Illya Kuryakin was not in a good mood.
The walls of his office seemed to be closing in on him as he attempted to forge his way through the paperwork that had accumulated in the week he'd been in the field. He was certain that the forms must have been breeding, and equally certain that it would take him until judgement day to work his way through them.. So, he wasn't inclined to be charitable when his partner, apparently with no work of his own, came by to annoy him at the end of the day.
Napoleon sat on the edge of his desk, and began picking through the piles of paper, disturbing his carefully ordered system.
"Well, tovarisch, how's it going?"
"Better for some than others," Illya snapped, grabbing a sheet of paper from his partner's hand and putting it back in its place.
"Touchy. And here I was going to ask you out to dinner." Napoleon stood, and walked behind him. "Your choice of restaurant, my treat."
Illya was skeptical.
"What's the matter, Napoleon? No date for this evening?"
"I thought I was making one now."
"Not up to your usual standard."
Solo leaned in close and whispered in Illya's ear, "I thought you were a cut above my usual standard."
Illya snorted and stood up. He didn't enjoy being toyed with, especially not by Napoleon.
"Don't be ridiculous, Napoleon," he said as he grabbed his jacket. "I'm going home."
His partner leaned back against the wall, his arms folded over his chest.
"And here I thought you were interested."
That stopped the Russian in his tracks. He turned back to Solo.
"You have a tremendous ego. Do you think everyone in the world is captivated by your charms?"
"Whatever are you talking about, tovarisch?" Napoleon wore an infuriatingly innocent expression.
Illya froze, uncertain how to proceed, uncertain what Napoleon's intentions were, uncertain about everything.
When Illya had arrived from Russia, two years ago, among the secrets he had brought with him was his sexual preference. It was not politic, or even safe, to be a practicing homosexual in Russia, and so, apart from a few furtive encounters during his studies in Cambridge, he hadn't been.
When he'd been assigned to U.N.C.L.E. New York, he had considered the social climate, and judged that, though he was less likely to be imprisoned for his choice, it would be no wiser to be open in this new country. Besides, Waverly encouraged his agents to avoid entanglements, and Illya found it easy to divert his energies elsewhere.
One other secret he kept, though not one brought from his homeland, was his attraction to his partner. Napoleon had managed to touch some chord within him from their first meeting. He had observed Napoleon, quickly concluded that the American not interested in men and immediately put all thoughts of sleeping with him from his mind.
Now Napoleon was upsetting his assumptions, and his equilibrium.
Very well, he would act as innocent as Napoleon, and play the evening out.
"Nothing, Napoleon. My mind was elsewhere." He graced Napoleon with one of his own, rare, smiles. "I would be pleased to have dinner with you." The smile grew wider. "Especially if you are paying."
"That's more like it." Napoleon shrugged away from the wall. "I'll have the car outside in five minutes." Then he was gone.
Illya was left looking after his partner, and wondering.
After giving serious consideration to bankrupting Napoleon at one of the city's most expensive restaurants, Illya relented and chose one of his favourite Italian spots in the Village. The prices were reasonable, the food delicious and the choice of wines excellent.
The meal started out safely enough. Napoleon suggested a wine--quite a nice Chianti--and they ordered their food. It was no different from a hundred other times they had shared a meal, and Illya began to think he had been imagining things at headquarters.
Midway through the evening, however, something began to change. His partner was more attentive than usual, filling his wine glass when it became low, occasionally touching Illya's hand to emphasize a point in conversation. But still, nothing was in the open, and everything was unsaid.
Illya continued to play the innocent. He didn't want to make the wrong assumption, not with someone as important to him as Napoleon. Even if they never became lovers, Napoleon was more than a partner, he was a friend.
By the time desert was served Illya was on edge. Napoleon, annoyingly enough, seemed as nonchalant as ever. They talked over cappuccino, Illya drawing the evening out as long as possible. Finally, the bill was paid and they had no excuse left to linger.
"What now?" Illya asked, anticipation warring with unexpected nervousness.
"A night cap at my place," Napoleon said firmly, a warm smile on his face.
Napoleon opened his apartment door and ushered Illya in. Illya found himself drawn, as always, to the view: the nighttime city laid out like a glorious light show.
"You've never told me how you managed to get a penthouse on your salary," he said, deliberately concentrating on the sights before him.
"Privilege of rank." His partner paused. "And I got to know the girl who makes the apartment assignments."
Illya felt his body freeze, suddenly aware of the enormity his mistake. He'd been a fool to think that Napoleon would ever be interested another man.
His partner must have sensed the change in him, because he moved to Illya's side.
"Illya, is something wrong?" Napoleon sounded concerned.
"I seem to have made an incorrect assumption." Illya was unable to control the slight waver in his voice. He cursed his lack of self-control.
"What assumption would that be?"
"Nothing that concerns you."
"Are you so sure of that?" Napoleon leaned in closer and lightly laid his lips on the edge of Illya's ear. The contact was delicious, but after only a second, Illya jerked away as if burned.
"Illya?" For once his partner sounded confused.
"Napoleon, don't play with me." He summoned all his indignation and looked sternly at his partner. "I expect better than that of you."
"I'm not playing with you, Illya. I thought you wanted this. I know I do."
"You can't seriously expect me to believe that you are switching teams?"
"Oh, it wouldn't be switching teams. I've always played for both sides." Illya was hard put to say which was more intense: Napoleon's grin or his own shock.
"Close your mouth, Illya."
"But, you've never told me. . ." He broke off, unsure of how to continue.
"You never told me your preferences either."
"Then how do you know?"
Napoleon gave him an almost predatory grin.
"I can read you like a book, Kuryakin." This time he moved in and took possession of Illya's mouth. The kiss was tender, accomplished and almost proprietary. Illya found himself hesitating. Napoleon must have felt it, for he broke off the kiss and pulled back.
"Illya, what is it?"
"This will not be simple, Napoleon. It will change things."
"I didn't think you, of all people, would be afraid of change."
"This isn't as simple as changing your suit, you great oaf. This is breaking the rules."
"Whose rules? Not mine, and certainly not yours."
"I'm sure it's one of Waverly's rules."
"Do you care what the Old Man thinks?"
"He can send me back to the Soviet Union."
That stopped Napoleon short. Brown eyes looked into his, suddenly very serious.
"I wouldn't do anything to hurt you."
