The stars shone brightly over the mountains of Peru. It was something to do with the altitude, the remoteness of the trail and the lack of pollution, but Napoleon didn't think about any of the – fascinating, no doubt – snippets of information that Illya had told him. He had significantly (and literally) more pedestrian matters on his mind. Safely ensconced for the night, he unlaced one hiking boot after the other, shaking loose the stones and dirt that had accumulated during the day's climb.
He was tracking smugglers over a remote mountain pass on foot, following the homing device hidden in a bundle of contraband gems. Illya was with them, disguised as an itinerant tinker who was so down on his luck that he'd rent out his only pack animal for a meager fee.
Of course with the smugglers moving on foot through the jagged and often tricky terrain, Napoleon had to keep the same pace, being careful never to reveal his presence. He consulted the wireless radio tracker only when the narrow paths diverged and there were no indications of passage. Occasionally, Illya had been able to surreptitiously mark a rock or leave a scrape in the dirt to indicate the smugglers' direction of travel, but these marks were few and far between.
The temperatures in the mountains varied greatly; in the heat of the day, Napoleon sweated and beat flies from the back of his neck. At night, he shivered in the rude shelter of a couple of boulders with only a thin woolen blanket from his survival pack. He dared not risk a fire with the smugglers nearby, though he longed to crawl into the warm circle formed by their packs and sleeping bodies, to toast himself by the coals when no one was watching.
On the third night in the mountains, Illya came down from the smugglers' camp to meet with Napoleon. He whistled once, low like a nocturnal bird, and Napoleon snagged him by the sleeve and pulled him down into the evening's shelter between some rocks and a scrawny fallen tree.
"Ah, how fortunate," Illya said as he scrambled under cover. "I see you've had no problems following the device."
"I could track you by smell alone," Napoleon remarked. He surveyed Illya's tangled hair and beginnings of a beard. "You're really taking the 'mountain man' image to heart."
"It isn't a proper disguise if it rubs off while you sleep," Illya grumbled, settling back on his heels. "In case you haven't noticed, you seem rather far below your usual standards as well."
Napoleon gave him a scowl. "How much longer until we reach Aldea Grande?"
"El Capitan is meeting with the local guide tomorrow. We are only a few hours' travel away from the meeting place. From first light, I would say shortly after noon."
Napoleon checked his wristwatch, the faint luminescent numbers reminding him that civilization was still so far away. At Aldea Grande, the smugglers' packages would be delivered to couriers and sent onwards to the next part of the pipeline.
"We let the packages go, and then detain the smugglers. Are you sure they are all tagged with a homing device now?"
Illya nodded. "I have been shifting the packs every day, and telling them that Jezebel works better when the load is distributed differently. I have been able to place a device in each of them."
"You named it?" Napoleon shook his head. When the U.N.C.L.E. field office had presented the two of them with the choice of joining the smugglers or tailing them from behind, he had taken one look at the pigeon-toed, knock-kneed, ornery little donkey and immediately volunteer for the latter. Illya had seemed almost pleased to take temporary possession of the beast.
"Her, Napoleon. And her name is Jezebel. And if you'll excuse me," he glanced up at the nearly-full moon, and then up the mountain track towards camp, "I must return with her water. There's a stream nearby. You may want to use some of it to clean yourself up."
Illya clambered out of the hidey-hole and back up the path, leaving Napoleon to his cold cocoon and the endless, arduous wait.
There were only a few hitches with Illya and Napoleon's plan.
Having been nothing but stoic and reliable until that moment, Jezebel spooked at the undercover agents awaiting the smugglers' drop off, which ended up setting off a minor firefight. When the donkey turned tail and ran, Napoleon was forced to reveal his cover and go after the damned thing. Illya took a bullet across the shoulder skirmishing with El Capitan, one of the undercover agents sprained an ankle on a protruding boulder, and the other two smugglers were quickly captured.
They debriefed at the local U.N.C.L.E. substation, a rough cinderblock building with a corrugated roof and a somewhat incongruous satellite dish.
"I can't say that I am entirely pleased with the resolution of these events," Waverly grumbled over the grainy communications hookup. "We've lost the next link in the pipeline."
"Thanks to that ridiculous donkey," Napoleon commiserated. He was nursing several scratches on his face and hands from having to dive into a thorny shrub to catch the donkey's reins.
