The Time In a Bottle Affair

by Elise Madrid

"I don't see any movement." Lying on his belly, Napoleon kept his binoculars trained on the building below. Behind him, hidden by the vegetation and tall trees that covered most of the small hill they were encamped on, three of his fellow UNCLE agents were preparing for battle.

"I don't understand. Our contact is usually very reliable," April Dancer remarked as she removed the weapons from the duffle bag they'd used to haul them up from their car. "He was sure that he'd seen THRUSH moving munitions in and out of this place."

"When did you last talk to him?"

"Yesterday. I'm telling you, Napoleon, the man was insistent."

Napoleon pulled the binoculars away and rubbed his eyes. He'd been at this for over an hour and his patience was beginning to wear thin. At least it wasn't hot. There was a light breeze and clouds had been slowly building all day; rain was on its way. He scooted back into the thick brush and sat up. "Then something must have happened because, as far as I can tell, there's no one down there." He looked over at Larry Reed; the lanky agent worked out of the LA office and had been the first on the scene. "Larry, did you see anyone at all when you got here?"

Reed shook his head. "Not a soul. At first, I figured they weren't up and around yet; it was just a little past sunup. But there hasn't been any activity, as far as I can tell."

"I say we go in," Mark Slade had come up and taken a seat on a downed tree. "There aren't supposed to be more than half dozen THRUSHies in there, anyway."

"That we know of," April commented. "We can't be sure of any of the information we received anymore."

Napoleon turned and glanced down at the building. It sat in the middle of a small clearing, the surrounding forest giving it excellent cover. It would do the same for them. "It doesn't look big enough for more than a skeleton crew. Of course, looks can be deceiving."

"It's supposed to be a weapons research facility, manned mostly by technicians and a handful of guards, would be my guess." April gave a snort of disgust. "Only THRUSH would think to put something like that in a place like this. Whatever happened to enjoying the great outdoors?"

"Maybe we can do something about that." Napoleon stood up, dusting off his suit as best he could before taking the rifle Reed offered him. "We go in but we go in slow. I doubt anyone's there, but there's no sense in taking any chances. April, you and Mark circle around to the back, Larry and I will follow the tree line on the right and get in as close as we can."

The four agents moved swiftly down the back side of the hill, though taking care to keep from losing their footing and toppling down the steep incline. The rocky soil made for treacherous footing and Napoleon was relieved when they all made it to the bottom without incident. They advanced in single file, but spread out at his hand-signal as they neared the structure, April and Mark taking a path that veered around to the back, Reed splitting off to the right to come in from the opposite direction.

As Napoleon moved stealthily through the trees, coming ever closer to the front of the building, he lost sight of his compatriots; whatever sounds they made were swallowed up by the dense forest. When he finally reached the clearing, he took a position behind a large oak and waited for his fellow agents' signals.

He wished Illya was here. He trusted April and Mark, and he'd heard only good things of Reed, but he didn't share with them the almost symbiotic relationship he had with his partner. After so many years, they were so in synch that it was if they could read each others' minds. It was disconcerting to do without it, and him, on a mission. He couldn't pretend it was anything but his own fault, though. Bored with the lack of action coming into the New York office, and slightly irritated that Illya had, once again, been sent off on his own, Napoleon had jumped at the chance to fill in for Reed's injured partner.

The soft trill of an eastern bluebird brought his mind back to business. Mark and April were in position. Napoleon grinned. He seriously doubted that anyone inside would know that that particular bird's range did not include northern California.

Taking another look around, he stepped out from his cover and advanced toward the building. He was met by Reed just as he reached the structure's front door. They took a position on each side, guns drawn. Silently counting down from three, Napoleon nodded his head and, in tandem, the two men swung around to face the entrance. With a swift kick, the door flew open.

Only an eerie quiet greeted them. Napoleon took a hesitant step into the building. One look told him the place had been abandoned. Drawers and cabinets hung open, and what documents were left lay scattered on the floor.

"Napoleon?" April called from somewhere in the back.

"In here. It looks as if no one's home," he added as Mark and April walked in.

"There's nothing in the back room, either." April looked around in distaste. "Why is it that everything's always left in such a mess?"

