Emptiness and Harmony

by ChannelD

"He wants to do what?" Illya was looking at Burton as if he had suddenly grown two heads and a tail. "That repulsive... he dares to ask that? Tell him no. No, no and no. I don't..." he shot a quick look at Napoleon, sitting beside him. "I won't."

"It has been a long time," Burton acknowledged, "since this particular area of your expertise has been requested." Illya came to his feet, pushing his chair back with such violence that it went over backwards. Without turning a hair, Burton waved him back down and Illya, after another look towards Napoleon, picked up the chair, set it back in place with exaggerated precision, and sat in it. "And," Burton went on, as if the interruption had never happened, "we would not do so now if Mr. Laskon were a less important prize."

"I thought he was dead," Napoleon interjected. "After that last affair—"

"Being thought dead is one of Laskon's specialties," Burton answered. "But now he has offended his superiors too many times, and he may well end up that way if he doesn't come in soon."

"It doesn't sound to me as if he were in a position to make conditions," Napoleon went on doggedly, and once more Illya sent him a sideways glance. "And I don't like this particular one any more than my partner does. Mr. Waverly assured him that these... assignments," his mouth twisted as he said it... "would no longer be required of him."

Napoleon knew. Illya sank back, temporarily beyond speech. Napoleon knew about him—had, from his words, always known. And still he called Illya his partner. Illya was so full of conflicting emotions he felt he might choke on them. Anger, gratitude, horror, shame... he couldn't meet Burton's eyes any more than he could meet Napoleon's, so he stared at the floor.

"He is coming to us with everything he knows. This includes, among other valuable information, the location and codes to Thrush's Ultimate Computer."

Napoleon snorted. "Right. The Ultimate Computer. How many times have we bought that information over the years? And always—" he leaned forward, jabbing a finger at Burton for emphasis—"always it has been false. Why should this time be different?"

"We believe it will be different. We believe he knows, and that in exchange for asylum and the other consideration he will tell us. And I need not remind you gentlemen of the importance of this information." He used the plural but he was staring hard at Illya now. Illya could feel it, but stubbornly refused to lift his gaze. "We could finish Thrush, once and for all. Millions of lives could be saved."

"Oh please," Illya said wearily. Now he did look up. "It's like a Victorian melodrama. The fate of the world, millions of lives, resting on... what? My ass? Are you serious?"

"He is serious," Burton answered levelly. "Twenty-four hours of your time. That is his price. His... fantasy, as he puts it." His lip curled. "I find it unsavory, gentlemen, just as you do. And of course we cannot—and would not—force you, Agent Kuryakin. The decision is entirely yours. I just want you to be aware of the ramifications."

"And how do we know," Napoleon cut in before Illya could answer, "that part of this fantasy doesn't involve killing Illya, possibly over that entire twenty-four hours? What guarantee do we have that Illya would come out alive and undamaged? Because over my dead body will he go in there to face that."

Over his dead body. For the first time Illya looked at Napoleon fully. "I didn't think you knew," he said. "The way you acted... I thought you didn't know." The way Napoleon had acted. Like his friend. Like someone who respected him, trusted him, liked him. Like someone who had no idea that Illya had served his time in Russia as what was euphemistically called a lure. A honey trap. A whore.

"If Agent Kuryakin is injured or killed, we will withdraw our support from Mr. Laskon and leave him unprotected from his former associates. I do not believe that is a risk he will take. It may be an unpleasant encounter for you," addressing Illya now, "but we do not think it will be a fatal one."

Unpleasant. Illya couldn't answer. He thought of Laskon, of his small malicious eyes, his thick blubbery lips, the fat that would cover him, press him down, suffocate him... he shook his head. "I don't want to," he said, but with less conviction than before. "Napoleon is right. Mr. Waverly promised that I wouldn't have to do that anymore."

"And you do not have to. If you refuse, we will try other inducements and you may continue with your work as before. Your status as an American citizen was established two years ago, when Waverly retired. We have no leverage over you, nor would we wish to exert any. But the Ultimate Computer..." he let the words trail off.

Illya was staring at the floor again. He would say yes, of course he would. How could he not? The Ultimate Computer was Thrush's heart. Stripped of its power, its secrets exposed, it was very possible indeed that Thrush would cease to exist. How could he put his own safety ahead of that? If it were a different kind of operation, if he had to go in guns blazing and get this information, no matter how strong the probability that he would be captured or killed, he would do it without hesitation. But this... he scrubbed his face with both hands.

"All right," he said finally, and heard, simultaneously, Burton's satisfied exhalation and Napoleon's sharp intake of breath.

"Illya," he said, managing to blend urgency and compassion in the one word. "You don't have to do this. If he hadn't taken a fancy to you back then, he'd want something else now. Let us find out what that is and give it to him instead. This is outrageous. As Mr. Waverly once said, there are things we do, and things we don't do. Or shouldn't do." He gave Burton a contemptuous glance, and Burton merely raised an eyebrow.

"Didn't you hear him?" Illya said bitterly. "Millions of lives. Thrush defeated forever. What am I, a Vestal Virgin, to set myself above that? I've done worse. I'll do this. When and where?"

"The Savoy Hotel at ten o'clock tonight."

"Tonight," Illya repeated.


"Oh, of course alone."

"Wait a minute," Napoleon said. "Alone? Why alone? He should be escorted, and a guard placed around the building to be sure he's still there at ten tomorrow night." And, when Burton shook his head, Napoleon turned his chair to face Illya directly. "I'll escort you myself," he said. "Someone needs to have your back, as far as possible."

"Oh, someone will," Illya said, and rose. "Laskon will. He'll have my back, and my front, and my mouth... don't worry, Napoleon. I'll be quite thoroughly covered." He laughed, and had the satisfaction of seeing Burton wince at the sound. But Napoleon winced too, and that wasn't satisfying at all. He touched Napoleon's shoulder lightly.

"You knew," he said. "You knew all along, and you stood my friend anyway. I'll never forget that, Napoleon. And I can go to Laskon with a modicum of self respect because of it. Thank you." He left then, and no one called him back.

He hadn't expected there to be others. He should have, he supposed, but he hadn't. Laskon had pulled him into the door without even a pause, had pulled him in, shoved him face down over the sofa back, pulled his pants down and taken him, all within the first minute of his walking in the door. Illya gritted his teeth and endured. It was hard to breathe, covered in fat, smothered in fat, fat drooping over his body, pinning him as if he were in a tent, or a sleeping bag. Illya concentrated on those images because they were better than... and then a hand tipped his face up and a cock was in front of his eyes. He snapped at it without thinking and Laskon grabbed his hair, pulled his head back far enough so those little eyes were glaring down into his.

"Don't even think it," he rasped, and the man in front of him slapped his face for good measure. "Twenty-four hours to do with as I please. That was the deal. And it pleases me to see you thoroughly fucked, Kuryakin. Suck it. Suck him. Suck them, and when this is over we'll all part friends." He laughed, and the next time the cock came towards him Illya opened his mouth and took it in.

When he was little he had learned the trick of withdrawing from this act, of pulling his consciousness in so tightly that things happened to him without his mind having to be aware of them. His uncle had never cared. He hadn't wanted anything but the child's body, and as long as that was quiescent, obedient, Illya could send his thoughts wherever he pleased. He thought about swimming in the lake, about walking in the woods. He recited books to himself; textbooks and biographies and, later, math equations. He learned to do this so successfully that on occasion he returned to himself to find his uncle long gone, and the sun in an entirely different place in the sky—or set, and his room in darkness. That worried him, because it seemed that one day he might emerge from one of these states and find that years had passed, that he was grown, or old even. So he began to focus on something—the pain usually, because pain was better than shame, better than fear. He could pretend the pain was caused by something else, an illness or an injury, and endure it as he would any pain.

But when he was recruited by the military, and given those obscene assignments to fulfill—smashing hopes he'd had of a new and better life, a life where he worked and was respected for the work he did—the old tricks didn't work. His new clients wanted skill, wanted him to do things to them, wanted—sometimes—response, or feigned response at any rate. He had to pay attention to what was happening, had to learn how to please. He had thought he knew all there was to know of humiliation and degradation, but he was a novice after all. But he wanted to survive, and the only alternative to compliance was refusal, which would get him imprisoned. In prison they would probably do the same things to him, and he wouldn't even be able to go home at night. So he learned to experience it without feeling it, learned to be aware, to give them what they wanted, without letting it touch him until it was over and he was alone.

UNCLE had offered a way out of all that. His superiors sent him to be rid of him, because too many had used him, too many knew of it, and he was an embarrassment. How Alexander Waverly learned of it Illya never knew—perhaps Illya had been offered to him, as a bonus. He had assured Illya in their first meeting that all that was behind him, that he admired Illya's scientific skills, thought he had the makings of an enforcement agent, and planned to send him to Survival School to find that out. He also promised that Illya's days in Russia were over as well, if he so chose.

