Napoleon Solo straightened his tie and glanced around the busy room, sighing as he felt the tension leave his body for the first time in days. The party was well attended, with guests in dinner jackets and evening dresses, wearing diamonds and sparkling gems brought to life by the light from overhead chandeliers. Temptation, lots of temptation –not just from the comely young things giving him the eye. He grit his teeth and bit down on the urge to relieve a sapphire and white gold bracelet from a lady standing next to him and instead stuck his sticky fingers into his pockets.
After all, this soirée was being held in honor of Napoleon and his partner - it was in poor taste to pilfer from friends of the host. He and Peril had spent the last week, tracking down and infiltrating a group who had kidnapped the senator’s daughter and as a way of saying ‘thank you’ Senator Blake and his wife had thrown this lavish party in one of New York’s most fashionable, upmarket apartment blocks.
Glitz and glamor - right up Napoleon’s street. Illya’s worst nightmare.
Speaking of his partner, where was he? As usual, his friend seemed to have found himself a quiet corner to hide in. He was nowhere in sight. Perhaps that was a good thing. The last thing Napoleon needed right now was to see Peril out of his trademark sweaters and in the form fitting Shatung silk jacket and matching bow tie. It was doing things to Napoleon’s libido that would get him arrested for lewd behaviour in public.
Napoleon sighed deeply. He had spent most of his life happily avoiding romantic entanglements. He couldn’t afford complications in his life if he wanted to maintain his lifestyle – even though his lifestyle had changed drastically since joining the U.N.C.L.E. organisation. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He still got the adrenalin rush he craved and his current occupation gave him a sense of fulfilment that he just didn’t get from successfully avoiding being incarcerated.
No, he didn’t need emotional complications in his life right now, thank you very much. It was much simpler to love ‘em and leave ‘em – no promises, no regrets.
So it was quite irksome to realise he had developed strong feelings for Peril. Someone he worked with on a regular basis. Someone untouchable. Someone, he was sure, would happily take him apart, limb by bloody limb, if he ever found out.
Somehow, when he wasn’t looking, Peril had sneaked past his barriers and into his heart. Napoleon was perplexed. How could someone who was the antithesis of everything he found attractive, leave Napoleon Solo, man about town and bon vivant, in a state of frustration.
He blamed Peril, though he couldn’t logically explain why. Someone had to be at fault, didn’t they? And it couldn’t be himself.
So, he kept his secret longings to himself and tried to ease his frustration with a string of affairs. Women, men, it didn’t matter, so long as he could lose himself in them for a while, for he certainly didn’t want to lose Illya by making the wrong move on him.
In the end it came down to this – he’d rather live with him than without him. Even if it meant Napoleon bedding anything that drew breath in order to slake his thirst.
Napoleon rolled his eyes as the band broke into Love Is A Many Splendored Thing. If only they knew.
His thoughts were interrupted by one of the party’s hosts, Maximilian Blake.
“Napoleon. Let me introduce you to Valentine Valastro. Valentine is a friend of Margot’s. You and he have a lot in common, I believe. Val likes to sail, too.”
“Really?” Napoleon said, plastering a pleasant smile on his face while trying to recall any conversation he may have had with the senator about sailing. Ah, yes, he remembered, he had told the Senator about the time he and Peril had been involved in a speed boat chase. He knew the Senator hadn’t been paying attention. How like a politician.
He shook the other man – Valentine, did he say? –by the hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr Valastro.”
“Call me Val. Max has been regaling us with tales of your adventures, Mr Solo. You’re quite the hero.”
Valentine still had hold of Napoleon’s hand. Napoleon pulled his hand away and felt reluctance from the other man to release him. He looked Valentine over, assessing him expertly with ease: 6’ 3”, give a centimetre or two; of Italian descent, hinted at by his coloration; wealthy, judging by the way the quality of clothes; and definitely attracted to men, given the way he unflinchingly held Napoleon’s gaze. Hm. Perhaps this evening had just gotten more interesting.
“I’m sure Max has been exaggerating. Isn’t that right, Senator—“ He turned, intending to include his host in their conversation, but the Senator had already disappeared in the crowd.
Napoleon turned back to his newly acquired friend. “I’m afraid it looks like the senator has abandoned you.”
“That’s okay, I asked Max to introduce us.”
Val smiled, his eyes studying Napoleon intensely. “I’ve never met a hero before.”
“I wouldn’t call dressing up as a janitor and hiding in a broom closet for hours on end heroic.” No, Napoleon didn’t regard himself as a hero, despite attending this function. Waverly had said it was ‘good public relations’, and if he were being honest, it wasn’t too much of a chore.
“Don’t be modest. I heard you single-handedly stopped those thugs who had the Max’s daughter. In anyone’s book, that makes you a hero.”
Napoleon glanced across the room and saw his partner, head to head with a tall brunette in a sheer black dress. As Illya gestured, she suddenly laughed, a light tinkling sound that could be heard across the room. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my partner was the brains behind this affair.”
Napoleon gestured in the direction of his friend, explaining, “Illya Kuryakin. We work together as a team,” he clarified. Napoleon smiled internally as Val’s face went from disappointment to relief at the explanation. So, his instincts were correct. Val had more than a passing fancy to meet one of the agents responsible for saving the teenage girl.
Val leaned closer. “He doesn’t look like the hero type.”
Napoleon laughed. He had to agree. Illya looked all brawn, but looks were misleading. “Oh, you’d be surprised.”
Val regarded him, head cocked to one side. “Now you on the other hand... chisel jawed, smart dresser, good looks.”
Napoleon waved a hand, as if brushing the comment aside. “Please. You’re making me blush.”
Their conversation continued, full of compliments and innuendos, until Napoleon was sure where the evening was going to end. In truth, he was looking forward to a little après-party dalliance. Val was easy on the eye as well as being easy company. They shared a sense of humor and it was nice to talk to someone with an extensive knowledge and appreciation of art.
It was art that finally sealed the night. Val explained he owned the penthouse suite on the top floor of the building and invited Napoleon to view his collection of Eugene Delacroix etchings.
Amused, Napoleon asked, “You’re asking me to come up and see your etchings?”
Val almost choked on his drink. He laughed aloud, before smiling fondly at Napoleon. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
As they strolled towards the foyer, leaving the noisy revellers behind, Napoleon glanced around seeking out his partner. Illya was still deep in conversation with the beautiful brunette. He felt the green-eyed monster stir and turned his attention back to Val, who was describing a boat trip around the Bahamas; a safe enough subject and one Napoleon actually found interesting.
Napoleon was a man of needs, needs that were, for the most part, easily satisfied. He loved women. Women were soft and delicate. Women were, with the odd exception, passive and caring. He loved to listen to them talk, loved their thought processes, loved the way they smelled.
But he also enjoyed the company of men, though he was more circumspect when it came to those occasional dalliances. In a man, he found everything that satisfied what a woman couldn’t; the feel of a muscular body, the strength and arousing musky aroma, the roughness, the feeling of domination.
Yes, Napoleon was a man of needs. And tonight his needs would be met.
One of Waverley’s requirements of his agents is that they are contactable at all times. To this end, they were issued with the latest transceiver devices, disguised as everyday objects.
Napoleon’s sleep was disturbed by his cigarette case emitting an odd two-tone sound, demanding his attention. He reached out and plucked it off the bedside cabinet before it woke Val. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he slipped quietly from the bed and into the en suite. He closed the door, dropped the toilet lid down and sat on it, opening the communicator device with a grunt. “Hello?”
“Good morning, Cowboy,” Illya’s chirpy voice said. “I hope I didn’t disturb you.”
“I’m always disturbed by you. What do you want?”
He could almost feel his partner smile. “I gather your evening ended well.”
“As did yours, by the sound of your rather self-satisfied voice.” It would appear the pretty brunette got her blond for the night.
“We have a meeting with Waverley at 10.00 am. Do you need me to pick you up?”
And be caught in such a compromising position? “Ah, no. I’ll see you there.” He rubbed at his temple. “Bring coffee. Lots of coffee.”
Napoleon took advantage of the luxurious shower before leaving the bathroom. Val was sitting up in bed, one arm behind his head, grinning at Napoleon. “Would you like breakfast? Or maybe I can tempt you to something else?”
Napoleon shook his head regretfully. “Sorry. I have to meet the boss in two hours. I need to get home to change.”
Val slipped from the bed, coming up behind Napoleon as he was threading one leg into his pants. His arms wrapped around Napoleon’s chest, pulling him back. “What’s your rush? Play hooky. We can spend the day in bed.”
Tempting, but Illya… Waverley already expected him to be there. He shook his head. “Can’t.” He turned in Val’s arms, pressing a brief kiss to his lips. “I have work to do. Fate of the world, and all that.”