Illya piped up immediately. "Jezebel was a most valuable compatriot in this affair. Her swift reactions saved not only the black market gems, but also my hide. Or most of it." He shrugged with one shoulder, displaying the bloodstained hole and glimpse of sticking plaster upon the other.
Napoleon cleared his throat. "There is some good news. El Capitan and his men have agreed to cooperate with the local agents. They will turn over their contacts in exchange for being set free."
"No doubt having seen the error of their ways?" Waverly made a few notations on his notepad and considered the deal. "How likely are they to revert to old habits?"
"I should say within three months the pipeline will be open again," Illya responded. "In this economic climate, there is very little work for unskilled men such as El Capitan. He will no doubt return to smuggling gems across national borders."
"Very well Mr. Kuryakin, Mr., Solo, you are officially relieved of this affair. The local office has made arrangements for you to leave tomorrow morning. In the meantime, might I suggest you make the best of the local amenities?" Waverly peered judgmentally into the view screen. "Some running water and a razor would not go amiss – for either of you. Waverly out."
Napoleon hid his delighted grin behind his hand as the communications channel was cut, and received a swat on the arm for his troubles.
"First you malign my dear Jezebel, then you get Waverly into the argument," Illya griped acidly. "No care at all for my skill in tending her saddle sores and digging stones from her hooves. You realize that without her this whole operation would have gone down the drain on the first day?"
"No one dug stones out of my feet but me," Napoleon reminded him. "And you had the benefit of fire and fresh water the whole time. You couldn't have taken a razor to that mess once?"
"Well, since U.N.C.L.E. Substation Five has been so generous with their resources, I shall take them up on their offers of a hot shower, a meal and a bed for the night." Illya snapped. "You may want to do the same, or you could always stay in the stable out back with Jezebel."
Napoleon had a comeback on the tip of his tongue but didn't get a chance to use it: Illya had already left the communications room, heading for the locker room.
Substation Five wasn't a large operation, but the locker room was serviceable enough, with a clean tiled floor and shower cubicles across from a bank of metal lockers. Napoleon could see the remnants of Illya's tinker costume hanging half-out of one of the lockers. The water was running and steam had already started to cloud the mirrors over the long trough sink.
He shot the bolt on the door for privacy and sloughed off his costume with a thankful sigh. The UNCLE fatigues were more comfortable than the battledress he'd been issued in Korea, but only marginally. It was a relief to shed the pretense of a uniform for his own clothing.
He was grimy underneath his clothes where sweat had trickled and dust had adhered. There were blisters on his heels and bruises from the long scramble over the mountain had formed on his legs and feet.
There was a shifting of the curtain across Illya's shower cubicle and Napoleon caught a flash of similarly bruised, pale flesh on the other side.
"Well, come in, will you?" Illya held the curtain across his chest and peered out, blonde hair darkened and plastered flat to his head from the water. A large square of plastic and sticking plaster was covering the wound on his arm. "I need help washing my back."
Napoleon slid through the curtained barrier, finally relaxing into the hot stream of the shower. Tight muscles across his shoulders started to loosen, and the tension along his spine began to melt away.
Illya gave him a quick once-over with a dingy washcloth and a bar of buttery soap before handing the cloth to Napoleon. He rubbed the lather across his partner's pale shoulders, mindful of the sticking plaster and the bright purple bruise blossoming on one shoulder blade where Illya had fallen.
Napoleon had once thought of his partner as small and scrawny, but he had grown to know better. Though Illya was slight, he had muscles that would have made Baryshnikov proud, corded and strong with not an ounce of fat on him. The curve of his spine was the softest line on his body, and when he ducked his head under the shower a rush of water streamed over his hips and thighs.
The little noise of appreciation escaped Napoleon's lips before he could stop himself, and Illya half-turned, eyes closed against the water.
"Oh," Napoleon said, moving in to share the hot water, his hands following the planes and angles of Illya's ribs. "I just like you so much better when you're clean." He nuzzled against the point of bone at the nape of Illya's neck. Illya shivered underneath his touch.
"I, for one, like you much better when you are clean-shaven, Napoleon," he muttered, but the corners of his mouth were drawn in a mocking smile. "Your beard scratches."
"Next time I spend four days at 12,000 feet I'll remember to bring my razor." Napoleon scrubbed his fingers over the stubble on his chin. "I didn't pack one."