Illya was shocked at the strength of Napoleon's feelings.
"I know you wouldn't." Illya let a shadow of a smile linger on his lips. This time, he did not back off when Solo approached, and leaned into the kiss.
"Now," Napoleon said, lust hooding his eyes, "wouldn't you be more comfortable in the bedroom?"
Unable to speak, Illya just nodded, and was led to the back of the apartment. Somewhere in his mind, a voice was telling him that this wasn't a good idea. He told the voice to shut up, and decided to enjoy himself for as long as it lasted.
Several weeks later, Illya was surprised to find himself still the object of Napoleon's affection, or at least his lust. He wasn't sure exactly which, and he didn't really care; they were both having a marvelous time.
He cast a glance at his partner, walking beside him down the hall to the Enforcement offices. He couldn't help but smile every time he looked at Napoleon, and thought about what they would share that evening. Napoleon may joke that happiness wasn't in the Russian character, but Illya seemed to be adapting to it very well.
He returned his attention to the hallway in front of him and was suddenly conscious of the eyes of his co-workers upon them. It seemed to him that everyone they encountered in the long walk down that stark corridor knew what was between the two of them. Some seemed curious, some amused, one or two a bit hostile, but no one seemed neutral. Only by force of will did he keep from turning a brilliant red.
He waited till they were in Napoleon's office with the door closed firmly behind them before he brought up his observations.
"Napoleon, have you noticed anything the last week?" He couldn't bring himself to state his suspicions directly.
Napoleon was fussing with some reports on his desk, sorting out the paperwork he needed to take care of immediately from that which he could leave for later. Illya knew from experience that he'd somehow be talked into doing most of it himself.
"What anything would that be?" He shuffled through papers. "Damn, have you seen last week's Enforcement report? Waverly wanted another copy for some Section One thing or other."
"Napoleon, this is important. Would you pay attention?" Illya hadn't realized how uncharacteristic his exasperation was until Napoleon snapped to attention, dropping the papers in his hand, and focusing immediately on the man across from him.
"Okay, I'm listening. What is it?"
"Have you noticed," he paused, suddenly tempted to back out of the conversation. But, realizing that Napoleon would now hound him until he came to the point, he continued. "Have you noticed how people have been staring at us these last few days." He paused before continuing. "Like they know we are together."
He had expected a number of responses, but not outright laughter.
"Jesus, Illya, is that what's bothering you?"
"Yes. And I don't see what's so funny about it."
"But it's very funny." Napoleon stopped his laughter with difficulty, but couldn't keep a smile from his face. "Christ, Illya, don't you know we've been getting those looks for years?"
"I don't believe it." Illya quickly found incredulity outstripping indignation.
"Believe it, my friend. My god, even Waverly gives us those looks sometimes." His smile broadened. "I'm never sure whether he's unhappy or if he approves."
Illya wasn't sure what to say. He always thought of himself as a man of the world, but every now and then would stumble across an example of his own astonishing naivetˇ.
He was further shocked when Napoleon reached out and chucked him under the chin.
"Close your mouth, kiddo. The shocked virgin look doesn't become you." Napoleon gave Illya one of his patented slow burning sensual looks. "Besides, I can think of a much better use for that mouth."
For once, Illya's reflexes failed him, as Napoleon leaned in and took possession of his mouth. He allowed himself to enjoy the contact for a brief second, before his more prudent nature took hold, and he pulled away.
"Not here, Napoleon. Can't you control yourself for more than a minute at a time?" Illya put all of his annoyance into his voice.
"You worry too much, tovarisch." Napoleon had an exasperatingly big grin on his face. "You should learn to enjoy life when you can."
"I enjoy life just fine. You need to learn control."
"Not if I can help it."
"I suppose if you were to exercise restraint, I would worry you had been replaced by a double again." Illya sighed, and decided to change the subject. "Shall I meet you for lunch today?"
"Not today. I have to meet with some U.N. officials. I won't be back until later in the day. How about dinner?"
"That would be fine." Illya tried not to sulk about his lunch plans being thwarted, and began to look forward to dinner, especially what would inevitably follow. "I should get back to my own work."
"I'll see you tonight." Napoleon stole another kiss before allowing his partner to escape into the hallway.
Illya walked back to his office, trying to control the flush he felt creeping up his face. In spite of his embarrassment, however, he was surprised at how natural this whole thing felt. Being with Napoleon in a sexual relationship added so much more to their friendship than he would have thought.
Though he hated to admit it to himself, he was just having a great time. His Slavic ancestors were probably spinning in their graves at the fact that one of their descendents had proven to be such a hedonist. His family had always run toward noble self-sacrifice, a trend he had followed, until his first encounter with Napoleon Solo. Oh well, he would just have to become used to being happy.
If only he was sure what people thought of it all.
Illya was still feeling somewhat unsettled when he was called in to see Alexander Waverly that afternoon. He forced himself not to speculate if his superior knew what was going on between himself and Napoleon, even though he knew not much happened around Waverly that Waverly did not know. Instead, he concentrated on being the confident professional agent he was known as.
He sat in Waverly's office, waiting for his boss to finish lighting his pipe and begin.
"So, Mr. Kuryakin, I have a small assignment for you." Waverly glared at him, and Illya once again wondered what he knew.
"Our office in Riga has an important package which needs to be delivered to Leningrad. We need a courier who is comfortable in both places. Since you are our only agent who speaks both Latvian and Russian, and you know Mr. Legzdins in Riga, I thought I would send you."
"You can visit your friends in Leningrad." Waverly puffed on his pipe.
"Yes, sir." Illya shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Alexander Waverly was not in the habit of giving his best agents milk runs, and Illya was not modest enough to deny being one of the best. He tried to read Waverly's expression, and failed, as always.
"Good. You can pick up the information from Miss Rogers. Your flight leaves in half an hour, so you'll have to leave immediately."
Illya stood to take his leave, then stopped at the door.
"I should inform Mr. Solo of my departure."
"Miss Rogers can do that. You don't have time to waste."
Illya stood frozen for a second, still attempting to judge why he was being sent on this mission. Was this a plot of Waverly's to keep him away from Napoleon? Was the package important enough to require top surveillance? Was Waverly just trying to do him a favour and give him an excuse to return to his own country for a day or two?
He realized he wouldn't find the answer standing at this door. Anyone who had accused him of being inscrutable hadn't studied the head of U.N.C.L.E. North America.
