The Mephisto (Redux) Affair
Author's note: My thanks, as ever, to my fab betae Di T and Nataliya for their patience and rigour and for indulging me when I said that 'Mephisto' wasn't finished yet. Also to st_crispins for info on sailing times, and to Azdak for insider knowledge on Cambridge (the UK version). Any remaining howlers and lumpy bits are all mine. I'm adept at ignoring good advice...
Illya Kuryakin drew down the window-blind against the glare of the setting sun and sipped his vodka. He grimaced slightly. He'd have preferred it colder. Sighing, he closed his eyes and scrutinised the ache in his chest.
He missed Napoleon; missed working with him, seeing him every day, having lunch in the canteen, going to the occasional show. He just—missed him. Illya had always taken certain aspects of his life for granted—visceral processes like digestion, or breathing.
Or keeping his partner alive.
He supposed Napoleon and he were still, nominally at least, partners but their joint missions were getting fewer, and two missions in six months hardly constituted a partnership.
In fairness, Napoleon had refused point blank when Waverly had suggested, on several occasions, that he should perhaps build up a working partnership with another agent. Someone he could work with as an alternate to Illya. Solo had insisted coldly that, on those missions for which Illya was 'unavailable', he'd work alone.
So far Waverly had acquiesced. But Illya had a sense that the Old Man was merely biding his time until a situation arose that demanded another agent be admitted to the partnership. Illya wondered why that bothered him so. Napoleon needed someone to watch his back and Illya was happy in the labs—why should it matter...
"May I get you something else, sir?"
The slightly breathy voice of the stewardess interrupted his thoughts. He smiled up at her and watched her green eyes dilate. Just Napoleon's type, he thought. Thick chestnut hair, full-breasted and a smile that must have kept her orthodontist in yachts for a year. She moistened her lips and leaned a little closer.
He dipped his head abruptly. "Thank you, no," he said and heard her move away slowly.
He looked out of the window again...
It mattered because no one could watch Napoleon's back like he could. No one worked with Napoleon so well. No one knew him so well. No one loved... the ache snatched at his chest. Illya sighed and closed his eyes again.
It mattered because...
Since his seizure some six months previously, he'd been sequestered in the labs almost exclusively, at Waverly's insistence, apart from a couple of routine missions with Napoleon.
Illya found he relished the work in the labs. Even more, he relished not being shot at, tortured or fawned over by importunate women. His cognitive function was sharper as a result of unlimited opportunities for thought-experiments. He ate and slept regularly, did his fighting in the gym instead of the field, and weekly sessions on the firing range ensured that he still held his dominant position in the U.N.C.L.E. worldwide rankings for marksmanship.
The invitation to attend the ARPA symposium at MIT had arrived out of the blue two weeks ago, a welcome fillip to his routine. He'd gone to Waverly immediately and asked to take some vacation time to attend. The Old Man had frowned at him for a moment, his standard response to any vacation request, and then instructed him to attend on the clock, as U.N.C.L.E.'s liaison. Illya couldn't quite believe his good fortune.
The Americans, smarting from his compatriots' successful launch of Sputnik and wanting to forestall another humiliating 'surprise', had established the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1958. As far as Illya was concerned, it was still the spearhead of western technological research and he relished this opportunity to experience their latest project launch first-hand. It spoke of Waverly's kudos in the eyes of the Department of Defence, that they'd accepted a Russian national as his liaison. Illya felt a sense of pride that he'd earned his mentor's trust.
He glanced at his watch. They'd be landing in Boston in another hour. Illya closed his eyes and considered the liberating prospect of four days in the congenial company of men whose intellect and scientific rigour at least equalled his own. It ought to have been perfect.
And yet... and yet...
He'd known for years that he loved Napoleon. For at least two of them he'd been in love with him and had even entertained the vain hope that one day it might be reciprocated. But their habitual flirting had come to nothing and was clearly, at least on Napoleon's part, just that. Habitual. Try as he might to sublimate his craving in women or the occasional discreet man, the yearning for his partner never truly let Illya alone. He knew he'd never act on it now.
There had been times when he'd thought that Napoleon was just waiting for him to declare himself; waiting for him to make a move. And there had been times when Illya had been this close to acting. But fear had stayed him. Fear of the loss of the closeness they had, however much of a compromise it was for him. And so he continued to clutch greedily onto their partnership as it was, only to feel that now slipping through his fingers.
Since Illya had come out of the coma, Napoleon had seemed gradually to be moving away from him. Their opportunities to be together had shrunk to briefings, the occasional chance meeting around HQ and two mundane missions. On the last one they'd had to share a bed for three nights. Over the years of their partnership Illya had trained himself to deal with this poisoned chalice in much the same way he dealt with THRUSH torture. This time he hadn't been able to sleep a wink...
He rubbed his head as a sudden headache threatened to swamp him and reached reluctantly into his pocket for the meds that U.N.C.L.E.'s chief medical officer had issued for his post-seizure migraines. The headaches had declined in frequency, but on the occasions when they did trouble him, their intensity was undiminished. He rarely resorted to the medication that Goldstone had prescribed but had had reason to be grateful for it once or twice.
He waited, gauging the potential severity, and as his vision began to dim he popped the top off the container and swallowed two tablets with the last of the vodka. Replacing the container in his pocket, he settled back to sleep.
Napoleon trimmed the mainsail to catch the wind, enjoying the tang of the salt and the sensation of the breeze in his hair. He could see the Edgartown lighthouse ahead, shimmering white in the afternoon sun. He glanced at his watch and did a quick calculation. He was about a half-hour away from the delights of Thelma, her swimsuitmodel' s body and the luxury suite he'd reserved for them for the weekend at the Harbor View.
She was due in at around five, driving up after she'd finished her shift in section V. He'd decided against inviting her to sail up with him on the Pursang, choosing instead to make the leisurely trip alone and meet her there.
He needed the time to think.
He felt sometimes as though he'd done little else in the six months since the Schiller debacle when Illya had almost died. Almost died because of him—because of the choice he'd been forced to make.
He recalled the soaring elation when he'd been told that, against the odds and in answer to his prayers, the medics had managed to save his partner's life. It hadn't prepared him for the shocking desolation he'd felt later when he'd realised how much Illya had been altered by Schiller's process.
He had no illusions. He knew that neither a solitary vacation nor a weekend with the luscious Thelma would even scratch the surface of his loss, but he thought it couldn't be worse than any of the other failed strategies he'd tried in an attempt to mitigate his pain.
It wasn't the first loss he'd experienced, but nothing before had hurt this much—except for the death of his wife. When she died the loss was devastating and absolute. One moment she was alive and real, the next—an intangible memory, albeit one that had lived in his dreams for months. But a memory has no substance—no physical presence. It hadn't shared his waking life, or an office, or his food, or even occasionally—dear God—his bed.
His last mission with Illya had been little more than a babysitting exercise—an ultra-lowrisk surveillance op. Napoleon wasn't sure how he'd survived sharing a bed with his partner for three nights. If it had gone on longer, he'd have cracked—from sleep deprivation if nothing else.
He glanced up at the sail. Memories of their last trip on the Pursang resurfaced...
One long weekend in the dog days of the previous August he and Illya had taken a trip up the coast and found a secluded mooring off one of the many inlets and islands.
From the moment he'd set foot on the boat, his partner had grumbled about the heat, the motion of the sea, the decadence of the leisured classes. Napoleon knew it was all part of a carefully nurtured contempt for anything that didn't cost blood, sweat or tears. He'd bided his time and eventually Illya had relented.
By the time they'd got to Montauk, the Russian had embraced decadence sufficiently to give every appearance of enjoying himself. They'd anchored off a deserted bay and Illya had dived exquisitely and repeatedly from the deck and swum naked, joyfully cleaving the water like an otter—even persuading Napoleon to swim tentatively from the stern ladder a couple of times.
Playful embraces in the chilly water had paved the way for heated embraces on deck in the sun and later in the cabin, where they'd indulged each other slowly to a shattering climax. The memory of his partner's generous mouth on him caused Napoleon's groin to twitch, even as something else twisted in his chest.
The mainsail slapped, reminding him to keep his mind on the job. He eased the tiller across and sought the wind once more.
Illya turned at the half-familiar voice. A gangling man of about fifty with a mass of wild grey hair approached. He was flanked by a short, buxom young woman in a tweed suit, and a tall man with a gym-sculpted physique.
"Kuryakin! It is you. What a pleasure to see you," the man boomed. He shook Illya's hand warmly.
"Professor Antrobus!" said Illya, his pleasure genuine as he shook the proffered hand. "It's good to see you too, Sir."
"Well, well," said Antrobus as he continued to pump Illya's hand. "Who'd have thought it?" he said, then dropped his voice conspiratorially and gave Illya a broad wink. "Although I must say I'm surprised ARPA let a Russian into the symposium." He gave a bark of laughter. "Are you based here at MIT or are you just visiting like the rest of us?"
Illya managed to extricate his hand. "I'm afraid I'm just a temporary resident," he said, unaccountably diffident. "I work for the U.N.C.L.E."
Antrobus' brow furrowed. "U.N.C.L.E.?" he said. "You're in law enforcement?" He looked incredulous. "A brain like yours and you work in law enforcement?" Antrobus turned to his companions. "Dr Kuryakin was one of my research assistants at Pembroke back in..." he paused, "...'56 was it?"
"You'll have read his papers on the EPR paradox," Antrobus continued. "They're pretty much required reading..." he paused then turned to fix Illya with a piercing gaze. "You've written nothing since then," he said quietly. It was a statement not a question.
Illya felt himself blushing. "I may have been a little busy," he muttered.
The woman cleared her throat.
"Forgive me, my dear," said Antrobus stepping aside and turning towards her. "Where are my manners? Allow me to introduce Dr Illya Nikolaievich Kuryakin, one of my most able and intuitive students. Kuryakin, this is Dr Eve Burt, my current research student. She recently joined us from Edinburgh."
"Dr Kuryakin," she murmured. Illya shook her hand, giving her a half-formal bow.
"Oh," she said. "Biochemist. But I was so inspired by Professor Antrobus' work on quantum tunnelling that I switched."
"Yes," said Illya, remembering his own youthful awe of his professor. "He seems to have that effect on people."
"And this," Antrobus continued, "is Professor Leonard Denman, a colleague of mine at Pembroke. His field is cognitive psychology. He was with Minsky at the Dartmouth Project in fifty-six and has been doing some great work in the relationship between cognition and... "
"Dr Kuryakin," said Denman, cutting across Antrobus and shaking Illya's hand. The lightlyaccented voice was rich and Illya's eyes were held by an unwavering blue gaze. His stomach did a flip-flop. Denman held his hand a fraction too long then released it with a beaming smile. "Russian, the professor says?" he said.
Illya found his gaze drawn to the even white teeth, the slight cleft in the man's chin. He was appalled to find that he didn't trust himself to speak. He nodded.
"You didn't work on Sputnik, by any chance?" Denman laughed, looking round the group inviting them to share the joke.
Illya managed a small smile and found his voice. "Er... no, Professor," he said. "I was already in the west by then."
The conversation continued a little longer until the delegates began to drift into the seminar room. As they made their way to their allocated places Illya felt Denman's eyes on him from across the large table. He schooled himself not to look up and was surprised by how much he wanted to.
As they broke for lunch Illya slipped out ahead of the pack and headed into the grounds. The headache he'd developed during the seminar had become insistent and he wanted to try to clear it without resorting to the medication. To have two headaches in as many days was unusual now, and he felt mildly aggrieved.