"We will not send you back to that," he had said. "Or to prison, which is equally likely. We have noted that your government does not receive its agents back with open arms, after they have spent periods of time in the West. Unless you want to return? No?" Illya had shaken his head mutely. He didn't know what to make of this elderly man, who looked at him so sharply and spoke so kindly. He hardly dared hope that the time had come when he would be free to pursue a career, free to make something of his life. But if it had, if this was his chance, he would grab at it with both hands.

"You won't regret it, sir," he had said. "I will serve UNCLE—and you—with everything that is in me." Waverly had nodded, and shaken his hand, setting his feet on the path leading upward and out of the mire he had lived his life in.

And Illya had kept his word. He and Napoleon—and what a gift that partnership had been. Being paired with Napoleon had opened his world even further, opened it to friendship, and warmth, and... though he never said the word, not even to himself... to love.

So now he was called to serve UNCLE in the old way, and he would. At least no one in this room wanted art or response from him so he withdrew again, as best he could. It wasn't as easy as when he was a child, but he backed up inside himself, aware of the pain, aware of the rough hands and the laughter and the scrape of carpet on his knees and belly, but not thinking about it, not thinking about it, not thinking about anything at all.

Except for the time. He kept track of that all right. Twenty-four hours was the agreement, and he clung to the passage of time with everything he had in him. Sometimes that was all he could see, a great clock against a formless sky, each tick of the hands a brutal thrust, wringing sounds from him but moving him forward too, on and on into the next minute, the next hour, the next day when it would be over and he could go home. He thought about home when he could bear it—his apartment, his couch, his bed. He would shower in hot water, dress in his thick flannel pajamas, wrap himself in the cashmere robe Napoleon had given him for his last birthday and curl up on the sofa, watching the mindless flickering of the television set. Then he could let himself feel it. Not now. He wouldn't feel it now. Even in the blank spaces, when he lay where they left him & nothing happened, when they must have slept, or eaten, he hadn't let himself feel it. He just curled in on himself & watched that great clock ticking away, until somebody grabbed him and it started again.

Time. He knew it as plainly as if he had heard an alarm go off. It was time. He hurt everywhere, he was groggy with shock and fatigue, and he was slick with sweat and semen and blood, but the time was up. He pulled away from the arms still clasping him around the middle, but the man pumping into him only pulled him back. He was going to finish what he had started, no alarm had gone off in his mind, and while Illya wanted to protest that it wasn't fair, he knew there was no point. He would have to see this through. But he didn't withdraw again, he forced his eyes to stay open and he stared at the wall until the man slipped out. Illya pulled himself first to his knees, then to his feet. He shook his head, trying to clear it, and looked around for his clothes.

Laskon was holding them. He wore a satisfied smirk and Illya looked back at him without expression. "Looking for something?" Laskon taunted and Illya only nodded, held out his hand.

"Give them to me," he said, and Laskon shook his head.

"No, I'm afraid not. I'm not quite through." He wrapped Illya's briefs around his penis, which was at full erection. "And neither are they." He gestured to whoever was standing behind Illya, but Illya didn't bother to turn. "Hence... neither are you."

"Twenty-four hours," Illya said flatly. "That was the agreement. I kept my part. Let me go."

"And I kept mine. I told them everything they wanted to know before you even arrived. Because I knew UNCLE would honor its commitment. So deliciously righteous. They didn't have the same assurances about me, so I had to give them the Computer before they gave me you. I wasn't offended. I know I'm not righteous." He laughed. "So they have what they want, and do you really think they're watching the time? It is 10:22 on a Saturday evening. You don't report for work until Monday morning. They might check on you sometime tomorrow, but no one will really care if I run over by an hour or two—or five or six."

Illya looked towards the window. For a moment he considered going through it, could almost see his body, lacerated by broken glass, hurtling down towards the pavement, forty-two stories below. It seemed preferable. He couldn't endure one more moment of this, he couldn't. He had counted so heavily on the promised ending that he had nothing left. He took a step backwards, away from Laskon and his protruding erection, and another erection brushed against him from behind. He clamped his teeth together so hard he bit his tongue because he was really afraid he would start screaming, screaming and struggling and what good would that do? They would bring him down to the floor, they would overwhelm him with their numbers, and... a hard rap came on the front door.

Laskon laughed. "The rest of our party, no doubt," he said. "I knew we were missing several key people." He moved towards the door, looked through the peephole and fell back. Before Illya could wonder about it there was a muffled pop, a shower of sparks and then, with a crash, the door fell in.

Napoleon Solo stood there, as elegantly attired as ever in a black suit, red tie, faultless white shirt and black shoes. His jacket was open, revealing the gun in its shoulder holster. He made a mock bow. "Gentlemen," he said pleasantly. "I'm here to retrieve my partner. Illya? Ready to go?"

It was over after all. Security was there, right there, right within reach. Illya went to it, went to Napoleon, wrapped his arms around him, pressed his body—his naked, dirty, bruised and lacerated body—against him, and hung on. He didn't think about how it looked, didn't even think about the fact that he was hindering Napoleon's access to his weapon, endangering him, endangering them both. All he knew was that his refuge was here, and if he held onto it with all his might there would be no more hands on him, no more organs pushing into him, no more pain and shame and darkness. He put his head on Napoleon's shoulder, breathing the good scent of him, feeling the good strength of him, and rested there as if he were indeed in the sanctuary of his own home. And this was better. Better because he would be alone there, and he was not alone here. He wasn't alone because Napoleon had come for him after all.

Napoleon looked down at Illya's hair, tangled and dark with sweat. Then he looked over his head at Laskon. He wanted Laskon dead. He wanted that so badly that if Illya hadn't been clutching him around the waist he would have moved forward and killed the man with his bare hands. But Illya was, and the urgent next step was to get them both out of here. Laskon wasn't alone, there was a small group of men clustered by the back living room wall, in various states of undress, and that made Napoleon so angry he could barely speak. But he did speak, his voice hard, his words clipped with both the strength of that anger, and the effort it was taking him to control it.

"His clothes," he said, and held out one hand, in unconscious imitation of Illya only moments ago. But this time it was Illya who shook his head.

"No, no, he touched them, he... no. I don't want them."

"Clean clothes," Napoleon said, recognizing for the first time the black turtleneck in the bundle Laskon held at his crotch. "Right now."

"Here," a naked man said, hastily yanking open a dresser drawer and pulling out a pair of pants. "And here." He dragged a jacket down off a coat rack. He hurried over to Napoleon, held them out, stretching his arm so he didn't have to get any closer to him than necessary. Napoleon took them.

"Gentlemen," he said again, and gave one last look at Laskon. Without pausing he lifted Illya into his arms and carried him back out through the ruined door.

He took the elevator. He had stopped it and left it there, door wedged open. As it descended, he helped Illya into the pants, draped the jacket around his shoulders and buttoned the top button. Illya allowed it, but as soon as Napoleon was finished he reached for him again. Napoleon cradled Illya against him, but kept his gun out and ready. When the doors opened to the lobby, however, no one was there. Napoleon's first two steps were hampered by Illya's arms still wrapped around his waist, fingers clutching at the fabric of his jacket so he picked him up again and carried him out, deposited him in the back seat of the UNCLE car he had ordered, and climbed in with him. He gave the driver his home address, and then called in.

"I have Illya," he said tightly. "They were hoping to extend his stay, but when I showed up and offered him a lift he accepted it. I trust this is not an issue."

"The information was good," Burton answered, and the barely restrained exultation in his voice seemed to reach Illya, making him stir and lift his head. "Do you understand me, Agent Solo? Kuryakin? The information was good, the Ultimate Computer has already been destroyed and its data transferred to our computer banks. Thrush's end has begun. Well done, Agent Kuryakin."

Illya made a choked sound that might almost have been laughter. He put his face into Napoleon's neck, and Napoleon patted his back. "Yes sir," Napoleon said, and closed the channel. "Illya. You with me?"

Illya nodded, but didn't lessen his grip. Napoleon patted his back some more. "I'm taking you home with me," he said. "Is that all right with you?"

Illya nodded again. Napoleon rocked him a little, stroked his hair, and looked out the window. When he saw his apartment building he drew back. "Can you walk?"

"Yes," Illya said and, once they were out of the car he made it on his own into Napoleon's lobby, onto the elevator and up to his penthouse. He still had both arms wrapped around Napoleon's waist, but he was ambulatory and Napoleon thought that was a good sign. He had considered having a doctor waiting for them, but had decided to wait and see what shape Illya was in. He was moving easily, seemed to be having no difficulty breathing, was responding rationally to questions, so Napoleon only escorted him inside, set the security codes and locked the door.

"Too hot," Napoleon said when Illya stepped into the shower, after brushing his teeth until Napoleon finally told him to stop, had taken the toothbrush from his hands and then watched him spit and rinse and spit again for another eternity. He was repressing so much anger it was hard to keep it out of his voice, but he did, because he had to, because Illya had flinched once already at his barked order to strip down. He had clamped his teeth on his tongue to keep quiet until he could control himself better, but he couldn't stand by and let Illya be scalded. Illya stopped and looked at him.

