too. And all's well that ends well, Napoleon. It's over. He's dead, and I killed him. There was a strong satisfaction in that even when I thought I would be following him shortly. And now that you've rescued me in the nick of time once more, it's even more satisfying. You should have seen his face when I broke that glass and pushed it into him. All he'd seen was the cover. You know, the boy who went out dancing one night and was captured. He'd never seen me, Number 2 Section 2. Not until I cut his throat for him. Napoleon?"


"I want to go home."

"I know you do. They won't let you go home - your place - for at least a week." Then, before Illya's visible indignation could find expression, he added "But they'd let you go home with me day after tomorrow. No stairs, you know, and someone to look out for you."

"And will you?" Illya's face was very soft now. "Look out for me, I mean?"

"Yes. I will. For the rest of my life, Illya, I will look out for you."

"And I will look out for you," Illya said. "With everything that is in me, I will look out for you."

"We will look out for one another," Napoleon pledged and the next kiss, when it came, was not a light brush on the cheek, or peck on the nose. It was male mouth to male mouth; it was human heart to human heart, soul to soul. When it ended he settled Illya back down on the bed. He watched Illya fall asleep with a smile of such sweetness on his lips that Napoleon almost kissed him again, but Illya needed his sleep. So he just held Illya's hand, and looked out for him all night long.

Bright and early that Wednesday morning Illya was released from the hospital. He argued against the wheelchair, but it was more for appearance's sake than anything else. Napoleon could tell that by the way he collapsed into it when the brief debate was over and the hospital had won, by threatening to hold him for another twenty-four hours if he could not behave rationally. The nurses quizzed Napoleon sternly about the arrangements for Illya's care and he answered that no, Illya would have no stairs to climb; yes, he himself would be in residence, no, he was not going back to work for another week, yes, he would see to it that Illya took his penicillin. He had already been given a hefty shot of the same substance - "Just in case," the intern had said cheerfully. Now Illya sputtered.

"He doesn't need to make me take it. I'm not a child, Nurse Brower. I don't need a keeper."

"Of course you don't," she soothed him, then turned back to Napoleon. "He needs to eat frequently. High calorie, high protein, nourishing meals, small ones frequently. Will you see to that?" This time Illya snapped at her.

"As if someone has to get me to eat! I'll eat what I please when I please! Now get out of my way or I'm rolling this chair right over your big flat feet!"

"Now now, sweetie," she cooed at him and he did give the wheels a violent shove forward, straight towards her. But his hands shook, and slipped off, and the wheelchair only lurched an inch or two. Before he could react to that Napoleon took the handles and moved him smoothly towards the door. He could see Nurse Brower laughing, and he winked at her over Illya's head.

"It goes so much easier and faster when you just nod your head and agree to it all," he said as he pushed Illya down the hall. "I don't know why you want to make it so difficult."

"Shut up." Illya folded his arms and stuck out his lower lip. Napoleon pressed the button for the elevator.

"You know what?" he asked, trying to sound casual but in fact his heart was racing, his palms were sweaty and his knees felt weak. This was it, he was bringing Illya home with him and they would ... they were ...

"No I don't know what, and I`m not playing guessing games with you."

"When you pout like that it makes me want to kiss you. I think it always did." He laughed, feeling lighter, and younger, and very, very happy. The elevator arrived and he pushed Illya into it, turned him around so he faced the front and thumbed the lobby button. "What do you think about that?"

"I don't know." Illya pulled the lip in. "I guess I think you sound like a faggot. What do you say to that?"

"I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it," Napoleon said without thinking twice. And Illya's mouth fell open, Illya's eyes widened and he didn't say another word all the way to the car, which was waiting for them at the curb. Napoleon laughed at him once they were both inside and he had pulled into the street. "I've actually had the last word? Illya Kuryakin. What was in that shot besides penicillin?"

"Where did you get that from?"

Napoleon told him all about it as they drove home. He told him about the police raid and Illya said, "Oh! I thought I hallucinated the sirens and flashing lights. Because if they weren't part of a rescue, I couldn't imagine ... that's what went wrong at the bar? A raid? A damn NYPD raid? Didn't they know we were in the middle of a covert operation?"

