by paulaH and GJ

It was late at night on the open road, speeding like a man on run A lifetime spent preparing for the journey. He is closer now and the search is on, reading from a map in the mind: Yes there's that ragged hill and there's a boat on the river.

And when the rain came down, he heard a wild dog howl There were voices in the night (Don't do it!) Voices out of sight (Dont't do it!) To many men have failed before, whatever you do; Don't pay the ferryman! Don't even fix a price! Don't pay the ferryman Until he gets you to the other side.

In the rolling mist, then he gets on board, now there'll be no turning back Beware that hooded old man at the rudder. And then the lightning flashed and the thunder roared, And people calling out his name, And dancing bones that jabbered and a-moaned on the water.

And then the ferryman said "There is trouble ahead, So you must pay me now." (Don't do it!) "You must pay me now." (Don't do it!) And still that voice came from beyond, whatever you do;

Don't pay the ferryman! Don't even fix a price! Don't pay the ferryman Until he gets you to the other side.

—Don't Pay the Ferryman, Chris DeBurgh

It was pitch black, clouds obscuring what little light from the full moon that might have penetrated the thick jungle canopy. No town near enough to give the faintest hint of light in the night sky. With the darkness came cooler temperatures which when combined with the humidity of the day formed a dense fog along the Usumacinta River. Thick or not, Illya would have to cross the water barrier in order to get to Tuxtla Guttierez, Mexico where Napoleon waited for him.

His mission to recover the maps and blueprints of a THRUSH rocket storage facility had taken him from Southern Mexico into Guatemala. Now that he had what he wanted, it was time to find his way back. Easier said than done. The car he'd come in had been stripped of parts while it sat waiting for the three days it took him to complete the mission and return. Now he was on foot with THRUSH chasing after him. They weren't too close for the moment. Unfortunately he thought he heard dogs earlier, so he expected them to catch up eventually.

He didn't spare the possibility more than a passing thought. His work was fraught with peril. It was one of the constants of his job. Little things went wrong all the time and improvisation saved his life on many occasions. It might now. It might not. Although he would fight tooth and nail to survive anything thrown at him, he wasn't afraid of death. Had faced it too many times to worry about it now. All of his training—from a youth barely surviving the war to the special education he'd received from the KGB—brought him to this time. This place. There was no one better suited for this job and he never questioned who was right or wrong, but followed his orders and tried his best to succeed. He did count himself lucky to be owned by the U.N.C.L.E. now instead of KGB. U.N.C.L.E. at least had ethics, or at least as much as an intelligence organization could possess.

He also had the luck to be partners with Napoleon Solo, his best, and only, friend. He had a number of people, mostly colleagues in U.N.C.L.E, with which he was friendly, as far as he could be, at any rate. Only Napoleon held the title of FRIEND. Only Napoleon had earned the right to see behind Illya's icy façade that he showed the rest of the world. Only Napoleon would have waited around for as long as he did, convincing Waverly of the need for his continued presence in Mexico long after the Old Man, not to mention everyone else, gave Illya Kuryakin up for dead.

Illya smiled as he thought of the conversation they'd had only an hour ago. Illya had managed to find his communicator while rummaging for the maps. No gun, but the communicator was almost as handy. "Open Channel L," he'd said after he'd found the useless car, using the channel reserved for him and Napoleon.

"Illya?" came the instant and breathless reply.

Anxious about his missing friend or he'd called his partner at an inopportune time, which usually meant Napoleon was entertaining a lady? Illya suspected a bit of both.

"Where in the hell are you?"


Only Illya would be able to hear the surprise and concern underneath Napoleon's calm tones. "Decide you needed a vacation?"

"THRUSH decided I did. I decided I didn't care for their choice of locales, so I am on my way to your location now. Unfortunately, the natives liberated pieces of my car for their own uses, so I have to find another way to get there."

"Want me to send a helicopter?"

Illya glanced around at the jungle surrounding him. "No place to land."


"Some, but relatively far away for the moment. Maybe once I get across the river I will be able to find a clear area. I'll call you when I find a way across."

"All right."

Napoleon didn't say to be careful, but Illya had heard it anyway. It gave him an odd feeling to know someone actually cared what happened to him. On the one hand, it was terrifying. On the other hand, he found he rather liked it. He shook his head, deciding now was not the time to think about it. He doubted there would ever be a time to do so, either.

He put it out of his mind and continued in what he hoped was the direction of the river. He could hear the slosh of water so he felt reasonably sure. As he broke out of the jungle, he could barely see the edge of the river in the heavy fog. He paused, trying to decide which direction to take in the hopes of finding a bridge or some other way to cross. Sounds amplified in the fog and he tilted his head. It sounded like the water was breaking in a different pattern upstream. And he thought he picked up the sound of creaking. A boat? He listened intently for several minutes before choosing a direction. Fog not only amplified sound, it made it echo and something coming from one way could seem to come from another.

He hadn't walked far when a dark shape loomed, bobbing on the edge of the river. Illya approached cautiously. A man shape moved around on the surface of what he could now see was a ferry.

~What luck~ The silent thought quickly passed through his mind as he crouched in the edge of the woods to see if it was safe. If he was right, just across the river would be a road leading to Tuxtla Guttierez. He could call Napoleon to pick him up.

A growing static hiss invaded Illya's ears. Rain fell through the trees, making his journey that much drearier. His stomach growled and he imagined sitting down to a hot meal tonight, his first in several days.

As he watched, the boat disgorged a couple of people who hurried down the road to get out of the rain. Illya stood up before the boat prepared to leave. He waved to the ferryman and trotted over even as a dog barked upstream from them. THRUSH bloodhounds hot on his trail, no doubt.

He didn't speak the native tongue of the Chiapas. Hand signals would have to do.

Hidalgo Rios looked up warily at the stranger. He seemed to want to cross the river. Hidalgo nodded and stepped back indicating for him to get on. With the bad weather approaching it would be his last trip tonight and he pulled his hooded cloak tighter around his neck as he cast off. He angled the rudder steering them across the river and primed the motor to get moving. Then he sat down and pointed at Illya. A slight glint of gold in his tooth flashed as he laughed and said, "American?"

Illya shook his head. "Russian."

Hidalgo shrugged. He did not know that word. "You... uh... tourist?"

Illya smiled and gave a slight nod. That was close enough he supposed. He just wanted to get out of the rain.

"Kuryakin!" a voice called from the shore.

Someone in THRUSH must have recognized him in the escape. No matter. He was far enough out into the river that they couldn't reach him and the fog hid them reasonably well. He ignored the sound, shrugged to the ferryman and shook his head as if he didn't understand the voices in the dark, trying to convince the man they had nothing to do with him.

The ferryman nodded and lashed the rudder to hold it on course. Then he moved forward in the boat and pointed out over the water as if to show Illya something.

Illya turned his head and squinted into the darkness trying to see through the fog. That was all he could recall.

An oar clubbed the blond man just above the left ear. It dropped the man senseless into the bottom of the boat. Then the ferryman picked up a lantern and signaled into the fog. He turned off the motor and waited, taking the time to search the pockets of the unconscious man. His reward? Some papers that looked like maps and drawings; useless and tossed into the river. A handful of pesos and a money clip with American dollars. He pocketed those for himself. A pen and cigarette lighter. He could sell those for more money. A pocket knife. He could use that since his was old and the blade worn to almost nothing.

He finished stripping the man of his belongings just as a larger boat loomed into view through the fog. A line was tossed down to him and he tied up alongside. Two men climbed down a cargo net and wrestled the limp form into a large sack. They hauled the blond man aboard the vessel as the Captain paid the ferryman for the new acquisition.

"You didn't hurt him much, did you?" the Captain asked as he counted out the coins.

Rubbing his scruffy jaw, the ferryman shook his head. "No. He was easy. Just a bump on the head. You will get a good price for that one." His eyes gleamed at the coins. With what he found in the pockets tonight would be a good night. He'd buy a bottle of the best liquor and celebrate his good fortune.

After climbing aboard his river freighter, the Captain ordered a course set for their transfer point at the mouth of the river. This shipment should fill the hold with the required numbers needed for this trip. The cargo ship was scheduled to leave the next afternoon.

Napoleon was up all night waiting for Illya to call. With THRUSH on the man's tail he didn't dare try to call, afraid the signal would give the Russian's position away. As time passed his worry grew and by sunrise he was getting desperate to hear from him.

Still wearing his suit, wrinkled from a night sitting up in his room, Napoleon headed downstairs. He got in his car and began driving out toward the river. He thought if he followed it he might find some sign of Illya. In fact, he thought if he found him walking along the road toward town he might just run over him out of spite for keeping him up all night.

As each hour dragged by Napoleon's fears grew. By ten in the morning he decided he'd have to try contacting Illya with the communicator. He assembled his pen and put out the transmission. "Open channel L. Illya. Come in Illya." He waited but there was no return signal. He tried again hoping somehow it would go through but he could tell Illya's communicator wasn't even turned on. Reluctantly he altered the settings. "Open Channel D." He'd have to report to Waverly now.

Napoleon's call was directed straight through to Waverly who was waiting for the news that the plans were now safely in U.N.C.L.E.'s hands. The old man himself answered.

"Ech hem. Mr. Solo. I trust you and Mr. Kuryakin have the plans and are on the way back to New York now," Waverly stated with confidence.

Napoleon grimaced. "Well not exactly I'm afraid."

"Not exactly?" Waverly replied. "Just what does that mean Mr. Solo?"

He could picture the sour look on the U.N.C.L.E. Chief's face. Napoleon steadied himself and said, "Well Illya did contact me last night saying he had the plans and maps but he was on the run and thought they weren't far behind him. He was supposed to contact me when he found a way across the river from Guatemala."

The thick brows crimped on the old man's face. "Guatemala? What in God's name was he doing there?"

"I didn't get all the details myself sir but he did say he'd recovered the items and was on his way back. I just never heard from him after that."

Waverly knew that meant one of two things. Either they caught or killed Kuryakin. Neither was good news but it meant that the mission was over. They'd lost the advantage they had and trying again so soon would just lose them another agent. If Kuryakin was gone they couldn't afford to lose Napoleon right now. "It's over Mr. Solo. Return to New York."

The first thing Illya noticed when he returned to consciousness was the vibration of the boat's motor. Still on the ferry? Not sure. It sounded different somehow. He kept his eyes closed in order to listen to the engine better, not to mention to hold the stab of pain opening them would cause. The motor growled in a low tone and the vibration hinted at more power than the ferryboat could muster. Not the ferry, then. Something different. He still thought he was on a boat, but a bigger one.

At that point his other senses started to come back online. The smell of sweat and the odors of other bodily functions—stale and fresh—and various shufflings and snufflings let him know he was not alone. He could feel the press of bodies all around him, giving him the impression wherever he was, it was crowded.

So where was he? Only one way to find out. Steeling himself for the increase of an already staggering headache, he slowly opened his eyes. A little Mexican girl loomed over him, staring down. When Illya's bleary blue-eyed gazed captured hers, she shrieked and scampered away, talking excitedly in the Spanish dialect of Mexico. No longer in Chiapas then. Were they even on the same river? The ferryman obviously transferred him onto this boat without his knowing. They could have transferred him any number of times at this point, depending on how long he was out. He lifted a hand to rub his forehead. At least he was unbound. That was a switch.

Illya perked up when he noticed a decrease in engine noise. The boat was slowing. With a slight groan, he sat up and glanced around, hoping for a window. No such luck. The little bit of light came from between cracks in the ceiling. Probably a cargo hold. He glanced at the faces around him. A variety of men, women, children, and even babies shared the hold with him.

One old man stared at him with open curiosity. "Where are we?" Illya asked him in the same dialect of Spanish the girl had used.

The old man shrugged. "We have no way of knowing. We are supposed to be going to America, but I don't think that is where we are headed."

Before Illya could ask more, a trapdoor in the ceiling crashed opened. Light spilled in through the large square illuminating the handful of men descending the stairs into the hold. All he could see in the momentary blindness of the bright light was that several of them held rifles; the rest held manacles. Illya scowled at the sight of the restraints. How wonderful.

The men expertly applied the manacles on everyone, including women and children. Some of the young ones cried softly, the wailers having been quieted by their mothers. The captors herded them up the stairs and onto the deck of the boat. Or ship, rather, Illya amended once his eyes adjusted to the outside brightness.

In the distance, Illya saw a thin strip of land. Their destination, he assumed. After observing the men as they bound him and the others, Illya had concluded he was not in the hands of THRUSH, nor any other nefarious foe of the U.N.C.L.E. Just who had him in shackles and standing on the deck of a ship he wasn't sure. He had the suspicion he happened to have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A new man stepped up and inspected his "cargo." Illya surveyed him quickly in order to decide just what his role in this little farce might be. Powerfully built, thick, shining dark hair, dark eyes. He might have been handsome if not for the scar, which ran from the corner of his left eye, bisected his lips, and ended at the opposite corner of the jaw. Nasty. Illya decided now was not the time to indulge in one of his games of "what happened"?

Illya might have thought him just another thug if not for the impeccable condition of his white uniform. The brass buttons were polished to within an inch of their life. Illya had no doubt he could see his reflection in those buttons if he got close enough. Knowing the way his luck was running this mission, they would be exploding buttons. The braiding and insignia gave Illya the clue to the man's rank. This was the Captain of this ship.

The Captain surveyed his captives, breaking into a large, toothy grin when he spied Illya. "Oh my!" He glanced at a man with a clipboard who hovered beside him. "You were right, Melvern."

The Captain approached Illya with a gleam in his eyes that made the Russian wary. He'd seen that look far too many times in his life. Someone saw a chance for personal gain and he, Illya, was a central part of their get rich quick scheme. He didn't think this time would be an exception.

The man strode up to Illya and grabbed his chin in one large hand. He manipulated Illya's head in order to look at it from all angles. "Good bone structure." He squeezed Illya's biceps, shoulders, and legs. "He's a little small, but has excellent muscle tone. A lot of work can be gotten from him." He stepped back and studied Illya seriously. He turned to a man with a clipboard that stood beside him. "His coloring alone will bring a good price."

Illya's eyes widened in momentary surprise. He yanked himself back under control and composed his face into its usual neutral mask.

Not quick enough. The Captain's grin grew. "Yes. A good price indeed."

At the moment Illya realized just who wanted him as a guest badly enough to shanghai him and suddenly wished for the comfort of a THRUSH madman. Even that would be better than being in the clutches of slavers.

Next the Captain looked over the old man and made a face. "This one is not worth the food it would cost to get him across the ocean. You know what to do."

The crewman nodded. Once in the open waters of the gulf the sharks would have a nice snack.

Under the watchful eyes of the guards, the group of people were marched up to the deck and transferred by cargo nets to the freighter. Then like cattle they were herded below to a storage room and locked in with a resounding clang as the metal door slammed closed behind them.

Illya sat on the hard metal deck and raised his hand to look at the manacles. Then he surveyed the haunted helpless faces around him. Right now he felt much the same. He wasn't used to failure. Then the vibration of the ship's engines reached him. They were heading toward the Atlantic to who knew where.

Napoleon hated to leave but orders were orders and in spite of his committed wish to stay and look for Illya, Waverly insisted he return to New York. With each mile passing beneath him as he flew back the ache in his stomach grew stronger. He'd never let Illya down before. This felt so wrong.

Twenty-four hours after being informed of Kuryakin's disappearance Napoleon stood before his Chief and gave a verbal report on the events of their mission. He added that in his opinion he should be in Mexico looking for the agent right now.

Waverly was immovable. "We have standard procedures in cases such as this and as CEA you know them all too well Mr. Solo. You will report to your office and remain on desk duty until such time as a new partner is assigned to you. Is that clear?"

There was no mistaking the tone in the old man's voice. Napoleon knew how stern Waverly was when it came to dealing with agents. The agent looked down at the floor and then over his shoulder to avoid Waverly's glare while he bit his lip to hold back the retort. The spot where Illya always stood just behind him, as if guarding Solo's back, was empty but Napoleon could still visualize him there. It was as if no one else would ever take his place. Sadly Napoleon nodded. "Yes sir. Quite clear."

"Then I suggest you begin by writing out your report in detail and submitting it to the records section."

Waverly lit his pipe, the signal that this conversation was at an end. The agent got up and headed out the door defeated and deflated. He'd dealt with losing a partner before but somehow this time was worse. A twisted knot in his stomach wouldn't go away. He needed to find out what happened to Illya but with no leads he could do nothing but his duty for now. That didn't mean he had to like it.

One day passed and then another. To everyone who saw him, Napoleon carried on at U.N.C.L.E. much as he had the first time he'd lost a partner. That one had been to a THRUSH marksman and the man responsible paid for it with his own life. Napoleon was a pallbearer at the funeral and then five days later a new partner was placed in his trust. The young blond man didn't look old enough to tie his shoes let alone hold the U.N.C.L.E. special that he'd just scored 98 out of 100 kill shots on the target range. There was something about Illya Kuryakin though. Most people were put off by the accent and the fact that he was Russian but Napoleon took a liking to him. It wasn't long before they were the top team in U.N.C.L.E. and respected by all. This time he wasn't looking forward to working with someone else. Perhaps it was because in his heart he felt Illya was still out there.

As usual Napoleon's work performance was exemplary and his status as CEA was in no danger but privately he had his doubts. It bothered him that he seemed to visualize Illya everywhere as if he should still be there. In the shower after a workout Napoleon would look over his shoulder at the other stall and see the water running down over the well-defined muscles of Illya's back and down his strong legs to the floor. He'd see him sitting on the corner of his desk, hands propped on one leg as he leaned over Napoleon's work peering at the papers. The thoughts wouldn't go away.

It was a miserable journey across the ocean. Illya believed that many days had passed although below decks and unable to see daylight he didn't have an accurate way to calculate the passage of time. Food was minimal but enough to keep them alive and bottled water was provided. The scent of stale salt air came from the vents and large waves rocked the boat from time to time. He'd had better vacations.

The Captain scanned the horizon with strong binoculars. "Slow to quarter speed. Prepare for company."

The first mate changed the settings and the ship began its slow deceleration. The heavy hum from the engines softened as they waited for some sign from their contact. Fifteen minutes later a smaller vessel approached and signaled with the correct light code.

"All stop," the Captain ordered. They had to unload their illegal cargo before heading into port. The small boat would take the new slaves to shore and have them housed until the auction at the market.

Illya allowed himself to be herded onto the new boat along with the other captives. No point in escaping here. He had no place to go but into the middle of the ocean. He wouldn't survive that anymore than the old man did. His gut twisted at the thought of the old man. Shackled and secured, Illya could do nothing to help the man when one of the ship's crew had cut the old Mexican with a knife, picked him up, and tossed him overboard.

As the moving ship had pulled away from him, Illya saw him struggling to stay afloat. He also saw the dorsal fins of several sharks moving towards him. The screams seemed to last for much longer than the three minutes the winner of the ship's pool had predicted.

That had happened only about a mile away from this spot. Illya doubted the sharks were much less plentiful here than they had been there. No, he would wait until they reached dry land before planning his escape.

As they transferred from one boat to the other, he tried to figure out where he was. Hard to tell. He was unsure just how many days they'd sailed. Two? Three? More? He was unable to tell in the dark hold. Time wasn't a good indicator, anyway. They'd stopped a number of times along the way for the slavers to take on more human cargo, so that had made the calculations more difficult. The color of the water suggested abundance of coral which gave him several possibilities. One of those was the Persian Gulf and considering they were to be sold as slaves, he thought that the most likely. He'd recently read a CIA brief to U.N.C.L.E. which talked about the problem of slavery going on in the Middle East. If he ever made it back to New York, he could give U.N.C.L.E. a firsthand account of it.

His mind shifted to Napoleon as it had so many times since his fateful ride with the ferryman. He knew his partner and best friend would be worried. If Napoleon had his way, he'd be tearing up the entire Chiapas searching for him. The question was, would Waverly let him have his way? Either way, he knew Napoleon would eventually find him if he, Illya, didn't escape first. It was more a question of timing. If Napoleon could work on it full time, Illya expected a rescue soon. If his partner had to do it in his spare time, it could take a little longer. Maybe a day, if he knew his Napoleon.

The prod of a rifle in his ribs interrupted his musings before he realized he'd thought of his partner in a possessive way. The crew of the new ship secured Illya and the others in yet another cargo hold. A much smaller one this time. They crowded together, the stench of unwashed bodies and human wastes overpowering. Illya breathed through his mouth to lessen the experience. This time they only sailed for a short time before he and the other captives were finally escorted onto dry land.

Illya glanced around, assessing the possibility of escape. The idea flew out of his brain when the guards threaded a long chain through rings on the leg shackles connecting him to his fellow slaves. Slave! He couldn't believe he was about to be sold like . . . like . . . like a couch or a car! The thought of being owned by another made him cold, even in the stifling heat. The KGB had owned him like that once. After he'd been sent to the U.N.C.L.E. Illya knew what it felt like to truly be free for the first time in his life. U.N.C.L.E. freed his body and Napoleon freed his soul. To be forced back into a situation that was as bad as, if not worse, than his enslavement by the KGB was horrifying. It made him angry. If he ever got the chance, he would blast the slaver's boat right out of the water.

Their captors guided them into the city's marketplace and over to a square dais. An auction was already in progress; on the block at the moment were a woman and her six-year-old daughter. The bidding went quickly and the two were led away only to be replaced by a man. The sun beat down on Illya's fair skin as the auction continued. Finally, it was their captives' turn. The main guard released the Russian from the communal chain, but left the hand and leg shackles in place.

The raucous crowd hushed when the handsome blond haired, blue eyed, fair skinned infidel was dragged onto the dais. Illya resisted the pull on the chain, unwilling to let this farce go any farther. Not that he had a real choice, but he didn't have to go quietly. It was a motto he'd developed long ago and saw no reason to change it now.

"What have we here?" the auctioneer sneered in Arabic. "I'm sure many of you would like to see this one working in your oil fields."

"He's too spirited," heckled one prospective buyer.

The auctioneer gave the audience a greasy smile. "Ah, but think of the pleasure breaking his spirit would be."

"How much work can I get out of a skinny fellow like that?" another objected. Omar, the right hand of Sheikh Antar Al-Fadee, leader of the small territory of Al-Asfan, knew his master would be interested. Antar enjoyed making the infidels suffer and had a standing order to buy any that came through the slave market. Omar, however, felt it his duty to make sure the infidel slave could do something besides preach the word of their god. He wanted his master's money to be well spent and not wasted on a pretty bauble with no real skills.

Illya's handler leaned over and whispered to the auctioneer, whose smile broadened. The auctioneer shouted, "His present owner says he has more to him than meets the eye. The clothes cover his best assets."

At that moment, the slaver motioned several of the guards over to help him strip the clothes off their hapless victim. The white slave remained still, too many knives flashing near his body as they cut his clothing to make it prudent to fight. His expression and demeanor remained defiant, but indifferent to the humiliation they foisted upon him.

The guards moved away after only a couple of minutes, leaving the blond's body displayed for all to see. Omar moved closer to inspect him. He hopped onto the dais and felt the man's muscle tone. Very nice. This man's small stature promoted a deceptive impression. Short and, upon first glance, skinny, belied the strength hiding just beneath the surface.

Blue eyes focused on Omar. Clear and cold, yet they blazed with a fire filled with . . . well, not hatred so much as loathing. Omar would buy him, but the first thing he would have to do was teach the man a little humility. As a beginning lesson, Omar grabbed the limp genitals between the powerful white thighs and squeezed. To his surprise, the only reaction was a slight wince at the pain. If anything, the eyes flamed brighter with defiance rather than bank with acceptance of Omar's superiority.

Omar smiled. The Sheikh always liked a challenge. "I will give two hundred riyals," he announced, an amount that added up to approximately fifty American dollars. It was a large amount for a slave, but he wanted no opposing bids, which there would be if the price were too low. The Sheikh was a powerful force in his own territory, but here the representatives of other sheikh were also present and thought nothing of bidding against his master.

The auctioneer, buoyed by such a large beginning, started haranguing the audience for more bids. "I have two hundred riyals. Who will give me three hundred?" Although murmurs rippled through the crowd, no one spoke up. "Two hundred and fifty?" he asked hopefully. He waited for several long seconds, but when no one else bid, he had to concede the sale. "Sold to the house of Sheikh Antar Al-Fadee."

Omar handed over the coin, took the chain attached to the blond man's manacled wrists, and led him away.

Napoleon ate his lunch in his office most days. In fact socializing with anyone at U.N.C.L.E. seemed to be a chore since Illya disappeared. It was hard to sit and do paperwork of any kind. Not that he wasn't good at it nor that he left it to Illya all the time, but he felt incredibly restless as if he should be out there looking for him instead. Truthfully, even if Waverly had let him, there were no traces. The local police in Mexico and the other U.N.C.L.E. agents that followed up later never found a thing to suggest Illya was alive or even made it out of Guatemala.

As Napoleon stared at his cheese and onion sandwich, contemplating whether to finish eating it or not, Mark Slate poked his head into the office. "Hey mate."

Napoleon looked up at him with a weak smile.

"I heard about Illya," he said as he entered. "April and I just got back from Canada. I'm sorry."

Napoleon shook his head slightly. "We all know the score when we join. U.N.C.L.E. loses agents all the time."

Mark knew Illya meant more to him than just any partner. "Yeah. We do," he agreed although Napoleon would hear what he was really saying. "How long are you going to be riding the desk?"

After letting out a long breath, Napoleon tipped his head toward the area of Waverly's office. "Later today sometime I'm supposed to meet with the new man."

"You don't sound too enthusiastic about getting back into the field," Mark commented as he plopped himself into the chair across from his desk.

Napoleon pushed away his sandwich and leaned back. "It's not that. I just have the gut feeling that Illya is out there somewhere and I should be looking for him. That's all."

"Waverly won't go for that," the Brit replied. "You're too valuable to have spending time on a missing person case. Unless it was the daughter of the King of Spain or something."

The CEA shook his head trying to purge his dour mood and sat up straighter. "Yes. I know better. I just have to pull myself together and get on with things." Yet even as he looked out the open door to the hall he could picture Illya standing there, arms and ankles crossed and shoulder leaning against the frame. His stomach turned and his lunch threatened to come back up.

After being dragged down from the auction block and replaced with the next unfortunate soul, Illya was led to the holding area. He was officially the property of Sheikh Antar Al-Fadee. A pile of slightly worn clothes, consisting of a sirwal and ghutra with igal, were tossed at his feet and he was briefly, and at gunpoint, unchained to dress. He contemplated making an escape attempt but naked in the streets with armed men chasing him, he wasn't likely to get far. He chose to do as they wanted and slipped the loose pants on and then put the kerchief on his head, setting it in place with the igal. Once he was dressed he and the others bought by Illya's new owner were all given water and shackled once again. He was chained to the others destined for the Sheikhdom.

As afternoon approached the new owners herded the group into a truck. Illya was grateful that they wouldn't be forced to walk but that was short lived. About an hour out of the city they stopped and everyone got out. A camel train already packed with supplies was waiting and the slaves had to walk the rest of the way.