Val sighed and stepped back, allowing Napoleon to finish dressing. “So, what about the weekend, if you’re free? I thought, maybe, we could go sailing.”
Napoleon dragged his attention back to his companion as buttoned up his shirt. “Sailing?” He’d loved sailing as a teenager – before he’d joined the army and his life changed forever.
“Yes... that is, if you’re not... otherwise engaged. We could take my sloop down the coast, find someplace quiet, have a picnic.”
No, Napoleon didn’t have any plans: he rarely made them. If he wanted someone to warm his bed, he could thumb through his little black book. If he needed mental stimulation, he could usually cajole Illya into a game of chess, if he added dinner to the evening. Making plans was a luxury; he didn’t do a nine-to-five job and the bad guys didn’t take weekends off. He did, however, have some time owed. It might be nice to get away for a couple of days, feel the sea breeze in his face, forget his problems for a while.
He returned his attention to Val. “I’d like that. Let me check first, make sure I’m free.” And do a little research on Val before he committed himself, just to be on the safe side.
Napoleon had arrived early at the office, hoping to finish with some private business before the ever inquisitive Peril made an appearance. He really didn’t want to explain why he had requested a check on Valentine Valastro, but Napoleon hadn’t survived in the spy business for so long by being incautious. Despite what he already knew about Val, it didn’t hurt to find out all he could. The man had money– Napoleon just wanted to be sure his fortune hadn’t come from nefarious sources.
He’d pulled all the information from Val’s company’s business records and seconded Research into checking his background for criminal records. So far, Val was squeaky clean.
The door opened and Illya walked in with a cheery, “Good morning, Cowboy.”
“Morning,” Napoleon mumbled as he continued the read the document in his hand.
Illya leaned over his shoulder to see what held his partner’s attention, earning him an impatient glare. “Valentine Valastro,” Illya said, reading aloud. “Wasn’t he one of guests at the Senator’s party? Do you suspect him of something?”
Napoleon ignored the close contact, keeping his eyes on the dossier. “No, I’m just making sure he has no... criminal associations.”
Napoleon resigned himself to an awkward explanation. “Because, he’s invited me to go sailing at the weekend.”
Napoleon loved that little crease in Peril’s brow when he was puzzled – not so much that the way his eyes narrowed when irritated.
“You were with him last night.” Not a question, an accusation.
Napoleon took a deep breath. “Yes. Not that I have to explain myself to you.” He didn’t want to argue over this, it was none of his friend’s business. “Look, it’s just that if I take him up on his offer, I don’t want to find myself in a compromising position.”
“Compromising?” Illya said. “How?”
“Well, say, for instance, that he turned out to be the head of the local Cosa Nostra and in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean he decided to fit me with concrete overshoes and dump me over the side.”
Illya frowned as he took his seat at his desk. “Concrete--?”
“Never mind,” Napoleon interrupted, “I want to play it safe before I take him up on his offer.”
The glower on Illya’s face was just as endearing. “You should not be using U.N.C.L.E. resources for personal activities.”
Napoleon leaned on the desk resting his chin on his clasped hands. “Would you prefer I went in blind?”
“I prefer you not go at all,” Illya growled.
Napoleon smiled with satisfaction, unsure why he got so much pleasure from Illya’s show of jealousy. He picked up the folder. “Well, I already have the information, so it would be a shame to waste it.”
“You still plan to go?”
“Sure, why not?”
Illya looked at him as though he had taken leave of his senses. “Because you don’t know this man.”
“I didn’t know you till eleven months ago.” Actually, eleven months, one week, two days - not that Napoleon was counting. “Now, we’re friends. See, that’s how it works. You don’t know someone , until you do .”
“Yes, but...” Illya trailed off, unable to adequately voice his misgivings.
“But, nothing. I’m going. This report says he’s legit. I have the weekend free, so I’m going to give him a call.”
Illya stood abruptly, gave him one last glare and turned to leave, slamming the door on his exit.
Napoleon shook his head. “Oh, Peril, you’re so sexy when you’re riled,” he said to himself.
Napoleon breathed in the brine-laced oxygen and sighed. It had been invigorating, so far, the wind in his face, the sea spray cooling him as he worked on deck. He felt relaxed – no running from someone, nobody shooting at him, not having to pretend to be someone else except himself. It was a welcome break. And working with Valentine was like working with Illya. They gelled, working together seamlessly, each tending to their own tasks until they reached their destination.
By lunchtime, they’d found a small bay and dropped anchor. Val had brought up a picnic basket and they sat atop, dining on cold chicken washed down with a nicely chilled Cabernet Sauvignon.
“You haven’t eaten much,” Napoleon pointed out.
“I’m not hungry. Not for food, at any rate,” Max replied, not taking his eyes off Napoleon’s mouth. He leaned forward, hand caressing Napoleon’s cheek. “You’re too distracting.” He kissed Napoleon briefly. “And you’re all the banquet I need.”
Napoleon returned his kiss with ardour. “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for dessert,” he said, suggestively waggling his eyebrows.
They made love on the deck, heated by the sun and their own desires. And again, much later, under the stars.
It was a pleasant interlude, this sea journey. Val was an enthusiastic and willing lover, if a little too verbose at times. Napoleon tended to tune out the flattery and sweet talk and concentrated more on the physical. Words didn’t arouse him, but a mouth put to other uses certainly did.
He saw Val again, just the once, before he and Illya were sent to Mexico on assignment. On his return, Val contacted him to arrange a rendezvous. Napoleon met him at his apartment. After the tense assignment in Mexico and the near loss of his partner to a femme fatale with a love of tigers, he was in a mood for raw sex without any strings.
Val had made Napoleon come four times before falling asleep in the early hours of the morning and Napoleon slipped away just before dawn, sated and relaxed.
He had just enough time to go home, shower and change, before heading to Headquarters. He entered their shared office with a spring in his step, giving his partner a cheery ‘good morning.’
Illya returned his greeting before leaning back in his chair to study the American. “You were out last night.”
Napoleon began sifting through the mail on his desk. “How do you know?” he murmured, slicing open a large envelope and tipping out its contents.
“I called. Gaby invited us to dinner. You were out.”
“So you said.” He picked up the letter on his desk and pretended to read it.
Illya continued to probe. “So, you had a good night, last night?”
Napoleon looked up, feigning disinterest. “Hm?”
Illya rolled his eyes. “You look like the cat that got the milk.”
“Cream,” Napoleon corrected. “The cat that got the cream.”
Illya frowned. “Cats like milk...”
“Yes, I know, but the expression is....” He trailed off as Illya’s mouth twitched into a faint smile. “Very funny.” Napoleon had been in the habit of correcting Illya’s erroneous use of euphemisms for so long, he occasionally fell foul of his friend’s baiting. He threw Illya an impatient look and theatrically flicked open the legal pad on his desk.
After a moment, Illya said, “Well?”
“How was your night with mysterious young lady?”
“There was nothing mysterious—“ Napoleon kept his eyes on the paper in front of him. Napoleon sighed inwardly, resigning himself to an awkward discussion. “Actually, I was with Val.”
The silence was deafening. Napoleon could feel Illya’s disapproving glare and kept his eyes on the pad in front, slowly writing the date and his name at the top for want of something to do.
After a tense few moments, Illya asked, “Again?”
“Yes, again” Napoleon replied shortly.
“Peril,” Napoleon interrupted, letting his annoyance show. “Let’s drop the subject. It’s none of your business, anyway.”
That stung. He could tell by the way Illya’s lips tightened and his head turned away. Illya flipped open the file in front of him with barely controlled violence. Napoleon rubbed his temple. He didn’t want this tension between them. “Look, it’s just a bit of fun. We share common interests.” He waited for a response, glancing over at his friend. Illya’s attention was pointedly on the file before him. “I do have other friends, you know,” Napoleon added in defence.
Illya raised his head. “Do you sleep with them, too?” His sarcasm was biting.
“Do I sleep with you?” Napoleon snapped back.
Illya stared at him a moment before bowing his head to study the desk. “I’m sorry, you’re right. It’s none of my business.”
Napoleon didn’t want this tension between them. “Illya, sometimes a person needs more from a friend than the occasional night on the town. Can you understand that?”
The tension seemed to leave Illya’s body. “Yes, Cowboy. I can.”
Now Napoleon felt really bad. “Why don’t we go for a drink later? I’ll even let you pay.”
Illya rolled his eyes. “How generous.”
“It’s the least I can do. Shall we say eight? I’ll meet you at Danny’s.”
Napoleon had just changed into something casual, keeping one eye on the clock as he fastened the buttons of his shirt, when there was a sharp rat-tat on his door. He looked through the peep-hole and saw Valentine looking back.