With a quick bow, he left the room, and went to find Lisa. He would leave a note with her for Napoleon. Perhaps that would ease the discomfort he felt at this whole operation.
An hour later, Napoleon returned to headquarters to find that his partner was gone, sent on an errand boy's mission to the Baltic region. Lisa had given him a quickly scribbled note, "Napasha, gone on assignment. Don't get yourself killed before I get back. See you in a few days. I.N.K."
He twisted his mouth into a grimace. He had been looking forward to dinner with the brat. He'd had everything planned out, from the restaurant, to the wine he would have waiting at his flat. Now his careful schemes would have to wait.
He smiled as he considered Illya's distress this morning. His partner was full of surprises. Napoleon knew he'd had other male lovers, and being embarrassed about such things didn't seem his style. He wasn't sure if he should be flattered or upset, but settled on flattered.
The past three weeks had been the best he could remember. He and Illya had always been close, but it seemed they could share that much more now. Not to mention, the sex was stupendous, far better than he would have imagined.
He definitely looked forward to his partner's return. They would celebrate the homecoming in fine style.
Still, he wished he'd been able to say goodbye.
Illya Kuryakin hadn't been to the capital of Latvia for some years. This time the city seemed much bleaker than usual. The sky was a drab steel grey, rather more prone to drizzle than not. The weather was turning cool, a hint of winter threading through the autumn wind.
Illya pulled his collar up and staved off a shiver. It would be good to get in from the cold. Perhaps Kris would have a shot of vodka waiting for him, with some of that interesting bitter the Latvians specialized in. Illya had brought some of the stuff back to New York last time. Napoleon had declared it a cross between battery acid and paint thinner, but Illya himself took a perverse Slavic pleasure in the drink.
He arrived at the building where Kristops Legzdins had maintained the Latvian office of U.N.C.L.E. Lacking the budget of some of the larger offices, U.N.C.L.E. Riga was two rooms in a not very fashionable office building. A high security vault and a lab were to be found elsewhere in the city.
Entering the building, Illya climbed the stairs to the fifth floor, cursing the superintendent for not keeping the elevator in repair. The hallway seemed to have more bulbs than usual burned out, and there were no lights at all on in the office. Illya knocked boldly on the door and entered.
"Legzdins, you Latvian cur, where are you?" he said loudly in Russian. He always assumed his most arrogant Russian persona when doing business in the Baltic. The Latvians would avoid him, either out of fear or hatred, and the Russians would merely assume he was one of them.
The office was still and dark, the only light coming from the partially open blinds. Illya senses were immediately alert. Kris Legzdins might have an affection for too much booze, in common with Illya's own countrymen, but he would never abandon his post, and certainly not when he knew an agent would be checking in.
Nothing appeared to have been disturbed, but the place had the air of having been disused for several days. Illya had talked to Kris two days previously on the overseas relay, but he clearly had not been here since.
He swiftly searched the space, looking for some indication of what might have happened, but nothing stood out. Everything was in order, just abandoned.
He paced about, deciding on a course of action. Waverly had told him that this was a milk run, just pick up a package here and drop it off in Leningrad. Now, his instincts were telling him that something was seriously wrong. At least he knew now why he'd been sent on a simple courier's job.
He sighed, and took out his communicator pen.
"Open Channel D, overseas relay."
"Yes Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly's voice managed to sound harassed even through the tinny communicator speaker.
"I've checked in at the Riga office, sir, but it's empty. It appears to have been abandoned several days ago."
"That's not good news, Mr. Kuryakin. Is there any clue as to what happened?" Waverly sounded only a little surprised. Illya began to wonder if he'd been set up after all.
"Very well. You are to investigate the situation. You are not to proceed to Leningrad until you have some answers."
"Yes sir, understood."
He recapped the pen with more force than strictly necessary and began to pace the room once again. There had to be something here he was missing. He tried turning on the lights, but either the power had been turned off or all the bulbs had burned out. Frustrated at the dim light, he strode over to the nearest window and threw up the blind. He was in front of the window when something caught his eye. Without a conscious thought, he dove to the ground as the window shattered and a bullet embedded itself in the bookcase behind him.
He rolled quickly to his feet again, and ran out the door. He had his gun out as he reached the back stairs of the building. A shower of bullets tore into the office behind him.
How could he have been so stupid? First year recruits had it drilled into them not to stand in front of a window in an unsafe, or even questionable, area. Napoleon would take great pleasure in berating him when he returned to New York. If he returned.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs he could hear the clatter of feet above him, and muffled voices shouting in what sounded like Russian. What were Russians doing chasing him? Were they Thrush? Or some new terrorist group? He shrugged. It didn't matter for now. All that mattered for the moment was that he escape from them.
The stairs ended at a door. Illya emerged from it into an alley full of packing crates and garbage. He had to slow down to pick his way through the maze of debris, hoping all the while that he had enough of a lead on his pursuers. It didn't sound like they were the type to leave their quarry breathing.
He had nearly reached the street when a hand reached out of an alcove and grabbed him by the jacket. He immediately swung his gun into the face of the hand's owner, only to find himself looking at Kristops Legzdins.
"Kristops, what . . ." A hand was quickly put over his mouth, and he was dragged through a door hidden from sight by one of the larger packing crates.
The room was lit only by a single bare bulb, which shed just enough light that Illya could see the wear on his colleague's face.
"Kris, what the hell's going on?" Illya said. He was feeling equal parts anger and frustration. "Has Thrush taken over the whole region?"
"Not Thrush, Illya Nickovetch. KGB."
"They couldn't. They wouldn't dare. Our government is a charter member of U.N.C.L.E."
"Our government may be, but certain parts of the KGB don't think we should belong at all. They've accumulated a power base in the Baltic states for the last two years. Now they feel strong enough to act." Kris stopped and looked uncomfortable, not meeting his eyes at all. Illya got the distinct impression that Kris was keeping something from him.
"There's something more," he prompted.
"There have been rumours. Nothing confirmed, you understand." Kris still wouldn't meet his eyes.
"Just tell me." Illya wanted everything out in the open.
"We have heard that they have a special grudge against you, Illya Nickovetch."
"I suppose they want to see me dead, disgraced, the usual." Illya let resignation creep into his voice and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I've been through this all before. My position has been confirmed, several times, by the Soviet."