He walked for about twenty minutes before finally admitting to himself that he needed the meds. He searched his pockets then cursed when he came up empty. He must have left them in his room. Heading back, he almost bumped into Denman in the foyer.
"Whoa," the man said, smiling down at Illya. "Lunch is that way."
"I... er... need something from my room," muttered Illya. The pain was becoming intense.
Denman scrutinised him closely. "Hey," he said. "You don't look so good." He put a solicitous hand on Illya's arm. "Let me help you."
And it was easier to allow it than not. Illya nodded and then wished he hadn't as his head thumped its revenge.
"Thank you," he said, and let himself be led towards the elevators.
In the car, Denman stood close, a steadying hand never far away. Illya's head was pounding in earnest now.
They reached the room and Illya took out his key. He just wanted to be alone to ride out the headache. As he turned to thank the professor, a wave of dizziness sent him lurching against the door. Denman's arm was round him in a second.
"Hey steady there," he said, taking the key and unlocking the door. "Let's get you to bed." He piloted Illya across the room and helped him to lie down, loosening his tie for him. "Want me to call a doctor?"
"No... thank you," Illya muttered around the disabling pain that drummed in his head. He rolled to the side and scrabbled in the bedside drawer for the meds. Snatching the top off the bottle, he shook two pills into his palm.
He screwed up his eyes and glanced up to see Denman holding out a glass of water to him. He took it gratefully and swallowed the pills. Denman took the glass and disappeared into the bathroom. He returned with a damp washcloth.
"Lie back," he said to Illya and sat down on the edge of the bed, laying the cool cloth across Illya's forehead. It felt good. "You should stay here this afternoon. I'll give your apologies and come check on you later."
"No. I'll be fine in a little while," said Illya pushing himself up higher on the pillows. A hand covered his, the thumb stroking once across his palm. He caught his breath and thought for a moment he might pass out.
"Let me make you more comfortable, then," Denman murmured and moved his hand to Illya's shoulder holster.
Illya's pain-dulled reflexes were still lightning-quick. His hand shot out and gripped the man's wrist roughly. "Leave it!" he ground out through clenched teeth. Denman gasped and Illya forced his hand to relax. "Sorry," he muttered.
After the briefest hesitation, Denman spoke again. "I'll draw the drapes before I go," he said, rising from the bed and crossing to the window. "Get some sleep. I'll call back later."
Eyes tightly shut, Illya listened to the footsteps move back from the window and lay in breathless anticipation of the caress he was certain would follow...
The door closed softly and he found he could breathe again.
Napoleon leaned against the bar and cast his eye appraisingly around the slowly-filling tables in the cocktail lounge of the Harbor View. It was a beautiful evening and the French windows that opened onto the veranda were all wide open to admit the soft evening air. The sun was beginning to sink towards the horizon, and had surrendered its harsh afternoon light in favour of something a little more intimate.
He took a sip of his martini and turned back in time to see Thelma coming down the broad semi-circular steps from the entrance. She tossed her thick auburn hair and gave him a dazzling smile. The silk of her emerald-green cocktail dress hugged a voluptuous figure that drew admiring glances from every quarter of the room. The body that sold a thousand swimsuits, thought Napoleon.
He glanced towards the baby-grand set on a dais by the door, caught the pianist's eye, and nodded discreetly. The man immediately launched into 'Girl from Ipanema' and Napoleon smiled to himself. Five dollars well spent, he thought as he, along with most of the room's male contingent, watched her progress across the room. Smiling, he held her gaze all the way until she reached him, then slipped an arm around her and planted a light kiss on her cheek. He inhaled her perfume, a gift from him that evening.
"Mmm... you smell delicious, my dear," he said.
She leaned against him briefly. "You have a good nose, Napoleon."
"I do, don't I?" he murmured. "But it isn't as pretty as yours." He tapped the upturned tip and smiled into her green eyes. "What will you have to drink?"
She closed her eyes and tossed her head back. "Mmm... Champagne," she said with a smile.
He nodded to the waiter. "Put it on my tab. Suite 21," he said, "and bring it to the table over there." He guided her ahead of him, hand resting lightly in the small of her back, and settled them at a corner table that had a clear view of the room and immediate access to the terrace if need be. Never off duty even on vacation. Memories of his last vacation crowded into his mind and he shook them off abruptly. Illya...
He became aware that Thelma was speaking.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart—what was that?"
"I was wondering if we might go to the beach tomorrow."
She was eying him curiously and he wondered how many times she'd tried to catch his attention.
"Well now, that's a very fine idea," he said, capturing her hand and bringing it to his lips. "However there are plenty of things I thought we might do before then."
"Oh, Napoleon." She blushed. "What did you have in mind?"
He smiled and stood up. "Well, dancing for one," he said, drawing her to her feet and guiding her to the small dance floor.
She moved well, with a poise that allowed Napoleon to give himself over to the complexities of the dance. He essayed a few more intricate dips and turns and let his mind drift as they swept around the floor, enjoying their synchrony and the admiring looks they drew. The other couples on the floor gradually thinned out until he and Thelma commanded full attention. He used the space extravagantly.
Napoleon liked to dance. It was a pleasure to challenge his body in a way that was disciplined but risk-free for a change. A warm body in his arms, grace and economy of movement: he found himself thinking of another body and a synchrony that was souldeep. He tensed momentarily and it must have transmitted itself to his partner. She faltered slightly.
"My fault," he murmured into her hair. "Sorry."
He continued to pilot her elegantly around the floor until the music came to a stop. He smiled into her eyes then released her as they acknowledged the applause from the other tables.
The Champagne was waiting on ice when they got back to their secluded corner and he poured two glasses.
"A toast," he said, handing one to her and raising his own.
"To us..." she said. // "To a delightful weekend," he said simultaneously.
There was a pause and then they both laughed a little too heartily and drank. He put down his glass and took one of her hands in his. It felt so fragile. He raised it to his lips and stopped half way, arrested by the muscle-memory of another, broader hand.
Replacing it on the table he said, "I've made a dinner reservation for us at an... ah—intimate little restaurant along the coast." He smiled at her. "Their lobster is to die for."
She emptied her glass and looked at him from beneath her lashes. "Champagne, dancing, an intimate dinner," she said. "You really know how to make it good for a girl, Napoleon."
He cocked his head to one side and held her gaze as he refilled the glass. She was gorgeous—warm, willing, uncomplicated. So why did this seduction seem such an effort? They were on vacation, and yet it felt like every other time over the past year he'd bedded a girl as part of a mission: an ephemerally satisfying requirement of the job. Vacation time was precious and for a brief moment he questioned why he was here. A week alone sailing the Pursang along the coast seemed ridiculously enticing, despite the allure of Thelma and the luxury suite. Then he remembered the purpose of this exercise in rediscovery. He found himself wondering what Illya was doing at that moment, then he realised Thelma had spoken.
"I'm sorry, honey," he said with a smile. "That was unforgivably rude of me. What did you say?" She held out her glass towards him and he refilled it.
"Clearly I need to try harder to hold your attention," she said and leaned forward over the table, giving him the full benefit of the effect of the manoeuvre on her cleavage. "Where were you wool-gathering?"
"I was... just wondering how Illya was getting on." Had he meant to say that?
"You mean at MIT?"
"Ah," he said taking a sip of Champagne to cover his momentary lapse. "So that's where his vacation symposium is."
She nodded. "Well it's partly vacation, I suppose," she said, "although Mr Waverly wanted him there anyway. He said it was a feather in U.N.C.L.E.'s cap to get an invitation from ARPA."
"What?" said Napoleon in mock indignation. "My partner gets an all-expenses-paid trip to—wait a minute—ARPA?"
She looked smug. "The Advanced Research Projects Agency..."
"Yes, thank you," he said tapping the end of her nose. "I know what it stands for." He frowned slightly. "I just... Illya said he was going on vacation. This sounds more like a mission."
Thelma took another sip of her Champagne then chattered on. "I think Mr Waverly just wanted a scientist in there to provide an U.N.C.L.E. presence. It isn't like the usual missions that he sends the two of you on." She rolled her eyes. "Dull, dull, dull, if you ask me."
Napoleon gave the ghost of a smile. "Yes," he said. "Dull indeed." He made a decision and stood. "Would you excuse me for a moment, my sweet?" She looked up at him and he brushed her forehead with a light kiss. "I won't be long." He made his way out onto the veranda, taking out his communicator as he went.
"Open channel D. Kuryakin," he said, and leaned against the balustrade as he waited. The evening-sunlit view across the harbour to the lighthouse was spectacular. He thought of the Pursang, no doubt bobbing at her mooring. He was ambushed by an image of himself and Illya on board and he caught his breath.
"Kuryakin." The voice that cut across his musings was thick and Napoleon's spine prickled.
"Illya?" He tried to keep the concern out of his voice. "You OK, partner?"
"Napoleon..." Illya said, still sluggish. Then, more clearly, "I... just woke up. Sorry."
Napoleon glanced at his watch. Seven forty-five. "You just woke up? Are you OK?" he said no longer trying to hide the concern he felt.
"I'm fine, Napoleon," said his partner, sounding more awake and irritable by the second. "What do you want?"
At least that was a good sign, thought Napoleon. "What? I can't call my friend to see how his vacation's going?" he said.
"You called. It's going fine," said Illya. "Anything else I can help you with?"
"Are you alone?" It was out before he could stop it.
"I... ah... just meant..." he tailed off, appalled at what he'd just said.
There was a soft sigh from the communicator. "I had—a migraine..." said Illya, hesitantly. "I slept this afternoon. Until you woke me."
Napoleon was abashed. How could he have forgotten the crippling headaches? He'd thought they'd been abating lately. "Sorry, tovarisch," he said. "How are you feeling now?"
"The pain is much diminished, thank you." His partner paused. "I took some of the medication that Sidney Goldstone gave me..."
"You took medication?" Napoleon almost squeaked. "You have wild horses there at MIT?"
The communicator remained silent.
"That bad, huh?" he said gently. There was another pause.
"It was... yes," Illya said quietly. "It was quite—annoying."
"Sounds like you need an early night," said Napoleon, and again could have bitten his tongue out. He waited for the barbed response. Which didn't come.
"You may be right," said Illya. He paused then added, "Speaking of which, how is the lovely Thelma?
"Lovely," he said. "I'll call you later."
"Thank you, Napoleon, but I do not need you to regale me with the details."
"I'll call you anyway."
"Why?" said his partner testily. "I'm fine."
Napoleon heard a noise on the veranda behind him and turned as Thelma came up and moved next to him. He circled an arm around her.
"Napoleon, I have to go," said Illya sharply. "There's someone at my door."
"OK. I'll call you later. Solo out," said Napoleon and twisted the communicator shut. He slipped it into his pocket and put both arms around Thelma.
"Was that Illya?" she said as she snuggled against him.
"Mm-hmm," he said nuzzling her hair.
"Is he OK? You sounded concerned."
On auto-pilot, Napoleon nuzzled his way towards an ear. "Illya's a big boy. He can look after himself."
She shivered as he nibbled on the lobe. "So why were you calling him then?" she said and then gasped as he tongued her ear canal. "Oh! Napoleon..."
He lipped his way along her jaw line until he reached her mouth. Drawing back slightly he flicked a glance to her Champagne-glazed eyes before capturing her lips in his. When he finally felt her begin to struggle for breath he released her. She looked up at him, liquid eyes almost black, lips swollen and parted; immensely desirable, he told himself.