Napoleon entered Waverly's office noting they were not alone. A tall dark haired man stood off to one side as the CEA waited on the introductions.

The old man turned toward Napoleon. "Mr. Solo. This is Mr. Burke. He's just joined us from our Canadian offices in Vancouver." He nodded to Burke. "Mr. Solo is our CEA here in New York."

Burke was surprised and impressed. He extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you. I've heard of you already."

Napoleon forced a polite smile, his own natural charm taking over when inside he still felt wounded. "Thank you. All good I hope."

Burke was sure this wasn't the place for chitchat so he didn't continue beyond the pleasantries at the moment. A simple nod sufficed as an answer.

Waverly took his seat at the head of the table. "I've reviewed Mr. Burke's records. A copy will be forwarded to your office Mr. Solo. Meanwhile I suggest you get our new agent acquainted with the building."

"I'll do that Mr. Waverly," Napoleon replied. "Good day sir." He turned and, with Burke, headed back into the corridor.

"I've heard a lot about you. You and Mr. Kuryakin are almost famous among U.N.C.L.E.," Burke almost gushed in hero worship.

Napoleon's grin was more of a grimace at the name of his partner. He forced a calm tone through his strained voice. "Yes. Mr. Kuryakin is MIA at the moment." He couldn't bring himself to say more than that. Changing the subject might help. "How long have you been with U.N.C.L.E.?" He'd know all the details when he went through the file but for now it was just a good way for talking about something else.

"Four years. I was with the RCMP for two years before that," he said eager to please the senior agent.

Napoleon found the enthusiasm of the younger man irritating. As they walked he glanced back at Waverly's office and pictured Illya, standing there in those silly dark rimmed glasses he sometimes wore when he was reading, looking at him and shaking his head in amusement at Napoleon's fortune of being saddled with Burke as a partner.

Illya forced himself to keep from swaying as he stood with the other new slaves while Sheikh Antar Al-Fadee inspected his purchases. His feet were blistered and bleeding from the long walk in the desert sands. He was exhausted and hungry to the point of starvation. Even so, he stood straight and still, unwilling to let the Arabs see his weakness.

"The woman can go to the kitchens," Al-Fadee ordered. "She is not pretty enough for the harem." He checked out the other two male slaves and ordered them to various tasks. He stopped at Illya and looked him over.

Illya's blue eyes glittered with icy disdain. He had no respect for a man who had such hubris he believed he had the right to own another person. He disliked oppression of any kind and he hated it when anyone tried to be a master over him. He could play along with the misconception if necessary to survive. Someone who believed they truly possessed him, body and soul, however, was sadly mistaken.

The Sheikh pursed his lips. "Infidel slave! You will look at the ground when you are in my presence!" he snarled into Illya's face.

Illya didn't turn away, even though the Arab's breath could be used as a knockout gas.

Al-Fadee's face contorted in anger. "Look down at the feet which you are not worthy enough to lick!" He punched Illya in the gut.

Illya doubled over. Defeated for the moment, but only for the moment, he stayed that way, eyes on the ground.

"Better," sneered Al-Fadee. "Put him to work on building my new vacation palace." He spoke in Arabic the man who had purchased Illya; obviously assuming the Western dog would not understand him. "Far enough away so my son doesn't see him." He shook his head. "He especially likes the exotics." He left in a flurry of robes.

Illya filed the tidbit of information away. He was unsure in what way the Sheikh's son liked exotic looking people. It could be anything from enjoying torturing them to making them model swimwear. Illya decided long ago that where rich people were concerned, odd quirks abounded. He might be able to use the Prince's odd quirks, whatever they may be, against him.

Omar had several of his men take the other slaves to their designated areas of work. He looked Illya over with distaste. "I do not enjoy the idea of spending yet another day in your company, but it seems I have no choice. Do not talk to me unless I tell you to and do not look at me. If you as I say, perhaps you will live long enough to reach your next destination."

Burke shot at the target, the third one in a row. Solo looked on critically, closely inspecting each target at the end of each spent clip. Burke was nervous—who wouldn't be?—but he thought he did a relatively good job of not showing it. He knew his shooting didn't reflect it. He was rated as an expert marksman and, although that was not the high master ranking of Illya Kuryakin, it was more than respectable. His average was actually a little higher than Solo's. The CEA's score hovered around 92%, while he tended to stay at 93.5%.

He was good not just at shooting but as an agent. He knew it. He also knew that although Kuryakin was small in stature, he left very big shoes for Solo's new partner to fill. Burke didn't kid himself he could outdo Illya Kuryakin. Maybe someday when he'd gotten more experienced he could boast such a thing, but he couldn't now. However, he thought he could make a good enough showing that when Kuryakin returned, Mr. Waverly would consider putting the Russian with another partner and retaining the partnership of Solo and Burke.

Burke had no doubt Kuryakin would be back. When he transferred to New York, he'd read up on all the agents. One of the things he'd noticed was how often the Russian seemed to return from the dead. Waverly would write him off as a casualty and Kuryakin would show up again. Burke would say like a bad penny, but he respected the Russian's abilities far too much for such flippancy. Of course, that didn't mean he didn't want the man's job.

"Not bad, Burke," Solo grudgingly admitted, studying the latest target. He had to admit to himself that Burke was good. In fact his skills were very good for such a green agent but it would be in the field where he'd have to do most of his learning yet. Napoleon had gone through this before and produced exceptional agents for U.N.C.L.E.. He could see no reason that Burke would not be another. "You've got a natural talent for this."

Burke grinned. "Thank you, sir. I know I'm not quite up to Mr. Kuryakin's standards, but I hold my own a fight."

"So it seems," Solo said. He wrote Burke's name on the top of the target. "We'll just give these to Heinrich so he can note them for your qualification requirements. Then we'll go see how you are at hand to hand."

Burke's grin broadened. "Yes sir!" He was even better at hand fighting than he was at shooting. Although Burke didn't want to think of a fellow agent being in enemy hands for a long period of time, a part of him hoped Kuryakin didn't find his way back to New York until he'd proven himself to Solo and Waverly.

Over the next week and a half Napoleon Solo carried on with his task of overseeing Burke's training for the field. The young recruit was adept at all the necessities an agent would need and quite eager to prove himself, and in spite of Napoleon's best efforts to the contrary, still believing Illya was out there, he couldn't help but like the man. Even with all that on his plate to keep him occupied Illya was still in the back of his mind and everywhere he turned he'd imagine the Russian with his critical eye smirking at what was going on.

Mark Slate and April Dancer joined Burke and Solo in the gymnasium for a practice session of two on two offense/defense practice. A couple of the female clerks at U.N.C.L.E. found an entertaining way of spending their lunch hour; watching their hottest available bachelor working out. Napoleon Solo.

They shouldn't have bothered. In recent weeks Napoleon hadn't dated at all. In fact every time he was approached by one of the alluring ladies of U.N.C.L.E. he'd invented some excuse that he had to be elsewhere instead of spending a night filled with wine, women, and song dangling in front of his nose.

Now panting heavily with the strenuous workout Napoleon was aware of the audience but his attention was on the image he had of the sweat drenched Illya he recalled from their last workout. He was focused on the T-shirt that clung to the slender frame, almost transparent with the moisture exuding from his skin; the hair stuck to his forehead; muscles rippled with tension as he readied himself to spring at Solo. It was all so vivid and so.... so....

"Nooooo," the little brown haired girl complained in the back seat. "Leave me alone," she said and swatted at her brother sitting beside her.

Mother sighed and rolled her eyes toward the roof of the car. Seven hours of driving was making the kids restless. She turned around and snapped at them. "Cut it out Curtis. Leave Amanda alone. Amanda. Why don't you do something in your puzzle book and ignore your brother?"

Curtis frowned and crossed his arms like he was being wrongly accused. "I didn't do anything," he lied.

Dad kept his eyes on the road but he did glance at his son in the rearview mirror. "Settle down. We'll be home in another hour so behave. The both of you."

Amanda, happy with her victory, stuck out her tongue at her brother and then picked up her dad's satchel from the floor to find a pencil. She grabbed the silver pen he bought in Mexico and tried to figure out how to get it to write. It was strange compared to the cheap Bics she was used to. No matter what she did it wouldn't work and finally she threw it to the floor in frustration. Then she found another in his bag and opened her puzzle book.

On the large map directly behind Waverly's desk a light began to flash. It was in California nearing Weed in the northern part of the state. The color meant it was the distress signal and when traced was revealed to be Kuryakin's communicator pen. The strange thing was that when they tried contacting the Russian he didn't respond.

The fastest thing to do was send local highway patrol for an initial interception. What they found would determine his next course of action. At the moment though informing Napoleon Solo was not necessary. Waverly was pleased with the way his new partner was doing under the CEA's training. A field test would soon be in order.

The quarry for the winter palace was a heinous place. The human suffering that went on made the exhausted men bone weary and apathetic to each other. Illya was on the porter gang. They had to walk down into the pit, drop their leather basket to the ground to be filled with loose debris, put it onto their shoulder and walk up again to dump it in the tailings pile only to repeat the whole process over again.

The blond man spent a couple of miserable weeks laboring in the sun, sweating heavily, skin reddening and hair bleaching even paler when he failed to wear his head gear. Muscles grew even more defined as they worked out and he lost the little fat he had on the poor diet. Every time he rested he pondered the possibilities of rescue verses the chances of successfully escaping. In the back of his mind lurked the idea Napoleon would rescue him.

Day after day it was the same thing. Wake. Eat. Work. Rest. Work. Rest. Work. Eat. Sleep. There was only tedium from start to finish and no sign of rescue and no hope of surviving alone in the desert. . Illya grew weary of the tedious existence. Unfortunately, no chance to escape presented itself. He even started to give up the hope Napoleon would somehow find him. Suddenly all work seemed to slow down and he stumbled into the man in front of him. Immediately he looked up to see what was happening

The men on the gangs tried to keep moving as a limousine approached and crossed the work site. From the front seat two men in suits, dark glasses, and ghutras, emerged. Illya could tell by their postures both were armed. One opened the back door and a well-dressed man wearing traditional princely robes got out. Behind him a delicate hand reached out and he guided a lovely dark-eyed beauty to her feet, a slightly awkward task that revealed her advanced state of pregnancy.

Illya spoke softly to the man ahead of him in line as they stumbled along under the weight of their loads. "Who is that?"

The withering old man glanced over his shoulder at Illya and whispered. "It is the sheikh's son Prince Laheeb. That woman is his first wife. The sheikh will be happy for his son to have an heir at last. He had better hope for a boy."

"Why do you say that?" Illya asked while watching the couple walk over to examine the site and the progress being made.

Shaking his head at the quiet comment the man turned back toward the direction he was walking. "It is best not to talk of such things."

Illya watched the prince and princess tour the area as he labored at his task. The car was a tempting idea but with the armed men he stood little chance reaching the vehicle much less starting it before being shot to death. He lost hope for the thought when the princess tired and returned to the car with one of the protectors while the prince continued his inspection. Watching her, he didn't notice the prince arrive to view the men quarrying in the trenches. It was only when he heard someone shout an order to halt and another directed to him to step out of line that he noticed he was the focus of someone else's attention.

The shot hit the Thrushman in the shoulder and he went down. Burke beamed at Solo as they zipped by the downed man in their search for the labs. Solo didn't return the smile, but Burke wasn't concerned. They had more important things to think about right now. Compliments on a job well done could wait until later. Perhaps they would go to a bar and have a couple of celebratory drinks and discuss the finer points of the mission. Not all partners did that sort of thing but, from his research, Burke knew Napoleon and Kuryakin often did things together. One of the ladies in Communications said sometimes they even double dated. He planned to establish with Solo the same kind of rapport as Kuryakin had enjoyed.

They finally located the labs and set about finding the information. Burke had a basic knowledge of physics. Not a lot, but he had taken a couple of classes in the University of New Mexico where he'd earned his Bachelor's degree in psychology. He originally planned on being an engineer but he discovered a deeper interest in the inner workings of the human mind rather than the inner workings of a machine. Still, he felt he knew enough to complete this mission satisfactorily.

Solo fiddled with the room's computer console while Burke examined the weird apparatus set up in the middle of the lab. His mouth quirked to the side as he chewed on the inside of his cheek. What in the hell was this thing? He knew what it was supposed to do from the briefing Waverly had given them, but for the life of him he couldn't figure out how it was supposed to do it. It certainly looked impressive.

"Is it safe for us to move?"

Burke jumped, startled by Solo's voice in his ear. He hadn't realized the senior agent had left the computers. "I think so," he said, hoping his tone sounded more confident than he felt.

"Think so or know so?" Solo's words held an edge of irritation.

Burke glanced at him, turning away when he found the intense brown-eyed gaze more than a little intimidating. He regarded the machine again. It looked harmless enough. No apparent booby traps attached. It would be fine. Probably. "Know. We can move it."

He reached out and lifted it from its cradle. The moment the machine's belly left contact with the stand upon which it had rested, a loud klaxon sounded and red lights began to blink. Solo gave him a hard glance that promised retribution later, but said nothing as they spun on their heels to get out as fast as they could with their prize.

They didn't get far. Standing in the doorway was a THRUSH goon. Not just any goon. The one Burke had shot several minutes earlier. The man's left hand covered the wound, blood seeping through his fingers. His shaky right hand held a gun.

Solo, who had his weapon out already, shot him between the eyes. He shot Burke a disgusted look. "As my partner always says, it takes them longer to get back up and chase after you if they're dead. I don't always agree with him, but at times like this, I have to admit there is something to be said for his point of view."

Burke didn't reply as he followed Solo out of the facility. While they facilitated their escape, he would concentrate on shooting anyone trying to stop them. He disagreed with Kuryakin's bloodthirsty philosophy so he shot to injure instead of kill. He could kill if need be, but that was something he saved until it was absolutely necessary. At this point, if whomever he shot stayed down long enough for them to escape that was good enough. For now, his mind was on getting out of the satrapy. Later he would consider the implications of Solo's present tense referral to Kuryakin as his partner.

Lil looked into the rearview mirror when she heard the siren. Behind her, a police car flashed his lights, indicating she needed to pull over. She glanced over at her husband, David, who was resting while she drove this leg of the journey.

His gaze strayed to the speedometer and then flicked back to her. "Were you speeding?"

She shook her head, mystified as to why the policeman stopped her. "No. I just passed the speed limit sign and I was going five miles per hour under the posted speed."

"Maybe a tail light is out."

"Maybe," she replied nervously. Not that she had something to hide, but just as most law-abiding citizens, she tended to feel guilty whenever a cop was around. David rummaged in the glove box and pulled out the registration and handed it to her just as the police officer reached Lil's window.

"License and registration, ma'am," the officer requested politely, his hand on the butt of his gun.

While the policeman took the information from Lil, a second officer wondered to the passenger side of the car and looked inside. A little girl looked at him with big blue eyes, a slim silver pen clutched in her hand, poised over a coloring book. "Hey, Bob," the officer called.

The other policeman glanced over the roof of the car. His partner nodded at the girl in the backseat. "I think I found what we're looking for."

Lil glanced at her children in alarm. "What? Have they been making faces at you in the window or something?" she squeaked ready to scold the both of them.

"No, ma'am," Officer Bob soothed. "We just need to get a look at that pen your daughter is using."

"Of course," David chimed helpfully. "Amanda, give the nice policeman the pen."

"It's mine!" Amanda protested with an expression of defiance on her pretty face.

"No it's not!" Curtis protested. "It's mine! I saw it first!"

"If it is what we think it is," Bob explained, "It could be a matter of national security."

"National security?" Lil asked incredulously.

"A pen?" David chimed in.

Officer Bob graced them with an enigmatic smile. "Could we see it, please?"

The other policeman squatted beside Amanda's door, two lollipops in his hand. "I'll trade you and your brother these two suckers for your pen," he coaxed.

Amanda looked over at Curtis. He nodded enthusiastically. "I want candy!" Mommy and Daddy never let them have candy. They would have to if a policeman gave it to them.

"Okay," Amanda decided, handing over the pen and snatching the candy before the policeman could change his mind.

The officer examined the pen, pulling out what appeared to be an antenna. He nodded to his partner and then asked the driver to open the trunk.

Lil was perplexed. "If you want the pen just take it," she said. "My husband bought it from a peddler in Mexico. We aren't smuggling anything."

Officer Bob handed Lil her license and registration. "We'll be taking the pen, ma'am, sir. Thank you for your cooperation. Now if you would open the trunk please."

She nodded and pressed the trunk release. It snapped open a crack and the other officer went around to look in. David was going to get out and see what he was looking for but Officer Bob asked him to remain seated with his hands on the dashboard.

There was a shake of the head from the officer in back as he saw a trunk with nothing but suitcases and souvenirs." With a nod to his partner, he went back to the squad car to call it in. A couple moments later he returned.

"I'm sorry to have inconvenienced or alarmed you folks," he said politely and now in quite a relaxed manner. The pen your daughter had belonged to a law enforcement agent who went missing and we thought he might be with you when they traced the signal to his pen. They'll probably want to send someone to talk to you about where and how you got this," he said holding up the pen. "Is this your home address?" he asked as he wrote the information down.

"Yes. We're on our way there now."

"Well I hope you folks had a great time on vacation and a safe journey the rest of the way home. Thank you." He backed away from the car and waved them off.

A confused Lil pulled back onto the highway wondering if she would ever know what just happened.

Illya was pleased to be at the palace. Not just because the living conditions would be better, but because he felt it would be easier to escape. The palace boasted many guards, of course. The difference between here and the work site was in the mindset of the guards. At the building site, they watched for anyone trying to get out. Here they mostly watched for those trying to get in. As such, he might be able to slip away.

He had no idea what the Prince wanted him for, but obviously he expected Illya to smell good. The woody scent of sandalwood mixed with the spice of myrrh wafted on the steam from the hot water of the bath waiting for him. Two guards stood watching as three giggling slave women stripped Illya of his filthy clothes. Although there were usually many taboos concerning the conduct of women and men that usually didn't include slaves. The elite saw slaves as subhuman and, therefore, not worthy of the same considerations as themselves.

The giggling stopped when the last of his clothing was tossed aside. The oldest of the women reached out a tentative hand and touched the scars on his back. They were the most recent, left there by the woman who had the audacity to call herself Mother Fear. "The Emir will not leave you with such things," she said in heavily accented English, her voice filled with compassion and encouragement. "You are better off here than where you were before."

While Illya puzzled over her words, the now subdued women steered him to the tub and motioned for him to get in. Once he was settled into the tub, they began to wash him from head to toe. Illya scooted as far away from them as he could. "I can clean myself, thank you."

The older woman smiled indulgently "If that is your wish."

"It is," Illya assured her.

She shooed the other women away, than handed Illya a sweet smelling soap. "It is good for both body and hair." She stepped away from the tub and went to wait with the other women. Illya stared at them for a moment, but when they didn't leave, he resigned himself to taking a bath with an audience.

He washed up quickly, including his hair, and looked around for a towel. When he saw none he quirked a questioning eyebrow at the woman in charge. She smiled again and at a motion from her, the other women hurried forward, each carrying a towel. He reached for it, but, with a giggle, the women pulled it out of his reach. Apparently the shock of his scars had worn off and their natural giddiness had returned. How tragic.

With an irritated sigh, Illya stood and stepped out of the tub, allowing the women to dry him. He fixed his gaze on a spot on the wall and thought about a physics problem he'd been working on in order to divorce himself from the hands roaming his body. He thought they dwelled a bit longer than necessary at his genitals and buttocks.

When the ordeal was finally finished and the women stepped away, he turned to the spokeswoman. "Clothes?"

"Of a sort," she said. With an amused smile, she handed him a large gold chain with several smaller gold chains attached to it.

Illya frowned in puzzlement. "What is it?"

"All you are allowed to wear, at least until the Prince tires of you. Would you like me to show you how to put it on?"

Illya stared at the thing in horror and confusion. How did one wear such a thing? "Please," he said finally.

The woman strapped the gold chain around his waist, and then proceeded to wrap the other chains around his penis and testicles. Illya's eyes widened as he suddenly realized exactly what the Prince wanted him for.

Napoleon sat silent as Waverly did their mission review. Just as he suspected, the old man was reasonably pleased with how the events unfolded. The strengths and weaknesses of the new man, Burke, were being tested in the field under the experienced eyes of Solo. Burke would be a good agent given a little time with his aptitude for learning. It was no shower of praise and glory from the head of U.N.C.L.E., New York, but Solo knew compliments from him were rare. When the meeting was over, he was pleased with his agent's performance and Waverly's approval of him.

Burke fell into step beside Solo as if he'd always been there. Napoleon faltered a half step not too appreciative of Burke's assuming Illya's role so easily. It was one the man would not be playing for long. Even so, he liked Burke well enough and he did feel a slight bond developing between them. All partners did but Burke was only a temporary partner and there were still barriers Napoleon doubted the rookie agent could breach in order to reach the same level of trust and friendship he had with Illya. Napoleon was willing to let the man try, at least for the moment.

"Well Burke. Today was your first big success as an agent." Napoleon said as they returned to the office.

The young agent's face brightened like an elf at Christmas. "Thank you!" He hesitated, and then blurted, "Would you like to go have a drink?"

Napoleon's first inclination was to decline. He often went for a drink with Illya after a successful assignment. Burke probably expected the same not realizing the socially adept Napoleon Solo had never done such a thing with any previous partners. And Waverly would be put at ease if he thought his CEA had given up the idea of looking for his former partner if he seemed to accept Burke as his new one. Maybe then Waverly would look the other way and Napoleon would have some breathing room in order to find his real partner. After some thought he made up his mind and nodded. "I have some things to do in my office first. I'll meet you at the North Exit," he said checking his watch. "In about half an hour. Good work today."

Burke beamed. "Thanks Mr. Solo."

"Uh... Burke. It's Napoleon," he told him.

"Napoleon then." This was it. I've made it, Burke thought to himself. "See you in a half."

Napoleon watched Burke go but in his mind the image morphed into that of his blond diminutive partner, Illya. He smiled to himself and vowed once more that he would find him someday. He wasn't dead. Until he had a lifeless body in front of him, Illya would never be dead.

"Napoleon?" a soft alluring voice from the doorway called to him.

"Hmmm?" he replied a little distracted. "Oh. Lucinda. What is it?"

She smiled at him and leaned against the frame batting her eyelashes. "You're almost done for today. What do you say the two of us start the night off with a drink after work?"

He gave her one of his charming expressions and walked past her into his office, placing a gentle hand on her arm as he went through. He felt the shiver run up her arm at the contact but somehow it didn't thrill him like it used to. "I'm sorry Lucinda. I've promised to take Burke out and go over the mission. A review of sorts. I hope you understand."

She sighed and followed him in. "I suppose so. I could give you a rain check if you like."

He nodded and sat down at his desk. "That's a good idea. I'll get back to you on that."

She sauntered up to his desk and perched delicately on the edge showing off her shapely legs and other accoutrements. "Maybe I can add some other good news to top off your day then."

"Oh? And what would that be?" he asked looking up at her.

"I heard them talking in the communications room earlier today. It seems they located Illya's pen. A family in California had it in their car. They bought it on vacation in Mexico. Mr. Waverly sent someone down to check it out."

Napoleon's eyebrows rose as his interest peeked. "Who?"

"April and Mark. They left just after the news came in."

He was elated. It was their first lead. Now maybe they could find out what happened. He jumped up and took her by the shoulders. After planting a kiss on her lips he had plans to make. "Thanks Lucinda. I owe you a drink." Then he rushed out to call Mark and see what they had to go on.

Illya filled his belly. The food was delicious to a man who'd been half starved for the past several weeks but it would have been exquisite to anyone who hadn't lived through the same hardship. The bath and clean surroundings made him feel like a new man in spite of the calluses on his palms and feet. Even those were softer after the women paid special attention to them. Soon he had the lamb and rice dish cleaned to the pattern and then he devoured the fruit given to him for dessert. Even as he reveled in the pleasure of a sated appetite he grew nervous about what was to happen now.

To take his mind off things he looked around the room. Someone guarded every doorway and even though there was many things around he could use for a weapon the odds against him were overwhelming. Suicide was not an option unless he was about to die so he dismissed that outright.

Illya turned as noises came from a hall behind him. He heard the sound of several people walking down the corridor toward the room. Orders for privacy were given in Arabic and the prince in all his finery walked through the door. Behind him servants closed the portal and around the room each doorway closed in turn.

Illya's head followed the closing doors only to come around and face Prince Laheeb once more. He waited for the man to make his next move.

Laheeb stood in place eyeing the pale body up and down. He was pleased. The man was handsome for a Caucasian and he particularly liked the well-defined muscles of the buttocks.

He walked closer to the man while taking off his outer robe leaving him bare-chested. A gold band decorated each bicep. Around his waist was a gold sash tied and hanging to the side, holding up the flowing blue silk pants.

Laheeb ran a soft hand over the blond man's shoulder as he circled behind him. He pressed up to Illya's backside and whispered into his ear. "You are very attractive. I like that."

"Out of the question," Waverly declared, pointing a packed but unlit pipe at Napoleon. "Mr. Slate and Miss Dancer are more than capable of retrieving Mr. Kuryakin's pen without your assistance, Mr. Solo. I need you elsewhere at the moment."

"But sir," Napoleon argued in a quiet, confident tone. "Even if we don't look for Mr. Kuryakin, we need to find the information he carried at the time of his disappearance. I do not like an unfinished mission to be left dangling." Which was true most of the time. In this instance, though, his first priority was to find Illya. After that, if the mission could be saved, they would do it together.

"I agree with your assessment, Mr. Solo," Waverly replied. He noticed the almost imperceptible widening of his CEA's dark eyes. He seldom managed to surprise either Solo or Kuryakin and found it immensely satisfying when he did. He smiled to himself but kept his outward expression neutral. "Which is why I much prefer to spend the money to send you back to Tuxtla Gutierrez where the Wakeauxs say they bought the communicator."

Napoleon sat up straighter. "When do I leave?" He would have liked yesterday, but this afternoon would have to do.

"Tomorrow morning. Four twenty-two AM to be exact." Waverly placed a manila envelope on the table and spun it to his agent. "This will be a good assignment to further assess Mr. Burke's skills as well," he added.

Napoleon's enthusiasm deflated a little, but then perked back up. Burke was eager to please which meant the man would work hard at finding Illya. This could work out fine.

Burke was all kinds of excited. "I need some supplies," he announced to the man in stores. "I'm going on another mission with my new partner."

The man chewed on a stubby cigar and pulled out a form for the young pup to fill out. "Who might that be?"

"Napoleon Solo," Burke blurted proudly. His chest puffed up just at the mention of whom the Old Man, as Solo referred to Waverly, thought he, Burke, deserved as a partner. He smiled and set about filling out the paperwork.