"I get the feeling they didn't have a lot of advance warning," Napoleon remarked as he picked up one of the scattered papers. He looked at it and then dropped it back on the ground. "It appears they managed to get everything of value out of here, though. This is just trash."

Mark grimaced. "Still have to check everything out, don't we?"

"I'm going to miss my plane," Napoleon groused. He was supposed to have left two days ago, but then this had come up.

"I think we can manage on our own." April pulled the keys to the car out of her pocket and tossed them to Napoleon. "We can hitch a ride back with Larry. We're not due back in New York for a couple more days, anyway."

"You sure?" Napoleon asked hopefully.

"I hate to mess up your plans, but I wasn't planning on returning to Sacramento. I'm due back in Los Angeles tomorrow," Reed interjected.

"Even better," Mark said. "I've always wanted to visit southern California. We can always book a plane out of LAX."

"But I have a couple of stops along the way. Besides, we shouldn't be here that much longer."

April tsked and put her arm through one of Reed's. "It doesn't sound like you like our company very much, Larry."

"It's not that. I just don't want to hold you up, that's all."

"We'll be fine." She turned to Napoleon. "Go on, go catch your plane."

"Great." Napoleon tossed the keys in the air, catching them securely before heading out. He turned at the door. "I'll see you two later. Nice working with you, Larry," he added with a wave.

He whistled softly as he took the path away from the building and to their parked cars. He had plenty of time, now. Plenty of time to get back to New York, finish packing and head out again. He had a week's vacation coming and he'd already made plans. Ten days relaxing on the beaches of Bora Bora; it didn't get any better than that.

Unlocking the door, he slid behind the wheel and started the car. He pulled onto the dirt road just as it started to rain.

Napoleon was still over a hundred miles south of Sacramento when the traffic slowed to a crawl, the brake lights of the cars in front of him a bright glare through the rain-drenched windshield. He glanced at his watch. He'd made good time up until now, but at this rate he'd never make it to the airport on time. He could only hope that his flight would be delayed because of the rain.

The traffic slowed even more and up ahead Napoleon caught sight of the flashing lights of an ambulance. An accident, no wonder. He grabbed the map from the passenger's seat and fumbled it open with one hand. Trying to keep one eye on the road, he searched for an alternative route. He traced a path down the thick line of the interstate and spied a minor roadway splitting off from the highway and then reconnecting further on. He put the map aside and began working his way to the right. When he got to the correct exit, he slowed and pulled the car onto the off ramp.

At the stop sign Napoleon studied the map again. Yes, if he took the road on the left, it should rejoin the main freeway thirty miles or so further ahead. He took the turn and merged into traffic.

He settled back in his seat with a sigh, glad to be moving again. The road was almost completely empty, the lights from the car in front of him soon lost in the distance. At first, there was traffic coming from the other direction, but after a few miles even that petered out.

The road began to climb, and Napoleon realized that he was entering a mountain pass. The rain intensified and he could feel a chill begin to permeate into the car. He turned on the heater to combat the cold and the fog that was beginning to cloud the windows. Further on, the road took a sharp right as it clung to the edge of the mountain side.

The only sound was that of the rain drumming on the rooftop. Feeling slightly claustrophobic, Napoleon switched on the radio. All that came through was a burst of static, so he switched it off again. He started humming to himself. What was that song Illya had teasingly sang to him as they'd dance the other night? Something about loving him for a million years. As if he could do anything else.

He settled into a leisurely rate of speed, slowing only slightly when the contour of the land demanded it. The scenery was pleasant, he didn't have to worry about being chased by anyone—well, not too much—and he'd always enjoyed his own company; he could take pleasure in this quiet interlude.

The road continued to climb until it seemed that he traveled within the clouds, the mist having thickened into a fog. The car lights weren't helping as much, the beams bouncing off the droplets of moistures, so he dropped his speed down even more.

Around the next bend, he reached the top of the mountain and the road began its downward journey. If this meant he was halfway through the pass, Napoleon thought he'd actually manage to get to the airport early, maybe even catch an earlier flight.

He was impatient to get back to New York. The two extra days he'd spent here was two days less that he had to spend with Illya. They had so little time together as it was, especially recently. Too often they were being separated, sent on missions that were sometimes half a world apart.

