One of the U.N.C.L.E.'s primary mandates was to anticipate and respond before a problem developed, preventing calamity before the rest of the world even learned of its possibility. As a consequence of this philosophy, the organization's internal policies tended to reflect international trends at their inception, and while Section One's bureaucracy did take time to adapt, it nevertheless outpaced the glacial progress of most governments.
The 1969 policy change, a response to the agitation over decriminalization occurring in several of U.N.C.L.E.'s member states, was confirmed on a humid Thursday afternoon in August. Napoleon was in the cafeteria at the time, chatting up the new girl in R&D, a sweet young thing with dimples and red hair and a PhD in molecular biology from Cornell University. He had just discovered that monster movies were her secret weakness, and was about to propose an evening date at the cinema, when her eyes rose from his to a point over his shoulder, and her freckled cheeks flushed pink.
He hadn't heard any footsteps, but Napoleon was eminently familiar with that particular female reaction, so he was not surprised by his partner's voice behind him. "Napoleon."
"What—" was as far as he got in answer; he was still admiring Danielle's heart-shaped face when Illya took him by both arms and bodily pulled him upright.
"I have just heard from Mr. Waverly," Illya said. "Subsection C of Rule 37 has officially been rescinded from the U.N.C.L.E. Code of General Conduct."
Napoleon blinked down at his partner, mentally paging through his internal rulebook. "Is that the one about keeping a fish tank in the office?"
"No," Illya said, and checked his watch. "We have fifty-six minutes left of our lunch break. Come on." Releasing Napoleon's arms, he turned on his heel and headed for the cafeteria exit with undue haste.
Waving a distracted goodbye to Danielle, Napoleon broke into a jog to catch up with his partner. "Where are we going?"
"Your place is closer," Illya said.
"It is," Napoleon agreed, "but what does that have to do with Rule Thirty-whatever—"
Illya stopped a couple feet from the doors and sighed. "Oh, Napoleon," he said, in the singular tone of exasperation and something else that Napoleon over the years had determined must be fondness, for lack of a better explanation.
Then Illya reached up and grabbed his head, strong fingers raking through his hair, and pulled Napoleon into a teeth-clicking, tongue-wrestling, soul-wrenching kiss so fiercely hot that Napoleon didn't even realize what was happening until he broke free to breathe, and found himself backed up into the table behind him, the metal corner digging into his thighs, with one of his arms crushing Illya's wiry frame against his chest and his other hand cupping Illya's ass. The ringing in his ears was the clatter of the chair they had knocked over.
"Rule 37," Illya repeated, crisp and composed, his eyes close enough for Napoleon to see himself in the pitch-black mirrors of his dilated pupils. "Subsection C."
"Rescinded, you said?" Napoleon managed, in a faint and cracking wheeze.
"Yes," Illya confirmed, and broke away, just as Napoleon was getting the feeling back in his tingling extremities enough to appreciate the firm curves under his hand. "Come on," Illya said again, with a curt impatience Napoleon was in a far better situation to appreciate now, and strode out of the cafeteria without looking back.
As the blood pounding in his ears slowed, Napoleon realized that the ambient noise of cafeteria conversation had died to a susurration of whispers, rising and falling like the rush of air through a seashell. There were many pairs of eyes on him, excepting those turned toward the cafeteria's doors, still swinging on their hinges.
By the wideness of Danielle's eyes, tonight was out, and probably tomorrow as well. Napoleon straightened his tie, adjusted his cufflinks. "If you'll excuse me," he said, "I have something pressing to attend to," and he followed his partner.
Illya's hair was, remarkably, as soft as it looked. Reclining on his side in the middle of his mattress, Napoleon had just energy enough to reach out his hand and comb his fingers through those flaxen locks. Illya's eyes half-closed as he tipped his head into the touch.
"So," Napoleon said. "This is. Interesting."
Illya's eyes opened all the way again, gas-flame blue and far too bright considering their recent exertions. "Don't get me wrong," Napoleon said hastily, "I'm all for it, I just wasn't—that is—you—I—" It was rather easier to be the seducer, rather than the seduced, Napoleon thought with frustration—not to mention easier if one's seducer wasn't Illya, who was looking at him less with tender desire and more with the sort of scintillating, sharp-tempered vexation that could get a man killed, as more than one unfortunate THRUSHie could attest.