"They have gone rogue, my friend. And the Soviet is turning a blind eye, so far."
"Wonderful." Why did some American intelligence agency never go gunning for Napoleon? Or the Mounties? It wasn't fair.
"I suppose we'd better get out of the country."
"I leave tonight. I was only waiting to warn you. But you must find your own way out."
"That's fine. I have certain resources here."
"Don't use any U.N.C.L.E. contacts. The entire network has been blown. They have all either turned, been arrested or fled. And don't use your communicator. They seemed to have developed a way to triangulate on our frequencies."
"I have someone in mind. And no one in U.N.C.L.E. has ever heard of him, I assure you."
"Don't tell me any more. You'll forgive me for not sharing my own route."
"Professional courtesy. I understand."
"Shall I leave first, or will you?"
"You go. I need to think for a minute."
"Don't stay to long, old friend. They won't find this place immediately, but you've worked for them; you know how thorough they are."
"I won't. Go on."
Kris didn't need further encouragement. He vanished from the room, leaving Illya alone with his thoughts.
He'd been in worse situations, but to go through this again. . . Bozhe moy, would they never tire of playing this game? It seemed every year or so, some faction of the KGB or GRU would want to make an example of him, and the Soviet would eventually be called on to call off the dogs. He was tired of it. He couldn't wait to get home.
He stopped, and examined that last thought. Home. When had he suddenly begun to think of New York as home? And yet, that was what it was. Somewhere along the way the homesickness he had felt for Russia and the Ukraine had completely disappeared.
What was left was his affection for his adopted country, for the bustle of Manhattan, and, he suddenly realized, for Napoleon. The sometimes infuriating American had come to mean more to him that the theatres of Leningrad, or the streets of Kiev, or the few friends he had left in his own country.
He wished, for a moment, that Napoleon was here with him now. He had come to appreciate his partner's acid wit at times like this. He shook his head. No, better that Napoleon was in New York, safe from this nonsense.
He took a deep breath, cleared his mind, and began to plan his way out of this country before the madness of his countrymen could take hold of him.
Napoleon moved through the halls of UNCLE, a cold feeling settling in his gut. It had been two days since his partner had left for Riga and, according to Lisa Rogers, more than 24 hours since he'd been heard from. And now Waverly had asked to see his CEA.
Napoleon gnawed at his lip. Waverly was notorious for discouraging his agents from staging rescue missions. He trusted his people to be enterprising enough to get themselves out of trouble. If Waverly was asking him to find Illya, something must have gone seriously wrong.
The door to Waverly's office opened before him, and he was confronted with the sight of his superior puffing on his pipe and glowering at the papers spread out before him.
"Come in, Mr. Solo," Waverly barked without looking up.
Napoleon entered, sparing a sympathetic look for Lisa, who hovered efficiently behind their boss, ready as always to supply him with information as he needed it. She smiled back at Napoleon, but there was a tightness at the corners of her mouth that worried him.
"Sir," he acknowledged Waverly, and took his place at the round table, waiting for the reason he was here to be revealed.
"I'm sure you've heard that Mr. Kuryakin hasn't contacted headquarters for a day." Waverly frowned at Lisa, unhappy as always that information had been dispensed without his approval.
Napoleon kept his own face neutral, and nodded in response. "I had heard that, sir."
"Well, something you may not have heard is that we seem to have lost contact with the entire Baltic network. We have reason to believe that a rogue faction of the KGB is trying to shut us down in the area." Waverly's tone was as harsh as he'd ever heard it, and no wonder. Napoleon drew in a long breath as he considered the implications of the statement. There were over forty agents in the Baltic area, not including their civilian contacts. If they'd lost touch with all of them. . .
"Are you with us, Mr. Solo?" Waverly barked at him.
Napoleon sucked in his breath, annoyed at having been caught miles away.
"As I was saying, I've decided that you are the best agent to find out what's gone wrong. And you just may be able to find that errant partner of yours."
"I'll do what I can, sir."
Waverly glared at him.
"You'd better." He focused on relighting his pipe as he continued. "You'll have to take a back route in to the country. Perhaps through Sweden. We can't depend on any of our usual routes."
"Well get on with it."
Napoleon didn't wait for further encouragement, but left the office, just sparing a glance to Lisa.
He'd been worried that Illya had been captured, by Thrush or someone else with an ax to grind, but he'd never considered that the whole network would have disappeared. He took a deep breath. He had a lot of work to do. He'd have to take the UNCLE jet to Finland and look up some of his old, unofficial contacts.
He stopped halfway down the hall, and rubbed his hands across eyes that were suddenly very tired indeed. This was going to be difficult. He could have faced it easily if Illya had been beside him. But Illya had disappeared, and he suddenly found that he was missing Illya more than he thought possible. He missed having him around the office, and in his bed, and waking up with the inscrutable brat hogging all the covers. Just missed him. Christ, he hoped he was still alive.
He was just about to move on when the door opened behind him and Lisa Rogers came out. She looked frazzled, a stack of folders piled in her arms.
"The Old Man's keeping you busy," Napoleon commented. He had always respected Lisa's ability to work with Waverly in such close quarters. He was sure that in her place, he would have throttled the old curmudgeon years ago.
"Constantly, the last two days." She tossed her head to remove a straying piece of hair from her face. Reflexively, Napoleon leaned in to brush the hair back. Lisa stepped back and glared at him.
"Oh, no, you don't, Napoleon. I'm not going to face Mr. Kuryakin's wrath if he finds out you've been flirting with me."
"What are you talking about?" Napoleon suddenly found that he wanted to play innocent, for once in his life.
"Don't try that with me, Napoleon," Lisa said, an annoyed tone in her voice. "Some people may not have noticed, but I'm not one of them. April and I figured it out weeks ago.
Napoleon's mind raced as he fought to find a comeback. His options ranged from outright denial to the continued facade of ignorance, but the best he could come up with was "Oh." To make matters worse, he felt his face flush slightly.
He wasn't sure what response he'd expected from Lisa, but he hadn't expected her to fling her head back and let out a rich, throaty laugh.
"Napoleon," she choked out, "the look on your face." She stopped laughing through sheer force of will. "I wish April were here."
Napoleon cleared his throat and tried to collect his thoughts.
