Slipping Through My Fingers

by Spikesgirl58

There were times that Napoleon Solo wished he could save, take a snapshot as it were and freeze the moment forever. This was one of those times. He lounged back in the couch, his feet resting comfortably on the coffee table, his Aunt Amy's favorite quilt wrapped around and over him. Illya was stretched out long-ways beside him, dozing, with his head resting on Napoleon's thigh. There was a fire in the fireplace and rain splattering against the window. Everything was so comfortable, so peaceful that Napoleon wanted it to last forever. At best, he had forty-five minutes. Then, driven by an internal clock, Illya would wake, albeit reluctantly, to get ready for work and the mood would be broken again.

As a younger man, Napoleon had never understood the attraction of just sitting. But now, with his fingers gently carding through soft blond hair and the feeling of Illya's measured breath against his naked thigh, he knew. The sense of contentment was almost palatable.

'God, I am so happy,' Napoleon thought, flipping the page in his book one-handed. How could life be any better? He glanced down at the man beside him and smiled. It wasn't often the Russian slowed down long enough to permit such a luxury as whiling away a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon. Still, all the forces in the universe had gotten together at just the precise second and...there was a knock at the door.

Both cats, from their various positions on the couch, bolted and Illya's head jerked up, instantly awake.

"Shh," Napoleon murmured, coaxing him back down and readjusting the blanket slightly to a more respectable position for them both. "Come in."

There was a gush of cold, wet wind as the door opened and Taste's co-owner came dashing in, his coat collar pulled up against the rain.

"Cara," Matt started and stopped, slapping his hand over his mouth.

"Too late, I'm awake," Illya muttered, not moving.

"Sorry," Matt apologize, brushing rain drops out of his red hair. The cats dodged the drops and glared at him as if trying to decide whether he did that just to annoy them. "I didn't know you were dormire il sonno dell'appena."

"Sleep of the dead, my ass. It's all right. I need to get up anyway." Illya sat up and stretched, obviously in no hurry to escape from his cocoon of warmth. He nestled back against Napoleon's side, surrendering enough couch for Matt to sit, if he chose. "What can I do for you, Matt?"

"Actually, it is your amante whom I need."

"Oh?" Napoleon sat up a bit straighter, dropping his legs from their propped up position.

"That's my cue," Illya said. "If you don't want to be embarrassed, Matt, I'd look away now."

"Nessuno problema," Matt assured him. "I've seen you naked plenty of times."

"I wasn't referring to me." Illya stood, taking the quilt with him until Napoleon gave it a sharp tug back.

"Not likely, Kuryakin." The blanket stayed where it was and Illya was left, shivering in the cool air. Napoleon raked his eyes over the naked form of his lover as Illya moved swiftly from the living room up the stairs. "So what can I do for you, Matt?"

"It's my turn to put together a menu for Pranzo in Campagna and I need some help with the wine—if you wouldn't mind, Cara?"

"Of course not, give me a minute to get some clothes on and we'll talk." Napoleon did take the quilt with him upstairs. He wasn't quite as willing to share with Matt as his lover was. Illya had donned black chef pants and a tee shirt and was brushing his teeth. He glanced over at Napoleon but neither hurried nor slowed his actions, just watched as Napoleon folded up the quilt and began to pull on his underwear.

"They're a waste of time, you know," Illya said, after spitting out a mouthful of toothpaste. "I'm just going to take them off you again."

Napoleon chucked and reached for a sweatshirt. He still felt horribly under dressed most days, but the more casual dress code of the Foothills was getting easier to take. "Think of it as an additional layer of wrapping paper."

"I'm thinking rather of that commercial pondering how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll." Illya finger combed his hair and walked out of the bathroom to scoop up his chef's jacket.

"Illya, what is Pranzo in Campagna?" Napoleon pulled on a pair of slacks. Unlike his partner, he'd never quite made a comfortable switch to blue jeans.

"Ah, I wondered when he was going to break down and ask you. It's a big dinner the local Italian group does every year. They usually hold it in a fruit orchard. It's about six courses and there's a wine pairing with each course. It's a way for the locals to celebrate their heritage and culture, along with some good food and drink."

"Traditional food?"

"Depends upon who's designing the menu. When it's Matt, you can be in for some surprises," Illya said, as he shrugged into his jacket and buttoned it up halfway. He leaned down to Napoleon, who sat on the corner of the bed, putting on his shoes. He kissed Napoleon deeply, his tongue teasing, begging entrance. Napoleon gave it readily, wrapping his arms around Illya's slender waist, pulling him down onto him and the bed. They stayed locked in that embrace for a long moment. Reluctantly, Illya broke the kiss. "If I don't leave now, I'm not going to."

Napoleon dropped his hands to his side, but Illya didn't move. Instead he ground his erection against Napoleon's thigh, closing his eyes at the sensation. "Is it wrong to want you again? Still?"

"Not in my book," Napoleon murmured back, cupping Illya's ass through the thin material of his pants. "But this isn't the time or the place. Matt's downstairs waiting."

A sigh. "I know." He kissed Napoleon again and got to his feet, adjusted himself and headed for the door. "I won't be late tonight."

"I'll be here."

Waving to Matt as he passed through the living room, Illya forged out into the rain. The cold wind helped him regain his composure as he made the quick journey between house and restaurant. It was then that he spotted Velon, lounging on the porch of Napoleon's wine shop. There were a few cars in the parking lot and he could see people milling about inside and sitting at the wine bar.

He detoured over to the dark-haired man and smiled. "Did Janice kick you out?"

"No, I like this weather," Velon said, a trace of Scottish brogue coloring the words. "It reminds me of home. Do you ever miss home? Russia, I mean."

"Not for a long time," Illya admitted, leaning against the railing. "And to use an old clich, home is where the heart is."

"Aye, that's true." Velon grinned, but his eyes remained unaffected by it. "And here you have Napoleon."


"You're lucky. Most of my relationships don't last more than three or four days."

"You'll find someone, probably when you least expect it," Illya said, brushing his hair back off his forehead.

"That's what my Da used to say—there's someone for everyone, Vel, and you've got to be patient. Do you believe that?"

"I do." There was always something—off about this young man, just a little. His eyes were so dark they appeared black and they had an unsettling way of looking through you. But he was exceptional at his job and the customers liked him. And one had to admit, the man was very well...assembled. Despite Illya's protests otherwise, he'd looked—it was nearly impossible not to. But appreciation was just that, as far as Illya was concerned: appreciation. Certainly the signals were there on Velon's side, but Illya had Napoleon: there was no true desire for anything or anyone else. And on top of it all, there was the oath they had sworn together -

"What is the special tonight, Chef?" Velon, as if knowing his was being studied dropped his gaze to the wooden planking of the porch.

"With this weather, I'm thinking Coc au Vin or perhaps a Shepherd's Pie."

"Will Napoleon be coming tonight?"

Illya blinked, wondering if he'd actually heard the slight emphasis he seemed to have, then decided not. "He and Matt are pretty busy working on a project, so I doubt it."



"You're very trusting."

"Yes." Enough of this. Illya nodded his goodbye and dashed back out into the wet and to the backdoor of Taste's kitchen, willing his unease to slough off with the rain. He knew, without looking, that Velon continued to stare after him.

Rand and Henry glanced up as he entered, but neither stopped in their prep work. They merely shouted back greetings and continue to chop.

"Hey, Chef," Roxanne greeted him as well. He walked to her side and she turned the reservation book around so that he could see the bookings and note any regulars. "First and last seatings are full, but second is down."