"Napoleon," she whispered, looking up at him through her lashes. "I'm not really very hungry."
He smiled slowly.
Illya closed the connection and slipped the silver pen back into his jacket pocket. The knock came again and he un-holstered his Special and moved to the door.
"Who is it?" he called.
"Leonard Denman. May I come in?"
Illya unlocked the door. Denman stood in the hallway.
"I came to see how you were," he said, head cocked to one side. His eyes flickered to the Walther in Illya's hand.
Illya holstered his weapon and stood back to let him into the room, closing the door behind him. When he turned, the man was standing so close that Illya almost bumped into him. He suppressed a flinch and looked up steadily into blue eyes that regarded him with amusement.
"I am quite well, thank you," Illya said evenly, ignoring the lingering ache in his head. Denman held his gaze a second longer and then grinned and turned to move farther into the room
"We're going to dinner, Professor Antrobus, Dr Burt and I," Denman said over his shoulder. "Would you care to join us?" He turned quickly, almost wrong-footing Illya a second time.
Gavno! Illya thought as he strove for balance. What was wrong with him? "I... er, I am not very hungry," he muttered, moving to put as much distance as possible between himself and his visitor.
"Ah," said Denman. "Well—perhaps a drink in the bar, then? I could fill you in on this afternoon's session. We covered a lot of ground."
Illya wavered. He was mortified to have missed the afternoon seminar, and the prospect of being up to speed in time for the following day's schedule was enticing.
"Tell you what," Denman said. "I have a bottle of Stolichnaya in my room. Why don't we have a drink there and I can brief you on this afternoon. Then if you feel up to it we can go down later and join the others after dinner." He beamed his broad smile. "How does that sound?"
It sounded good. Very good. The opportunity to spend leisure time with minds that offered his a challenge was rare. Despite the residual discomfort in his head, Illya nodded and then winced as the headache bloomed. Denman was at his side in a second, handing him the meds from the bedside table.
"Perhaps you should take another dose of your medication," he said.
Normally he wouldn't. He'd sweat it out rather than submit to the dulling effects of the drug. But he wasn't on a mission as such, and—well—for once he wanted to have a good time. And Stoli. He smiled up at the man and popped the top off the meds.
"Thank you, Professor," he said, dry-swallowing a tablet.
Denman beamed at him, an extraordinary 1000 Watt experience that made Illya catch his breath. "Leonard, please," the man said. "You must call me Leonard."
"Leonard, then," said Illya trying not to notice the slight cleft in the man's chin and what it was doing to his equilibrium. "And please, call me Illya."
Again the dazzling smile. "Well, Illya," said Denman. "Shall we say," he looked at his watch, "ten minutes? In my room? I'm just along the corridor in 415."
They moved towards the door and Illya leaned around Denman to open it. He jumped as though burned when the man brushed briefly against him.
"Ten minutes, then," he said, astounded that his voice was steady.
Denman turned in the doorway. "I'll be waiting," he said and for one panicked moment Illya thought the man was going to lean in and kiss him. Then Denman turned and headed down the corridor and Illya shut the door and leaned against it breathing hard, his heart pounding.
It was years since his body had betrayed him in this way. Years since anyone had circumvented his rigid control. Maybe it was the meds; maybe the fact that he was, to all intents and purposes, on vacation. He shook himself mentally and headed for the shower.
Ten minutes later he paused and surveyed the room. He'd disciplined himself not to abandon everything in an unseemly dash along the corridor and as a result it was pristine. Apart from his Special and his communicator, he'd brought none of the tools of his trade. Curiously light-headed, he made his way to the door and as an afterthought stuck his head into the bathroom. Finally, opening the door he flipped off the light and headed off down the corridor.
Denman greeted him with a tooth glass in his hand. "I meant to..." he began. Illya raised the glass from his own bathroom. Denman smiled and cocked an eyebrow. "You've done this before," he said.
Illya nodded and walked past him surveying the room. It was clearly more upscale than his own. He tried not to notice the double bed. He turned as Denman approached with a full bottle of Stolichnaya.
"It's a pleasant room isn't it?" Denman said removing the cap.
Illya forced a smile and nodded. "And Stoli too, I see," he said holding out his glass.
"It seems that a Chair in Cognitive Psychology has certain fringe benefits," Denman said with a grin as he poured them both a drink. "I'm afraid this isn't as cold as it should be," he said as he put the bottle down on the desk. He turned and raised his glass to Illya's. "Na zda-rov'-ye," he said and took a healthy swallow.
Illya watched the man's Adam's apple bob and swallowed reflexively, annoyed that it should be so affecting. He emptied his glass in one, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Denman grinned at him and refilled the glass.
"So, Dr Kuryakin," he said. "Paul Antrobus tells me that the chair in theoretical physics was yours for the asking." He sat down on the upright chair by the desk and gestured Illya to the bed. "What happened?"
Illya quelled his minor disquiet at the seating arrangements and shrugged. "I suppose U.N.C.L.E. happened," he said, and took a swallow of his drink.
He savoured the warmth that spread through him. His earlier light-headedness had morphed into a sense of contentment. He realised with mild surprise that he felt better than he had for months. Even the crippling headache of the afternoon was now only a vague discomfort, nibbling contentedly at the edge of his awareness. He was practically on vacation, had an evening of intellectual stimulation to look forward to and a bottle of Stoli to share. He was sure too that, if he wanted it, more might be on offer. Illya sighed. Life was good.
He glanced across at his host and became aware that he was speaking again.
"As Paul said earlier," Denman was saying, "with an intellect like yours, what are you doing in law enforcement?"
Illya smiled ruefully. "I think the Professor has not yet forgiven me for 'abandoning academe', as he put it," he said. He thought for a moment. "I believe that I am where I can do the most good."
"And what about your research? The papers you published were the most innovative of their time. They opened up a whole new field for investigation. Was that not 'doing good'?"
Illya thought he might have detected a sneer in Denman's voice. He shook his head slowly. These were old arguments. He and his Professor had thrashed them out, sometimes in acrimony, before he'd finally accepted Waverly's invitation to join U.N.C.L.E. and left Cambridge and the UK.
In many ways he found his current role in global politics less exasperating than the academic intrigues of college.
"There are more ways than one to be useful," he said.
Denman took a swallow of his drink. "So what brings you to the AI project?" he said. "Are you here as a scientist or to police us all?"
Illya cocked an eyebrow. "A little of both, I suppose," he said. "My research is woefully out of date but I'm looking forward to seeing where others have taken it. And the EPR paradox is still up for grabs. As for the other role...?" He shrugged. "Well, U.N.C.L.E. works closely with the DoD and I think they felt my presence here might be an asset in helping them to forestall any looming security issues."
"But don't you miss," Denman gestured with his glass, "this?"
"What?" said Illya. "A nice room? A comfy bed?" He drained his glass once more and smiled. "And other expressions of western capitalistic decadence?"
Denman laughed. "I was thinking more of the company of those with similar intellects to yours," he said and stood to top off Illya's glass. "And similar—preferences." He filled the glass but didn't move away. He stood looking down at Illya, eyes locked on his mouth. "You know you really are extraordinarily beautiful," he murmured. "I'm astonished that Antrobus could bear to let you go."
Illya felt his pulse begin to bound and tossed back his drink. Denman plucked the empty glass from his fingers and placed it and the bottle on the desk. He leaned down and slid a hand around the back of Illya's neck. For a moment Illya's face was level with the straining bulge at Denman's groin. He forced himself to look away. His eyes drifted upwards and were drawn to the cleft chin. He felt his own cock begin to stir. Panting now he flicked a glance up to the blue eyes that were still locked on his mouth. The message was clear.
Denman lowered his head and moved in.
At the last moment, Illya turned his head away. He found he was shaking. His head pounded and he couldn't think. Damn, he thought. He'd left his medication in his room.
There were lips on his ear.
"Don't like to kiss on a first date, huh?" breathed Denman. "OK." Hands roved over Illya's body sending jolts of need through him. "Let's see what we can find that you do like. Why don't we get more comfortable?"
Illya's jacket and shoulder holster were suddenly gone and then he was being borne backwards by the man's weight over him. He heard his shirt buttons ping across the room and was dimly aware of busy hands stripping his trousers from him. And then he was unable to stifle a cry as his barely-stirring penis was enveloped to the root in wet heat.
Illya's hands fisted in the quilt as the mouth at his groin began to lave and suck him to erection. Long months of abstinence short-circuited his control and he moaned in bliss as the talented tongue worked on him. His head thrashed from side to side as the hot suction increased, the greedy mouth moving up and down his shaft, faster and faster, the pressure building—and then abruptly it was gone.
With a noise half-way between a moan and a sob he raised his head and looked down the length of his body. His penis stood, fully erect now, and glistening with saliva. Denman knelt on the floor between his knees panting, moist lips swollen, eyes almost black. He was naked and Illya wondered vaguely when that had happened.
"Well now," said Denman breathlessly, looking at Illya's thick cock. "There's a surprise. Who knew...?" His eyes met Illya's. "Turn over," he said, voice rough with need.
"Wha...?" Illya panted.
"Turn over," the man said again, holding up a tub of Vaseline. He knelt on the bed and coated his distended cock liberally. Illya watched, mesmerised, and tried to gather his sluggish thoughts.
Denman grasped the quilt and pulled it from the bed, spinning Illya over onto his front. He guided Illya up onto his hands and knees. Illya glanced over his shoulder and saw him dig two fingers into the tub once more.
"You're far too pretty not to have done this before," Denman said, panting, "so I'm going to assume you aren't a virgin."
Through the fog in his brain the words reached Illya as though from a distance. He shook his head, then gasped at the first slick touch at his opening. He moaned, eyes slitting in pleasure as Denman worked the lube in thoroughly, sending little shocks of delight through him. It felt so good. A vague sense that he shouldn't be doing this fluttered on the edge of his awareness but escaped before he could capture it. He felt Denman withdraw his fingers and move in behind him, breathing ragged.
Illya closed his eyes. "Now," he said roughly, before he could change his mind. "Do it now."
Trembling and barely able to catch his breath Illya tightened his fists in the sheets as Denman entered him with a single, slow thrust. He gasped. Although he'd been well prepared the man was big. Illya's head arched back and he groaned at the thrill of it. Oh God, why didn't he allow himself this release more often? It was so perfect, to be filled in this way.
Slowly Denman withdrew and slid home again. Illya's mind drifted inexplicably to his partner. No wonder Napoleon dated so many women. No doubt he was, even now, engaged in a similar pursuit with the lovely Thelma.
He groaned as Denman withdrew and rocked into him again. The pace began to build insistently.
Would she, Illya wondered, be sufficiently unconventional to allow his partner to take her this way? The thought made him arch backwards as the cock drove into him again and the man behind him groaned.
"So tight..." Denman muttered as though from a long way away. "So... fucking... tight..." he grunted in time with his thrusts.
Feeling the pressure build, Illya moved a hand to his own shaft and began to pump himself, trying in vain to match the ragged tempo of the man behind him.
Half a dozen strokes later Denman began to plunge wildly. He gave a guttural cry.
Illya felt the spasms as the man pulsed inside him. It sent a shiver through him and he felt his balls tightening. So close. He moved his hand faster, sliding his thumb over the head now slick with pre-ejaculate.
From nowhere, the thought slammed into his mind—what would it be like to have Napoleon in him in this way? Filling him. Conducting him. Loving him...
And suddenly his mind was full of shattered images of his partner, of making love to Napoleon, of Napoleon in him and around him, holding him and kissing him breathless. He flung his head back. "Napoleon," he gasped through gritted teeth and began to come, harder than he could ever remember...
