by nickovetch

Year Three

Napoleon Solo looked up from his report as he heard the automatic doors whoosh open. He smiled as he took in Illya's entrance, his nose buried in a printout, his free hand groping for the chair so he could sit down. He plopped into the chair and slouched, all his concentration centered on the lab results he perused. He did not acknowledge Solo in any way.

Napoleon let the slight go without bothering to be bothered by it. Illya was single-minded when it came to his first love—science. Napoleon knew better than to try to interrupt him when he was in lab mode. He'd come to tolerate the sudden disappearances of his Section Two partner and friend, knowing that all he had to do was buzz the lower levels and he'd find his brainy associate immersed in an experiment and happy as a pig in mud.

U.N.C.L.E. had gotten quite a prize when they'd picked up the young Russian two years before. Solo still wasn't sure of all the details as to how they'd gotten their hands on Illya. He was just grateful they had.

He smiled to himself. He hadn't been so sure the first day Mr. Waverly had informed him he'd be breaking in a new Russian recruit.

Year One

A competent enforcement agent, Napoleon had the reputation of being an up-and-comer, and he'd been taken aback to be saddled with baby-sitting. Of course, he did not voice his doubts to his boss. Alexander Waverly was a disciplinarian, a stern taskmaster, and a father figure to all the Section Two agents, and Napoleon Solo respected him as he did no other.

So he'd held his tongue as Waverly pushed the file folder across the table to him and silently read the details within. The first page had the pertinent personal information. It was sketchy at best, since the records that came from the U.S.S.R. were woefully incomplete. Solo noticed there was no date of birth at all. The picture of the young Russian agent was a black and white headshot, taken in profile. A military I.D. photo, no doubt. The gaunt face was shadowed and hollow and the expression was grim.

Solo did look up then, raising his eyebrows.

Waverly caught the look, and asked, "You have a question, Mr. Solo?"

"Yes, sir. Do we know how old he is? Or how old this photo is? He looks very young." And skinny, he wanted to add. It was hard to extrapolate from the photograph, but the kid didn't look enforcement agent material to Solo's appraising eye.

"Unfortunately, his personnel records do not have much information. I don't believe the Soviets know when he was born. He was orphaned in the war and raised by the state." Waverly looked uncomfortable for a brief moment before continuing. "We both know what that means. It would be safe to assume Mr. Kuryakin has faced his share of deprivation and hardship in his young life."

Solo's jaw hardened as he thought of stories his professors had told of war-ravaged Russia post WWII. He sighed, his sense of fairness coming into play. He at least owed this kid a chance.

Scanning the next section Solo was impressed by the Survival School scores and recommendations. He did a double take when he glanced at the standard I.Q. testing results. He looked at Waverly incredulously.

Waverly smiled at the response. "Yes, very impressive, very impressive."

Napoleon sighed. "Sir, if I may ask... how did we get our hands on this wunderkind?"

Mr. Waverly actually looked embarrassed as he replied, "That's not something I am at liberty to discuss. It is between the U.N.C.L.E. and the Kremlin."

Napoleon smiled at the old lion. "But you are privy to the details?" Waverly nodded. "Then that's all I need to know, sir."

The Section One chief smiled at his charge's trust. "Then I should like for you to meet Mr. Kuryakin." He pushed a button and said, "Send him in, Miss Rogers."

Solo turned and watched the steel doors part to admit a smallish, painfully thin young man. He was very blond, his eyes darting across the room to settle on Mr. Waverly. He seemed to relax a bit at seeing a familiar face and then those incredibly blue eyes found Napoleon Solo.

The Russian looked Solo over quickly, appraising him without seeming to do so. He came to stand at attention in front of Mr. Waverly's chair and did not speak. Napoleon rose as well and waited for the introductions.

Mr. Waverly looked at the senior agent and gestured to him. "Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin."

Solo held out his hand and the new man took it tentatively. Napoleon gave him a short smile and felt the strength in the surprisingly large hand. Kuryakin had a wary look in his eyes, but he returned the smile awkwardly.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Kuryakin. I hope your introduction to HQ has been satisfactory."

The young Russian relaxed his stance to parade rest and replied, "It has been very educational; thank you, sir."

Solo was astounded to hear his accent. He hid the reaction, listening to the soft baritone's mixture of Russian and British accents. Very unusual.

Kuryakin picked up on the look somehow and said diffidently, "The accent? I studied two years at Cambridge. I seem to pick up the local wherever I go..."

"I'll be sure to keep you away from Brooklyn, then, Mr. Kuryakin."

The young man look puzzled, seeing the inside joke shared between the two New Yorkers. Mr. Waverly harrumphed and he indicated for Kuryakin to sit.

"I'm assigning you to Mr. Solo here for field training, Mr. Kuryakin. He's one of my top agents and more than competent to show you the ropes. I trust this meets with your approval as well?" It was phrased as a question, but both agents knew the subject was closed as far as their staid boss was concerned.

Illya merely nodded and turned to address his new partner. "You are an American, then, Mr. Solo?"

Napoleon coughed. "Actually, I'm Canadian by birth, but a naturalized American citizen now." He looked at the somber Slavic face and inquired, "And you were born in the Ukraine?"

A dark look flashed across Kuryakin's face for an instant and then the schooled blank visage returned. "I have no memory of being born there, but I have no reason to disbelieve the facts as I have been told."

A carefully neutral answer, Napoleon thought. Just what he'd expect from a Soviet-trained citizen. But there was something else below the surface in this one. Something more than what he'd read about him.

Napoleon stood and offered his hand in a warmer exchange, one of partners. "Well, it doesn't matter now, at any rate. We're U.N.C.L.E. agents first and foremost."

A shadow passed over the Russian's face, and Solo recognized the predicament this young man was in. Kuryakin didn't seem to know how to respond to the American's statement without impugning his loyalty to his own government. Napoleon remained quiet, and shook Illya's hand, hoping the young man would feel the genuine warmth radiating toward him.

Waverly caught the strained look on the Russian's face at Napoleon's innocent remark, and watched carefully to see how the youngster would handle it. He was pleased when he let it go by without comment. He was quick-witted and adaptive, this one. Waverly was pleased with himself for having the foresight to assign his maverick alpha agent to the new man. Solo would be a perfect counterbalance for the massive intellect buried underneath the inexperience and insecurity.

Their chief slid a manila envelope toward Solo and explained, "Keys to Mr. Kuryakin's apartment. It is furnished, but show him around the neighborhood and help him get settled. Both of you report here first thing in the morning."

"Yes, sir," echoed as a chorus and the men smiled at each other. Solo ushered Kuryakin out of the room and into the nearest elevator.

Once they were moving, Solo asked, "Do you have any belongings to pick up?"

The Russian replied, "I have a suitcase at reception. A 'Wanda' said she'd hold it for me."

Solo snorted. "I'll just bet she did," he said, knowing the Asian beauty's predilection for blond men. A moment later the younger man was a fiery red from his collar to his ear tips. Napoleon shook his head, reminding himself just how green this agent was and resolving not to embarrass him unduly.

He grinned. "Sorry, kid. Wanda can be a bit...predatory was all I meant."

Kuryakin looked at his shoes for the rest of the trip down. At least his color normalized by the time they arrived at reception. To his relief, Solo saw Wanda had stepped out and he retrieved the new agent's battered suitcase. It was covered in European stickers and baggage tags and was held together by strapping tape. It wasn't much bigger than his briefcase.

"This it then?"

Kuryakin nodded as he took the bag from the senior agent. He seemed to relax once his meager possessions were safely in his grasp, and Solo felt a twinge of pity for him in that regard. He was sure the few items Kuryakin had managed to collect were precious to him.

"All right. We'll take my car. Do you have a vehicle?"

Kuryakin looked stunned at the question. "Never mind," Solo apologized. "Stupid thing to ask."

He placed his hand in the small of Kuryakin's back and guided him to the basement garage. "I'll show you the ins and outs of the subway system so you know how to get to work. At least until you get a set of wheels. Don't worry; this address isn't very far from here. You could easily walk in good weather."

Kuryakin smiled. "I am used to walking in all kinds of weather."

Napoleon laughed at the honest statement. "I'll just bet you are, Mr. Kuryakin."

The young man stopped and turned to his new partner. "I would like it if you would call me Illya. I know my surname is hard to pronounce."

"Not any worse than Napoleon." They grinned at each other and Solo said, "Try it out."

"Thank you, Napoleon, for showing me around."

"You are most welcome, Illya. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?"

Napoleon indicated his sports car and Illya goggled at its beauty before sliding in. "This is your auto?"

"Car, Illya. Yes, she is a pretty little thing, isn't she?" His obvious pride showing, he couldn't resist revving the engine and demonstrating the car's power. Illya grinned as he felt the vibrations from the engine shaking the interior. He was used to the battered and wheezing Czech vehicles of the State.

"She is very beautiful, Napoleon."

They rocketed out of the garage into the bright morning sunshine and Solo did his best to plaster Illya into the bucket seat. He decided he might as well introduce the young Soviet to the decadent things in life earlier rather than later.

"Let's stop at the grocers and stock up on food. Your apartment will be bare."

Illya seemed embarrassed and Napoleon caught on quickly. "Money? Don't worry about it partner. You'll get paid tomorrow at processing and you can pay me back."

Kuryakin sighed and seemed to relax. Solo decided to go to the larger store around the corner rather than the neighborhood green grocer. There were bound to be necessities the larger store would stock that Illya would need.

He parked carefully and took Illya's arm and led him across the street. The entrance to the store was a dark green canopy, and a small vestibule led to the store proper. Solo went first and pulled a small cart from its storage spot and ushered Illya in. He started straight off to the produce section with its brightly arranged rows of colorful product.

He was just about to ask Illya his preference when he heard a strange sound behind him. Turning, he was alarmed to see Illya rapidly paling, his normally ivory complexion ashen. Solo was at his side in an instant, looking around for signs of danger. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Illya didn't respond; his breathing was becoming more strident and his knees buckled. Solo caught him as he sagged and gently lowered him to the floor. A cashier ran over, saw the problem and then took off for the bathroom. A moment later she was back with a cool cloth. Napoleon nodded his thanks and applied the rag to Illya's forehead. His eyes were glazed and had a glassy look to them. Was he sick? Something he overlooked in the files?

Kuryakin moaned once and tried to get up. Solo placed a restraining hand on his chest and stopped him.

"Not so fast, Illya." He elevated his legs with the cart and asked the worried clerk for a glass of water. Illya's color was pinking up again and Napoleon allowed him to recline against him. The woman returned with a glass of cold water. "Here, drink this slowly."

The Russian took small sips and looked around dazedly. Solo started. The Russian. The Russian...what an idiot I am.

Wrapping an arm protectively around the small shoulders, Solo felt the tremors in the thin frame begin and cursed his stupidity. Way to go, Solo. Bombard the kid with western affluence and make him pass out on his first trip to the store.

Illya sighed and struggled to sit up. Solo let him, watching for a relapse. The young man was still pale but now embarrassment was catching up with him and he was blushing.

He looked up through the fringe of blond bangs and swore in Russian. "I'm sorry, Napoleon."

"Don't be. I'm the one who should be apologizing. I never even thought... well, I should have." He glanced again at the sparse frame and asked bluntly, "When was the last time you ate something?"

The Russian looked at his shoes and mumbled, "On the plane two days ago." He tried to meet Solo's eyes and failed. "It was very hectic and no one seemed to know what to do with me. I just tried to stay out of the way."