"The weather probably. It'll give us a chance to catch our breath then." He flicked his eyes up over to a grandfather clock, part of their inheritance from Napoleon's parents, and sighed. "And we're off," Illya said, kissing her cheek and heading back to the closet they jokingly referred to as an office.

Both Matt and Napoleon glanced up as the front door of the small chalet style house opened and Rocky came ducking in, singing as he balanced the tray on his shoulder. "I wasn't jealous before we met. Now every man that I see is a potential threat. And I'm possessive. It isn't nice. You heard me say that smoking was my only vice." He slid the tray down on to the dining room table and smiled, singing directly to Matt. "But now it isn't true. Now everything is new and all I've learned has overturned, I beg of you," He pulled the covers off the dishes. "Chef thought you two might still be at it and need a break."

"Cara, you are a sight for tired eyes." Matt had moved from the paper-covered couch to his partner, greeting him with an enthusiastic kiss that made Napoleon wish he'd taken Illya up on his earlier offer.

"And empty stomachs," Napoleon added as he joined them. "What do we have here?"

"As a starter, we are offering a Hunter's soup with rabbit and venison enhanced with a double roasted game stock and for your main course, gnocchi with turkey and bell pepper sauce."

"I love it when the Russian tries to cook Italian." Matt immediately sampled the pasta and sighed. "I hate it when he does it better than I do."

"He said that Napoleon would know what to pour with it." Rocky spread the dishes and silverware around the table with an ease born of considerable practice. "How goes the battle tonight?"

"Napoleon is winning," Matt admitted, solemnly. "So far, I haven't been able to stump him with a course."

"And perhaps then you should mention to him that the orchard is on Waterloo Drive."

Napoleon's jaw dropped, and then he groaned theatrically. "You are joking, and don't break into a chorus of 'Waterloo' either."

"He won't, but he's not, I'm afraid." Matt spread a napkin over his lap and reached for his soup spoon in an attempt to hide his grin. "I must have forgotten that." Napoleon merely shook his head, reflecting on how much he enjoyed the easy humor between these two. They reminded him so much of himself and Illya.

"I'll send someone back for the dishes. Do you have request for dessert?"

"Something chocolate. I have a new port I want to try." Napoleon glanced over at Matt. "If you like it, you might think about using it for your dinner."

He and Matt were simply sitting and talking when there was a tap to the front door and Velon entered. It was the first time he'd been inside the house to Napoleon's knowledge and he looked around, apparently curious, before turning a dazzling smile on the pair.

"Can we do something for you, Velon?" Matt asked, smiling at Napoleon.

"Rocky sent me over to get your plates and to bring dessert. These are for now." Velon set a small platter down on the coffee table in front of them and a second smaller covered tray on the table. "These, I was led to believe, are for later."

"Mmmm, truffles, wonder what Chef filled these with?" Matt grabbed the nearest one and bit into it. "Strawberry." He decided after a moment. Napoleon regarded his for the moment, standing to get the port bottle.

"Nothing like the olden days—white bread, American cheese, orange Jell-o."

"There's always room for Jell-o," Matt quipped and Napoleon chuckled.

"Ah, the good old days." He poured a small measure of port into a glass and offered it to Matt.

"To the good old days."

"Will that be all?" Both Napoleon and Matt suddenly realized Velon was still in the room.

"That's fine, Velon, thank you." Napoleon waited until the man had collected the dishes and left before adding, "What a strange young man."

"True, but the women, Cara, they swoon for him. And the men," Matt admitted, sipping the port. "And me, too, a little bit. Don't misunderstand me, I love Rocky with all my heart. However, Velon is, shall we say, meravigliosamente montato." He made a gesture with his hands. "Beautifully assembled."

"Hard not to notice, I suppose, if you're inclined."

"And you're not?" Matt was dubious.

"Eyes for one man only."

"But for many women, I think." Matt reached for the tray, offering Napoleon a second truffle. "I've seen you in the bar, watching."

"I'm faithful, but I'm not dead." He bit it in half and chewed it briefly before taking a sip of the port. "It goes better with the strawberry than the orange." He held out his glass to Matt's. "Here's to looking, but not touching."

Napoleon relaxed in the hot tub, staring out at the dark sky. It was still raining, a pleasant patter on the porch roof. When he'd first decided to purchase one of these new 'must-have's, Illya had been openly opposed, arguing that they didn't have the space or the time to make it worthwhile. One long soak had been all it had taken to convince the man otherwise. Now it was all Napoleon could do to drag Illya out of it some nights. Years of physical abuse had taken their toll on both of them and the Russian more than himself, although Illya would never admit to it. He didn't need to—Napoleon could see it in his eyes at times and did the best he could to make life a bit easier for his parnter. Without Illya knowing about it, of course.

Close at hand, there was a tray with cheese and fruit, Illya's favorite midnight snack—well, besides Napoleon—and two glasses awaiting a chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Napoleon had had just enough port to feel relaxed enough that when he thought he heard the front door open, he didn't bother to check the time. Illya had said he wouldn't be late tonight, but then when no Russian appeared at the patio door, Napoleon hazarded a look at his watch.

'Ten o'clock? No way would Illya be that early. Not on a Sunday night.' Napoleon reached for a towel and wrapped it around his waist. He glanced inside first the kitchen and then the living room. It wasn't like there was any place to really hide.

"Illya?" There was no answer. "Illya." Only silence. He glanced over at Moutard who was sitting expectantly by his food bowl. "Am I hearing things, kitty?"

Napoleon walked back out to the hot tub and was about to slide in when he swore he heard the front door again. This time, he was back into the house before he drew a second breath. He stopped as a shadow moved across the floor, passing between a lamp and his position. He waited, calculating distance, and then lunged forward, grabbing a handful of cloth. He spun the intruder and slammed him to the floor.

"Napoleon?" Perplexed blue eyes stared up at him.


"Last time I looked." Illya remained motionless on the floor, obviously trying to make sense of the events of a moment ago. "If you want me, you just have to ask. I'm not likely to put up that much of a fight, especially when you're dressed like that."

"Sorry." Napoleon offered him a hand up. "I thought I heard someone in the house."

Illya immediately grew serious. They never joked about such things nor did they take them lightly. Those UNCLE agents who did weren't likely to become older UNCLE agents. "I didn't see anyone. Did you search the whole place?"

"Just down here, which I'm going to do again."

"I'll take upstairs." Illya climbed the stairs hurriedly and walked quickly through their bedroom, bath and small office. Finding nothing out of place, he returned to the patio. Napoleon was by the hot tub and at Illya's all-clear, doffed the towel and slipped back into the water.

"I didn't see anything suspicious up there," Illya said, shedding his jacket.

"Must have been hearing things then." Napoleon lifted his arms up for a hug and Illya half-knelt to comply. Napoleon easily flipped him into the hot tub, dragging him close for a kiss.

"You could have let me at least get undressed," Illya grumbled, not at all serious.

"Takes too long," Napoleon answered, his hands sliding up beneath the wet tee shirt, tugging it off. "Skin against skin, it's the world's best aphrodisiac."

"Like you need help in that department."

"To keep up with you, I do." Napoleon watched Illya struggle out of his pants and grew abruptly contemplative. Damning his own brain and the way he couldn't shut it off, sometimes, he murmured,"Do you ever think that...?"

Illya threw the pants up on to the deck and straddled Napoleon, grinding his erection against Napoleon's and sighing. "Do I ever think what?"