...and abruptly couldn't breathe.
He began to choke, seized by panic. Somewhere in the distance he thought he heard the warble of his communicator.
Heart thundering and blood pounding in his ears he fell into blackness.
Napoleon peered at his watch in the subdued light from the bedside lamp. 9.30pm. The girl dozed next to him, sated with her head pillowed on his arm. He could still taste her tang on his lips and feel at his lax groin the stickiness of their combined fluids.
He hadn't expected her to be so sexually adventurous, boldly taking him in her mouth without invitation. He hadn't let her make him come that way, though. It was partly out of consideration for her evident inexperience, despite her apparent willingness, but mainly because he'd never yet succumbed to cheap fantasy.
He wanted to be in no doubt whom he was bedding here; wanted to bury himself in slick softness, stroking full breasts as he came with the scent of her in his nostrils, biting his lip in case he betrayed his longing.
He'd brought her to the brink with his mouth time and again before finally entering her and taking her with him as he plunged, gasping over the edge, allowing her aftershocks to milk him. Yes—it had been a virtuoso performance; an exemplar of the Solo technique.
Carefully, he extracted his arm from beneath her, grabbed his communicator, and headed for the bathroom. He shut the door and perched on the edge of the tub.
"Open channel D," he said.
"Channel D is open," came back a breathy female voice. Napoleon sought and quickly came up with a name to go with the voice.
"Well, good evening, Wendy," he said. "How are you this evening?"
"I'm on duty, Napoleon," she said, the pout evident in her tone, "and that should tell you plenty."
He smiled. "Someone has to be, sweetheart," he said. "I—ah—need some background on this MIT seminar of Illya's." He heard her scrabbling for her notepad.
"OK—ready," she said. "What do you need?"
He thought for a moment. "Well, for starters, do we have a list of the delegates and the institutions they represent?"
"Sure do. Mr Waverly insisted."
"Have we run background checks on them?"
"They've all been cleared by ARPA," she said. "One hundred per cent squeaky clean."
"Hmm, OK. Patch me through to Illya would you?"
"Will do," she said. "Where's Thelma?"
"Where all good girls should be at this time of night." Napoleon said with a smile.
"Lucky Thelma," she sighed. "Say hi to her for me, won't you?"
"Will do," he said.
"Putting you through," she said, all business now.
The static-filled seconds ticked by then he heard Wendy's voice again.
"Napoleon?" she said. "He's not responding."
"When did he last call in?" he said.
"He checked in when he arrived but he wasn't on a reporting schedule," she said. "He was sort of on vacation you know..."
"Has his homer been activated?"
"OK, honey," he said. "Thank you. I'll—ah—give your best to Thelma. Solo out."
He twisted the communicator off and tapped it against his mouth in thought. He was surprised to find that his decision was already made. He moved to turn on the shower and heard the door open behind him. A pair of silk-clad arms encircled him as Thelma laid her head between his shoulder blades. He carefully extracted himself and turned towards her, carding his fingers through her thick hair, wishing it were softer, shorter, blonder.
She tipped her face up and he bent to kiss her lips. After a second or two she pulled back and looked up at him searchingly.
"Something's wrong, isn't it?" she said.
"You have to go, don't you?"
He sighed and nodded, reaching for words that would let her down gently. "I..."
"It's Illya isn't it?" she said, disappointment vying with concern in her voice.
Napoleon thanked the fates that she was U.N.C.L.E. and didn't need a fabricated excuse.
"Is he alright? I thought he was practically on vacation."
"He's Section II," said Napoleon, "which means..."
She interrupted him with a sigh. "I know, I know," she said. "You're never really on vacation, are you?" She looked up at him, eyes brimming.
He gathered her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. "Hey," he said. "Look, the suite's reserved for the whole weekend. Why not stay on, hmm?" He'd no doubt that she wouldn't want for company. "Order what you like and put it on the tab."
He pulled back and slipped a finger under her chin, tipping her face up. "I'll need to take the rental, but if I'm not back by Sunday..." He knew he wouldn't be—whatever happened. "...get them to order you a cab—my tab. Whatever you need."
She gave him a watery nod.
He kissed the tip of her nose. "Good girl," he said and turned on the shower. "Oh, by the way," he said over his shoulder. "Wendy sends her best."
The door closed as he stepped under the steaming spray.
It was close on midnight when Napoleon parked the rental behind the computer science lab at MIT and headed round to the entrance. A desultory scattering of lit windows peppered the building. Late-occupied labs, no doubt. The lights in the foyer were still on and he made his way through the glass door. A security guard looked up from the desk as he entered and relaxed visibly as he took in Napoleon's appearance. Probably thinks I'm a major donor, he thought as he shot his cuffs.
"Good evening... ah, Doug," said Napoleon reading the man's name badge. "I wonder if you can help me." The man was all deference. "I'm looking for a friend of mine—Dr Kuryakin. He's attending the ARPA symposium here I believe."
"Solo," he said extending his hand. "Napoleon Solo."
The guard shook his hand firmly. "Mr Solo... I'm afraid all the delegates have left for the day but I understand there are arrangements for them to dine over at the accommodation block." He reached for the phone. "I could call ahead if you like."
"No, thank you, that's quite all right, Doug. If you point me in the right direction I'll just wander over there myself."
"Sure thing, Mr Solo," said Doug standing to come round the desk.
There was a display of delegates' photographs on an easel next to the desk and Napoleon's eye was arrested by his partner's photo and bio. He moved across to read it, marvelling again at the Russian's string of citations. As he was turning away, he let his eyes drift across the photos of the other delegates. Illya looked absurdly young by comparison...
He stopped as though he'd been sucker-punched.
There, on the row below his partner's, was a photo of Aldous Schiller. The hair had been dyed and the face was more tanned than when Napoleon had last seen him but it was unmistakably and terrifyingly Schiller.
"Mr Solo..?" Doug's voice was hesitant.
"Are all the delegates at the dinner?" said Napoleon, clutching the surprised guard by the shoulder and thrusting his U.N.C.L.E. ID at him.
"I... er, yes—I think so..."
"How many of you are there on duty tonight, Doug?"
"Twelve patrolling the campus grounds and three per block. Say, Mr..."
"How do you keep in touch with each other?"
Napoleon snatched Schiller's photo from the board. "I've no time to explain right now," he said unclipping his communicator, "but I may need you later. Now, how do I find the accommodation block?"
"Turn right out the door and head straight down the widest pathway," said the guard as Napoleon headed for the door. "It's well lit," he called after him. "You can't miss it."
Napoleon activated the communicator and spoke as he ran. "Open channel D, priority for Waverly."
There was a click and then the Old Man's voice. "Waverly here," he said. "What is it Mr Solo? I thought you were on vacation."
"I'm at MIT," Napoleon panted as he ran towards the accommodation block. "Sir, Schiller's here..."
"What?" snapped Waverly. "I thought Mr Kuryakin was at MIT. Why hasn't he apprehended Dr Schiller?"
"Sir. I think Illya may be in danger." Napoleon felt a squirt of fear. "With the gaps in his memory, he may not recognise Schiller." He thought he heard a soft profanity from the communicator. "Sir?"
"Find him, Mr Solo. We must have Schiller at all costs, do you understand? If he were to get to men in positions of power with that process of his... well the results don't bear thinking about."
Napoleon swallowed "What about Illya, Sir?"
"All costs, Mr Solo," Waverly said quietly. "Waverly out."
No, thought Napoleon. Don't make me choose again.
He twisted off the communicator savagely and replaced it in his pocket as he ran.
Desultory groups of men in earnest conversation hovered about the door to the accommodation block but there was no sign of his partner. Napoleon raced into the foyer. The dining room was in darkness and the doors were closed. He crossed to the concierge at the desk.
"Which is Dr Kuryakin's room?" he gasped, flashing his ID at the man.
The concierge checked the list in front of him agonisingly slowly. Napoleon wanted to shake him.
"Room 410," the man said eventually.
"Do you have a pass key?" Napoleon demanded.
"Key!" snapped Napoleon holding out his hand. The man fumbled under the desk and handed it to him.
Napoleon spun towards the elevators then, as an afterthought, turned back to the desk and held Schiller's photograph in front of the concierge who peered at it closely. "And which room is this man in?" said Napoleon.
The man consulted his list once more...
...Napoleon headed for the stairs and took them two at a time.
He burst into Illya's room, weapon drawn. The bedside lamps showed the room to be empty and immaculate. The bed was smooth, the wardrobe empty and Illya's valise stood tidily in the corner. Napoleon stuck his head into the bathroom. Apart from the absence of a tooth glass, a damp towel hanging over the rail, and Illya's shaving kit sitting neatly on the glass shelf, that room too looked pristine. With a muttered oath he left.
Napoleon raced along the corridor clutching the pass key. He flung open the door to Schiller's room and flipped on the light. The reek of spent sex hit him and what he saw made his stomach turn over. The room was a mess. Shoes, socks and a jacket littered the floor, the wardrobe door stood open and the desk chair was overturned. But it was the bed that drew him with awful fascination.
He crossed to it slowly, weapon poised. It looked like a battleground. The sweat and semen-stained sheets were a damp tangle in the centre, pillows and quilt strewn on the floor... Napoleon stumbled over something and bent to retrieve it.
It was his partner's shoulder holster. It was empty.
Fighting down his fear and loathing, he set about searching the room. He did his best to quell the faint hope that fluttered in him; that with Schiller lay the last, best hope of unlocking his partner's memory. Whatever the cost, Waverly had said. Napoleon pushed that aside, unwilling for the moment to explore its implications.
He concluded the search a fruitless ten minutes later. Nothing to indicate how long ago Schiller had abducted his partner or where they might now be. Clutching Illya's empty shoulder holster he headed back to his partner's room hoping for better luck.
He ploughed into the room—and stopped. It was empty. No valise. He stuck his head into the bathroom. No shaving kit.
He snatched his communicator, berating himself for not considering the possibility, bitterly aware that he'd squandered precious minutes in the search.
"Open channel D," he panted. "Priority one for Waverly."
"Yes, Mr Solo?"
"Sir, Schiller has Illya."
Napoleon thought he heard a sharp intake of breath over the communicator.
"I believe they're still here somewhere," he continued, "so I suggest we get security to lock down the campus and initiate a grid search. I don't think we've much time."
"Very good, I'll see to it," came Waverly's clipped tones. "Find them, Mr Solo. Waverly out."
Napoleon closed the communicator and flung down the shoulder holster in frustration. Think, man. Where would Schiller take him? Illya had no shoes or jacket, hardly inconspicuous in public, so the route would have to be covert. This building would be the obvious choice, but where? He had to start somewhere.
With a last glance around the room he headed for the stairs. No point in alerting Schiller by the arrival of an elevator.
Opening the basement stairwell door he paused and listened, letting his breathing catch up. At this hour of the night there was no one about. Rows of trolleys stacked high with clean linen lined the dimly lit cement area. At one end of a row, next to the service elevator, a heap of clean laundry was strewn across the floor. Napoleon drew his weapon and took a few steadying breaths.
He side-slipped along the wall towards the haphazard pile, and his attention was drawn to an empty trolley abandoned in the far corner. He peered around it and spotted a door, its lock mechanism hanging twisted and useless.
Beneath the door a line of light showed.
Napoleon's finger slipped inside the trigger-guard as he moved silently forward, straining his ears to listen. He heard one voice—Schiller's—and then there was nothing. Silently he turned the door handle, took a deep breath, and flung the door open.