Napoleon looked heavenward and sighed. Kuryakin looked better and Solo helped him to his feet. He was unsteady and Napoleon hooked an arm around his waist and let him lean on the cart.

Illya swept the store with an incredulous gaze, shaking his head in awe. The food in this one store would have fed his orphanage for years. It was incomprehensible to his communistic soul. He felt lightheaded again and tried not to think about it.

Solo steered him through the aisles, trying to make the trip a quick one. They'd get what he needed for tonight and Napoleon would do the shopping for him tomorrow alone. Tossing soap, shampoo and toiletries in the cart, Solo headed for the checkout lanes.

Solo started dumping the purchases on the counter, watching the concerned clerk batting her eyes at his partner. He was having quite an effect on the female population, Solo thought, amused.

"Are you all right, sir?" she asked as she gave Solo the total.

It took Illya a minute to realize she was addressing him and he replied quietly. "Yes, I am fine. I am very sorry to have troubled you."

She smiled at the pale stranger with the sexy accent and gushed, "Oh, it was no trouble. I'm glad you're feeling better."

Illya was blushing to his roots now and Solo was determined to get them out of there. He gave the cashier a bill and told her to keep the change. He gave Illya a couple of lighter packages and took the bulk himself. They made it to the curb and deposited the purchases in the back seat. Illya sank gratefully into the bucket seat and seemed to curl into himself.

"You okay, Illya?" Napoleon was worried he'd mortified the young man into a coma.

"I'm fine, Napoleon, really. I must apologize again..."

"Stop it. Fine partner I'm turning out to be. 'Show him the ropes, Mr. Solo.' I don't think I'm supposed to hang you with them, do you?"

Illya laughed, then, and Solo relaxed a bit. He was all right, this skinny kid.

"Let me make one more stop, all right?" Kuryakin nodded and Solo went next door to the liquor store. He had a feeling the kid could use some liquid fortification. It took only a few minutes and Napoleon returned to the car and climbed behind the wheel.

"Let's get you settled in, then." Illya nodded and was silent the rest of the short trip. Solo drove slowly down Illya's street, looking for the numbers on the brownstone doors. "There it is," he said with relief and pulled over. It was a five story walk-up with a large entryway and a wide stoop. Illya was on the fourth floor. They gathered the parcels and walked up the stairs, shouldering inside the foyer. Up three flights, they turned down the dark corridor to number 404. Solo dropped the key into Illya's hand and he unlocked the door.

Solo let him go first, watching his reaction. They both set their bags down on the kitchenette table and Illya slowly walked around the tiny flat. It had one bedroom, a small living room and a full bath. The kitchen was small but adequate for a single man's needs, and Napoleon was pleased. Illya finished the tour and was very quiet. Solo recognized the look and steered him to the worn brown couch with the ivory doilies on the armrest and back. He didn't want a repeat of the incident in the store. Illya sat heavily, and dropped his head into his hands.

After a minute or two he looked up at his partner. "It's mine? This place...just for me?"

"Yes, Illya. Just for you." Solo's eyes softened as he began to understand the culture shock his poor partner was succumbing to today. He got up and placed the groceries away and stocked the bathroom as well. Pulling out two tumblers Solo poured large measures of bourbon and vodka into them.

He placed one glass in Illya's shaking hand and said, "Nasdrovyda."

He wasn't surprised when Illya downed it in one gulp and held it up for a refill. He may look like a choirboy, but he drinks like a sinner. Solo wordlessly filled the glass again.

Kuryakin tossed it back again and set the glass down on the coffee table. It was scarred and ringed but it was his. The whole apartment was his. It was a difficult concept to grasp. He got up a bit shakily and checked out the bathroom. A full shower and tub, amazing. He turned on the hot water and closed his eyes as it ran over his cold fingertips.

Napoleon leaned in the bath and asked, "Everything okay in here?"

Illya laughed. "More than okay. A bathroom all to myself." He still seemed to be in shock.

Solo brought the worn bag into the bedroom and laid it on the double bed. He'd give Illya some privacy and let him settle in and then pick him up later in the afternoon. Napoleon cleared his throat. "Listen, Illya. I'd better get back to HQ and let you get unpacked. How about I come back for you around one?"

Illya seemed at a loss for words, and said, "Oh. You need to go. I understand."

Now Solo was unsure of himself. Illya seemed adrift here, unwilling to be alone yet. Of course. He knew no one, had no way of going anywhere, no money, and his partner was trying to duck out on him. Solo put himself in Illya's shoes and decided they must be lonely ones.

"Or, I could stay and fix us some lunch. That way I know you get something in your stomach."

Kuryakin looked up and smiled. "I am very hungry."

The smile did it. Solo would stay. "All right. 'Solo Special Sandwiches' coming up."

He puttered around in the kitchen finding what he would need to make grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. He'd do his best to try to fatten the skinny agent up.

Illya appeared at his elbow and asked shyly, "Do you need any help?"

"Nope. There's not much room in this kitchen anyway."

"Would you mind if I took a quick shower, then? I've been in this suit for two days now."

Solo was aghast. "Go on. Off with you. Try out the fixtures and bang on the pipes while you're at it. It's your apartment now, partner."

The smile on the Russian's face was so genuine that Solo couldn't help grinning back like an idiot. He turned to the stove to hide the reaction and busied himself in the simple tasks.

He was just turning the sandwiches onto the other side to grill when Illya emerged from the steaming bath, dressed in old sweats and a ratty t-shirt. His blonde hair was plastered to his scalp and his skin was scrubbed pink.

"Feel better?" Solo transferred the soup from the pot to two mugs and began to set the table.

"Yes, much, thank you." He seemed to be uncomfortable about asking something and Solo waited him out. He turned off the burner and set the sandwiches aside to cool.

"I was wondering... I mean if you wouldn't mind..." Illya stopped, clearly at a loss.

"Wouldn't mind what, Illya?"

"Well, I noticed you seem to know all the current fashions and a couple of the other agents talked about your wardrobe, so I thought..."

"You need some help shopping in all this decadence?" He smiled hugely and nudged Illya in the ribs like he would a kid brother. "Comrade, I'm your man."

Illya laughed out loud, clearly relieved and Solo joined him. "Let's eat and then we can see what you already have. We can pick up some things this afternoon. I just happen to know a great tailor..." He winked at Illya and then frowned when he didn't get the joke. "Del Floria's? You mean you haven't been in the tailor shop yet?"

"Tailor shop?" Illya's brows drew together.

"The enforcement agent's entrance?"

"I have only entered HQ with Mr. Waverly once so far. From the Mask Club, I believe it was called."

"Whew. For a minute there I thought you were going to say the Fifth Entrance." At Illya's blank look, he explained, "It's Waverly's private entrance. Only Number One, Section One knows its location."

They ate in companionable silence, Illya packing three sandwiches away to Napoleon's one. He ate like a wolf, gulping the food down quickly and looking for more. Solo's stomach tightened in sympathy, knowing his past had conditioned him to eat as much as he could as quickly as possible. They'd work on manners later. Solo sized him up, as the clothes he had on left little to the imagination. He was scarecrow skinny, with lean muscle mass and no appreciable fat at all. Napoleon made a mental note to get him in the gym tomorrow and see what he was made of.

"Get enough to eat?" he teased, watching his new partner blush again.

"It was very good, Napoleon. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now, do you want to get started on your wardrobe?"

Illya seemed reluctant to unpack in front of him, but went to the bedroom and reopened his worn case. He hesitated a moment before sighing and dumping the contents out on the bed.

Solo picked through the meager pile, separating the underclothes from the worn shirts and socks. Everything was utilitarian and threadbare; the underclothes were obviously military issue. Not wishing to embarrass Illya, he unfolded the spare black suit and shook it out, noting the severe cut and the shiny patches on the sleeves and lapels.

He took the suit and one of the white shirts, found a usable tie and placed them to the side. What he really wanted to do was burn the lot but his sense of compassion made him temper his reactions.

"Well, we can take both your suits to Del's today and get them pressed and that will give you a start this week. Where's the one you were wearing earlier?" Illya pulled another black suit from the floor of the closet and Solo grimaced. "You need a proper hamper and some suit hangers to start. But these will do for now."

Solo wadded the clothes into a ball and retrieved a sack from the kitchen. Illya needed clothes badly. He made a mental note to have a generous clothing allowance added to the Russian's expense account. He could afford to transfer some of his own allowance into Illya's account. He needn't know where it came from.

"Ready? Oh, what about shoes?" Illya glanced down at his government- issued utility-soled nightmares and then at Solo's baby soft Italian leather loafers. He coughed once.

Napoleon had the good grace to blush himself. "Don't worry about it. You hang around with me long enough and you'll be a capitalistic pig before you know it."

At Illya's horrified look, he quickly added, "I was just kidding."

Illya relaxed and winked at the American. "So was I, Napoleon."

Two hours later Illya was loaded down with shopping bags and shoe boxes. Napoleon took pity on him and only made him buy two pair of relatively inexpensive Florsheims at a discount store. That plus five crisp new shirts, new socks and underwear, decidedly un-Soviet ties and various accouterments Solo deemed absolutely essential to complete Illya's wardrobe.

The only section in the store Illya seemed interested in at all was casual wear. He practically caressed the jeans, gasping when he saw the brand name "Levi Strauss." Immediately he began trying them on, seemingly afraid a crowd would suddenly appear and take the clothes from him. He settled on two blue and one black and then added dark colored turtlenecks to the pile. Napoleon smiled at him, indulging the utilitarian purchases.

As Solo took care of the bill, he saw the young man return to the jeans, grab another black pair and ask the clerk something quietly. The man cut the price tag from the jeans as Illya went back to the dressing room. Barely a minute later, Illya emerged wearing the jeans and one of the black turtlenecks. He looked at himself in the mirror, running his hands across the fabric reverently. He realized Napoleon was watching him and colored, smiling shyly and looking away quickly. Solo's heart lurched at the look on Illya's face. It took so little to please him. Napoleon noticed he had thrown the sweats and t-shirt in the garbage.

He sidled next to his partner and asked in a whisper, "Is all right to wear these now?"

"It is all right, yes, of course, Illya."

They placed the purchases in the trunk and then Solo drove off to Del Floria's, parking in a small spot a VW Beetle had vacated. Sometimes it paid to have a compact car. Solo waved Illya out of the car and then ceremoniously led his charge into the hallowed establishment.

Del Floria was there and he greeted Napoleon warmly. Solo replied with "Professional visit today, Del. This is my new partner, Illya Kuryakin. Illya, Salvatore Del Floria, tailor extraordinaire."

"Yes, well, keeping you in suits has paid for my daughter's education, Mr. Solo."

Napoleon scowled at the Italian and pointed a finger at the smaller agent. "Suit him up, Del. And leave some room for tailoring. I'm going to put some pounds and muscle on him the next couple of months."

Del clucked and tutted and measured and pinned. Illya picked out two suits, a dark gray lightweight wool and another sportier navy blazer with coordinated slacks. Napoleon approved and Del promised he'd have them ready in a few days. Illya handed his parcel of suits over and asked if he could get them by tomorrow. Del looked at the ratty articles and started to object, but a furtive look from Napoleon had him holding his tongue. "Why don't you go try this jacket on for size? I need to compare it with the one you bought."

Illya obediently stepped into the changing booth and Solo took Del's arm, steering him away quietly. "Do the best you can with the suits, Del. They're all he has. Maybe you can do some repair work on them?"

Del saw the compassion in the dark eyes and nodded tightly once. "Sure thing, Mr. Solo. I'll do my best."