"That too much of our relationship is built on sex?"

That made the Russian sit back from his exploration of his lover's ear. "What?" Without effort, he slid off Napoleon and onto the fiberglass seat beside him.

"I didn't mean you had to move," Napoleon complained lightly, reaching for him.

Illya evaded him, moving just out of range, a furrow carving between his eyebrows. "What brought this on?" he asked, reaching for his wine glass.

"Nothing, I was just thinking." Napoleon sat back and tilted his head, listening to the rain falling.


He felt Illya's study like heat against his face. "People talk while they wander in a store, we took advantage of that often enough. Two customers yesterday afternoon were discussing some idiot relationship book, something about married couples' relationships centering on a single aspect. Usually child-rearing, apparently."

"Obviously not an issue in our case." Illya selected a handful of fruit and cheese.

"Obviously." Napoleon half-smiled, warming at the wry tease. "But once that single aspect was gone... You know me, Illya. I used sex as a substitute for an actual relationship for a long time, before you. I don't want that pattern to reoccur here, now, with you. I don't want to wake up one morning and find that..."

"We are two strangers sharing a bed and nothing else?"

Napoleon reached for his wine, finished it in a couple of swallows. He nodded wordlessly.

"And this is truly worrying to you?" Illya's tone softened and he moved closer, stroked the hair off Napoleon's forehead with a gentle hand.

"No...yes...I don't know...I'm just so damn happy that I can't help it. My life now is contrary to everything I'd ever expected it to be and I don't want it to end."

"Then don't let it." Illya kissed his brow. "Napoleon, as you just said, I know you. We were friends long before. To answer your question, yes, of course our relationship would survive, albeit a little altered. Sex or not, I want you here and I still want to be with you."

"Mmm, reassuring." Napoleon turned his head and Illya took advantage of the move to kiss him.

"Good, now let's go have sex."

"Illya, I'm serious." Napoleon pulled away, studying the blue eyes intently.

"As am I. Our relationship would survive because it is necessary. Physical or not, I'm afraid you're stuck with me. And unless you're planning a foray into the kitchen to emasculate yourself, I don't think there's much worry about that."

"There are other reasons—high blood pressure, diabetes, the big C."

"None of which we suffer from, to my knowledge."


"Are you trying to change my mind?" Illya aimed a mock punch at his jaw. Napoleon redirected the arm to curve it around his neck and tug Illya closer still. The Russian leaned in, their foreheads touching. "Napoleon, I love you. Whatever happens, we cross the bridge together." The kiss this time was slow and sweet. "What can I say to assuage your concern?"

"Exactly what you just did." Napoleon breathed out and let it go. He shifted to slide his arm around Illya's shoulders. "How went the battle tonight?"

"Not bad." Illya leaned back against him. "We were full, but second seating was slow. Everyone ordered three courses, so that helped. The new wine list is being greeted with open arms. We sold more wine this weekend than the last three weeks combined."

They talked business for a long time until Illya roused himself from his all too comfortable lounge. "We should probably go to bed. It's after two."

"But we have nothing to do, except sleep," Napoleon protested, with a yawn.

"Oh, I think perhaps I could come up with one or two other things." Illya climbed out of the hot tub and quickly wrapped a towel around him. Even the end of July could still be cool at night, especially when the day had been damp. He grabbed the tray and walked back into the kitchen, pausing to slide it in the refrigerator. He stopped and frowned, looking over at Napoleon as he entered.

"Napoleon, I know that sometimes you might yearn for the more traditional foods of your childhood, but really..."



"What about it?

"Why is there a bowl of it in my refrigerator?"

"I have no idea. I ate enough of that in Medical during the course of our UNCLE days to run when I see it now." He glanced in at the bowl of jiggley orange gelatin. "And you didn't put it there?"

"I'll pretend you never asked me that." Illya shut the door. "I'll have to ask Matt about it tomorrow. I'm heading up."

"Okay, I'll be right there." Napoleon took a moment to check the doors and windows before grabbing the half finished bottle of port, a tray of chocolate truffles and two clean glasses.

Illya had already settled into bed and smiled as Napoleon entered. He poured out a measure of the port and handed it to the blond as he took his place to Illya's right. "Try this."

Illya sipped and made a face. "It's very sweet." He started to set the glass aside as Napoleon held out a truffle for him, rubbing it enticingly over his lips until he consented to opening his mouth and taking a bite. "Now try the port again."

He did and had to admit it was a good match. "Good, but still too sweet." Fixing his eyes on Napoleon, he opened his mouth. Napoleon smiled and obliged, slipping the rest of the chocolate fully into Illya's mouth. As expected Illya's lips closed on the fingers as he rolled the chocolate around with his tongue. He swallowed and set to work on the fingers, his tongue following the same path.

"So what do you think?" Napoleon whispered, resting his forehead against Illya's.

"Much better with a bit of you mixed in." Illya let Napoleon remove his fingers as he tried to stifle a yawn.

"First time I've had that effect to you."

"You, wine, hot tub, and seven hours of cooking—the big picture, Napoleon. I'm beat." Illya settled back against the pillows.

"I thought you were the one who wanted sex."

"Up to about a minute ago, I did. Now, I think I'd rather sleep."

"Let me get my calendar and mark this down." Napoleon settled in beside him, taking one last sip of the port. He set the glass down and turned off the light.

"Besides, it isn't like we haven't been going at it like crazed rabbits all day long. As you would say, I'm feeling the burn."

"True, I'm a little tired myself." Napoleon admitted, gathering the Russian into his arms, spooning against him comfortably.

"Just a little tired? I must be losing my grip." Illya yawned again and wiggled slightly. "Love you."

Napoleon nuzzled into Illya's hair, kissing his head. "Only half as much as I love you."

Even before Illya opened his eyes, the headache blasted him. It felt like the top of his skull was coming off. Slowly, cautiously, he cracked open one eye and moaned. The clock read 1:47. He shifted uneasily in bed, making a face as muscles and joints protested. He must have gone out like a proverbial light last night to be this stiff and sore. He couldn't even remember falling asleep.

He rubbed his temples, frowning as a wave of nausea surged up. A deep breath and he pushed his stomach back down where it needed to be. A bottle of wine and a glass of port were hardly enough for him to even get a buzz, much less this kind of hangover. Perhaps he was coming down with something. His mouth tasted salty and he was ungodly thirsty. Illya sat up and glanced around the room, but as he'd suspected, he was alone. Even when their nocturnal pursuits took them into the early morning hours, Napoleon could be counted on to roll out of bed bright eyed and bushy tailed, as well as horny. No such problem today—with this headache, Illya couldn't manage an erection at the moment if he had to.

He stumbled to the bathroom and luxuriated in a long hot shower, although he was surprised that it wasn't interrupted by his lover. Napoleon was a master of shower sex and even though he wasn't horny, Illya wouldn't have refused some fondling. By the time he finished, the aspirin had kicked in and he was feeling halfway to rotten—a marked improvement, sadly.

He dressed and moved slowly down the staircase, holding on to the banister just in case the world suddenly decided to take on an unsuspecting tilt. The kitchen was as he'd left it the night before. Napoleon had been getting steadily better in both his cooking and clean up, so this was... unusual.

Illya glanced around the immediate area for a note. Napoleon went out of his way to make sure he let Illya know where he was these days. The lack of a note meant that Napoleon was probably either doing something in Vinea or wandering around outside.