"And I was just teasing Illya for being paranoid and puritanical. Seems he wasn't the only one," he responded, chastened. He was more than a little surprised at his own reaction. He considered himself worldly and sophisticated, and he hadn't been lying to Illya when he'd told him he'd had other male lovers. But he was still finding it uncomfortable to learn that people within UNCLE knew.
Lisa shifted the folders in her arms and put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, her face suddenly serious.
"Don't worry. No one who would cause you trouble knows. We all think it's sweet." Napoleon felt the blush return to his face and he wondered who was included in that "we." "And most of us are wondering why it took the two of you so long."
"Well . . . um . . . " He found he'd lost his voice again. He thought that Lisa would laugh again, but instead she merely tightened the grip on his shoulder.
"No need to explain. Just find him and bring him home."
"Thanks, Lisa." He was suddenly grateful that he had such good friends in UNCLE.
Lisa started walking down the hall towards Records. Just as she was about to turn a corner, she twisted back in his direction, an evil smile on her face.
"I can't wait to tell April we were right."
Her laughter trailed behind her as she disappeared around the corner.
Good friend or not, Napoleon started wondering how easily he could dispose of her body.
Napoleon made it into Latvia, then Riga, more through good luck than good planning, and it took a full day and the better part of a night to do it. By the time he arrived, his anxiety about Illya had increased several times over.
The country, in fact the whole Baltic area, had been shut down tight. The borders were more closely monitored than heÕd ever seen them, and the KGB seemed to be everywhere. And Napoleon suspected he would find a blond Russian somewhere at the centre the storm.
Once in Riga, he found himself at a loss as to what to do. He was hampered by his lack of contacts and language. He could only speak Russian, never having taken the time to learn even rudimentary Latvian. ŌSweiksÕ and ŌpaldiesÕ, hello and thank you, were about all he could manage.
He wandered the streets, hoping for divine intervention, or at least a good idea, when he noticed a young boy walking just ahead of him. The kid, perhaps ten or twelve, with light brown hair and the high cheekbones common to most Latvians, looked furtively around him before ducking into a doorway. There he passed off a package to a middle-aged man.
The exchange had all the earmarks of the underground movement. Napoleon decided to follow the boy, and hope that he wasnÕt working for the KGB.
He spent the next hour walking the streets of Riga, watching as the boy made several more drops and pick-ups throughout the city. Napoleon had decided that the boyÕs contacts looked far more like the Latvian separatists Illya had told him about than any Russian agents, and that he would try and approach him, when the kid disappeared down an dead end alley. Cursing, Napoleon looked around him, then followed.
There was no one to be seen in the alley. The boy had disappeared completely.
Cautiously, Napoleon made his way down the alley, hand poised near his holster. He reached the end without finding a trace of the boy. Sighing, he started to turn, but found a sharp object pointing in his back.
"Nekusties! Kape tu moui sekoji?"
Napoleon cursed under his breath, and wished again that heÕd found time to learn Latvian. He tried to turn again, and was stopped by the knife pressing harder into his back, though it had not yet drawn blood. He didnÕt make the mistake of underestimating his opponent because of his youth. HeÕd seen children younger than this trained to kill.
"Nekusties," the boy repeated.
"Ya ne slezjou za taboy" Napoleon said, deciding to try Russian. I wasn't following you.
"You are an American?" the boy asked, switching to English.
Surprised, and a bit miffed that his accent had not been that of a native, Napoleon turned and faced his captor. This time, he was not stopped.
"You speak English?"
"Of course. I speak English, Dutch, German. Even some Russian." The boy spat after the last word. He seemed more friendly, but the knife remained held in front of him.
Napoleon thought quickly, and decided to take a risk.
"Would you like to do some work? I can pay well."
"Perhaps. What sort of work is it?" The boy looked at him appraisingly.
"IÕm looking for a friend. He disappeared in Riga about three days ago. We both work for U.N.C.L.E."
He had barely finished his sentence when the boyÕs stance changed. He dropped the knife and developed a panicked look. He quickly pulled Napoleon into the doorway that must have been his hiding place.
"Are you crazy? KGB is looking for U.N.C.L.E. agents."
"I had heard rumours about that." At least the boy seemed to be on their side, no matter how nervous he was. "Can you help me?"
The boy stared at him for several long moments, trying to judge if he was trustworthy, no doubt. Napoleon himself took the time to observe his would-be guide. The boy had a face that was harder than one would expect for his age, but it didnÕt seem dishonest. He carried himself confidently, and Napoleon found he instinctively liked the youngster.
At last, the boy seemed to reach a decision.
"Okay, I will help you. First, I will find you someplace to hide. You will be spotted on the street immediately. It is wonder you have not been stopped before now." Napoleon wanted to object, but he knew his clothes alone marked him as a foreigner. And not speaking the language was quite likely to get him killed faster. "Then I will ask my people if they know where your friend is. What is his name?"
"Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin."
"Russian." Napoleon was surprised the boy didnÕt spit again. "You do not have very good choice in friends."
"HeÕs not your usual Russian. I think youÕll like him."
"Perhaps. Would have to be very unusual Russian."
Napoleon laughed. The expression on the boyÕs face reminded him of IllyaÕs when asked to do something he didnÕt like.
"WhatÕs your name."
"Juris. You can call me Jay. Is easier for most non-Latvians."
"Jay, IÕm Napoleon Solo."
"Solo. No wonder you have Russian friend. You have crazy name too."
"So IÕve been told." He put a friendly hand on the boyÕs shoulder. "Lead on, Jay. My fate is in your hands."
He smiled as the boy began to lead him through the streets of Riga. For the first time in several days, he felt like things were going his way.
Illya spent two days trying to locate a safe contact. It wasn't easy. He knew that the KGB would be looking for him throughout the city, and beyond, and he found it difficult to know who to trust. In the present climate, anyone could be an informer.
At last, he found the one man in Latvia he knew he could trust above all others. Andris Cirulis.
Cirulis was a large, rawboned man in his forties, given to emotional outbursts whatever his mood. He was part bandit, part smuggler and part political leader. A fiercely committed Latvian separatist, he still considered a great many Russians personal friends, one Illya Nickovetch among them. He always resolved that contradiction by saying, "The Russian people are not the Soviet government, my friend."
When Illya finally caught up with him, he was in one of the separatists' safe houses just outside of Riga, and pleased to see an old friend.
"Illya Nickovetch, how are you?" Andris enveloped him in a bear hug that he only just survived.
"I should have known I would see you. I've just received word that your partner is in town, and looking for you."