When Illya woke it was to a dim world of distorted sounds and images. He wore no shoes or socks, and his button-less shirt was wide open over his trousers. His hands were tied behind him and he was drenched in sweat. He tried to gather his thoughts but nothing made sense.
He was at a conference with Napoleon—no—in a lab with Napoleon. No he was back at Cambridge with Professor Antrobus—no—at a symposium with him. Wait—Napoleon was dead. His head throbbed. But he'd just spoken to him about... Thelma. It was imperative that he got to the computer—but why? Napoleon was—making love to him, on the Pursang, so he wasn't dead after all. Illya felt a surge of relief. Napoleon loved him. His hand was hurting...
The sound of a door opening penetrated his whirling thoughts. He tried to focus and clear his head.
A man came through the door—an attractive man with thick dark hair and a cleft chin.
"You're awake, I see, Dr Kuryakin," the man said. He was carrying Illya's valise. "You may like to know that you've just checked out of the symposium." He dumped the valise in the corner and came to stand over him. "That migraine you had this afternoon got worse and you had to leave." He was carrying Illya's own gun. Illya squinted up at him and caught his breath as two things slammed through the fog in his brain.
He'd had sex with Schiller. His mind recoiled at the thought.
Schiller hunkered down next to Illya. He said nothing for a moment then slowly he ran the muzzle of the weapon around Illya's face. "Your looks really are extraordinary you know," he murmured. "Quite—extraordinary." He ran his fingers through Illya's hair, playing with its softness, and it took all of Illya's determination not to whimper at the touch. "And under all this," he let the hair fall from his fingers, "such a fine intellect. It really would have been such a pity if my process had destroyed it—but it didn't, did it?" He frowned abstractedly. "Why was that do you suppose, hmm?"
Illya recalled the sensation of the man's mouth on him and did his best not to throw up. He tried to marshal his thoughts. Despite the chill of the room sweat poured off him.
"Another defective THRUSH device, it seems," he said, aiming for indifference and almost succeeding.
Schiller barked out a harsh laugh. "THRUSH?" he said. "Oh no. Oh dear me, no. This is all mine—nothing to do with THRUSH. I wrote the programmes that gave them access to your U.N.C.L.E. computer. They wanted a way into NORAD and I gave it to them."
Illya's fragmented thoughts were beginning to coalesce. There was a word... it eluded him.
Schiller's eyes glinted. "Their grasp of cognitive psychology is rudimentary," he continued. "Infantile. It was my extrapolation of the relationship between cognition and memory that was the foundation of the process that I used on you. I designed the technology to deliver it. THRUSH merely built it."
The pain in Illya's hand had become troubling. He clenched his fist tightly. "You—you wanted me to forget something," he said.
"I wanted you to forget quite a lot, in fact," said Schiller. "And it seems you did." He tilted his head to one side and gave Illya a speculative look. "You had no idea who I was, did you?"
Illya said nothing, his mind still in revolt at the idea of sex with his tormentor.
"No," continued Schiller, "I can't imagine you'd have let me fuck you knowing I'd almost killed you. It was a good test of the process." He smiled. "And not at all unpleasant. In fact, were we not so pressed for time, a repeat performance would be very welcome. Now that you know exactly who I am it could be even more—arousing."
Illya failed to repress a shudder as Schiller ran the muzzle of the Special down his belly.
Schiller frowned as though struck by a thought. "And yet, I'm still not sure why you're alive," he mused. "You clearly activated the computer lockdown. It should have killed you.
"And upstairs, just now, I thought you were going to die on me. That would have been," the man smirked, "inconvenient," he said. "And premature."
Illya summoned the shreds of his bravado and shrugged. "As I said," he muttered. "The equipment was defective. Your process was defective... just like its inventor." He watched Schiller bristle and wondered if he'd gone too far. He was no longer sure of anything.
Abruptly the man stood and crossed the storeroom to a briefcase that lay atop a pile of boxes. He laid down Illya's weapon and opened the case, his body shielding its contents from Illya's view.
"I think you owe me some answers," he called over his shoulder. "And since we are so short of time," he turned to face Illya, "you especially so, we must be swift."
He picked up Illya's gun again and advanced on him. It wasn't the weapon that made Illya's stomach clench, however. In his other hand Schiller held a syringe full of strawcoloured fluid. Shards of memory skittered about Illya's head. Despite his best efforts he found he was shaking. His hand throbbed painfully.
Schiller cocked his head and gave him a speculative look. "Ah—I see you remember this too," he murmured as he crossed to Illya' side once more. He glanced at the syringe. "It's only fair to say that I haven't tried it on anyone after they've undergone the process. No survivors so far," he said, as tucked the weapon into his waistband and squatted down next to Illya. "But I do need to know why you, Dr Kuryakin, of all my subjects, have survived.
"I have no idea of the appropriate dose under these circumstances," he said as he went to push up Illya's sleeve. "But I trust this will not immediately be fatal, at least not before you've answered my questions."
Rivulets of cold sweat ran down Illya's back as memories of the pain and his impotence to resist Schiller's truth serum crowded in on him. He was close to the end of reserves already depleted by his disorientation. In his confusion the one thought that seemed to assert itself above all others was that he'd betrayed Napoleon. Betrayed him with this man who was about to violate his mind again before assigning him an ignominious death.
"Wait," he gasped as a word winged its way into his mind and the fragments of his shattered memory finally locked together. "Mephistopheles," he sobbed, triumphant. "I remember—Mephistopheles..."
No need for the serum, he thought in relief. No need, now that he'd remembered...
Schiller shook his head. "Ah, Dr Kuryakin," he said. "If only it were that simple. In your present state I'm certain you'd willingly tell me all that you remember. Unfortunately—I'm not so much interested in the 'what' as the 'why'." He held up the syringe in front of Illya's face. "This will show me the weak links."
The man grasped Illya's tethered arm again, searching for a vein. He was hampered by the fact that Illya's hands were tied behind his back. After a few seconds, and with an expression of frustration he gave up. Instead he grabbed a handful of Illya's hair and dragged his head to one side, exposing the jugular. The needle poised, hovering over the skin. Illya tried not to gag.
Schiller's eyes glittered. "Before dying," he hissed then suddenly darted his head forward and took Illya's mouth in a bruising kiss. Illya fought against it but Schiller's hand was fisted in his hair and he was powerless. He could barely breathe. His ears began to pound and for a fleeting moment he wondered if Schiller might inadvertently suffocate him before he used the serum.
There was a sound across the room...
The sight that met Napoleon's eyes caused him to falter for a split second. Schiller and...
"Illya!" he cried, his voice cracking.
In a heartbeat Schiller had swivelled Illya between Napoleon and himself, his weapon pressed hard to the Russian's face.
"Mr Solo—welcome!" Schiller said, panting slightly. "But do please drop your weapon and kick it over this way. I should so detest having to damage your beautiful partner."
Napoleon raised his hands and bent to lower his Special slowly to the floor, eyes never leaving Illya's. "You OK partner?" he asked.
His jaw locked in Schiller's grip, Illya was unable to speak or even nod, but the eyes that held Napoleon's gaze were steady. Napoleon lightly toed his weapon towards Schiller over the rough cement. It came to a stop half way between them.
"Leave it," barked Schiller. "Now, Mr Solo," he said. "Sit down on the floor, legs spread wide—wider, if you please, hands on your head."
Napoleon did as he was told. "I wish I could say it's a pleasure to see you again, Dr Schiller," he said forcing calm into his tone as he gazed an apology at his partner. "Or is it Dr Denman now?"
Schiller ignored him and hissed at Illya, "I am going to retrieve your partner's weapon now. You will lie very still or I will shoot off his balls. Do you understand?"
Illya made a strangled sound of assent and Schiller shoved him roughly to the floor as he moved to collect Napoleon's gun.
"So," said Napoleon. "How did THRUSH manage to wangle an invite to an ARPA project, hmm?" He held Schiller's gaze determinedly, willing himself not to look at his partner who, impossibly agile, was at that moment slipping his feet through the loop of his tied hands.
"THRUSH?" said Schiller, retrieving Napoleon's weapon, checking the safety and tucking it into his waistband. "I have already explained to your partner, THRUSH are Neanderthals when it comes to AI."
From the corner of his eye Napoleon saw Illya curl up on his side on the floor and go limp. "AI?" he said widening his eyes in mock amazement. "This conference is about artificial insemination?" He pulled out his best leer. "My, my..." he said. "If only I'd known..."
Schiller gave him a look of contempt and sidled towards Illya's prostrate form, still keeping his weapon levelled at Napoleon. Napoleon held his breath.
Right on cue his partner exploded into action. A leg sweep took Schiller to the floor before the man knew what hit him, and then Illya was astride his chest. Schiller still clutched Illya's weapon and Napoleon flung himself sideways as it came round in a wide arc. There were two reports and he winced, bracing himself for the impact of a bullet that never came. He looked up in time to see Illya's bound hands, clenched into implacable fists, descending from above the blond head towards Schiller's face.
The man's scream and Napoleon's cry echoed together.
"Illya, no!" yelled Napoleon, seeing the rage and pain in his partner's face as Illya struck.
There was a crackle of splintering bone, a spurt of blood then Schiller twitched once and lay still.
Napoleon watched, torn between compassion and despair, as Illya sagged, chest heaving, over the body. A maelstrom of feelings battled each other for dominance: understanding of his friend's action, compassion for the things he'd endured that had driven him to it, and, underlying everything, the dreadful realisation that his last hope of getting his partner—his lover—back had died with Schiller.
He moved across the room in a daze and hunkered down next to the brutal tableau. He laid a shaky hand on the back of Illya's neck and began to knead it gently, eyes blurring.
Eventually Illya seemed to gather himself. He raised blank eyes to Napoleon but dropped his gaze almost immediately. He moved his bloody hands then, raising them towards his mouth as though to undo the tie with his teeth.
Napoleon arrested the movement. "Here," he said, and Illya held his bound hands towards him, dumbly, still not making eye contact. Napoleon slipped his knife from his boot and cut the blood-drenched knots. Illya rubbed his wrists absently, stood, and made his way shakily to the edge of the storeroom where he leaned against the wall and threw up.
When the sound of heaving finally abated Napoleon went and laid a hand on his friend's head, stroking his hair. Illya was trembling so hard he could barely stand. Slowly Napoleon moved his arm around the Russian's shoulders and turned him until he was holding him tightly against himself. He let his hands rove quietly across his partner's back. Gradually the shaking diminished, but Illya didn't return the embrace.
Napoleon thought the lump in his throat might choke him.
"I'm... sorry," Illya mumbled against his shoulder at last. He pulled away and gestured with his head towards the scene behind them. "Will you call it in? I seem to have mislaid my communicator."
"Illya..." Napoleon began, but his partner interrupted him with a weary shake of his head.
"Not now, Napoleon," he said, moving to pick up their weapons. He handed Napoleon his and went to put his own in a holster that wasn't there.
"It's upstairs," said Napoleon, reaching for his own communicator, his voice under control once more. "We'd better find your shoes too," he said.
Illya turned on him eyes flashing. "Thank you," he snarled. "I remember where I left them." Without another word he snatched up his valise and left.
Napoleon closed his eyes and wondered if things could get any worse.
Showered and changed but in stockinged feet, Illya stood outside room 415 and tried to ignore the knot in his stomach. It's just a room, he told himself, as though he hadn't just come apart in there. He set his shoulders and went in. Schooling his eyes away from the bed he scanned the rest of the room.