"I can't tell," he said, and Napoleon frowned at him. "I can't feel... I didn't want to feel—I wouldn't feel them!" It burst from him with surprising force. "I wouldn't feel him, I wouldn't feel them and I never want to feel... I won't..." he choked, strangling on the words. "I have to soon, I have to feel it but I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't..." Napoleon pulled him back into his arms, offering the security of his presence because that had helped before. Illya had come to him in that first moment, and nearly shattered Napoleon Solo's vaunted self control with his frantic embrace. So now Napoleon held Illya and reached behind him, adjusted the water.

"It's all right now," he said soothingly. "You shower, and when you come out I'll have clean pajamas ready for you. You can make yourself comfortable, and then we'll see what's what. All right?"

"Yes." Illya's voice was subdued now and he stepped back, turned, and went into the shower without another word.

Afterwards he stood in Napoleon's living room. He had to feel it now, he knew, he had to find someplace to hide and let it pour over him. He didn't want to, but he knew he had to. Otherwise it might overwhelm him at another time, in another place, and that was dangerous. He had learned that, to his cost, over the years. Sooner or later the memories would burst through their barriers and sweep him under, sweep him away. Better to choose the time and place for it. Best to let it happen someplace safe. And if he wasn't safe here, right here and now in Napoleon's apartment, under Napoleon's watchful eye, then there was no safety for him anywhere.

He had worked all that out for himself, while still a child, and when he had gone to college and studied the social sciences he had learned the words—repression, disassociation—for what he had always known. There had been a bitter pleasure in that, a sense of validation. This was why he was still sane, despite everything. This was why he could still work, and learn, and function, and even establish basic relationships. Because that little boy had been smart, and had taken care of himself when no one would do it for him. So Illya had to continue to take care of himself now. This was just one episode, one terrible degrading painful episode among many, and he had to be able to put it behind him and move on.

So he looked around for a place where he could let it happen. Napoleon's sofa, the bed in the guest room, the... he looked through Napoleon's sliding glass doors, and turned to him.

Napoleon was there, of course, right there, regarding him with an anxious little furrow between his eyebrows. Illya smiled at him. How good Napoleon was. How good of him to have been watching the time too, how good of him to have come to the rescue. How good of him to worry, even to the extent of not wanting the shower water to be too hot. How good to have him here. Illya knew he would be empty, after the waves of feeling and memory had washed through him. That was almost worse than the experience itself, the emptiness that followed. But this time Napoleon would be here, and surely Napoleon would help him then, as he had helped him already. Napoleon was smiling back at him, although those fine brown eyes were still worried.



"Can I... can I sit out on your balcony for a little while? I have to..." how to put it? What words to use? "I have to think."

"Of course." Napoleon, clearly relieved to have a job to do, hurried to open the door. It was two in the morning, but the lights of Manhattan kept the sky a pearl grey. Napoleon opened a storage chest and brought out pillows for the two lounge chairs he kept there. Watching him arrange them, Illya frowned a little.

"Alone," he said. "Napoleon? Is that all right? I need to be by myself for a while. I need to..." but there were no right words after all, so he only plucked miserably at one of the cushions.

"Of course you can be alone," Napoleon said gently, and again Illya was overwhelmed with gratitude. "You take as much time as you need. I'll be inside if you want me."

"Thank you." Illya sat on the lounge chair and lifted his face to the breeze, to the few stars visible above him. It was good to have such a vista, instead of the dark wall of a lonely room, or the wood slats surrounding the storage bin that had been his only refuge as a child. Napoleon patted him once more, and went inside.

It descended on him then, a welter of memories and rage and grief and shame and fear. Every detail that he had worked so hard to ignore poured from its hiding place, and rampaged through his mind. Cocks and fists, and semen pouring down his throat, making him retch and gag, Penises shoved up his rectum, shoved in his mouth, into his hands; both hands, his mouth and his ass full of them until he thought he would go mad from it. He buried his face in the pillow, chewed on it to silence any outcries he might make, pounded his fists on the arms of the chair. And still the images came, older ones now, soldiers and senior staff and his uncle. He was screaming into the cushion. His uncle, his uncle, it always came back to his uncle. Even reminding himself that the man was many years dead, dead from, of all things, a routine traffic accident—a bus rounding a corner, an icy street, a stumble—didn't help. Because now, right here and now he could hear his uncle roaring his name, looking for him.

The tornado raged on inside him even as outside in the real world the sun rose in the sky, white puffy clouds sailed tranquilly overhead, and pigeons came and went on the terrace.

Finally the storm blew itself out. He lay limp, panting a little, and empty. Empty. There was nothing left in him, not the strength to so much as lift his head, not the desire to so much as take in another breath. If his body weren't doing that for him he would just lie here and die. He wished he could. He was so alone. He had always been alone.

A curious sound broke the silence, and it took him a long time to identify it. Sliding .. metal on metal... the doors to the terrace. Just as he put that together another sound came. He pondered it for a moment, then realized it was a voice. A familiar voice, a kind voice, a voice entering the void that was his life and resonating there, like a chord, like the opening chord in some strong, sweet symphony. It took longer to comprehend that it was words the voice was speaking, words that should have meaning for him, and longer still to identify them, but the speaker was patient, letting them hang there in the stillness until he could extract their meaning.

His name. That was the first thing. "Illya," Napoleon—and it was Napoleon, of course it was Napoleon's voice, the only voice that would be tolerable to him right now. Napoleon had said his name. He turned a little in the chair to acknowledge that. "Do you mind if I start the grill? I know you don't want to be disturbed, but I can't leave these steaks any longer. They've been marinating all morning."

Oh, that was a lot of words. He would have to take them a little at a time. Did he mind... he was being asked his opinion? Already this was too hard. Minding or not minding... he could only shake his head in refutation of such a gargantuan effort. "Thank you," Napoleon said and went away again. Illya heard his footsteps retreating and rubbed his forehead. Thank you, Napoleon had said. Why? All he had done was... was... oh. Do you mind, Napoleon had asked and he had shaken his head no. So he had agreed to something. What was it again? Something about a grill? What... he lifted his head, and looked around to see Napoleon emerge again, carrying a plate. Napoleon crossed the terrace to an appliance in the corner and lifted a lid. He began shifting the contents of the plate to it, and as he did so the rest of his words clicked into place. Steaks on the grill. Steaks that had been marinating all morning. All morning? He blinked, and his surroundings came into focus a little more. It was afternoon. He could tell by the sun, which was no longer in view but sending long slanting shadows across the park far below.

"Here," Napoleon said and put something cylindrical on a little table at his elbow. He regarded it apathetically. It was too much trouble even to try to put a word to it, so he turned away. Then Napoleon's face was right in front of him, filling his world. "No," Napoleon said, and there was a new firmness in his voice now. "You have to drink something. Your lips are cracked, Illya. Here." He brought the item to Illya's mouth, and it was less trouble to accept than to refuse so he did nothing to stop it. "Open up," Napoleon said, more sharply still. Sharp as glass, cutting him open... the jangled mélange of images coalesced even as he nearly choked on liquid dropping into his mouth. Glass, open... oh. He drank, coughed a little and drank again, taking the glass from Napoleon's hand to have some more water before setting it back down.

He felt better. It seemed he was a desert; dry, cracked, barren and empty and here came rain. He licked his lips. Napoleon was looking at him expectantly. He tried to think what was required now and then it came to him, budding and growing under the rain. "Thank you," he said, and Napoleon smiled.

More rain. That was just how it felt, as if Napoleon's smile fell on his parched empty spirit, refreshing and reviving him. Napoleon put a hand on his head, and it was a blessing. He pushed against it, needing more, more of that warmth and that strength. Napoleon sat down beside him and how the words were coming now, coming so easily. Napoleon was sitting on the chair beside him, having to twist a little because the lounge was build for one and now they were two. He held Illya close, as he had before, and Illya put his face into Napoleon's neck again, inhaled his scent again, and let it fill him.

They sat that way for what seemed an eternity. Illya was perfectly content to remain there in the circle of Napoleon's arms, in the circle of Napoleon's love. That word was easy too. Love. Napoleon loved him. That was why he had remained Illya's friend despite knowing all the ugliness of his past. That was why he had come for him when the time was up, come for him and taken him home. Home. Another word, slotting itself neatly into place. He was home in Napoleon's apartment, home in Napoleon's arms, home in Napoleon's love.

"I love you too Napoleon," he said because he could now, he could give back because he was full to overflowing. Napoleon's arms tightened at that, and he pressed his mouth against Illya's temple. That word puzzled Illya for a moment, and then it came. Kiss. Napoleon had kissed him. How nice that was. He kissed Napoleon's throat and Napoleon made a strangled sound, kissed his mouth.

Oh, that was good, the symphony swelling to a crescendo and it was very good. Illya pressed closer, because just when he had thought he was full here came more, love on top of safety, pleasure on top of that. He kissed Napoleon back, opened his mouth, drew Napoleon's tongue inside because to be filled with Napoleon was everything. Everything. He sucked on it, and then Napoleon drew back.