Illya came out of the booth with the oversized jacket dwarfing his slender frame. The sleeves came over his hands and the shoulders hung on him.

He smiled shyly at the two older men at the picture he made.

Del remarked, "It's a shame your organization can't pay its agents enough to feed themselves, Mr. Solo." He winked broadly at the young Russian to let him know he meant no harm.

"Don't worry, old man. We'll have him beefed up in no time."

Del gave Illya his clothes and told him to change. While he was gone, he motioned Solo over to him conspiratorially. "You recruiting out of high school now, Mr. Solo?"


He thumbed in Illya's direction. "That boy's no older than eighteen, nineteen tops."

Solo looked at Del incredulously. "Why do you say that?"

"Mr. Solo, I been measuring men for close to thirty years. Now, no disrespect to your young friend there, but he ain't exactly... developed... if you get my drift."

Solo was rocked by the revelation. He had thought Illya was young, but more like twenty-one or twenty-two. U.N.C.L.E. didn't recruit children into Section Two. And Illya had mentioned spending two years at Cambridge. He couldn't be that young.

He stayed quiet until Illya returned, mulling over Del's words. They drove back to Illya's place and Solo helped him carry the bags up. He helped him set up the closet properly and organized the one dresser with the new clothes. Napoleon left the old clothes on top of the new, letting Illya know there was no shame in wearing them.

"All right. I think you're set for tomorrow. You know how to take the subway back to Del's to pick up your suits?" He gave him some money and the claim tickets, though he was sure Del would want to get rid of the blasted things as soon as possible.

"Yes, quite sure. Thank you for everything, Napoleon. I am in your debt." Illya gave him a little bow and extended his hand formally. Napoleon punched him in the arm.

"Knock it off, kid. It's the least I could do for you after the rotten start I gave you."

Illya blushed again at the memory. "At any rate, I appreciate your help. I'm afraid I'm very much adrift with all these new... experiences."

I'll bet you are, if you're really a teenager, Solo thought. But he said, "Nonsense. You're doing fine. Just don't be late for our meeting. Waverly's a bear about punctuality."

"I will be there precisely at eight o'clock."

Solo grinned. "You'll be there at seven forty-five, Illya."

Kuryakin walked him to the door and saw him out. After the door closed and the locks clicked in place, Solo frowned. Was he really that young? He'd have to check him out in the gym tomorrow. It made him uncomfortable to think his partner could still be a teenager. This business was no place for a youngster. It would make his job that much harder to keep the Russian alive. What was Waverly thinking?

He sighed as he unlocked his car. He suddenly felt very old at twenty-six.

The next morning Illya arrived half an hour early and waited in Solo's office, joining him for coffee and Danish. He wore one of his old suits which Del had made presentable by sewing stylish suede patches on the worn out elbows and repairing the frayed lapels. Illya had been pleased that something from home had survived. He felt comfortable in the familiar suit.

The briefing went well, and Illya's processing was over by mid-morning. He had a clean bill of health from medical and was cleared for light duty. Section Two's newest agent had money in his pocket and had paid Solo back what he owed. He felt relieved at finally having a sense of belonging.

Solo nudged him with an elbow and said, "Want to go to the gym? We could work out a little and get your weight training started."

Illya nodded and Solo told him to go ahead and get changed. "There're gym clothes in the locker room. Just find some that fit and we'll check them out for you. I'll be down in a few minutes. Have to drop some paper work off."

Kuryakin took off for the elevator and Solo watched him leave. He headed to medical and found Dr. Martin in his office, going over the new man's records. Martin looked up at Solo's knock and waved him in. "Napoleon. I was wondering how long it would take you to get here." He consulted his watch. "Hmm. Twelve minutes. Not bad at all."

"Jack." They were friends and Solo could count on that. He closed the door and stood over the desk. "Tell me what you think. Your honest opinion. Will Kuryakin hold up in Section Two?"

"Physically? Yes, he's in good shape. He's not ready for field duty but we both know that. He's too thin, his hematocrit's a bit low, and he has no reserves of body fat."

"What'd he weigh in at?" Solo asked quickly.

Martin checked the record on his desk. "128 pounds. I put him on vitamin and iron supplements and told him to eat lots of protein and check with you about physical training. He'll fill out. Give him time. He's young and... "

"How young?" Solo interrupted. When there was no reply he repeated, "Jack? How young do you think he is?"

"Off the record, Napoleon?" The agent nodded. Jack sighed. "I'd say he's no more than seventeen, eighteen at the most."

Napoleon dropped his head and groaned.

"My opinion exactly. What is Alexander thinking?"

"I don't know, Jack. But this kid is important to somebody. And I've got to try to make him an enforcement agent. But I don't want to hurt him in the process."

"Napoleon, he's young and strong and he's very willing. He's brilliant from what I've seen of his scores, too. He'll do fine with you to teach him. He already thinks you're a god, you know."

Napoleon's eyebrows rose at that. Jack laughed. "You should have heard him in here earlier. 'Napoleon did this and showed me that. Napoleon, Napoleon.' You've got quite a fan there, Mr. Solo."

"Knock it off, Jack. I'm just the first person to show any interest in him, any kindness from what I've heard about his life."

Martin nodded. "Well, use that to your advantage. That kid would walk through fire for you, Napoleon. That's a rare gift."

Solo nodded. His throat felt tight for some reason. Illya trusted him, needed him already. There were worse things that could happen.

"Okay, Jack. I appreciate the honesty." He stood and turned to leave. The doctor's voice stopped him.

"Napoleon? That boy had to grow up fast. Inside, he's not as young or as frail as you think. He has scars all over his body already. That should tell you if he's cut out for this business."

Solo merely nodded, not trusting his voice.

He headed for the gym, stopped at his locker to change and then stepped out onto the padded floor. Illya was there, sitting cross-legged and doing stretches. Yoga from the looks of it. He was limber at least.

Solo sat down across from him, noting the concentration on his face and the sweat that ran down him in rivulets. Illya didn't open his eyes or acknowledge his partner but continued his work out.

Solo stretched as well, warming himself up and loosening taut muscle groups. He wanted to start Illya out gently, get him used to the routine. And size him up, he thought grimly.

Ten minutes later, Solo was sweating as well and ready for more. Illya stood, watching his partner and remaining mute. He was apprehensive, no doubt used to the barbaric practices of Soviet military training.

Solo approached him slowly, walking around him checking him out. "Take off the shirt," he said quietly, and Illya peeled the drenched fabric from his skin. He was underdeveloped in his chest, a small patch of hair directly in the center of his sternum the only hint as to his stage of maturity. The upper arms were better developed and the forearms were large for his size. He'd done hard work in his past, no doubt of that. Napoleon ran his hands gently across the back and spine and felt the shiver his touch caused. There were indeed numerous scars here, from beatings and barbed wire from the look of it.

Solo said quietly, "Relax, Illya. I'm not going to hurt you. No one here is ever going to hurt you. Understand?"

Kuryakin sighed and nodded, trying his best to relax.

"Put your shirt back on." Napoleon assumed a sparring stance and saw Illya copy him. "How much judo or karate training have you had?"

"Basic naval training and some advanced instruction from a friend at the orphanage. He showed me how to defend myself from the bigger kids."

Solo nodded and began backing Illya up with slow punches and kicks. He blocked well, and then in turn made Solo retreat across the floor. Napoleon outweighed him by thirty pounds and took it easy on him. Illya surprised him with a foot sweep that almost unbalanced him and he snapped back to awareness. He grabbed Illya by the shoulders and hooked his heel behind Illya's and brought him down in one swift movement. The pads absorbed the shock but Illya's breath whooshed out of him anyway. He sat up quickly, embarrassed at his mistake.

"Not bad, Illya. Your friend taught you some good moves. I'll teach you more."

They continued with a few katas, Illya following Napoleon's motions and asking questions about the more complex moves. Half an hour later they were covered in sweat and breathing heavily. Solo was very pleased. Illya had a knack for martial arts and picked up the moves easily. He had no doubts Illya could master the discipline.

They cooled down with more stretches and meditation and then headed for the showers. The senior agent showed Illya where the towels and toiletries were stored and where to throw the soiled work out clothes. Illya seemed amazed that it was all provided for their use.

They took adjacent spigots and Napoleon sighed as the hot water hit his tired body. He let the water run over him for a long while before soaping up. Illya was almost done, shampooing his hair quickly. He was probably used to cold showers and quick ones at that.

Solo gazed at the nude form and tried to evaluate him impersonally. It wasn't easy. Illya had very little body hair and that made him look even younger. His flanks were sleek and the abdomen flat, no baby fat anywhere. Illya arched backward to rinse his hair and the soft genitals were exposed. That development looks normal, Solo thought, a bit embarrassed he'd had to look.

He began to lather up as well, wanting to get out about the same time as his partner. Solo wrapped a towel around his waist and walked into the locker area. He took a piece of tape and wrote "Kuryakin" across it in large block letters and placed it on an empty locker across from his. Illya looked pleased at that.

"You can bring some street clothes in to store here when you accumulate enough to spare. And I'd suggest keeping a spare suit in the office just in case. You'll need to change clothes a lot after a mission."

"When I get my new suits, I'll bring one of my old ones in."

Solo secretly hoped that Illya's old suits would meet a quick end sometime soon. He'd have to work on bringing about their untimely demise.

Napoleon passed the deodorant and aftershave over to Illya to use and told him to keep it. "I've got spares in my office."

They dressed quickly and Napoleon told a few off-color locker room jokes to loosen Illya up. He was still very somber most of the time. Something else to work on.

As the weeks passed, Illya indeed did fill out as Dr. Martin predicted. Solo was always pushing him to eat and Illya spent a lot of time in the weight room. He put on twenty pounds in three months and had to have his new suits let out in the shoulders. His waist stayed thin as a razor to Napoleon's jealous dismay. The slender legs developed the most, his thighs thickening with muscle like a bicyclist's.

At his next physical, Dr. Martin certified him as field duty qualified. His iron level was normal, and he weighed over the 145 pound minimum required for enforcement agents. He beamed at Solo as he returned to the office they now shared.

"Well?" He knew the answer to his question.

"Field certified as of today."

Solo stood up and shook his hand. "Congratulations. Now the real work begins."

A week later the two men were in Waverly's office. The Old Man gave Solo a file and said, "The two of you are going to Munich. There's a warehouse laboratory we're certain is Thrush-operated and we want it out of commission as soon as possible."

Solo saw through the operation as the warm up it was meant to be. Munich agents could have handled this easily, but Waverly wanted Kuryakin tested. Plus, he spoke German fluently and this would be the perfect mission for the kid to get his feet wet.

Napoleon nodded and collected Illya. They went over the report ad nauseam, until they could both recite it verbatim. Solo wanted nothing uncovered. It didn't look to be a particularly dangerous mission, but anything could happen.

Illya was understandably excited, but he tried not to let it show to his experienced partner. He annoyed Napoleon by speaking only in German, forcing him to brush up on the language and chiding him to improve his "terrible American accent." Napoleon was secretly amused by the antics, knowing Illya was in high spirits.

After a particularly lengthy diatribe on the specific chemical component being manufactured at the lab, of which Napoleon only understood a word or two, the American sighed, looked Illya straight in the eye and told him to perform a particular bodily act in flawless German.

Illya's mouth dropped open and he stared at his partner in shock. "Very good, Napoleon."

Solo'd had to leave the room quickly to lean against the wall and laugh himself silly. He could still show the kid a thing or two. Once he returned to the office, Illya spoke in English.