Besides, they needed more than just more missions together, more than the routine meetings at headquarters to finish off paperwork or to meet with Mr. Waverly. What they needed was time to explore and enjoy this new relationship that had recently flourished between them and borne fruit.

He thought about the private cabin they'd rented, no one for miles around, Illya sunning himself on the beach without a stitch on, and had to force himself not to nudge the accelerator up a notch.

Five minutes later the rain slowed and then finally stopped, though the sky up ahead was still heavy with clouds. He thought another fifteen minutes should see him back on the freeway. The car began to gain speed as it made its way down the mountainside. He put his foot on the brakes. The pedal hit the floor, and instead of slowing down the car continued its acceleration.

He instantly threw the car into second gear and then turned off the ignition. It slowed him down a little, but he was going too fast for it to make much of a difference. The vehicle careened from one side of the road to the other as he steered around the turns and struggled to keep the car under control. He wasn't having much luck. With no options left, he pulled the hand-brake and prayed that they hadn't been affected by whatever had taken out the main ones.

The car stuttered as the wheels locked, caught between gravity and the pull of the brakes. For a moment, Napoleon thought he would come out of this in one piece, but then the car fishtailed, slid sideways and skidded off the road.

Signing his name to the report, Illya Kuryakin couldn't help but be glad that this particular mission was well over. He hated baby-sitting jobs. Even worse, he hated baby-sitting jobs that he was forced to do on his own. Hated them so much that he'd decided to put off writing the report until his partner's return. But when Napoleon had been delayed, Illya had found himself writing the damn thing alone, the hours ticking away toward his vacation.

He glanced over at his partner's desk. Napoleon would be back very soon and then Illya could forget all about supercilious diplomats and their equally snobbish wives and get on with a well-deserved time off. He looked at his watch. It was almost six o'clock. If he hurried, he could make it home with plenty of time to shower and change before picking Napoleon up at the airport.

He pushed away from his desk and stood up. Gathering the report, he nabbed his jacket and headed out. He'd drop the report off with Napoleon's secretary and get out before Mr. Waverly found some reason to delay his vacation yet again. It had happened twice already: Illya swore it wasn't going to happen again.

The corridors of UNCLE New York were quiet, the forthcoming weekend already pulling the non-enforcement personal away from their jobs. While the UNCLE was a 24-7 operation, weekends still tended to be less busy. Maybe THRUSH didn't like working them, either.

Entering Mitzi's cubicle, he found the pleasant looking redhead still at work. Though young, the woman was conscientious and was one of the few females in the building who didn't have a crush on his charming partner. Probably because she'd had more contact with him than most, Illya thought, only half jokingly. No man was known better than by his secretary... unless it was by his lover. Illya loved the man wholeheartedly, but had come to the conclusion that Napoleon was what was called high maintenance.

"Here's another report for your boss," he said to the woman as he dropped the folder into her in basket.

"Thanks, Illya. I'm sure he'll appreciate it," she responded with a smile.

"Have you heard from him?" Illya asked.

"Not yet, though I was informed that agents Dancer and Slade have already checked in, so I imagine I will soon. Do you want me to have him get in touch with you when I do?"

"I'd appreciate that." He frowned. "Isn't that somewhat odd, that he didn't check in along with April and Mark?"

"Not really. I can't count the times I've only known he's on his way back because we've heard from you. But he'll call in—eventually," she added.

"I don't know how you put up with him."

"He's not so bad. To tell the truth, I've never had a better boss. He treats me with respect and, believe it or not, has never made a pass at me."

"That is hard to believe."

She gave him a look. "I think you know him better than that. I'm a married woman. Napoleon doesn't poach."

"Yes, you're correct, but if I don't talk about him, who will?" He pulled his jacket on. "Well, I better be getting on my way. Call or no call, I wouldn't care to be late picking him up."

"Eager to start your vacation?"

"Eager doesn't even begin to describe it."

With a chuckle, she returned to her work as Illya continued his journey out of the building. It was a lovely spring evening, but he was glad he'd brought the car. With thoughts of all the things he planned to do with, and to, Napoleon during the next two weeks playing through his head, he got behind the wheel and headed home.