A quick check of the property and the two businesses turned up nothing other than that Napoleon's car was missing. Then Illya grinned. Of course, he would be at Matt's as they hashed through the menu for the Pranzo. Illya returned to the house, grabbed a cup of coffee and dialed Matt's number.

"Si?" The voice that answered was a bit breathless, as if the speaker was running a race.

"Matt, let me speak to Napoleon."

"He's not here, Cara, believe me."

"Are you sure?"

"This I would know." Illya then heard Rocky's voice murmur something and he mentally kicked himself. How many times had Matt caught him and Napoleon equally engaged?

"Sorry, Azurro." He cradled the phone before Matt could protest otherwise. In the old days, Illya would have been halfway to Waverly's office by now, certain of THRUSH involvement, but those days were past them now. Still, little things ticked off in his head, chewed and annoyed him. The bowl of Jell-o made no sense, nor did the way he felt. Back in the day, he'd have put it down to being drugged, but now that conclusion made no sense. Even if it was THRUSH, why drug him and, he supposed, Napoleon, but only take one of them hostage? THRUSH rarely turned down an opportunity to double their pleasure, as it were. No, more likely Napoleon was just off, visiting a winery or passing time with an acquaintance. So Illya did what he always did when he felt stressed or anxious or—he smiled slightly—happy or restless. He started to cook.

When Illya heard the front door open, relief surged, dissipating his building tension. He pushed through the kitchen door, ready to give his lover both a solid kiss and a piece of his mind. Both urges vanished at the sight of Matt standing there.

"He's still not here then?" It didn't probably didn't take a rocket scientist to read the look on the Russian's face.

"No, he's off somewhere." Illya returned to the stove with Matt close behind. "I'm sure he said something and I've just forgotten."

"When have you forgotten things like that?"

"Wait until you've been married for awhile, Matt." Illya slid chopped onions into a saut pan, determinedly ignoring both his returning tension and the sick headache that had never really left. "You start to listen with half an ear." He stirred the onions as they started to sizzle. "My father used to talk about that, but I never understood what he meant until now."

Matt smiled and nodded. "My father said something similar. And you're probably right. It's just he usually doesn't schedule things on Monday and Tuesday, does he?"

"Not as a rule."

"This then doesn't strike you as odd?"

"Napoleon is his own man, Matt." Illya's tone was light as his heart was not. "He always has been. He'll be back when he's ready."

'Brave words, Illya Nichovich.'

God, my mouth tastes like two sewer rats had sex in it. And thirsty, he was so thirsty. It was still dark, so it must be early. Napoleon half-smiled and reached out for Illya, eager to curl up against that hard body. Or at least that was his plan. His hands refused to respond and it took him a moment to realize that he was bound.

All sleepiness left him in a heartbeat. It had been a long time since he'd been tied up, but he remembered the drill well enough. For the moment, he lay quietly, taking stock of what he could without alerting his captor, ignoring the pounding in his head and the nausea in his stomach.

His arms and legs were splayed wide and tied to some sort of bar. He was naked as he could feel the burr of a harsh blanket beneath him. He allowed his eyes to open just a slit to give him an idea of his cell. Dark, and damp; probably a basement, he decided. He couldn't see anyone within his line of vision and he hazarded opening his eyes fully. Not that it helped.

A door abruptly opened, sending a shaft of sunlight blasting through the room. Napoleon winced and blinked furiously as his eyes teared. He saw a figure standing there and he put his best game face on. Then the figure moved and the light revealed Velon. Napoleon sighed happily, struggling at the bindings on his wrists and ankles.

"Velon, thank God you found me." What he saw then in the man's eyes made his stomach twist.

"Oh, Napoleon, God has very little to do with anything in this room. Of course, you didn't know that yet, but you'll soon find out." Velon flipped him over onto his stomach and began to disrobe. Napoleon craned his head to watch him out of the corner of one eye.

"Did you enjoy the gift I left for you?" Velon neatly folded his shirt and set it upon a nearby chair. "I remembered that you said it had been years since you tasted Jell-o."

It all clicked. "You were the one in the house."

"Yes. Had you checked your hall closet, our meeting would have taken a very different direction." Velon removed his pants and Napoleon tried to shift his mind away from what was obviously coming next. It wouldn't be the first time he'd been raped. UNCLE mandated classes for all its people on dealing with both the physical and psychological aspects, and the ones for field agents were uncomfortably thorough. You weren't a guest of THRUSH very many times before they tried to break you that way and he'd lived through it; hell, he and Illya both had. But there was something about this situation that felt entirely different—he had the distinct feeling that living through this wasn't exactly what Velon planned for him to do.

Velon walked back to the bed, looking down on him with an appraising eye. "You were a difficult target, dear Napoleon. At first, I couldn't decide between you and your lovely blond lover. Somehow, you struck me as the easier one. There's too much to Chef that urges caution. Frankly, he scares me a little bit." Velon held up a ball gag and smiled. Napoleon twisted his head, but Velon had the upper hand, forcing the ball into his mouth by pinching his nose shut until Napoleon had no choice but to gasp. That accomplished, he positioned himself and Napoleon forced himself to relax as much as possible.

Even as Velon shoved into him and Napoleon's eyes squinted shut at the pain, his mind fled back to Illya. No matter what the final outcome, this was going to put Illya through seven kinds of hell and they were both out of practice with that kind of walk.

The cavalier attitude of hours hence was long gone now and Illya paced, his ears pricked for any sound, back and forth between the living room and the kitchen. Matt, despite Illya's best attempts, had not left him and now watched from the couch. Finally, wordlessly, Illya collapsed beside him, pulled down by a black lethargy that made it hard to even think.

Matt reached out, rubbing his hand over Illya's forearm. "There were no fights, nothing to indicate anything was wrong?"

"No," Illya managed after a moment. "He...had been concerned that too much of our time was spent having sex, worried that we might be... losing sight... of other things."

"Don't talk of him in the past tense, Cara."

"Then where is he, Matt? His car's gone and there's no message."

"But his clothes are here?"


"What was the last thing you said to him last night?" Matt's voice was soft, coaxing.

"That I loved him."

"And he responded in kind?"

"Of course." Illya picked at a loose thread on his pants and tried to think. "Tell me about last night. What did you two discuss?"

"We spoke of the Campagna and around nine, Rocky brought us dinner. We ate and talked, and then Velon returned about 9:30 with truffles and removed the dishes."

Illya's brow creased. "Truffles?"

"Si, strawberry and orange, the ones you sent over."

"No, I sent over a gateaux." He shut his eyes against the roll of his stomach. Eight hours and he was still feeling sick.

"He arrived with truffles, Cara. Napoleon thought the orange went better with the port he was serving."

"But you had both the truffles and the port and didn't suffer any effects?"

"Yes, but...wait...there were two plates," Matt said, suddenly. "He said one for now, one for latter, meaning for the two of you to share."

"I'm going to bet those were the ones tampered with." Illya checked his watch and frowned. "It's too late now to call the sheriff." He rubbed his eyes wearily as his head beat out a staccato rhythm in time with his heart.

"Then forgive me for I seem to have been laboring under...what is the word?... disinformazione?"

"Misinformation? Why do you say that?"

"I thought you used to be some il poliziotto super, un extraordinare di spia. Instead I see a no one special, no super cop, just you."

Cold shot through Illya at Matt's comment, clearing his head a little. "Excuse me?"

"What would you have done before—in your old life? Hidden and let the World solve your problems for you?"

"Of course not, but those were different circumstances. Then there were people actively trying to kill us on a regular basis. We lived in each other's pockets because we had to. Things are different now."