He drew back but Illya didn't mind, because everything had been good up till now so this would be good too. He smiled up at Napoleon. "What?" he asked, and was pleased with himself for being able to put the question so succinctly. Napoleon was looking at him very curiously. He seemed about to say something, but a hissing sizzling noise rose from behind him and for the first time Illya became aware of a wonderful smell. He inhaled it greedily, nostrils flaring, mouth open a little and Napoleon cleared his throat.

"The steaks are done," he said and pushed himself up, off the chair. Illya's stomach growled, and no wonder, he thought. When had he eaten last? He couldn't even remember. But it was before he went to the Savoy Hotel, before he had been ordered to go, so it was... well, that meant it was days. Days since he had had any food at all and he was ravenous. No wonder he felt empty. He was starving to death. And Napoleon had made steak. How good of him. Because really, Illya was weak with hunger. He didn't think he could move without sustenance but he wouldn't have to, would he. No, he wouldn't.

So he sat there and watched Napoleon carry plates over to the table, plates heaped with steak and mushrooms and baked potatoes and spinach. When had Napoleon done all this? But he kept on carrying items over, sour cream now, and steak sauce, a new glass of water to replace the empty one at Illya's side. For a moment he had a clear image of the glass as he had first seen it, with no word for what it was and no idea of its function, and shivered away from what must have been very close to madness. That would be what madness was, to be empty of everything that made you rational, made you sane, made you human. But it was past him now, he knew a glass of water when he saw it and knew, too, that sour cream went on the potato, and the steak was first to be cut up, then dipped into the sauce, then eaten.

Oh. He chewed it, lost in bliss. Oh. How good it was. He looked at Napoleon, filled with fresh gratitude and saw Napoleon eating too. That pleased him inordinately, that they were sitting here on Napoleon's balcony, lights coming on in the buildings all around them, eating steak and drinking water together. He smiled at Napoleon again, and Napoleon smiled back. The chord resonated within him, telling him that all was as it should be, because they were together, and Napoleon loved him.

Napoleon ate, and watched Illya eat. He was torn by so many conflicting emotions he didn't know what to do with them all. So he ate, and let them roil within him, let them settle, trying to put words to them.

The anger that had been at their core was still there, heaviest of all, underlying everything else. He was furious at Laskon and his colleagues, furious with Burton and UNCLE. His fist clenched on his fork. He wanted to beat the hell out of someone; more, wanted to kill someone. That he couldn't made him sick, and for a moment bile rose in his throat, choking out the taste of the good steak. He forced it down, chewed and swallowed.

He was bewildered, too, at the sudden shift into the physical between him and Illya. He and Illya were friends. Okay, best friends. And okay, there had always been that other element, that dangerous spark that had smoldered between them from their first meeting. They had flirted with one another, defusing the danger by keeping it light, smiling and exchanging glances; Illya batting those eyelashes at him, he brushing Illya's cheek, adjusting his lapels, blowing him jaunty little kisses. But now, today... Illya's lips had parted for him and he had delved inside, exploring Illya's mouth with his tongue and, incredibly given what had just happened, Illya had welcomed it. Napoleon's cock twitched a little at the memory, and he shifted position in his seat. So what was that about, and what would happen next? Because lightness could only carry them so far. There would be nothing light or casual about it, if he and Illya came together. That spark would ignite a powder keg of passion, and in the wake of the explosion the landscape of their lives would be forever altered.

For the better. That was the thing, the change would be for the better. "I love you too," Illya had said because Napoleon's love had been a tangible thing, pouring from him as he had tried to reach Illya with all the means at his disposal.

'I have to feel it,' Illya had said rather incoherently. 'I wouldn't then, but I have to now.' So he had withdrawn from Napoleon and plunged into that welter of memory alone, and Napoleon had let him go. But it had frightened him badly, watching Illya roll in agony on the lounge chair, biting the pillow and tearing the fabric, muffling screams there, pounding his fists on the seat arms so hard the bruises showed plainly now as he ate. Illya had asked for privacy, and Napoleon had tried to respect that, but what if he were wrong to do so, what if he lost Illya forever? Finally he hadn't been able to stand it anymore and had intruded after all, had gone out there and slapped those steaks on the grill, desperate to bring Illya back to him, terrified anew by Illya's blank stare, his obvious inability to make sense out of the simplest statement. He should have insisted on remaining by Illya's side. He should have... and then his phone rang. His home phone, which was unusual because work matters came over his radio or via computer, and family members, such as his brother Charles or his sister Jillian, called him on his cell. "Excuse me," he said to Illya, and went inside, leaving the doors open.

"Napoleon Solo," he said and was further surprised to hear Burton's voice. Why would Burton use this number?

"So you are at home," Burton said and Napoleon held the receiver out a little, frowned at it. Why would Burton use this number? To verify his location, evidently.

"Yes," he said. "I'm home."

"For how long?"

"Since I arrived with Illya. I brought him straight here from Laskon's hotel room and we have not left."

"That is what the security team in your building says."

"Well, they're right. Illya isn't going anywhere for a while yet, and I'm not leaving him. Why?"

"Laskon is dead."

"Good," Napoleon said before he could stop himself. And then, "How?"

"He ran from the safe apartment. His confederates say he threw a few items into a suitcase and left on foot right after you retrieved Agent Kuryakin. He was shot down before he had reached the end of the block. The police are calling it a random drive by shooting but we know better. What exactly did you say to him?"

"I said I was there to retrieve my partner. I said to give me clean clothes for him to put on. That's it."

"No threats were uttered?"

"No. And anyone who says they were is lying."

"No, no one is saying that.

"Well, then. Anything else?"

"No. When may we expect your return?"

"A week from today," Napoleon said, grasping a date at random. But surely that was reasonable.

"And Agent Kuryakin does not require medical attention?"

"He says no."

"He will need to be cleared by a physician before returning to active duty."

"Yes, sir. Nothing too intrusive, I trust."

"Not unless he feels the need. He certainly should know if there was damage caused beyond what is only to be expected."

"Yes sir," Napoleon said because all the other things he was burning to say would probably get him fired—and serve no useful purpose.

"I will see you next Monday at eight-thirty, in my office. Agent Kuryakin can report directly to the laboratory after his exam."

"Yes sir," Napoleon said again. He'd be damned if he'd say thank you. Burton hung up without another word, and Napoleon looked back at the balcony.

Illya was investigating the covered platter containing the dessert pastries and Napoleon had to smile, watching him. He walked outside, and Illya glanced up.

"Well? What was that about?"

"Laskon is dead," Napoleon said and Illya put down the cherry turnover he had selected.

"Dead? How?"

Napoleon told him. Illya listened without expression, then picked up the turnover again, bit into it. "This won't hurt your reputation any," he said after chewing and swallowing. A drop of cherry syrup clung to his lower lip, and Napoleon took a napkin and dabbed at it. It was a surprisingly intimate gesture, more intimate than he had intended, and Illya's eyes widened. Then he smiled. "The man who kills with a look," he said, and Napoleon snorted.


"Seriously," Illya went on. "You looked at him, and whatever he saw in your face gave him such a fright that he ran—right into Thrush's arms. That won't lose anything in the telling."

"As long as the cause is known," Napoleon said flatly. Illya quirked an eyebrow at him.

"My hero," he said, with an attempt at lightness that Napoleon tried to meet.

"At your service," he said, and it was Illya's turn to snort. But he was smiling, too. Napoleon reached out, took his hands and turned them over, revealing the bruises. Illya's face darkened.

"It's the only way I stayed sane, when I was little," he said after a moment. He withdrew from Napoleon's grip and blew on the sore spots. Then he lifted his glass and held it to them, rolling it over his palms. "I couldn't bear what he did to me, so I pulled so far back inside my mind that I didn't feel it. The worse things got the deeper I went. But then it would come out and get me, when I wasn't expecting it. After I made a fool of myself in school by jumping up and running out the door, I learned to let it come at a time of my own choosing. There was a storage bin behind the house, and he never found me there. I'd hide, and let it come. It was bad, but at least it wasn't really happening and somehow I always knew that. It was like splitting it in half—the experience itself, and my awareness of it. Later on I had my own apartment to go to and that was better. At least I could be comfortable, and when it was finished I could shower and get it off of me. I need to shower again, by the way."

"If you want to."

"I need to. I stink of fear."

There was an acrid odor on Illya's clothes, and dark sweat stains under his arms. Napoleon nodded.

"I was always alone," Illya continued. "I had to be alone, because it was so secret, so private... I couldn't bear the idea of anyone else being there." He was silent for a long time, then he gave Napoleon a luminous smile. Napoleon had to smile back. "Maybe," Illya said softly, putting down the glass and reaching out, taking Napoleon's hand in both of his and squeezing. Napoleon squeezed back. "Maybe I was wrong. This time—I think I almost didn't come back this time. If you'd been there throughout, it would have been better." Then he laughed, a short, painful sound. "Next time I'll call you."