"No. No, they didn't. It never occurred to me to notify them. Illya - it never occurred to me they'd interfere and I almost got you killed. I put you through hell for twenty-one days because of my own damn stupid oversight. " He thought he would actually have to pull the car over to the curb, his hands were shaking so badly, but a timely red light saved him. "I should have notified them! Of course I should have. But I never thought ..." his voice broke and when the light turned green he just sat there, staring at his white knuckles until a taxi behind him blasted its horn. He stepped on the gas - too hard, and the car accelerated so fast he nearly hit the bicyclist in front of him. He hit the brake and the taxi behind him honked again. "Napoleon. Do you want me to drive?"

"No. Of course not." He accelerated again, smoothly this time. "I'm fine. I just - I am so sorry, Illya. I didn't think." He cursed himself then, in the ugliest words he could think of and Illya patted his knee.

"It's all right, Napoleon. Of course you didn't think of that. Why would you? They raid those places all the time, but you would have no way of knowing that. Don't blame yourself, please. I don't blame you."

"I should have known."

"In a perfect world, everyone would be aware of every injustice. But it's far from a perfect world. It's all right. Go on. What does that have to do with the slogan you just so blithely mouthed?"

"All the men in the bar ran. They screamed and ran - out the emergency exit, through the kitchen - in all directions. I had to fight my way outside, waving my ID like a madman. But in the street was a group of men - young men, like college students. They were standing with their arms linked and they were chanting that. "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!" They weren't running for cover, they weren't hiding their faces from the news cameras, they were just ... and it seemed to me that the police went after them far more savagely than they did those inside. They beat them into the ground and kept on beating them after they were down. It - well, I'd like to say it bothered me but at the time all I was thinking was that he had you, that I had promised you wouldn't wake up with him and you would. It bothered me later, though. It bothers the hell out of me now."


"Is it? Good?"

"Yes. It should bother you."

"Well, it does. Here we are." He pulled into the parking garage attached to his building and they got out. Illya swayed as soon as he stood up and Napoleon caught him before he could fall.

"I'm all right." Illya swatted at his hands and, reluctantly, Napoleon removed them. "I can walk. He didn't cripple me - yet."

Illya walked ahead of him into the building, to the elevator and Napoleon followed, awash with admiration. He knew what an effort it was taking for Illya to remain on his feet, much less stride forward with such determination. Only the clenched fists at his sides gave any indication of what an enormous effort it was. And in the elevator, forward momentum temporarily halted, his knees buckled and he collapsed. Napoleon caught him and this time ignored the hands pushing at him. He lifted Illya easily - he was so light now! - and, bracing him against the wall, managed to insert his security card. The elevator rose towards the penthouse and he shifted his hold, cradling Illya now in his arms.

And Illya let him. He stopped pushing against Napoleon's chest, stopped trying to twist free, and put his head on Napoleon's shoulder with a tired sigh that tugged on Napoleon's heartstrings; so sweet it was almost painful, so painful it brought tears to his eyes. Why was he such a wreck? He couldn't seem to control his emotions at all. Was this what happened when your defenses came down? If so, he had chosen his partner well, because with no one else could he be comfortable without them. The door slid open and he stepped into the foyer. He managed to use his key, open the door and get through it without dropping Illya or banging him against any solid objects. It was as he was resetting the alarm that Illya began to shake against him. "What?" Napoleon was alarmed. "What's wrong? Illya?" He hurried across the floor, down the two steps into his sunken living room and deposited Illya on the large overstuffed couch there. He put a finger under Illya's chin and lifted it, peering into his eyes, expecting tears and maybe that would be a good thing, maybe Illya needed to find a way to release his feelings, but no. All he saw was ... laughter. Laughter? He sat beside Illya, newly worried. Was Illya hysterical now too? The way he had been in the ambulance? He rubbed Illya's back.

"There now," he said comfortingly. "It's all right."

"I know it is. Napoleon, you do realize what you just did, don't you?" Illya certainly didn't seem hysterical. His eyes were sparkling with mirth, his lips curved upward in a delightful way and Napoleon had leaned forward to kiss them before he knew it, before he could stop himself. Illya kissed him back willingly, wrapping his arms around Napoleon's neck, opening his mouth when Napoleon teased it with his tongue and there was a long, breathless interlude before Napoleon drew back. He drew back because he had to know what he had done to bring this on.

"What? What did I do?"