Stubby, as everyone called him, shook his head and chuckled. "Waverly's written off Kuryakin again, has he?" He took Burke's requisition form and started to gather the requested items. "I hope you realize that happens on a regular basis and the Russian always comes back. Like a boomerang, that one. No matter how far Waverly throws him, Kuryakin always returns to his hand." He snickered and his grin widened. "And just like a boomerang, he usually lops off a few heads along the way."

Burke frowned, his jubilation dashed somewhat. "If you're wanting to use an analogy for Kuryakin, I would liken him to a vampire. He comes back from the dead and sucks everyone dry. At least from what I've heard."

Stubby's previously sunny expression turned dark. He happened to like Kuryakin. The Russian came up with the most creative ways to use the things he retrieved from stores. Stubby used the knife he was getting for Burke as a pointer, jabbing it towards the rookie's chest. "Look, sonny, I wouldn't entertain any notions of a partnership with Solo, if I were you. Kuryakin will come back and the team of Kuryakin and Solo will once more be intact. They're unstoppable and nothing or no one can break them apart."

Burke's own expression hardened. "I don't know about that. From what I've read, Kuryakin and Solo make an unpredictable combination. Their methods are unorthodox and downright dangerous and I think Waverly will see that I'm a better match for his CEA."

"On the contrary. They are very predictable in as far as they always get the job done." Stubby shoved Burke's requisitions towards him in a heap. "Here's your stuff. Have a nice day." He turned and stumped off on the short, bowlegged limbs which gave him his nickname, leaving Burke to figure out how to carry everything.

Burke scowled at the retreating back. He didn't care what anyone said. If he did exceptionally well on this and any subsequent missions before Kuryakin showed back up—he agreed with Stubby on that point—he might impress Waverly enough to make the Burke/Solo partnership permanent and pair Kuryakin up with someone else. With that planted firmly in his mind, he hurried off to get ready for the mission.

Illya shuddered at Laheeb's touch, filled with equal amounts of revulsion and arousal. The revulsion was more for himself than for the handsome man whose hands now played over his chest.

"You're trembling," Laheeb murmured, pressing closer.

Illya felt the hard rod prodding his buttocks and stifled a moan. His shaking grew more pronounced.

"Are you afraid, my beauty?" the Prince said.

Illya nodded. He was afraid. Terrified. Not of rape. He was a willing participant and as such, the situation didn't qualify as rape. No, he feared something far more sinister. He feared his own reaction. Although he'd never entered into sex with a man for his own pleasure—he took advantage of a target's attraction to him here and there, much like Napoleon did with the ladies—he had experienced pleasure from the act. Not emotional, of course, but the physical could not be denied. He'd orgasmed without consciously trying. Every...Single...Time.

Raised by his KGB masters to believe that although a good agent might have to have sex with a man in order to achieve his mission goals to desire such things outside mission perimeters was an aberration. A perversion not to be tolerated. He more than tolerated it. He hated it. He craved it.

He'd tried to analyze these urges in the hopes of coming to a conclusion he could live with for his body's reactions to being fucked by a man. He had managed to come up with a theory. He liked killing not because he enjoyed the act of taking a life, but because by doing so, he saved his own. Craved the thrill of a game where the ultimate prize was life. He sometimes wondered if his homosexual tendencies were just another form of danger that fell into the same category. The cravings sprang from the same needs and desires. An adrenaline rush, his own form of drug addiction. He hoped his arousal when with a man had something to do with that, at any rate. The alternative was not an option.

Laheeb's hand's moved downward, tangling in the gold chains holding Illya's rapidly hardening cock and balls. "Ah, so you want this," Laheeb said.

"No," Illya rasped, thinking Laheeb would prefer an unwilling partner.

"It doesn't matter, really. I WILL take you whether you want it or not. Unlike many men in my position, however, I prefer a man who won't fight me. Your pleasure is inconsequential, but to feel your orgasm while I am buried in your ass is a pleasure for me which I find to be the most wonderful feeling."

In his mind, Illya found the whole scenario deplorable. His body had other ideas. His penis jumped at the thought of the handsome Arab's cock pounding into him. Illya tried to tell himself it wasn't because he desired men. A man's anal passage was an erogenous zone and that was all. Napoleon had once told him about an experience where a woman shoved her finger up him. He'd said it was the most explosive orgasm he'd ever experienced.

Even though he sometimes had sexual thoughts about Napoleon, he tried to convince himself that was just because of their relationship as partners. Sex was nowhere near as intimate a thing as two people who faced danger together. Danger often translated into sex; the energies experienced were similar. That was all it was. That was all this was. All it could be.

"You... you have a wife," Illya stammered all too aware of his reaction to the touches.

"I have many wives," Prince Laheeb whispered. "They do not interest me." Closer with his hot breath scorching Illya's earlobe he added, "You interest me." He ran a soft royal hand across his new slave's bare chest gently raking his nails over a nipple.

Illya held back a light gasp and tried not to breathe.

"I will be much kinder than your old master," Laheeb declared tracing a scar on Illya's back with a gentle finger. "You will serve me here and live in comfort."

"But aren't you afraid I will try to escape?" Illya asked when he could find the composure to speak again.

"There is nowhere for you to go. Naked as you are and surrounded by guards. Miles and miles of desert between here and any town let alone a city where foreigners come and go. No. You will remain here for as long as I want you. Giving me pleasure of the flesh. Sharing my bed. If you try anything foolish they will take you out and cut off your hands. You are smarter than that."

The prince moved around in front of Illya and smiled, cupping the smaller man's chin in his hand. "Now my pretty boy. Come to bed." He turned Illya's face toward the huge bed draped with sheer netting and covered with satin sheets. At the same time he tugged at the gold sash about his waist and let the blue silk pants fall to the floor. Now he stood as naked as Illya in the soft light of the bedroom.

It was late at night and Napoleon should have been home sleeping but instead he was in a less glamorous part of the city near Little Russia. He entered the four-story walkup, picked up Illya's bills from the mailbox and made his way up the stairs. He took out his keys and entered the small apartment. It was just as it had been last week when he stopped by to pay the rent, something he did in spite of Waverly's policies.

Napoleon put the new editions of Science Monthly and National Geographic on the table with the other unread magazines waiting for Illya's return. A small wisp of dust wafted up and glittered in the faint light of the full moon beaming through the window.

Napoleon walked around the spindly coffee table and sat on the old worn couch, a place Illya often slept when taking one of his catnaps. Something about the sparseness of the furnishings and worn well-used condition seemed to suit the Russian. Illya often went out of his way to criticize the CEA's extravagances. It was like a battle of lifestyles that neither of them would ever win but it didn't stop them from trying.

City noise filtered in and the famous New York traffic provided a constant background hum. Napoleon eyed the empty record jacket on the edge of the table and then got up to see if it was still on the player by the little television Illya rarely used. The surface of the LP was dirty so Napoleon blew on it a couple of times to clear away the grit. Then he turned on the player and set the record back down. He picked up the needle and placed it into a groove in the first track. A sweet Strauss composition began to swirl around the room. Napoleon was surprised since he thought his partner only liked Jazz. Perhaps his tastes were beginning to rub off on Illya.

Napoleon returned to the couch and sat down. He listened to the music and imagined feeling closer to Illya this way. He'd look after things until Illya came back. Closing his eyes he leaned back on the sofa and made it a private promise and Napoleon always kept his promises.

The yellow cab pulled up to the curb and the driver quickly got out fetching the passenger's luggage from the trunk. Napoleon pulled out the fare and a generous tip from his wallet. Then he picked up his bag and went to the check in counter. An eager Burke probably fuelled on one too many cups of coffee joined his new partner as soon as he spotted him.

"There you are! I went to your place to see if you wanted to ride with me to the airport but the doorman said you hadn't been home all night." He smirked and nudged the suave debonair agent. "Found a lady last night, huh?"

Napoleon smiled. It was strange that he hadn't even thought of that, even as some kind of excuse. "Something like that," he replied as he began to focus on the trip and actually finding Illya.

"I've heard about that ol' Solo charm," Burke said and nudged Napoleon again. The CEA took it in a good-natured way. "That redhead in the secretarial pool? She was really giving you the eye yesterday. I heard there was a bet on if she could catch you last night or not. Did you know the girls bet on you?"

Most of this was going in one ear and out the other as Napoleon moved forward in line. "Really?" he replied not really caring at this point.

"If I only had half the girls after me that you do I could start my own harem." He tipped his head toward Napoleon and wrinkled his brow. "Say. How do you keep them from killing each other over you anyway?"

Napoleon began to open his mouth but it was only to give a large charming smile and greet the check in clerk, as it was his turn in line. Burke noticed the immediate affect of that grin on the lady as her harried attitude mellowed like she was melting in the handsome man's presence.

In the dusty dimly lit drinking house in Villa de Etla, a grimy boatman swayed slightly as he leaned on the bar trying to impress a woman beside him. She was the kind of woman that got better looking and more alluring with each drink downed by the suitor.

"Hidalgo. You are a naughty man. Why would you make such a suggestion to a lady?" she laughed with him. Another few minutes and she'd have him eating out of her hand.

He shook his head flashing the gold tooth at her. "Carmelita Rosanna. I am a gentleman. I assure you. Here," he said taking out the silver money clip that held his latest payment for delivery of cargo to his employers. The ferryman peeled off one of the bills and offered it to her. "I give you a gift. You buy yourself something pretty."

She snatched the bill and stuffed it into her low cut blouse just over her heart while he watched with lurid fascination.

Illya couldn't help staring at the erection jutting out from Laheeb's groin. It was long and thick, twitching with anticipation. He swallowed hard. Laheeb smiled as though he could read Illya's mind. Probably could. Illya had no doubt his normal impassive expression was anything but impassive at the moment. No doubt his conflicting emotions were written on his face like a book. He wanted to touch the proud, hard cock. Feel it filling his hands, his mouth, his body. He also wanted to flee from it. To run from these terrible urges that he knew should disgust him, but somehow excited him instead.

Laheeb reached out and feathered Illya's hair with his fingers. "With your golden hair and sapphire eyes, you will be the jewel which will crown my bed. Come."

Illya gasped, his own cock jumping to full arousal as Laheeb took the chain around it in his hand and led him to the bed. He followed not as reluctantly as he would have hoped. He didn't want this! Did he? He shook himself mentally. Of course not. This was just a means to an end, nothing more. He didn't look forward to the feel of Laheeb's hot erection stabbing into him. He couldn't quite stifle a groan as he realized the more he tried to convince himself he didn't want it, the more aroused he became.

"Don't worry my sapphire." Laheeb halted and tilted his head, regarding Illya thoughtfully. "I think that is what I will call you. Sapphire." He smiled and turned Illya until the blond's back was to the bed, the backs of his knees pressing against the mattress. "Don't worry, Sapphire. I will not hurt you. On the contrary, I have been told by several of my slaves that I am a very thoughtful lover. I want you to experience pleasure because that will enhance my own." He wagged a finger in front of Illya's nose. "You must not come until I tell you to, though," he warned. "I want to be inside you and ready for my own orgasm when yours hits." His dark eyes grew dreamy. "When you come, the muscles of your lovely arse will contract and make my pleasure so much better. You see?"

Illya did see, much as he didn't want to. He saw it in his mind's eye and grew harder at the image. He mutely nodded.

"Good," Laheeb declared as he pushed Illya gently in the chest. "Now sit."

Illya obeyed, sitting uneasily on the edge of the bed. Only then did he realize the bed was at a height that put Laheeb's throbbing penis at the same level as Illya's mouth. He liked fellatio, not because he liked the feel of another man's penis in his mouth, but because he could imagine what it would feel like to have the man doing the same thing for him. By nature, Illya liked to control his sexual liaisons. Unfortunately, because all of his experiences with male sex placed him in a passive role, he had to sublimate his natural urges by visualizing himself in the dominant role while taking the passive. A mistake, he now knew. He'd derived pleasure from the fantasies and now his body responded positively to very negative stimuli. Of course, he was going to have to do the same thing now, too.

"You know what I want, Sapphire," Laheeb commanded, pushing the head of his cock against Illya's lips.

Illya drew a shaky breath and parted his lips, allowing the invasion. He was not practiced at this, but he had done it before and his fantasies had provided him with some technique. He drew the head of the Prince's cock into his hot, moist mouth, swirling his tongue around it.

Laheeb grunted and twined his hands into his new slave's hair. He watched his cock head being devoured by this golden beauty and groaned with delight and barely restrained desire. "More, my Sapphire. Take more of me," he rasped out.

Illya again obeyed, sucking the man deeper, just to the point of gagging. He licked the staff as he pulled it out again and repeated the maneuver. Laheeb threw his head back and started to gibber in Arabic.

After only a few repetitions, the Prince wrenched himself away, panting hard. His eyes burned with lust. "Get on the bed!" he commanded between breaths. "On your stomach!"

Said stomach lurched, anticipation and dread intertwining, fighting for control. Illya didn't bother to squelch one in favor of the other. He needed the anticipation to help him maintain his role. If that eroded, he was liable to kill the Prince. Not a good idea as his own chances of survival afterwards were slim. The dread helped him keep the illusion that he wasn't interested in sex with a man.

Either way, he had no choice for the moment, so he crawled onto the bed and positioned himself to be used by the Prince.

Burke wrinkled his nose as they entered the small Mexican village. Villa de Etla was an ugly, squalid little town. That wasn't the worst of it. It smelled of rotting meat and raw sewage. Disgusting was too kind a word to describe the place. "What in the world was Kuryakin doing in a nasty place like this?"

Napoleon gave him a sideways glance, but said nothing. They had talked to the woman in the larger town a few miles away and discovered she'd bought Illya's communicator from a ferryman who lived in this village. So now here they were, in a smelly little mud hole, trying to find some geezer who somehow obtained Kuryakin's communicator. Talk about needles in the haystack. He refrained from saying anything of the sort. Solo had acted so surly the entire trip, Burke felt a little afraid of irritating his partner. He followed the senior agent into a seedy little bar. Naturally a dead-end little hellhole like this would have a bar, even if it had nothing else.

Burke ran into Napoleon, who had stopped dead in his tracks just inside the door. Solo threw Burke a warning glance before proceeding once more. They stopped just behind a drunk old man handing money to a hideously ugly woman. That WAS a woman, wasn't it? Burke shook his head. If it was, she truly belonged in this equally ugly little town.

Solo cleared his throat and then spoke in Spanish. "That's a particularly interesting money clip you have there," he said, his friendly tones warm and smooth as the best twelve-year old scotch.

The geezer turned to look at the speaker with bleary, bloodshot and booze soaked eyes. "Who are you?" he asked suspiciously.

Napoleon gave the man and of his broad smiles. Burke noted the way the woman melted at the assault. He really wanted to learn how his partner did that and try it out for himself. Of course, although the smiles worked wonders on women, it didn't always fly with men. The old codger was one of them.

"My name is Napoleon Solo and I am a collector of old antique jewelry. That money clip is a rare find, my friend, if it is what I think it is."

The man studied the object in surprise. "Is it something more than a money clip?"

Burke thought about the explosives Kuryakin tended to carry around in his jewelry, including money clips. The old guy had no idea how right he was.

"Much more," Napoleon said. "If I'm right, and I usually am, its worth a great deal. If it's what I want, I would be willing to pay well for it."

The rummy eyes widened in excitement and he handed Napoleon the clip, bills and all. For not the first time, Burke wondered just how Solo managed to make everyone trust him so easily. Burke often groused about the fact people seldom trusted him even if he had proved his trustworthiness. It really wasn't fair.

Solo examined the clip and shot Burke a strained look. By the expression on his face, Burke guessed it was Kuryakin's.

"Could you, ah, tell me where you got this? Where it came from? I need to know in order to decide if this is the real article or not."

The codger eyed them suspiciously, and then finally shrugged. "The man who I sto...who gave it to me said something about a rushing or rushin." The man belched.

Burke waved the resulting stench away from in front of his face. What did this man eat, anyway? Feces?

The smell obviously didn't faze Napoleon since he leaned closer to the dirty man. "Russian?"

The man's eyes widened. "Yes, I think so."

Solo pulled out a roll of money and peeled off several bills. "Will this buy it?"

The man snatched the money from Napoleon's hands, and then took his money from the clip. "It's yours, Senor."

"Thank you."

Burke heard a slight tremor of excitement in Solo's voice and his own adrenaline began to pump. Finally a breakthrough! He suddenly realized that, for him, that wasn't such a good thing. Still, it felt good to find a piece of the puzzle, even if he rather hoped that puzzle would still turn up missing the last piece.

Solo waved for Burke to follow and they left the bar. "Aren't you going to pump him for information?"

Solo shook his head. "Not in there. He wouldn't have said anything under those circumstances. We'll wait for him to come out and take him for a private session then." His expression turned grim and hard. "I'm sure he knows what happened to Illya and I plan to find out from him one way or another."

A dark, humorless smile stretched his mouth. This was nothing like his usual grins. This one gave Burke a shiver of terror, the kind that he usually only got when something or someone was a danger. Right now, he knew Solo fell into that category. Burke knew his partner wasn't a danger to him but to the ferryman in the bar, Solo was very dangerous indeed.

Night fell and the little cantina closed as the last inebriated patrons staggered out the door. Napoleon, dressed in black, stood in the shadows around the corner while Burke waited in their car. As the grubby Hidalgo stumbled along the walkway, Napoleon whispered to him in Spanish. "Friend. Do you have a cigarette?"

Bleary eyed from drinking away his newly acquired wealth; he nodded and wobbled over reaching into his pocket for a chicken shit cigarette to share. "Yes. Is that you Ricardo?"

Napoleon spoke softly. "Yes. I was looking for you."

Hidalgo chuckled. "I am easy to find."

As the ferryman reached the shadows Napoleon moved quickly and easily had an arm lock around the man's neck while shoving a cloth into his mouth to prevent any scream alerting unwanted attention. Burke saw the movement and knew Napoleon had his quarry. He pulled the car over quickly. Napoleon pushed the native into the car and rolled in on top of him. Burke drove off into the night away from the town.

It didn't take much for Napoleon to restrain the drunken sod. Neither did it take long to get several miles from the town and into a deserted area. Burke pulled up to an abandoned lean-to and stopped the car. A light wind rustled the leaves and the eyes of night creatures took wary notice of the strangers. For the most part an ominous silence fell over the area. It was broken by the muffled protests of Hidalgo as Napoleon dragged him from the car.

Burke cringed as Napoleon pulled the shorter man by the collar up to his face. The worst was about to come and he wasn't sure how far Napoleon was going to go. His heart pounded into his throat as he wondered at what point he should stop his partner. IF he should stop his partner. He snorted softly. From all he'd heard of Kuryakin, the Russian would hold the man so Solo could hit the man at just the right angle. Although Burke felt he could do what was necessary when necessary, he didn't believe himself to be unduly bloodthirsty or ruthless. For the moment, he opted to wait and see and hope for the best.

No sign of his familiar charming smile, Napoleon stared hard and cold at the Chiapas Indian. "Now I want some real answers out of you my FRIEND," he said emphasizing the word threateningly. "That money clip isn't an antique and you didn't receive it as a gift. I want to know how you got it and what happened to the person who you got it from."

The shorter native shook so hard that he looked down at his own trousers where a large wet stain spread. "I....I...don't know what you mean," he tried lying.

"That's one lie. Two more and you never get the chance to tell another one," Napoleon promised in a low, sibilant growl.

Hidalgo was alone and much smaller than the strong man threatening his life. The other man didn't look like he was going to take pity on him and come to his aid either. "No. Please. I'm just a poor man with a wife and four children to feed. Spare me."

Burke felt a real empathy for the man but kept his distance and watched Napoleon's technique. It was like night and day compared to the smooth savoir fare he used on the ladies. The transformation was fascinating, morbidly so, but also very, very frightening. He wondered if he was the partner of a Jekyll and Hyde personality. He'd studied that in his psych classes in Notre Dame and the thought made him uncomfortable.

"You have no wife or children," Napoleon said as if there would never be a chance for him to have one at this rate. "Now. About my real friend. Where is he?"

"Your friend?" Hidalgo asked half choking as the hand at his throat brought him up to his tiptoes. "The little man with the yellow hair?"

"Yes." Napoleon hissed like a viper. "That one."

"I don't know. He is gone."

Napoleon let him have a quick breath. "Gone where? Speak up before I decide you are not worth sparing."

Hidalgo got a surge of survival instinct and gasped again. "They took him. On the boat."

Now that the man's tongue had loosened Napoleon let him down and relaxed his grip slightly but still had a firm enough hold that he could choke the life out of him in an instant if he so chose to. "What boat? Where did they take him on this boat?"

"To the freighter," Hidalgo explained as if his life depended on it, which he truly believed it did. "They take all the people to the freighter at the mouth of the river." He told the scary Gringo everything.

Time had stopped and Illya wished his mind would somehow stop too. He didn't want to feel that cock inside him. He repeated the mantra over and over to himself desperately hoping his body would believe his mind. It didn't seem to be working as his erection hardened more at the thought. He tried to focus on a spot on the wall, willing it to somehow absorb him and take him away from this. His concentration wavered as he anticipated the penetration. His breathing quickened in what he hoped was fear, but suspected was anticipation. He lowered his head and looked under his arm at the prince who was walking over to a small table. Illya's eyes followed the man's slender fingers as they clutched the tiny knob of a drawer and the grating of wood on wood as it slid open echoed in his ears.

The prince smiled and turned to Illya. He held up the small vessel to show him. "Precious oils. I would not want to hurt you." He waved the little jar under his nose like a fine perfume. "This is my favorite. You will like it too."

The pit of Illya's stomach twisted and churned. His throat tightened and he couldn't say anything, his eyes riveted to the hand of the man approaching him. If only it was terror that held him enthralled instead of this blood-boiling want.

Laheeb knelt on the bed behind Illya and raised the oil. The Prince drizzled it slowly over the white globes of his rear end and watched it run down the crevice. Soon he followed the stream with a hand and pushed a thumb into the tight hole. The oil not only lubricated the way but gently warmed the skin, the scent wafting up and swirling around the Prince's head.

The intoxicating scent also reached Illya's nostrils, filling his senses just as surely as the Prince's thumb filled his anal passage. Laheeb replaced his thumb with a long finger. The invasion burned, but was all but obliterated when the probing finger touched something deep inside Illya. Sparks traversed Illya's nerves to explode in the pleasure centers of his brain. He pressed his face into the luxurious velvet covered pillows to stifle the whimpering groan he felt rising in his throat.

Laheeb chuckled behind him at the tiny noises. "Don't worry, my beautiful Sapphire, my jewel. I will be gentle."

Illya practically sobbed when the finger slid out of him. Part of him wanted to beg, though whether he would plead to be spared or for the Prince to give him more, he wasn't certain.

Something much bigger pressed against his opening, pushing passed the resistant muscles with not quite gentle insistence. The burn this time was much more painful and Illya could at last get control of his dark, perverted desires. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to feel every inch of Laheeb's thick cock entering him. To feel the pain as Laheeb started to thrust so he could eradicate the pleasure and need he experienced when being fucked by a man.

Laheeb's pounding staff hit that special spot deep within Illya and fireworks burst in his brain once more, his tenuous control lost. If it felt this good to be penetrated, what would it feel like if he were the one doing the penetration? Either way, his upbringing screamed at him, labeled him a degenerate. He should not want sexual relations with a man in any way, shape, or form. He should never desire the touch of a man, the taste of a man, the feel of a man. The problem was, he wanted all these things and lately the want had become harder and harder to ignore.

Illya reached for his own cock and stroked in time with the fucking. The Prince stopped his movement and yanked Illya's hand away. "Not yet, Sapphire," he panted into Illya's ear. "I told you I did not want you to come until I needed the extra stimulation for myself." He smoothed Illya's hair. "I will let you know when the time is right. Wait for me to do so." The words were soft, but the tone edged with warning.

As Laheeb pumped in and out of him, Illya moaned in consternation, but obeyed the man who, for the moment but only the moment, held mastery over him. He clutched the satin sheets to keep from touching himself again, even though the hot rod spearing him over and over again made the need to do so almost overwhelming. Never had a torture come so close to breaking his self-control.

"Ahh, my Sapphire, you are so hot and tight," the Prince declared in ecstasy. "I do not believe I will need any extra stimulation with you!" He pushed in a few more times then shuddered to a shattering climax. "Ohhhhhhhh!" he bellowed, spilling copious amounts of his seed into Illya's body.

Illya had been close to reaching an orgasm of his own, but had not quite reached the point of no return when Laheeb finished and dropped heavily onto him, pressing him into the bed. Illya started to thrust into the bed, but Laheeb pushed down. "Don't move, my lovely Sapphire," the Prince commanded, his voice heavy with sated drowsiness. "I want to sleep this way."

Illya stilled, working to ignore the frustration he felt at the interruption of an impending orgasm. His erection diminished at the lack of further stimulation and he lay beneath the weight of Laheeb. He'd never felt this way when interrupted while with a woman. At those times, he almost felt relieved, his leaving without completing the sex act feeling more like an escape than a source of frustration. Still wound up from the unfulfilled promise of release, he could not fall asleep right away. All he could do was lay still and face the very real possibility he was indeed a degenerate.

Rain started to fall just as Napoleon released the man and got into the car. Burke turned on the lights and switched on the wipers, which did little against the onslaught of the sudden cloudburst. He drove slowly and in silence for several long minutes. He wasn't sure of Solo's mood and didn't want what he saw in the dark deserted area to be turned on him

He decided to start with something safe. "So, um, did you find out anything?"

A grim smile crossed Solo's lips. "He was very informative." He pulled out his communicator pen. "Open Channel D."

"Channel D open," a woman's voice replied with a heavy French accent. "What can I do for you, Napoleon?"

Burke watched as a switch seemed to trip inside Solo. His smile softened and his expression transformed into that of a man on a seductive mission.

"Monique my sweet. How are you this evening?"

"Bon, Napoleon." She gave Solo's name the French pronunciation, the N on the end silent. "Are we still on for Saturday night if you are in town?"

"Of course. Wouldn't miss it. We'll discuss it when I get back. In the meantime, could you please connect me with records?"

"Bien sur," she replied.

Burke observed Solo wheedling information about the boat Illya supposedly shipped out on from of the records clerk within a few minutes. Burke knew he would never have been able to get the same information in nothing less than two hours. He stared at his partner in awe. Solo had gone from an urbane, civilized gentleman to a snarling beast to a seducer of receptionists and records clerk in a matter of minutes. Jekyll and Hyde indeed.

Now that Napoleon seemed in his Doctor Jekyll persona rather than Mr. Hyde, Burke cleared his throat and asked what was really on his mind. "I, um, don't remember being taught that particular technique for interrogation in Survival School."

Solo's snicker had a hard edge. "I don't doubt it."

Burke hesitated, and then tried again. "Is that, um, something you do regularly?"

Solo thought about it. "It's more of an Illya technique, but I do it when the occasion calls for it."

"I always thought U.N.C.L.E. was a little more civilized than that," Burke muttered while squinting through windshield in an attempt to see more of the road.