"Next time hell," Napoleon said harshly but his hand was gentle as he squeezed Illya's again, then stroked the damp hair back from his forehead. "Never again," he promised, and Illya smiled once more.

"What a lovely thought," he said, and got up. "I do need to shower."

"Go right ahead." But he followed Illya down the hall, and into the bathroom. Only when he saw Illya reach in, testing the temperature of the water before dropping his clothes did he withdraw, reassured. He closed the blinds to the balcony, poured and carried two glasses of wine into the sunken living room and lit a fire. It wasn't cold out, but Illya liked to watch the leaping flames, he knew. He turned down the other lights, added extra pillows and studied the little scene with his head tilted to one side. Yes, it looked cozy, and inviting, and... he heard the bathroom door click open and turned.

Illya was wrapped in one of Napoleon's bathrobes. It was too big for him, and his hands were lost in the capacious sleeves. His hair clung to his head, and dripped down the back of his neck. Drops clung to his eyelashes and Napoleon, who had planned out everything he might say and do as carefully as he had set the stage, departed from the script completely, bent his head and kissed them away. Illya's skin was soft, and so fresh... he rubbed his cheek against Illya's cheek and Illya moved closer. Napoleon put both arms around him then, and was rewarded by Illya's arms stealing around his waist. Then Illya sighed, a deep, shuddering sigh, and melted against Napoleon. Napoleon hugged him, and felt a quick tightening of Illya's arms in return. Then they went back to the living room, down the two little steps and settled on the sofa, all without separating.

They sat there for a long time. Illya didn't say anything, so Napoleon didn't either. There was no urge to go further, not right here and right now. That they would go further at some point had already been established with that kiss, that kiss which Napoleon fancied he could still feel on his mouth. But it wasn't time yet. Illya was worn out, resting within Napoleon's embrace like someone who has been travelling far and finally found a refuge. Napoleon bent his head over that damp blond one and vowed to be that refuge, to always and forever be that refuge and he, too, had found refuge here in Illya's arms. Now and forever, he thought. Now and forever.

Illya yawned. "Ready to turn in?" Napoleon asked solicitously and Illya nodded.

"I'm so sleepy," he murmured. "But I don't want to move, I don't want to get up, I don't... I don't want to leave..." he hesitated. "Here," he finished awkwardly and it was Napoleon who stood up, bringing Illya with him. He leaned over to turn off the gas fire, and close the screen. Then he straightened.

"Here?" he asked quietly, indicating the sofa, the pillows, the darkened grate.

"You," Illya answered, and tilted his head so he was looking directly into Napoleon's eyes. "I don't' want to leave you. I feel... I feel safe, and... and happy for the first time since arriving at that hotel room. Since meeting with Burton. Since... since ever." His eyes didn't waver, but they were uncertain and Napoleon leaned in, dropped a light kiss on his forehead. It was seal and benediction, promise and comfort. Then he turned them both away from the fire. They went up the steps, down the hall and into Napoleon's bedroom. Without another word they separated, and got into pajamas; Napoleon offering a pair of his, and Illya accepting them. Napoleon got into bed first, then held out the covers for Illya, who came in beside him and there they were, wrapped up in one another, wrapped up in...

"Love," Napoleon whispered into Illya's hair, and Illya nodded before sleep took them both down with its silent grace note.

Illya dreamed he was standing in the ocean. The water lapped around his ankles, and he felt the familiar tug of sand from under his feet that meant a wave was coming in. He turned and looked, and his heart failed him. A long ominous line stretched as far as he could see against the horizon, and it grew even as he watched it. He turned to run, but was suddenly so far from shore he knew there was no chance of his making it. Why had he waded out so far, and when? It didn't matter, because the wave was much closer now, towering higher and higher, blotting out the sun, blotting out everything. And as it loomed above him he could see terrible shapes swimming there... Laskon, with more arms than an octopus, reaching for him, grabbing at him. Other men, showing teeth like razors. His uncle, a sea monster, tentacles writhing, mouth opening on a dark bottomless void. There was no escape, in another moment the wave would crash down on him, grinding him into the sand, and he would be at the mercy of the beasts within it. There was a moment of perfect, paralyzed horror and then memories of years of ocean swimming came to his aid and he did the only thing you could do in that situation.

He dove into it. Directly into it, and through it. He was briefly engulfed in hands and arms and teeth, but his forward momentum kept him moving in one direction while the wave, caught in its own momentum, continued travelling towards shore. His body seemed to ripple with it and then he was through and out, gasping for breath. He whipped around in the water and watched the wave roll onto the shore, the figures contained within it indistinguishable now from the harmless foam. He blinked the salt water out of his eyes, and was looking into Napoleon's sleeping face.

Oh. A dream. It seemed incredible at first and he touched his hair, half expecting to find it still wet but it wasn't, of course, and he wasn't, of course. He was in Napoleon's bed, wrapped in Napoleon's arms, and the horrors were far from him. He yawned, and his eyes drifted closed.

His uncle stood on the shore, shaking his fist at him. Illya treaded water and watched him, and after a moment his uncle turned and trudged away, his figure growing smaller and smaller until he was gone. Gone. Illya sighed with pleasure and relief and spread himself out on the sea, rising and falling gently with the swells under him and each one seemed to be another memory, rocking him slightly then leaving. It had happened. It had happened, and it had been bad, but it was over now and he had survived. He had been dragged down to the depths but even then, even as he had stood naked and covered with blood and semen and filth, even then there had been light. Napoleon had looked at him, just as he was, and loved him. Loved him and lifted him up, loved him and taken him away. Illya smiled at the sky, at the sea gulls swooping overhead.

And no one could say he had sold himself cheaply. The Ultimate Computer, no less. Thrush's downfall. They should pin a medal on me, he thought, and laughed silently. On top of all that Laskon was dead. And here Illya lay, rising and falling, body floating free. Free. He rolled over, did a lazy surface dive.

Shafts of sunlight filtered through the water. Beauty surrounded him, and filled him. He reached his arms out for it and was embraced by it, smelling the good scent of Napoleon, feeling the strength of Napoleon's arms around him, the strength of Napoleon's love, lifting him once more, lifting him and holding him fast. He stretched, and yawned again.

"Good morning," Napoleon said and Illya felt the rumble of his voice all through him, a basso profundo. A thrill of pleasure followed it, and he pressed closer.

"Good morning, Napoleon. And thank you."

"No need to thank me. You would do it for me."

"Yes." He looked into Napoleon's eyes. "Yes," he repeated fervently. "I would."

"Well then." Now it was Napoleon yawning. "Are you all right?"

"Yes. I'm fine. And I don't need a whole week off, like you told Mr. Burton. I want to go back tomorrow. Thrush must have had all sorts of scientific discoveries in that computer. I can't wait to get my hands on their data."

"Whatever you say," Napoleon said amiably. "Burton will be surprised to see us, but that's all for the good. Keep them a little off balance, never let them take anything for granted. They should give you a medal for what you did."

Illya laughed, and saw surprise on Napoleon's face. "I thought of that, but I don't need a medal. All I need now is..." he stopped, and flushed. Napoleon quirked an eyebrow at him.


He had been stripped bare in front of Napoleon, and Napoleon had loved him anyway. He wasn't going to start erecting fresh barriers now. "You."

Napoleon hugged him hard. "That you've got, Illya. But we can't do anything about it now."

"Why not?" But he knew why not, and much as he hated to admit it, Napoleon was right. They were field partners. Napoleon was his immediate superior. Still, he tried. "Just because of some rules and regulations? Since when—"

"Since this is the most important thing in my life," Napoleon said, voice steadier now. "I'm not going to start off by sneaking around and being dishonest. It would be like lying to Waverly, to be with you now, while we're still partners."

"Waverly retired two years ago."


Illya sighed. He would get nowhere arguing, he knew. Besides, he didn't want to argue with Napoleon. He wanted to... he looked at Napoleon, letting that wanting show, and Napoleon's eyes showed the same. But Napoleon moved back, sat up against the headboard. "It won't be long now," he said, and his voice was not quite steady. "It can't be. Thrush is finished. Everything is going to change, and our jobs will change too. And the moment they do..."

"Yes?" Illya tilted his chin up so he could look Napoleon in the eye. "When they do?"

For answer Napoleon kissed his finger, then pressed it to Illya's lips. They remained that way for a moment, then Napoleon got up to cook breakfast, and Illya went in to take a shower.

They ate on the balcony again, not talking, just eating and smiling across the table at one another. When they were finished, Illya said he really needed to get home, to prepare himself for work tomorrow. Napoleon protested, said he was welcome to stay, welcome to eat lunch and dinner there, more than welcome to stay the night, and Illya shook his head.

"The next time we share a bed, it will be for keeps," he said. "I don't dare sleep with you again. I might... I might try and tempt you away from your principles, and that wouldn't be right. I need to leave now, while I still know that."

"It wouldn't take much," Napoleon said. "So I suppose you should leave. When we do come together, I want to be worthy of you, worthy of what I see in your eyes when you look at me. But if you need me, Illya, you call me."