"Napoleon?" Illya felt his heart leap in his chest. Part of him was pleased that Napoleon had come to find him, but another, greater part was concerned for the American's safety.
"You didn't know?" Andris looked confused.
"I don't know if you've heard, but the KGB is trying to shut down U.N.C.L.E. in this area."
This sobered Andris immediately.
"Yes, I've heard. Some of our people were arrested along with yours. I need to find a way to break or bribe them out before they end up in Lubyanka."
"I'm hoping to avoid ending up there myself." Illya grimaced. "I have a few enemies from my old job who would like to interrogate me."
"We can't have that. Just as we can't discuss business without some vodka."
"One would almost think you were Russian," Illya said, knowing it would annoy his friend no end.
"Insult me again, and you won't get out of the country." Andris played his part in the game perfectly.
"I would never insult the great future liberator of Latvia."
"Watch yourself. Someday I'll think you're being insolent." He summoned one of his lieutenants. "Karli. Vodka for our friend."
"Not for me." Illya couldn't help but think that Mr. Waverly would not approve.
"One drink, and then you can switch to tea."
"Fine." Then again, Waverly was an ocean away. And he definitely needed a drink.
The two exchanged drinks and pleasantries, and then got down to business.
"Well, do you have a plan, or do you expect me to do all the work?" Andris grumbled.
"I have a plan, but it's not going to be easy."
"Ah, that means it's going to be fun."
"Fun in which you will play a crucial role."
"You must turn me in to the KGB."
"The KGB? You crazy Russian, are all your people so simple minded?"
Illya couldn't help himself. He began to smile, then to laugh, quietly but noticeably.
"You are about to commit suicide and you laugh. You are a crazy Russian."
Illya recovered himself, with difficulty.
"I'm sorry, but you sound like my partner. He will accuse me of being an optimist and a fatalist in the same breath, then call me crazy."
"He sounds like a reasonable man, your partner. I hope to meet him someday, so we can compare notes on your insanity, my friend."
"You'll meet him. If he's in town, as you've said, he's going to be a crucial part of the plan. He will be our credible witness, although he'll like it even less than you." He sighed heavily. "And if that plan is to work, we must get down to business."
He outlined what he had in mind, and Andris listened, a frown on his face. Illya had been right; Andris didn't like the plan at all, but he had no better suggestion. So they worked together to make certain everything went as smoothly as possible.
Though he was concentrating on the task ahead, Illya found part of his mind straying to his partner and lover.
They had both entered into the affair as a dalliance, a way to satisfy curiosities and desires, to enjoy each other's company even more. It wasn't meant to have been serious, but it was becoming so. He found himself missing Napoleon even more than usual, wanting to turn to the brown eyes and sly smile for a second opinion and those lips for a gentle kiss, the hands for a soft caress.
He shook himself. Even for a Russian, his thoughts were shamefully sentimental. He focused back to the task at hand before Andris accused him of being distracted as well as crazy.
Jay had found Napoleon an abandoned building at the edges of the city to hide in. It wasnÕt luxurious, and he had to share it with numerous rats, but it was reasonably safe. Jay disappeared to try and find Illya as soon as Napoleon was settled in.
Jay had warned him of a rumour that the KGB was homing in on U.N.C.L.E. communicators, so he didnÕt try to get in touch with headquarters. He spent the day playing the various mental games he had developed on stakeouts too numerous to mention to keep his wits sharp. He found, however, that they werenÕt nearly as engaging without his partner about to share them.
The sun set, and the noises of the city changed to those of night. His fatigue was catching up with him, and he settled for the night on an old mattress he found in one of the rooms of the building. HeÕd probably have to burn his clothes after this, but right now he didnÕt care.
He woke sometime around dawn with Jay pulling on his coat sleeve.
"I have found where your friend is. He has found a way out of the country but we have to hurry."
Napoleon nodded, hoping that he wasn't being set up.
Jay started off through the streets, taking an impossibly complicated route Napoleon never would have duplicated on his own. Several times he thought he'd lost the boy, only to catch sight of him flitting through the increasing morning traffic.
The streets, which might have looked picturesque at another time, looked merely dingy and confining, the grey morning light reflecting bleakly off the rain dampened walls.
They finally arrived at their destination: a desolate pier at the fringes of the city's harbour.
The pier had a slightly abandoned look, as if it hadn't been used for some time. There was activity now, however. Napoleon could see perhaps five or six men milling around in front of a decayed warehouse.
As he watched, another man came out of the warehouse, and Napoleon saw the familiar shock of blond hair that could only belong to his partner. He stifled the urge to call out, and prodded Jay to move faster.
They were perhaps a hundred yards from the pier when things went wrong. Napoleon was never sure where they came from, but suddenly there was another group of men on the pier. Men with guns; men with uniforms. Napoleon felt his gut clench, and his breathing go fast and shallow. He stopped, unsure of what he should do.
He wasnÕt close enough to see Illya's face, but he could imagine the stubborn determination that would be found there just from the set of the RussianÕs shoulders. It was the expression he always wore when things were at their worst.
Another man in uniform arrived, clearly an officer. He barked out an order in Russian, but Napoleon was too far away to hear what it was. There was no mistaking the action of the soldiers, however, as they raised their rifles into firing position. Napoleon had the sudden feeling that he was viewing everything in slow motion.
Another order was barked out, and this time he could hear it clearly. "Strelyayte." Fire.
Unbelieving, Napoleon watched as the soldiers fired on the group at the pier. It seemed an eternity, the few brief seconds that it took for the men to be gunned down. Napoleon couldn't help but think that he should have been able to save them, or at least to save one small, blond Russian.
Without knowing he was doing it, Napoleon started running forward, only to be stopped by a small determined weight at his back. Jay had grabbed hold of his coat and was straining to keep him back.
"No, Solo. You can't. They'll kill you."
Napoleon continued to struggle and Jay, just as determinedly, hung on for all he was worth.
Their deadlock was broken when another group of soldiers showed up from the direction Napoleon himself had come from. This group took notice of Napoleon and his guide, and began to move quickly towards them.
At first Napoleon remained frozen--afterwards he was never certain that it wasn't a kind of death-wish--but his innate survival instinct finally kicked in. With the soldiers still out of rifle range, he grabbed Jay by the collar and began to run, pulling the boy behind him away from both groups of soldiers.