"You carried me over the threshold. I wasn't sure you were really serious with all this, but -" "I did not! I ... oh. I guess I did. I guess I ..." then he began laughing too. Illya joined him and they lay against one another and laughed themselves into exhaustion. Finally, when they were reduced to gasps and, in Illya's case, hiccups, they were quiet. Napoleon turned his head and pressed his lips to Illya's hair. "Well? Is that so terrible?"

"No." And the laughter was gone, the hiccups gone too as if they had never been, and Illya was looking directly into his eyes, into his soul. Napoleon swallowed but remained motionless, allowing that scrutiny, feeling layer after layer part before it, feeling totally penetrated, totally known. Then Illya smiled at him. "It's not terrible at all. I love you too, Napoleon. I don't think I've said it yet, although you have, several times. I have always loved you. I'm not sure when it happened, but once it did I was lost. I never thought - I mean I never had any hopes, but one thing I have learned in life is what lack of love does to the human spirit. I had never thought to feel such a thing, and that I did seemed gift enough."

"And now?" Napoleon whispered, gathering him closer still.

"Now I find myself wondering what comes next. Are you really planning to be my lover, Napoleon? Have you thought this through? There are some very real, very gritty issues."

"I suppose that's so. I don't know, Illya. I don't think I have thought it through, as you put it. All I know is that I can't live without you, I can't seem to hold you tightly enough, or long enough, and I've never been this aroused in my life."

"Really. That's quite a statement coming from you. Let me investigate." Illya put a hand on Napoleon's organ, which was indeed fully erect, straining forward. At the touch it jumped and Napoleon gasped.


"Not yet," Illya said. "I can feel it, though. Napoleon - there are a lot of things I'm not quite up for right now and this may be one of them."

"I understand. It's still so close - I wouldn't want to make you think of him, or ..." Illya kissed him again, stopping the words.

"No, that's not at all what I mean. You could never make me think of him. Never. I just mean I'm tired. So tired." He yawned and shivered at the same time. "Too tired to make love to you the way I'd like to. It will be your first time, won't it?"


"Well. First times shouldn't be rushed, and deserve the full attention of both parties. All I really want right now is bed. Bed, and you. You, holding me close so even when I'm asleep I'll know I'm with you. Do you - is that all right with you?"

"That is more than all right, Illya. I'm tired myself. I haven't slept much lately." No, he hadn't. He had stayed at that computer day and night, catching brief naps in his chair, jolted from them by the beep of the transmitter, the jangle of the phone as one police officer or another called in; the metal on metal sliding of the door as someone entered the room. Illya smiled at him tenderly.

"No, I'm sure you haven't. You look -" with one finger he delicately traced the skin just under Napoleon's eyes - "exhausted."

"So bed, for us both. Unless you want to eat first?"

"No. I'm not hungry. Don't you dare laugh at me!" This as Napoleon broke into an uncontrollable grin. "I know that's not something you hear very often. Don't expect to hear it often again, either. But right now all I want to do is sleep."

"With me."

"Yes. With you."

"Well then." He got up first and helped Illya rise in his turn. They separated for the necessary bathroom routines and came together again in Napoleon's big bed. Illya stretched luxuriously.

"Mmm, Napoleon. This is very nice. You certainly know how to be comfortable."

"Yes I do. And nothing would make me happier than for you to consider this your home now, too."

"You think Waverly will overlook that much? Us living together?"

"Yes. I think he will. And this is a much more secure building than yours is."

"I suppose." Illya yawned. "Oh, Napoleon. Thank you so much for not giving up, for pursuing him - and me - so tirelessly. If I hadn't known that you were, I might have given up because otherwise what was ahead of me but more suffering and shame and grief?" He trembled, and Napoleon's arms tightened. At the same time he stroked Illya's hair, trying to offer comfort, enormously gratified when Illya pressed closer, comforted. "Those poor boys before me," Illya whispered in his ear, and Napoleon's hand slid down, rubbed his back. "They had no hope of rescue. I'm quite sure they never told anyone where they were going. That bastard." His voice climbed. "That fucking bastard. He was going to cut my hamstrings because it amused him to think of me dragging myself along the floor, up those stairs, trying to get away from him and his damn cattle prod. I thought - oh no. No you're not. I'll kill you first."