"I will." Illya tipped his head back and Napoleon kissed him, lightly, then not so lightly. Their lips clung, their hands clung, their bodies clung, and then Illya summoned all his will power, stepped back, turned away, and left.

Napoleon threw himself into work. He had a clear vision of what his new position should consist of, and what Illya should be doing. He built his vision from the ground up, laying the foundation for what was to come. And it would come. He could feel the changes all around him. Field teams were abruptly pulled from one place, sent to another. The information technology sector fairly hummed with activity and Illya spent a great deal of time down there, as well as in the labs, and Napoleon added that into his plan. No one else knew everything that Illya knew, no one else possessed that formidable intelligence, that almost eerie memory for everything written, everything read, everything overheard. With the scientific reins in Illya's hands, and the managerial reins in his own, New York would become a model of efficiency. He, Napoleon Solo, would see to it.

He spent hours in conference with Burton, learning everything he could about Section I. And without one word that could possibly be construed as a promise, Burton showed him. He took Napoleon with him to every meeting, gave Napoleon access to all his files, raising his security clearance to do so. He read Napoleon's proposals and approved them, one after the other.

After work Napoleon met with Alexander Waverly, driving out to the Security Level One retirement village where the old man and his wife were now living. "Everyone since you has used the position as a stepping stone," he said that first night. "A springboard for higher rank. Even Mr. Burton has his eye on American Operations and more than that, or I miss my guess."

"But not you, Mr. Solo." Waverly filled his pipe. "Am I right?"

"Not me," Napoleon agreed. "New York is the seat of power in any event. You didn't need fancy titles to cover it all. I don't plan to either. I'm going to rebuild your job into what it was when you had it."

"And what do you think I had, Mr. Solo?"

"Near unlimited authority," Napoleon said, and grinned. There was no humor in that grin, but there was a great deal of pleasure there. "And power. That's what I want. And you won't be sorry you trained me for it, sir," he added because Waverly had, they both knew it. "Your integrity and dedication were part of your success, and I will do my utmost to live up to it. All of it."

"I have every confidence in you, Mr. Solo. I approve of your career path, and I will add that, given the unconventional private life you plan to have, it is just as well that you do not plan to seek advancement in more traditional ways."

Napoleon was taken aback. How did Waverly know what sort of private life he had planned? But Waverly was smiling at him through the clouds of fragrant smoke, and reluctantly Napoleon smiled too. "Very good, sir," he acknowledged. "You caught me with that one. How did you... I mean, when did you..."

"Is that important?" Waverly asked calmly. "I know you haven't acted on it, and that is what matters. It would be unethical, so you waited—are still waiting. Am I right?"


Unexpectedly Waverly leaned over, tapped Napoleon's knee. "It won't be for much longer," he said, and Napoleon met his eyes.

"No," he answered. "I know it won't be."

"Next month is my wife's birthday. You and Mr. Kuryakin are both welcome to attend. Just a simple lunch affair—she will send you an invitation."

An invitation for them both. In a month. So it was going to be that soon. Napoleon tried to conceal the flash of exultation it gave him, but from the way Waverly's mouth twitched he didn't think he had succeeded. "Thank you, sir," he said, and Waverly nodded.

"You are more than welcome. Now Mr. Solo. If you will look at these personnel records..." and the conversation went back to business.

Illya scowled at the figures he was working with. He had gone over the equations and over them, and somewhere something was wrong. He had run it through the computer, but too many of the steps were speculative, and only in his mind, and the computer repeatedly told him he had provided insufficient data. "If it wasn't insufficient I wouldn't need you in the first place, would I," he had muttered to it, and when it only beeped in reply he had turned away. He had tried starting over from the very beginning, but now he was at the same stopping place and no further along. He blew his bangs off his forehead in frustration and pushed his chair back, looking around the lab, trying to distract himself.

And thought of Napoleon. That was no surprise. Whenever he wasn't thinking of anything else, his thoughts came back to Napoleon. It had been two and a half weeks now since Laskon's death. He had gone back to work, and Napoleon had gone back to work, and nothing had been said about that night, about those kisses, about the promises that had been made. How could it? He and Napoleon were not permitted to be romantically involved. It happened of course; everyone knew it happened, but Napoleon's iron rectitude would prohibit it from happening to—or with—him. So there had been no more nights together, no more kisses. But the prospect for them was not as bleak as it might otherwise have been. There were two big reasons for that.

The first was the undeniable fact that Thrush was toppling. It was disintegrating even as Illya sat here and glared at these equations. The data gained from the Ultimate Computer had brought down most if not all of their cover operations, had opened the secret identities of every member of Thrush Central. UNCLE had cast its net wide, and few had escaped. The captives were talking—reluctantly, but they were talking—and satrap after satrap was falling. He and Napoleon were mostly doing mop ups now and it wouldn't be much longer before things—before everything—changed. Illya thought that Napoleon would be moved up, very soon. Burton was angling for the vacant position of Head of American Operations. That would leave his current job—Waverly's former job—vacant. That Napoleon wanted it, Illya knew. And he himself was spoken of as the new head of the physics department. If all that happened, he and Napoleon could be together for the world to see. If Napoleon still wanted him. And Illya thought that he did, for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that he had stopped dating. That was the second reason for Illya's hopes.

Napoleon Solo had stopped dating. The grapevine hummed with it. Women had invited him out, had tempted him, had flung themselves at him shamelessly and he had only smiled and declined. Even Angelique, who had been in the first group of Thrush prisoners, had requested a private meeting with him, no doubt hoping for some sort of preferential treatment, some sort of a deal. Napoleon had allowed her into his office, though he left the door open. They had been alone together for merely four minutes before she flung herself out, spitting with rage. Napoleon, her handprint clearly marked on his face, had stood at the door and watched her leave in the custody of two impassive UNCLE guards. He had seen Illya watching him—because Illya had come as soon as he heard, never trusting Angelique and, if truth be told, rather wishing she would try something so he could justifiably shoot her down, woman or no. Did you check the gender of a poisonous asp before ending its life? No. But aside from that slap she had done nothing that would allow him to act, so he had watched her being taken away, and then met Napoleon's eyes.

Napoleon had winked at him, then backed into his office and let the door close. Illya had stood still for a long moment, pondering that wink, before returning to work.

So Napoleon had not dated any of his female colleagues, had not been seen with any women on the outside, and had even turned down the spice. Surely that meant... didn't it mean... Illya was so deep in contemplation of that that when the lab door swished open he spun his chair about, hand going to his weapon. Napoleon raised both hands in mock surrender.

"Don't shoot," he said, laughing. "It's only me."

"Oh." Illya felt foolish, and flushed. But how good it was to see Napoleon. He smiled, and Napoleon smiled back.

"I brought you this," he said, and handed Illya a folder. He took it, and perked up. It was a rundown of Thrush advances in the field of chemical weapons. He had known it existed, and had tried repeatedly to get his hands on it, but had been just as repeatedly put off.

"How did you manage this?" he asked Napoleon, flipping through the pages. "They wouldn't even give me the time of day."

"Don't ask don't tell," Napoleon said lightly, and Illya snorted. Napoleon pulled up a stool beside him. "Look at this" he said, indicating a coded section. "I'd wager that's the gas they used on us in Nigeria."

"Yes. If it weren't for the dispersal issues we would have had a catastrophe with it. Thank you, Napoleon. This will be a big help."

"My pleasure." Napoleon smiled at him again and Illya smiled back. When Napoleon reached across him to turn a page their hands brushed, and Illya jumped. Napoleon jumped too. It was as if an electrical surge had passed between them. Curious, Illya touched him again to see if it would be repeated, and it was. He swallowed. How close Napoleon was now! He had leaned in, and was looking directly into Illya's eyes in a most disconcerting way. His face was very intent.

"You're not dating," Illya said, and wanted to bite his tongue off. He had spoken because he had to say something, but why on earth had that come out of his mouth? It was none of his business, really, and maybe Napoleon would be offended. Maybe he would... but he didn't seem offended. Instead he touched Illya's face lightly, stroked his cheek with the back of one thumb and Illya couldn't help it, he tipped his head, rubbed his face against Napoleon's hand, which opened. They sat that way for a moment, Napoleon cupping Illya's face, fingers in his hair. Illya closed his eyes, never wanting it to end.

"No," Napoleon said at last. "I'm not. And I think you know why."

"Do I?" He looked up into Napoleon's eyes, and the warmth there ignited an answering warmth in his belly, curling tendrils of fire spreading outward... and downward. He had to shift his position on the lab stool to accommodate it.

"Yes," Napoleon said, and leaned even closer, so their lips were brushing with every word. "You do."

"Oh," Illya said and then Napoleon had both arms around him, and Napoleon was kissing him. He kissed Napoleon back, hungry for it, thirsty for it, needing it, wanting it... he clutched at Napoleon and, when Napoleon stood, wrapped one leg around Napoleon's hips to pull him closer. Their bodies pressed together, their mouths devoured one another. Napoleon's hands moved ceaselessly, through Illya's hair, down his back, around his waist, lifting him off the stool, pressing them even harder against one another.