"Last time," Napoleon finally managed, "you didn't exactly..." Last time had been two years ago, in Thessaly. The mission had been successful, but the girl was just married, the inn's room had only had one bed, and they'd both had a bit too much excellent Greek wine. Illya had put down his book, stretched out on the bed and asked if they might turn out the light. Napoleon had reached over him to hit the lamp switch, and he could smell the sweet grapes on Illya's breath, and there seemed to be something like invitation in his eyes, and Napoleon had remembered all the times Illya sounded like he might be flirting, his sidelong looks and arch comments. And his lips had been so close that it would have been a waste not to dip his head down and press his own to them.
So he had, and Illya had lain there, as responsive as a sack of wet sand, before finally moving his mouth against Napoleon's enough to ask, "Napoleon, can we sleep, now? We have to return to Athens early tomorrow."
"Oh," Napoleon said. "Right," and he had rolled off Illya, dropped his head on his pillow and gone to sleep.
They hadn't actually mentioned the incident since, but now Illya said, "In Greece, Rule 37 was in effect."
"We weren't on duty—"
"Even off-duty, the rule applied," Illya said. "You are male. I am male."
"I noticed," Napoleon said fervently. Not that he had ever doubted it, but the last half hour had provided exquisite proof. "But, Illya, did you really think that would matter? What'd you think, that I would report us?"
"Of course not," Illya said. "Even if you had no interest in me beyond an experimental tryst, I'd never believe you capable of that betrayal."
"Was that it? Did you think I wasn't interested? That I was only joking around? Or that I'd drunkenly mistaken you for a girl? Because I didn't, and I wasn't."
"No," Illya said. "I know." In a fluid motion he rose from the bed and crossed to the bathroom, quite unconscious of his nudity. The sight of that lithe figure in motion, the liquid flow of muscles under licentiously smooth skin, stoked Napoleon's flagging vigor; he got up himself and joined Illya in the bathroom.
"We have less than ten minutes to get back to U.N.C.L.E.," Illya said, putting his palm to Napoleon's breastbone and pushing his shoulders back against the door. "So you will stand there while I shower."
"All right," Napoleon agreed, though when Illya closed the shower curtain Napoleon pulled it open again, not caring about the steaming spray that splashed out of the tub. His bathroom mat would dry, and he needed a shower himself anyway. Illya's skin flushed pink in the heat, and Napoleon's gaze traced the pattern of water sluicing down his spine, as Illya scrubbed a froth of shampoo into his hair.
"If you knew I was interested all this time," Napoleon inquired, "why didn't you do something? Say something, at least?"
Illya's sigh was loud enough to carry over the running water. "Because I like my job, very much," he said. "And you do as well."
"You're telling me the only reason is a silly little rule that I scarcely even remembered was on the books?"
"Not everyone forgets so easily." Illya stepped under the shower's spout, closed his eyes as he turned his face up into the water and let the stream flood away the suds.
"We could have been careful."
Illya stepped out of the bathtub, accepted the towel his partner handed him, and pressed close to the sink to give Napoleon room to get into the shower himself. The water was scalding, and Napoleon turned on the cold tap a notch, shutting his eyes under the pressure.
"Napoleon," Illya said from outside the tub, "you are my partner, and I trust you with my gun. I trust you with my life. I would trust you with my daughter, had I one, for at least twenty-four hours. My career, however, I could not entrust to your discretion."
"Discretion?" Napoleon pulled his head out from under the water long enough to demand, "You call that spectacle in the cafeteria discreet?"
"Precisely," Illya said. "Now there's no need for discretion."
"Since Rule 37 has been rescinded." Napoleon lathered soap over his body. "But if it hadn't been, then we wouldn't be here now."
"No," Illya said, quite definitely. The bathroom door's latch clicked as he let himself out and closed it behind him.