It was the pain that brought him to consciousness. Napoleon lifted himself up from his sprawl across the front seats and bumped his head against the roof of the car. Groggy and unable to see clearly, he lifted his hand and felt around. The roof had collapsed, so that it was now mere inches above the top of the seats; if he'd stayed in a sitting position, he'd probably be dead right now, because there was less than a foot of space between the car's body and roof lines.

Blood seeped from a wound on his forehead and he wiped it away. It helped clear his vision and he looked around. The car had landed right side up, but was tilted to the left and forward at an almost forty-five degree angle. He seemed to be in some sort of ravine, the tall grass that grew everywhere around him blocking what little view he had through the compressed windows.

He tried the door, but it wouldn't budge. The exertion sent his head pounding and he moaned in pain. He tried turning in his seat and had to clamp down on a scream as a flash of agony shot up his leg. When he could see straight again, he did an examination of his limb. The pant leg was torn and soaked with blood. He carefully rolled up the tattered flaps of material. A deep gash ran from his ankle up almost to his knee. Blood had pooled in the foot well and was still oozing from his wound. His entire lower leg was bruised and swollen.

Girding himself against the pain, he experimented with moving his leg slightly. He grimaced and immediately stopped. Any movement was torture; it didn't take a genius to figure out that his leg was broken.

He sat back up and reached into his coat pocket. Nothing. His communicator was gone. It must have fallen out during his ride down the mountain side. He was on his own. He tried laying on the horn. Again, nothing. From the condition of the hood, the battery had probably been ripped from its mooring, which meant that the lights, even if by some miracle were still intact, wouldn't work, either.

He leaned forward and tried looking out. The sky overhead was clear, but quickly darkening as evening set on. He must have been out a couple of hours. So it appeared he'd be spending at least one night here. Maybe more. April and Mark wouldn't be looking for him. As far as they knew, he'd made it back to Sacramento and was winging his way back to New York. Waverly would figure he was still in California or that he'd left on vacation. His only hope was that Illya wouldn't automatically assume he was still out in the field when he didn't call.

He shivered. The temperature was already dropping. Pulling his jacket tightly around him, Napoleon tried to get as comfortable as he could. Most of the windows had shattered, and a stiff breeze blew through the vehicle. He scooted down as best he could and dropped his chin down against his chest. He tried to sleep.

Illya threw his keys onto the hall table in Napoleon's apartment and hung his coat on the rack next to it. He'd waited at the airport long after Napoleon's plane had disembarked. Finally, he'd asked at the desk and had been informed that Napoleon had never made the flight. He wasn't answering his communicator, either.

Walking into the kitchen, he pulled out the bottle of vodka from the freezer and poured himself a glass. He took a healthy drink, and then mulled over his options. Neither Mitzi nor Mr. Waverly had heard from Napoleon. Nor had anyone in the Sacramento office. He hadn't been able to raise either April or Mark, so he'd left a message for either to call him as soon as they could. It appeared his only option was to sit and wait.

He scowled, not liking that option at all. Fear was only beginning to settle in his gut, so right now irritation at his partner was paramount. Damn the man, anyway. He'd known that Illya would be back in a matter of days; why couldn't he have just sat still and waited out the time? Something told him he could forget about their vacation.

Finishing off his drink, he returned to the living room. He kicked off his shoes and plopped down on the couch. He was tired, irritated—and becoming more worried about his partner as the minutes passed. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes. It was almost two in the morning and sleep was pulling at him. If he could get twenty or thirty minutes he'd be in much better shape to deal with Napoleon's latest mishap. Instead, scenarios began to play in his head of what sort of trouble Napoleon might be in.

He'd almost managed to banish the troubling thoughts when the trill of his communicator brought him bolt upright. He took it out of his pocket and turned the instrument to engage.

"Illya Kuryakin."

"Illya, it's April. They said you'd called."

"Yes, I haven't been able to get in touch with Napoleon."

"He isn't there?"

"No, he missed his flight and he hasn't checked in."

"That's really odd, because he left the THRUSH outpost well ahead of us."

Illya heard her say something to someone else and then a muffled response. "What's going on?"

"I asked Mark if Napoleon had said anything to him about going somewhere else. But as far as he knows, Napoleon was in a hurry to get back to New York."

"Could he have had car trouble?"