Finally Napoleon broke free. He was flushed, his hair was rumpled and his hands shook as he tried to settle his suit back on his shoulders. Illya sat down again, gasping. He was shaking too, from desire, from longing, from frustration. "Napoleon..."

"Not yet," Napoleon said, and his voice was ragged. He cleared his throat. "Not yet. We've waited all this time, we can wait a little longer. We..." Napoleon stopped talking, and just looked at him. He looked Illya up and down, and Illya trembled under that gaze as though it were Napoleon's hands touching him, knowing him. Then, very deliberately, Napoleon went down on one knee. He took Illya's hand in both of his and kissed it, lips hot and leisurely on Illya's palm. "Illya Kuryakin," Napoleon said, and he was smiling again now. "Will you?"

"Yes," he answered. "Yes, Napoleon. I will."

"And I will spend the remainder of my life," Napoleon promised him, gripping his hand tightly now, capturing the other one and squeezing them both, "making it all up to you. You will never again know a rough uncaring touch. Only mine. Only me, for you, for always. Yes?"

"Yes," Illya whispered, and slid down to his knees too. "And the reverse is also true, Napoleon. Only me, for you, for always. Never another betrayal, never another shallow empty affair. Da?" He smiled then, because here they were, saying their vows in the heart of headquarters, and Napoleon was smiling too.

"Da," he answered, and kissed the tip of Illya's nose. "Most assuredly da." He kissed Illya's mouth then and they clung together, and kissed one another. The buzzer had sounded three times before they even heard it, and then it sounded twice more before they made it back to their feet and Illya pressed the intercom button.

"Agent Kuryakin." It was Burton and instinctively Illya closed the Thrush folder. Surely Napoleon hadn't been supposed to...

"Yes, sir."

"I would like to see you in my office, please. At your earliest convenience."

"Yes sir."

"Please ask Agent Solo to come with you." He disconnected before Illya could reply, and he released the button and looked at Napoleon,.

"Is it this information?" he asked. "I don't want you to be in trouble."

"I'm sure I'm not," Napoleon said comfortably.

"Then what..."

"I do believe the time has come," Napoleon said, and adjusted Illya's tie. "Don't take the first offer, Illya. Hold out for Head of Combined Science Sectors. I happen to know for a fact that they are very concerned about losing you to one of those research institutes or universities that are always trying to woo you away."

"But that's not even a real title. I just said that it would be more efficient if all the science sectors were combined under one admin group." Once. He had said it to Napoleon once.

"Not to mention Information Technology. And who better than you to head it?" Napoleon held the door for them as they went out into the hall, and Illya stopped in his tracks.

"You knew," he accused. "You knew it would be today."

"Yes." Napoleon took his arm. "Come on, Illya, we don't want to keep Burton waiting. Not to mention our futures. We don't want to keep our futures waiting." Then, as they stepped on to the elevator, "Of course I knew. Why else am I here, on bended knee, ring in pocket?"

"Ring? What ring?"

Napoleon only flicked Illya's nose with the tip of one finger. "Patience," he admonished. "Give it... oh, another hour or so. Then, appropriately reassigned, we can have dinner, and over champagne and elegant French pastries I am sure a ring will make its appearance."

"You," Illya announced as the elevator doors slid open on the administrative floor, "are crazy. And there'd better be more than one ring, Napoleon Solo. If you think for one minute you're waltzing around free as a bird while I wear your ring you're out of your mind."

"You know," Napoleon said reflectively, "I think I am. Crazy, I mean. Crazy about you. Crazy..." he stopped outside Burton's office and took Illya by the shoulders, looked earnestly into his eyes. "In love with you. And yes, there are two rings. I know you better than that."

"Hmph," Illya said, and that was all he had time to say before Burton's door opened and they went inside to shake his hand and sit down across from him.

Alexander Waverly was there. Napoleon was startled, and concealed it only with an effort. All those in depth conversations, the latest one just last week, and Waverly had said nothing about being here today. He gave Waverly his little bow, and heard Illya murmur a greeting from slightly behind him.

"Gentlemen," Waverly acknowledged, and rose. "I am here to personally decommission you two. I felt you had earned it."

"Thank you," Napoleon said.

"Thank you," Illya echoed, and all three of them sat down.

It was Burton who went through the paperwork. Napoleon was asked if he would accept the position of Number One, Section One, and he said that he would. Illya was offered the Head of Combined Science Sectors position—no haggling required—and took it. Both expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the honor being done them, and Burton made the appropriate congratulatory noises. It was all very routine, but Napoleon's eyes kept going back to Waverly, sitting so quietly in his chair. When Burton had fallen silent, Waverly spoke.

"I wanted to be here in person because I very much want to tell you two gentlemen how pleased I am with the way your partnership worked out. When Mr. Kuryakin came into UNCLE, I was told I would never be able to find a suitable partner for him. I was told that any agent would resent being paired with him due to his original place of service. It was also suggested that I was foolishly naïve to even consider trusting him in a field position." Here Waverly smiled full at Illya. "Mr. Kuryakin, I want you to know that I have never for one moment regretted recruiting you, nor trusting you. You have more than lived up to my expectations of you. UNCLE is fortunate to have you."

"Thank you," Illya said rather faintly. Napoleon didn't blame him. It was an enormous compliment, for Waverly to say such things. It was also practically unprecedented.

"I would like to present you with an official commendation," Waverly went on, and handed Illya a piece of parchment. "Your service in obtaining the Ultimate Computer for UNCLE was, as this document states, above and beyond the call of duty. Above and beyond," he repeated, with a peculiar emphasis that Napoleon didn't quite get but Illya seemed to. He nodded.

"Thank you," he repeated.

"You have earned your new position," Waverly continued. "I am very proud of you, Mr. Kuryakin. UNCLE thanks you, the civilized world should thank you, and I thank you."

"Thank you," Illya said for the third time. "I mean... you're welcome. Sir." He smiled at Waverly then, that slow smile that began in the corners of his mouth and ended by lighting up his whole face. Even second hand like this, it made Napoleon's heart skip a beat.

"Mr. Solo," Waverly said, and Napoleon straightened.

"Yes sir."

"I am honored by your acceptance of my former position. I have every confidence in you. I can think of no one better qualified to guide this organization through these current changes and into a new era."

"Thank you sir," Napoleon said, finding it unexpectedly hard to speak at all. But Waverly wasn't finished. He leaned forward, and his eyes twinkled unexpectedly.

"It has been a fortuitous pairing," he said. "Nothing that has ever happened, and nothing that is about to happen..." here his gaze went from Napoleon to Illya, and back again... "will change my opinion of that, or of the two of you. Congratulations." Waverly shook his hand, and then he shook Illya's hand, and then he left. Napoleon exhaled and looked at Illya, who was studying the commendation closely.

"Gentlemen," Burton said rather pointedly, and Napoleon rose. Illya followed him out the door and down the hall. Neither said a word until they were in Napoleon's office. Illya was the first to speak.

"Above and beyond," he said. "He's such a good man, Napoleon. Do you know what that says to me?"

"Why don't you tell me," Napoleon suggested, half sitting on the corner of his desk.

"That it was, above and beyond. Not part of my job description, not them saying, 'oh well, Illya Kuryakin is a whore anyway, what does one man more or less matter?'"

"Illya." Napoleon was appalled. "It never occurred to me for one minute that you thought that. Of course that's not the way it was. It should never have been asked of you at all, in my opinion, but that it was reflected completely on Laskon's obsession. It had nothing to do with you or your past."

"No?" Illya said, and he was smiling slightly. "If you say so, Napoleon."

"Of course I say so. And so does Alexander Waverly, if you're accusing me of some sort of bias."

"And aren't you biased?"

Napoleon laughed. "Yes, of course I am. Nonetheless—"

"Nonetheless. I know. But it made me feel good to hear it." The smile widened. "And he congratulated us, Napoleon. How did he know?"

"We shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. But it's nice to have his blessing."

"Yes it is," Illya said, and looked at his commendation again. "It certainly is."

"I'll pick you up at six-thirty, all right? You'll be down in your office?"

"Yes. Are you planning on feeding me, or should I grab something from the cafeteria?"

"Oh, I'll feed you. For the rest of our lives, I'll feed you."

"Well now. Will you?"

"Yes. Illya—I can't wait to leave here and begin the remainder of our lives. Put in for a week's leave. I'll do the same. We're entitled. I'll come get you, and we'll go home together, and... and that's how it will be. You and me, home together."

"Home together," Illya agreed, and his face was so soft now that Napoleon couldn't help it, he reached out, took Illya by the wrist, and pulled him in. Illya went willingly, and at the feel of that hard, supple body against his Napoleon kissed him again, kissed him for all the years past and all the years to come, too. There was, surprisingly, no passion in this kiss, no grinding of bodies, no moans. There was just this sweet, melting bliss as their mouths moved softly, as their tongues touched delicately, as their fingers interlaced. It ended as naturally as it had begun, and Illya picked up his document, which had fluttered to the floor, and left.