"Allow me." Illya rubbed up a lather from the soap and smeared it across Napoleon's chin. The quick bite of the razor traced a line through the foam, and Napoleon felt a little thrill run through him. After the perilous climb and the final skirmish, baring his throat to the blade was a delicious surrender.
Illya drew the razor slowly across the broad plane of Napoleon's cheek, shaving deliberately and carefully. He dipped gently under his nose, pausing once to smear another swipe of foam across his upper lip.
"Are you sure you weren't a barber in a past life?" Napoleon murmured. Illya laid a finger on his lips and tautened the skin gently. The razor curved around the corner of his mouth.
"Stay still," Illya reminded him, the single finger becoming his whole hand, covering Napoleon's mouth entirely. "I wouldn't want to nick anything."
"Mmmf," Napoleon agreed from under Illya's hand. He tilted his head obligingly, presenting the length of his neck, and the delicate hollow under the point of his jaw. It was taking all of his resolve to stay motionless against the tantalizing scrape of the blade against his skin. He pressed his palms against the tiled wall behind him, feeling the slick ceramic cool beneath his touch.
"That's perfect." Illya stroked the razor down, down into the hollow at the base of Napoleon's throat, and when it was withdrawn he replaced its touch with a kiss. There was just a hint of suction and a moment where Napoleon could feel teeth. He shaved each line the same way, long and slowly, ending the razor's path with another nibble. Napoleon was practically writhing under his touch.
When the chain of kisses linked collarbone to collarbone in little red pecks, Illya raised his head and looked Napoleon over with a careful eye.
"Hm. I think that should do. Except here-" and he planed across the final little stripe of hair left on the angle of Napoleon's chin. As the razor left his throat, Napoleon leaned forward, his hungry mouth reaching out for Illya's lips and his hands for Illya's wrists. The sudden shift took Illya by surprise and he gasped, a soft exhalation stifled by Napoleon's questing tongue. Napoleon pinned him to the opposite side of the shower cubicle, where the water sprayed in a cloud of steam.
Napoleon couldn't keep his hands in one place; he was touching and tasting and sucking, his fingers trailing in the water that planed from Illya's body. Heat flooded through him, and with it, arousal. Ignored until that moment, Napoleon felt his penis become erect, straining towards his belly. He could see that his ministrations were having the same effect on Illya; his partner was flattened bonelessly against the tiles, but his cock was quite proudly vying for attention.
Napoleon reached for him, and the bar of soap, and slicked Illya up and down. Illya made a noise and a motion as if to pull away, but Napoleon clicked his tongue disapprovingly.
"Uh uh, now it's my turn." He pressed hard against Illya's hip, his hands working between them. For a few moments, there was only the rush of water and the barely-suppressed murmurs he was eliciting from his partner. Illya's hands clenched against his buttocks, leaving red finger marks in their wake.
"Please, Napoleon," Illya's breath was coming raggedly as he resisted the urge to buck his hips wildly against Napoleon's hand. "Harder."
"Patience, patience," Napoleon teased. He lightened his touch, ghosting along the length of Illya's shaft, teasing ever so gently against his balls. Illya craned his head back against the tiles with a groan. "Don't you know that patience is a virtue?"
Napoleon matched each stroke on Illya with the same on himself, knowing that each jerk of the wrist brought them both closer and closer to the edge. He only had so much self-control in reserve; Illya's eyes locked their gaze on him and he could see exactly what effect he was having on his partner. In one swift motion he stepped forward against Illya, grinding his hips against Illya's muscular thigh and giving that special little flick of his wrist that he knew would send him right over the edge.
It did, and they came together, tensing first, then slumping against each other, breathless and laughing in relief.
Illya was the first to speak:
"I think you dropped the soap, Napoleon." A wry little grin snuck onto the corner of his mouth, and Napoleon tried to kiss it away. He failed, and instead swept the damp blond hair out of his partner's eyes.
"I think we've used up all the hot water." And indeed, the shower was starting to run tepid as the boiler drained. Napoleon reached up reluctantly and turned the taps off.
They scrubbed down with rough towels, and changed into the training fatigues provided by Substation Five. It was a far cry from Napoleon's fashionable suits, but the black turtlenecks and combat trousers were clean and comfortable enough.
"Well, I suppose we'd better eat and get some sleep," Illya suggested. He peeled the protective plastic off the bandage on his shoulder. "Do you need anything else?"