He hesitated, wondering why Val was here. They had made no arrangement to meet after their last tryst, something Napoleon had done intentionally. Val was an exceptional lover, when it came to the physical, but he constantly needed reassurance. Napoleon was beginning to sense that Val took their relationship more seriously than he did and had decided, consequently, to put a little distance between himself and Val to try to cool things down a little.
Val obviously had a different idea.
Napoleon pulled open the door and plastered a pleasant smile on his face. “Val. What a surprise.”
Val pushed past him, into the apartment. “Hi. I was just passing and thought I’d stop by. I hope you don’t mind.”
Ever the gentleman, Napoleon said, “No, of course not. I was just about to go out, though. I’m meeting a colleague at eight.”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” Napoleon eyed the door, his mind trying to think of a way to extricate himself. “Look, maybe we could meet tomorrow?”
“I’m going to Las Angeles tonight. I’ll be there for a while, thought we could get together before I left. Give me something to remember you by while I’m away.” Val stalked towards him, a predatory smile on his face.
Napoleon shook his head. “Val—“
Val stroked a hand down Napoleon’s face. “C’mon, sweetheart. I’m gonna be away for a while. Can’t you spare me one night?” He leaned in to kiss and Napoleon allowed it. Val was a good kisser, his lips mobile and soft, his tongue playful and arousing. Napoleon felt himself responding as Val’s hand wandered down Napoleon’s body to stroke deliberately against his cock. Despite himself, Napoleon moaned. He had to give Val credit, he knew just how to get Napoleon’s motor running.
He felt his cock harden with the stimulus and tried to pull away. “Val, I really shouldn’t—“ He broke off, gasping as Val’s hand insinuated itself into his pants, grasping hard flesh. Lips nibbled at the sensitive spot on his neck and Napoleon shivered with pleasure. “I shouldn’t…”
Val’s other hand was caressing his ass, one finger stroking over the crease between his buttocks, making him shiver. Val knew all Napoleon’s weak spots and was using that knowledge to bring him to arousal. Napoleon cursed his own failings as Val slid down his body, now on his knees…
The phone rang and the pair froze in this intimate pose.
Napoleon snatched up the receiver, feeling guilty as he heard Illya’s voice. “Ah, Peril.” Napoleon saw Val look up briefly, before leaning over to swallow Napoleon’s cock to the hilt. Napoleon bit back a cry. “I was just about to call you.” He closed his eyes as Val’s tongue teased at the sensitive head.
Napoleon would be the first to admit he was a weak man when it came to pleasures of the flesh. With Val on his knees, his hands gripping Napoleon’s hips as he sucked his cock deep, it was all he could do not to moan into the mouthpiece.
“Actually, Peril, I don’t think I can make it tonight. Something… “ he looked down at the bobbing head, “…came up.” He bit down a groan. “Can we take a rain check? I’ll see you tomorrow.”
His guilt doubled as Illya said he understood, which he clearly did not, and said goodbye in such a tone that left Napoleon feeling like the lowest form of life.
It didn’t stop Napoleon enjoying the blow job, however.
Later, once the action had moved to the bed and Napoleon had come again curtesy of Val’s talented hands, he lay looking up at the ceiling, full of regrets.
Val reached over, caressing Napoleon’s chest. “You’re thinking about your friend?”
Napoleon winced. “I feel kinda bad, letting him down like that.”
Val continued to stroke Napoleon’s skin, curling his fingers into the hairs on his chest. “He’ll get over it.” The fingers moved across, scraping lightly at a nipple. “Your friend,” he said, pinching the nipple between his fingers, “ do you find him attractive?” The question was asked casually, but Napoleon heard the undertone of resentment in his voice.
“Peril?” Napoleon smiled. Of course he found him attractive, he wasn’t made of stone. Who wouldn’t? But that wasn’t what Val wanted to hear. Instead he said, “The girls in the typing pool think he’s cute.”
“But what do you think?” Val asked, doggedly, as he stroked down Napoleon’s abdomen .
What did he think? By anyone’s standards, Illya was handsome, that was undeniable. But it wasn’t just his physical attributes, Illya had an internal beauty that few saw or recognised. A brilliant mind that had lived through hardship and despair, and yet still fought on the side of good. A mind packed with both useful and useless information but always found time to absorb more. A keen mind, a sharp mind. A beautiful mind.
These thoughts flitted through his head as he rose up on one elbow to look down at his lover. Instead, he told him what he wanted to hear. In his line of business, he was used to lying.
“I think I prefer brunettes.” He leaned over and kissed Val lightly. Napoleon looked at the clock on the bedside table. “Don’t you have a plane to catch?”
“Hm?” Val looked away, guilt clear on his face. He cleared his throat and gave a nervous laugh. “Erm, I have a confession to make. I don’t really have to be on that flight.” He rolled over, delicately brushing fingers across Napoleon’s tight mouth. “Don’t pout. I just wanted to be with you. You enjoyed it, didn’t you?”
Yes, Napoleon had, but at what cost to his friendship. And his conscience.
He pulled Val’s hand away from his face. “I let my friend down for—“
“For a blow job.” Val smirked. “And a good one, at that.”
Napoleon frowned, sat up and slipped from the bed. He didn’t much like being manipulated. In a moment of weakness, he’d given in to his baser instincts and, consequently, let down the most important person in his life. It rankled that he could be so shallow.
“You should leave,” Napoleon said over his shoulder, as he slipped on his pants.
Val looked confused. “What? Why? I’m just having fun—“
“At my expense. I don’t much appreciate that.” He zipped up his pants with an angry gesture.
He heard Val moving behind him and felt his arms on his shoulders. Val nuzzled his ear. “I’m sorry. it’s just… you’re so irresistible. I can’t get enough of you.” He tried to slide his hands down to Napoleon’s crotch, but Napoleon intercepted them and pulled them away.
“Stop it. Just go, Val.”
Val stepped back, his face giving nothing away, and gathered his clothes. “Okay.” He dressed hurriedly, picking up his coat as he moved towards the door. “But we’ll talk later,” he promised.
As the door closed, Napoleon slumped down into a chair, rubbing his hands over his face. He couldn’t believe he’d given up an evening with his friend for the sake of his libido. If he felt bad, how did Peril feel?
Napoleon felt like a complete heel.
Illya flinched when a large paper bag dropped on top of the report he was reading. He looked up at Napoleon quizzically.
“Pryaniki,” Napoleon explained. “From Olga’s. It’s your favorite.”
Illya simply raised his eyebrows in that odd way he had of silently asking a question.
“To apologise for last night,” Napoleon explained, though he knew this small offering would do little to salve his conscience. “Val turned up unexpectedly and…“
At the sound of Val’s name, Illya’s eyes turned stormy. He moved the warm, scented bag aside, annoyance clear on his face. “Don’t have to explain.”
“Yes, I do. It was a moment of weakness and I really regret it. I’m sorry. I swear, I’ll never let you down again.” He saw Illya stretch out his neck, considering his apology. Napoleon gestured at the bag. “I had to go out of my way to get this, I’ll have you know.” He saw Illya eye up the bag, its contents filling the room with tempting aromas. He moved the bag back under Illya’s nose. “Clear across town. Got up with the birds and was there when the doors opened. Just to get you freshly baked honey bread.”
Illya pulled open the bag and Napoleon smiled as he saw his friend nod in approval. “I forgive you.” He looked up. “Just this once.”
“How about a drink at Danny’s tonight, to make up for it.” Illya looked unsure. “If I don’t make it this time, I promise to write all the reports for the next six months.”
Now that was a promise Illya couldn’t resist.
It was fairly busy at Danny’s for mid-week. They sat near the pool table, half watching a game in progress while exchanging gossip from headquarters. Napoleon had long ago given up on trying to get Peril to open up about personal issues – it made his partner uncomfortable and Napoleon knew, from experience, that he would only deflect the conversation to other matters. So he stuck to subjects he was comfortable with: the latest gadgets from R & D; Gaby’s latest wardrobe disaster. Whatever the subject, conversation between them was effortless and flowed continually. Napoleon never felt more relaxed than when he was in the Russian’s company.
The pool game finished and Illya nodded towards the vacant table, silently asking a question. Against his better judgement, Napoleon stood, selecting a cue from the stand as Illya racked the balls.
“I’ll break,” Napoleon said. “Maybe it’ll give me a head start.”
Illya smirked. “Couldn’t get head start if balls were size of melons.”
“Whose balls?” Napoleon winked, happy to be sharing a joke with his friend, as he leaned over and took the shot. He hit the triangle of balls smack in the middle, scattering them to all four corners of the table. “Stripes.” Napoleon’s next shot left the ball sitting at the edge of the pocket. Disgruntled, he turned to Illya, gesturing at the table.