"Are they? Napoleon is missing and you have been feeling ill all day for no reason at all."

"It's not the same thing, Matt. Those days have passed." 'Hadn't they?'

"Then perhaps you no longer even care enough for Napoleon to look for him. I underestimated your feelings for him." Matt stood, his expression almost a sneer. "But this I will say, if something or someone had taken Rocky, I would not stop until I found him again."

That tore it. "Come osarla interroga anche i miei sentimenti di Napoleone?" Illya snapped back. "How dare you even question my feelings about Napoleon?"

"Because from where I'm standing I'm not seeing much."

Illya jerked to his feet, anger a hot, barely-controlled tide in his belly, burning away the lethargy. He grabbed his jacket and walked swiftly from the room.

"Where are you going, Cara?" Matt shouted after him.

"The doctor's. I'm going to find out what the bastard drugged me with." He didn't explain which doctor, he'd ever only dealt with one on any kind of regular basis.

Unseen, Matt stood there for a moment watching after him and then smiled. Sometime, even the strongest of men needed a good kick to their backside to get them moving again.

Realty crept back slowly to Napoleon, cautiously, and then it arrived with a caseload of glass shards and a pounding head. Napoleon thought he'd been raped before, but obviously he'd been handled lightly by THRUSH, if such a thing was possible. Napoleon had hoped that his and Illya's vigorous sex life had better prepared him for the assault. Wrong.

Velon was brutal and protracted, delaying his climax until Napoleon was sure he could physically bear no more. He teetered on the edge of consciousness, aware of the man pounding into him, screaming and swearing at him as if Napoleon was to blame for his failure to ejaculate.

Then suddenly it was over and Velon was across the room, dressing as casually as if he'd been merely taking a nap or watching TV. Sweat ran down Napoleon's face and he shook his head, blinking as the sweat blurred his vision. Each breath felt like it seared his throat, further dehydrating him.

"Well, that was...satisfactory. Congratulations, my sweet, you'll live...for now." Velon approached him, reaching out to stroke Napoleon's face gently. He brought his hand up to entwine it in Napoleon's hair and forced his head back. "You'll discover that making me come is far less painful than denying me the pleasure. But we are going to have to do something about that."

He pointed and Napoleon's head was wrenched sideways. "Your lover marked you, didn't he?" Napoleon guessed that Velon meant the tattooed initials that had been payback from a prank he'd played on his partner and not the numerous bruises his and Illya's last bout of loving making had left. "That won't do at all...not at all." Velon smiled and Napoleon's stomach twisted.

"I have to admit you surprised me tonight, Mr. Kuryakin. You are the last person I expected to see come through my door and demand my services, especially at this time of night." Dr Joyce Seyfried had a point and Illya was willing to concede it to her. It was late and he really didn't have any right to come pounding on her door. But at this point, he was willing to whatever it took to speed things along. He couldn't help but feeling that each minute counted in this game. He already given her a brief explanation, along with a urine sample "I seem to recall you're ambidextrous, left or right?" She held up a needle.

"It doesn't matter, just do it."

She shrugged and reached for the closest arm, his left, and pushed his sleeve up. She tied the tourniquet on and probed inside his elbow for a vein with the tip of her finger. "You've done this a time or two before."

"Excuse me?"

"Unless you're a drug user, which I doubt, you've had some cowboys poking you." She tried again and shook her head. "Your veins are shot here. Let me see your other arm." He bared it for her and she swapped the tourniquet. After a moment, she nodded. "That one's better." The doctor swabbed the area carefully. "Have any idea what I'm looking for?"

"A sedative, I would think. It had to be tasteless because it was either in a chocolate or port. And my mouth tasted salty when I woke up."

"Other symptoms?" She slid the needle in the vein and released the tourniquet.

"Nausea and a really bad headache." Illya watched dispassionately as she filled the syringe.

"Okay, analyzing this may take a little while." She held a wad of gauze over the spot and pressed in as she pulled the needle out. "Pressure on that, please." She placed his fingers over the cloth, capped the hypo and set it on a tray.

She tilted his head back and shined a light in one eye, then the other. "You figure this initially happened about twenty hours ago?

"That's my best guestimate."

"And your eyes are still dilated. Are you nauseous?"

"A little."

"That'll make this a little easier as it means it's still in your blood stream. I'll give you a call at home as soon as I find anything. You want some advice?"

"Not really."

"Go home and get some rest. You aren't going to do Napoleon any good running around like this."

It was good advice. Illya wondered if he'd listen to it.

Illya walked into the main dining room of Taste and glanced around at his staff. Thirty people in various states of dress sat there, some looking alert, some a bit more disgruntled at being called in at the crack of dawn on their day off. All conversation stopped when he entered, though, and someone actually gasped, and it took him a moment to realize why.

They knew only one side of him, his chef side. Now they saw the UNCLE agent he'd reverted to—cold and hard, unsmiling, his mind focused upon a single goal. He'd regret that when this was over, he knew, but right now it was of no importance. Right now, if someone wanted to play him, then they deserved the best he had to offer. "Is everyone here?"

"Everyone except Velon," Matt said from his seat across the room. "We couldn't reach him this morning."

Illya tossed his jacket onto the table, ignoring the murmurs that followed. He'd strapped on his holster and gun before coming over. Weapons tended to make people, particularly guilty people—nervous. Good.

"Napoleon is missing," he started without preamble. "Orange Jell-o."

"Excuse me, Chef? That's quite a leap," Jesus said, his brow furrowed.

"There is a bowl of orange Jell-o in our refrigerator. Neither Napoleon nor I put it there. It was in one of Taste's bowls, so the logical conclusion is that it came from this kitchen. Who put it there?"

Roxanne raised her hand timidly and Illya glanced sharply at her. "Yes?"

"I saw Velon messing with something when he was on break. When I asked him about it, he said it was a special request. We were so busy, I didn't really think about it."

"Why would a waiter be preparing a special request?" Rocky asked, frowning over at Matt.

"He wouldn't. He'd pass the request on to me or Illya and we would deal with it."

"It never even registered," Roxanne admitted, softly. "I knew something was off, but I didn't pick up on it."

"Just as with us and the truffles, Roxie," Matt said softly. "If I'd thought about it for a moment..." He shrugged. "Chef does not dally with candies. Nor would he have been inclined to send something over for later when he could have easily brought them himself."

"I hate to say this. I know we like him and all, but I'm thinking Velon might have had a hand in this, Chef," Henry said, flicking his eyes up briefly from his study of the table top.

"Do we know where he lives?"

"His address should be on file." Roxanne stood and started back to the kitchen.

"Pull all that you have on file and send it over to the sheriff's office...please," he added as an afterthought.

"What can we do?" Rocky asked.

Illya smiled, small and cold. "Nothing. Sit tight. If this is Velon, then I will handle him. If it's something or someone else, then it would be safer for you all to stay as far away from me as possible." He scooped his jacket back up and started to leave, when Matt caught his arm.

"Where will you case?"

"With the sheriff. He and I are due for a long chat."

Napoleon's head jerked up at the noise. He didn't even remember passing out, but the pain in his lower back told him why he had.

He wiggled his fingers and winced. They felt like sausages, really painful sausages. He flashed back on a conversation he'd just had with Illya about his theory as to why so many people preferred links over patties. His wedding ring cut painfully into his finger and he concentrated upon that.

'God, Illya,' Napoleon thought, struggling to move his limbs, wishing the ball gag was out of his mouth so that he'd have the luxury of swearing out loud. 'Where are you?'