"You go ahead, Illya, I have to make travel arrangements for tomorrow." Napoleon finished tying off his bootlaces and tossed his towel towards the laundry hamper. "We are not, I am sad to say, travelling home by donkey."
Illya cracked a smile and shrugged into his turtleneck. "Contrary to popular belief, donkeys are not terribly uncomfortable if you know what you are doing."
"Jezebel is staying here. I'll find a nice home for her where she can graze all day and scratch her back on a tree." Napoleon bundled up his field clothes with a grimace. There was no saving them, soiled as they were. He dumped them into the garbage can, then returned and held up Illya's ragged disguise. "Are you sentimental about these as well?"
"The look in your eye says I can live without them," Illya conceded. "Very well. Though Waverly was quite impressed with the level of details that Section Five went to so as to make them appear authentic."
"Authentic," Napoleon said matter-of-factly, "But smelly."
"Very well, you may have the honor."
Napoleon put Illya's clothes in the trash, nodded farewell to his partner and went in search of the communications room to put in a transportation request.
They slept better than could be expected for ancient canvas cots, but after the chill of the mountain air and rocks for pillows, Napoleon figured he could now sleep in spite of anything. He knew he didn't have to worry about Illya either; his partner had been used to far worse conditions in his native country, and had slept in enough foreign jail cells that he appreciated even the scant luxury of a blanket.
At 0700, Napoleon was awakened by the insistent beeping of his communicator. He groaned, rummaged under his pillow and extracted it.
"Alvarado, Substation Five Transport. Your travel arrangements have been completed."
From across the narrow aisle, Illya turned and muttered, "And Jezebel?"
"Ah." Napoleon cleared his throat. "Mister Kuryakin is concerned about the donkey."
"She is going to live on my Great-Uncle's farm, sir. He raises alpacas."
Illya drew the blanket back up around his shoulders and grinned sleepily. "Lovely."
"And Alvarado," Napoleon asked, "The vehicle is according to my request?"
"Oh, yes, sir. An agent will meet you at the airport in Lima."
Napoleon extricated himself from the cot, and nudged Illya's cocooned form.
"Get up. We've got a long drive ahead of us."
Illya shifted under the blanket but didn't rise. "The local bus doesn't leave until after noon. I plan to sleep until quarter of twelve."
Napoleon shrugged. "Rules are made to be bent a little. You'll like it. I'll let you drive partway. I hear the roads are excellent between Yungay and Lima."
"What did you do, Napoleon?" This prompted Illya to stick his head out of the blankets at last, to see the wide, mischievous grin on his partner's face.
"Oh, you'll see."
Illya got up with a huff and laced his boots and followed Napoleon, muttering about his lack of sleep and healing bullet wound. But his complaints stopped when they got into the transport garage and Alvarado handed Napoleon a shiny keychain. He was standing in front of a British Racing Green MG convertible
"Also my Great-Uncle's. See you don't scratch the paint, will you?"
Napoleon tossed the keys to Illya with a grin. "You first, partner."
The little car raced through the narrow streets of Aldea Grande, scattering foraging chickens like autumn leaves. The packed-earth streets gave way to a graveled drive, and then – wonder of wonders – an asphalt strip, wending its way up through a mountain pass. On the other side of it lay civilization at last.
Illya threaded the car through switchbacks and cambered curves with ease, his blond hair flying wild in the crisp mountain air. With a map folded over one knee, Napoleon sat in the passenger's seat, enjoying the scenery as it whipped past at more than the recommended miles per hour.
"There's a scenic lookout up here on the left," Napoleon called above the roar of the engine and the rush of the wind.
"Haven't you seen enough of the mountains to last you a while?" Illya shot back. But he downshifted expertly, and steered the little car into the lookout. "I know I have." He cut the engine and jerked on the handbrake.
"There's something I didn't really get to see," Napoleon said, as the two of them got out of the MG. He laid a hand on the bonnet where the cooling engine ticked gently. "You know what it was?"
"Mm?" Illya turned, and Napoleon caught him up in his arms, pressing him back against the car's bonnet and stifling his question with a deep kiss. Illya wriggled under his ministrations, kissing him back just as hard. When they pulled apart, they were breathing heavily.
Needless to say, they arrived at the airport only slightly before the local bus.