The rumble of the cargo plane was giving him a headache. They were flying incognito on a military hop to the airbase outside Munich. He looked over at his partner who was sound asleep in his jump seat. Illya could sleep anywhere at the drop of a hat. He envied him that capability.

They were in fatigues and camouflage, weighed down with the latest high explosives charges U.N.C.L.E. had to offer, and other mayhem-producing gadgets dispersed among their effects. Illya had loved the explosives, going over and over their composition and utilization before they'd left. Sometimes the little guy's penchant for destruction unnerved Solo.

Napoleon felt the plane start its descent, and he nudged Kuryakin awake. He roused slowly, blinking owlishly in the dark bay. Solo placed his lips next to his ear and said, "Equipment check."

He nodded and pulled his pack to him and checked the contents. Satisfied, he gave a thumbs up to Solo, his white teeth flashing in contrast to the dark paint on his skin.

Napoleon did the same and tightened the straps on his LBE. He placed his hand over his hip pocket, feeling for the extra clips for his Special. He was superstitious about ammo. You never knew when enough was enough.

The lumbering jet touched down and rolled to a stop a few minutes later. The tail of the plane opened up and they walked into the cold German air. They hurried across the tarmac to the hanger and dropped their gear. A jeep pulled up to them and an army sergeant jumped out and left it running. He asked, "You Solo?"

Napoleon nodded. The soldier handed him a plasticized map folder and indicated their present position. He pointed to the jeep. "She's got a full tank and two gerry cans. Your destination is marked. Full moon tonight so you'll want to be careful." He saluted and Solo gestured for Illya to get in the passenger side. He stowed the gear and jumped in, ready to start.

Napoleon handed him the maps and Illya began to orient himself to them. "Just follow the road outside the gate for about five kilometers," he told the senior agent.

Illya pulled out a thin flashlight and trained it on the map. He shielded it in his glove to reduce the spillage. They were driving in blackout conditions so Solo had to take it slow.

They found the first turn without incident and crawled along the darkened countryside. An occasional light from a farmhouse would show itself, and there were plenty of cows around. Not exactly a typical spot for Thrush to set up housekeeping.

The air was crisp and chilly and Illya looked over at his partner, smiling in the moonlight. He was eager as a bridegroom and Napoleon thought back to his own first mission. He'd been excited and scared as hell at the same time. He knew how Illya felt and grinned back at him.

Another few kilometers and they turned down a gravel road which petered out into a dirt path which petered out altogether. Thankful for the sturdy jeep, they continued as far as it would go, leaving it finally in a ditch, topped off and covered with brush. Hopefully, it would be there waiting for them for the return trip. Napoleon knew from experience not to take anything for granted, however.

They took a last look at the map. "Looks like about ten more kilometers in a west-northwest direction." Solo took out his compass, checked the azimuth and got a heading. They took off in that direction, shrugging their packs into a comfortable position.

They kept a quick road march pace, checking their direction with the compass and the moon whenever it came out from behind the considerable cloud cover. Solo was grateful for that, not wanting to stick out in relief against the countryside. They clambered over stock fences, going under when they were topped with razor wire. In a pasture, Illya nearly tripped over a sleeping cow which tickled Napoleon to no end. So Illya was understandably gleeful when Solo trampled through a fresh pile of manure.

They had completed two thirds of the way when Solo pulled Illya down behind a hedge. Muted voices drifted to them. Kuryakin strained to hear what they were saying. Two young male voices came fairly close to them. Illya covered his mouth when he translated the conversation. He looked at Solo and saw him smiling, too. Apparently someone named Helga in a nearby town could be counted on "for a good time." Illya kept his head down until the voices drifted away and he said quietly, "I guess things really are the same all over."

Solo socked him in the arm and they started again. They covered the last few kilometers quickly, their target visible in the moonlight for the last click. Using hand signals they spread out, circling the area to familiarize themselves with the layout. Ten minutes later they rendezvoused, exchanging information.

"Two guards crossing each other every three minutes or so. Sub- machine guns, Thrush model," Illya supplied.

"Right. I got a look inside. It's the lab all right. You can smell the chemicals." Solo thought for a moment. "Must be a skeleton crew on the night shift. Doesn't look like they're running right now. That will work in our favor."

Solo helped Illya shrug off his pack as they sorted out what they needed. They had plenty of High Explosive, and timers to set it off with. They left most of the gear behind, holstering their personal weapons. If everything worked out, they would double back and pick up the gear later.

Solo gestured to his watch. "All right. We've got half an hour to set the HE and rendezvous back here. Set the timers for 2:30 am precisely. Maintain silence, signal only in emergency. Ready?"

Illya nodded, and Solo laid a hand on his arm. "Be careful, Illya." The older man was rocked by a feeling of protectiveness. Where did that come from? He didn't normally get close to agents, even his partners. Solo shook himself mentally and didn't dwell on the emotion. Kuryakin covered the hand with his own and squeezed lightly. He took off a second later and disappeared into the tree line.

Solo selected the best spots for the explosives and set to work. He kept time to watch for the guards, melting into the shadows when they approached. They were sloppy, talking to each other on each pass, and he could smell them before he could even see them. Amateurs, he thought distastefully. He spared a thought for his partner on the other side of the tin building but shrugged off the worry and concentrated on the demolition work.

One more pass from the guards and he was nearly done. He set the timer and waited until he knew the guards were opposite his station and crept back toward the prearranged position. He saw a black shadow among the gray ones moving around the corner and froze. Illya? He crouched low in the brush and watched the stealthy form approach. They were almost clear.

That thought had just crossed his mind when he saw Illya stiffen and turn toward him slightly. A stiletto was buried in his left shoulder, the hilt reflecting moonlight. There had been no sound, and Solo realized they must have missed another guard with a random pattern. He pulled his Special, ready to come to Illya's aid when he saw the slender agent pull the knife from his own body, reverse it and throw it into the darkness where the roof overhang met the door.

A second later a third Thrush guard staggered out from the shadows, the stiletto buried in his throat just below his Adam's apple, blood spraying in an arc in front of him. He took one more step, stretched out a hand and pitched forward, twitching. Neither man had made a sound during their dance of death. Illya faltered once and then walked quickly toward the body, dragging it back into the building's shadow and scuffing the blood trail with his boots. He then made his way fast as he could manage to the rendezvous point.

He was panting when he arrived and Solo quickly inspected the wound. It was bleeding heavily but Illya waved off the first aid. "Napoleon, we have to get out of here. Before they find the body and discover the explosives. If we're lucky we can make it back to the jeep before either happens."

Solo knew he was right, but took a moment to tie a field dressing to the wound before they set off. He carried both packs and set a blistering pace. The quicker they moved the more ground they could cover before Illya's injury set them back. After two clicks he stopped briefly, allowing them to catch their breath. The bandage was soaked, but he didn't take time to change it. He couldn't check Illya's color due to the camo, but his pulse was fast and shallow. Shock starting to set in. Napoleon looked into his eyes and asked, "Can you keep going, Illya?"

The eyes were bright with pain, but he smiled and said, "Of course." Solo hauled him up and he swayed slightly. He took a couple of deep breaths and nodded. Napoleon took off again at a slower pace, not wanting to have to carry Illya if he passed out.

They covered the remaining distance easily enough, the moon coming out fully to pick out the return path for them. Solo was grateful for the assistance, steering Illya when he faltered and then placing his uninjured arm across his shoulders when he doubled over. They kept going, Solo recognizing the terrain and sure the jeep was close by. "Talk to me, Illya," he ordered, wanting the younger agent to stay conscious. "How are you doing?"

"Never better, Napoleon,'" he answered but his words were slurred with fatigue and shock.

"You're doing great, partner. Hang on, we're almost there." Solo shifted his grasp on Illya's wrist, pulling him closer to his warmth. "I can see where the jeep is hidden. It's just under that ridge of trees."

Illya slumped against him, practically out on his feet. Solo bent and slung him over his shoulder and hurried the remaining distance. He lowered Illya gently to the ground and stripped the fatigue shirt off to the waist. The bandage was soaked with blood and the shirt and waistband were covered in it. He applied another dressing and bound the shoulder tightly this time, staunching the flow as best he could. Illya moaned and called his name once.

"It's all right, Illya. I'm right here. We're okay now."

Illya was mumbling something and Napoleon bent to listen. "Didn't see him. Didn't see the third guard. I'm sorry, Napoleon."

Solo shook him gently and said, "Hell, Illya, I didn't see him either. Come on; let's get you in the jeep." He spent another minute uncovering the vehicle and then lifted Kuryakin into the seat. There was a wool blanket under the seat and he wrapped the Russian in it securely. He sprang into the driver's seat and was about to start the engine when he heard the first explosion followed closely by three more nearly simultaneously. He smiled and addressed the olive-drab bundle next to him. "Hear that, Illya? Your first mission was a success."

A low voice answered him. "By whose standards?"

Solo laughed and engaged the clutch, roaring off into the countryside. He made record time, using the headlights and running on full throttle whenever possible. There was no need for stealth now. He eased the jeep through the check station and told the M.P. there he needed a medic. He carried his partner into the Quonset hut and set him down on the nearest cot. A medic came in the hut a minute later and assessed the wound quickly. Since the wound had stopped bleeding, he left the field dressing in place and started an I.V. right away.

"Does he need a transfusion?" Napoleon asked worriedly, watching the attention his partner was receiving. The medic drew a small vial of blood and answered, "I'll know in a few minutes if he's lost enough blood for that."

Solo drew a chair next to the cot as the man left to process the vial. He pulled the covers up to Illya's chest and checked his pulse. Steady and regular.

He had nearly dozed off when the medic returned. "Don't worry, sir. His hematocrit's not low enough to transfuse him. The fluids should make up for the volume depletion." He injected something into the infusion plug and answered the unspoken question. "Antibiotics."

"Will he be able to catch the next flight out to the states with me?" Solo asked worriedly. The M.P. checked his schedule and said the next flight was in two hours. The medic nodded. "He should be stable by then. We can send meds with you for the return flight. He should be fine, sir."

Napoleon sighed, vastly relieved. "Thank you both for your help." The soldiers smiled at each other, and the M.P. said, "We heard the explosion from here. I guess you fellows did a good job yourselves. Especially for a couple of guys who were never here."

The medic motioned to another cot across the room. "You can bunk here until the flight. Get a couple hours sleep, anyway."

Solo wearily walked to the cot and flung himself down on it. He was asleep before the soldiers left the room.

A firm hand shook him awake sometime later. The sergeant was back and gathering their gear. "You'll be wanting to board now, sir." Solo looked around, alarmed Illya wasn't in the room with him. "Your partner's already loaded and tucked in, don't worry."

Napoleon shook his head to clear it and helped carry the packs across the tarmac. He groaned when he saw the transport plane. He'd been hoping for a MAC flight for the return trip.

He perked up when he saw Illya peacefully sleeping in a cot secured to the deck. He was still hooked up to an I.V. and the tech there handed him a vial of morphine and a first aid kit. He gave him quick instructions on the correct dose and schedule. Solo nodded his understanding and shook the young man's hand.

The tail door closed and the engines began their familiar roar as they took off down the runway for home. Solo was so tired even he slept on the return trip.

He woke when he heard his name called softly. Solo unbuckled the safety harness and moved to Illya's side. The blue eyes were wary, but relaxed when Napoleon came into view.

He took the free hand and held it for a moment, checking the pulse and skin temperature. "How you feeling?"