The door cracked open again and he looked away to shield his eyes. Napoleon heard footsteps approaching the bed and he slowly turned his head to glare at his captor, putting as much anger into his eyes as he could muster. Anger that deepened at the sight of the boning knife the younger man was holding.

"Hi, sweetheart, miss me?"

Illya wiped the ink off his fingers with a piece of paper towel and tossed it towards the waste basket.

"So I'm taking it that all those stories I heard about rogue KGB agents were true." Milt had been rummaging through a file cabinet, obviously looking for something while Ron, the deputy sheriff, had busied himself taking Illya's fingerprints. Now he poured coffee into paper cups and carried it carefully to the desk.

"I'm not KGB," Illya stated evenly, taking the cup of coffee from Matt. "I'm in the country legally."

"So you say, along with quite the record," Milt said, tossing a file down on the desk. "You spent your early days in some rather nebulous endeavors, you and Solo both, evidently."

"The U.N.C.L.E. is discreet, but hardly nebulous." And you don't know that half of it, Illya thought, but it was unlikely that U.N.C.L.E. could be made to release the truly interesting records. "And in any case, that is no longer who I am, who we are. I simply want my partner back."

"If this is the guy we think it is, then you're right to be concerned."

"Explain." Illya pushed the coffee aside. His stomach was still twitchy.

"This fits a pattern we've been building. Fifteen people—men women and children, have disappeared from here and the communities around us. We've found about half of them, all dead. This may be the first real lead we've had in the case." He spun the file for Illya to read. "I'll warn you, the photos aren't pretty."

Illya flipped open the folder and let no expression cross his face. It had been a long time since he'd seen such brutality. "This guy makes Jack the Ripper look like a day care provider."

The phone rang. Milt snatched up the receiver, spoke into for a moment and then cradled it.

"They've found Solo's car. It was parked over at the old gold mine. You want to ride along?"

"Try and stop me."

"Suspected as much." Milt strapped on his gun belt and glanced over at Illya as he hovered by the door. "You packing?" Illya pulled back his leather jacket to reveal the shoulder holster. "You and me are gonna have a long talk after this is all over, son."

"After this is over," Illya said noncommittally. Those kinds of talks were Napoleon's department, always had been, and this time would be no different. Illya would not let it be.

Milt and Illya rode along quietly for awhile.

"This isn't the first time this has happened to you—the kidnapping, I mean."

"No." The scenery slid by and Illya was only vaguely aware of where they were headed. Despite his years here, there were still parts of the countryside that remained unfamiliar, either through accident or design.

The sheriff slowed the car and headed down a narrow dirt road.

"How did anyone even know to look out here?" Illya didn't even realize he'd asked the question out loud until Milt answered him.

"They didn't. It was parked over by the mining exhibit and the security guard made a note of it. We have lots of abandoned vehicles up here and he called it in. Not too many folks walk away from a Towncar."

Milt pulled the cruiser to a stop and Illya climbed out, heading immediately to the vehicle. He knew it instantly as Napoleon's, down to the small scratch on the left rear bumper.

"You need to back up..." The security guard's warning died upon his lips as Illya fastened a glacial stare at him. He even fell back a step as Illya moved forward.

"It's all right, Sammy," Milt said. "He's with me. Is it his?"

"Yes. May I investigate?'

"Knock yourself out." Milt gestured to the vehicle and Illya warily circled it. You only have one car blow up on you before you learn to exercise caution. Once he was assured that no booby traps were in place, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He popped the trunk, but nothing except the spare tire greeted him and Illya released the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding up until that moment. He went around to the driver's side and climbed in. The seat was pushed back far enough so that he couldn't reach the pedals. "Someone else was driving this," Illya said. "Napoleon's only a couple of inches taller than me and the seat was pushed all the way back. You're looking for someone over 6 feet tall."

"And how tall is your missing waiter friend?"

"About 6'2," give or take."

Milt walked back to his squad car and reached inside for his mic. "Base?"

"Base, Ron here."

"Okay, Ron, we're verified that it's Solo's car. Send a tow truck out. And put out an alert for that waiter guy. All the info is on my desk." Milt tossed the mic back onto the seat and glanced over at Illya. "So where's Solo?"

Illya scanned the area, studying the grounds, eagerly seeking out the smallest of clues. "I wish I knew, Sheriff."

Tears rolled down Napoleon's face, scalding. He'd experienced pain before, but this—Bad enough to have Velon peel Illya's tattooed initials from just above his ass, but then to be violently raped again on top of it was nearly too much. Yet still he clung to consciousness; if he passed out now, the likelihood of him awakening again would be slim. He kept concentrating on an image of Illya, grinning, coming through the kitchen door of Taste, laughing at some comment someone had made, looking so calm, so happy. Velon let the knife travel up Napoleon's back, leaving a no-doubt red trail, one of many, behind it. Napoleon barely twitched in response; it was a tiny pain, almost lost in the others. Velon chuckled long and low.

"What are you thinking, my sweet? How lovely I am? How sweet I would taste if you had me in your mouth. You sadly won't get that experience, but let me assure you, it would be paradise."

Somehow, paradise was exactly the thought Napoleon had in mind at the moment, but it didn't include Velon.

Illya stood at the window of the bedroom and stared out into the darkness. The day had passed with infuriating slowness. Two days Napoleon was gone now, it felt like two years. He'd pestered the doctor to the point of where she had hung up on him last time. The sheriff, likewise, had stopped answering his calls. No one knew anything and without UNCLE resources, he was hamstrung. He even briefly considered calling April, knowing that she would move Heaven and Earth to help Napoleon and if it went on much longer, it was a path he'd take, even though he wasn't sure of the reception he would get.

A soft noise made him go for his gun, but he checked his movement at the last minute as he recognized Rocky entering the room.

"Mattie wanted me to see how you were holding up."

"So why didn't he come himself?" Illya snapped and Rocky took a step back towards the door.

"I think he's a little afraid you right now, we all are."

Illya turned back to the window without making a comment. The night was waning, reluctantly surrendering the dark to the encroaching dawn. The impulse to put his fist through the window was almost enough for him to taste. He needed to hit something, make something hurt the way he was hurting. Instead he just stood there, his gut raging, his brain screaming. Then he felt the gentle hand on his shoulder.

"We're gonna find him."

"When, Rocky? It's been two days. He doesn't have much time left. The longer he's gone, the greater the likelihood that we won't find him alive."

"You can't think that way."

"Then how should I think? You tell me!" Illya's tone was sharp and he didn't care. If Rocky took offense by it, his eyes betrayed nothing.

"They will find him, Illya."

Illya's head jerked in Rocky's direction. "That's the first time you've called me anything but Chef."

"That's because Chef isn't here right now. At least, not the man I know as him. And I don't think I like the man who replaced him very much."

"I don't care if the whole world hates me, just as long as I get Napoleon back alive. Nothing else matters."

The phone rang and Illya was to it in three strides. "Kuryakin."

"We've spotted your missing waiter going into a series of empty buildings on the edge of town."

"What empty buildings?"

"The ones behind the old feed lot, just off of Shady Elm—"

"I'll meet you there."

"I—" Illya hung up on him in mid sentence. He started from the room and glanced back at Rocky. A muscle worked in his jaw for a moment and then he was gone, taking the stairs two at a time, adrenaline pushing his steps faster.

He pulled open the garage door and moved quickly to the nearest motorcycle, a 1959 rebuilt Harley FLH. One fast kick and he was on his way, aware that Rocky still watched from the chalet's front door.