"I suppose that's possible. We're in Los Angeles, so we wouldn't have seen him if he had. But why wouldn't he have called in?"

"I don't know. I don't like this, April. It's not like Napoleon to not call in, not without a good reason."

There was a short conversation on the other end and then April got back on the line. "They're sending out a search party. Mark and I are going along. We'll go back to the outpost and then retrace his route back to Sacramento. He's got to be around there somewhere. I just wish it wasn't dark out. That's going to make things tougher."

"I'm going to catch a plane out to join you. I'm leaving for the airport right now and I'll be there as soon as I can. Kuryakin out."

He stuffed his communicator back into his jacket as he stood. He slipped on his shoes, grabbed his coat, and was out the door.

Napoleon stared out the shattered remains of the windshield. It was raining again. That the roof had collapsed had turned out to be a lucky break. If it hadn't the water would have be pouring in right now. As it was, from time to time the wind would blow in a fine mist of moisture, dampening his clothes. Well, at least he wouldn't die of thirst.

Unable to sleep, he'd taken inventory. From his pockets he'd pulled a pack of matches, though he wasn't sure what use they'd be, a roll of mints and a handkerchief. He'd used the handkerchief to try to tie off his wound around the spot that seemed to be bleeding the most. The flow had slowed, but not stopped completely. The glove compartment had given up a couple of candy bars and a flash light.

Knowing he needed to search the back seat, he'd gritted his teeth and turned clumsily on his side, trying not to move his right leg more than he had to. He'd finally managed to turn himself around, though the pain had almost undone him; it had also reinforced his belief that trying to maneuver his way out of the car was out of the question. But his troubles had been worth the pain because someone had stuffed a blanket and thermos under one of the seats.

Now he sat, a little warmer with the blanket wrapped around his shoulders, the lukewarm coffee like ambrosia. The candy bar was stale but he hoped it would relieve his nausea.

He tossed the wrapper aside and resettled his head against the seat. His leg ached and he was beginning to feel weak. He wasn't stupid; he knew he was going into shock. Using the flashlight, he checked his watch. A little after eleven. He'd been here almost six hours. His leg was still bleeding; the handkerchief was soaked and a steady drip was slowly adding to the pool of blood under his feet. He wasn't too concerned—yet, but it hurt like hell. Illya better get here soon.

Illya. He wondered where his partner was right now. Probably on a plane, on his way to once again rescue him from another fine mess he'd gotten himself into. Despite the pain, Napoleon couldn't help but smile. They'd saved each other more times than either could count in the five years of their partnership.

Searching through memories, he tried to remember when that first time had been, the first time he'd looked up to see Illya come to his rescue. He thought it was the time he'd been held prisoner by Dr. Amadeus, the mad scientist who had wanted to reanimate Adolph Hitler. Yes, that was it. Angelique had been there, too, driving Illya crazy because, even then, there had been a spark between them. Looking back, he was easy to see those first signs of possessiveness from Illya that his partner would try, usually unsuccessfully, to control.

But who in the world wanted a controlled Illya? Certainly not him. He wanted the wild and inventive lover that Illya had turned out to be. Not that Napoleon had been surprised; he'd caught the smoldering heat under Illya's icy exterior almost from the beginning. But he'd held back, not wanting to be burned by that fire. He hadn't realized that, tempered with love, that fire could bring life-giving warmth. And such a warmth. Napoleon knew, inside and out, just how wonderful that warmth could feel.

Even under these conditions, thoughts of his partner could get a rise out of him. He squirmed in his seat and then clenched his teeth against the agony that shot up his leg when he accidentally put weight on it. He wrapped his hands around his thigh, as if pressure there could somehow keep the pain at bay. When it finally subsided, he slumped forward, exhausted.

After a few minutes, he pulled as much of the blanket as he could around to use as cushioning, and rested his head on the steering wheel. He closed his eyes and listened to the rain.

"No luck?" Illya asked.

April looked up at his entrance. She and several other agents were gathered around a map spread out on the oblong table that dominated the room. "Not yet. We were about to head out again. I'm just waiting for Mark to come back. He said he had a couple of things he wanted to check out."

Illya walked over, passing the other agents as they left in twos and glanced at the map. Large swathes of it had been marked off. "Are these the areas you've searched?"