The open bottle of Stoli was on the desk, the desk chair overturned. Two strides took him there without thought and he snatched up the bottle, taking a hefty belt. It made him gasp and he slammed it back onto the desk, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. The fire warmed and steadied him. He took a breath and turned to the room.
His gaze roved across to the open wardrobe and was arrested mid-way by his shoes, abandoned in the middle of the room. He crossed to them and slipped them on. It gave him something to do and allowed him to turn his back on the bed. Schiller's case caught his eye. A cursory search revealed nothing of note, beyond three silk shirts, underwear, socks and pyjamas. He turned his attention to the suit that hung in the wardrobe. When that too proved unproductive, he was finally forced to face the bed. He gritted his teeth and moved hesitantly towards it.
He tried to ignore the tangle of stained bedding, opting instead to slip his hand under the mattress, searching for anything alien. Nothing. Maybe Napoleon had had more luck with the briefcase. At the thought of his partner, he withdrew his hand quickly, suddenly wanting to be anywhere but here with this sordid reminder of his infidelity.
His communicator warbled and he flinched. Taking a deep breath he answered it.
"Ah, Mr Kuryakin." It was Waverly's voice and Illya almost sighed with relief. "What is your status?"
"I'm—ah—just securing Denman's..." He winced involuntarily. "...Schiller's room," he said.
"Very good," said Waverly. "The clean-up team is on its way up from the foyer. Report to me in the Dean's office as soon as they relieve you."
"Sir?" Illya wasn't in time to hide the bewilderment in his voice.
Waverly caught it and harrumphed. "Dr Goldstone and I arrived on the U.N.C.L.E. jet twenty minutes ago," he said.
"Dr Goldstone...?" Illya's heart sank. The last thing he wanted at this moment was a medical assessment.
"I trust you do not have a problem with that, Mr Kuryakin?" Waverly's voice had slipped into the honeyed register and Illya wasn't so far off his game as to miss the warning sign. He opened his mouth to reply when there was a tap at the door.
"I will be in the Dean's office in five minutes, Sir," he said firmly.
"See that you are," came the sharp response. "Waverly out."
Closing the communicator he headed for the door to admit the clean-up team.
Illya knocked on the door of the Dean's office and somehow managed to keep his face composed when it was opened by Napoleon, who motioned him inside.
"He's on the phone," his partner murmured as Illya passed him to sit in one of the two chairs on one side of a sprawling leather-topped desk.
At the far side Waverly sat in animated conversation, half-turned away from them. Illya raised an eyebrow at his partner.
"Robert Sproull," whispered Napoleon.
Illya nodded. ARPA's director. He felt the weight of Napoleon's gaze on him and kept his eyes on the floor.
"Tovarisch..." Napoleon began.
There was a sharp exhale and Waverly clattered the phone into the cradle. He turned to face them. "Gentlemen," he said, his voice betraying none of his evident irritation. "Your report please.
Illya glanced briefly at his partner, who theoretically trumped him in the notionally-onvacation stakes. Napoleon nodded and Illya began his report. It was only years of practice that allowed him to deliver it dispassionately and succinctly, despite his sense of dislocation. And maybe the vodka had helped.
When he came to the incident in Schiller's room he barely managed to keep his voice steady, despite delivering a sanitised version in which he succumbed to the vodka rather than to Schiller himself. It must have taken his last vestige of control, however, because he heard himself falter at the moment in the storeroom when Schiller had him at his mercy; the vision of the needle at his neck stealing his words.
Napoleon was there before he could draw breath to try again.
"Sir," he said earnestly. "When I entered the room, Schiller was about to empty a syringe full of some undoubtedly toxic substance into Illya's neck. Illya was helpless."
Waverly harrumphed as though he found the adjective applied to the Russian untenable.
"I see," was all he said. "And how did Dr Schiller die, Mr Kuryakin?"
Illya opened his mouth to speak but Napoleon was there again.
"Schiller had disarmed me and was about to shoot us both," he said. "Despite being bound and unarmed, Illya was able to strike him and both shots went wide." Napoleon stole a look at Illya before continuing. "Mr Kuryakin saved both our lives, Sir."
Waverly looked pointedly at Illya. "But not Dr Schiller's, it seems."
"No, Sir. He died," said Napoleon quietly, holding Illya's gaze with eyes that seemed infinitely sad. "And his process with him."
Waverly sighed and took out his pipe. Illya felt his rigid shoulders give a little at the cue that the interview was almost over.
"Very well, gentlemen," said Waverly as he searched for his tobacco pouch. "I expect your written reports here on my desk by the end of the day, before you each resume your respective vacations." He looked hard at Illya. "And I expect you, Mr Kuryakin, to report immediately to Dr Goldstone at the campus medical centre. He will want to do a thorough review. After that you are free to go. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that the rest of the symposium is cancelled." He nodded to them both. "Good day, gentlemen," he said and devoted his full attention to filling his pipe.
Illya heard Napoleon hurrying to keep up with him as he strode along the corridor. As they reached the elevator, he considered continuing to the stairs but his partner moved ahead of him and turned to face him.
"Whoa there, tovarisch," said Napoleon.
Illya stopped, eyes downcast. Napoleon didn't speak and eventually Illya felt compelled to look up. The eyes that met his were soft, compassionate, and it almost broke him.
"What do you want, Napoleon?" he growled.
There was a hesitant smile. "Buy you breakfast?"
Illya found he couldn't look away, and then the enormity of what he'd done crashed in on him again. He jabbed a finger hard on the call button. "I'm not hungry," he said.
There was a ding and the doors slid open. "OK," said Napoleon quickly. "Lunch then?" Illya ducked into the car and hit the button for the ground floor. "One o'clock in the refectory?" The doors began to close between them and Napoleon jammed them with his foot. "Else I'll come find you..." he said looking up at Illya under his brows, voice quietly adamant.
Illya scowled but gave a single abrupt nod and his partner allowed the doors to close. Alone at last, he sagged against the wall and closed his eyes as the car descended.
The receptionist in the unfamiliar campus medical centre looked up as Illya approached. Her eyes widened and she beamed at him.
"Dr Goldstone," muttered Illya with a scowl. "He's expecting me I believe."
The beam faded. "Just one moment please," she said looking down a list. She looked up at him, a little flustered now. "You must be Dr Kuryakin," she said.
He gave her a curt nod.
She spoke into an intercom on the desk. "Dr Kuryakin to see Dr Goldstone."
Sidney Goldstone's slightly distorted voice came through. "Send him in, Marcia. And don't be put off—his bark's worse than his bite."
She smiled and flipped off the intercom. "Please..." she began, indicating the double doors behind her.
Illya ignored her and strode through.
Goldstone was waiting for him down a short corridor and waved him into a consulting room.
"Have a seat, Illya," he said, indicating a chair by the desk as he closed the door behind them.
Goldstone sat the other side of the desk and opened a file in front of him. He scanned it for a few moments and then closed it, taking off his spectacles and rocking his chair onto its back legs.
"So," he said. "Schiller. Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Illya shrugged and reached for nonchalance. "There's not much..."
The chair landed smartly on its four legs and Goldstone's palm came down hard on the file in front of him.
"Let's get this right from the start, shall we?" he said. "This is your medical officer you're talking to. Not Alex Waverly. Not your CEA."
Illya looked at him but said nothing.
Goldstone sighed. "Look, Illya," he said. "You strip down and clean your weapon after a mission, don't you?"
Illya nodded, feeling that he was about to be patronised.
"Why?" said Goldstone.
Illya scowled. "Because I need to be certain that something my life may depend on isn't going to let me down when I need it," he said. "Get to the point, Doctor."
Goldstone smiled at him. "I think you just did," he said. "Alex Waverly has the same philosophy. He employs me to see that his agents will function when lives depend on them."
Illya swallowed and wondered why it was so difficult.
"I have to determine whether you're OK to go back into the field," said Goldstone. Then, more gently, "You've been through a lot in the last year—things that would have broken most men. I can see that you're hanging in there—barely..."
Illya opened his mouth to protest but was silenced by Goldstone's raised hand.
"Let me finish," the medical officer said. "I can help you, but only if you let me in. You have to talk to me." He looked at Illya and frowned slightly. "I'd normally tell you to go talk to Solo as well. It usually seems to work for you, but I get the feeling that this time it could be a match to a powder keg. Am I right?"
Illya made his face a blank.
Goldstone sighed. "OK—me, then. I need you to tell me what happened." He rose from his chair and indicated the couch along one wall. "Go lie down..."
"I am perfectly comfortable here, Doctor, thank you," said Illya, fists locked together on the desk in front of him.
"Illya," Goldstone's voice was controlled. "You need to relax if I'm going to help you."
"Crap," said Goldstone cutting him off. "You're Section II. You're in medical with a man in a white coat. You're wound tighter than a spring." He put his hands on the desk and leaned forward. "I don't want to, after all you've been through—but I will sedate you if I have to."
"No!" Illya gasped, the image of Schiller's syringe at his neck once more threatening his composure. "No—that will not be necessary, Doctor," he said quietly. He scrubbed his face with his hands and then stood and rolled his head a few times. "I will tell you." Reluctantly, he moved to the couch.
Goldstone sat down again and leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. "Take your time," he said.
"I remember," blurted Illya, unable to look at the doctor. He wondered if Goldstone had understood him because the man said nothing. "I remember," he said again. "All of it." He risked a glance up. Goldstone was nodding slowly.
"Tell me about it..."
Napoleon took a sip of his coffee and glanced up at the clock as his partner walked into the refectory. The cup remained poised between mouth and saucer as Napoleon took in the air of exhaustion—no—defeat that hung about his friend. He'd observed the damage the past year had wrought, and for the first time he wondered if it might be insupportable. His cup clattered into its saucer at that, and Illya's eyes flicked towards the sound. After a second or two's hesitation he came towards Napoleon's table.
"Given your pound of flesh?" said Napoleon, as lightly as he could manage.
Illya stuck his hands in his pockets and nodded.
"We'd better replace it then." Napoleon stood. "Hungry?"
Illya started to shrug and then must have caught the warning in Napoleon's eye. He nodded. "I—er—think so," he said.
"You think so," said Napoleon as they moved towards the counter. "When did you last eat?"
His partner thought for a moment. "Breakfast," he said. "Yesterday."
Napoleon pushed the Russian in front of him in the queue to mask his concern. "Eat," he said. "And when you've finished you can start again."
"Are you buying?" Illya said over his shoulder.
"Aren't I always?" Napoleon gave an exaggerated sigh and patted the shoulder without thinking. "Go ahead," he said, trying to ignore the flinch his touch produced. "Fill your boots."
Napoleon tried not to watch as his partner licked the last of the ice cream from his spoon. He pushed his own untouched dessert across the table. "Here," he said. "Your need is clearly greater than mine."
Illya glanced at him once before digging in.
"So," said Napoleon. "Report turned in?"
Illya spooned up a mouthful of pie and nodded.
"About ready to hit the road then?"
Illya shot him a guarded look as he swallowed. "Do you have a car?" he said.
Napoleon nodded. "A rental," he said. "I drove it up from the Vineyard." He watched Illya devour the last of the pie.
"Are you going back there?" said Illya, dabbing his mouth with a napkin.
Napoleon nodded slowly, not quite liking where the conversation was headed and not sure why.
"Good," said Illya. "You can give me a lift to the airport, then. I don't have a car here and it won't be much out of your way."