"All right." He took a deep breath and asked worriedly, "The mission..."

"Was a success. Do you remember the explosions?"

The eyes were pain-filled and he was breathing faster. "No."

Solo checked his watch and reached for the med kit. He filled a syringe with the clear fluid and bent to inject it into the port. Illya stopped him with his free arm and said weakly, "No. No drugs, Napoleon."

The older man looked down at him and tousled his hair. "Illya. You're flat on your back in a cargo plane. It's going to be a bumpy ride all the way home. There's no need for you to be in pain. You did a good job, partner. Now you need to relax and recuperate for the next one."

"There will be a next one?" Illya asked in surprise.

Solo shook his head at his stubborn charge. "What do you think you did wrong?" He glanced at the bandage. "Look, buddy, I didn't see the third guard, either. Stop beating yourself up about it. We made a great team. My report will reflect that."

Illya sighed and did not object when Napoleon injected the morphine. He fell asleep a minute later with a smile on his face.

"Stubborn Russian," Napoleon said affectionately as he watched him sleep.

Napoleon's back was aching when they finally reached New York. He'd only caught quick catnaps during the flight, keeping a close eye on

Illya's condition. He'd contacted HQ and they would be waiting to transport them the rest of the way home. Waverly had been concerned about Kuryakin's injury, but would wait for his senior agent's report to fill in the details.

Solo knelt next to the cot as it was unhooked from the deck. Illya stirred, shifting uncomfortably against the bandages and the restraints. He'd been off morphine for the last couple of hours and his face was lined in pain and exhaustion.

Napoleon laid a hand on his forehead, checking for fever, and Kuryakin growled at him. "I'm fine, Napoleon, stop fussing over me."

Solo grinned and said, "Well, you must be getting back to normal because you're grumpy again."

A medical technician came on board to collect Illya and Napoleon handed her the triage report from the staff in Munich. He'd added his notes about Illya's treatment on board. Two orderlies carried the litter to the waiting ambulance. While Illya was being loaded, Napoleon saw Bob Jenkins from Section Two waiting next to the U.N.C.L.E. limo. Solo looked at the comfortable car and then back to the cramped ambulance. He gave one last look to the limo and waved it off. He climbed in last and sat on the floor next to his partner.

Illya looked down at him and said, "Napoleon, why are you so short?" He was grinning and his eyes had a vacant look to them again.

Solo glanced at the nurse and she explained, "I just gave him a happy shot. Medical's going to want to explore the wound and it won't be pleasant without painkillers."

She smiled at the young man and patted his good shoulder. "Just lie still and enjoy the ride." Napoleon thought that was excellent advice and he rested his head on the gurney, lying next to his partner's knee. He was out before the vehicle pulled away.

A warm hand touched his shoulder sometime later and Solo started awake. Illya was looking around dazedly, clutching at him. "Napoleon?" came the drugged voice, and Solo inched closer into Illya's line of sight.

"Easy, boy. You're fine."

"Nn...poleon? We should pull over. I hear a siren."

Solo looked at the nurse and they both smiled. He glanced at the street signs and said, "We're okay. We're almost home, Illya."

The ambulance drove into the parking garage and used the emergency entrance. Dr. Martin was waiting for them in the bay, smiling and shaking his head at the same time.

Illya was off-loaded and the tech gave Dr. Martin a concise report. His patient was happily humming a Russian lullaby and Dr. Martin remarked, "I see he's had his hypo?"

"Yes, doctor. He's feeling no pain."

"No pain, no pain," Illya parroted and giggled to himself. Solo looked at his stoned partner and shook his head, amused.

"Let's get him inside before he floats away." Martin took one end of the stretcher and Solo the other. They transferred the Russian to a gurney and wheeled him through the corridors to Medical. He started singing the C.C.C.P. National Anthem softly at first and got louder with each measure. Solo clamped his hand over Illya's mouth and said, "Pipe down, tovarisch."

He let go suddenly as Illya bit him. He yelped more in surprise than pain and shook his hand. "What did you give him? And more importantly, can I have some, too?"

Martin snorted and began cutting the bandage away from the shoulder. He peeled the field dressing off and inspected the wound. He prodded with gloved fingers and nodded happily. "Good. No infection. And it's draining well. I'll flush it and pack it and he should heal just fine."

Napoleon turned to get a chair and Illya's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. "Hey. I'm not going anywhere. Calm down." Solo clasped Illya's hand in his for a moment and squeezed once. He caught Jack's eyes as he began flushing the wound with antiseptic. "Does he feel that?"

Jack nodded. "Yes. But he just doesn't care. Stick around until I'm finished anyway. You seem to have a calming effect on him."

Illya had relaxed as soon as he felt Solo's touch and was lightly dozing. The grip on Solo's hand never wavered, however. The American wondered at his effect on the younger agent but decided he liked the easy trust Kuryakin bestowed on him.

Five minutes later the injury was cleaned and medicated. Martin placed a fresh bandage and applied a sling. Illya snored contentedly through it all. The hand holding tightly to Solo finally relaxed as well, falling away onto the bed. Solo covered his partner with the blanket and sighed, bone-weary.

Martin glanced at him critically and remarked, "Go home and get some sleep, Napoleon. Doctor's orders."

"Too tired to go home. Anybody using that bed next to Illya?"

"Yes," Jack said. "You are."

Solo nodded gratefully and sat on the bed pulling off his boots and all the gear he could drop on the floor. Shucking down to his shorts, he crawled under the covers and gave one last look to the next bed. "Good night, Rasputin," he smiled at his oblivious friend.

It was late morning before Solo even stirred. The comings and goings of the night staff did not disturb his sleep, but the smell of the bacon and eggs delivered to the room did. Mouth watering and stomach growling loudly, he'd forgotten when he'd had his last meal. He pulled the covered tray to him and ate ravenously. Illya slept on, the need for rest more important than nourishment.

When he'd had his fill, Napoleon slid off the bed, wrinkling his nose at the smell of his fatigues. He pulled them on anyway, checked his partner, and then headed for the gym's showers and his spare clothes in his locker. Waverly would be impatient for him to report and he knew better than to keep Number One waiting.

Two hours later, his report accepted and signed, Solo dropped into the chair of his desk with a blissful sigh. He was very glad to be back at HQ. He'd called Medical and Kuryakin was still sleeping so he used the time to catch up on paperwork.

Tossing the last file in his out basket, Napoleon glanced at the bottom desk drawer. He unlocked it with his key and pulled out a black leather case. He hefted it wondering if this were the proper time. As if in answer, his intercom buzzed and Jack Martin's voice drifted out.

"You wanted to know when Illya woke up. He's eating his Jell-O like a good boy if you want to come down."

Solo smiled at the thought of Illya eating anything as capitalistic as Jell-O. "I'll be right down." He thought better of it and asked cautiously, "Ah, he's not still singing, is he?"

"No, thankfully."

Napoleon snorted and took the case with him.

His partner was sitting up in bed, cajoling the nurse to bring him something else to eat. She was having none of it. "But I'm hungry. This... stuff... isn't food. I'm not even sure it qualifies as animal, vegetable or mineral." He batted his long eyelashes and did his best to look pathetic.

"Give it up, Illya. 'Attila the Nurse' here won't fall for those baby blues. Will you, my sweet?"

'Attila' smiled warmly at the handsome spy and then turned her attention back to Kuryakin. "I'll see if I can round up something a little more exciting for you. Like oatmeal..."

Illya groaned and turned sad eyes on Solo. "Napoleon. Partner, please."

Solo laughed and waited for the nurse to leave. He closed the door and said, "Sorry, kid. I can't countermand doctor's orders. But I do have something that might make you feel better."

He pulled the leather case from his jacket and set it on the food tray next to the offending Jell-O. Napoleon's eyes were bright as he ordered, "Go on, open it."

Illya's hands were a bit shaky as he felt under the lid for the release catch. He flipped open the top and pulled the satin covering away. Underneath lay a brand new U.N.C.L.E. regulation Walther P-38, shining with gun oil. But what made Illya gasp was the large "K" stamped on the gun's handgrip. It was a perfect match for Napoleon's own weapon.

He touched the initial and looked away quickly, overcome with emotion. Solo understood and gave him a minute, knowing how much the gift meant to Illya and their partnership.

Kuryakin scrubbed at his eyes and turned to his partner. "I... I don't know what to say, Napoleon."

Solo smiled gently and said, "Say thank you, Illya."

"'Thank you, Illya,'" he repeated dutifully.

"Smart-alec Russian."

Both men were silent for a moment and Napoleon cleared his throat. "You should know Mr. Waverly is putting you in for a commendation for the Munich mission."

Illya frankly goggled at Napoleon at that. "Why?" was all he could manage to ask.

"I believe it had something to do with killing a Thrush agent with the very weapon said agent tried to dispatch you with. That was a nice bit of work, partner-mine."

Illya blushed and said, "I was just trying to keep it quiet and I couldn't reach my own knife at the time."

Solo shook his head in mock amazement and asked, "All this and humility, too?"

Kuryakin dropped his head and turned a deeper pink.

Solo grabbed his bicep and shook Illya gently. "Get used to it, Illya. I have this funny feeling you and I are going to be the best team this organization has ever seen."

Illya raised his head, his eyes bright with emotion. "I'm sure of it, Napoleon."

Year Two

True to their predictions, the team of Solo and Kuryakin did indeed live up to expectations and more. It didn't take long for the rest of the enforcement section to see that these men were the ones to watch out for. Most were grateful for the success of the section but a few were jealous of the pair's success ratio and chalked it up to Solo's luck more than anything else.

Napoleon knew differently. He'd brought Illya along slowly, teaching him the little things that delineate a good agent from a great one. The Russian blossomed under his tutelage, seeming to absorb the tools of the trade without conscious thought. He also grew physically, the proper nutrition and daily workouts showing up in a thicker, stronger physique and adding two inches to his height. He was now just a bit shorter than his American partner, although still markedly leaner.

Solo thanked the patron saint of spies for sending this man to his organization, and truth be told, to his side. Illya was a perfect yin to his yang. Where Solo lacked skills, Illya excelled. And where Illya lacked experience or confidence, Napoleon was there to back him up. That was the real reason behind their success. They were partners in the truest sense of the word.

Sometimes Napoleon would be taken aback at his feelings for the Russian. Well past the need for protectiveness, Solo still felt differently about Illya than he had for any other partner. He told himself it was just his mother hen instincts kicking in for his youthful ward.

They were in the gym again, throwing each other around and generally grab-assing, blowing off steam after another successful mission. They were both trying to win the upper hand and Solo turned it into a wrestling match. Knowing Solo still outweighed him and outclassed him, Illya dodged and feinted, trying to use his smaller size to his advantage.

Napoleon came at him in a rush, trying to take his feet out from under him for a pin, and Illya sidestepped instinctively, catching Solo and using his forward momentum against him. He foot-swept quickly and they both fell to the mats, Illya just as surprised as Napoleon when the slighter man landed on top this time.

Illya held him down for a count of three and Napoleon did not resist. It was the first time the Russian had gotten the upper hand in hand-to-hand and he stared at Napoleon, unsure of what to do next. Napoleon relaxed, causing Illya to fall the few inches that separated their bodies and land prone on his partner. Kuryakin twisted immediately, flushing bright crimson and rolling off Solo, his back to him now.

Napoleon took a deep breath, nearly as rattled as Illya by his response, registering that he'd felt a very large erection jabbing into his thigh before his partner had disengaged. He rolled onto his side, panting from exertion and something else entirely. Illya still faced away, his neck and ears crimson.