"So far. I just added this section," she pointed out an area not far from the city. "The night crews reported in a few minutes ago. They're on their way back in."

"I don't understand. If something had happened, why wouldn't Napoleon have called in?"

April ran a hand through her hair. "I'm not sure, Illya, but none of it makes sense. He was coming straight from the THRUSH outpost back to headquarters. Unless he was captured, he should have been somewhere along the main highway."

The door opened again and Mark Slade walked in, a file in his hand. He looked deeply troubled.

"Bad news?" April took the file and began scanning through the pages.

"You might say. It appears there's more to Larry Reed than meets the eye."

"Who is Larry Reed?" Illya asked.

"He's the agent who was with us on the mission. He'd been following up some information of his own regarding the THRUSH outpost, so when he heard that we might have a lead he asked to be included. And he's also, it seems," April looked up from her reading, "a double agent."

"Seems so, luv. Something about the situation at the outpost didn't sit right with me. That particular informant had never given us bad information, yet the place was deserted. And Reed was the first one there. Somewhat conveniently, I'd say. So when we got back I had a talk with Walter Cary, Reed's partner. He's right here in medical." Mark lowered himself and sat on the edge of the table. "Apparently, Cary's injury may not have been entirely accidental."

Illya peered over April's shoulder. "Cary told medical that he'd fallen down the stairs at his apartment."

"That's right. But what he didn't tell them was that he wasn't alone. Reed was with him. And while he can't be sure, Cary thinks he was deliberately pushed. Reed acted like it was an accident, but Cary could almost swear he felt Reed's hand on his back right before he fell."

"And he didn't say anything to Reed?" April asked.

"No, he wanted to make sure before he made an issue out of it. They've only been partnered a few months, and Cary didn't want to cause trouble in case he was wrong. So I did a little snooping for him."

"And found a string of 'accidents' to agents partnered with Reed,' April responded as she flipped through the report again.

"Exactly. And a little more digging uncovered a connection between Reed and Carla Drosten, the section six chief who turned traitor."

"This could all be circumstantial," Illya said.

"Could be, mate, except that Reed has mysteriously disappeared."

"Do you think he might have had something to do with Napoleon's disappearance?"

"Wouldn't be at all surprised. He was fine until April got the message to call you. Then he suddenly had a pressing engagement."

"You know, Reed wasn't all that happy with us staying behind," April commented. "Do you suppose he did something to the car?"

"If he did, where's the car? And where's Napoleon?" Illya made a sound of disgust. "This is getting us nowhere. We're not going to find Napoleon standing around here talking."

"We'll find him, Illya." April put down the file and nodded toward the door. "Come on, Mark, before Illya decides to leave us behind."

Illya followed the two agents out to the garage. They separated as Illya headed toward his own car and then waited until Mark drove their vehicle over so that Illya could follow them. In tandem, they drove through the deserted parking garage.

Illya was glad April and Mark hadn't been put off by his behavior. They knew what it was to have a missing partner; he knew they would do their best, they all would. But Illya's incentive was much higher; Napoleon was so much more than a partner to him. He pulled out behind them and followed them onto the darkened streets.

Napoleon pulled in the thermos cup and drank the collected rain water in large gulps. As the night had progressed, he'd alternated between chills that left him feeling cold and clammy and bouts of profuse sweating that left him with a raging thirst. What little sleep he'd managed had been punctuated with bad dreams. He'd relived at least half a dozen missions that had gone badly awry. He'd been glad when the sun had risen, though the sky was still mostly clouded over.

At least he'd managed not to soil himself. He'd been afraid of that, that if he had to urinate it would flow down his leg and contaminate the wound. Instead, he'd sacrificed the thermos bottle to relieve himself. It hadn't been easy.

He let the cup drop onto the seat next to him. He was so tired and he felt like hell. He glanced down at his leg. The pain was worse and any movement brought the pain raging back. He'd had a coughing fit earlier; he'd doubled over and whined from deep in his throat, tears squeezing out from between tightly closed lids. He could have died right then and there and he wasn't sure he would have cared.

No, that wasn't right. He would have cared—a lot. He wanted to see Illya again, to hold the man against him and experience the contentment and joy that simple act had brought him each and every time.