Napoleon's heart sank. "I have the Pursang moored at Edgartown," he said carefully.
"I'm sure you will enjoy the rest of your vacation, then," said Illya with equal care.
"I—ah—hoped we might enjoy it together, partner," Napoleon said, and watched the Russian catch his breath. "We have before, and you could use some down time. We both could."
"I—I have an air ticket," Illya faltered. "And I have my journals..."
"Illya, please..." Napoleon couldn't keep the tremor out of his voice. "We need—I need—to talk. To listen." Illya's eyes were wide with panic but Napoleon continued determinedly before his partner could speak. "I don't want you running away from me before we have a chance to do that."
He watched a torrent of barely-contained emotions flow over the Russian's face in the space of a heartbeat. Finally, Illya nodded and Napoleon found he could breathe again.
"OK," he said. "Meet me in the parking lot in—say—fifteen minutes?"
Illya nodded and rose to go. Napoleon watched as he made his way to the door, almost shambling. Like a wounded animal, thought Napoleon, and something twisted inside him.
He was leaning against the car when Illya approached. The Russian's step faltered as he took in the scene, then he walked to the front of the vehicle and dumped his valise in the trunk. With exaggerated care he moved to the passenger side. Clearly there'd be no competition for the car keys on this occasion.
"A VW Bug, Napoleon?" he said, raising an eyebrow as he climbed in. "Your choice?"
"Now that you mention it," said Napoleon, ignoring the contempt in his partner's voice and backing out of the lot. "No. I wasn't expecting to need a car at all."
Next to him Illya snorted and then was silent as Napoleon negotiated their route to the I- 93. He looked across to find the Russian hunched down in the bucket seat, arms folded, eyes closed, with every appearance of sleep. OK, thought Napoleon. I guess we won't talk until we get there...
Napoleon pulled up by the harbour at Woods Hole and switched off the engine. After the air-cooled clatter the silence was intense. Illya continued to snore softly next to him. He'd slept, or initially pretended to, for the whole of the one-and-a-half hour journey from Boston. That he still slept was testament either to his exhaustion or to his sense of trust in Napoleon's care—or perhaps both.
Napoleon closed his eyes and resisted the temptation to reach over and run his fingers through the soft blond hair. He missed it so much. The formerly acceptable pats and touches were no longer enough. Sometimes he wondered how much longer he'd be able to keep up the pretence. He cut off the line of thought ruthlessly. He would do it for as long as his partner's life depended on his control and he would not let it waver.
Maybe if Schiller had lived... He cut off that line of thought too. The man had been an amoral monster and Napoleon couldn't bring himself to blame Illya for killing him. Not after what his partner had undergone at the man's hands. But it hadn't just been his hands...
He shuddered at the image of the desecrated bed and his eyes snapped open. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel, and the tension in his jaw muscles was making his head ache. He became aware that the snores had stopped. A tentative glance to the right, and he was caught by Illya's steady blue gaze. For a second he was falling, drowning... and then his partner looked away. Released he sat himself upright.
"Are we there yet?" the Russian muttered rubbing his eyes sleepily.
Napoleon cleared his throat. "We're at the ferry. Sleep on if you want to. We'll be about another hour." Without thinking he reached out a hand to pat Illya's leg. At the last minute he let it fall on the stick-shift between them. "I'll wake you when we get there."
It was getting on for five o'clock when they drew into the lot of the Harbor View. Illya looked around at the hotel's impressive frontage.
"Is this where...?" he said.
Feeling suddenly as though he wished it weren't, Napoleon nodded.
"Is she still...?" Illya asked.
"If she has any sense at all—no," Napoleon said. "But I need to go and pay the tab and pick up my things before we go aboard." He cut the engine. "You coming or do you want to stay here?"
His partner wriggled down in his seat again. "I'll stay," said Illya, closing his eyes. "I'd hate to embarrass you."
With the minimum of fuss, Napoleon gathered his things from the suite. There was indeed no sign of Thelma. He dealt with the bill and was relieved to find it was more or less as he'd expected. Either Thelma had been admirably frugal or she'd found another companion to indulge her after his sudden departure.
The receptionist called to him as he was about to leave.
"Mr Solo?" She handed him an envelope. "The young lady left this for you," she said lowering her eyes tactfully.
He opened the envelope and read:
I spoke to Wendy this morning and she says MIT is a hornet's nest and Mr Waverly has flown up there. What a hoo-hah. I'm going in to HQ to do extra shifts.
We're all so glad you found Illya OK. It's great that you look out for each other so well.
Thank you for everything.
He folded the note into his pocket as he headed down the broad front steps of the hotel towards the rental. He tossed his bag into the trunk and climbed in beside Illya. Starting the car he reached to put it into gear. As an afterthought he fished the note from his pocket and tossed it into his partner's lap.
"Come on," he said. "Let's get our things stashed then we can go find something to eat."
Later that evening as he followed Napoleon onto the deck of the Pursang, Illya's misgivings about their onward journey escalated. They'd bought groceries, found an inexpensive place to eat and dropped off the rental. Now back at the harbour and with the prospect of two days with Napoleon in a confined space, Illya's courage was deserting him and the urge to run was almost overwhelming.
In the aftermath of the events at MIT he knew he'd begun to shut down. Reluctantly he had to admit that if it hadn't been for the session with Goldstone, he'd probably have been catatonic by now. As it was, conversation between himself and Napoleon had dwindled throughout the evening and their meal had ended almost silently.
He thought Napoleon was being unusually solicitous; buying him dinner, keeping his glass filled, sharing anecdotes when he thought it would help, allowing him silence when it was clear that it wouldn't. It fed the guilt-beast that was busily gnawing away at his insides.
It hurt that at the moment the shroud on his memory had been lifted, his rediscovery of Napoleon's love had been poisoned. For a wild moment he considered leaping ashore and running—anywhere—far away from...
"Illya?" Napoleon's voice called quietly from the depths of the cabin.
Napoleon's head appeared from the hatch. "I thought we might anchor offshore tonight," he said. "It'll be quieter and it'll give us a head start in the morning." His eyes were bright in the moonlight. "You OK with that, partner?"
Not trusting his voice at that moment, Illya nodded.
"OK, good. I'm going to start the engine and then I'll need you to cast us off."
"Fine," he managed, and headed aft.
An hour later the Pursang, bathed in moonlight, was tethered at anchor on a millpond sea. The lights of Edgartown twinkled in the distance. Illya sat on deck listening to the sounds of Napoleon pottering around in the cabin below. The quasi-familiar noises lulled him, and his mind was abruptly invaded by memories of their last trip on the Pursang. Craving their comfort, he indulged himself for a moment before the gnawing in his belly reasserted itself and he pushed them away. The lights in the distance blurred and he swept a hand roughly over his eyes.
The clink of glass below caught his attention and the next minute Napoleon's head appeared through the hatch alongside a bottle and two glasses.
"Want some company?" his partner asked.
So, thought Illya. Here it is. The moment it all falls apart. Suddenly the star-dusted sky was too big and he couldn't bear it.
"I'll come below," he said, standing and moving towards the hatch.
He ducked into the small cabin and felt his eyes fill once more. Napoleon had dutifully made up both narrow bunks, one awkwardly under the bulkhead and one at the side of the drop-down table. They'd never slept apart on the Pursang—never. Always they'd used the table to create the more comfortable double bunk. Even before they were lovers.
Something very like a sob was building in his chest. The effort to contain it must have shown on his face, because Napoleon was speaking and his voice was full of concern and...
"Illya? Tovarisch? What is it?"
He found he was shaking, but Napoleon's hand was rubbing circles on his back and he was being guided down to sit on the narrow bunk and a glass was put in his hand and...
"Here," said Napoleon. "Drink this."
He stared at the glass uncomprehendingly until Napoleon took his hands and wrapped them around it and guided it to his mouth.
"Drink," said Napoleon. "Then we talk."
He emptied the glass in one and gasped as the liquor caught the back of his throat. Napoleon filled the glass again and nodded.
"Again," he said, and Illya obediently drained it.
Napoleon filled the glass once more and put the bottle down on the table, then slid behind it onto the banquette opposite Illya.
"Tovarisch," he said gently. "It's time... You need to tell me."
"I can't," mumbled Illya.
"You can, moi droog. You can tell me anything. I'm your partner, remember?"
Illya gave a bitter laugh. "Oh yes," he said. "I remember, all right. I remember..." He stroked his scarred palm. "I did this... so that I wouldn't forget you," he said. "What we had. Ever. But I did..."
A warm hand closed over his and he started at the touch. The grip tightened and he looked up to find Napoleon's incredulous gaze on him. He watched as his partner struggled to speak.
"You... you remember?" said Napoleon, his voice unsteady. "You remember..." he motioned his free hand between them, "...us?"
Illya nodded dumbly.
Napoleon closed his eyes and the grip on Illya's hand became momentarily painful. "Thank God," he whispered.
Illya wrenched his hand from Napoleon's grasp and took another gulp of his drink.
"No," he said.
"No...?" echoed his partner's bewildered voice.
"No," said Illya. "No... you don't understand..."
"Then tell me," Napoleon paused. "Look," he said quietly. "If it helps..." he took a deep breath. "I know what Schiller did to you. I saw the room where he... raped you."
Illya stared at him, the enormity of the irony leaving him momentarily speechless. Then he laughed. A high, thin sound that scared him. He couldn't imagine what it was doing to Napoleon.
"Rape?" he spat. "Rape...? Bozhe moi."
Napoleon's brows drew into a puzzled frown. "Illya...?"
"Napoleon, Schiller didn't rape me."
He watched the colour drain from his partner's face but something—a desire to punish himself—drove him on.
"I let him fuck me." He felt the tears wet on his cheeks. "I wanted it. I went back to Denman's room for a drink, and for conversation and—and... I let him fuck me." The tears streamed unchecked, and knew that his nose was running too. He swept the glass from the table to shatter in the corner and pounded his fist on the table. "Him. Not you... him, " and he was sobbing in earnest now, great gulps that tore at his chest as the beast inside crowed with delight and thrashed its tail...
An eternity later he felt the whisper of breath on his face, cool against the wetness of his tears, the searing heat of lips pressed against his cheek and then he was enfolded in an implacable embrace. He tried to struggle but Napoleon's hold was remorseless. The past twenty-four hours rushed at him and finally overwhelmed him. As he slipped into blackness he thought he heard soft whispers of mercy in his ear.
When Illya woke, it was just after dawn. His head was throbbing, he was too hot, and his chest was being crushed. He took a difficult deep breath and inhaled the scent of—Napoleon. Memories of the previous night crashed into place and he twitched involuntarily. The pressure on his chest eased fractionally and he opened his eyes.
They lay crammed together on the impossibly narrow bunk. He was trapped against the cabin wall and Napoleon, half on top of him, was wedged against the table. He wondered vaguely how they'd managed that, and if it were possible ever to extricate themselves. His bladder was uncomfortably full and he tried to shove against his partner.
"Napoleon," he muttered. "I need to pee."
There was a grunt and his partner tried to roll off him, only to be trapped by the table. His struggles pressed against Illya's now protesting bladder.
"Ow!" said Illya. "Get off me, you great..."
There was a seismic upheaval and a thud as the table pillar gave way under Napoleon's struggles, depositing him on the cabin floor.
"Ow!" grumbled Napoleon. He looked up at Illya blearily, then a smile split his face. "Good morning to you too," he said. "Did I just feel the earth move?"