"So you did," Napoleon said, still rubbing his back, lower now, and Illya arched against him.

"Yes," he whispered. "So I did. You're dead, you fucker, I thought, and I let him see it before I killed him. So what if I had to lie there and die with his stink in my nostrils? So fucking what? But it was bad, Napoleon. Yes, like that ..." turning so Napoleon's hand slid down his side. "It was very bad, all alone in the dark. I kept pulling on those ankle cuffs because I couldn't believe that such a simple thing was going to keep me there until I died. I pulled, and pulled, and tried to get them off. If I'd had an ax handy I'd have cut my feet off, I think, even if I bled to death before I got outside. But I didn't. I could see the keys, but I couldn't reach them. I could reach the cuffs, but I couldn't get them off. I was frantic to be free, and I couldn't do anything about it. Don't stop, Napoleon. That feels so good ..." he turned again so Napoleon's hand was on his stomach and Napoleon rubbed it, around and around in small circles, lighter now, caressing rather than massaging and Illya fairly purred with pleasure.

"You had already done what you needed to do," Napoleon said, right into his ear and again Illya made that small noise in his throat. "You had climbed those stairs and climbed them, over and over again until you left your blood and your fingernails on them. You never gave up, and that's how I found you."

"I never gave up," Illya agreed and gasped when Napoleon's hand brushed his thighs. "And you never gave up."

"We never give up. That's who we are. Illya ... is this all right?" Because there was no use pretending he didn't see that Illya was fully aroused now, his cock rising from its nest of soft blond curls. Fascinated, Napoleon touched it and it throbbed under his hand. "I thought you said you were too tired," he added, daring to tease.

"I am tired. Everywhere but there. And that's your fault, Napoleon. You got things going. Please don't tell me you're going to stop now. Please - oh." This as Napoleon took it in his hand fully, wrapping his fingers around it, giving it an experimental pump, just as he would to himself - different from a woman but not different at all in that he knew just what to do with this cock that wasn't his own. He squeezed it, then settled into a good steady rhythm, his other hand cupping Illya's balls now, knowing just how to roll them in his palm, how to tickle the delicate skin underneath, when and how to speed things up a little, then a little more. He didn't try to draw it out, to hold it off, just brought Illya to the peak by the shortest, sweetest route and when Illya came with a great sob and a frantic clutch around his neck he slowed, slowed, bringing Illya back down until he lay quietly again, panting and gasping, a fine sheen of sweat glistening on his chest. After a moment he gave Napoleon a drowsy smile and fell sound asleep. Careful not to disturb him Napoleon got up and went into the bathroom. His own cock was painfully erect and he took care of it quickly. Afterwards he washed his hands, marveling at how normal this all seemed. He had thought it would be earthshakingly different, filled with a wrongness that he would have to overcome to have the rest of this relationship with Illya, but it was the most natural thing in the world after all. He came back with a warm wet washcloth in one hand and a dry towel in the other, cleaning Illya with infinite care and tenderness, and Illya never stirred. Then he dropped both items into the hamper and got back in bed, pulling Illya against him with a new authority because the deed was done, it wasn't just a matter of words and wishful thinking. He had crossed his Rubicon, he had made his partner his lover, and everything else would just be a matter of technique and learning new skills.

Tomorrow, he thought, watching Illya's peaceful face. Tomorrow you can show me more of what you like, and I ... I will like anything you care to do to me. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow ... he fell asleep himself then, thinking of their future together and smiling.

Illya woke around midnight, needing to urinate. But he lay there for a moment first, just lay there. The lights of Manhattan came through the blinds, and he could see Napoleon's bedroom, as familiar to him as his own. It was his own, now. He could see Napoleon's bed - white comforter over them, dark headboard rising behind them. His bed too, now. And he could see Napoleon, lying beside him, turned towards him, face open, defenseless in sleep. His friend, his partner, his rescuer, his lover. His. His need to use the bathroom was urgent now, but still he didn't hurry, reveling in the luxury of rising, walking across the floor - bare feet sinking into plush carpet, walking free and unfettered to the bathroom. He used it, sighing with relief and pleasure, then washed his hands. Slowly he walked back to bed, climbed in and the mattress received him, the covers welcomed him, and Napoleon reached for him, gathered him in. Drew him close, and held him. Held him, and loved him.

The End

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