Illya strolled around, viewing it from every angle and taking his own sweet time. Napoleon resisted sighing out loud. “Take the shot, already.”
Illya, who knew perfectly well his preparations irritated his friend, leisurely rubbed chalk over the tip of his cue. “Cannot be rushed, if you want to play well.”
“You can play well with both hands tied behind your back with just your teeth holding the cue,” Napoleon teased. It was true – Illya was uncannily accurate when it came to pocketing the balls.
Illya shrugged, not bothering to deny Napoleon’s statement. “It is simply a matter of mathematical equations. If you calculate the angles….” He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, considering the balls on the table.
Napoleon rolled his eyes, resting the cue across his shoulders and draping his wrists over the ends. “See, you take all the fun out of it.”
Illya sniffed. “That is also why I am good.”
“And modest, to boot.” Napoleon smiled and shook his head, before picking up his beer and taking a quick sip. “I don’t know why I bother playing with you, anyway. You always win.”
“There is no fun playing alone.”
Napoleon couldn’t deny that statement, though his thoughts weren’t on playing pool.
Illya leaned over to take his shot and Napoleon couldn’t resist letting his eyes linger on the perfect round globes of Illya’s buttocks. He did, however, resist a sigh. Out loud.
Once the ball had slid into the pocket, Illya stood, slowly edging around the table, looking for his next shot.
Napoleon followed his movements and just as Illya came to the opposite end of the table, his eyes locked on an unwelcome sight behind him. A familiar figure was coming through the door, making his way over to the pool tables. “Oh, no,” Napoleon murmured.
Valentine Valastro strode his way, dodging the occasional drinker as he headed across the room in their direction.
When he reached Napoleon, he just said, “Hi.”
Napoleon refused to look at Illya, pretty sure he knew what expression would be on his face. Instead he dropped the cue from his shoulders and let it rest on the floor, like a flimsy barrier between them. “What are you doing here, Val?”
He saw Val’s eyes flicker towards his partner. “Can we go somewhere to talk?”
“I’m in the middle of a game. Why don’t we talk tomorrow?”
Val looked at Illya again, his dislike clear on his face. “Your game’s more important than us?”
“Unless it’s a matter of life and death, yes.” He pulled Val aside. “How did you know I was here?”
“I think you mentioned it.” Val just shrugged, making the question seem inconsequential.
Napoleon was pretty sure he hadn’t, and Val wouldn’t normally be seen dead in a dive like this. Even Illya felt overdressed at Danny’s. He glanced back at Illya, who was trying to look like he wasn’t paying attention.
Val pulled a face, as if trying to bite back pain. “I just wanted to see you.”
“You saw me yesterday.” Napoleon rubbed a hand over his face. “Val, I’m not sure what’s going on with you, but I’m here with a friend and I’m not leaving. If you want to talk, we’ll do it tomorrow.” A promise Napoleon intended to keep. Val’s infatuation was becoming a problem, as he demanded more and more of Napoleon’s time. He felt like he was being stalked. It was time to put an end to this relationship.
Val stared at him, chewing at the inside of his mouth. He threw another dirty look Illya’s way. “Okay. I understand.”
Val reached out, squeezed Napoleon’s elbow before he turned and left.
Illya was by his side before Val was half way across the room. “What did he want?”
Napoleon turned to look at him. “Something I can’t give him.” He turned back to the table. “Shall we?”
Illya nudged his aside. “Not your turn. I still have my shot to make.”
Napoleon gestured at the nearby seat. “Fine. I’ll be over here. Just wake me when you’re finished.”
Napoleon laughed as Illya rolled his eyes . Oh, how he loved spending time with Peril.
Napoleon said goodnight to Illya as the lift stopped on the second floor. His friend’s apartment was only two floors up but he declined Napoleon’s offer of a nightcap, insisting they had to be clear-headed tomorrow for work.
When Napoleon opened his front door, he was shocked to find Val sitting in his living room.
Napoleon didn’t like surprises. He liked this one even less. He looked around, wondering how Val had managed to bypass his security system. “How did you get in here?”
Unaffected by Napoleon’s ire, Val smiled. “Money can get you in anywhere.” He stood, his arms going round Napoleon’s shoulders, giving him a squeeze. “I’m sorry, I hope you don’t mind.”
Napoleon did mind. He made a mental note to have the door staff investigated and the locks changed.
Napoleon pushed him back. “I thought we were going to talk tomorrow?"
“I know. Actually, I had something for you. I couldn’t wait to give you this.” He withdrew a velvet box from his pocket.
Napoleon took it and lifted the lid. His eyes widened in shock. “Wow.”
Inside was the Girard-Perregaux watch he’d been admiring in Tiffany’s window. He remembered the watch. He had gone inside to take a closer look – it had taken all his will power not to palm the watch when the shop assistant was distracted. It had been way out of his price range, but – oh – he so wanted to feel it in his hands, if only for a minute.
“Thirty nine jewels, twenty two carat gold. I know it’s extravagant, but you’re worth it.”
Puzzled, Napoleon tried to think when he’d seen the watch – he knew he hadn’t been with Val, so how did he know? Come to think of it, how had he known he’d be at Danny’s tonight?
This was all starting to get a little worrisome.
Napoleon reluctantly closed the lid. “I can’t take this.”
“It’s just a token, Napoleon. I know you like it.”
But how did he know? Napoleon felt a frisson of unease. Val must have been watching him, or paying someone to do it for him. “Have you been following me?”
Val’s smile wavered and he looked away to the right, rubbing his hand over his mouth. “Just take the damned watch, Napoleon. It’s a gift.”
Napoleon pushed it back into his hand. “I don’t want it. It’s too personal.”
Val approached Napoleon, raising the fist that held the Tiffany’s box. “We’re lovers. How personal can you get?”
Napoleon felt his anger rise and let it show. “This has to stop, Val.” He walked over to the door, pulling it open. “I want you to leave.”
Val hesitated. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He stepped forward, trying to caress Napoleon’s face, but the agent pulled away. Val sighed. “Look, why don’t you come over tomorrow. Say, around 1.00? We can talk then.”
Yes, they needed to talk. Napoleon had been thinking about it all night and had decided it was time to end this affair.
Napoleon knew it would be hard for Val, but all good things came to an end. Didn’t they?
Napoleon arrived at Val’s five minutes early. As he entered, Val leaned forward for a kiss, but Napoleon put a hand against his chest, holding him back. “I don’t have long. I have a meeting in two hours.”
Val ran a hand down Napoleon’s arm. “Okay.” Val gestured at the table, which had been set for two. “I had some lunch delivered. I hope you’re hungry.” He disappeared into the kitchen.
Napoleon had no appetite. “I didn’t come here to eat, Val. I thought we were going to talk.”
Val came in carrying dishes. “We can eat and talk, can’t we? Sit down.”
Napoleon felt he was being manoeuvred again. He had planned on a short visit, perhaps a glass or two of brandy to mellow Val so they could talk calmly and rationally. It was Napoleon’s modus operandi when ending a relationship. He preferred to talk it through amicably. The old ‘We’ll still be friends’ routine.
He sat, but didn’t take off his jacket. “Val, why don’t you stop what you’re doing and sit down.”
Val ignored him, placing a plate of shellfish down in front of him. “Oysters Casino with red peppers. Try it, you’ll love it.”
“Val, stop this. Sit down. I came to talk,” he said, firmly pushing the plate away.
Val dropped into the seat opposite, looking down at the table. “Don’t.” Val said quietly, still not looking at Napoleon. “Please don’t.”
Napoleon felt a brief stab of guilt, but it had to be done. “I’m sorry, Val, but I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”
Val didn’t look at him, just fiddled with his wine glass, twisting it round and round. “Is this about last night? I promise I won’t let myself into your apartment uninvited again. I just wanted to see you.”
“I know. The thing is…” Napoleon struggled to put his concerns into words. “I think you’re taking this… relationship… more seriously than I am. You’re too intense. Frankly, I’m not as committed as you are.”
Val sat silently, unmoving. Suddenly, he picked up the wine bottle. “Have some wine. It’s a good vintage.”
He leaned forward to try to fill Napoleon’s glass, but Napoleon put his hand over the top. “Are you listening to me?” Napoleon asked.
Val’s face twisted in anguish. Agitated, he rubbed a hand over his face. “I… I don’t understand. What did I do?” Val looked up, imploring. “Tell me what I did wrong. I can fix it.”
Napoleon hated to use this tired line. “It’s not you, it’s me. At the moment, my work is my priority. I don’t have time to commit to anyone.”
“You have time for him.” Val sat staring at his clenched hands resting on the table.
Napoleon didn’t need to ask who he was talking about. Val had been jealous of Illya from the start. “Illya’s a colleague, nothing more.” He swallowed his anger. It wouldn’t help. “I’m sorry, I truly am. But you’ll meet someone, some day. Someone who can give you what you need.”