He could hear the soldiers running behind him. Orders to stop were shouted in Russian, then halting Latvian. He sped up as the soldiers opened fire. He felt a stinging on one arm, but ignored it. It wasn't a deep wound, and he would deal with it later. Right now, getting himself, and Jay, to safety was the priority. Anything else he had to put from his mind. He would not, could not, think about Illya.
They sped through the streets of the city, staying out of rifle range, and increasing their lead through Jay's knowledge of the twisted streets. Finally, the ringing steps behind them faded to nothing, and they felt confident enough to slow their pace.
With their immediate pursuit gone, Jay took over. He led them towards the centre of the city, bustling with the traffic now that the day had truly started. The boy seemed to have a purpose, for which Napoleon was thankful. He felt unable to make decisions himself.
Finally, they arrived at a back alley, where a large black car sat with its engine running. Within sight of the car, Jay stopped, and pulled Napoleon aside.
"Solo, I must leave you here. I was told to bring you here if anything happened. The men in the car will help you leave the country."
He nodded, unable to care about anything. Two men got out of the car as they approached. Jay went ahead and talked to them quickly in Latvian. Jay made the introductions as Napoleon closed the gap between them.
"Napoleon Solo, this is Andris, and Ugis. Andris speaks a little English. They will take you to a boat that is leaving tonight for Finland."
Napoleon knew he must have said something, but he could never remember what. He didn't even remember what he said to Jay, but he would never forget giving the boy a strong hug before he left, to melt back into the city scene he had emerged from.
He was bundled into the car, a crude bandage was tied around his arm, then he was on his way to another unknown destination. Andris tried to make conversation several times, in English, but soon gave up when his passenger showed no interest in small talk, and his own proficiency in the language proved too limited.
As the car traveled into the countryside, Napoleon let his thoughts begin to flow again. Illya was dead. He practiced that particular thought, and found he didn't believe it. He pictured the image of the body lying unmoving on the pier, and decided that he didn't really want to think after all. He let his mind ice over, sorrow unable to reach the heart of him.
The rest of the ride he spent staring unseeing out the window, his jaw tightly shut, his fists clenched so hard that his well manicured nails began to draw blood from his palms. To all of it--the view outside, the pain in his hands, and from the hastily bandaged wound on his arm -he was equally oblivious.
Napoleon lay in the cabin he had been given, feeling very alone and helpless. He had still not allowed his thoughts to unthaw properly. He would attend to his feelings when he was safe, in New York. For now, he was working only to survive.
He had allowed Andris to retie the bandage on his arm, but otherwise had accepted no help. Part of him knew he was being foolish. Feeling miserable himself would not help Illya now, but it was the only offering he could make.
The crew of the ship he found himself on seemed to be smugglers. Andris was clearly the captain, ordering the crew around with a cheerful bluffness. The Latvian had given up trying to communicate with his American passenger. He had been left alone ever since, curled up around the hurt that seemed the only emotion he could feel.
He started when he heard a knock on the cabin door. Forcing himself to move, he opened the door, to find Andris. The Latvian motioned him to follow, leaving before Napoleon could refuse.
Feeling only vaguely curious, he followed Andris through the bowels of the ship until they came to a storage hold. Andris opened the hatch and led the way to the centre of the hold, where a pine box lay.
Napoleon stared at the box, confused. Finally, its size and shape burned into his consciousness, and he realized what it was: a coffin. A small gasp escaped his lips, and he almost turned and ran. Andris, a crowbar in his hand, must have heard the sound, since he turned to him and took hold of his arm. The captain, clearly wanting to say something he hadnÕt the words for, only shook his head and held firmly to NapoleonÕs arm, mutely urging him to stay.
Reluctantly, Napoleon nodded, and shook free of the larger manÕs grasp. Then he watched in horrified fascination as Andris pried the lid off the rough coffin.
Illya lay inside, still in the clothes he'd been wearing when he was shot. They were covered in his blood, now dried to a dull red, the colour of rusted metal. Illya's face was remarkably peaceful, considering how he'd died. Napoleon found himself drawn forward.
He still hadn't accepted any of it. There were too many things he hadn't said to his partner, and lover. He regretted not having told Illya how he really felt, that this was not just a casual fling.
He reached forward, his fingers just brushing the cheek. He was holding his tears back, when the eyes of the body suddenly opened.
"Napoleon!" the Russian said cheerfully.
Napoleon found himself frozen in one spot. He stood looking at the friend he had thought dead, and found he couldn't speak, couldn't breathe, couldn't feel; didn't know what he would be feeling if he could have felt anything.
Illya sat up and jumped out of the coffin. He looked down at his formerly white shirt, oblivious to his partner's discomfort.
"Stage blood. It's good, nyet?" He picked at the crusted red blotch on his shirt. "But messy." Illya looked up at his partner when no response was forthcoming.
Napoleon felt as Watson must have done when Holmes appeared alive after Reichenbach Falls. Everything was muzzy, as if he were viewing it from underwater.
"Illya," he tried to say, then stopped. How could he explain what he was feeling when he wasn't sure himself?
Illya realized something was wrong.
"Napoleon, are you ill?" Illya moved to his side and took his arm, noticing as he did the bandage on the other arm. "You were hit. I didn't know you were hit."
Napoleon shrugged the hand from his arm and stumbled away, leaning against a crate. He closed his eyes, vaguely hearing Illya come up behind him through the roaring in his ears. There was a touch at his elbow, then even that was withdrawn.
"Napoleon, what's wrong?"
He leaned his forehead against the crate and gathered his thoughts, stifling the shakes that threatened to overwhelm him.
"I thought you were dead," he finally managed to gasp out. His own voice sounded strange--distant and strained.
"They were to tell you." Illya glowered at Andris, who had been watching the whole scene.
"My English is not best." The Latvian stammered out, having the good grace to look embarrassed as he did so.
"He knows Russian, you oaf," Illya said, barely reigning in his anger. He breathed out once sharply, and regained his calm. "Could you leave us alone? Please."
"Certainly." Andris turned and left the hold, closing the hatch behind him.
Once he was sure they were alone, Illya put his arms around Napoleon.
"Napoleon, snap out of it." His voice took on a hint of desperation. "Come on, Napoleon. No jokes? No wisecracks? No sarcastic remarks?"
Napoleon finally found his voice, though the hollow sound barely resembled his usual tones.