Solo laughed. This time it sounded more like one of delight than derision. "Early in our partnership, Illya told me that in this business, one cannot always be civilized if one wants to get the job done."

The junior agent cleared his throat again. "If we act that way, what makes us different from the guys we're fighting?"

Napoleon raised his eyebrows, and his eyes sparked with humor. "It's ironically interesting to be on this side of this conversation. That was the exact question I asked Illya."

"And what did he say?"

"That the bad guys always practice uncivilized behavior whereas we choose our times. Even Illya doesn't always employ that sort of gentle persuasion. He does it as a last resort or when there's no time for nicer ways. And, as he said, it gets the job done."

"Oh." Burke decided he didn't want to pursue the subject anymore now since he had to concentrate on the road. Besides, he wasn't sure he could ever be as bloodthirsty and ruthless as Solo sometimes was and Kuryakin apparently often was. If he ever wanted to be that way. He wondered if that would make him a bad field agent. He spent the rest of the trip to the hotel thinking about what he wanted out of his future.

Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean the freighter rode over one wave and down another. In her bowels another pitiful load of human cargo cowered in the dark, damp, rat infested hold. This was a good sideline for the Captain. He'd finally made enough to put down on a new house for his family the next time he landed in his homeport for leave. He was mentally reveling in the thought when a US Navy Destroyer came over the horizon on a heading straight for the ship.

"Captain. They are radioing us to come to a full stop." The first mate looked nervous knowing about the illegal human cargo loaded in their hold.

The Captain wrinkled his brow and rolled the cigar stump around between his teeth while he thought it over. "Tell them we are in international waters and they have no right to give us orders."

"Aye Captain," he replied and had the radio man transmit the message.

The destroyer didn't slow down. Soon it would overtake them.

The first mate returned with the bad news. "They insist we stop Captain. They say they will fire on us if we don't comply."

The Captain looked angry. "This is outrageous."

"Sir," the mate said meekly. "What if they want to board us? What if they find.... Them!"

The Captain bit down so hard on his cigar that it split and fell from his lips. "Get rid of them. The chains will drag them under before the destroyer gets close enough to see."

Instantly the crew began to obey the orders. The people were manacled and forced up the gangways to the upper deck. The confusion and panic in the crowd grew as they realized there was nowhere for them to go but into the cold murky water but before the first one could be sent to a sea bottom grave a helicopter, launched from the US ship, appeared.

The freighter crew stopped and put their hands up as guns were aimed at them from the helicopter. None of them wanted to be charged with murder. The Captain would be the one blamed for everything when they had the chance to talk.

On the destroyer, Napoleon Solo looked out at the freighter with a serious expression. He imagined Illya captive in the belly of the ship. Cold. Hungry. Dirty. Even hurt. His gut ached with the inability to aid him in that situation.

Burke stood at Solo's side feeling like he had always been there and always would. Kuryakin was rapidly becoming history and, although he admired the man's reputation and talent, this was where Burke wanted to be. Partner to the great Napoleon Solo and the number two agent in U.N.C.L.E.. He was glad to settle for the first at the moment. The other one would just take a little longer.

"What are the chances Illya's on that ship?" Burke asked aloud.

Napoleon's expression remained the same. "Slim to none I should imagine. It's our best lead so far though and we'll be shutting them down in any case. They'd better hope we find Kuryakin," he said using the formal name for the agent instead of the first name as he tried to remain distant and objective. "Their lives won't be worth living if we don't."

Burke kept a passive face. He was learning from Napoleon. Keep them from knowing your next move with either charm or aggression. Burke was determined to be that right hand man, an agent the rest would look up to. "He's alive and we'll find him. Of that I have no doubts Mr. Solo."

The destroyer pulled alongside the freighter and a ladder was dropped for boarding.

Somewhere in the far reaches of the Orient, the Emir received news he didn't want to hear.

"Sire, a report has come in from your watcher at the Prince's palace."

"What is it? Has something happened to my unborn grandchild?" He was keeping close tabs on his son's wife and her upcoming birth.

"No sire. I hate to tell you but the prince has a new pet."

The Emir's face soured. "I will deal with the prince when I return to Arabia tomorrow. In the meanwhile do nothing but keep me informed."

"Yes sire," he said bowing as he retreated.

Illya woke alone in the bed. He felt the cool air prickling the skin of his back. Rolling over he dragged the sheet to cover his naked flesh and looked around the room. Laheeb sat at the table with a smile of admiration while he watched Illya sleep. Illya turned his gaze downward to avoid the blazing eyes staring at him.

"You were well worth it last night. I was impressed. I hope to be impressed again later." Laheeb declared and then bit into a passion fruit. He licked the juice running over his lower lip. "Would you like something to eat? There is plenty here."

Illya contemplated dropping the sheet from around him or wrapping it tighter before he got up. He pulled the sheet closer to his body and swung his legs off the bed.

"Although I would enjoy unwrapping a gift as lovely as you, there is no need to cover yourself," Laheeb laughed. "Your body is no longer a mystery to me. I have been inside it and know it well."

Illya shot the other man a glare of defiance and held the sheet closed around his waist as he stood.

The Prince's expression darkened. "You WILL drop the linen," he threatened. "Or I will have my guards come in and rip it off of you. They are not known for their finesse or gentleness, if you understand my meaning."

Illya knew he could take a beating and had on many an occasion, but decided covering his body from the eyes of a man who had seen him on the most basic of levels was not worth the pain. He flung the sheet aside and strode purposefully to the table. He was hungry and would certainly eat what was offered. He reached for the second chair at the table.

"No," Laheeb said mildly, his face alight with triumph. "Sit here beside me." He patted the air.

Illya glanced down at the spot on the floor beside Laheeb's feet. "I am not a dog," he stated flatly.

Laheeb's eyebrows rose. "No, but you are my companion, just as a dog would be." He regarded Illya for a few seconds. "I would like you to speak more often. Your voice is as lovely as you are. But you have an accent I can't quite place. Where are you from, my lovely Sapphire?"

"Does it matter?" Illya asked coolly.

"Not really. I'm just interested in who is sharing my bed with me."

Illya shrugged. There was no reason not to tell him. "I'm Russian."

The Prince laughed in delight. "Russian? I don't believe I've ever had a Russian." He leered. "At least not until last night."

Illya's control faltered for a moment and he felt his face redden at the reminder. He looked away. To stare directly into the Prince's eyes could be taken as a challenge and he wanted to make himself appear meek and obedient. The Prince would be less concerned about his pet escaping and would be more likely to leave him alone without guards.

"Are you hungry, my Russian jewel?"

Without looking at the Prince, Illya nodded.

"Then come. Sit by me." Laheeb reached out and pulled the other chair close to his. "You may even sit in the chair."

Illya sat and started to eat. He forced himself not to cringe as his 'owner' pet his hair. He generally didn't like being caressed. Although sometimes . . . . A memory of Napoleon doing the same thing jumped unbidden into his mind. Hadn't minded that time. Part of him didn't mind it now. The part that did mind seemed to think allowing the Prince freedom with his hair was a betrayal to Napoleon.

The idea shocked him. Why would he think that? Why would he feel his hair was Napoleon's territory? His mind skittered away from the disturbing questions, slamming the memory down hard and ruthlessly, hopefully never to be heard from again. Napoleon only occasionally touched his hair and that was usually to comment on its length. The American had no more rights to it than Laheeb. The truth was that neither man owned it or him. Laheeb may have bought him and have temporary possession of his body, but he didn't own Illya's soul. Neither did Napoleon. Not really. At least, not . . . completely.

Illya concentrated on not feeling the feathery touches which brought up such disturbing thoughts of his friend, focusing instead on filling his stomach. He couldn't stop the goose bumps raised by Laheeb's caresses, though. Try as he might, he also couldn't stop the swelling of his cock, which still lamented last night's lost orgasm.

"Mmmm," Laheeb murmured, noticing Illya's burgeoning arousal. "I'm pleased to know I excite you." He ran a finger down Illya's cock. It twitched in anticipation. The Prince chuckled. He took Illya's hand and pressed it to his own hardening staff. "You excite me, too." He stood and drew Illya up with him. "I believe you missed out on an orgasm last night. I would like to remedy that."

A knock sounded on the door.

"I'm busy!" Laheeb yelled, pulling Illya out of his chair and propelling him back towards the bed.

The door banged open and an older version of Laheeb strode in. He stopped in his tracks as he took in the sight before him.

"Good morning, Father. What brings you here?" The Prince's expression radiated unconcern over the interruption, but Illya could feel the sudden tension in the hand that still rested on his buttocks.

The Sheikh's eyes glinted murderously as he regarded Illya. His gaze shifted to his son. "I must speak with you," he spat out, his eyes darting angrily back at the naked man standing beside his son. "Now."

It was a command, not a request, and the Prince obviously recognized it as such. "Of course, Father. Let me dress and I will be right with you."

The older man nodded, glared daggers at Illya one more time, then spun on his heel and left.

Laheeb sighed. "I'm sorry, Sapphire. Your pleasure will have to wait until later." He patted Illya's butt. "Make yourself comfortable until I return. My private library is in the next room if you'd like to read." He pointed with his lips towards a closed door in the corner of his chamber. "I'll be back as soon as I can." With a final swat, he dressed and left to speak with his irate father.

Illya knew he would not have a better chance to try to escape.

The thought of watching Solo interrogate the captured freighter's captain brought a surge of excited anticipation to Burke. He could learn a thing or two from Solo and if he wanted to remain the CEA's partner, he needed to learn it fast. He eagerly followed his new partner to the brig of the Navy ship, ready to pick up whatever techniques he could get.

Napoleon stopped at the door to the brig. "You go back and secure the released prisoners into their quarters," he ordered.

Burke took a surprised step back. "I thought you might need my help," he whined hopefully.

"I don't. Go on."

The look in Solo's eyes told Burke not to push the issue. He clenched his teeth. "Of course, partner," he agreed, forcing a smile onto his face.

Solo's eyes narrowed. "I only have one partner and that's Illya. I'm just working with you temporarily. Remember that."

Before Burke could open his mouth to reply, Solo was through the door and the lock clicked home.

Prisoner in the brig, the captain frowned and stared at the handsome dark haired gentleman that stood in front of him. The fancy pants man probably never worked a day in his life by the look of his manicured nails and pressed suit. He certainly didn't look like a part of the military and definitely not navy.

Napoleon paused at the door, a stern glare on his face. "You are going to face many charges Captain. Your men have been very cooperative and there is enough evidence to put you away for life. You'll never see your home. Your family again. Now I can make this a little easier for you if you cooperate as well."

"Bah!" the grungy man grumbled. "That will take years and no one probably cares about one little man and his way to make enough money to feed his family."

"You make your money selling human beings as property and those you cannot sell you dispose of. People do care. That is why the whole world condemns it."

The captain laughed. "If they condemn such things why is there a market for them?"

Napoleon wasn't going to waste time negotiating with the unrepentant fool. He took off his jacket and draped it neatly over the end of the sleeping rack. Then he began unfastening his cuffs to roll up his sleeves. He didn't want to soil his clothes with blood.

"I want to know what you did with one of your passengers. Illya Kuryakin. Five foot seven. One hundred forty eight pounds. Blond hair. Blue eyes. You took him from Mexico five weeks ago and you will tell me," he said and walked over to the man. A fire burned in his eyes that made the captain shake in his boots.

Burke watched through the small observation slot in the door. He admired Napoleon's serious demeanor and calm way of approaching the slimy slave trader. He took in the entire exchange but when Solo walked over to the creep Burke had to close his eyes and turn away desperately holding on to his lunch. His ears couldn't block out the screams though.

Napoleon walked into the cabin once again dressed immaculately in his suit coat. His hair was barely out of place and the only evidence of the interrogation was a slight discoloration on the knuckles of his right hand. The smile on his face betrayed his delight at the results to Burke.

"You got the information out of him?" Burke asked already believing the question was moot.

Napoleon seemed pleased and his charming debonair manner once again intact. "Yes. Once he realized the advantage of supplying me with the answers I wanted he was most sociable. Our next stop is Saudi Arabia."

"I'll call Mr. Waverly," Burke said and pulled out his communicator.

"No, I will report in," Napoleon commanded feeling energized by the new information. "I want you to arrange our transport back to the coast and a flight to Arabia. I don't want any more time wasted in delays."

Burke was beginning to feel put aside lately. He vowed to himself that he'd have to try harder to make Napoleon realize how indispensable he really was.

The Emir frowned when his son entered the office. It annoyed him even more that the prince seemed unrepentant for his wayward actions. The elder man walked over to the refreshment bar and poured himself some orange juice. "You disappoint me Laheeb. I asked you to give up this abhorrent activity and you promised me you would."

Laheeb smirked and sat down calmly. "I promised to give up Saleh. He is gone to college."

"That is not what I meant and you know it. Your wife is near to giving birth. Have you no shame?"

"I do what I like just as you like to gamble and boat race," he replied defiantly. "I keep it private. I do not make a public spectacle of my attentions."

"You shame me and your mother. This is family honor I talk of. Not just some extra marital fling you seem to treat it as. I have warned you before. You will not inherit my kingdom until you mend your ways."

"I never asked for your money or property," he replied unconcerned. He was the only son so by law it would be his regardless. "I did what you wanted. I have fathered a child. Now why can't you leave me be?"

The Emir grew sterner. "If you do not get rid of this bed toy of yours I will see to it myself," he promised his son. "I will be back for the birth of the baby. At that time I will take action." He was not lying about it either.

Laheeb watched his father storm out of the room. Then he shrugged. "Oh well. At least I have another two weeks." He entertained himself for the rest of the day's business thinking about all the things he and his Sapphire could do in two weeks.

Illya entered the library and looked around the room. The mahogany shelves were well stocked and pillows and chairs offered luxurious comfort if one chose to relax and read. It was also very apparent that the prince was fond of very fine and expensive artworks too. Among others adorning the wall were a Rembrandt and a Dali. The prince had eclectic tastes. Anyone would be in awe of such artwork. Certainly Napoleon would appreciate viewing them.

Illya wondered where his friend was at this moment. He had every confidence that without positive proof of his demise Napoleon would never stop looking for him. He trusted Napoleon with his life, something he'd never contemplated as a Russian in the KGB. A little knot formed in his stomach. That couldn't possibly mean he missed Napoleon, could it? Illya quickly squelched the thought as he tried to focus on an escape.

Napoleon might find him, but Illya wasn't about to wait around to find out. He depended on himself in such matters—in all matters—not on the whims of others. Not even his partner. He doubted very much Waverly would allow Napoleon to look for him anyway. By now Mr. Waverly would have declared his number two agent dead for all intents and purposes. Again. Illya smiled grimly. He would return to U.N.C.L.E. and prove him wrong. Again.

A large window set high in the wall between two enormous bookcases let natural light into the library. Illya snagged the sill and pulled himself up to look out. From what he could tell, it would be a long drop from this window. It didn't appear to have a ledge for him to get out onto either. Sidling naked along a narrow ledge didn't really appeal to him, anyway. He'd find another way.

He dropped and prowled the Prince's suite. Besides the library and bedroom, there was a sitting room and a fully plumbed and equipped bathroom. In the bathroom, a door that Illya hoped was a closet.

He opened it and smiled in triumphant pleasure at the row of business suits on one side of the large closet and various robes and ghutras on the other. Illya ignored the suits. Laheeb had at least fifty pounds on him and he doubted the tailored clothes would fit him. Robes, on the other hand, were almost a one size fits all proposition. He pulled out the first one he saw. Plain white. It reminded him of the one he wore when he pretended to be the son of Lawrence of Arabia. Perfect.

He started to put it on but stopped at the jingling of chains. He glanced down at the jewelry the Prince seemed to think constituted underpants and then dismissed the idea of trying to remove the contraption. It would take precious time he didn't have. The Prince might be gone all day or show up in the next few seconds. Since he didn't know Laheeb's schedule, haste was of the essence.

He slipped into the robe, tied it with one of the braided cords hanging on a rod, and donned the headgear to hide his bright hair and shadow his pale face. He jingled as he walked but hopefully no one would realize why. He hurried to the door and cracked it open to look out. To his delight, no guards stood sentry. It probably never crossed Laheeb's mind that his slave would try to escape. If Illya had been the usual, run of the mill slave, the Prince would be right. Since Illya was a well-trained U.N.C.L.E. agent that had escaped from much worse prisons and in much worse condition, the Prince's assumptions were very wrong.

With a pleased grin, he snaked out of the room and skulked down the corridor. A peek around the corner showed that hallway deserted as well. Did some of Napoleon's luck finally rub off on him? Just as he entered the hallway, Laheeb rounded the far corner.

Laheeb stopped cold in his tracks. Since the Prince's quarters took up the entire end of the corridor Illya came from, Laheeb knew the man approaching him had to be coming from there. Confusion crossed his face, no doubt wondering who was his visitor.

Illya didn't bother looking for a way out. The windows were set high and made of a thick glass he wouldn't be able to smash through even if he could reach them. Behind him was only the suite from which he'd escaped. There was nowhere for him to go.

That didn't mean he had to go back to those rooms quietly. He stopped and lifted his head, staring defiantly into Laheeb's eyes.

The Prince's confusion was replaced by outrage when he realized who stood before him. "Guards!" Two beefy men ran to their Prince's aid. Laheeb pointed at Illya. "Take him back to my chambers. And tie him to the bed this time!" he bellowed.

The guards grinned at each other and walked easily towards their quarry. They obviously saw him as little to no threat to their superior weight and strength. After all, what could one skinny little slave do to the likes of them?

Illya decided they would find out. This might be his only chance to get away. A slim one, yes, but he preferred to go down fighting rather than to meekly return to his status as sex slave or to the desires he was forced to acknowledge while playing that role. When the goons moved close enough, he struck out. The knee of the one on his right gave in a satisfying crunch under Illya's hard kick. The one to the left went down under a knife hand to the throat.

Illya vaulted over them, using the Prince's momentarily stunned immobility to push past him and storm down the corridor. It only took a second for Laheeb to recover and pursue, screaming at the top of his lungs for more guards. Two more big men loomed ahead Illya, hurrying his way. One raised a pistol. Illya hit an intersecting corridor at that moment and skidded around it as a bullet hit the corner by his leg. At least they weren't going for a kill shot.

He didn't know where he was going in the labyrinth of halls. He originally wanted to take the same route they'd brought him in, but that was thwarted with the guards who shot at him. He now ran through unfamiliar territory.

Doors were set into the wall all along the corridor. He hoped Napoleon's luck was still with him and he flung the door open and slipped inside. He stopped abruptly. He could do nothing else since he'd apparently run into the area of the palace that housed the guards and he found himself surrounded by several more large, scowling men. It appeared the idea of Solo's luck extending to him was only an illusion.

"No, Mr. Solo."

"But, sir," Napoleon protested. "The information Mr. Kuryakin was carrying . . . ."

"Was likely lost when he let himself be abducted," Waverly interrupted. "Since it wasn't THRUSH which captured him, he is probably in no immediate danger. Our Mr. Kuryakin is resourceful enough to get himself out of whatever jam he got himself into. In the meantime, I need you here. Not to mention Mr. Burke. What is your assessment of the young man?"

The abrupt change in subject was not lost on Napoleon. He knew it meant the Old Man made up his mind and nothing, nor anyone, would change it. At least not now. He kept his personal feelings about the matter out of things and gave a professional report on Burke's abilities. "He is a fast learner and he follows orders well. From what I can tell, he promises to be a good addition to Section Two."

Waverly nodded impassively but the tone of his voice gave firm commitment to his next statement. "I'm glad to hear that because until further notice, he is officially your new partner."

Burke couldn't have been happier with the news. A huge grin broke out on his face when he received the memo of his permanent assignment. Bagging the spot alongside Solo was every agent's dream. The best training by far. The most challenging missions. The better chance for promotion was all waiting for the man who stood next to Solo in the ranks. Burke would never wish harm to a fellow agent but he hoped when Kuryakin was recovered that it wouldn't adversely affect his new stature in U.N.C.L.E.. For now Burke celebrated.

Grant Saunders, a fellow agent new to the New York office, approached Burke at the bar of Denny's Pub, a place that reminded him of his hometown in New England. He gave Burke a pat on the back. "Congratulations on making full agent status. I've been watching you. You've got talent."

"Thanks," Burke replied with genuine humility. "I worked hard for it. Solo is a demanding boss."

Saunders nodded and signaled for another two pints. "I'm buying your next one," he said joining in Burke's celebrating. "You deserve it."

"That's mighty nice of you Mr. Saunders. I appreciate that."

"Grant," the agent told him. "You can call me Grant."

Burke smiled broadly. "Grant it is then." The drinks were set in front of them and Burke picked up his. He held it out to Grant. "A toast to my future then. Here's to U.N.C.L.E. and our continued success in our struggle against THRUSH."

Saunders clinked glasses and took a swig of the frothy brew.

Napoleon Solo worked late in his office to clear up paperwork, one of his least favorite job aspects. Although he never expressed his thanks for it, Napoleon appreciated Illya's talent in putting the details down on paper. Tonight was different though. Napoleon had something in mind. With the intensive training he'd been doing with Burke and the workload throughout the year to date, he was within rights to take a vacation. If that's what he had to do to get to Arabia then that's what he would do. The end of the night was spent filling out the request. He'd carefully worded it to sound like he was going to Austria instead of Arabia though.

Illya was taken down to the bowels of the palace. A dim place with claustrophobic tunnels and mysteries behind every door. Outmanned and very aware of their guns against his bare hands, Illya allowed himself to be stripped once more. He was handed a loin cloth to put on and then leg irons were fastened to his ankles and manacles to his wrists. Illya was surprised that the men were not extremely rough with him. Still he worried worse was yet to come.

Once suitably chained, Illya was prodded to walk back up the stairs into the main hall where Laheeb waited still wearing a scowl. In his hand, a riding crop waited for what purpose Illya could certainly guess. Mentally he braced himself for the assault.

"You disappoint me my Sapphire. I gave you more comfort than you would ever find in the desert hauling rocks in the sun. Food in your belly. A soft warm place to sleep." He walked over to Illya and began to circle him, the whip cracking in his hand. "I gave you the pleasure of making love with ME," he hissed in the pale ear. "What do you do? You steal clothes from me. You try to run away."

Illya remained quiet, eyes forward, listening to the ravings, expecting the crack of the riding crop to lash out at him any moment.

The prince raised the dangling wrist chains with the crop. "This is the symbol you wear now but the gold chain around your cock still says you are mine. Until I see fit for you to take off the loincloth and come back to my bed you will work in this house as an ordinary house slave. You will clean. You will serve food and drink. You will do anything asked of you by me and or any of my guests and you will do it with your eyes lowered and your head bowed. Misbehave and you may find yourself dangling from these in the cellar permanently."

Illya raised his eyes to meet the prince's. That earned him a hard backhand from a guard. It knocked Illya to the floor and Laheeb broke into an unsympathetic smile.

"Learn your place or suffer the consequences." Laheeb slapped his thigh with the riding crop and signaled his guest to go. "Put that one to work," he ordered, indicating Illya as they left the room.

Kardal read the notice from his contact in the art world. Laheeb was fond of European artworks and surely he'd be interested in the latest news. He clutched the paper tightly in his meaty little hand and went in search of the prince. He found him out in the stables preparing to mount his favorite horse for a ride.

"Laheeb. Great news has come," he said showing off the scrunched note.

"What is it?" he said still sporting his sour mood.

"The Botticelli. You were right. It has come onto the market."

The prince handed the reins to a servant and walked around the horse to Kardal. "Let me see that." He tore the paper from the greasy little weasel's hand and read the scrawls. "Finally. I must have it. Who is the broker?"

"A man named Augustine Cipolla."

"Contact him immediately. I wish to speak to him."

The little man nodded and bowed out. "Yes sir. I will do that right away."

Laheeb smiled. He knew of Cipolla. The man was fond of luxury and wasn't adverse to accepting hospitality. That, Laheeb knew, would make it much easier to acquire the merchandize he was after.

Time to put things into perspective. Illya thought about his predicament as he was led to new quarters in the servant/slave section of the palace. Again the guard was somewhat respectful in his treatment of him. He wondered why, but didn't want to question it because they might change their methods if he did. He preferred this treatment to that he received while working the construction site.

The guard opened a door and ushered him inside. Four narrow beds occupied the small space. Illya raised an eyebrow. Reminded him of Russia.

"The Prince said to let you rest for today," the guard said as he unfastened Illya's manacles. "Tomorrow morning you will report to Vadeem and he will put you to work. I suggest you control your defiant streak. If not Vadeem will beat it out of you." The guard's demeanor wasn't one of derision or even threat. A friendly warning from one who knew the score to one who didn't.

"Thank you," Illya said, surprised once again by the respectful treatment. All he could think of was that Laheeb didn't want a damaged playmate. No doubt the Prince would want Sapphire in his bed again eventually. Even so, Illya could think of worse places to be imprisoned.

The guard gently closed the door. A soft click told Illya he was now locked in. Hopefully they would let him out to go to the bathroom. The other beds indicated eventually the door would open again to allow his roommates in, but apparently he was to be confined when possible. Probably the guards were also instructed to keep a sharp eye on him. From what he'd seen, they would do just that. These were no THRUSH flunkies. These guards were loyal to their master.

Illya's observations led to the conclusion that escaping from this place would not be easy. The Sheikh kept his family and property well protected. Guards, big ones that looked well able to defend themselves and their sovereign, stood watch in all the main corridors. Others walked the halls and grounds. All appeared alert and ready to respond. No slackers in this bunch.

The other thing against him was the surrounding terrain. Even if he escaped the palace, he didn't have many options of places to go. The unforgiving desert would fry his pale skin easily, something he knew from experience, so trying to cross the expanse without the proper gear and clothing was suicide.

Going into town was his best bet, but with his coloring, blending in would be difficult. Someone would see him and, in his present attire, realize he was the property of the Sheikh and turn him in. He could steal clothes and money and would, but the risk of recapture was still high. He shuddered to think of what might happen to him then. Laheeb might be somewhat forgiving, but he doubted the Prince's father would be so inclined.

The better idea would be to acquire clothing, money, and other essentials here before making a break for freedom. He could do it, but it would take time. The mission wasn't a consideration, already a lost cause. If he had returned the information to U.N.C.L.E. immediately, it could have made a difference. Waverly could have used it to U.N.C.L.E.'s advantage before THRUSH could act. Now? Since THRUSH knew of its theft, by this point in time, they would have made enough changes to render the information obsolete and useless.

He hated that aspect. Hated the fact that he failed in his mission not because he ran afoul of THRUSH, but because of his own stupid carelessness. He knew better than to trust anyone. Not that he had trusted the ferryman, but he turned his back on him. He knew better and now he paid for his mistake.

So be it. Recriminations could come later. For now, he needed to survive long enough to form a plan of escape and implement it. That meant he had to be a slave. He would treat this as a role, albeit a possibly long term one. He excelled at deep undercover roles. This would be no exception.