They went to the grocery store first. Napoleon wanted fresh steaks for the grill, and a bottle of champagne. Illya smiled at him and acquiesced. What a traditionalist you are, he thought, watching Napoleon question the butcher about cuts of beef. Champagne, steaks out on the balcony, wedding rings to be produced at the appropriate time. Traditional, and romantic... and thoughtful. So very thoughtful. Napoleon was selecting sour cream to go with the baked potatoes, and Illya knew that was for him. For him, because Napoleon didn't care for it. Nor did he care for cheese sauce on his broccoli but he was putting it into the cart anyway. Illya watched him add yogurt, and cream cheese, and bagels... all for him. He knew Napoleon's eating habits as well as... well, as well as Napoleon obviously knew his own. As a matter of fact... he made a quick excuse and went to the fish section. After a consultation of his own, he selected fresh tilapia because he knew Napoleon loved it. He swung past the produce department and picked out a lemon and a lime to go with it, and met Napoleon at the register. Napoleon looked at the fish and smiled, and Illya looked at the sour cream and smiled. They smiled at one another's carts, and into one another's eyes, and then they checked out.

The good smell of steak surrounded him, and he inhaled deeply. For a moment he could see himself again, curled on the chair, drawn out of his terrors by this same smell. He leaned both elbows on the railing and looked out over Central Park. His view, from his terrace, off of his apartment. Which he shared with his lover. How wonderful, that his life had come to this. He looked back over it, and wouldn't have changed a thing. Not one thing, no matter how terrible, no matter how shameful, because all those things together had brought him here. Here... he caught his breath as Napoleon came up behind him, kissed the back of his neck... and now. He bent his head so Napoleon could do it again, and Napoleon obliged, lips drifting down, then along the line of his collar, up again to his ear.

"Illya," he whispered, and Illya shivered.


"I have something for you."

Knowing what he would see, thrilling with anticipation, Illya turned around and Napoleon held out his hand. On his palm a gold ring glinted. A plain gold ring, nothing fancy, lovely in its pure simplicity. Without a word Illya extended his fingers and Napoleon slid it on, right where it belonged, on the third finger of his left hand, proclaiming their union to the world. Before Illya could speak Napoleon leaned in and kissed him, briefly, sweetly, then held out his other hand, fist closed around something. Illya opened his palm, and an identical ring was dropped into it. He put it on Napoleon, smiling again at the sentimentality of the gesture, still smiling when Napoleon kissed him once more, feeling Napoleon smile too.

"Is it too corny?" Napoleon said when the kiss was finished. "Is that why you're laughing?"

"I'm not laughing," Illya protested. "I was smiling."

"Very broadly."

"Corny is not at all the word I would use."

"What then?"

"Sentimental, traditional... lovely. Just lovely, Napoleon. And I'm smiling—"


"Broadly, because I'm so happy. I never thought this..." he made a gesture, encompassing the apartment, the steaks, the view, Napoleon himself... "would ever be for me. I thought if I was very lucky I would get to live out my solitary life in my studio apartment until I was an old man. Instead here I am. With you. I'm not the least bit tempted to laugh at you. I want to grab onto you..." he slid his arms around Napoleon's waist... "and hang onto you..." he put his face in Napoleon's neck... "and never let you go." He kissed Napoleon there, and Napoleon turned his head and kissed his cheek.

"And I thought if I was very lucky I would live out my bachelor existence until I was too old for it, and then die alone, with some sort of bitter jest about my last name on my lips. You..." he kissed Illya's temple this time. "Are the best thing that has ever happened to me." He wrapped both arms around Illya and squeezed him. Illya squeezed back and they stood there holding on to one another, depositing soft kisses on one another's chins, noses, throats, until a great cloud of smoke rose from the grill and Napoleon, with an exclamation, released Illya and hurried over.

They ate on the terrace. Napoleon poured champagne, and they toasted one another, toasted Alexander Waverly, toasted their new positions. Together they cleaned up, and together they went into the shower. Illya went down on his knees there, feeling the hot water running down his back. He nuzzled Napoleon, watched Napoleon's organ rise, straining towards him. He teased it gently, rubbed his cheek against it, breathed on it, then finally engulfed it, drawing it deep, deep, sucking it, using his tongue—oh, he knew how to do this, knew how to do it very well. It brought him a deep singing joy to do it for Napoleon, to feel Napoleon's hands clench in his hair, feel Napoleon's hips thrusting, to feel Napoleon trying to hold back and not be able to, not be able to hold back at all but pouring himself down Illya's throat with a cry. Then his knees buckled, Illya saw it through the steam, and they were looking one another in the eye. Napoleon exhaled.

"I didn't mean to do that," he said, and touched Illya's face. "Did you mind?"

"No," Illya said honestly. "I wanted you to."

"And it didn't make you think of... of them?"

"No. You could never make me think of them. You only make me think of you. Of you and me. Of us. Us, in love."

"Us, in love," Napoleon echoed. "Well, let's get off this hard floor and onto my—our—bed and I'll show you how that felt." Then he looked uncertain. "Ah, if you want me to. I probably won't be as good as you were, but I'm a quick learner."

"I have every confidence in you, Napoleon Solo," Illya answered demurely and watched Napoleon's tension break into a laugh. "But you don't have to," he went on, suddenly anxious. "I mean, if you don't want to. I know you've never... you don't have to."

"Oh, I want to. I want to do it all." He gave Illya a hand and they got to their feet.

"All?" Illya queried as he rubbed his hair dry with the thick towel Napoleon provided.

"All. I want you, Illya Kuryakin, every part of you. Maybe not everything right away," he added quickly. "I mean, it's still pretty soon. I mean, I wouldn't want to hurt you. But when you're ready, I want... everything. I want to be inside you. I want you inside me. I want... and hello." He looked down at his cock, which had hardened as he spoke and was now prodding Illya' belly. Illya looked down too, and smiled.

"Well," he said to it. "What have we here? Oh... and here?" He was erect as well, and their two organs nuzzled against one another very cozily. "How about," Illya began, "if we lie down..."

"Way ahead of you," Napoleon said, and drew him over to the bed. They settled themselves comfortably, head to foot, and Illya deposited a kiss on the tip of Napoleon's cock, which was weeping a little, as if pleading with him. His own throbbed, heavy and swollen, and when Napoleon touched it, lightly, tentatively, it jerked. Napoleon chuckled, and Illya shivered as his breath reached him.

"Howdy comrade," Napoleon said and now it was Illya's turn to laugh, Napoleon's turn to shiver. "You start," Napoleon directed. "You start, and I'll do what you do until I'm a little more sure of myself here."

"You're not sure of yourself?" Illya propped himself up on one elbow so he could see Napoleon's face. "That must be a rather disconcerting sensation for you."

"It's an exhilarating sensation," Napoleon said, and ran one finger along the length of Illya's cock. "If it were anyone but you, but it is you and I trust you, Illya. Lead the way, and I'll follow."

Illya put his head back down. Of all the words of love Napoleon had poured over him lately, this last phrase struck the deepest, reverberating within him. Napoleon trusted him. Napoleon trusted him with his uncertainty, his inexperience. Napoleon trusted him to lead the way. Napoleon, Napoleon... Illya opened his mouth, moved his lips up Napoleon's shaft, lightly, then when Napoleon copied him, not so lightly. He made a strangled sound, he couldn't help it, and heard Napoleon's own hoarse exclamation.

Then it was a blur of sucking and being sucked, licking and being licked, Napoleon's warm tongue swirling over the head of his cock as he did the same. He could no longer tell who was leading and who was following, and if Napoleon was still copying him he couldn't tell that either. The stimulation reached near unbearable levels and he was screaming against Napoleon's flesh, screaming and thrusting and coming, coming, feeling Napoleon's throat working as he swallowed, swallowing in his turn, sucking and swallowing and coming, endlessly coming.

He lay panting, inhaling the good musky scent of Napoleon with every breath. He didn't think he could ever move again, and didn't particularly want to. He would just lie here and breathe in and out, in and out... he might have fallen asleep right there but Napoleon gripped Illya's shoulders and pulled him around, pulled him up and kissed him on the mouth. Illya's lips parted again and their tongues twined together, tasting each other, tasting themselves. Then Napoleon gathered him in with great tenderness, arranging him with infinite care, not satisfied until Illya's head was securely tucked into the crook of his neck, until his arm was under Illya's shoulders and his other arm was across his waist, until he had one leg draped across Illya's legs and they were as close as possible, as close as could be desired.

"I love you, Napoleon," Illya whispered from the very edge of sleep, his words hanging in the air, a silver note in the darkness.

"I love you too, Illya." Napoleon's voice sounded very far away but his body wasn't, his body was right there, the perfect counterpoint to his words—to their words. The harmony was complete, and Illya wriggled just a little bit closer, and sank into sleep.

The End

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