"I thought you were dead," he repeated. "Not captured, not missing, not possibly being tortured. Dead. I saw you die, Illya." He cupped one hand around Illya's cheek. "I thought you were dead, and I couldn't feel anything. Not grief, not anger. Nothing." He stopped and blinked hard. "Now that I know you're alive, I'm feeling too much. I can't sort it out." The shakes became more violent, and he balled his hands up in an attempt to stop the tremors. "Goddamn it, why is this happening?"
He half expected Illya to make a joke of it, to dismiss his weakness with his usual sarcasm. Instead the Russian lowered him carefully to the floor, then knelt beside him and took hold of his shoulders. The touch was firm and comforting and he tried to draw strength from it. He slammed his fist into the floor, hoping the pain would clear his head.
"Napoleon, listen to me carefully. You're going into shock." The hands left his shoulders and he stifled a cry. Illya was back within seconds and wrapping him in a rough packing blanket.
"You have to lie down, Napoleon. And we need to get your feet up." Gentle hands arranged him into the position, his feet propped up on a small box. Then his head was placed in Illya's lap, and his shoulders were vigorously rubbed.
"This is ridiculous," he said between chattering teeth. "I'm a trained agent. I don't go into shock."
There was a wry chuckle.
"Then this is all a bad nightmare and you can forget it in the morning."
"Yeah, that must be it." He looked up into clear blue eyes that reflected back humor and concern. "Spasibo, lyubovenka."
"You're welcome, love. Now relax. Try to get some sleep."
Napoleon felt his eyes slipping shut even as the order was given, but there was one last thing he had to say. "Don't tell Waverly I passed out." Another chuckle was all he heard before he gave in to the darkness.
He awoke in his cabin and wondered if it had all been a dream, if Illya were really dead. Then he felt two strong arms wrapped around him, and his panic eased. He turned to face his partner.
Illya was asleep, his lashes dusting his cheeks, looking in sleep like a particularly guileless angel. Napoleon smiled, knowing how much that comparison would annoy his friend.
Friend. He stopped to examine that word. Before all of this had happened, that's how he'd thought of Illya. Even after he'd started sharing his bed, he had still only considered Illya a good friend. Now, however, the rules seemed to have changed. He thought of what he'd called Illya--lyubovenka, beloved. And Illya had called him love. At first he thought it odd neither had remarked on those terms at the time, but the more he thought about it, the more sense it made. It seemed they had been moving to this point for a long time, perhaps since they first met.
He smiled, and tightened his hold on his partner, then pressed his lips lightly to the broad forehead. The face frowned beneath the kiss, and the blue eyes opened, looking at him speculatively.
"I see you're awake."
"Yes, no thanks to you."
"You canÕt blame me for what happened." Illya sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"No? I thought that little drama had your fingerprints all over it." Napoleon tried to keep from sounding petulant, but didnÕt quite succeed.
"You must admit, it was a gloriously audacious ploy." Illya sounded far too pleased with himself, and a mischievous smile played on his lips. "I thought having myself smuggled out in a coffin was a nice touch."
"Just donÕt use me as window dressing for your next Ōgloriously audacious ploy.Õ I think the next time will kill me." Curiousity began gnawing at him. "By the way, how did you stage it?"
Napoleon could sense his partner's enthusiasm as he explained.
"The first group of soldiers had been bribed by Andris. They used blanks, of course."
"But the second group . . ."
"Were not in our employ," Illya finished. "That was the best part. They had to think I was dead, so we leaked information to troops loyal to the KGB. We needed the Russian authorities here to see me die." He frowned to himself. "Of course, the timing was difficult to work out."
"Difficult?" Napoleon found himself nearly shouting. "Jesus, Illya."
Illya was unrepentant, a grin still gracing his face.
"Come on, Napoleon, you wouldnÕt love me if I didnÕt take such foolish chances."
"And how do you know I love you?" Napoleon kept a sulking tone in his voice, but something caught deep inside him.
"Because I love you." Illya was suddenly very serious, but still glowing with an energy that wouldnÕt be extinguished.
Napoleon was struck speechless. He was shocked to discover that this was everything he had hoped for, but he couldnÕt think of a word to say. So he said nothing, and took his lover in a strong embrace and deep kiss that said everything.
A long time later, when they were both exhausted and lying entwined in rumpled sheets, Napoleon found that he did have something to say at last.
"Hmmm?" Illya turned to him, a sloe-eyed look of satisfaction on his face. "You have another request, doushka moy?"
Napoleon smiled, in spite of his mood.
"Jesus, and everyone thinks IÕm the sex maniac."
"You go for quantity. I aim for quality."
Napoleon punched him lightly on the shoulder.
"From now on, IÕll stick to the quality."
They lay quietly for a few minutes before Illya sat up and turned to him, a slightly more serious look on his face.
"You had a question, Napoleon?"
"I need you to promise me one thing."
"And that is?" Illya had a wary look on his face.
Napoleon wrapped his arms tightly around his partner, lover and best friend, assuring himself of the otherÕs existence.
"Promise me you wonÕt die on me again. Not ever."
Illya looked at him, overwhelmed, but at last managed a reply. "For you, Napoleon, anything. Anything else?"
"And that is?"
"I want you to move in with me." This time it was Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin who was struck speechless. Napoleon filled in the gap. "I mean it, Illya. Bring your stereo, your books, your records, everything. I want to know that I'll always find you there when I wake up."
There was silence for a long time, then a derisive snort.
"Clearly the shock has affected you more than I thought. You're mad, Napoleon."
"Not mad, just practical. You're at my apartment all the time anyway. Why not make it more permanent?"
"And what will Mr. Waverly say to all this?"
"He's tolerated my flings with Angelique. I'd imagine this would be preferable to him."
"Preferable to find out two of his agents are . . ."
"Don't say the word, Illya," Napoleon cut him off.
"I was going to say 'in love.'"
"Ah. Are you?"
Illya became wary, a coy look on his face.
"Perhaps. And you?"
"I thought that was obvious." He drew closer and kissed Illya lightly along the jaw. Illya didn't respond and seemed to withdraw.
"Illya?" he asked.
His partner looked down, refusing to meet his eyes. "Illya, what is it?"
"Angelique, and the others?"
So that was it. Jealousy. He wrapped his arms tighter around his partner and smiled.
"Now what would I want with any others when I have you?"
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