Val looked up. “What I need is you. Don’t you understand? I love you.”
Napoleon sighed. Yes, he understood. He knew how it felt to love someone and not have that love returned.
“I’m sorry. I just don’t feel the same way.” Napoleon stood, tugging down the hem of his jacket. “It’s over, Val. I hope one day you can find what you’re looking for.” But that’s not me, he added mentally.
He started to move towards the door, but Val grabbed hold of his elbow.
“Please, don’t go.”
Napoleon was embarrassed to see tears glittering in the man’s eyes. Perhaps it was time to yank the band-aid off quickly. Cruel to be kind, wasn’t that what his mother was fond of saying? “Don’t,” he ordered harshly. “Have some dignity.”
He turned away, walking briskly to the door. As he pulled the door open, Val called, “This isn’t over. I’m not letting you go.”
Napoleon regarded the crestfallen man with patience. “You don’t really have a choice.”
He hailed a cab once outside, and spent the journey home thinking about his encounter with Val. He hated a bad break-up, they left a nasty taste in his mouth. And despite telling Val it was over, he knew he wouldn’t give in so easily. Napoleon would spend the next few days – or however long it took – avoiding him. Sooner or later, Val would get the message. Napoleon hoped it would be sooner.
He was wound tighter than a watch spring. He needed a diversion tonight. Perhaps he could call someone to come over, a little feminine company, maybe. But despite mentally perusing his extensive list of female friends, the only person he wanted to be with right now was Illya. He needed his dry wit, his caustic remarks. He needed his glowers and glares. He needed the bickering and bantering.
He just needed his partner’s presence.
Yes, he’d invite Peril over for dinner tonight. His friend always put him in a better frame of mind, a panacea for Napoleon’s ailments. There was something relaxing about being with Peril – like an old married couple.
Napoleon smiled to himself as he watched the world go by.
Illya had been pleased to get Napoleon’s invite to dinner. His friend was an amazing cook and he’d missed eating with his partner, lately. More than that, he’d missed his partner. This dalliance with Val had taken up a lot of Napoleon’s free time and Illya was, if he was honest, feeling a little neglected.
When he arrived at Napoleon’s apartment, the American was in the kitchen, wearing that ugly apron. He imagined that Napoleon thought it hideous enough to lessen the garments feminine appearance.
“Dinner’s almost ready.” Napoleon continued stirring the sauce as Illya took down plates and laid the table.
Briiing, briiing. The phone rang, rattling on its cradle, but Napoleon ignored it. Illya glanced at it, then back at Napoleon. “Your phone is ringing,” he said, stating the obvious.
Napoleon continued stirring the sauce on the cooker top. “Can’t fault your powers of observation.”
It continued to ring. “Aren’t you going to answer it?”
“Does it look like I am?” Napoleon lifted the spoon to taste the sauce, adding a little more salt.
Illya looked again at the phone and moved closer to Napoleon. “You should answer that. It’s annoying.”
He left the spoon on the side and turned off the heat before turning towards Illya. “What I find annoying is you telling me what to do in my own apartment.” He winced at the hurt look on Illya’s face. “I’m sorry. It’s just that... I know who it is.”
Illya nodded, understanding, as ever. “Someone you’re trying to avoid. Would you like me to answer it?”
“No!” No, that would only add fuel to the fire. Just as he was about to explain, the phone stopped ringing. He smiled at his friend. “There, see? Have some patience.” He took off the apron. “Sit down. I’ll dish up.”
Illya obeyed, settling in one of the chairs and helping himself to the wine. “Do you wish to talk about it?”
“Nope.” Napoleon put down two laden plates and took the chair opposite. He gestured at Illya’s. “Eat.”
Illya needed no encouragement. Napoleon was an excellent cook and it was a pleasure to eat anything he prepared. Napoleon, though, wasn’t usually this quiet during dinner. Illya often wondered how his friend could savor his food when he spent so much time with his mouth otherwise engaged. Usually.
Illya decided to break the silence. “Is this to do with your friend? Valentine?”
Napoleon stopped pushing the food around his plate and shot him an angry look. “He’s not my friend. And what part of ‘don’t want to talk about it’ did you not comprehend?”
Napoleon knew he’d gone too far as Illya’s fist tightened around the handle of his fork. He rubbed at his temple. “I’m sorry, Peril.” And he was. The last thing he needed was to alienate the one man he trusted with his life. Why couldn’t he trust him with this?
He put his fork down with a clatter. “I don’t know what to do,” he simply said.
Illya’s features softened. He rarely heard Napoleon sound so defeated. “You are avoiding him?”
Napoleon nodded. “I tried to end it. He didn’t take it too well.”
Illya nodded, as if he understood. “Love hurts.”
Napoleon stored that little statement away for later. “I didn’t love him. I thought it was just a bit of fun. ”
“But he loved you.”
Napoleon pushed his plate away. He’d lost his appetite. “He said he loved me. I didn’t feel the same way. Besides, things had become… creepy.”
He watched Illya load his fork with spaghetti and shovel it into his mouth. He loved cooking for his friend, he was so appreciative.
Illya swallowed his mouthful. “Creepy? What do you mean by ‘creepy’?”
“Strange. More than a little odd. I think he’s been following me, watching me. He let himself into my apartment last night. And his jealousy…” Napoleon shook his head. “Frankly, I don’t think his elevator goes all the way to the top,” he tapped his skull, “if you know what I mean.”
Napoleon sat back and sipped at his wine, watching his friend’s tongue chase a stray splash of sauce off his lip. He loved watching Peril eat; there was nothing better than studying him when he was unaware. The man was completely oblivious of his sensuality; that mouth, those eyes, the way his forehead creased when he was he was thinking. He was so sexy.
God, he had it bad.
Napoleon turned his mind from inappropriate thoughts and back to something Illya had said moments ago. “You said ‘love hurts’. Have you ever been in love?”
Illya’s face gave little away. “We are not talking about me.”
Napoleon rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the pattern on the table cloth, stroking over the flowered pattern. “We never talk about you.” It hurt a little, that Illya didn’t confide in him. “You can trust me, you know.”
Illya’s expression softened. “I know. There is no one I trust more.” He picked up his glass and paused as it reached his lips. “Val was a fool. You deserve better.”
Surprised by the sincerity in Illya’s voice, Napoleon looked up. That was probably as much as he would get out of his friend, when it came to discussing anything emotive. He decided that small sign of affection was enough for now, enough to leave a warm feeling in his chest, anyway. His sat up, his appetite returned, and he pulled his plate back, picking up his fork.
“Thank you,” he said. He gestured towards Illya’s plate. “Finish your meal. I have the chess set warmed up and ready to give you a thrashing.”
Illya dabbed at his mouth with his napkin and smiled. “In your dreams, Cowboy.”
The next morning, Napoleon had been called to Waverley’s office as soon as they arrived at Headquarter. Illya made his way to their shared office and started the paperwork from their last assignment.
It was two hours later when Napoleon stormed into their office and slammed the door so hard it shook the wall. He paced rigidly up and down, his face contorting in anger. “That sonovabitch!”
“Something wrong?” Illya asked mildly.
“I’ve been suspended pending investigation!”
Illya dropped his pen, leaned back in his seat. “For what?”
Napoleon ran out of steam and dropped into his chair, one hand brushing over his face. “Val complained to Waverley, said his safe had been burgled.” He turned to Illya, palms out, indignation sharpening his features. “He called me a thief!”
“You are a thief.”
“But I don’t steal from people I know. I do have some principles, you know.”
“What did Waverley say?”
Napoleon picked up a pen and tapped it restlessly against the desk top. “To be honest, Waverley’s taking this with a pinch of salt, but he has to follow procedure. Until then, I’m cooling my heels at headquarters.”
“What about our mission to Washington tomorrow?”
“He’s assigning you another agent.” He saw Illya scowl unhappily. “I know, I don’t like it, either.” No, he didn’t. He wasn’t sure he trusted Illya’s life to another. “But it won’t be for long. Just as soon as we get this mess cleared up.” He shook his head in frustration. “I can’t believe Val would do this to me.”
Illya nodded. “Hell hath no fury…”
“Yes, well, I’ll be sure to be careful who I scorn from now on.”
Illya had left Napoleon in the gym in U.N.C.L.E.’s basement, taking out his frustration on a punch bag, while he left for home to make arrangements for his assignment the next day.
He was just about to open the door to his apartment when the hairs on the back of his neck told him someone was behind him. He spun round and came face to face with Valentine.
“What do you want?” Illya found it difficult to keep the contempt from his voice.
“Just to talk. Napoleon’s not returning my calls.”