This would work. It had better. Chances were high that Waverly already declared him as dead and moved onto the next mission. He would not send Napoleon after him. Although Illya and Napoleon were friends, Illya knew U.N.C.L.E. took precedence in Napoleon's loyalty. Therefore, Waverly would not be inclined to look for him and Napoleon would not come looking for him on his own initiative. That was as it should be. Not as he wanted, but as it should be.

"Vacation?" Burke squeaked, staring in open-mouthed astonishment at his partner. "You're going on vacation now?"

"You'll be fine while I'm gone. Mr. Waverly will pair you with Grant for the duration." Napoleon opened the last report from his "In" basket and started to read through it.

"YOU'RE my partner. I don't want to be paired with anyone else."

"You'll be fine," Napoleon repeated. He made a note in the margin of the report.

Solo's smile was friendly enough but Burke suspected it was fake. As a matter of fact, he was starting to suspect most of Solo's mild mannered friendliness was a front and the maniac Burke saw interrogating the ferryman and the ship's captain was the real McCoy.

It made him think of that game show "To Tell the Truth." If Solo, Jack the Ripper, and Hitler were on the same episode, when the host asked, "Will the REAL Napoleon Solo please stand up!" it was debatable as to which one would stand. Everyone kept saying Kuryakin was the crazy one. If that was true, Kuryakin must be terrifying. "Where are you going?" Burke asked despondently.


"Austria! What in the world is there that is interesting enough to pull you away from our work?" Being an U.N.C.L.E. agent was the most exciting thing in the world. Burke couldn't understand why anyone would want to take time away from it. Especially to go to Austria.

Napoleon waggled his eyebrows. "Frauleins." He signed the report with a flourish, and then tossed it into the "Out" basket. He stood and adjusted his cuffs. "You'll like working with Grant. He's a good agent. I think you two will make a good team."

Burke watched with narrowed eyes as Solo left. No jaunty wave goodbye. No bounce in his step. And that fake smile still plastered on his mug. Funny, Napoleon didn't look like a man ready to spend a vacation chasing frauleins. Solo was going somewhere, but Burke had the sneaking suspicion Austria wasn't it.

Illya Kuryakin slid down the silver thread, descending rapidly as though pushed by a large, invisible hand. Around him chaos swirled, a maelstrom of confusing emotions, made up mostly of fear. Fear of living, of losing control, of the pain others could cause him. He hated the fear, hated to let it run lose, but he had no choice. He needed it. It would help him to be meek. Obedient. Harmless. At least on the surface. Underneath, though, Illya would be waiting, holding onto the silver thread until he could reemerge when it was time to fight his way to freedom.

A part of him protested the move, warned of the possibility of suicide. There was a risk. A big one. The longer he stayed down here; the danger of the thread breaking became more pronounced. The need to survive and escape made the strategy necessary, though. He continued down the thread, heading for a prison very different and much worse then the one Laheeb locked him into. For now, the ego and main personality of Illya Kuryakin would remain in this darkened corner of his soul and Sapphire, the meek, mild slave, would be in control.

Illya lay down on a bunk and stared at the ceiling for an hour or so before the door opened again. Another slave in chains was escorted inside and the door locked behind him again. Illya looked over the poor fellow. Like him, he was adorned with shackles and dressed in only a loincloth.

"Hello," Illya said wondering what language he spoke. The man only looked at him as he walked over to an empty bunk. "Bonjour.... Hola...."

The man finally looked back at him and replied in Spanish.

Illya nodded and continued in the same language. "Did you come from Mexico?"

"Yes. I was going north to the border but didn't make it. I wanted to join family in Texas. You are from Mexico or Spain?" he asked.

"Neither. Have you been here long?" Illya wanted to gather as much information as he could. Anything might be of value in escaping.

"Seven months I think. I lost track in the desert stone pits. I think I've been here at the house for about nine weeks. I work in the gardens."

Illya nodded. "And why are you being punished in chains now?"

"I took some food without permission. Then they overheard me talking about the prince. His guards are very loyal to him."

That was something Illya already knew well.

The man continued. "You will probably learn of those things soon," he said. "But I will not speak of them."

Illya suspected he knew what the man was talking about. "Who gave you those bruises?"

The man glanced at his shoulder. "Some of the prince's staff are not as gentle as he is. When you wear the chains they know you are being punished and are meaner."

Illya's stomach growled. He hoped they would still feed them.

Over the next several days Illya worked in the vast gardens of the palace. The succulents would only survive if heavily watered and constantly cared for. Vadeem liked to keep things to a schedule and punished the slaves who dawdled about their jobs in spite of the heat and lack of rest. Even so it was far easier than mining the stone for the resort palace farther out in the desert. Food was better and so was the bunk in the cell he occupied with his fellow slaves.

It was impossible to hide from the others the fact that the prince held a special attraction for Illya. Once or twice a day the prince would seek him out and bend him over a barrel or divider wall to take his pleasure in a quick fuck. The grunts and groans would attract attention but the other slaves kept their eyes down though they couldn't ignore the sounds.

The brief interludes not only put Illya behind in his tasks but, much to his regret, stimulated him without satisfying his own desires. The more he was used like this the more his needs begged him for release. Sleep was harder to come by. His mind sometimes grew muddled with the thoughts of making love with the prince again in the man's own bed.

At least then he'd have a chance of release once in awhile. He also wouldn't have the humiliation of being taken in public areas. Although Illya didn't embarrass easily, the thought that everyone knew how the Prince was using him made it hard to look them in the eye. Illya Kuryakin would have fought back by now. Sapphire, though, seriously considered begging to return to being the Prince's pampered lover.

Napoleon did book his flight to Austria and did fly there, but once at the airport he quickly booked another flight under another name to Saudi Arabia. 24 hours after he left New York he was in the desert country and looking for his partner. Although it wasn't restful, Napoleon slept on the planes as much as possible. He didn't want to waste time sleeping once he got to his destination.

He started in the most logical place, the port of destination on the Loullia's log. It wasn't hard to locate the market from the whimpering captain's directions and once there Napoleon began talking to the merchants with the help of an interpreter, a youth eager to earn some money who spoke both French and Arabic.

Napoleon used the cover story that he was a French author researching the market for a book project and wasn't afraid to shell out money for information on the slave trading that went on. After talking to some people and doling out a couple hundred dollars, he learned whom Illya had been sold to.

As evening approached Napoleon found a hotel favored by tourists and checked in. He needed food and more sleep by now. He also needed more information if he was going to go looking for Illya.

Burke didn't think anything strange when he answered the phone in his office. At least not until the voice at the other end spoke up.

"Hello. Burke here," he stated as he read the latest THRUSH activity notice posted to all agents.

"Burke. Napoleon Solo here."

Immediately Burke thought of his musings on Napoleon's sudden vacation and his suspected real purpose in taking the time off. "Napoleon? Hi. How's the skirt chasing going?" He really doubted there were any skirts involved though.

Napoleon, no matter how much he tried to distance himself from Burke as a partner, knew he could trust the man. "Lower your voice. I want to keep this private if you don't mind."

Sensing the serious tone in Solo's voice, Burke automatically complied. "What's up Napoleon? Did you find Illya?"

Napoleon smiled a little bit. "You knew I was coming to look for him I gather."

"I suspected as much. I didn't say anything to anyone though," he replied quietly. "Were you successful?"

"Yes and no," Napoleon answered. "I have a lead on him but I need more information before going in."

"And you want me to get it for you," he said knowing full well what Napoleon had in mind. Burke decided then and there that they were partners and he'd support his partner in whatever he wanted to do. "Name it. I'll do what I can."

"Good man Burke," Napoleon said in praise. "I was hoping you'd say that. I need background on a Sheikh and his family. They're the ones who purchased Illya in the market. I also need to arrange a cover to go in and look around for him. And the sooner the better."

Burke began taking down the information as Napoleon went over the details he ha0d. "I'll get on it right away. I'll call you back at the hotel. I don't imagine you want communications to know about this."

Napoleon was pleased with Burke's foresight. "Yes. I'm in room 426. I'll wait for your call." He hung up the phone and decided to go eat before lying down. Burke's eagerness to please him gave him confidence that soon he'd be on his way to finally get Illya and bring him home. No longer would the images of Illya shaking his head at him haunt his days. "I'm coming for you Illya. Just hang on a little while longer. I promise," he vowed out loud in his room.

Laheeb groaned as he came inside Illya. "Ahhh, my jewel, my beautiful Sapphire, you feel as good today as you did the first time I took you." Still buried in his slave lover, the Prince ran his hands over the body that was bent over the garden bench.

Illya hissed with pain. Even though the skin on the palm of Laheeb's hands was soft and smooth, it still felt like sandpaper when rubbed across sunburned flesh.

The Prince pulled his hands away the moment he heard the sound of his lover's distress. "Does that hurt?" he asked, showing the same amount of concern someone might show for a favored pet.

"Yes. My skin. It doesn't take the sun well," Illya gasped. The burn was quite bad, rapidly working its way to third degree from the way it felt.

"Yes, I see that." He leaned over Illya, bringing another grimace to his slave's handsome face. "You do not belong out here baking in this sun, Sapphire. Are you ready to return to my bed, or do you wish to remain out here and possibly die of sun poisoning?"

"I-I . . ." He moaned in frustration, knowing capitulation marked a significant change in him, but not quite sure what it was.

Sapphire wanted to sleep in a soft, bug-free bed. To be pampered and made love to every night. In Laheeb's bed, he could possibly have an orgasm that didn't leave him feeling unsatisfied. Even though he sometimes managed to come when Laheeb took him, he had to work so hard for it—having no more stimulation than the occasional stroke of his prostate—it made him feel like Oliver Twist, always wanting more.

Illya convinced himself that if he must have sex with a man, it was preferable to be taken in a private bedchamber rather than over a bench in the middle of a busy garden. "Yes," he blurted, both Illya and Sapphire in agreement. "I want to return to your bed."

On the one hand, Burke preferred the idea that Illya Kuryakin would disappear forever. On the other hand, Napoleon had a lead and Burke simply couldn't bring himself to leave a fellow U.N.C.L.E. agent held in captivity, no matter what the circumstances. He would do his best to help find the man. Then he would do his best to usurp Kuryakin's place by Solo's side.

If he played his cards right, Burke believed he could still replace Kuryakin as Napoleon's partner even after the Russian returned. Sheila, one of secretaries that covered for Waverly's usual assistant when she was away, recently told him the Old Man often talked of splitting the partnership. Apparently he thought the two men were too close. Once Kuryakin was back in the U.N.C.L.E. fold and up to snuff, Burke would go to work on replacing him. His plans on how to do this weren't quite solidified, but he had some ideas. His present position as Napoleon's official partner should give him an advantage over Kuryakin. Slight one, yes, but Burke was good at turning the smallest amount of leverage into a solid footing.

In a way, he was glad to see Napoleon working so feverishly at finding Kuryakin. If—no, make that WHEN—Burke managed to become a permanent partner, if felt good to think Napoleon would rescue him if the need ever arose.

But first things first. There was an agent in possible danger that must be retrieved. With a decisive nod, he collated the information he'd found on Laheeb Al-Fadee and returned to his desk to call Napoleon.

A strong arm wrapped around Illya and a familiar velvety voice murmured in his ear. Napoleon. Illya smiled and rolled over so he could look into the face of the only person in this world he truly trusted.

Before he could say a word, Napoleon pressed a finger to his lips. Illya licked the digit, then sucked it gently into his mouth. Napoleon moaned in pleasure, allowing his lover to suckle his finger for a moment before pulling it out with a pop. "I have something else I'd rather have you do that to," he whispered.

He pushed Illya's head downward, making his desires known. Illya happily complied, kissing his way across the powerful chest towards the dark nest of curls nestling Napoleon's proud erection. He licked and sucked everything except the hard cock, intent on driving his lover insane.

"Illya!" Napoleon growled in frustration. "Do it!" he ordered, grabbing the blond hair and pulling Illya's head into the position where he could draw in the hard cock.

Illya resisted a little, startled by the forceful command. Startled even more by his reaction of equal amounts of revulsion and arousal.

Napoleon's eyes softened and his fingers released their tight grip on his hair in order to stroke it instead. "Please? I want you so badly."

Illya looked deeply into his lover's expressive brown eyes. "I want you, too," he admitted.

Illya awoke suddenly, the dream still vivid in his mind. At that moment, his sluggish brain registered the soft bed in a luxuriously appointed room rather than a hard cot in his slave quarters. Fear gripped him, although he wasn't sure if it was fear he would dream such a thing or that he would discover it was a reality.

The dark, muscular arm surrounding him was real enough. Slowly he turned to see who held him so tightly. So possessively. He found himself looking into the expressive brown eyes of Laheeb.

"I see you dream of me Sapphire," Laheeb leered over Illya's shoulder. The prince ran a hand down along Illya's side and over his belly to the dream aroused cock.

Illya shivered, the over sensitive sun baked skin reacting to the tender touch. Then he gasped lightly when his penis felt the fingers run along the shaft. Damn. He pushed his hips back in an involuntary motion and felt Laheeb's semi hard rod poke his buttocks.

"You want more of me?" the prince stated more than asked and leaned over to nibble Illya's earlobe. "You shall have it," he whispered with hot heavy breath into the ear.

If Illya dared open his mouth he'd have heard himself begging yes...yes...yes...

Napoleon woke at the tinny sound of the phone in his room. He grabbed it quickly. "Yes?"

"Burke here Napoleon. I have some good news for you. I dug up some information through various contacts and actually learned Illya's location. He's at the palace of Prince Laheeb Al-Fadee. He's been there several weeks after working in the desert quarries for the new palace his father is building."

Napoleon wrote down the name. "Great. Now all I have to do is find a way out there."

"That's where the good news comes in Napoleon," Burke said proudly. "I've even figured that out for you."

The senior agent developed a skeptical tone in his voice. "Thanks Burke but I don't think you've got the experience for that yet."

"I don't need it," he assured Napoleon still brimming with eagerness. "I found out the prince is expecting a visitor and you'd fill the bill perfectly."

"What do you mean?" Napoleon asked now that his curiosity had been peeked.

"The prince is an art fanatic. He's got a very expensive private collection and recently sent out inquiries on a Botticelli that's just come on the market."

"And how does that help me? I don't have it," Napoleon reminded him.

"But an art dealer by the name of Augustine Cipolla does. He's Italian."

"I could tell from the name," Napoleon said dryly, Burke's eager tone starting to annoy him.

"Well he's on his way to the prince's palace by invitation now. Five-eleven, dark hair and eyes and speaks fluent Italian. A cultured man with expensive tastes. Now who do we know who could fit that description?" Burke said hoping Napoleon got his meaning.

"Not bad," Napoleon said thinking it had merit. "But what if Cipolla shows up?"

"I've got it covered. I can have him held in Egypt on a warrant. That would give you about four days lead-time. You should be able to find Kuryakin and get out of there by then," he suggested.

"Where is Laheeb meeting Cipolla?"

"A reservation was made in Cipolla's name at a hotel the prince's father owns. It's that fancy place about a half mile south of where you are now. He's supposed to check in tonight."

"You stop Cipolla in Alexandria and I'll be switching hotels tonight," Napoleon said with a grin. As he spoke he could just see Illya leaning against the wall by the bathroom smiling with approval at him.

"I'll courier over some ID for you," Burke replied showing off his efficiency.

Illya lay in the plush bed naked except for his genital chain, covered around the hips by the edge of a clingy satin sheet. A thin film of sweat evaporated as he rested from a vigorous session under the prince's lustful body. Then the prince abandoned him for his other great lust procuring another piece of artwork.

Illya ignored the slave that entered and deposited a bowl of succulents beside the bed. He didn't answer when the other man offered him the food. Illya remained motionless on the bed, lost in his own thoughts over what he was becoming. He didn't hear the water running in the bath, nor the slave returning to take him for his bath.

Have to get out of here. Illya paced the chambers, trying to ignore the opulence and utter luxury in which he now lived. It was not easy. As much as he tormented Napoleon about his decadent ways, he fought a never-ending battle to keep himself from falling prey to the allure of fine things. At home he kept his apartment sparse not because he couldn't afford nice furnishings. Contrary to Napoleon's belief, he didn't do so because he was cheap, either. He loved the good things in life. Therein was his failing.

To make matters worse, Sapphire loved the luxury. He reveled in it. Wallowed in the soft bedding, looked forward to the delicious and filling meals. Worst of all, Sapphire liked the sex. Not just the sex with Laheeb. Illya suspected any man would do. Sapphire was homosexual.

Of course, that didn't mean Illya was homosexual. Sapphire was a role and Sapphire needed to be gay in order to accept Laheeb's attentions.

Sapphire is an extension of you, a small but loud voice in his head reminded.

Illya quickly and ruthlessly eradicated the voice, unwilling to admit it might speak an uncomfortable truth. His pacing increased in tempo to coincide with his agitation. He was heterosexual. Had to be. Raised with the idea that homosexuality in any form was an abomination he simply couldn't accept the possibility that he had the tendencies. In his homeland being gay was tantamount to treason. Homosexuals couldn't produce good little Soviet children.

Illya snorted. The State only wanted good little Soviet children as fodder to feed the ravenous monster they called the Soviet Union. If anything, that reason advocated homosexuality rather than discourage it.

Still, Illya wasn't gay so it was a moot point. If he were, he still wouldn't jump into bed with just anyone. He would choose a man other than Laheeb. Although he wasn't a cruel man, he wasn't exactly the most thoughtful of lovers. He cared only for his own pleasure. He didn't give a thought to the fact his partner might not have achieved an orgasm. Said partner then had to wait for Laheeb to leave before he could take care of the resulting frustration. Illya found such a situation made for a long and restless night.

Wonder what kind of lover Napoleon would be?

Illya stopped abruptly when that annoying little voice interrupted his already disturbed musings. He HAD to get out of here! Before Sapphire convinced him to stay.

A well-placed call to the local authorities in Alexandria resulted in the quiet arrest of Cipolla, the fencer of priceless art. Burke sat back, laced his hands behind his head, and grinned with self-satisfaction. The Alexandia police had just called to inform him the man was in custody and wasn't expected to breathe free air again for quite some time.

Napoleon would be pleased. Maybe pleased enough to consider keeping him on as his partner even after Kuryakin returned. He hoped so. By all accounts, the Russian was hard to work with. Professional, yes. An excellent agent...well, that went without saying. Also more demanding than a rich man's greedy wife. Burke hoped Napoleon would find working with him so much more pleasurable than with the difficult Kuryakin he would opt to keep Burke as his partner. It could happen.

His buzzer rang. "Agent Burke here," he answered crisply.

"Waverly's office in ten minutes," ordered the businesslike voice of Lisa Rogers. At least Burke thought it was her. He might never know because the person on the other end of the line abruptly hung up as soon as her message was delivered. Burked scowled at the phone he held limply in his hand. She sounded like a female version of Kuryakin.

He replaced the phone onto the cradle and hurried to the men's room to freshen up. Maybe Waverly had an assignment for him! If the Old Man, as Napoleon often called him, although not to his face, already trusted Burke for a solo assignment, it would prove to Napoleon just how valuable he was as a partner.

Face scrubbed and tie straightened, Burke strode the halls to Waverly's office. Lisa waved for him to go on inside. "You asked to see me?" he said eagerly to his boss.

"Oh, yes, Mr., uh." He glanced up as though to confirm the agent's identity. "Burke. Where is Mr. Solo?"

Burke blinked. This wasn't what he'd expected. "Um... Mr. Solo, sir?"

Bushy eyebrows rose. "I believe that was what I said. Where is he?"

"Well, uh," Burke stammered. He didn't want to tell Mr. Waverly the truth and get Napoleon in trouble. By the same token, he didn't want to lie to his boss and get himself in trouble. He'd stick by Napoleon's lie and hope for the best. "He, uh, told me he was going on vacation. Sir."

"To where?" The piercing blue-gray eyes stared a hole through Burke.

"Uh, well, uh, he said Austria." That wasn't really a lie. Napoleon had said if anyone asked to tell them he was in Austria.

Waverly harrumphed and his face became a mask of skepticism. "I suppose it would be possible for Mr. Solo to confuse Saudi Arabia for Austria, but I would hope he's a better agent than that," he said, tone laced with sarcasm.

A nervous giggle escaped Burke before he could stop it. He swallowed any follow up and plastered what he hoped was a blank expression on his face.

Waverly's eyebrows beetled at the sound, and then he turned away in disgust and pressed a button on his console. "Luckily for Mr. Solo, I have reconsidered my position on retrieving our Mr. Kuryakin. I want you to join him in Saudi Arabia. Be his backup."

Burke brightened at the prospect. "Yes sir! I would be happy to."

Waverly's eyes narrowed. "You have certainly accepted the concept of Mr. Solo not being in Austria easily."

Burke kept himself from shifting from foot to foot, but only barely. "No sir. I mean, yes sir. I mean . . ."

Waverly harrumphed and glanced to the office door as it hissed open and Grant Saunders strode in.

"You sent for me, sir?"

"Yes." He waved a hand in Burke's direction. "Have you met Mr. Burke?"

"I have, sir." He turned to Burke and nodded. "Nice to see you again."

"You, too," Burke answered wearing a puzzled look on his face.

"Mr. Burke," Waverly said. He picked up a pipe and filled it with tobacco. "You and Mr. Saunders will go to Saudi Arabia and assist Mr. Solo in retrieving Mr. Kuryakin."

Burke's eyes widened in surprise. "Sir?"

"The sooner we finish with this foolishness, the sooner we can get back to the business of saving the world." He waved the pipe at them in dismissal. "Miss Rogers has your travel packets."

"Yes, sir," Burke gushed, pleased to be able to help Napoleon even more than he had. "Thank you, sir."

Waverly's harrumph was his only reply.

Illya lay upon the bed, sighing despondently.

Laheeb paused in dressing and glanced at his pet. "Something wrong, Sapphire? Did you not enjoy the fucking I just gave you?"

"Of course," Illya replied. The frightening part was that he had enjoyed it. No. Sapphire enjoyed it. Not Illya. Illya couldn't enjoy such a thing. It was unthinkable. "But you're leaving and I will once again be stuck here." He sat up, letting the blankets fall to his waist. "Can I return to working the gardens?"

Laheeb stared at him, eyes narrowed. "You no longer wish to share my bed?"

Illya reached out to him. "I do, very much. But I'm here all alone every day and I get so lonely and bored."

Laheeb relaxed. "That is understandable, but you know your pale skin doesn't do well under this strong sun. I don't want bad sunburn to damage you."

"The kitchens then." A good place to get a knife. "Or the laundry." He could get his hands on the less expensive clothes.

Laheeb smiled and approached the bed. He stroked Illya's hair like one might pet a beloved dog. "I have an idea. Why don't I make you my personal attendant? That way we will always be together." He put a finger under Illya's chin and tilted his head so he could look his pet in the eyes. "Would you like that?"

It wasn't quite what he had in mind, but it, too, would have its advantages. Since Laheeb moved around freely, Illya would have a chance to recon the entire palace and grounds. It would give him an excellent idea on the best route to escape. He smiled brightly at the Prince. "I would like that very much."

As Napoleon packed up to change hotels he was taken short by the beeping of his communicator. He thought about ignoring it since he was officially on vacation but as CEA he had a higher duty to U.N.C.L.E. than just any agent. With a sigh he assembled the pen and answered the page.

"Open channel D. Solo here."

"Mr. Solo," Waverly's voice stated echoing through the room. "How is your stay in Austria?"

Waverly making pleasant conversation? That just didn't make sense to Solo. Hesitantly he replied, "Uh... fine sir. Do what do I owe the pleasure of your call?"

Waverly smirked. He knew he'd taken Solo by surprise. "I called to let you know your plane took a wrong turn. Saudi Arabia is nowhere near Austria."

A smile of embarrassment spread across Solo's face. He was glad the old man couldn't see it. "You know then."

"Of course I know Mr. Solo. I wouldn't be worthy of my position if I didn't know these things about my agents. I understand you have located Mr. Kuryakin."

"I'm going after him," Napoleon said in a voice defying any ideas Waverly might have of ordering him to do different.

"I am aware of that too," Waverly acknowledged. "You have your documents to supplement your cover, do you not?"

Solo relaxed slightly. "Yes. They came about an hour ago. I was just preparing to switch hotels."

"Good. The real Cipolla is in custody in Egypt. Very hush-hush. I'm sending Burke and Saunders as backup. They will be there tomorrow just after you are on your way to the palace of Laheeb Al-Fadee. They will arrange transportation when you make your escape with Kuryakin. Let them know if medical support is necessary."

Napoleon let out a breath of relief that he wasn't going this alone after all. "Yes sir," he replied. "I'll have him back before you know it."

"I rather doubt that Mr. Solo," Waverly said dryly and closed the line. He was always one or two steps ahead of his agents every move.

Napoleon paused looking at the communicator before disassembling it. He was relieved to at least have Waverly's sanction now.

Burke and Saunders waited in the lounge for their boarding call. They were about to take their flight to Spain where it connected to another on their way to Arabia. As Saunders took care of their carry on bags, Burke made a call to his partner, Napoleon.


"Napoleon. Burke here," he said in an anxious tone. "I'm glad I caught you. Waverly knows," he warned him.

"Thanks but you're too late," Solo replied. "I just got a call from our wise old chief a few moments ago."

"Oh? Okay. Then you know we're on our way to back you up."

"Yes. When you get here arrange transportation and I'll contact you from the palace when I find Illya."

"Will do. I'll get you whatever else I can find out on Cipolla and let you know the next time you contact us." Burke looked up as they called their flight. "I've got to go. They're calling us."

"I'll contact you the first chance I get. Bye."

Burke hung up and made a dash for the line to catch up with Saunders and pulled out his boarding pass.

"My Prince," the lowly servant said. "I beg your attention. The art dealer Cipolla has checked into the hotel. He is very tired from his journey and looking forward to meeting you tomorrow."

Laheeb smiled and glanced happily at his little Sapphire at his side. "That is good news. Tomorrow we shall have a banquet to welcome him," he instructed the household messenger. "Inform the kitchen to prepare."

"I will my Prince," the poor soul said and backed away again.

Illya took in everything although he kept his eyes down and didn't look anyone directly in the face lest it be taken as a challenge. Also he still burned with embarrassment at the common knowledge about the place that he was Laheeb's willing bedmate. He was picking up quite a few words in the native language now too. The more he listened the more he understood.

Laheeb stroked Illya's hair again. "We must look our best tomorrow." I will put you in some fine clothes and you will stay by me in the banquet room."

Illya smiled and nodded as if eager to please. The palace was much bigger than he'd originally imagined from all their wanderings from place to place. He was trying to memorize every route and where it led, creating a map in his mind. Perhaps if the prince were distracted enough with his guest and the artwork he was trying to acquire he'd have his best escape chance yet.

Napoleon changed hotels without a problem and now as Augustine Cipolla, he settled down to a night of rest before his transportation would arrive in the morning. Hopefully to find Illya. Napoleon showered and put on his pajamas. He ordered room service for dinner and after eating bedded down for the night.