"Well, then," Napoleon said to himself, "God bless Section One, I suppose."
By the time Napoleon got out of the shower, Illya had on his slacks and was buttoning his white shirt with efficient economy of motion. Napoleon's clothes lay in wrinkled piles, scattered about the bedroom; he collected them and set them aside in favor of a neatly pressed suit from his closet. It wasn't as if he would successfully hide anything by wearing the same outfit as this morning. Even if their lunchtime exhibition had not been spread around half the planet by the time they got back to U.N.C.L.E. HQ, both his and Illya's hair would still be damp.
"Tonight," Napoleon said, "would you like to...ah..."
"I would," Illya said. He picked up his tie from Napoleon's footboard and looped it around his collar. "If we are diligent with our paperwork, we should be able to get out by 6:30."
"Illya." Napoleon caught his arm, and his partner turned toward him.
"Yes?" Illya said, calmly, like he couldn't feel the heat of Napoleon's palm like a brand against his arm, through the thin fabric of his dress shirt. Napoleon felt as if his hand were fused in place by that heat; it took deliberate effort to lift it off his partner's arm, and he only did so because otherwise he wouldn't be able to keep himself from grabbing the undone ends of Illya's tie and dragging him in for another kiss, and they didn't have time. Still, it was difficult to resist.
Illya might have had a point about discretion.
"Before the rule was rescinded," Napoleon asked, "did you have any interest? Or is this just something that occurred to you on the spot, once it was a, um, a permissible experiment?" Quite an experiment, Napoleon thought, recalling the cafeteria kiss; that had been one hell of a research proposal.
Illya glanced up into Napoleon's face as his nimble fingers knotted his tie, considering. "Does it matter?"
"I'm not sure," Napoleon said. "I've never had a relationship simply because it wasn't indiscreet at the time."
"Ah," Illya said. "In that case, yes. I've had interest in the possibility before, on occasion."
"But you decided not to pursue it."
"It was easier not to, for both of us." Illya moved closer, so suddenly that Napoleon almost stepped back, but Illya was too quick, his mouth searing Napoleon's, hot and wet and undeniable, and his body against Napoleon's promising all manner of outrageous pleasures, if he had but the patience to wait for them. "Now," Illya said, stepping back, just as light and quick, and his kiss-swollen lips were curved in a tiny, wicked smile, "this is easier."
"Easier," gasped Napoleon, "right," as he fought to catch his breath.
"Put on your tie," Illya said, "I'll go get the car," and he disappeared out the door.
Napoleon exhaled so deeply he felt it to his toes, did up his last buttons and tied his tie. He fetched his communicator pen from his other jacket, checked his watch and then opened up the communicator, putting through a connection to Waverly's office. "Lisa, can you tell the old man that Mr. Kuryakin and I are going to be a couple minutes late? Traffic is a bear today."
"Traffic," Lisa repeated archly. "Of course, Napoleon. I'll tell him you're hung up downtown."
"You're an angel," Napoleon told her, locking his door and heading for the elevator.
"It's fine," Lisa said, "you and Illya aren't due for another hour anyway."
"As soon as I heard about Rule 37, I rescheduled you. I thought you might need a little extra time." He could hear Lisa's smirk over the radio.
"You heard about the cafeteria," Napoleon said. Rumors got around fast in U.N.C.L.E. anyway, and as Waverly's personal secretary cum principal informant, it was Ms Rogers's job to stay on top of gossip, a duty she undertook with admirable dedication. She likely had the cafeteria wired for sound.
"That," Lisa said. "And Illya's weekly letters of protest, of course. After filing all those official criticisms of Subsection C, he deserves a chance to celebrate."
"Ah," Napoleon said. "Of course."
"Confidentially," Lisa said, "I don't think rescinding the rule has as much to do with Canada's new bill as it does with the old man wanting to save money on typewriter ribbons. Four hundred letters is a lot of wasted ink."
"And Mr. Waverly is always frugal," Napoleon agreed. "Tell him we'll be there in an hour," he said, and closed the communicator.
Then he went down to the garage to tell his partner not to hurry; they had time enough to proceed at their own discretion.