Well, if he couldn't sleep, he could at least think pleasant thoughts.

He remembered their first time with a weary smile. Yet one more time that Illya had come to his rescue. But this time, his partner had been livid. He'd barely spoken to Napoleon, Napoleon's every attempt at conversation slapped down with a furious glare. Okay, maybe he had been somewhat distracted by the innocent—it had been his pathetic attempt at the time at redirecting his attraction away from his partner—and managed to get him and the woman captured. All had ended well, and before they had been captured Napoleon had managed to get pictures of THRUSH's latest weapons system. That should count for something.

They'd entered their apartment building through the underground parking garage and Napoleon had pushed the buttons for their respective floors. When they'd reached Illya's floor, Napoleon had been baffled when his partner had pulled him out of the elevator and proceeded to shove him toward his apartment, all without a word being said.

Napoleon was building up a head a steam of his own by the time Illya had pushed him inside and slammed the door behind him. Thing was, the next second Napoleon found himself pressed up against said door, Illya's lips locked tightly onto his own.

What does one do when handed everything one has ever wanted? Napoleon hadn't had to think twice. He'd wrapped his arms around Illya and pulled the compact body against his own. Somehow, they managed to divest themselves of their clothes as they stumbled through the apartment to Illya's bedroom.

There had been few words spoken. Other than the hushed phrases of Russian from Illya as he'd taken control, learning and playing Napoleon's body like a master until Napoleon was ready to explode. The feel of Illya's mouth on his cock, his talented tongue doing things to Napoleon he had only dreamt about, had pushed him over the edge. Making far more noise than he normally did, he'd come with a wild keening. Illya had sucked him dry.

Given little time to catch his breath, Napoleon had suddenly found himself on his stomach. Illya had prepared him with tongue and fingers and then had taken him in a mind-blowing coalescence of lust and adoration.

Later, sated and reveling in the deep ache in his backside, Napoleon had lain awake, Illya snuggled up against his side. He knew, in a way he hadn't known before, that this is what he'd always wanted. What he'd always want.

That had been only four months before. Four months. Such a little time. Because of what they did for a living, death wasn't a stranger to them, but Napoleon had still believed they'd have years, the rest of their lives. It seemed that that might be the case, at least for him.

No, it couldn't end this way. Surely, they'd find him. But twice through the night and once this morning he'd heard the rumbling of a vehicle drive by on the road above; though no more than a couple of hundred feet down, the car was apparently hidden from view.

He lowered his head again, giving in to despair. Not only was he concealed, but because he'd also taken the detour, he wasn't anywhere near where they would be looking for him. They certainly had no reason to look for him here.

Where the hell are you, Napoleon?

Illya pushed his way through the underbrush that seemed to grow ever thicker the further he got from the outpost. As far as he could tell, no one had been this way in years. In disgust, he turned around and retraced his steps.

He'd spent the morning driving back and forth along the route Napoleon would have taken. Finally giving it up as a lost cause, he'd made his way to the last place Napoleon had been seen. He had been joined by several other agents, all of them earnestly searching for his lost partner.

Stepping out into the clearing, he was met by one of the other agents. Tall, with straw-colored hair, Illya remembered working with him about a year ago. Scott—something. Marlow, his tired brain finally supplied.

"Nothing?" Marlow asked.

Illya just shook his head. He wasn't up to conversation. All he wanted to do was rest for a few minutes and then start the search again. He walked over to his car and opened the door. He sat down in the seat, leaving one leg dangling onto the ground.

"You should get some rest," Marlow said as he approached.

"I'll rest after I find Napoleon."

"Did you ever think that maybe he's not anywhere around here? We don't know for sure if Reed did anything to the car. Or if he did, maybe it set Solo up to be taken. He could be anywhere by now."

Illya gave the man a sour look. "No one reported seeing a breakdown, much less someone being kidnapped off of an open road."

"There is that. I can't think of a time when that highway wouldn't have traffic on it. Even in the middle of the night it's busy."

"Which means he would have had to be taken before he left the forest road, yet there's no sign of a car being forced off the road. Or of a car, period. And agents have been scouring the area all day."

Marlow looked up and squinted into the sun. "At least it's stopped raining."

"Too bad it didn't stop before it washed away any tracks we might have found." Illya looked up at Marlow. "Were you going back out?"