Many things passed through Napoleon's mind as he lay trying to fall asleep. He tried to make his thoughts settle down but he kept thinking of Illya. Perhaps weak, tired, tortured even. He knew the man's stubborn streak all to well.

He tried to shut out the thoughts where a voice seemed to come from the other side of the bed. Napoleon squinted and rolled over. He imagined Illya propped up on one elbow lying on his side facing him.

~Illya. Hang on. I'm almost there.~

I know. I knew you'd come for me sooner or later.

~I... I wanted to right from the start.~ Guilt filled his heart over that. ~But Waverly wouldn't let me.~

He was right not to let you try. There was no reason to think I was alive.

~But you are,~ he said and reached out to touch Kuryakin's lovely yellow locks. ~Still trying to drive Waverly mad with that long hair of yours too I see.~

Napoleon adored Illya's hair. His eyes would rise over Illya's face to focus on that lovely hair. That face so innocent that hid the dark brooding interior, so impenetrable and yet so alluring and tempting. Napoleon couldn't help but constantly tease him. The less reaction he got from Illya the more he tried to force one. No woman ever attracted him like that.

The hand entwined in the hair drew Illya's face closer and closer. Napoleon's face flushed with a heat rising from his very soul. Closer... closer... their lips mere millimeters apart.

"We might get interrupted this morning, Sapphire," Laheeb panted as he plowed into Illya's now far from virginal anal passage. "My wife went into labor yesterday morning and I must go to her when the brat is born."

"Why...why aren't you...with" Illya grunted beneath the onslaught.

He paused in his fucking to answer. "Because my dear jewel, I don't really care about her. Nor her offspring, for that matter. My father demands I produce an heir or I will not inherit his holdings. So, I gave him his heir and now he should give me some peace." He grinned down at the supple body beneath him. He ran proprietary fingers over the lovely globes between which his cock nestled. "Which means I can spend even more time inside of you." He resumed his thrusting, pushing harder this time.

A hard knock sounded at the door. "Come in!" Laheeb called without a hesitation in his fucking.

The door opened and heavy footsteps echoed through the chamber. Laheeb pressed hand on Illya's back, his thrusting not pausing for even a second. "Don't move, Sapphire. This will only take a moment."

One of the guards approached the bed. Illya felt the heat rise in his face at the thought of the man seeing him in this position, but squelched the urge to turn his head. Laheeb would punish him severely for that and a little indignity in front of someone he planned to never see again once he escaped wasn't worth the possible damage to his person.

The guard's gaze flicked to the sight of Laheeb's cock pushed high into Illya's butt, then to Illya's face, disgust in his eyes. Illya glared at him coldly, a cultivated look which was known to strike terror in many a man. This one was no different. He blanched, and then colored in anger, which he held in check as he returned his attention to his lord. "Effendi, the child is coming now and your father demands you go to your wife's side immediately."

"I'll be there soon," Laheeb grunted, still pounding into his catamite's ass. Disapproval shimmered in the man's eyes, but since Laheeb's focus was on the body in front of him, he made no reprimand for the slight.

"But . . ."

Laheeb suddenly stopped thrusting and jerked his head towards the guard. "You dare question me?" he snarled.

The guard's gaze immediately dropped to the floor in contrition. "N-no, effendi, but your father commanded you come immediately."

Laheeb snickered. "I plan to come as soon as you leave." He patted Illya's rump. "I will be there as soon as I can. Now go!"

The guard beat a hasty retreat. Illya thought the man might be afraid the Prince would set his sights on his own buttocks if he questioned his master further.

Laheeb's thrusting started again with renewed vigor. Sparks flew behind Illya's eyes as the Prince managed to slam into his prostate time and time again. Illya couldn't help emitting a low groan of pleasure at the sensations exploding in his nether regions.

Laheeb laughed. "Ahh, my Sapphire. I believe you are really starting to enjoy our time together." He went harder, faster, and even more accurately.

As Laheeb poured his seed into his slave's passage, he reached around and pinched hard on the base of Illya's cock. The immediate pain was enough to bring tears to Illya's eyes and to lose the impending orgasm. He couldn't hold back the groan of disappointment.

Laheeb pulled out and rolled Illya over. "I don't have time to enjoy your pleasure at the moment, my jewel. But don't worry; I will be back after I have done my duty to the woman and her brat. Then, I think I should like to watch you bring yourself off while sucking on me. Would you like that?"

Yes. Whatever gods may exist help me, but yes. Illya nodded but didn't speak, afraid he might beg for Laheeb to take him yet again. His perverted desires disgusted him but, unlike the majority of his emotions, he just couldn't seem to control them.

Laheeb patted Illya's head, and then went to clean up. When he exited the bathroom, he brought a wet washcloth, which he tossed onto the bed. Illya's stomach contracted when the cold cloth landed on his skin.

"Wipe yourself up. You're bleeding a little. I will send the doctor once he's finished with the woman." He dressed quickly and left Illya to take care of himself.

Laheeb arrived in the nursery twenty minutes after his son. One look at his father's purple face let him know the old man was not happy. Laheeb mentally shrugged. His father had nothing to be so upset about. Did he not do the duty of a good son and provide his father with the grandson he desired?

"Where have you been?" the Sheikh growled.

Laheeb took the diatribe calmly. "I was in my rooms. I had given orders to my guards to let me know when the son was born."

"Not son!" the enraged Sheikh roared. "Sons!"

"Sons?" Laheeb asked in surprise.

"Your wife bore you twin boys! It is unforgivable that you do not even know you are now the father of two children!" He waved a hand angrily towards the nursery door. "Your sons have been in this world for almost half an hour already! Your wife is tired and in need of your support!

"And where were you while she was in great pain giving life to your children?" the Sheikh spat. "In your rooms having sex with that blond pet of yours, no doubt!" His dark brown eyes flashed with fires of rage. He grabbed Laheeb's arm and pushed him towards the nursery. "Now go be with your wife and sons before I have you flogged!"

Laheeb took one look into his father's eyes and knew now was not the time to argue. He bowed his head and obediently entered the nursery.

Napoleon dressed meticulously. Along with his ID and other sundries needed for the charade, Burke sent a picture and dossier on Mr. Cipolla. Napoleon looked nothing like him, really, but their coloring was similar as was their build so if the Prince had a basic description of him but no picture, he should be able to pass himself off. Actually, Cipolla's general personality and tastes as far as clothes went were very close, so, although he wasn't as practiced at taking over another man's persona as Illya, he felt confident in doing so in this case.

He stood before the mirror and straightened his tie, smoothed his hair, and checked the lines of his suit before heading out for his late afternoon appointment with Prince Laheeb Al-Fadee.

There was a knock at the door and two men sent by the Prince met Napoleon. While one introduced them the other picked up the bags to escort him downstairs to the car. The hotel bill was already taken care of by his host. Napoleon needed no acting to display the perfect manners and grace of the real Cipolla. It was a role he was made for.

The journey out to the palace was a long one. Two hours by car across some very barren desert terrain. If Illya managed to escape on his own without resources for transportation he wouldn't stand a chance. Napoleon hoped Illya was still there as the last information gathered reported. If not Napoleon would have very little chance of finding him.

Laheeb spent a few minutes with his wife while keeping a comfortable distance from the woman. He provided what she needed in terms of a home and support but as far as he was concerned that was all he had to do. He did care for her in his own way but not as a lover. It was just against his nature to do that. If she wanted love she had two boys now that could give it to her.

The two wrinkled squawking infants in the nearby cradles seemed healthy by their lungs. As Laheeb looked indifferently at them he thought about how the whole idea of being a father left him cold. At least his father would be more than happy now. He felt his duty complete as heir to his sheikhdom.

When the young new mother fell asleep and Laheeb's mother and father retired to dinner, Laheeb made his exit to return to his palace. He too had a newcomer to attend to. The art dealer was due to arrive and a splendid dinner awaited them there.

Illya verbally resisted the offer of help to bathe and dress but the presence of the burly guard and Laheeb's personal attendants outnumbered him in the matter. His ultimate goal of escape depended on the freedom to move around and the formal dinner was a good opportunity for that so he didn't physically resist... much. He washed himself in the fragrant water mostly on his own but drying off and pampering his body with fine scent was done by the other man, much to his dismay. His eyes did light up at the appearance of the clothes though. They were the most substantial he'd worn in weeks. He stepped into the long blue silk pants gathered at the ankle and held up by a gold sash at the waist. They hid the humiliating chain about his testicles and penis. The attendants and guard all denied the request to remove them. Gold armbands were fitted around his upper biceps and a short armless shirt tied midriff in the front graced his upper body. His hair was tied in a small short tail in back and his eyes lined in black to emphasize their beauty. In all Illya found it very sickening but if it helped him move around unfettered he would do a belly dance for it if he had to.

Napoleon arrived at the palace and a guard escorted him to the receiving room. Laheeb dressed in traditional finery sat on a European chair instead of a great mound of cushions to greet his guest. The place was opulent and tastefully decorated. The Prince obviously liked expensive trinkets, something Napoleon could relate to.

Napoleon was announced to Laheeb and the escort bowed to the Prince and retreated from the room. Napoleon watched them go before returning his attention to the Prince and smiling in his rich charming way.

"Prince Laheeb. I am honored by your invitation." He bowed slightly in respect.

Laheeb's expression indicated approval of the man's gesture. "Welcome. I am grateful you accepted my invitation. Please come and sit down. Your trip must have been tiring. You are not used to our desert climate."

Napoleon sat down. He fanned his face slightly. "Yes. The dry heat can take it out of a person."

Laheeb clapped his hands and a tray with tall cold glasses of orange juice was carried into the room. The Prince took one and the tray was offered to Napoleon.

"Thank you," Napoleon said as he accepted the glass and then looked up. His eyes went wide at the server. A small blond man with sun reddened skin. Illya!

Illya was just as surprised to see Napoleon but was more practiced at hiding his reactions. Sapphire kept his head down and went to sit on the cushion next to Laheeb's chair, a faint jingling sound following him as he moved.

Napoleon took a long drink of his juice as he recovered his composure. As he steadied himself into his role again he wondered what the strange sound coming from Illya was.

Burke and Saunders were tired when they arrived in Arabia but acquired the jeep and supplies they needed for a trip into the desert and started for the palace at once. They needed to be in position and wait for Napoleon's call to make good on their escape. The two men had food, water, extra gasoline, and medical supplies in case of emergency.

"You have the map?" Burke asked Saunders.

The reply was a nod as Saunders pulled it out of the pouch from between the seats. He let out a long yawn.

"I know the feeling," Burke said. "You catch 20 winks and I'll let you know when we're getting close."

"Okay. I'll take the first watch tonight after we set up camp then," Saunders offered. "Did Interpol get back to us with the other details on Cipolla yet?"

"No. I'll contact U.N.C.L.E. again after we get there. Hopefully we'll get it sometime tonight."

"Good. I hate to see an agent going undercover anywhere without a complete background but that damned Napoleon was too pigheaded to wait."

Burke frowned and shook his head. "Sometimes you have to take the window of opportunity you have. Don't worry. He knows what he's doing. He's the CEA after all."

Saunders snuggled down into his seat and closed his eyes as Burke put the jeep in gear. "Well I hope he does. He's flying by the seat of his pants on this one."

How had Napoleon found him? Illya contemplated the question as he sat on the cushion—sapphire blue, of course—forcing himself to look at the floor and not at his partner and friend. Surely Napoleon wasn't here just to help him escape. Waverly would not have sent him chasing after an errant agent. Relatively certain of that. If the information Illya obtained during that last fateful mission hadn't been time sensitive, Mr. Waverly might have spent U.N.C.L.E. resources and manpower to locate and extract his missing agent. The information did have an effective time limit, however, and that limit was exceeded weeks ago.

In this respect, U.N.C.L.E. was exactly like KGB. A superior would glance at his watch and say, "The agent has been missing for ten minutes. We have to assume he's dead. Get me a list of the new recruits so I can find a replacement."

No, if Napoleon was here for him, it was entirely on his own. The idea simultaneously warmed Illya and terrified him. He wasn't used to having someone in his life who cared if he lived or died, was hurt or bleeding. Yet Napoleon cared about him. An absurd notion, he knew, yet there it was.

The truly bizarre part of it all was that he cared about Napoleon, too. Recently he began to think that perhaps he cared about his handsome partner in a way that went beyond mere friendship. Way beyond. For the last couple of weeks, his mind's eye often substituted Napoleon for Laheeb. He fantasized that it was not Laheeb fucking him, but Napoleon . . . well, not fucking. That wasn't quite the way it felt. Making love?

He shied away from that notion. No, no, not love. He wasn't capable of love under the most optimum circumstances. Love for a man was nowhere near optimum circumstance. He enjoyed the sex with Laheeb because human males enjoyed sex. Make a human male erect and he wanted to have an orgasm, uncaring about the method used to achieve that goal. That included having sex with another man if that was all that was available to him. Contrary to popular belief, Illya was indeed human and he, too, could fall prey to this aspect of the nature of a man.

Be that as it may, when Illya fantasized it was Napoleon's cock buried deep inside him, he couldn't think of it in terms of "just sex." Neither could he define it as making love. So what would it be?

He surreptitiously glanced at his partner. Napoleon looked like he'd sucked a lemon. A rotten one. Illya looked back at the floor. Nothing. It would be nothing. Not now. Not ever. It was for the best. He knew that. Agreed with it even as the sharp blade of disappointment cut through his heart.

Burke patted water under his armpits in a pitiful attempt to wash some of the grime and stink from his overheated body. He didn't enjoy being in the middle of the desert, but being an agent meant one had to do uncomfortable things sometimes. While he sprinkled water on himself, he softly sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". He was in the middle of the chorus when Saunders hurried to him, capping his communicator.

"You will not believe what I just found out!"

Burke stopped rubbing the thimbleful of water over his armpit. "What is it?"

"You will not believe it! Oh, man, is Solo in for a surprise! Possibly a nasty one!"

That got Burke's attention. He couldn't allow his partner to fail in his mission because of faulty intelligence. Intelligence that he, Burke, was responsible for. "What is it?" he repeated breathlessly as he quickly dried off with his dirty shirt. He was saving the clean one to wear.

Saunders sat on a small folding campstool "You will not believe it," he said yet a third time, shaking his head, a bemused expression on his face. "If it wasn't so dangerous, it would be funny."

Burke's face darkened. "A fellow agent in danger is never funny."

Saunders lifted a placating hand. "Of course the possible danger for Solo isn't funny. The situation, however, is in a way."

Burke let out an explosive sigh of exasperation. "Do you want to let me in on the joke?"

"While interrogating Cipolla, Mark Slate found something out about the man." Saunders snickered. "The hard way."

Burke glared at him. "Would you please stop embellishing the story and just give me the facts?"

"Yes, yes, of course." Saunders pulled his face into a serious mask and recited the facts in the same monotone of Joe Friday. "In the course of the interrogation, Cipolla revealed the fact that he is a homosexual. Mark Slate believed Cipolla only said such a thing in the hopes it would make Mark too uncomfortable to continue the questioning. Cipolla then cupped Mark Slate's genitals and asked him if a blow job would convince him, at which point he had the zipper pulled down and his mouth on Mr. Slate's penis before Mr. Slate could recover from his shock."

Burke could empathize with Slate because he, too, was motionless due to shock. "Cipolla's a homosexual?"

Saunders couldn't quite hold back the smirk. "Apparently so."

"That could mean trouble for Napoleon. The Saudis adamantly hate homosexuals and often condemn them to death."

Saunders sobered immediately, all business now. "Since he is not a Saudi citizen, we can hope they won't impose such a harsh sentence on him, but they might expel him from the country. If they do that, he won't be able to return to help Illya."

"If that happens, it will be up to us to get Illya out," Burke declared. "Napoleon's former partner's welfare is important to him which means it's important to me."

"Kuryakin is an enforcement agent of the U.N.C.L.E.," Saunders clarified. "And as such, his rescue is important to all of Section 2."

Burke smiled gratefully at his companion. "We'd better start making some contingency plans just in case."

Saunders nodded and they got down to business.

Laheeb reached down to pet Illya's hair. "Beautiful, isn't he?" he asked his guest with possessive pride.

Napoleon merely nodded, trying not to break character. Trying also not to break the Prince's hand. Laheeb had no right to touch Illya that way. No right! Illya didn't like to be touched by anyone. Napoleon himself was the only exception to that rule. He believed that to be the reason Illya seldom dated. Seldom went to bed with a woman. Not because he was sexless or frigid or, god forbid, gay, but because the process required touching. He flinched from everyone but his partner.

Except Illya didn't appear to flinch now. As a matter of fact, he arched his neck, leaning into the hand smoothing his hair. Napoleon's eyes narrowed as he watched. He swallowed a surge of anger at his partner for allowing such intimacy. Surely Illya didn't like the attention as much as it appeared. Napoleon's Russian partner was an accomplished actor who submerged himself into a role completely. Illya once told him that was why he was able to pull off impersonations better than Napoleon. The process required a subduing of ego and, according to Illya, Napoleon's ego was far too big and full of self-importance to allow it.

Laheeb sighed, obviously reluctant to cease petting the man at his feet. "I have business to discuss with Mr. Cipolla, Sapphire. Why don't you go find something to eat? I'm sure you're hungry. You're always hungry."

Despite his negative feelings towards Laheeb's intimacy with Illya, Napoleon had to smirk. Illya's legendary appetite was known the world over, even, apparently in Saudi Arabia.

Laheeb stood and pulled Illya to his feet. He drew the blond against him and, to Napoleon's astonishment, kissed him. Not on the cheeks but on the mouth. With tongue.

Napoleon did his best to hide his reaction, remain pleasant, and carry on with the conversation. Still he couldn't disguise his interest in Laheeb's slave boy. He wondered if it was all just disgust for the way Illya was treated or was it more? Was it that he suddenly had the wish that it was him in Laheeb's place? Napoleon shifted in his seat trying to hide the slight swelling in his groin. He felt unsettled and strange in this situation.

"Have no fear Sapphire," Laheeb said gently as he stroked Illya's hair. "This one is just like us."

Illya flashed Napoleon an embarrassed glance from under his long blond bangs as he left for the kitchen. The eyes of innocent blue that hid a warm soul carefully stowed behind barriers, all but impenetrable to anyone but a chosen few. He blushed red as the tinkling of the chain followed his every move.

Laheeb noticed Cipolla looking at his slave. "You do appreciate fine property," he commented.

Napoleon took a deep breath and brought himself back to the immediate situation. "Ahh... Yes," he replied a little confused by the comment. What exactly did Laheeb mean ~ Just like us ~? What was us? To give him a moment to think he cleared his throat. "Excuse me. My throat is very dry from the journey. I need another drink."

Laheeb extended an arm. "Why don't you freshen up in your room first and then we will have dinner. I have arranged a lavish meal for your arrival."

Napoleon gave him a charming smile. "Thank you. That sounds like a very good idea. You are a gracious host Effendi."

Napoleon stood and a young boy dashed up to escort him to his chambers in the palace. As he walked through the halls he glanced about for any sign of Illya wondering where the man went. Now that he'd finally found him he didn't want to lose him again.

For all the beauty of the palace, Napoleon's mind kept going back to the image of Illya accepting that probing kiss from Laheeb. His gut churned as the scene played out over and over in his head. He still pictured the bare well-muscled chest pressed up against Laheeb's robes. Illya had been worked hard in the weeks since his disappearance. The striking blue of the silk garment accented by the gold sash drew his eyes down to the buttocks as Illya walked away. The material clung to the lean flesh in a definitely sexy way.

Napoleon swallowed hard again. He had to focus on what he was doing. He had to save Illya.

With the little houseboy putting his things away for him Napoleon had no chance to check in with Burke. He busied himself with washing up and changing for dinner. A cool refreshing shower did wonders for his body and mind. He thought with a little luck he could find Illya tonight after everyone had gone to bed and the two of them could be out of there with little fuss since he didn't seem to be held prisoner deep down in the bowels of the palace. That thought put him in a very good mood.

The boy waited just outside the door of Napoleon's room to show him the way to the dining room as soon as he was dressed. A quick glance told him that the false bottom of his suitcase remained untouched and he felt safe to leave it where it sat in the corner of the room.

Laheeb sat on a cushion at the head of the low table. It was large and laid out with an obscene amount of food all prepared to the finest standard. It was enough to feed 15 people or more yet there were only three settings.

"Ahhh... Mr. Cipolla. Welcome back. Please be seated. I'm sure you'll find this a sumptuous meal like you've never experienced before. Perhaps we can discuss business while we eat," Laheeb suggested still focused on his original purpose of the painting.

Napoleon smiled charmingly. "The Botticelli. You have fine tastes. I have seen," he said indicating a generally circular direction, "That you already have a number of extraordinary pieces." Napoleon too was brought up to appreciate the great painters in history.

Laheeb nodded casually. "Yes. I grew fond of them during my early years in London and Paris where I was educated. I began collecting when I returned home eight years ago. Try the duck with lemon. You'll find it very good," he said and looked up when his pet entered the room to sit near him for dinner. "Sit by me my Sapphire. Tonight you shall eat with me here."

Illya sat on the cushion next to Laheeb.

Napoleon wondered if Illya had been brainwashed or drugged. The subdued behavior was not in character for the surly Russian. Trying to put that aside for the moment, Napoleon returned his attention back to Laheeb as they ate. He broke off a piece of the pita and dipped it into the broth from the stewed vegetables. "Such a painting as this would be in fine company were you to buy it but you must also realize it comes at a pretty price."

"Money is not an obstacle," he replied and popped an olive into his mouth. Then Laheeb picked up a juicy piece of lamb and offered it to Illya. The blond slave opened his mouth and tipped his head back for the morsel.

Napoleon watched fascinated by the whole interaction, beyond his ability to ignore.

Laheeb took notice of each time Cipolla's attention focused on the little blond slave. It was well known in the art world that the dealer was gay. He originally had planned to use that to his advantage by seducing Cipolla himself. Now he was beginning to think that offering him the slave might actually be better.

Laheeb smiled at Napoleon. "So, Mr. Cipolla. What are you asking for the Botticelli?"

Since Napoleon didn't actually have the painting to sell, he named an ungodly amount. He doubted anyone, not even an ardent collector with money to burn, would want to spend that much on a painting.

The Prince's smile faltered. "That is a lot to ask, even for a Botticelli." He chewed on a bite of lamb and then wiped his fingers on a red linen napkin, smile back full force. "But we shouldn't talk business when we have this wonderful food and this beautiful company to distract us, eh? Let's eat and then perhaps we can come to a mutually agreeable deal."

Napoleon inclined his head in agreement. The food was indeed wonderful, but turned to ashes in his mouth as he watched Laheeb interact with Illya. Not once did Illya reach for his own food. He waited patiently for Laheeb to feed him tidbits from the table. Like a master giving treats to a damn dog! Napoleon's vision reddened as he watched the interplay.

Unless Illya liked this. His eyes narrowed. He doubted Illya had purposely allowed his abduction and indoctrination into slavery, but now that he was here, now that he had someone willing to pamper him, did he like it? He certainly seemed to, judging by the way he opened his mouth for each morsel and smiled adoringly at his master.

Napoleon's anger flared. It had to be true. Why else would he allow that pig to touch him like that? No one touched Illya without his consent unless they had a gun to his head. He was the only exception to that rule. Until now. He carefully kept his feelings about the matter off his face, plastering on an expression of amused interest. "I notice you have a Renoir. I knew the piece had been sold, but was told it was to an anonymous buyer. If I remember correctly, it went for quite a high price."

As luck would have it, HIS luck, at least, they had recently been involved in an affair involving masterpieces. Posing as an art collector that time, he attended the auction during which the Renoir was sold, so he actually knew what he was talking about. He gave a prayer of thanks to Lady Luck as she smiled on him once more.

Laheeb waggled a finger. "Ah-ah! Just because I paid a lot for the Renoir does not mean I'm willing to go so high for a Botticelli. As much as I like his work, I like Renoir better."

Napoleon used patented charming smile number two. Illya called it the "dazzle them with gonyivo . Napoleon wasn't quite sure what the word meant, but somehow he didn't think it meant brilliance. Either way, it usually got him what he wanted. "In many ways Botticelli is better than Renoir. None of Renoir's ladies can even begin to compare to the beauty of Botticelli's Venus."

Laheeb laughed. "What do I care of beautiful women?" He reached over and ran his fingers down Illya's bare chest to the waist of Illya's pants. The fingers dipped into an area Napoleon couldn't see because of the table. "I don't really care for Botticelli if you must know, but every serious collection should have at least one."

A slight jangle came from vicinity of Laheeb's arm. What in the world was that?

Laheeb grinned at Cipolla's fascination with his slave. He had no doubt the price of the painting would be far different in the morning. He leaned over and whispered in Sapphire's ear. The slave blushed and glanced at Cipolla, and then hurried away to do his master's bidding. Laheeb motioned the guard over and said something in tones too low for Cipolla to hear and he, too, rushed off.

Laheeb turned back to his guest and made small talk for several minutes. When the guard returned from his errand, the Prince stood and stretched. "I'm really much too tired to talk business tonight. I have a surprise planned for you. Perhaps if you like it, you would be willing to give me a better deal in the morning."

Napoleon laughed as he stood. "You never know."

"The houseboy will show you back to your quarters."

"Good night," he said with a slight nod of the head.

Napoleon followed the boy to where a guard opened the door to his rooms. He would call Burke once he was alone to tell him the layout of the palace. He breezed through, hand in his trouser pocket looking as though he didn't have a care in the world. The door snicked shut behind him and he stopped in his tracks at the sight that awaited him.

Illya sat propped up by pillows on the bed, naked except for a thin gold filigree of chain that wrapped around, of all things, his penis. One end was tied to the bedpost and pulled Illya's cock up as though on display.

To his horror, Napoleon's cock twitched in response. He willed his burgeoning erection away and cleared his throat. Pointing over his shoulder toward the direction of the dining room, Napoleon said, "Ah that was quite a display in there." He winced at the petulant note in his tone.

Illya glared at him. "Surely you don't believe I enjoyed that."

Napoleon shrugged. He moved closer now that his libido was back under control...sort of. "You didn't look distressed."

"I wasn't supposed to. If I had, Laheeb would have noticed."

Napoleon sat on the edge of the bed. In morbid fascination, he reached out and touched the chain attached to the bed. Illya's penis bobbed as a result. "What would it matter if he noticed unless you were enjoying his attentions?" His voice was mild, hiding the real anger he felt at the memory of Illya's enjoyment of Laheeb's touches.

"Because, Napoleon," Illya snarled in response, slapping away the fingers manipulating the chain. "As Illya, I had to work in the gardens under constant guard and locked up at night. There was no way for me to find a good escape route under those circumstances. As Sapphire, I am able to move about relatively freely and plan my departure."

"Sapphire, huh?" Napoleon grinned at his friend's discomfort. It put the whole thing back into perspective. "What are you? The Jewel of the Middle East?"