Solo reached out and placed a calming hand on Illya's shoulder. The smaller man tensed, nearly jumping at the touch. He would not look at his partner and kept his head bowed.

"Illya." There was no response. Solo cleared his throat and tried again. "It's all right, Illya. There's nothing to be ashamed about. It's perfectly normal to get... excited... when you work out. We just got a little carried away. It happens. It doesn't mean anything, really."

Doesn't it? He kept that thought to himself as little bells began ringing in his head. Illya was maturing practically before his eyes. He never seemed to date, always preferring to be with Napoleon when he had the choice. Napoleon couldn't remember him ever going out on a date, although the women here at HQ practically swarmed all over him regularly. Illya always treated the ladies with the utmost respect, deferring to them as he would a sister or a mother depending on their age.

The bells suddenly clanged louder as Napoleon began to put the facts together and came up with a very surprising theory. He glanced around the gym. It was beginning to get crowded and they needed privacy right now. He nudged Illya and said quietly, "We need to talk. Let's hit the locker room."

Illya nodded and stood, trying his best to look nonchalant about the whole thing. They walked slowly to the locker room and Solo indicated the whirlpool. No one was there and they could talk privately. He quickly stripped and got in the first tub. He pointedly did not look in Illya's direction while he did the same, allowing the man some dignity.

After a few minutes of soaking, Napoleon looked Illya's way. His head still hung down and he was flushed, whether from embarrassment or the hot water Solo couldn't tell.

Napoleon said very gently, "Illya, we need to talk about this. I don't want to embarrass you, but I want you to tell me the truth."

Kuryakin's eyes looked into Solo's for a split-second and darted away.

"Illya. Look at me." It was a command and Illya was conditioned to obey that voice. He raised his head and steeled himself for the question.

"Are you attracted to men? I know that's a very personal question and I wouldn't normally ask or even care, but when it affects our partnership..."

He stopped as a quiet sob came from Illya's throat. "I knew this would happen." He spoke so softly Napoleon had to strain to hear him. "I knew I would ruin everything. It's all my fault."

The anguish on the drawn face made Solo's insides clench. "What's all your fault? Illya, talk to me, please."

Illya bit back another sob and tried to school his features. "The way I am, Napoleon. I knew it would ruin everything someday. I've tried to hide it, from you and everyone else. I've tried to hide it from myself. There hasn't been anyone I've let myself get close to the whole time I've lived here. Except you. I've been so careful, so good..." Tears ran down Illya's face, mixing with the sweat from the whirlpool's heat to fall into the tub below him. "But I've been so lonely..."

Solo's eyes were tearing as well listening to the heart-wrenching honesty wrung from Illya's soul. What a fool I've been, he thought. Some kind of spy I am. Can't see the forest for the trees with my own partner. He realized how unintentionally cruel he must have been to Illya in his ignorance. All the women, all the Saturday nights I caroused with some willing female while Illya stayed home in his little flat, alone. Alone, and wishing he was with...

Napoleon swallowed hard before speaking. "Illya. How long have you been attracted to me?"

The blond head jerked up, wet eyes meeting his miserably. "How long?" Illya laughed, a short hollow sound in the steel encased room. "From the first day, I think, Napoleon. When you didn't laugh at me for passing out in the grocery store. When you made me grilled cheese sandwiches and let me eat half of yours." He stopped and took a deep breath, trying to calm his raging emotions. "When you never made fun of the awful clothes I brought with me. When you lent me dignity as well as money."

Napoleon closed his eyes as a rush of emotion swelled within him. Illya had felt this way for over two years now, and he had... he had what? Taken the friendship, the partnership for granted, using Illya as surely as U.N.C.L.E. used him. Furthering his career, climbing the ladder of success...

He shook his head. No, he hadn't used Illya. They had helped each other get where they were today. Together. Together.

The bells were back and numerous enough to harmonize. Napoleon suddenly knew. Knew how he really felt about his partner. They were friends, yes, but there had always been more below the surface. Solo had just never been able to admit it. Maybe it had taken Illya's confession to jolt him into his own. The room suddenly became too small; there wasn't enough oxygen to breathe.

"We're getting out of here. Come on." He stood up and walked naked to his locker, changing into street clothes. Illya appeared in the doorway, a towel around his waist and water pouring off him to puddle beneath his fidgeting feet.

"Where are we going, Napoleon?"

"Somewhere. Anywhere. Away from here." He looked at the pale face of his worried friend and smiled. "Come on. Get dressed, partner."

Illya blanched at the word 'partner.' He looked dazed, unsure of his moorings. He asked in a small voice, "We are still partners?"

Napoleon closed his eyes at the desperation and pain in that voice. When he felt composed he answered. "Why would that change, Illya?"

The blond head lowered again. "Because of who I am, Napoleon. What I am..."

Napoleon began to get angry. "You are Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin. My partner. My best friend. What happened in that gym hasn't changed that."

For the first time, Illya felt a small ray of hope shine into the black hole that had become his life. Napoleon still wanted him for a partner, a friend. "Then what has changed, my friend?"

Napoleon didn't answer. He finished dressing and then said, "Not here, Illya. Meet me in the garage." He left Illya standing bewildered, his hand holding the towel on his hips.

Twenty minutes later they were driving silently to Illya's place. Napoleon felt he owed him the home court advantage. This was going to be difficult to explain.

One good thing about Illya not having a car meant there was always a parking spot in the garage. Solo slid the sports car smoothly into it and killed the engine. He looked over at Illya, who found something interesting on the garage wall to stare at. Looks like I'm going to have to lead, here, too, Solo thought. He knew one way to loosen his reticent partner up. "Are you hungry?"

It wasn't the question Kuryakin had expected and he nodded numbly. He shook himself and got out of the car as Napoleon followed.

"Good. We can order Chinese when we get upstairs. I'm starving."

Illya was moving as if in a trance, barely acknowledging Solo or the reason that brought them here. They rode the elevator in silence and Napoleon didn't press the issue.

Illya's hands were trembling when he attempted to key the lock. The metal rattled as he tried again. He felt Napoleon's warm hand close gently over his and shivered. Solo turned the key home and the door opened. The Russian gratefully escaped inside and then busied himself ordering supper. He knew what Solo liked and the nearby restaurant delivered to him regularly. The familiarity of the actions calmed him a bit and he sat down in one of the wing chairs.

Solo helped himself to the bar and poured them both a healthy dose. He set the vodka on the coffee table and sank down on the couch. He looked around the small room, noting that the apartment didn't look all that different than it had two years ago. Illya had hung some framed posters advertising his favorite jazz clubs, and there was a nice Oriental carpet under their feet and a copy of "Nighthawks" presiding on the west wall. It was cozy and plain, reflecting the simple tastes of its owner.

Solo coughed, the bourbon burning a path down his throat. Illya hadn't touched his drink, normally a bad sign with the Russian agent. "Illya, I need to be honest here. You've been so with me. Even though I'm behind in the count, it doesn't mean I have to strike out here." At Illya's puzzled look, he explained, "Sorry. Baseball analogy. I know you hate baseball. It means I'm just a little slow on the uptake. Give me a chance to catch up."

Solo stretched his legs out in front of him and lay back on the couch. He hoped he could get Illya to loosen up a bit and open up to him. The man was tight-lipped even on a good day concerning his past, usually preferring to concentrate on the present.

Napoleon caught Illya's eye and asked straightforwardly, "Illya, are you gay? Bi-sexual? I have to know where you stand, where we stand, before I can go forward here. You can tell me. This isn't Russia. No one will lock you away for telling the truth."

Kuryakin sighed and sank further into the chair, doing his best to disappear. He was quiet for a time, but Napoleon waited him out. "I... Napoleon, I am not comfortable talking about this."

"I know how hard it is for you. Really, I do. But keeping it inside hasn't helped. Look at where we are today because of it. I don't want anything to get in the way of our friendship, our partnership. It's the most important thing in the world to me, Illya. Do you know that?"

The younger man searched Napoleon's face, seeing the truth of it there. He did owe this man the truth, whatever the cost. He stood up, unable to sit still, thrust his hands in his pockets and paced the short length of the room. After a few passes he stopped and turned to Solo.

"I guess I've always been attracted to men. I was raised in a state orphanage and the boys were in one building and the girls another. So all my memories, my friendships revolved around males. When I was twelve I was inducted into the Komsomal and then the Navy when I was fifteen. My entrance scores got the attention of the KGB and I was assigned to them and sent to study in Europe."

Solo listened to every word, amazed at the flow of conversation coming from his reticent partner. He didn't want to interrupt him and remained quiet, silently encouraging the release.

"It was there that I met Mr. Waverly. It was a... how do you say... a fluke? I was attending a lecture by a prominent physicist and he was there in the audience. I stayed after the discussion to ask a few questions of the speaker. I must have asked the right ones because Waverly pulled me aside and told me of his organization. He was responsible for my coming to America and U.N.C.L.E."

Napoleon couldn't help himself. "You defected?"

Illya sighed loudly. "Yes. But no one can know that, Napoleon. To prevent a major international incident, a private deal was worked out with the Kremlin. I am officially 'on loan' from the Soviet government. Only you and Mr. Waverly know the truth of it."

Solo reeled with the news. The old devil...besting the Kremlin and coming out smelling like a rose. Why should that surprise him?

"And I assume that while you were a Russian citizen you had to be very careful as far as your sexual habits?"

Illya snorted. "Careful? Napoleon, I was a monk. I was terrified of someone finding out. I never dated, never did anything except drink with the other soldiers when it was allowed. Even then, I never got drunk for fear I would slip up. Homosexuality isn't an indiscretion in Russia. It is a death sentence. Even in England, I kept to myself. I was watched by the KGB every minute."

Napoleon was horrified to hear of Illya's experiences. To be a teen-ager, with a young man's needs and desires and to have to keep that inside for so long. And even later, after he had come to the states... A thought staggered him, its implications unfathomable to the sexual creature Napoleon Solo was.

"Illya... does that mean... you've never... you've never been with anyone? Sexually?"

Kuryakin hung his head, shame and embarrassment reducing him to muteness. He needn't answer. It was painfully obvious now that he was a virgin. Napoleon must think I'm some kind of freak. He'll never want to speak to me again, he thought miserably.

Solo was speechless with shock. He couldn't imagine the deprivation this young man had suffered his entire life. And still was suffering, apparently. For he was sure he was still suffering, and Solo felt the pain of knowing he had contributed to it.

A thousand thoughts raced through the American, leaving him to wonder how he should react. How he could react without hurting this man any more than he'd already been. There was one question that needed to be answered before Napoleon could go any further in drawing Illya out. Something he'd wanted to know for a long time.

"Illya, just exactly how old are you? There wasn't a date of birth anywhere on your records and I could never get an official answer."

Illya frowned, wondering why Napoleon would want to know that of all things now. "I just turned twenty-one a few days ago. I was eighteen when I met you."

Son of a bitch, Solo thought. Del and Jack had been right. Illya's words sank in and he started. "You just turned... when Illya? When is your birthday? We were told the Soviets didn't even know it."

"They never asked. No one ever asked. My government just assigned me a random date and that was the end of it. My true birthday is September nineteenth." His brow creased as he wondered, "Why do you want to know?"

"Well, it's the kind of thing a partner should know, don't you think? We've never really celebrated birthdays together before. Come to think of it, have you ever celebrated your birthday?"

Illya shook his head. "It was not allowed in Russia. Anything that promoted individuality was discouraged. We had one communal party a year for all the children in the orphanage."