Illya rolled his eyes and clambered off the bunk towards the small head. The sea remained glass-flat but his legs didn't feel entirely steady. Once inside, he stripped to his boxers, relieved himself, washed, shaved, brushed his teeth, and finally ran out of excuses to stay where he was. With a sigh, he picked up his discarded clothes and opened the door. The aroma of coffee swept around him. Napoleon was nowhere to be seen.
The double bunk was made up. He tried to ignore it.
He dumped his clothes and made his way up through the hatch, blinking in the bright sunlight. Napoleon sat at the prow, legs dangling and two mugs of coffee at his side. He wore only a pair of shorts and looked endearingly sleep-tousled. Illya felt a thrill of longing. He quashed it immediately and moved forward.
Napoleon slid sideways as he approached, and patted the deck beside him. He raised a full mug of coffee to Illya. "Come get it while it's hot," he said, squinting up at him.
Illya sat and accepted the mug. He took a sip and grimaced. The only time he ever drank coffee first thing was on the Pursang. It had something of the ritual about it. As did the furtive pouring-overboard when Napoleon wasn't looking.
Napoleon caught the look. "What?" he said. "You don't like my coffee?"
Illya took another sip. "It's very good," he lied, his face expressionless.
Napoleon looked at him then sighed. Removing the mug from Illya's hand he stretched out and slowly emptied the contents into the sea. "There," he said. "That will save you from doing it when I go below." He stood and ruffled Illya's hair, letting his hand linger for a moment. "I'm going for a shower," he said. "I'll bring you up a cup of tea when I'm done."
Left alone Illya leaned against a stanchion and let his gaze drift across the calm water. Despite his misgivings he too felt surprisingly calm. The internal torment he'd felt since the return of his memory had been quelled, however temporarily, last night. Idly, he watched a flock of shearwaters diving in the distance...
Twenty minutes later Napoleon reappeared at his side, freshly showered and immaculate in tailored white shorts and navy polo. He handed Illya a cup of tea and leaned against the rail with his ankles crossed, looking down at him. Illya sipped the hot, sweet liquid and closed his eyes in bliss. He squinted up at Napoleon.
"You're improperly dressed," he said. Napoleon raised his eyebrows. "Don't you have a captain's hat to go with that outfit?" said Illya. "How will the crew know whose orders to obey?"
Napoleon snorted. "Name one order of mine that you've ever obeyed," he said with a smile.
Illya took another sip of tea and absent-mindedly reached out a hand to stroke his partner's ankle. "Give me a moment," he said.
Napoleon squatted down, and combed his fingers slowly through the fall of blond hair on Illya's forehead, eyes searching his face. "We need to finish what we started last night, you know," he said softly.
Illya looked at him levelly. "Is that an order?" he said.
"Does it need to be?"
After a long moment, Illya shook his head.
Napoleon continued the soft petting of Illya's hair and the silence lengthened.
Eventually Illya sighed. "You made up the double bed," he said.
"Does that bother you?"
"No... I..." Illya faltered. "I didn't think you'd want..."
"You didn't think I'd want...?" Napoleon sat down hard next to him and removed the mug from his hand. "Jesus, Illya," he said, voice low and tremulous. "Don't you know how much you mean to me?" He scrutinised his partner closely and shook his head. "You aren't quite yourself yet, tovarisch, or you would. Do you think that your having sex with the alter ego of a madman would change that?"
"Even though it was by choice?"
"You didn't know it was Schiller."
"Maybe not, but I knew he wasn't you..."
Napoleon interrupted with a shake of his head. "You weren't in full possession of the facts."
"You didn't know how much I loved you—love you," said Napoleon softly. "If you'd known that, you'd have made a different choice."
Illya opened his mouth to speak—and then closed it again. There was nothing he could say in the face of Napoleon's conviction.
Napoleon was looking out across the gently rippling water, eyes unfocused. Finally he spoke.
"Everyone has choices, partner mine," he said. "The ones you and I make every day are harder than most folk will have to face in a lifetime." He took Illya's hand in his and stroked the silvery scars. Then he laced their fingers together. "In Waverly's office that day, I made the hardest choice I've ever had to make." his voice wavered. "And I had all the facts. I knew it would kill you... I knew... "
Illya squeezed his partner's hand wanting to drive away the pain in his voice.
"Napoleon..." he said softly.
Napoleon looked at him. "If I had to make the choice again..."
"...you would do exactly the same."
Napoleon nodded slowly, eyes infinitely sad.
"As would I in that situation," said Illya holding his gaze.
Napoleon brought their joined hands up to his mouth. "I know," he said. He kissed Illya's knuckles lightly one by one. "But," he said, "for anything less than the end of the world—I choose you. I will always choose you."
Acceptance and remorse warred in Illya's chest. Finally he laid his forehead against his partner's.
"And I you," he said, and the beast inside his chest howled in defeat and fled.
They sat like that for several moments then Napoleon pulled himself to his feet.
"Breakfast," he said, offering Illya a hand. "Come on. I'm starving."
Illya allowed himself to be pulled up into an embrace. "You're such a slave to the pleasures of the flesh," he grumbled, trying to quell the insistent grin that threatened to ruin the effect.
Firm hands kneaded his buttocks and he felt his cock lengthen and fill.
"Well now, that depends whose flesh it is," said Napoleon. "And this," he said as he squeezed, "is flesh I would very much like to pleasure."
Illya wriggled out of his grasp and cocked an eyebrow. "Do I get a say in this?" he said.
"Did you have something better in mind?"
"I thought you wanted breakfast."
Napoleon nuzzled his ear. "Later," he whispered.
Illya found himself manoeuvred gently but firmly down into the cabin and heard the snick of the hatch as Napoleon closed it behind them. For an instant, the memory of recent events crowded in on him again and he froze. Then warm breath ruffled the hair at his nape and soothing hands kneaded his shoulders.
"Shh... it's OK," Napoleon murmured. He guided Illya to the bed then turned him round and took his face gently in his hands. He kissed him lightly. "Just lie with me, lyubov," he breathed against Illya's mouth, "and we'll take it from there."
Unable to speak, Illya nodded. He slipped off his boxers and lay down, watching as Napoleon stripped off his own clothes and moved to stand next to the bed. Illya searched his partner's face, still half-expecting to see hurt or contempt lurking there...
"Stop it," Napoleon said softly. "None of that." He ran his fingers through the soft flop of Illya's fringe and shook his head slowly. "This is me, remember?" He smiled, and Illya could see nothing but relief and love and respect dancing in the toffee-coloured eyes.
He reached for Napoleon almost desperately and drew him down, sighing with contentment as he was blanketed by his partner's well-loved weight. He buried his face in Napoleon's neck and inhaled slowly. Napoleon. It was all Napoleon. He closed his eyes and listened to their combined breathing, throat aching at the familiarity of it all.
It was several moments before Napoleon shifted a little above him. Dusting Illya's face with soft kisses, he began to rock his hips slowly against him.
"Napoleon," Illya whispered, moaning softly and pulling his partner harder against him. The friction escalated, and Illya was beginning to find it hard to breathe.
"Tell me what you want," Napoleon whispered.
Illya groaned. "Napoleon... please."
He felt a whisper of breath on his lips and then his partner's weight was suddenly gone. Illya opened his eyes in time to see the dark head dipping down to his groin and then he nearly came off the bed as Napoleon took him in his mouth.
Napoleon held his gaze, sucking and swallowing repeatedly and then Illya gasped as Napoleon's finger, loaded with something cool and slippery, swept across his opening before sinking inside. And then Napoleon's mouth left him. He just managed not to cry out.
"You feel so good," panted Napoleon, working his finger deeper.
Illya made a small sound of satisfaction. He reached up and gently stroked his friend's face. "Tell me what you want," he whispered.
Slowly, his partner smiled. "You," he said, then leaned down and kissed him softly. "Always you..."
Napoleon gently withdrew his finger. He knelt and coated his own penis with the gel, his hand shaking almost imperceptibly. Illya shivered at the sight and began to turn onto his front. Napoleon grabbed his shoulder.
"Uh, huh," he said emphatically. "Not this time. This is us, partner mine. You and me, OK? You need to know that it's me inside you." He brushed Illya's lips lightly with his own. "Always me." He drew Illya's legs over his shoulders and positioned himself against the slick opening.
Illya caught his breath as Napoleon entered him, his partner's weight easing the thick cock slowly forward until it was fully sheathed and he could feel Napoleon's balls nestling against his ass. He closed his eyes momentarily, adjusting to the stretch, and savouring the sense of fullness—of completion.
Napoleon withdrew slightly and then sank into him again, setting up a steady rhythm. As the tempo increased, he grasped Illya's weeping penis, pumping it in counterpoint to the rapid movement of his own hips. Sweat dripped from the cleft in his chin onto Illya's chest. Illya closed his eyes once more and abandoned himself to sensation as he was swept higher and higher and...
With a gasp he came, clutching mindlessly at Napoleon's hips, his cock spurting hot semen over his belly and over his partner's hand as his orgasm roared through him.
"There... Illya—oh god..." Napoleon groaned, and Illya opened his eyes in time to see the dark features contort in passion as Napoleon shuddered to his own wild climax deep within him.
Napoleon—filling him, completing him, loving him—always Napoleon.
Illya sighed with a pleasure that was bone deep and sank into velvet darkness...
He was woken by the sound of the Pursang's engine turning over. Napoleon was nowhere to be seen. Illya sat up, wincing slightly at the minor internal discomfort, and grimacing at the feel of dried semen on his belly. He stood and dragged on his boxers then stuck his head through the hatch.
Napoleon was closing the engine housing and wiping his hands on an oily rag. He turned at Illya's approach and grinned.
"Welcome back," he said, with one last rub of the rag. "Sleep well?"
Illya raised an eyebrow. "Not with all the racket going on up here," he grumbled halfheartedly. He nodded towards the engine cover. "Need a hand with that?"
"Nope," said Napoleon. "All done." He turned off the smoothly purring diesel and reached for Illya, drawing him into an embrace that became a heated kiss.
To his disbelief, Illya felt himself harden once more. Eventually he pulled back from the kiss, breathing hard. Napoleon looked down at the bulge in his shorts then grinned at him.
"My, my," he said with a mock leer. "Need a hand with that?"
Illya gave him an arch look. "What I need is a swim," he said.
Napoleon raised his eyebrows. "You packed trunks?"
Illya shook his head, holding Napoleon's gaze, and stepped out of his boxers. He grinned at the look on his partner's face, took two strides, and dived over the side.
Napoleon finished putting together a cold breakfast for them, then took a glass of juice and a towel up on deck. His partner swam powerfully around the boat, disappearing and reappearing as he watched. He's playing, thought Napoleon, and sighed with relief as long months of almost unbearable strain began to trickle away.
As he watched, his partner duck-dived underneath the boat. Minutes passed. Familiar with the Russian's formidable capacity to remain under water, Napoleon was nevertheless relieved when the blond head broke the surface one last time and Illya swam towards the stern ladder. Napoleon moved aft to meet him.
"Napoleon," Illya panted as he hauled himself from the water. "Do not take this the wrong way, but from what I've just seen, I think your bottom is in need of some attention."
"That depends," said Illya as he clambered aboard, water streaming from his body.
Napoleon caught his breath at the sight as he handed him his towel. "Oh?" he said. "On what?"
Illya took the towel from him and began to dry his hair. "On whether this is going to be a reciprocal arrangement."
"Ah," said Napoleon. "I see." He grabbed the ends of the towel and flipped it behind his partner's neck, drawing him closer. "Tough choice," he said, and kissed him.