"Laheeb seems to think so," returned the disgusted reply. Illya jerked the chain. "Would you please unhook this thing from the bed?"

Napoleon forced his gaze away from the bouncing cock as he fumbled with the chain where it connected to the bed. If he were a homosexual, he would find this entire thing incredibly erotic. Luckily for both of them, he wasn't homosexual. Not in the least. Not now, not ever. Well, there was that one time . . . it was actually a few times; no more than eight or nine times if he cared to count. That did not make him homosexual or even bisexual.

The majority of boys went through a stage where they experimented on other boys. Or so the psychology professor at his university claimed. That did NOT make them homosexual. Neither did his response to the sight of Illya's hard body or chained up cock make him one. He was just a sexual being and could recognize and appreciate an erotic setup when he saw one.

"Why did he put you in here anyway?" he asked when the chain finally came loose.

Illya looked at him in surprise. "I don't know. Is the man you're impersonating gay?"

Napoleon's face registered shock. He hadn't thought of that, but it was entirely possible. It would explain Laheeb's statement to Illya that Cipolla was, "one of us". The fact Laheeb used the plural with Illya made for an implication Napoleon wasn't ready to deal with. At least not at the moment. "Not as far as I know." He pulled his communicator pen out of his pocket. "I'll contact Burke and have him find out."

Illya put a restraining hand on Napoleon's wrist. "I doubt the room is bugged, but I think the palace is rigged to pick up stray transmissions as part of their security."

Napoleon slid the pen back into its place. "That takes care of that idea." He regarded his partner. "Why don't you tell me how you got yourself into this mess?" His gaze slid down his partner's naked body and he stood, yanking the blankets out from underneath Illya's rump. "Cover up first. That chain is distracting. As a matter of fact, why don't you just take it off for tonight?"

Illya looked down his torso at his cock and the contraption encasing it. "I can't tell how it's looped on and I don't think breaking it would be a good idea. It might pinch."

Without thinking, Napoleon tried to tug the chain loose. Instead of making it looser, the rubbing chains stimulated the trapped member. Napoleon let go when Illya's cock started to grow until the chains wrapped tightly around it.

Illya reddened in embarrassment. "Would you leave it alone?" He covered himself with the blanket.

Napoleon cleared his throat. "So, uh, how exactly did you get into this mess?" he asked in a desperate attempt to get the sight of Illya's arousal out of his brain.

Illya explained the events leading up to his boarding the ferry. "I turned my back for only a moment and he clobbered me on the head." He reached up and rubbed the back of his head as though he still felt the lump. "Next thing I know I'm on a freighter headed for here where I was sold as a slave and..." He looked away. "You know the rest."

"Don't pay the ferryman until he gets you to the other side," Napoleon said.

Illya's face crinkled in puzzlement. "What?"

"It's an old saying."

"I've never heard it."

"It's an old European expression. I'm not sure what it means to most people, but for you I think it means don't trust a ferryman." Napoleon stated with a grin.

Illya grimaced. "Thank you for the old folk wisdom. Now that you've imparted it to me, can we please go to sleep? Why are you here, anyway?"

"What do you mean why am I here?" Napoleon kicked off his shoes. He reached for his trouser button then thought better of it. He'd slept with Illya a thousand times wearing only his boxers, but he didn't think it would be a good idea this time. Not with that chain nor the memory of how well Illya filled that chain. He shook his head to clear it of such odd thoughts.

"What's your mission? Can you tell me?"

Napoleon settled into the bed next to his partner. "My mission, dear partner, is to rescue you."

"Me?" Illya asked incredulously. "Why?"

Napoleon laughed. "Only you would question your good luck."

"I don't have good luck, Napoleon, but sometimes I manage to dig up a good case of coincidence. I was assuming Waverly already wrote me off as dead and you're here for a different assignment. I didn't dream he would actually have you look for me."

"Ah, well, he didn't. Not at first. Once I took vacation he figured it out and I guess he decided going along with me was safer than not." He grinned proudly.

"Hmph. As if your head wasn't fat enough already."

"I could just leave you here," Napoleon sniffed indignantly.

"No, no. Thank you for coming for me. So how do you plan on prying me out of the evil clutches of Laheeb?"

They discussed the possibilities until they were too tired to go on. Not long after they fell asleep, Napoleon woke to hear Illya moving restlessly beside him, pushing Napoleon towards the edge of the bed. He shoved at his friend's shoulder. "Roll over." Illya emitted a low moan and flopped onto his back making Napoleon move even closer to the point of falling off the bed. Napoleon pushed Illya harder. "I told you to roll over, Sapphire!" he said, his irritation spurring him to use Illya's slave name.

"Mmmm, yes, master," the still partially asleep Illya groaned as he obediently rolled onto his stomach and raised his ass in invitation.

Napoleon snatched back his hand from Illya's shoulder as if it had been burned. His eyes popped wide open and his heart skipped a beat as he stared in shock. He had to swallow hard to regain his composure again. "Uh... Illya," he said in a shaky voice. He pulled one of the covers and dragged it with him as he got up. "Perhaps I should sleep on the sitting cushions instead."

Illya cracked one eye open slightly. "What's the matter Napoleon?"

Napoleon began to snuggle into the large overstuffed pillows on the floor. "Nothing. Just go back to sleep. We've got to rest so we'll be fresh for our getaway tomorrow."

As he was about to open his mouth to say something, the Illya realized the position he'd taken up in the bed. Prone on his belly. Ripe with welcome ass hovering slightly in the air waiting to be fucked. He even felt the tingle in his abdomen that told him he wanted it so badly. Thankful for the dim lighting that hid his bright red face, an embarrassed Illya rolled over and covered up again. "Fine," he said with indifference. "All the more room for me." The little person Sapphire in his head felt differently about it. He wished to be taken, wanted, loved, and even ravished by the handsome man who'd just left the bed.

Napoleon bedded down facing the wall and tossed the blanket over his shoulders. He was glad he refrained from undressing, thankful that it hid the cock threatening to spring out and follow natural urges although he would deny the impulse out loud if asked. He remained still trying to clear his mind and fall asleep again but his eyes just wouldn't close. He was afraid that he would be picturing Illya's ass presenting itself to him in all its most appealing glory. Sleep was a long time coming after that sight. A very long time in coming.

Morning brought the light of a new day through the high windows in the bedchamber. A guard opened the door to let in the servant who was sent to waken the guest that he might have time to freshen up for the morning meal. With his head respectfully lowered he entered and approached the bed. He was shocked to find only the slave sleeping there although his entrance had already woken him.

"Uh... The master has sent me to wake the two of you," he explained as he looked around.

The voice woke Napoleon and he rolled over in his quite rumpled suit to see who it was. He sat up and stretched to work the kinks out of his back. "Uh...Tha..." he paused to clear his throat. "Thank you. I will be there shortly."

The servant gave Illya a sideway glance as he nodded to the master's guest before retreating out the door. The Russian thought, this can't be good.

Napoleon groaned as he stood up. "I'd better shower and shave. Work out these kinks," he muttered as he headed for the bathroom.

Illya rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. As the water began to pound the tile in the shower he could just picture Napoleon's wet well-muscled backside. He tried to stop it at that but still the thought of pounding into that rump invaded his thoughts and he tried to bury the image by covering his face with a pillow.

"Master," the humble servant addressed Laheeb in his chambers. "I have done as you bid."

Laheeb, in a good mood over the painting, sensed trouble in the servant's body language. "I know you too well Abbud. What is wrong?"

"Your guest sire. I...I..."

"WHAT IS IT?" he demanded at the shaking man's hesitation.

"Your guest sire. I found him sleeping on the floor in his room. Sapphire was sleeping alone in the bed." He trembled more and cringed at the explosion he expected to come next.

Laheeb stood in place a moment, the fury rising slowly in his face. It was like a pot of water over a high flame, simmering until it finally reached the boiling point and erupted into a rapidly exaggerated motion.


At Laheeb's commanding tone four of his men came running. They spun on their heels to follow the prince as the arm flowing with robes swung around pointing the way. They followed in obedient silence awaiting the orders from the exalted one.

As Napoleon came out of the shower, a thirsty towel around his waist and another draped over his shoulders, the door to the room burst open. "What's..." was all he got the chance to say before Laheeb shouted.

"Take him!" the prince bellowed and pointed at Sapphire with an accusing finger.

The four rushed forward and dragged Illya from the bed by his feet. They grabbed his arms and carried the struggling body from the room even as the blue eyes pleaded with Laheeb for explanation.

"Take him to the courtyard and shackle him to the posts. I will whip him myself for this disobedience," Laheeb ordered.

Napoleon rushed forward. "Your grace. What has he done?" he tried to ask.

Laheeb turned to follow for the punishment. "I'm sorry Mr. Cipolla. My slave needs my attention. We will talk later."

Napoleon rushed over to his suitcase and pulled on a pair of trousers skipping the underwear for the sake of time. He ran barefoot behind them to catch up and when he reached the courtyard Illya was already shackled spread eagle to two upright posts in the center.

Illya had no idea what had set off the Prince enough to beat him, the very thing he had promised never to do. The Prince had not raised his hand in anger once in their time together. He even went out of his way to be gentle when penetrating his captive lover. Why would he do this now?

Was he jealous because he thought Sapphire let the art dealer have his way with him? Why should he be? After all, Laheeb was the one that had ordered Sapphire chained to the bed. It certainly seemed like he offered such favors to his guest.

Illya hated the idea of being whipped. Ever since the episode with Mother Fear, he tried very hard to avoid it. Even so, Illya Nicovich Kuryakin refused to beg any man—or woman—for mercy. Luckily, Sapphire had no qualms. "Master," he gasped. "What have I done? Is it because I was with that man? If that's the case, you needn't worry. He did not touch me!"

Laheeb grabbed his chin and squeezed hard. "That is exactly the problem," he spat in his slave's face. "I gave you to him for the night and you did not let him have you!"

"You promised me you would never beat me," Sapphire whispered. He looked at Laheeb with the pain of betrayal in his eyes. Sapphire could display emotions Illya could not even allow himself the luxury to acknowledge.

Napoleon heard the exchange as he rushed towards the scene. His stomach clenched at the sight of the guard standing behind Illya, whip in hand. Illya never said anything about it, but Napoleon knew how much whippings disturbed his friend. Not that it would break him to a point of revealing classified information. Illya was stronger than that. But whenever a whipping was even threatened, Napoleon knew that on the inside his outwardly stoic partner screamed harder than he would during any other torture. Napoleon wasn't sure what had happened at the hands of Mother Fear, but he knew it had to have been very, very bad.

He also knew he could not let Laheeb do that to his friend. "You're Eminence!" he yelled, grabbing the hand holding the raised whip before it could descend onto Illya's exposed flesh. "He offered himself to me! I just didn't take him up on it!" Despite the present circumstances, Napoleon couldn't help the flash of memory of that taut butt waving invitingly in front of his face. "I was tired from my travels. The meal was so filling. I just wanted to sleep. It was not his fault."

Laheeb tilted his head. "Ah! Of course. Well, perhaps you would like to have a taste of him now? There will be plenty of time for our business later this morning."

How in the hell was he supposed to get out of this one? Do I even want to? Napoleon squelched the thought. "Ah, no, that won't be necessary."

Laheeb stared at him in surprise. "He is not to your taste? I can find you another. Perhaps you like someone a little darker? I would offer to entertain you myself, but I submit myself to no man and respect you enough not to ask you to submit to me."

Napoleon stood for a moment, stunned. "It's, ah, not that. I, ah, I am not a man's man. If you catch my drift."

Laheeb raised his eyebrows and glanced pointedly at the hard bulge in Napoleon's trousers.

Napoleon shifted uncomfortably. The erection that had sprouted at the mere thought of pumping his cock into Illya's willing ass made it difficult to convince the Prince of his purely heterosexual nature. He cleared his throat.

Dawning realization crossed Laheeb's handsome face. "Ahhh!" He smiled widely. "I understand your concerns about Islamic law against such practices, but I assure you it will not be an issue while you are here. My people know to be discreet. Your secret is safe."

"Well, ah, that's very nice to know, but what makes you think there is a secret?" Burke had neglected to tell him something as important as this? He was a dead man.

"Because we have a mutual friend who learned of your tastes firsthand." Laheeb leered at him. "He said you were quite energetic. I would invite you to share my bed but as I said..." He shrugged.

"Of course. Perfectly understandable."

Illya kept his head down but rolled his eyes listening to the conversation. Excuse me but have you forgotten I'm here?

Napoleon noticed the look on Illya's face and heard his partner loud and clear. At the moment, though, he would have to ignore it.

"Now that you know you can be yourself here, you will want to take advantage of my gift. We can't possibly talk business with you in such an uncomfortable state. We will go to your room and let Sapphire relieve your needs before we continue our negotiations."

Illya tensed at the suggestion. Did that mean he had to... had to... do it with Napoleon?

"Ah, you want to watch?"

"I would like to stay there so I may be sure Sapphire does not disappoint me again."

Illya had to bite his tongue to keep from showing his embarrassment over another public fuck. An audience. He buried his core being further inside letting the sex starved, love starved Sapphire have complete control.

With no other option unless he wanted to blow the whole thing, Napoleon nodded. "I would like a little relief." He tried not to think about the fact that it wasn't a lie.

"I am sorry to disturb you, Sheikh, but there is a matter of utmost concern we must discuss."

"Of course." Al-Fadee waved the cleric to a chair. "What might I help you with?" As powerful as Al-Fadee was, even he deferred to the clerics of Islam. Especially this one.

The cleric sat and steepled his fingers. "It is about your son."

Al-Fadee blanched. He had always feared this day would come. "Yes?"

"We know of his...proclivities. We have overlooked them up to now since your unfortunate accident has prevented the conception of another heir." The Sheikh nodded in understanding. Soon after his first wife conceived Laheeb, Al-Fadee had had a riding accident that destroyed his ability to make babies. No one, not even his harem, could give him any more male children of his blood.

"Prince Laheeb is no longer the sole heir of your bloodline. Your two new grandsons are now in line. We feel that with this new development, we cannot overlook your son's depravities any longer. You know what must be done. Islamic law is very specific about this."

Al-Fadee bowed his head in sorrow. "I do."

"Then we can expect you to carry out our decision soon?"

The Sheikh took a deep breath and looked the cleric in the eye. "I know my responsibility in this matter. I shall do as Allah commands."

The cleric nodded in satisfaction. "We never doubted your loyalty to Allah." He stood and left.

Al-Fadee sat alone for a long time coming to terms with the idea of putting his son to death.

The morning passed slowly. Al-Fadee thought on the actions of his son and all the warnings he'd given him. For as much as the boy disappointed him he was also his son. His only son and he couldn't bear the thought of killing him. It was out of love he made his final decision and reluctantly called his most trusted man to his chamber.

"Ma'mun. I have to so something and I sorely wish I did not. My son..." Al-Fadee said with regret.

Ma'mun nodded. He knew all the family secrets but was the most loyal of the Sheikh's inner circle. "I knew this day would one day come Emir. I feel your pain."

"I cannot do it. I cannot kill my only son Ma'mun. What am I to do?" Al-Fadee asked.

"The cleric is right my master. You must set an example for your people before news of this spreads. Rumors have already sprouted among the villagers."

Al-Fadee nodded. "You are right but he is my flesh and blood. He is father to my grandsons." He smashed a heavy hand onto the rich mahogany desk. "No. I will not kill him but he must disappear never to be heard or seen again."

"Emir?" Ma'mun asked. "Do you mean an assassin?"

"No Ma'mun. No assassin. No death but to the rest of the country it will be no different." Al-Fadee shook his head. "Prepare a room in the basement. I want it clean and comfortable but no luxuries." His voice grew lighter with the plans building in his mind. "It has to be away from any others and beyond the ability of anyone to hear his pleas. Laheeb will never see the light of day again."

Ma'mun looked horrified and at the same time sympathy filled his heart. He understood that the Emir had no other choice. "I will my master. I have just the place in mind that will suit your needs."

"Good. Then prepare it now. I want it ready tonight when I return with my son. See to it no one is there when we arrive. I want no witnesses but for you and two of my men. No one must ever know he is here."

Ma'mun nodded and backed out to do his master's bidding. "I will have all things ready for your return."

Al-Fadee went to his wife to visit with her for a while. Even she would never know her son's fate. Laheeb was as good as dead to the rest of the world when the clock struck midnight.

"Something's going on. I can't quite see." Saunders squinted through the binoculars. "Damn. The lenses are all scratched. This goddamned sand!"

Burke lay down on the ridge next to Saunders and pulled out the other set. He adjusted the focus. "That's Napoleon isn't it?" he asked.

"Yeah. That's what I thought."

The two men could see someone bound to poles in the courtyard. "That must be Kuryakin," Burke stated. He'd seen many pictures of the agent during Napoleon's investigation after the Russian went missing. "He's alive... and naked!"

"I think they're about to whip him."

Burke ground his teeth and then spit the course sand from his lips. "No wait! Napoleon's talking to them. Maybe that old Solo charm is diffusing the situation."

Saunders couldn't take his eyes off what was going on at the Palace in the valley below them. "What is that guy doing?"

"What guy?" Burke asked trying to spot what Saunders was talking about.

"The one in the blue pants," he snapped back.

Burke refocused and looked closer as the dark skinned man walked over to the captive and rubbed his hips against his backside while wrapping his arms around the man's chest. "What the...?"

Laheeb rubbed his groin against Sapphire's lovely tight ass and lightly pinched the bare nipples as he ran his hands over the smooth chest. He lightly bit the tender earlobe of his sex slave and puffed hot breath down his neck. "I want you to be very good with my guest. I have seen the way he looks at you when he doesn't think I see."

Illya tried not to react. He didn't want Napoleon to see just how degenerated he had become in so short a time. Unfortunately, his primitive brain managed to overpower his logical mind. He closed his eyes and threw his head back into Laheeb's shoulder as his body shivered against him.

Napoleon wasn't sure if this was just an act or Illya really had been brainwashed. He was trying to keep his mind off what was sure to happen next between them and the thought of performing on Illya twisted him in knots. How could he do that to his partner and friend?

"Ma...master," Illya panted as the hands ran down to his groin where the cock twitched with growing anticipation.

Laheeb knew how easily his slave responded to the stimulation. He wanted to make sure his guest would enjoy himself. "I know my Sapphire. You are so good in bed I will give you the chance to redeem our honor." He stepped back. A large gesture of his arm and two of his men stepped forward to unshackle the slave.

Napoleon walked on tender feet alongside Laheeb. They headed back toward the guest room with Illya, semi erect now, trailed by two guards.

"What do you suppose that means?" Saunders asked Burke.

"I... I don't know," was all he could bring himself to say.

Illya kept his eyes downcast and brooded as he followed Napoleon and Laheeb to the former's quarters. How was he supposed to do this? How could he possibly have sex with his partner? It wasn't merely sex in the sense that they would relieve each other's needs as one might expect from picking someone up in a bar. No, he was expected to SERVICE Napoleon. To let his partner fuck him; perhaps give Napoleon a blow job. All without regards to his own satisfaction.

As far as all that went with Laheeb, Illya could accept it. He was playing a role and once he escaped, that role would be over and so would any further contact with the man buggering him on a nightly basis.

Napoleon was a completely different situation. As it stood at the moment, they were friends and partners. For the most part, equals. After today, that would no longer be the case. The way they related to each other would change. It would have to. Their present relationship, though strong, was defined by a very delicate balance. Neither was truly dominant, yet they both dominated the other to a degree. Once Napoleon took him sexually, that balance would tip and Illya was afraid he would never be able to get it back on track.

A man just couldn't get taken like that without losing a piece of himself. With Laheeb, what Illya lost was nominal. With Napoleon, it could prove fatal, emotionally if not physically.

He couldn't do it. Illya simply couldn't possibly sexually respond to Napoleon Solo. But Sapphire could. Illya's cover identity would welcome the attentions of a man like Napoleon. In order to pull this off, Illya would have to hide behind Sapphire. To submerge himself almost to the point of obliteration. A dangerous game, but it was the only one in town. No choice. Illya took a deep breath and started the process of obscuring himself in Sapphire's shadow.

Napoleon sauntered beside Laheeb, smiling, talking, exuding relaxed charm. It was a stellar performance. Inside he felt numb as he tried to come to terms with the thought that he would have to fuck Illya. He didn't know whether to be horrified or pleased that he was well able to do so. He already sported a painful erection. The scene in the courtyard, Illya staked spread-eagle, naked except for the gold chain accentuating his cock; the way said cock strained the chains almost to breaking as Laheeb played his body-had brought Napoleon to total arousal.

It was crazy. He liked women. Loved them. Never had he looked at a man as a possible sex object. Almost never. Seldom. Not too often. Come to think of it, most of those incidences centered around Illya. But those times were understandable. Illya as he looked in the Off Broadway Affair. Dressed in a black outfit that hugged him so much it could have passed for a second skin. Tanned face and eyes outlined in black liner making his eyes look so blue. Anyone who saw him looking like that, man or woman, would instantly want to bed him. In those tight cords he wore during the Yukon Affair, delineating a tight, round ass that any woman would kill to possess. Even in normal trousers, Illya's butt was so defined it was difficult for a rump enthusiast such as Napoleon not to stare at it.

Napoleon gave himself a mental shake. Okay. Fine. He had a higher than average libido. So be it. In this case, he should be glad because that meant he could do what needed to be done in order to get both himself and Illya out of this place and back to civilization. Then and only then would he allow himself to wonder why Illya seemed to welcome that pig Laheeb's advances.

Once inside the guest rooms, Laheeb pulled Sapphire to him. He took possession of his slave's mouth, pushing his tongue between the blond man's parted lips. Sapphire let him and enjoyed it, although Illya didn't care for the idea of having Napoleon as an audience.

Laheeb pulled back and turned Sapphire's face towards Napoleon. "Have a taste," the Prince encouraged his guest.

Napoleon gave Laheeb a greasy smile and drew the slave into his arms. He hesitated, staring into Illya's blue eyes. They were more open than usual. Brighter but in an odd way. He looked into the eyes of his partner and best friend, yet they seemed to be those of a stranger. The effect was disconcerting but he thought it might actually help him perform. He could do this to a stranger.

He lowered his head and took Illya's mouth with his. Napoleon felt the tingle of electricity that sparked between them in that moment. His cock hardened instantly in response and without conscious thought, he deepened the kiss.

Illya also felt the jolt. Terrified at the implications, he retreated further into his psyche, mentally running from the feelings stirred by the surprisingly passionate kiss. Finally Napoleon pulled back and they stared at each other. Napoleon's eyes burned hotly. Illya suddenly felt a kinship with a deer caught in the headlights of a car. He backpedaled further down into the darkest recesses of his mind, panic pushing him to dangerous levels of ego suppression. If he went any deeper he could become lost within the persona of Sapphire.

He startled slightly when oily fingers inserted themselves into his anal passage. "Service him well, my Sapphire, and you shall be rewarded," Laheeb whispered into his ear as he prepared his slave for sex. "Do not and you shall be punished. Remember I will be watching you." At that, Laheeb pulled his fingers out and departed, leaving Sapphire alone with Napoleon.

They both heard the snick of the closing door. Napoleon glanced around the room to find Laheeb gone. He started to pull away, ready to put a little distance between himself and the current object of his passion.

Illya held onto him. He nibbled at Napoleon's ear. "He said he'd be watching," he hissed quietly. "He may have cameras."

Napoleon nuzzled Illya's neck. "We're going to have to go through with it then. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It means nothing and won't change anything between us. As always, we do as we must to survive."

Napoleon pulled back and looked deep into those blue eyes once more. This time he could see more of his friend lurking there. He could also see the fear and knew with a certainty it was there because of what he had to do. As always, though, Illya was right. They had to go through with it.

"It will be all right, my friend." A lie of course but perhaps with enough will, it could become the truth. He slipped back into character and Sapphire smiled seductively at the man who was his master for the next few hours. He crawled onto the big bed, turned onto his stomach and unwittingly mimicked his actions from last night, raising his butt high and spreading his legs to allow Cipolla easy access.

Napoleon's mouth went dry at the sight. His cock swelled once more, eager to be buried in that beautiful behind. He reminded himself this was Sapphire, Laheeb's slave. A duty fuck. It worked. Illya was so good at slipping into a cover identity's skin it made it easy for Napoleon to play along with the illusion. With that thought firmly planted in his mind, he pushed his cock slowly into Illya's body.

Napoleon had expected it to feel much like being sheathed inside a woman's vagina. He couldn't have been more wrong. It was slick, yes, but much, much hotter. And so much more . . . "God, you're so tight!" he hissed through gritted teeth.

In answer, Sapphire pushed back, silently asking for more. Napoleon didn't need anymore invitation than that. He started to thrust, slowly and tentatively at first, then with increasing speed. It felt so damned good! He'd never felt anything like it. Not with any woman. Not even close. It was like the women were just an interesting diversion until he found his true place in the world. Until he found himself with Illya right here, right now. Suddenly he realized that no matter where he was in the world, as long as Illya was beside him, he was home.

He paused, his breath ragged with emotion. Although he had originally fully intended on coming quickly and getting this over with, he now wanted to make this last. Wanted Illya to enjoy this enough to maybe want to do it again even when they were out of here. Wanted to obliterate every trace of Laheeb's plundering from Illya's memory by replacing it with his passion.

"Master?" Sapphire whispered hoarsely when Napoleon quit thrusting. Was he displeased?

In reply, Napoleon kissed Illya between the shoulder blades then leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "Feel me, Illya. Feel me inside you and remember it's me and not that pig Laheeb. I am going to make you come so hard you'll forget he even existed." He gathered Illya into his arms and proceeded to make love to him.

When the explosive orgasm hit, Sapphire no longer existed and it was Illya who cried out in passion.

For Napoleon the fact they'd been forced into the situation had been overcome in his mind. Now it was like he'd been to a fine French restaurant and tasted the best food prepared by the top chef in Paris. Like he'd tasted the best vintage of wine from the Bordeaux region. Like he'd touched the softest fur in a luxury furrier. It left him satisfied but wanting more. Nothing else would ever be good enough to compare that to.

Illya shifted to roll away from Napoleon who resisted letting go. "Napoleon?" he asked, voice low enough no microphones would pick it up.

"They might be watching. Not yet," he said and leaned forward to seductively nuzzle Illya's ear.

Two vehicles approached the palace. Saunders nudged Burke who napped beside him. "Looks like the prince's father is here."

Burke rolled over and grabbed his binoculars. He watched the men get out of the cars. "Yup. That's the Sheikh and his advisor Ma'mun. Who's the other...? Oh-oh."

"Oh-oh what?" Saunders said and focused on the second car. Four armed guards from the Sheikh's private militia got out and fell into formation as the group headed inside. "Damn. They found Napoleon out!"

Burke put a restraining hand on Saunders shoulder as he reached for the sniper rifle. "Maybe not. We've got no way of knowing what's going on in there."

"We have to get in position to cover them," he argued.