God, I'm so thirsty Napoleon thought. He could hear Velon moving around the small room that he was being held captive in. The pain had settled into an all-encompassing blanket over his body. He couldn't feel his hands or feet any more, couldn't even tell if his digits were responding to his attempts to wiggle them. He was weak from dehydration and blood loss. Despite a good fight, he knew it was nearly over. He might be able to tolerate another hour or so, but not much more. He hadn't quite imagined his life ending like this, but realistically who really did imagine their own death.

Thirsty. And possibly delirious as well. He swore he heard a motorcycle, even recognizing it as one of Illya's toys, as Napoleon teasingly referred to them. Just last week they'd been sitting and kibitzing as the Russian worked on rebuilding a carburetor; how he'd teased and tormented Illya until he ended up on the concrete floor on the garage, Illya astride him, wrestling until they were both out of breath, laughing and taunting. Christ was that only last week? Or had he been here forever?

Velon approached the bed, wiping his hands upon a blood-stained rag. He chuckled and hoisted himself up onto the stained and stinking cot to settle his weight upon the back of Napoleon's thighs.

Napoleon groaned at the weight more than he did the feeling of Velon's hand upon his bleeding and bruised ass. The fingers squeezed painfully and Napoleon made a half hearted attempt to buck him off, but he had neither the strength nor the leverage.

"Now, none of that or Daddy will have to play, but you like that don't you?" Velon held a knife carefully so that Napoleon could see it, could see the blade as a low-burning kerosene lantern reflected off the steel. "You are tasty, but I find myself growing tired of you. I think perhaps something younger, something fresher now. You and I will be parting ways soon I think, my dear, sweet, Napoleon."

"You can count on it, you son of a bitch." Napoleon's head jerked up at the sound of Illya's voice. Velon didn't have that much of a chance to react. Illya's first bullet tore through his shoulder, spinning him away from Napoleon and slamming him back into the wall. The second shot took out a knee. Illya held the gun steady as he approached the screaming, writhing man. "Guess where the next one's going?" He aimed between the man's eyes.

Napoleon shouted at him, only a grunt of sound that escaped the gag and his abused throat, but it was enough. Illya paused, then moved toward Napoleon instead, kneeling so that they were at eye level. "Oh, Napoleon, what messes you get into without me around." He slipped off his jacket and draped it tenderly over Napoleon's buttocks and unstrapped the ball gag. Then he turned to releasing the arm restraints, helping Napoleon ease his arms down. That accomplished, he unbuckled the blood stained ankle straps and helped Napoleon roll to his side.

"Water?" Napoleon managed to whisper.

"None, sorry." Instead Illya leaned forward and kissed him. Napoleon greedily sucked Illya's tongue into his mouth, using Illya's saliva to at least moisten his own mouth.

"Dead?" Napoleon asked, breaking the kiss to stare at the huddled, twitching shape on the floor.

"No, more's the pity," Illya said, helping him sit upright.

"Give me your gun."

"Napoleon? What -?"

"Give. Me. Your. Gun." Though nothing but a cracked whisper, it was still the voice he'd never thought to use again: the voice of Number One, Section Two, UNCLE Northwest. And Illya reacted to it as he always had. Adrenaline and fury fired through Napoleon as his fingers wrapped around the butt of the Walther, warm from Illya's hand. He lurched off the cot and onto his knees next to Velon, not feeling the impact, not caring that he was kneeling in blood. "Something—that urges caution, yes," he whispered in his former captor's face, one hand braced on the wall and the other pressing the silencer hard against Velon's chest. "Yes. But you should have been afraid of me as well." Velon's face, already a twisted mask of pain and fear, contorted still more. "You're going to kill me," he sobbed, "don't kill me, don't kill me..."

Napoleon bared his teeth, pushing back just a few inches, enough to shift the gun downward. "Kill you? Oh no. Much worse. Going to let you live." And fired.

Velon shrieked, this time at a pitch only managed by small children, and went on shrieking with every exhale, high and thin. Napoleon collapsed back, adrenaline running away like water and taking the last erg of his strength with it. Strong arms caught him, caught the gun as well before it hit the floor. "Napoleon," Illya said in his ear.

No strength left even to smile. "Something to think about 'till his trial," Napoleon breathed, and finally permitted himself the luxury of passing out.

Illya glanced up as the hospital room door opened, breathing a sigh of relief to see Dr. Seyfried instead of one of Taste's well-meaning staff. He'd been purposefully keeping them at bay all day.

"You look like you could use some sleep, my friend." She lifted his chin to look at his face, but Illya gently extracted himself from her grasp.

"I will. Are those the lab results?"

"Yup, you had a massive dose of GHB. You're lucky you even woke up."

"Luck had nothing to do with it." Or not the type of luck you'd understand. Illya returned to his vigil. "How is he?"

"We patched him up and we'll keep him overnight for observation. Physically, he should recover fully. Mentally..." She paused until Illya looked up. "I'm concerned. Very concerned."

"Don't be. This is not, sadly, a first for either of us. We have the proper...barriers in place to deal with this sort of thing." Illya looked back at his sleeping partner, battered and too pale, dark hair disarrayed against sterile hospital white linens. It was a view that he'd hoped, frankly, that he'd never see again. "It's a rather long story."

"I just want you prepared. I know the two of you are sexual partners and it might be quite some time before Mr. Solo is going to be interested in such things. I've known some situations like this, certainly not as violent, in which the patient never recovers—sexually—from the experiences."

"If that's indeed the case, then we will deal with it." Illya reached out to stoke the back of Napoleon's hand, satisfied by the warmth he felt there. "There's more to our relationship than just sex."

"Glad to hear it because you may need to hold onto that thought for some time to come." She handed him a piece of paper.

"What's this?"

"Your appointment, full physical, tomorrow morning 9 a.m.. Be there or I'll have your restaurant closed before the sun sets."

"That's blackmail."

"That's right, my friend." She turned to leave. "You're not the only one with an agenda around here."

'I feel about a hundred and eighty tonight,' Illya thought as he maneuvered down the sidewalk leading back to the house. While Pranzo in Campagna had been a rousing success, he was exhausted, both physically and mentally. It was certain that the small town had never seen anything like what he and Matt had put together. Add that to Napoleon's brilliant choices in wine and they had shattered every previous held thought about the dinner. They'd already been approached about next year's event, but Illya wasn't inclined to think about that now. He had more important things on his mind.

Napoleon. Illya let his mind wander over the name before letting himself in. The past month and a half had been hard on both of them. Outwardly, his partner was once again his laughing and confident self. Only Illya saw the cracks in the armor, the too-quick movement when something startled him, the too-quiet spells, the tension when anyone approached him from behind.

The utter lack of interest in anything to do with sex.

They'd both been raped at the hands of THRUSH before, talked and worked their way through it, but they hadn't been sexual partners at the time. Now everything was different.

Napoleon had always been a tactile man, accustomed to touch those people he was comfortable with. Illya had realized that early on and grown accustomed himself to his partner's hand on his arm, his shoulder, the small of his back; such a welcome relief it had been, too, particularly at first, in this body-shy America. What he hadn't realized until now was just how much he needed that touch, when even those small ones were almost completely gone.

He'd expected Napoleon to be gun-shy about actual intercourse, obviously, but his partner was barely even kissing him, never mind anything else. Fear? Anger? Or a flame smothered, possibly fatally, by the abuse? Illya couldn't tell. What he did know, in his honest moments, was that his own sense of guilt probably wasn't helping anything. If Matt hadn't had to kick sense into him, would Napoleon have been found sooner, before the damage was done?