Napoleon's throat tightened as he thought of all the parties, cakes and presents he'd been showered with all his life. And Illya didn't even know what he'd been missing. He resolved to do something about that at the earliest opportunity. And at least now he knew Illya was an adult, legally and officially. That made the ideas that were forming in his head a bit easier to accept and salved his conscious.

"Well, it may be a little late, but happy birthday, Illya Nickovetch."


Napoleon straightened and finished the bourbon. He pointed to the tumbler on the table and Illya came over, picked it up and drained it with a flick of his wrist. He sat at the other end of the couch, unsure of what to say next.

"I seem to have you at a disadvantage, my friend." Solo said very softly.

"How so?" Illya asked.

"Well, I have an idea how you feel about me, and you don't really know my feelings toward you. That seems unfair, doesn't it?"

Illya squirmed on the cushion, supremely apprehensive of Solo's next words. He blurted, "Napoleon, you don't have to... " and stopped, his mind supplying him with hundreds of scenarios, all of them ending with Napoleon laughing at him and slamming the door in his face.

But instead of pulling away, Napoleon inched closer to his side of the couch. "Don't have to what, Illya? Care about you? Want to see you happy? Too late." He smiled tenderly at the fear on his partner's face and moved another inch closer to the trembling body. "You're not the only one keeping secrets, my friend. Would it surprise you to know I've had a few men's names in my little black book in the past? Carefully coded, of course."

Illya's eyebrows nearly disappeared into his bangs at hearing that confession and Solo chuckled at the look on his face. "No one here at the Command, to be sure. Like you, I know when to keep my cards close to the vest. And I've had reason to be careful who knew my... preferences."

Illya sputtered as he exclaimed, "But you're not... you're not..." his voice trailed off. He couldn't finish the sentence as it was an utterly foreign concept to his addled brain.

"Gay? No, I'm not. But I do admit to being bi-sexual. Not in public mind you." He winked at Illya and a tiny smile began in one corner of Kuryakin's mouth. His mind was reeling, the implications of Napoleon's confession making him light-headed.

Napoleon closed the last few inches between them, bodies barely touching. "So you see, partner, instead of your news driving us apart, I'd really like to see it bring us closer. Much closer."

Before Illya could object or even think for that matter, Solo reached his arm around the back of the couch and pulled the Russian's trembling body to him. He placed his hand on the back of Illya's warm neck and pulled his unresisting head down to his lips.

He felt the shiver start in Illya's shoulders and race across the body in his arms. Napoleon kissed gently, no agenda save that he let Illya know how much he cared for him. After the first few seconds, he felt Illya relax into him, a soft moan coming from his throat. The older man pulled back from the kiss, still holding Illya loosely, allowing him to make the choice if there would be another.

Illya stared at him, his eyes big and dilated from the adrenaline coursing through him. With a groan that came from his very soul, he leaned forward and took Napoleon's lips in a kiss of his own, his inexperience forgotten as passion claimed him. Napoleon let him lead, happily taking a back seat to let the younger man get his bearings. The kiss lasted a moment and Illya broke away, gasping for breath, his heart trip-hammering in his chest and a roar filling his ears.


Solo hugged him close, rubbing the strong arms and back, giving him time to calm. He would take this very slow, at Illya's pace, not wanting to seduce Illya into his first experience but wanting to love him instead.

He felt tentative lips mouthing his neck, inching their way across his chin, caressing his mole and covering the cleft of his chin. He held back the groan threatening to erupt, not wanting to let Illya sweep him away on a tide of lust. This was too important to rush, too important to let degenerate into raw sex. He tried to clear his mind as he felt Illya's hands begin to explore his body, caressing his shoulders and upper arms. He lay against the couch back, allowing Illya free rein and encouraging his forays with gentle touches of his own. He kept his stroke non-threatening, following Illya's lead and tempo.

Soft lips explored his again, and Illya surprised him by sucking his bottom lip inside his mouth playfully. Without conscious thought, Napoleon slipped his tongue inside his lover's open mouth, and felt the electric shock run through Kuryakin's body. Hoping he hadn't gone too far, he exulted when he felt the tentative entry of Illya's tongue into his mouth. He allowed it, playing wetly with the welcome visitor, showing Illya the eroticism of the foreshadowing act.

Solo encouraged Illya to lie against the couch arm and settled carefully against him, watching for any signs that Illya felt the least bit threatened. Napoleon lavished kisses on the pale skin of Illya's neck, sucking gently and leaving red marks behind. Illya arched his neck, allowing Napoleon better access, and moaned loudly.

Napoleon could feel Illya's erection prodding him with every heartbeat, and he knew he would have to let this first time be mercifully quick. He didn't want Illya coming in his pants and dying from embarrassment. Although his romantic side wished to draw this out he knew Illya could take only so much.

He wordlessly began stripping Illya, peeling the t-shirt off his sweaty skin and marveling at the ivory skin at his fingertips. Illya's chest and upper body had filled out nicely, the same small patch of hair the only covering the gorgeous skin sported. Solo took a moment to run his hands down the sleek chest, barely grazing the hard nipples, not wanting to set Illya off like a skyrocket just yet.

Illya jerked like a live wire at the touch anyway, his hungry body begging Napoleon for more. Solo inched up to the rosy nipples and took one in his mouth, licking and sucking the nub. When Illya cried out he bit gently and felt him arch up into the lips fastened to him.

Napoleon felt Illya's cock leap beneath him and let go, kissing his way down the washboard stomach to the waistband of the much loved Levi's. The thought of being Illya's first was blasting its way through Solo's mind, causing his own erection to throb with a vengeance. Knowing no one had ever touched his partner like this, taken his flesh in a loving mouth, suckled at him, was enough to make Napoleon wonder if he could outlast Illya. He tamped down on his own desire, concentrating on the gasps and groans coming from his lover's throat as he drew nearer to the prize.

Slowly he undid the button, pulling the fabric apart to reach the zipper. Illya's head was thrown back, his eyes closed, barely able to comprehend what was happening to him. As Solo pulled down the zipper, Illya's cock surged free of the rough material, surprising Napoleon at its appearance. He smiled. Illya goes commando, huh? Have to remember that.

He pulled the jeans the rest of the way off, removing socks and shoes while he was at it. He moved slowly back up Illya's body, stopping to nibble at toes, knees and hip bones before he turned his attention to the raging erection. Illya was circumcised, something Napoleon wondered about for a second before he took the beautiful cock into his palm and caressed it gently. Illya hissed at the sensation, bucking upwards into the tight grasp, beginning to thrust into Solo's touch. Pre-come dribbled down the shaft and Napoleon used it to lubricate his thumb, drawing tiny circles over the flared head.

Solo knew it was just a matter off seconds before Illya came. He positioned himself next to the straining body, wanting to see his face at that moment. Illya was flushed, his eyes glazed with passion, muscles jumping with excitement. Solo kissed him again and began a firm stroke, pulling the hard flesh and drawing the balls into his other hand, encouraging release.

Illya tensed, shouted "Napoleon!" in warning. Napoleon gripped the organ harder, pulling even faster as he watched his beautiful lover's face contort in ecstasy. He cried aloud, every muscle jerking taut with the orgasm roaring out of his super-charged system. Solo milked him relentlessly, wanting to give him the best orgasm of his young life. Illya shot load after load into Napoleon's hand, whimpering as the jets bathed his stomach with white semen. Solo watched avidly as the cock-head spurt strongly, and groaned his partner's name loudly as his own orgasm overtook him, completely taking him by surprise. He felt his cock jerk inside his shorts, splattering wetly all over his briefs. He gasped, overcome with the suddenness of his release, knowing it was Illya's pleasure that triggered his.

He managed to capture Illya's lips one more time as his orgasm wound down, and he lavished attention on the soft mouth. Illya was barely conscious and moaning lightly. At last he opened his eyes and saw Napoleon's face inches from his own. He smiled shyly and said "Napoleon," sighing his pleasure into a nearby ear.

He felt Solo gather him into his arms, stroking and petting his soft skin contentedly. Illya was passive, allowing Solo to concentrate his caresses on him. The Russian was emotionally and physically reeling from their first time. His first time... What if there wouldn't be another?

Napoleon saw the shadow flit across Illya's face and frowned. "What is it, Illya?" He was afraid he'd rushed him or hurt him in some way. Illya dropped his head and Napoleon took his face in his hands, raising it to meet his eyes. "Tell me."

"You must be very disappointed in me, Napoleon. I haven't even reciprocated..."

"Ah, Illya?" He smiled at the worried face. "There's no need. Believe me."

Puzzled, Illya thought he didn't want him to return the favor. His face fell and he turned away.

"Oh, Illya. No, no, no. That's not what I meant at all. I... well, here. Feel for yourself." He placed Illya's hand over his groin, letting him feel the wet mess that he'd caused. His eyes widened and he stared at Solo.

"You mean..."

"Yes, Illya," he admitted a bit embarrassed. "I haven't come in my pants since I was sixteen." He grinned sheepishly at Illya's pleased look. "You did that to me." Now it was Napoleon who looked pleased. And playful. "And I plan on paying you back, young man." He began kissing Illya's chest, spending more time on his nipples this trip down, knowing Illya could take a bit more so soon after his release.

For his part, Illya was able to take a more active role now that he wasn't out of control with lust. He watched transfixed as Solo worked his way down his body, looking on in disbelief as Napoleon reached his navel and began licking the glistening semen from his belly button. He had to look away at the sheer eroticism of that act, feeling his cock stiffen with each swipe of that talented tongue on his belly. Napoleon didn't stop laving him until he had cleaned every spot of come from his skin, licking his lips at the taste of his partner's essence.

Illya was staggered knowing that Napoleon would do this for him, with him. He looked down his body as his new lover cupped his balls in his hand and actually licked one of them. Alternating one to the other he had Illya writhing in need in no time. And he hadn't even taken the fully hard cock in his mouth yet.

Napoleon savored the idea, the knowledge that no one had ever done this for his lover causing him to hesitate, to try and make this incredible first last longer for both of them. It was too much for him, however and he finally lowered his head, sucking the tip into his mouth with a gentle motion.

Illya actually screamed then, arching upward involuntarily and giving Napoleon quite literally a mouthful. He gagged for a second and then pulled Illya's hips down and took control of the bucking pelvis. He couldn't blame Illya for losing control. The first time a man receives head is indescribable and he understood completely.

He began a slow rhythm, sucking the cock down his throat and pulling back on the release. He took his time, pleasuring Illya into a wreck, watching him plead for more with his eyes, his needy cock twitching and jerking in Solo's talented mouth. Glad he had made him come earlier, he could draw the sensations out for Illya, take his time and really show him what pleasure was all about. The older man felt his own erection returning, the feel of the large cock in his mouth, the smell of the male musk in his nostrils causing him to remember just how much he loved giving head. He groaned and Illya jerked against the roof of his mouth.

Smiling wickedly around his mouthful, Napoleon began humming intermittently, causing Illya to twitch spasmodically. The Russian opened his eyes and looked into Solo's. The love that radiated there made Napoleon's heart thump faster and he pulled the hard flesh deeper and faster, swirling his tongue against the tender and sensitive glans. That was all Illya could take and he pumped in and out like a piston, groaning gutturally as he spasmed helplessly into the grasping mouth of his lover.

Solo swallowed reflexively, milking the length of the spurting cock and intensifying the orgasm even more. He felt the strong jets hit the back of his throat and sucked greedily, wanting to taste his lover again. This second release was smaller, but even more intense from Illya's point of view and he came down from the high slowly. Napoleon reluctantly released the spent cock, cleaning the semen from it as it pulled free.