"No, I've been recalled to headquarters. I'm just waiting for my partner to show up. He said he'd only be a couple of minutes, but I wish he'd hurry."

"Are you that anxious to get back?"

Not really, but the traffic's going to start to pick up. I suppose we can always take the canyon detour."


"There's a road that cuts through a canyon just south of the city. It's not really a shortcut since you end up driving more miles. But there's a lot less traffic on it."

Illya sat up, suddenly alert. "This road, what is it called?"

"I don't know its name. I was born around here, so I just know it's there."

"Would someone unfamiliar with the area think to take it?"

Marlow frowned in thought and then shook his head. "I doubt it. It's not marked as a way to get to the city."

Illya leaned over and removed his map from the glove compartment. He hurriedly unfolded it and searched for the area in question. He motioned Marlow over. "Is this the road?" he asked, while pointing out the thin line that snaked away from the highway.

"Yeah, that's it."

Illya crumbled up the map and threw it into the back seat. Hauling his leg in, he slammed the door and started the car. "I'll see you later."

"What'll I tell everyone?" Marlow shouted as he stepped away from the moving car.

"Tell them I'll be in touch," Illya yelled back as he drove off.

He impatiently took it slow, well, relatively slow, until he left the forest road. Then, he opened up the engine, getting as much speed out of the car as he safely could. The road he was looking for was over an hour away.

The idea that Napoleon might not be there either was a litany that played over and over again in his mind as he drove. But it was his only hope, something that, up until now, he had been slowly losing.

And what would he do if Napoleon wasn't there? He'd keep looking, that's what he'd do; if not here, then somewhere else. He'd keep looking as long as there was somewhere else to look. He'd keep looking until he found Napoleon.

Even with his eyes closed, Napoleon knew the sun had come out; behind his lids everything glowed red. And even though his body shook with fever and shock, he knew it was warm out. The rain that had fallen so heavily still sat in puddles on the ground, but the car was dry; there wasn't a drop of water close enough for him to drink.

He figured if it rained again, he might last a couple of day; if not, not more than a day. Shock and fever was sucking the moisture right out of him.

Ever so cautiously, he let himself slump down, resting his head on the other seat, the gearbox be damned. It was better this way, easier to pretend he was back home in his bed, Illya beside him.

A breeze wafted through the car, and he thought of the times they'd left the balcony doors open to allow in the cool winds of spring to dry their passion-damp bodies. He lightly touched the car seat next to his face and pretended to run his fingers through his lover's soft hair. He sighed in contentment. The brightness slowly faded until he was left with only illusion.


"What?" he croaked.

"Where are you?"

"Right here...right beside you."


Napoleon frowned. Why was Illya shouting? He opened his eyes, banishing the dream. He reached out for the steering wheel and hauled himself up. Couldn't he even die in peace?

He took a deep breath and tried to shake away the fog that had settled over his brain. How long had he been out? He heard a slide of rocks nearby, one or two of them pinging against the car. He leaned over, trying to see through the deep grass that blocked his view. In desperation, he reached out and pushed aside the long blades. He looked up.

Illya...Illya scrambling toward him, calling his name. Napoleon closed his eyes in relief and then opened them at the touch of Illya's hand on his face.

"What took you so long?"

Illya grinned. "I appear to have taken the longer route."

"Doesn't matter. Any way you got here is fine with me."

Illya leaned in. "Your leg."

"It's broken, and I've cut it pretty badly."

"Hold on." Illya pulled his head out of the car and knelt on the ground next to the window.

Napoleon let the sound of his partner's voice wash over him as Illya called for help. He thought he heard April's voice on the other end.



"Napoleon, open your eyes."

Napoleon did. There was a look of worry on Illya's face.

"Try to stay awake. They'll be here in a few minutes."

He could do that, especially after Illya leaned in and kissed him. "That's a hell of an incentive to stay awake."

"Good, I wouldn't want my efforts to go to waste."

"Don't worry, I'm okay now." And he was. There would be other days, other rescues. Time.

But there never seems to be enough time to do
the things you want to do once you find them.
I've looked around enough to know that you're
the one I want to go through time with.

"Time In a Bottle" - Jim Croce, 1973


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