Shaking his head, Burke vetoed the idea. "No. We wait for contact. It's too heavily guarded in there. We wouldn't make it past the front door."

"But we can't leave them to die alone."

Burke's eyes went wide. "You suggest we go in there and die with them?"

Saunders knew the man was right. Charging in there now was a suicide run. "But we have to do something."

"We are," Burke assured him. "We're carrying out orders and waiting for Napoleon to contact us for the escape run. Now sit tight and keep that communicator open."

Laheeb was more than pleased with himself. The Prince stuffed another salmon tidbit in his mouth and smiled as he thought of how the little sex slave was going to pave the way for smooth negotiations for his beloved painting. He favored that succulent piece of tail but soon he would get himself another. Unlike great works of art, he grew tired of sexual partners on a regular basis. He might even give Sapphire to Cipolla if it would be useful in getting the painting he coveted.

As a ruckus arose in the hallway the young houseboy ran into Laheeb's chamber. "Master. Master, your father comes," he shouted and quickly stepped to the side as the men burst into the room.

Laheeb looked surprised and stood up challenging the interruption. "Father! What is the meaning of this?" he demanded to know, gesturing angrily at the men with raised weapons standing on each side of the Sheikh.

Al-Fadee waved his hand and the guns were lowered but the men stood their ground. He approached his son with the fond love of a father in his eyes. "My son. Laheeb. I love you. You do know that."

There was puzzlement in the young man's eyes. "Yes father. I have never doubted that."

"I gave you many chances to change your ways. I've tried to be a good father and teach you right from wrong. I gave you the finest education. I gave you every indulgence wealth could buy and yet you still refuse to heed my warnings." The sorrow in the Sheikh's eyes was plainly evident. "I have no choices anymore. The cleric has told me what must be done."

Laheeb grew nervous. "What are you talking about?" His heart beat faster when he realized what his father meant to do. "Father. You can't."

Al-Fadee let out a long sad sigh of air. "If you'd had only listened my boy," he said and pulled him into a tight hug. "I love you son." Then he let go and signaled his men forward to drag the prince from the room.

"No!" the prince yelled. "Father! Don't do this!"

The young man was no match for the four burly armed men as they forced him protesting all the way out to the car.

"Now for that filthy bed slave of his," Al-Fadee said and headed down the hall.

Illya used the bathroom before Napoleon showered and dressed after their second sex session. He would have dressed too if he didn't think it would anger Laheeb but until they made good their escape Illya thought better of the idea. In fact it was hard to think at all with all that was going on in his mind right now.

Rushing footsteps in the corridor interrupted the two men in the bedroom. Napoleon only had time to furrow his brow at Illya when the door burst open.

It only took a second for Napoleon to recover from the shock of the Sheikh and his stormtroopers busting in. "What is the meaning of this?" he sputtered indignantly. "I am an honored guest of Prince Laheeb!"

Sheikh Al-Fadee looked at him and the slave, his disgusted expression telling Napoleon he knew exactly what the art dealer had been doing with the slave. "Prince Laheeb is no longer in a position to have guests, honored . . . ." He looked pointedly to Illya. "Or otherwise." He turned back to the outraged man. "What you have been doing with this slave is a crime against the laws of this country."

Uh-oh. He drew himself up to an intimidating posture. He couldn't pull it off quite as well as Illya, more used to being able to charm his way out of trouble, but he did a credible job. "I have been doing nothing with this slave," he denied.

He glanced over at Illya, eyes roving slowly down the slave's naked body. Al-Fadee's gaze lingered on the chain wrapped decoratively around Illya's cock. "I'm sure."

Illya's first reaction was to pull himself to full height and glare directly into his captor's eyes. It was his usual defense in humiliating situations such as this. He managed to stay in character, however, and lowered his gaze to the floor.

Al-Fadee returned his attention to Laheeb's guest. "Since you were invited to my home and most probably given this slave for your perverted purposes, I will let you leave unharmed. A guard will escort you to the main gate."

He turned and waved a hand at Illya. "Take him to the execution wall," he instructed his other guard. "This degenerate infidel defiles my home."

The guard moved towards Illya, an evil grin on his face. Illya's face blanched white. He'd faced death often enough but he always hoped he'd die doing his job. Not because he'd made a stupid mistake and found himself in the middle of the white slavery market. Death he could take. Death like this was a bitter pill to swallow.

Inspiration struck Napoleon as it so often did in these situations. He ceased the opportunity with both hands. "Wait! You can't do that!" He rushed to stand in front of Illya. He didn't glance at his friend. He knew Illya would follow along with whatever he did.

The Sheikh's face turned purple. "He is my slave!" he bellowed. "And I shall do what I wish with him! You would do well to worry about your own skin."

The two guards moved in on Napoleon, intent on taking him out of there before their leader blew a gasket and had a heart attack. Napoleon stood his ground, which happened to be in front of a cowering Sapphire. A small corner of Napoleon appreciated Illya's ability to stay perfectly in character with such things going on. "Prince Laheeb gave him to me."

The guards stopped at that declaration and looked to their Sheikh for instructions. "Laheeb is no longer in a position to give away anything in this palace," Al-Fadee countered.

"He was when he gave him to me earlier this morning." Napoleon straightened. "Are you telling me the great Sheikh Al-Fadee refuses to honor the gift from a member of the royal family?"

The Sheikh hesitated. "When did the Prince give him to you?" he asked between clenched teeth.

"Four hours ago," Napoleon answered proudly. "He was hoping to soften me into making him a better deal on the Botticelli I am selling."

Al-Fadee scowled. He knew his son's love of fine art and had no doubt that was exactly what Laheeb had done. "Take him, then, and go! As long as I am rid of him it doesn't matter how." He pointed a stubby finger at Napoleon. "Don't ever cross into my lands again or I will have you executed."

Illya started to gather the clothes from yesterday. He certainly didn't want to be banished to the desert with nothing between himself and the scorching sun except a thin gold chain.

Al-Fadee snatched the pants out of Illya's hand. "Leave now or you both die!"

Napoleon grabbed Illya's arm and drug him towards the door. He snagged his suitcase on the way. He'd leave it but he had some gadgets in the bottom and didn't think Waverly would like it if he left them with a volatile leader of a country. "You can wear something of mine once we get out of here," he stage-whispered to his partner.

Illya followed along willingly. The guards escorted them out.

Within minutes they found themselves standing in the desert, the palace and small village behind them. The guards stood and glared at them, motioning them to start walking. "Let's get away from here and then you can get dressed," Napoleon advised, tugging his friend by the arm, leading him into the hot sands.

Illya yanked his arm away. "I can walk on my own, Napoleon." He was uncomfortable with the contact at the moment. After what happened that morning, he was afraid to let Napoleon touch him.

He couldn't deny his reaction to their session of wondrous sex. With Laheeb he could convince himself he merely acted in character in his portrayal of Sapphire. He couldn't do that with this man. There came a point this morning when he knew Sapphire was no longer in the room and HE was the one moaning and asking his partner to fuck him hard.

Napoleon didn't say anything as they traipsed into the desert in not quite companionable silence. He, too, wanted to put a little distance between them. Napoleon knew what was wrong with Illya. He'd had to allow himself to be sexually used by not only his superior but also his best friend. The hell of it was Napoleon couldn't bring himself to regret what had happened. Not the part about Illya being forced. Of course he regretted that. But the sex itself he didn't.

It felt good. Better than anything he'd ever experienced. He didn't think it was just the sex itself that intrigued him about it, but the feelings that had accompanied it. To bury himself in someone he truly cared about—not just liked, but loved on a certain level—had been its own aphrodisiac. Or maybe like a drug like that LSD. Something that felt so phenomenal he thought he could become addicted to it. There was no doubt he wanted that again. From the way Illya was acting though, he doubted that would ever happen.

He would bow to his friend's wishes, of course, but he would always regret it. It would be very difficult to keep his hands to himself so yes, not touching Illya was a very good idea.

Al-Fadee watched their progress from a high balcony. Once they were moving into the desert, he turned to one of his bodyguards. "I want them killed, but wait two hours before doing so. They should be far enough away by then they won't defile my palace with their tainted blood." The guard nodded and left to inform the royal assassin.

Saunders stared through the binoculars. It was his turn to watch for the other two agents while Burke rested in the shade of the tarp they'd fashioned into a lean-to using their jeep as a back wall. He focused when he saw some men walk out of the palace. One had bright hair and fair skin. "I see them!" he announced.

Burke was at his side in an instance, putting his own binoculars to his eyes. "Where?"

Saunders pointed. "They just came out of the palace. It looks like those big men might be walking them out of the village," he said excitedly.

"It sure does. Look. The guards are hanging back now while Napoleon and Illya walk into the desert." Burke's own excitement bubbled over as he grinned at his new friend. "Let's break camp and go get them."

Saunders smiled in return. "Did you notice that Kuryakin was naked?"

Burke tried to keep a straight face but failed miserably. "Yes. I'll bet this story will be a one in a million for the books."

"From what I've heard of Kuryakin, it's one we'd better keep to ourselves."

Burke grimaced, folded up his binoculars, and stowed them in one of the bulky pockets of his jacket. "Let's break camp and go get them."

Saunders crawled back onto his knees and got up. "Is the rendezvous set up?"

Nodding while he untied the tarp, Burke replied. "The ship is standing by in the Red Sea. We have to call when we reach the recovery range of the helicopters."

"I'll see if we can talk to Napoleon now," Saunders stated and took out the communicator for another try.

Napoleon looked over his shoulder. The palace and service buildings were about two miles behind them now. It almost seemed too easy. He never expected that they would just walk out of there without a fight.

Beside the senior agent, Illya walked developing a slight limp. The desert terrain, unlike the textured palace grounds, was rough and unforgiving to his bare feet. The scorching sand burned them mercilessly.

Napoleon glanced at Illya trying to ignore not so much his nudity but his genitals. "Uh. I think we're far enough out. Let's stop and put some clothes on you."

Illya gave him a gruff snort in answer. "I should have stolen some shoes." Turning his back to Napoleon he finally took the time to reach down and break the stubborn chain around his cock and balls. It was tougher than it looked and he hissed in pain when it came free.

"Are you all right?" Napoleon asked instinctively turning to see if he could offer some help.

"I'm fine," Illya snapped. "What do you have that I can wear?"

Napoleon realized the embarrassing source of the pain. "Er... uh yes. Here." He handed Illya a pair of sandals, sirwal and thobe. "If the pants are too loose you can use one of my belts."

"They'll be fine," Illya grumbled.

As Illya dressed, Napoleon put together his communicator. "Open channel L. Burke. Are you there?" His mouth was dry and he squinted up at the ridge in the distance.

Burke was checking up on Solo through the binoculars. "Burke here. I have you in sight. What happened in there?" he automatically asked.

Illya gave Napoleon a look that said if he dared say a word he wouldn't make it back to the rescue point.

Napoleon cleared his throat. "I'll put it in my report. Meanwhile where are you and Saunders?"

"We've just packed up camp. I was just checking to see where you were so we could come pick you up."

"I'll leave my communicator on. You can track us with that."

Burke nodded and glanced at Saunders who was getting behind the wheel. "I estimate we'll be picking you up in about half an hour. Head east toward the ravine. We'll be coming from that direction."

Napoleon looked over to the east. "Got it. I'll see you then."

Illya pulled the strap tight on the sandal and grimaced as the pain shot across his foot.

"Can you still walk?" Napoleon asked.

"As far as you can and more," came the sour answer.

Illya was thankful when they were picked up by the two backup agents. His sore feet pulsated with pain once he had the chance to sit down. Throughout the drive to the rendezvous point he sat quiet in the back giving nothing more than a grunt or growl in response to any questions.

The stripped down man was thrown into the barren stone block room and he tumbled to the floor. As quickly as he rolled around to his feet the heavy steel door slammed shut behind him.

"NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Laheeb screamed as darkness enclosed him sealing him away from the world. "FATHER. YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME HERE THIS WAY."

Al-Fadee listened to the pleading for several minutes before he too turned and walked away closing the outer door after him. Laheeb's cries for pity were sealed in with the young man never to be heard again. The sheikh felt it was his punishment for having such a son.

It was dark by the time they approached the extraction point. The whole escape was going so smoothly they were confident the whole thing was behind them. That was until they spotted a pair of jeeps trailing them.

"What's that?" Burke asked as he saw lights in the mirrors.

Napoleon turned around and scanned the horizon with the binoculars. Saunders tapped him on the shoulder and handed him the night vision goggles. When Napoleon tried those he let out a gasp.

"The Shiekh's militia! How far to the helicopter Burke?" Napoleon snapped.

Burke was too busy driving so Saunders answered. "Almost five miles, sir!" He pulled a Special out of a bag and handed it to Napoleon. A second came out which he gave to Kuryakin. "Sorry we don't have your personal firearm, sir," he apologized as he took his own weapon out of his shoulder holster.

"It will do." Illya was just glad to feel a gun in his hand again. He glanced behind them. The lights seemed closer. "Perhaps a little more pressure on the accelerator would be a good idea."

Burke fought with the steering wheel as they bumped over the crude desert road. Road, hell. Camel track more like it. "If I go any faster I'll lose control!"

"I'll drive, then."

Burke risked a quick glance over his shoulder. "If we stop, they'll be on top of us!" he shouted.

"Who said to stop?" Illya yelled back. "Saunders can climb back here, you can scoot over to his spot and I'll jump over the seat. Easy."

After all this time and trouble to rescue the Russian, Burke found himself ready to toss him back to the Arabs and call it a day. Burke's face twisted in anger and he stomped on the pedal. The jeep jumped forward at the sudden acceleration and skidded in the sand. He felt a thrill of satisfaction when he noticed Kuryakin's hand clutching the back of his seat for support.

Napoleon read Burke's thoughts on his face and grinned. Illya certainly had a way with people. A rude way. "Let the man drive, Illya. You'd rather do the shooting, anyway."

A smile flirted with the corners of Illya's mouth. "You have a point." A rifle thundered and a chunk of sand behind them scattered. Illya sighted down his weapon. "They're out of range." He tapped Burke on the shoulder. "Take your foot off the pedal!"

"Are you crazy?!?" Burke exclaimed.

"Quite likely, but do it anyway!" Illya instructed.

"Do as he says, Burke!" Napoleon shouted over the rattling of the jeep and din of the engine.

Illya now had a name to go with the sleek head in the seat in front of him. The head waggled back and forth.

"I hope you know what you're doing!"

The jeep jerked again, this time from deceleration. The next shot from the Sheikh's men slammed into the jeep's front windscreen. "Son of a bitch!" Burke screamed. To his credit he didn't speed up again although Illya was sure that was what he wanted to do.

Now within range of the oncoming vehicles and with the slight edge that comes from making a surprising and, face it, insane move, Illya centered his sights on the spot above the headlight where he judged the other vehicle's driver would be. He squeezed the trigger. The car wobbled, then slew off the road and hit something with a solid thud. Probably a sand dune.

Next to him, Napoleon mimicked Illya's actions. His first shot was a little off. His second would have hit if the vehicle hadn't jagged just at that moment. As he launched a third bullet he heard the whuff of chopper blades. "You can speed up again!" he ordered Burke. "Let's get to that chopper!"

Burke didn't need to be told a second time. The jeep jumped ahead once more with the stomp of his foot on the accelerator.

Another rifle shot roared and a chunk of the jeep's backend disappeared. "Oops," Illya muttered, aiming for the spot where he'd seen the flash of the rifle muzzle.

Napoleon's Special coughed a split second before Illya's. They heard a scream of pain and the enemy vehicle wobbled and slowed, although it stayed on the road. Illya nodded in satisfaction.

Burke brought the jeep to a skidding halt about 70 feet in front of the helicopter. The four agents spilled out of the jeep and plunged into the miniature sandstorm whipped up by the helicopter's spinning blades.

Illya set his teeth against the pain in his feet as he ran with the others to the chopper. He stumbled when his right foot slipped in the sandal, gliding on something wet. The blisters brought on by the burning sands must have broken. The first wave of agony in the foot convinced him he was right.

Napoleon caught him by the arm and kept him from falling. "Hurry!"

Illya pushed the pain out of his mind. He didn't have the luxury for it at the moment. Could give in to it later.

He and Napoleon were the last to arrive at the awaiting chopper. Bullets slammed into the chopper's metal body as they reached the door. Saunders, Burke, and one of the helicopter crew grabbed their arms and hauled them aboard. "Go, go, go!" Saunders screamed the moment the two agents feet cleared the doorway.

The pilot was ahead of him, already lifting his craft into the air as his crew member closed the door. It was only a matter of seconds before they were out of the rifleman's range.

"Yes!" Burke exclaimed, happily high-fiving with Saunders. He reached over and clapped Napoleon on the back. "We did it, partner!"

Illya shot a sharp glance at Napoleon, the man he knew as HIS partner.

Napoleon pulled off Illya's sandals and inspected the injured feet. He didn't need to see his friend's face to know what he was thinking. "Waverly declared you dead," he said quietly. Still without looking at Illya, he took the first aid kit from the helicopter crewman and started to gently smear cream over the raw flesh.

Illya held himself still even though the merest touch was causing great pain. He refused to let this usurper, see even the minutest amount of weakness. He wasn't worried about his place as Napoleon's partner. As always, Mr. Waverly would team them up once again when Illya returned. He just hated the fact the obviously green agent thought he could actually replace him as Napoleon's partner.

That was, of course, if Napoleon could ever look him in the eye again. Illya wondered if his friend, his partner, studiously avoided eye contact because he was embarrassed by Burke's declaration of partnership—which he should be—or because of what had happened between them in Laheeb's palace. Either way, he was glad for the momentary respite. He needed time to think.

Illya did have time to think. On the ship he was whisked away to the infirmary where they treated his feet for blisters and infection.. After a rudimentary physical check during the trip to open waters he was cleared for travel and transferred to a base where a transport plane took them back to the United States.

The majority of the trip was spent with Illya brooding and Burke insufferably pleased with himself while Napoleon seemed to be trying to keep as much distance between him and Illya as he could. But even with all that the journey back to New York seemed short compared to the time Illya spent trying to figure out how he was going to get there from his prison in Saudi Arabia.

One Week Later

Illya limped into Waverly's office and took a seat at the old man's urging. His feet were finally healing from a couple small but nasty infections from the broken blisters and medical had released him although he wasn't certified for field duty. As he sat he took note of Napoleon and Burke entering from behind. Obviously this wasn't to be a private meeting with his superior. It irked him that they arrived together like he and Napoleon usually did. He felt a little like an outsider, something he'd never experienced with him. He didn't care for the feeling. Was Burke managing to replace him in Napoleon's life? Was that why he hadn't visited as often as usual?

Napoleon nodded at Illya. A smile crossed his face to see him looking so much better, especially since he didn't visit him in the infirmary much. He wanted to reach out and touch Illya's shoulder in a way that said he felt more closely bonded with him but quickly stuck his shaking hand in his pocket and tried to look casual. He was nervous even thinking about it.

"Gentlemen," Waverly began once they were all assembled. "I'm glad to see you all here. I have my final reports on the mission," he said and tossed the four folders on the desk. "I'm pleased to see Mr. Solo's teachings have been bringing you along so quickly Mr. Burke."

Burke couldn't help the smile that beamed from his face. He nodded respectfully. "He's an excellent instructor and I look forward to learning a great deal from him for the benefit of U.N.C.L.E."

Illya managed to sit still while Burke talked as though he and Napoleon would remain partners. Insufferable jerk! He won't be so cocky when Waverly told him the temporary partnership was over. But Illya kept the thought to himself.

"Hmmmm... Yes," Waverly responded but moved on. "Mr. Solo. As usual your instincts in a case have proven correct. I commend your perseverance. You managed to recover Mr. Kuryakin and get out of the country without causing international unrest. Sheikh Al-Fadee is a powerful figure in that region. It wouldn't have gone well for us if we'd caused an incident."

Napoleon's expression remained calm and almost smug as if that was just what he expected in terms of praise.

Illya rolled his eyes toward the other side of the room. Just what Napoleon needs, he thought to himself. More fodder for his ego. His thoughts were interrupted when Waverly turned his attention to him.

"Mr. Kuryakin. How are you doing?" Waverly asked although he already had the medical report.

Illya sat up a little straighter as if coming to attention while seated. "I am fine sir. My feet are tender but healing well. I'll be ready for active duty quite soon."

"No need to rush things," Waverly said as if Illya wasn't going back to field work right away. "I've decided that Burke has done a fine job and will only benefit from more intensive training. I'm assigning him permanently to Mr. Solo for that reason. U.N.C.L.E. can use more men of his caliber. I'd like you to remain in the lab for the foreseeable future."

The news surprised Illya and in some respects broke his heart. He wanted to protest but his Russian masters' training stepped in and he replied quickly. "Yes sir," while carefully keeping his expression neutral.

"Mr. Solo," Waverly continued. "Take Mr. Burke and have him settled into an office near yours. Mr. Kuryakin's old office should do. He can use the one in his lab in the science section."

Napoleon stood up and Burke fell into line alongside his new partner. "Yes Mr. Waverly. I'll take care of that right away." Actually I'd prefer to see Illya back in there, was what he wanted to say but no one went against the head of U.N.C.L.E. New York if they wanted to stay in the organization. Napoleon as CEA, in training to one day succeed as Waverly's replacement, accepted the orders without voicing his reluctance. The two men took the nod of their boss' head as their cue to leave.

Illya watched them go and the door close behind them before Waverly spoke again.

"Mr. Kuryakin. I read your report on the Guatemalan incident. It was unfortunate for us that you failed to return with the documents. Six months surveillance was all for nothing. The satrap was shut down and relocated shortly after the robbery."

"I'm sorry sir," Illya replied. He hated failure. It was a bitter pill to swallow. "I was surprised by the ferryman."

"We have a saying where I come from Mr. Kuryakin. Don't pay the ferryman..."

"Until he gets you to the other side," Illya finished for him. "I was told of this not long ago."

Waverly waved off the apologies. "What's done is done. We have tracked them down and will watch them carefully. The papers didn't fall into the wrong hands. It appears your kidnappers had no idea what they were and simply disposed of them in the river. We assumed the same thing happened to you at the time."

Illya stared back attentively wondering where all this was leading. Since Waverly had broken up his and Napoleon's partnership, he concluded his failure in his mission warranted him a trip back to Russia. A return in disgrace. It would not go well for him.

The old man picked up his pipe and contemplated lighting it again. "Mr. Solo refused to give up the search and spent a great deal of his own time on tracking you down. Thanks to him U.N.C.L.E. has not lost another good agent."

Illya's bright blue eyes stayed focused on Waverly. That didn't sound like Waverly was planning on shipping his Russian agent back to the Soviet Union. Illya held his sigh of relief until he knew for sure.

"I would regret having to order an in depth psychoanalysis as would be normal after reading your report. Therefore I think the best way to avoid pressure from my counterparts in U.N.C.L.E. is to assign you to the lab until such time as I can return you to the field without questions. You and Mr. Solo had to resort to some rather unusual tactics in arranging your escape. I commend you for your actions and I don't want either of you to feel uncomfortable while performing your duties, which is also a factor in my decision to dissolve your partnership. Now that the reports are in, yours and Mr. Solo's will be sealed and placed in the restricted archives."

Illya nodded unsure of what he really wanted when it came to working or not working with Napoleon. No, that wasn't quite the truth. He knew exactly what he wanted in that respect. Napoleon was his partner and he trusted no one else in the role. Unfortunately, their relationship had changed as a result of what happened in Saudi Arabia, just as he'd feared. That was the only explanation he could think of as to why Napoleon had not visited him during his time in Medical. So even though he preferred to continue to work with Napoleon, his former partner obviously did not. He wasn't sure Napoleon wasn't right. Besides, it seemed he had no choice in the matter. He managed to nod his head in acceptance.

Waverly looked at his watch. "It's late Mr. Kuryakin. I suggest you go home and get a good rest before starting back in the morning."

"Home?" Illya replied surprised. Surely his apartment would have been cleared out and rented to someone else by now.

Waverly let out a long breath. "Against U.N.C.L.E. policy and out of his own pocket Mr. Solo has paid the rent on your apartment for the past several weeks. I'll leave it to the two of you to sort out." He struck a match and puffed on his pipe, the ultimate signal that the conversation was at an end.

Illya got up and walked out the door and into the corridor feeling numb from all the news.

At the end of the hall Napoleon waited with his shoulder against the wall, ankles crossed and one hand in a pocket. "Are you off for the day?" he asked as Illya approached.

"Apparently so," Illya replied.

Pushing off the wall and giving a flip of his head, Napoleon said, "Come on. I'll drive you home."

"You don't need to. I'm sure you have better things to do." Burke probably needed help moving my things out of what used to be my office so he can move his in. He couldn't deny the bitter taste that idea left in his mouth. He could understand Waverly's reasoning for splitting him and Napoleon up for the time being, but to make that weasel Burke Napoleon's permanent partner was more than Illya could stand.

Napoleon sighed. "We need to talk."

Illya stiffened slightly. "About what?" he asked, feigning innocence.

Napoleon didn't buy it for a second. "You know what."

"Oh. That." Illya shook his head. "It was what we had to do to escape. There's nothing to talk about." He may not be sure how he felt about the whole thing, but Napoleon's recent attitude and body language, not to mention the lack of presence, clued him in. "I'll take a taxi home."

Napoleon hesitated for a minute. "Well, if that's what you want."

"It is."

"All right, then. I'll see you tomorrow." He stopped and watched his friend...his PARTNER damn it!... limp down the corridor. He wasn't sure how he felt about what had happened. That was why he'd wanted to talk. To figure out exactly what did happen and what they needed to do about it. He'd felt something in that bed with Illya, something he never felt before in his entire life. He wasn't sure what it was, but he wanted the chance to explore it and find out. Illya's reaction let him know what his friend thought about it all, though. Napoleon had no choice except to give in to Illya's wishes.

As he stared after Illya's retreating back, he knew he'd just lost the most important piece of himself. The hell with that! He was not about to lose the best friend he'd ever had. If that was all he could have, he would take it. "Illya!" he called while hurrying to catch up.

Illya stopped and turned around.

"Illya please let me take you home. I've missed you and it looks like we won't be able to spend as much time together, at least for awhile."

Illya raised an eyebrow. "Waverly sounded like he expected the separation to be less temporary than you imply."

Napoleon shrugged. The hand he placed on Illya's shoulder was meant as a friendly one but the shock the light touch provoked said otherwise. It was just like what he'd felt in the room in Laheeb's palace. He somehow managed to keep his voice from shaking as he said, "We'll convince him otherwise once you're able to return to the field. He's tried this before and he always puts us back together at the first sign of real trouble."

Illya snorted. "That's true." He studied his best friend's face. "Very well," he relented. "You may drive me home."

Napoleon still hadn't removed his hand. It felt too good. Unfortunately, doing such things with his male partner in the middle of an U.N.C.L.E. corridor was not in the best of taste. He gave Illya one of his patented smiles. "Good. Let's go."

The End...

For now

(March 19, 2006)

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