Illya stepped closer, his hands curling into fists. “He does not want to talk to you? You accused him of theft.”
Valentine smirked. “You could say he stole my heart.”
Illya didn’t appreciate the flippant remark. “You knew such an accusation could cost him his job!”
“He doesn’t need it. It takes up too much of his time.” Valentine shook his head, his eyes glistening with madness. “I need him with me.”
Illya clenched his fists, resisting the urge to punch this man. “He does not want to be with you.”
“He doesn’t know what he wants. I can change his mind.” Valentine stepped closer, studying Illya intently. “There are two things standing in the way of us being together. His work is the first. You’re the second. I’ve started to take care of the first.”
Illya bristled. “You think getting him fired will make him come back to you? You’re insane.”
Val huffed. “Maybe,” he said with a casual wave of his hand. “Either way, I won’t let you ruin everything.”
Illya stepped closer, leaning in to say, “I don’t need to. You already did that.” He stood back, dismissing Val. “Leave him alone. He does not love you.”
Val’s face was a mask of hatred. “You can’t-- “
“No!” Illya held up a warning hand. “This conversation is over.”
As Illya turned to walk away, he heard a rustle of clothing as Val moved behind him. Illya spun to face him, unprepared for the sharp stab into his exposed neck. He reached up and pulled a small dart from his flesh.
His legs buckled and he reached out to hold on to the door, but the fast acting drug was already rendering his body useless. Before he blacked out, he briefly thought how annoyed Napoleon would be with him for being so careless.
Napoleon had spent the morning with Waverley, going through his movements for the last few days, then spent half of the afternoon taking out his frustrations on the gym equipment. He was tired, tired of justifying himself, tired of talking, tired of lifting weights and resisting the urge to throw them across the room. He just wanted to go home and take a shower. Maybe he’d call Peril, see if he wanted to come over for dinner. He could really do with his company.
He’d just pulled into a parking bay in the lower level of their apartment block, when his communicator went off. He pulled the cigarette case from his pocket and activated it. “Peril?”
For a moment, all he could hear was loud breathing. The hairs rose on the back of his neck. “Peril?” he said louder.
He froze when Val’s voice came over the communicator. “He can’t talk to you right now. Cowboy!” Val spat the last word out.
A chill went down Napoleon’s spine. “How did you get Illya’s communicator? “
“I took it off him while he was sleeping.”
Sleeping? “Where’s Illya?”
“You mean Peril?” Val chuckled. “You two have such cute nicknames for each other. He’s here, with me.”
Val didn’t answer. He carried on talking as though they were discussing the weather. “He’s not one for conversation, is he?” Napoleon heard a sharp slap and a Russian curse over the air waves. Val laughed. “Not sure what he’s saying, but I don’t think it’s a compliment.” There was a worrying keening sound over the radio. “I must say, Napoleon, your friend’s taste in décor is a little utilitarian.”
Val was in Illya’s apartment. Napoleon exited the car and ran for the stairs, taking them two at a time. Level One, level two...
“Where are you? Are you on your way here, Napoleon?” Val asked. “I hope so, because I really need to see you.”
Level Three, Level Four… Napoleon turned at the top of the stairs and ran down the corridor to the apartment at the end.
The door wasn’t locked. Napoleon pulled out his Special and slowly pushed it open, his senses alert for sounds. He crept down the hallway, pausing as he heard a slap of skin against skin. It was the familiar Russian curse that hastened his pace.
In the living room, he found Illya bound to a chair, Val standing behind, one hand pulling on a handful of Illya’s hair, drawing his head back. A bloodied knife was in his other hand, hovering before Illya’s neck.
Napoleon tried to distract him. “Val!” Val looked up, staring at Napoleon as though he only just realised he was there.
“You’re here. That was quick,” Val acknowledged with a bow of his head. “I’m impressed.”
Napoleon slowly walked forward. “What’s going on, Val?
Illya was a mess. Napoleon hoped it was all superficial, that no major damage had been inflicted. His face was swollen and bruised on one side, and his lip was split. A trail of fresh blood bisected his chin. His open shirt showed a glimpse of bruising, but of more concern were the patches of scarlet on the white material, its wetness catching in the overhead light.
Illya’s head had wobbled upright as he’d heard Napoleon’s voice, fighting to stay conscious. Napoleon had seen his wilful partner this way too many times before. Frankly, it was becoming tiresome.
He dragged his gaze from his partner’s plight and looked Val in the eyes, swallowing down his anger. His instinct was to leap forward, beat the fuck out of his ex-lover, but the wicked looking knife Val held against his friend’s carotid kept him at bay. He searched inside himself for that calm centre, the place that allowed him to look unconcerned and cool, even glib in the face of his enemies. When he felt the murderous rage recede a little, he took a breath, slid his gun back into its holster and calmly spoke.
“Why don’t you put the knife down, Val. Let’s talk.”
Val, suddenly unsure of Napoleon’s calm demeanor, simply shook his head. His face contorted in anguish. “This is all his fault!”
“No, it’s not. It’s my fault, Val. I should have listened to you.” Napoleon glanced at the knife, and shifted, taking a small step closer. He held out his hand. “Give me the knife. You don’t want to do this.”
The knife pressed deeper into the skin and a bead of blood appeared, tracking down the front of Illya’s shirt. “He’s in the way. He’s always been in the way. He’s standing between you and me, stopping us being together.”
Napoleon’s mind fought against the adrenalin being pumped around his body. He needed to bring Val down from the edge, get him to drop the knife that was pressing dangerously against the vulnerable spot on Illya’s neck.
He took a deep calming breath - he couldn’t lose control now. The situation needed delicate handling, not angry rhetoric. He knew what Val wanted to hear - reassurance, a promise to love -but Napoleon wasn’t sure he could be persuasive enough. He could say the words that would make Val trust him, but Napoleon wasn’t a convincing actor, not when such deep emotion was required. He had to sound sincere, words from the heart.
He couldn’t say them to Val and mean it, but he could say them to the one person who truly meant something to him. If he could avoid looking at Illya, he could do what was necessary.
He took a step closer, his hand palm out, soothing. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for putting you in this position.”
Val’s eyes narrowed, but he was listening. “I didn’t want it to come to this. I just wanted us to be together.”
“That’s what I want, too.” Napoleon took another step forward.
“You’re lying. You said you didn’t love me.”
“I think on some level I loved from the first moment I saw you.” Napoleon could still remember his first sight of Illya, running like a stallion after his car, and how he couldn’t bring himself to shoot the Russian.
Napoleon moved closer, small steps that wouldn’t spook Val, but took Napoleon nearer with each sentence. He gave the chair Illya was tied to a wide berth. Val followed his movements, turning his head to watch, his expression full of hope.
Napoleon continued, walking in an arc towards Val, trying to draw Val’s attention away from his partner. “I can’t lose you, you mean too much to me. There is no one I would rather be with than you.” Out of the corner of his eye, Napoleon was slightly relieved to see the pressure of the knife against Illya’s neck relax a bit.
It was difficult not to let his eyes flicker down to check on his partner, but that would only provoke Val. He kept his gaze locked on his former lover, letting the emotion in his voice charm and soothe as he took another couple of steps closer.
He was just a couple of feet away, now, approaching Val from behind.
Val half turned, hand still on the knife, but watching Napoleon over his shoulder. “You said it was over.”
“I know. I was wrong. When you’re not around, I miss you. And when you are around…” He shook his head and smiled. “You can be the most frustrating human being I’ve ever met.” A step closer and he was within touching distance.
He let his hand rest on Val’s shoulder. “When you’re near me, I just want to touch you. I dream about it, long for it.” Napoleon closed the short distance, standing directly behind him. “I’ve never met anyone like you. You’ve changed me, made my life worth living.”
“Napoleon…” Val was trembling, the hand holding the knife lowered to his side.
Val held still as Napoleon pressed against his back, sliding his hands along Val’s upper arm, pulling him into his chest. “I know I’ve never said it, didn’t think I ever would out loud, but I love you so much.”
Val shuddered and the knife dropped to the floor with a clatter as he leaned his head back to rest against the warm body behind him. Napoleon’s left hand reached round to gently caress Val’s chest, pulling him tight to him, while his left arm rose to wrap around Val’s neck, stroking feather-light against his collar bone. Napoleon heard Val sigh with pleasure.
“I love you so much, Napoleon. I am never going to let you go.”
Napoleon understood the truth of that statement and it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He closed his eyes, knowing that this obsession would never come to an end. He couldn’t allow that, couldn’t allow him to be a constant threat to Illya.
“I know,” he said quietly, as he slipped his hand under Val’s chin. He leaned forward to whisper, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
With a sudden jerk, he yanked Val’s head quickly to one side, disrupting the vertebrae at the base of his skull with an audible crack. Val went limp and Napoleon stood back, letting the dead weight slip to the floor.