Some nights, Illya didn't even attempt to make it up the stairs any more. Just like the old days, he thought to himself when he woke up that first morning from collapsing onto the sofa and falling asleep, a crick in his neck and that feeling you got from spending the night in dirty work clothes. Napoleon never said a word about it one way or the other and Illya... didn't know what to do. So he did nothing.

He missed the sexual aspect of their relationship far more than he wanted to admit, and wasn't that a kick in the teeth? The memory of their last conversation in the hot tub haunted him. He had gotten used to a steady diet and to suddenly be cut off left him frustrated and horny. But he would not approach Napoleon, not sexually, if that what Napoleon wanted. He wasn't happy about it, but it was a small price to pay to have his partner back at his side. He'd managed somehow with hand jobs. It wasn't like he hadn't played that game before.

He wearily unlocked the door and let himself in, glancing about the small living room for a clue as to where his partner might be. There were no lights on upstairs and it was unlikely Napoleon would be sleeping yet. There were, likewise, no lights from the kitchen. That only left one other spot in the tiny house. Napoleon had taken to sitting quietly on the porch, starting out at the night sky, lost in thoughts he wasn't inclined to share. Illya didn't push, respecting his lover's privacy. He was confident Napoleon knew he was there to talk to at any time. He had certainly left those channels open and when Napoleon was ready, he'd let Illya know.

Illya walked slowly, massaging his lower back as he moved. A long soak in the hot tub would be exactly what he needed tonight, providing he could stay awake long enough for it to do some good. He stopped to grab a bottle of water from the refrigerator and headed out to the deck and stopped dead in his tracks.

Napoleon glanced over at him from his position chest-deep in hot water. "About time you showed up." It was the first time Napoleon had shown any interest in the tub since the night of his abduction. Illya had reckoned it was just one more painful trigger, but Napoleon looked—peaceful, more comfortable than he'd been since the assault.

"I had some things to finish up, putting pans away and the like," Illya explained. The excuse sounded lame, even to his own ears. Lately, he'd been spending more time at Taste than usual, although his staff's unease around him was almost tangible. Uncomfortable as that was, though, it still seemed easier at times than fighting his own desire and tiptoeing around Napoleon.

"So I assumed. The dinner went very well, I thought. I'm sorry you didn't get to be out front more."

"Matt needed help in the back. Cooking is what I do best, so I cooked."

Napoleon nodded briefly, not calling him on it. "Are you going to stand there all night or are you going to join me?"

For a moment Illya considered refusing. He was so tired, too tired to put up a brave front of non-interest, but then again, his back, his legs, even his teeth just hurt so much tonight that collapsing upon the couch was pretty much unfathomable and it was a long climb upstairs. Perhaps the pain was enough to put out any fire. Illya nodded and began to undress, fatigue making his movements slow and clumsy.

He settled into the water, hissing at the heat as he stretched out. He leaned back, sighing, content for the moment to let the world pass him by. It was to his credit that he didn't jump when a wet finger stroked his cheek.

"I've missed you." Napoleon's voice was sad.

"I haven't been gone." Illya opened his eyes slowly to lock gazes with Napoleon.

"You have, a little. Giving me room, I know, because I needed to be gone." Napoleon traced Illya's jaw line. "And you've been patient and caring and loving throughout. But I think I should catch up with the human race again." Napoleon leaned in to kiss him and it was all Illya could do to keep from grabbing the man and crushing him to his body.

Instead, he concentrated upon barely moving at all, giving everything into Napoleon's control. "It's alright, Illya, I'm not going to break," Napoleon reassured him.

"Once I start I won't be able to stop, Napoleon. It—frightens me, how I need you. I'm only human, despite contrary claims."

"No stopping this time, amante." Napoleon kissed him again, this time with a bit more fire, slipping his tongue easily into Illya's welcoming mouth. Just that alone was nearly enough to make Illya come. Nearly, but not quite.

Illya deepened the kiss and urged Napoleon to straddle him, his own erection already hard and demanding. But he pulled back to study Napoleon's face when their bodies brushed and he realized that Napoleon was only half-hard at best. He opened his mouth but Napoleon kissed him quiet and then laid a finger across his lips. "No stopping," Napoleon repeated softly, calm and utterly sure. "Let me love you."

Illya moaned soundlessly and surrendered, the angels of better nature no match for the bone-deep need swamping him. He closed his hands on Napoleon's thighs and vowed to keep them there, thrusting into the strong hand that wrapped around him, kissing the mouth that had been closed to him for far too long.

"What you do to me," he groaned when Napoleon released his mouth to nibble at his neck and brought up a hand to roll one of Illya's nipples between gentle fingers. "Missed you so—ah, god, Napoleon—" As the tempo of his partner's hand increased, fueling the build-up in his balls far too fast for his tastes. Yet the look on Napoleon's face when he lifted his head clearly said that he had no intention of slowing down and Illya decided, with the last of his firing brain cells, that perhaps this was exactly what they both needed.

The cadence increased until it pulsed with Illya's pounding heartbeat, and then Napoleon whispered his name. Illya came apart, shoving up against Napoleon's weight, held tight and close, his climax hard and satisfying for the first time in weeks. He buried his head in Napoleon's shoulder and panted, waiting for the wild ratcheting of his heart to slow. It took a while for it or his heaving chest to still.

"We have semen in our hot tub," Napoleon murmured in his ear.

"Not the first time," Illya said, tilting his head back to rest it on the tub's edge and taking a breath of cooler air, smoothing his palms slowly over Napoleon's hips. "Probably won't be the last. Hopefully won't be the last. That's what the chlorine is for." The hot water was easing the aches from his body, Napoleon's weight against him easing the ache in his heart.

"You look exhausted."

"I am." Illya wouldn't admit that to anyone else. "The last six weeks have been hell."

"I know. I'm sorry." Napoleon nuzzled his hair and Illya smiled at the sensation. For all of his complaining otherwise, he'd missed Napoleon's incessant toying with his hair.

"Not your fault," Illya murmured back.

"No, it wasn't, but still. I'm still working on getting my head into a better place. Not sure what more I'm up for yet, but..."

"Baby steps," Illya murmured.

"Baby steps...if you can bear it."

"I can bear anything just as long as I know you're here with me."

"You thought I left, didn't you?"

To anyone else, he'd have lied and lied quickly, but not Napoleon. "Yes," he admitted, looking up into knowing brown eyes. "Until Matt made me realize something."

"Which was?"

"It didn't make sense. You weren't running from me, not like I had from you. And if I'd realized that sooner—"

"Stop." Napoleon squeezed his arm, and Illya nodded once. "What If" was a useless game and if Napoleon said "stop," then he would. "I'd never run from you, Illya. You're my home," Napoleon continued simply. "I have no place else I'd rather be but here with you."

"And I know that now. I was a fool to think you'd leave me."

"Yes, but you're my fool and I can live with that." Napoleon leaned in to kiss Illya again, slow and sensual. "You're smiling."

"I'm happy." And if there was moisture on his face born of something other than sweat, neither of them would mention it. "You really are finally home."

"Remember the first thing you did when you found me?"

"I untied you."

"Second thing then—you kissed me."


"Never stop kissing me, Illya."

Illya smiled, slowly, luxuriously, and nodded. "All right, I think I can live with that." And he sealed the promise with a kiss.

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