Illya was panting like a race horse, utterly amazed at his American partner's surprising knowledge of pleasure. He pulled at him weakly, inviting him eye level again. He stroked the strong chin gently, trying to convey his gratitude in touch. Illya's eyes were cloudy for some reason and he blinked away tears. Napoleon kissed his eyelids, telling him it was all right. Illya pulled Napoleon to him, hugging him in a clinch that surprised them both with its ferocity.

Solo returned the pressure, letting Illya have all the time he needed. They stayed that way, lost in each other's embrace until Illya began running his hands across Napoleon's taut abdomen. Pulling the shirt away, he traced each muscle individually, feeling his way across the Solo landscape, learning the geography. As the questing hands delved lower, Napoleon felt a wet mouth trail across his chest and circle one nipple. Illya was hesitant, but gamely trying to please his partner. Solo sighed and relaxed, lying on his back to allow Illya to continue. He helped Illya remove his clothes, cleaning his groin with his shorts before he settled back, anticipating what was to come.

Illya's first touch to Napoleon's penis was tentative, as he explored him gently, caressing the impressive length, and measuring the girth with encircling fingers. Now Napoleon was moaning, Illya's hands making him harder than stone. The sounds of pleasure from his Napoleon excited the Russian, causing him to wrap his strong hand around the organ, stroking him boldly. Solo cried out, pulling Illya to his chest and saying, "Oh, yes, Illya. Kiss me. Kiss me and make me come."

Illya bent his head and devoured Solo's lips, thrusting his tongue inside to battle Napoleon's, their tongues mirroring what Illya was doing to his cock. A few more pulls on the straining flesh was all it took. Napoleon arched into Illya's fist, pumping quickly, losing himself in the wash of delight cresting through him, groaning his pleasure into Illya's mouth as he came in jet after jet of sticky release.

Illya continued to pump his cock, the hot spurts covering his hand like a liquid white glove. Wishing he could see Solo come, he instead concentrated on the feeling of his lover's release. The pulses slowed, then stopped and he stilled his hand, knowing the nerve endings would be super-sensitive so soon after climax.

Both men were panting, Napoleon with exhaustion and Illya with the passion of knowing what he'd done for his partner. Knowing Napoleon had given himself so completely to him, allowing himself to be vulnerable, trusting him with his body and his heart was almost more than the young Russian could fathom.

The physical and emotional toll was catching up with him and Illya sagged against Napoleon's side, spent. When they could breathe normally again, Napoleon cleaned them both with Illya's discarded t-shirt, pulling Illya over and settling him more comfortably on his chest.

They were quiet, each man keeping his own thoughts. Solo kissed the top of the bright head just under his chin, marveling at the way they had come together. He felt at peace with their new relationship, feeling the rightness of it deep in his core. They had merely added another level to their partnership, one that it seemed now they had been destined to discover sooner or later.

Napoleon selfishly admitted that he was terribly glad Illya had waited for him, in one way or another. To be his partner's first lover was the greatest gift he could ever have received, and he devoutly hoped Illya understood. He would just have to keep showing him how much he treasured this new facet of their relationship.

Illya's head dropped further onto his chest, and Solo realized he was nearly asleep. He shook him gently, wrapping his arms around him tighter and called his name. "Illya?"

Kuryakin stirred slightly and mumbled, "Hmmm?"

"I seem to remember you having a bedroom somewhere around here."

Illya held up one trembling arm and pointed in the general direction of his room. There was no further attempt at movement from the tired body.

With a groan, Napoleon sat up, readjusted his Illya-blanket and stood, carrying the limp form the short distance to the bedroom. He lowered Illya to the bed, pulled the blanket down and snuggled them both into the comfort of the soft mattress, sighing with the sheer bliss of it.

Illya curled on his side, barely conscious, and Napoleon spooned up behind him, snuggling close to the warm and lax body. They had shared beds before, usually in a flea-bag no-tell motel that was the only place available on their current mission. But to feel the sleek, naked body of his partner against his was a nearly orgasmic experience itself. Illya was asleep, his chest rising and falling in deep regular breaths. Napoleon laid his hand over his lover's heart, feeling the steady thumping and listening to him breathe. The cadence lulled him, comforted him and he was asleep bare moments later.

Illya drowsed, coming up through the layers of sleep slowly, hearing something that piqued his interest. He heard it again and came awake fully, the trained agent trying to discover if it were friend or foe. Looking at the other side of the rumpled bed, he smiled and remembered. Napoleon.

Another small sound drifted through the open door and got the better of his curiosity. He slunk out of bed quietly, threw on a pair of jeans and then padded silently into the hall. He waited for a moment behind the wall dividing living room from kitchen, trying to see what Solo was up to. A muffled, "Ouch!" got his complete attention and he came around the partition to see Napoleon standing on a chair, trying to tack up a banner on the wall with one hand while sucking on a finger on the other hand. He heard Illya's approach and turned, saying grumpily, "Well, so much for the 'surprise' part of the party."

Illya looked from the gaily decorated table to the streamers and balloons seemingly everywhere in the tiny room. The recalcitrant banner read "Happy Twenty-First Birthday" in large red letters. The blue and white frosted cake had a large "21" candle in the middle and his name in baby blue frosting underneath. The Russian was stunned, standing there with his mouth hanging open. He could only manage a shocked, "How... where..." before he snapped his mouth closed.

Napoleon finished with the banner and jumped down. He wore a sly grin and began lighting the colored candles on the outside edge of the cake. "This is New York, Illya. You can get anything, anytime in this city. You just have to know where to look."

Kuryakin was speechless, wondering how his partner had done all of this on short notice by himself. He shook his head, knowing Solo's capabilities and his stubborn streak and smiled. "Why, Napoleon? Why did you go to all this trouble?"

The American walked over to Illya, pulled him close and kissed him long and deep in answer. Illya kissed back as memories of last night flooded through him, making his knees go weak with the recollection. Napoleon supported him, gathering him into his arms and prolonging their morning greeting. He broke off reluctantly, allowing Illya to catch his breath and his composure.

"You'd, ah, better blow those candles out before we get carried away and burn the place down."

Illya nodded, too overcome to speak and sat at the nearest chair. Solo slid the cake to him and said, "Happy birthday, Illya."

When he leaned over to blow, Solo stopped him with a quick hiss. Puzzled, Illya looked at the older man. "You have to make a wish before you blow them out, Illya. Otherwise it won't come true."

The Russian dropped his head for a moment, and when he looked back up into his partner's face, his eyes were shining with emotion. "I don't need to make a wish, Polya. They've all come true already."

Napoleon heard the endearment and the softly spoken words and closed his eyes against the rush of emotion. "Oh, Illya." He watched as his partner blew out the candles, and then held his hand out to him.

Napoleon stood next to him and asked, "Don't you want any cake, Illya?"

Kuryakin stood and said silkily, "The cake can wait, Polya. I can't."

Solo worked both of his hands into the front pockets of Illya's Levis, then tugged him closer with them. He caressed Illya's hip bones through the thin fabric between them and heard the groan that started deep in the Russian's chest. He played with the soft skin and worked his fingers lower to the bulge beginning to form in the crotch. While his hands were occupied, he started tonguing Illya's neck and shoulders, needing to taste more of his beautiful lover.

Illya's hands began dancing across Solo's back, the fingers tightening on his flesh whenever Napoleon's tongue would graze his overheated skin. Napoleon encouraged the exploration, and when Illya boldly grasped his ass in both hands, Solo moaned and crushed his hips against Illya's, feeling his own erection competing for space with his partner's.

He felt Illya jerk back against him, rubbing himself against Solo, needing to feel him, wanting the closeness he had been denied for so long. Kissing him frantically now, Illya was groaning his name over and over, making Solo forget about taking it slowly.

He advanced on Illya, pushing him roughly against the nearest wall, feeling the plaster shake as they slapped it. Pulling his hands from the jeans, Solo ran them across the sweaty chest and belly, too turned on by Illya's nearness and desire to worry about his response. He needn't have, since the little Russian was trying to find Solo's tonsils with his tongue. Solo had been patient last night, letting Illya set the pace. But now with the scent of his lover surrounding him, the sounds of pleasure

filling the small room, the sight of Illya with his head thrown back lost in lust, he had no restraint, no temper.

Frenzied with desire, Napoleon tugged the jeans down impatiently, yanking them off Illya's feet and then taking a sybaritic return up the golden expanse of Illya laid out before his starving eyes. He nibbled on the inside of Illya's knees, finding the hot spots there when the Russian moaned. Continuing his progress, Solo suckled on the strong thighs, running his tongue wetly up the soft fur of his inner leg. Illya jumped at the touch, panting furiously and bucking toward Solo's mouth. When Napoleon finally took Illya's cock in his mouth, the smaller man sighed and sank his fingers into the thick hair of his lover.

Napoleon took the hard cock deep into his mouth, incredibly aroused and barely able to hold back his own release. He had other ideas for them now and regretfully let the stiff organ slide out of his hungry mouth, hearing the deep groan of disappointment from his partner at the loss.

He stood in front of Illya, stripping off his clothes and letting his cock spring free from its confinement. Illya reached for him, but Solo wrapped his arms around him and crushed their bodies together tightly. He kissed Illya, tonguing him wetly, letting him feel his need. Moving his hips slowly, Napoleon showed Illya what he wanted. The younger man thrust back, rubbing his hard flesh against his partner's. Napoleon sighed, "Yes, Illya, yes" and they began a give and take that had them grunting against each other, rebounding against the ungiving wall, the frottage building to an inevitable conclusion.

Napoleon slipped his hand between their slick bodies and took Illya's cock in his hand. After a couple of tugs, Solo wrapped his hand over the tips of both organs, using the lubrication there to pump the sensitive heads and work his thumb over the slits. A few passes over the heated flesh was all it took and Illya spasmed, crying out Napoleon's name as he gushed upwards, drenching Napoleon's hand with his release. The feel of the hot semen splashing his stomach took Napoleon over the edge as well, and he grunted with each jet of come that pulsed out of him.

They continued to thrust against each other until their climaxes wound down, leaving them both a panting, sticky mess. Solo leaned into Illya, glad he had a solid wall behind him to help hold them both up. Illya locked his knees, afraid he would collapse if he tried to move.

Solo laid his head on Illya's shoulder, kissing the warm skin of his neck, too exhausted to try to move. They kissed tenderly, Napoleon crooning to Illya softly, Illya murmuring in Russian to him.

When they were able, they pulled apart, their bodies sticky with ejaculate and sweat. Looking at what was plastered to them, Napoleon smiled wickedly and said, "I also seem to remember you having a shower somewhere around here..."

Illya grinned back and surprised Napoleon by bending him over his shoulder and carrying him into the bathroom. "You know one of these days we're going to have to try walking into one of your rooms together,"

he teased as Illya turned the shower on.

They climbed in the stall, taking turns washing each other's bodies, laughing and playing in the water. Illya took Napoleon's head in his hands and kissed him tenderly saying, "Thank you, Napoleon."

Solo kissed him back. "You're welcome."

Illya wrapped his arms around his lover and they held each other as the water sprayed over them in warm streams.

Solo stirred. "You know, I still haven't gotten you a birthday present."

Illya looked into his hazel eyes and replied, "There's no need, Polya. You've given me your heart." He didn't wait for a reply as he kissed the smiling lips again and again.

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