He stepped over the body, picking up the discarded knife and quickly dropped to his knees Illya, sawing through Illya’s bonds. When he’d pulled the last of the ropes away, he started to run his hands over his friend’s body, checking for damage.
“How do you feel?” Napoleon asked,
“A little bruised.” He hissed as Napoleon’s questing fingers pressed too hard on lacerations. “And a bit cut. Ouch! Careful, Cowboy. You’re doing more damage than he did.” Illya winced when his probing fingers ran over his scalp, catching on an egg-sized lump and tried to pull away. “What are you doing?”
Napoleon smiled. Illya’s grumpiness was reassuring. “Practicing phrenology. Just trying to read your bumps.”
“Too many. Will be here all day.”
Napoleon laughed with relief. If Peril could joke, he was definitely okay. “Can you walk?”
“Since I was ten months old.”
Napoleon pulled him upright. “Brag, brag. Seriously, do you need help?”
“I’m fine, Cowboy. Nothing wrong with legs. Where are we going?”
“To my apartment, I have a medi-kit in the bathroom. Can you manage two floors?”
Illya glowered in reply. He glanced down at Val’s body. “Is he dead?”
“Deader ‘n hell.” He pulled one of Illya’s arms over his shoulder and put his arm around his waist. “Come on, Peril. Once I call this in, your apartment’s going to be crawling with UNCLE personnel. Let’s get the hell out of Dodge.”
As they stumbled towards the door, Illya asked, “What is this ‘Dodge’?”
Napoleon simply smiled to himself.
Illya refused to go to the infirmary and Napoleon trusted him when he said his injuries were superficial. Instead, he took him back to his apartment and made him take off his shirt - only in the interests of tending his wounds, of course.
Napoleon spent time lovingly attending to each and every injury. The cuts were mostly shallow and the couple that needed stitches, Napoleon sutured himself, a skill he’d acquired since joining UNCLE. The bruising he could do nothing about, but he couldn’t resist gently tracing each blemish with his hand, as though he could make them disappear by sheer will.
Illya had definitely had much worse. Thankfully, Val had been a rank amateur when it came to beatings.
By the time he’d patched his friend up, the team from U.N.C.L.E. called to say Illya’s apartment was ‘clean’ and he could return when he was ready. Napoleon didn’t ask about Val’s body; he didn’t much care, if he were being honest. He refused to feel guilty at the relief he felt, knowing the man would no longer be a danger to his partner. Yes, there’d be paperwork to follow, but he’d deal with that, and the inevitable questions, when he returned to headquarters in the morning.
Speaking of Val…. “Illya, you’re a trained agent. How did he catch you?”
“He took me by surprise.”
“He’d have to have, you have a black belt in karate--”
Frustrated, Illya interrupted. “He used a sleep dart!”
Napoleon sat back. The implication hit him hard. “Sleep dart? Where did he get...?” He stopped mid-sentence, recalling a couple of nights previous, when he’d come home to find Val waiting for him.
“Oh, God,” Napoleon moaned. “Sonovabitch was in my apartment.”
U.N.C.L.E. firearms were modified to fire sleep darts as well as bullets, Waverly preferring to keep the body count down during assignments. That night, he’d left his shoulder holster and gun at home, knowing he and Illya were going to a bar and, most likely, his jacket would be coming off at some point. He preferred, instead, to carry a small fire arm in an ankle holster. Illya preferred the cold steel of a knife strapped to his.
Illya was shaking his head. “It’s my fault. I let my guard down. I did not see him as a threat.”
Napoleon groaned as he leaned forward, resting his head in his hands. “Neither did I. I should have done a back ground check on his sanity, too.”
As if reading him mind, Illya said, “You had no way of knowing. Why would you suspect him? You were lovers, you trusted him.”
Napoleon was already shaking his head. “No, no, no. I should have known there was something wrong. I knew he wouldn’t take this lightly.” He looked up at Illya. “He could have killed you.”
“You got there in time,” Illya insisted.
“It was just luck I was there. I hate to think what would have happened.”
“You talked him down. That made the difference.”
“He had a knife at your throat. I couldn’t rush him. I had to get close, disarm him. The only way to do that was to tell him what he wanted to hear.”
Illya sat forward, resting clasped hands on his knees, considering his next words. “The things you said. You were very convincing.”
Napoleon looked away. “I had to be, your life was at stake.”
Illya turned towards him. “It was more than that. I’ve never seen that depth of emotion in you before. I’ve seen you act, but this,” Illya tapped his chest, “came from deeper inside. Even I believed it.”
How typical of Peril, like a terrier with a bone, he refused to let it go. Napoleon sighed, resigned to speaking the truth. “That’s because every word was true.”
Illya drew back, startled. “You... you loved him?”
“I never said that. I said the words were true, not that they were meant for him.”
Peril always did make things difficult. Napoleon pursed his lips, raised his eyebrows and held Illya’s stare, willing him to understand. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Napoleon could read Peril’s expressions like the pages of a book in large print. It was the eyes that gave away his thoughts. Napoleon always maintained he’d never make a decent poker player.
He saw his friend ponder this information, saw the minute changes in his face; puzzlement, confusion, awareness and… Oh! He’s got it. Illya’s brows took a sharp upturn at the same time his jaw dropped open. Napoleon reached over, pushed his jaw shut with a finger and waited. Their eyes held as several heart beats passed. Finally, flustered, Illya finally broke the eye contact and looked away. “I should go.”
“You should stay. I’d like to keep an eye on you, make sure you’re okay.”
“No, no, I need to…” Illya looked around as if searching for the right words. “I need to… I should go.”
He rose quickly, turned to leave, turned back as he remembered he’d left his jacket, picked it up and stood a moment as if unaware of his surroundings.
“Want me to walk you home?” Napoleon offered.
Illya rolled his eyes. “Am not little girl. Is just two floors up.”
“Okay. See you tomorrow? Peril?” Illya seemed to have withdrawn into himself again. He shook his head and left, leaving a bemused Napoleon staring at the closed door. Illya was flustered. Napoleon wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not. He smiled to himself. Illya just needed time to figure it out, if he hadn’t already. Problem was, what would he do about it?
Napoleon could only wait, he wouldn’t force the issue. If Illya chose to ignore it, so would Napoleon. As hard as it would be, he didn’t want to lose Illya’s friendship.
But that was for tomorrow. Tomorrow was another day.
So he was surprised by the familiar knock that came just as he’d decided to turn in for the night. Illya, apparently, had decided not to sleep on it.
Half undressed in pyjama pants and undershirt, he unlatched the door and stood aside, waiting for his partner to enter. Illya, dressed casually in tee-shirt and slacks, ambled inside and stood, waiting for Napoleon to lock the door.
Napoleon passed him, heading towards the kitchen. “Drink?”
“Tea. No, vodka.” There was a brief pause, before he said decidedly, “I’ll have tea.”
“How about tea with a splash of vodka?”
“How about splash of milk?” He needed a clear head.
“Coming right up,” Napoleon said, smiling.
After a couple of minutes, Napoleon came back with two mugs, placing one on the coffee table in front of Illya. He sat by his friends side, giving him a little space to make him more comfortable.
The silence between them was not as agreeable as it usually was. To fill in the gap in conversation, Napoleon said, “You’re lucky to catch me. I was just getting ready to go to bed.”
Illya winced and stood. “Sorry. I’ll go.”
“Sit down. I made tea, now.” Illya obeyed, sitting, but not relaxing, his long legs pressed tightly against the sofa, arms resting on his thighs.
Napoleon lounged back, trying to look more at ease than he felt. “You have some questions for me.” Illya nodded. They sat in silence for a few moments more. Napoleon pursed his lips. “Any time you’re ready,” he encouraged.
Illya studied his hands, twisting the bottom of his tee-shirt. He glanced briefly at Napoleon. “Don’t know where to start.” He picked up his tea, put it straight back down again. His fingers tapped restlessly against his knees.
Napoleon waited him out, heard the slow exhale of deeply held breath.
“How?” Illya finally asked.
Short and simple and not the question Napoleon had expected first, but one he had often given consideration to.
“How? I’m not exactly sure. It wasn’t anything you did or said, it just sort of crept up on me. One day I was looking at you as a friend, the next....” He shrugged, unable to put the feelings into words. Unable to say when he’d gone from wanting to blow Illya’s brains out, to wanting to fuck his brains out.
Illya’s grasp of English had seemed to have deserted him. “When?”
“When did I know?” That one was easy. “I was at a restaurant, having dinner with someone.”
The glower was back. “With him?”
Napoleon felt relief at Illya’s show of jealousy. “No. Long before then. Remember Julia? She was beautiful, an ex model. And smart, too, if a little light fingered. We had a lot in common.”
Illya nodded. “I remember her. She tried to steel my wallet.”
Napoleon smiled at the memory. His head cocked to one side, remembering that night. “We were in a restaurant, half way through our meal.” Napoleon looked off into the distance. “I suddenly found myself wishing you were with me, instead. Wishing you and I were arguing over what wine to have with dinner, whether to have the Bruschetta or the Insalata for starter, the fish or the steak for main.
“I suddenly realised how much I missed you when you weren’t around.” He frowned. “No, it was more than that. I wanted to be with you. Near you.” He laughed and the sound came out as a nervous squeak. “I really wanted to touch you.” He glanced at Illya. “I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been. I guess that’s why I needled you so much, trying to keep you at a distance. I didn’t want to risk losing you, or our partnership. So I kept my feelings, and my hands, to myself.”
Illya looked troubled. “I’m sorry.”
Not the answer he expected. “Why are you sorry? This is my problem.”
Illya shrugged. It was endearing the perplexed look on Peril’s face as he turned towards Napoleon. “So. What now?” Illya asked.
Napoleon considered his answer before folding his arms in front of his chest and regarding his friend. “Well, Peril, life is all about the choices you make. Simply put, you choose to do, or you choose not to do.” The little frown was still on Illya’s forehead. Napoleon went on, trying to explain. “If you’re not interested, I’ll understand. You just have to say ‘no’. We never have to talk about it again and I promise I won’t make you uncomfortable in any way and we can carry on working together, being partners, as if nothing happened. I’ll know where I stand. Life goes on.” He took a long steadying breath. “However, if you say—“
“Exactly, if you say ‘yes’—“
Illya turned to him. “No, no. I say ‘yes’.”
Confused, Napoleon narrowed his eyes at him. “No, you say ‘yes’?” It took two seconds, but at last the penny dropped – Napoleon’s features suddenly smoothed out as realisation hit him. He shuffled closer. “You’re saying ‘yes’?” Napoleon grinned inanely. “Oh, Peril, you don’t know how relieved I am to hear you say that, because if you’d said ‘no’, I really, really don’t know what I would have done. I know I said we could carry on working together, but being near you every day and not being able to, well you know, to touch, I don’t think I could have controlled myself and frankly—“
Illya held up a hand to halt the tirade. “Don’t make me regret it, Cowboy.”
Napoleon shook his head, still smiling. “Absolutely not.” He leaned in closer. “You will never, ever regret saying ‘yes’.” He lifted a hand to Illya’s face, now he was free to do so. “You’re sure you want this?”
Illya resisted rolling his eyes skyward, but didn’t resist the smile that curved his mouth. “I said ‘yes’.”
They stared at each other, Napoleon’s thumb fidgeting against Illya’s chin.
Impatiently, Illya wrapped one big hand around the back of Napoleon’s head and drew him in for a kiss that set Napoleon’s nerves alight, sparking with desire. He pushed closer, crushing their chests together.
After a few moments, Napoleon pulled away. Not too far, just enough to speak. “Wait. You know this isn’t just a passing fancy, don’t you.”
“Yes, yes.” Impatient, Illya pulled him back into the kiss.
Their lips had barely touched, when Napoleon broke away again, panting. “Wait, wait. I just want you to know how I feel—“
Illya shook him. “How you feel is killing me, right now. Plenty time to talk feelings later.”
Napoleon’s chest heaved, still trying to get oxygen into his lungs. “Give me a moment. I’ve only been thinking about it for almost a year.”
Illya huffed. “Then have wasted enough time.” Illya surged forward, pushing Napoleon onto his back and reclaiming his mouth.
Heat, warm skin, cool breath, hands slipping under his undershirt. His arousal rubbed deliciously against Illya’s until Napoleon thought he would expire from the sensuous frottage. Then Illya stopped, moved his mouth down, along Napoleon’s chin, down his neck, lower still, pausing to roll Napoleon’s undershirt up as he slid southwards, kissing each section of skin as it was exposed. Despite feeling the loss of his partner’s warmth, he watched, mesmerised, as Illya hastily loosened the string on his pyjama pants and tugged them down.
There was a moment’s pause as Illya regarded the tower of flesh that sprung up, before gathering it in his large hand. Napoleon hissed at the sensation of the calloused hand against sensitive flesh. Illya grinned wickedly at him and slowly lowered his mouth, licking a path from root to head, his flexible tongue laving around the column like it was the tastiest of treats.
Napoleon could only go along for the ride, as Illya slowly lowered his mouth down the length of Napoleon’s cock, till his nose was in his Napoleon’s pubic hair. He felt Illya’s thoat contract as he swallowed and had a moment to be impressed before Illya slowly pulled up, teeth lightly scraping, just enough to cause a frisson of discomfort, before teasing the glans with his tongue.
Napoleon, hands stretched back, gripped onto the cushion pillowing his head and closed his eyes as Illya swallowed him to the root again. Heat, suction, tongue curling around the head of his cock. It was too much, it was overwhelming. They should slow down, or it was going to be over before he could reciprocate.
“Peril, wait…Peril…oh! Oh, oh, oh, ooohnnngg…” Too late. Napoleon came, very hard and very fast. He hadn’t come that quickly since he was a teenager experiencing his first time. This was embarrassing. He looked down at Illya, who was looking up at him with a satisfied grin, as he licked his lips. “I’m sorry,” Napoleon said, in between labored breaths. “I don’t usually come that quickly. I swear.”
Illya raised himself up onto his elbows, looking fondly at Napoleon. He shrugged. “You were over stimulated.”
Napoleon chuckled, slowly shaking his head. “That, my love, is no exaggeration.” His hand stroked through sweat damp hair. “Come up here. Let me return the favour.”
Illya’s cheeks turned a rosy hue. “No need. I was over stimulated, too.”
“Oh, Peril.” Napoleon laughed so hard, he thought he might never stop. He pulled at Illya’s hair, drawing him up to lay beside him. He shuffled onto his side, till he was facing him, almost nose-to-nose, and wrapped an arm around his waist to stop him from tumbling off the side of the sofa.
They regarded each other in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Napoleon combed Illya’s hair off his brow and tried to keep a silly smile off his face. He leaned forward to kiss Illya, and his friend had to clutch onto Napoleon to keep from sliding off the sofa.
Napoleon smiled. “We need more space.”
“Bed,” Napoleon agreed.
They quickly stripped and showered, finally slipping naked between the cool sheets as if it were an everyday occurrence.
Illya turned on his side, one hand tucked endearingly under his head. “Are you going to sleep?”
“I’m exhausted.” And he was. Napoleon had spent the last few days avoiding Val, the last few hours worrying over his friend, spent time despatching Val and arranging for his ‘disposal’ and most of the evening fretting over and attending to Peril’s injuries. And – most memorable of all – had just had an amazing, if unexpected, orgasm wrung out of him. He felt he could sleep for a week.
Illya looked disappointed. “Huh. I’m not impressed by your lack of stamina.”
Napoleon opened one eye. “I’ll remind you that I was on my way to bed when you called by. Your timing could have been better.” Napoleon shifted, moving Illya’s limbs around till he had him half draped over his body, his head resting on Napoleon’s outstretched arm. “Besides, we have all morning. And the rest of the week. And month. And… ad infinitum.”
Relaxed at last, Napoleon closed his eyes and snuggled into Illya. “Mmmm.”
As Napoleon felt himself subsiding into sleep, Illya said, “Napoleon?”
Napoleon, who was really too tired for conversation, simply said, “Uh-huh?”
Illya hesitated. “What does this mean?”
Napoleon opened his eyes, wanting Illya to see the truth in them. “It means that I’ve wanted this a long time. And this makes me very, very happy.” He refused to use the ‘L’ word, worried that such a declaration might send Illya running to the hills. He hoped his friend – now lover - would read the depth of his feelings in his simple statement.
Apparently Illya did. He gave a crooked smile and closed his eyes. Napoleon did likewise, till Illya spoke again. “Napoleon?”
“What if Waverly finds out?”
Napoleon opened his eyes to see Illya staring intently, a small frown bisecting his brow. “Waverly was educated in a British public school. I doubt there’s anything that can surprise him.”
He closed his eyes again, and after a moment’s silence, Illya said, “Napoleon?”
Inwardly, Napoleon smiled, fighting the lethargy of impending sleep. “Hm?”
“Why is it called a blow job, when you suck?”
Napoleon’s hand tightened against Illya’s waist, as his shoulders shook with mirth. He leaned forward resting his head against Illya’s. “Oh, Peril. Why ever did we wait so long?”
Illya, apparently satisfied, rubbed his cheek against Napoleon’s shoulder. “Goodnight, Cowboy.”