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Wanting Too Much

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Wanting Too Much

Napoleon wanted too much. Too greedy, too opportunistic, too stupid to just pick one and go with it. With a sigh, he grabbed a glass of champagne from the tray that was going around and sipped it.

He was a thief, true enough, and lived on the wrong side of the law, but his shades of grey went only so far. Some of the others in the underground world had much, much darker shades that went far beyond his. He normally stayed with people in his own shades and didn’t drop too far below.

His greed, however, had placed him here tonight, and he was kicking himself for not remembering well enough what it would be like.

The underground auction of the deepest, darkest secrets, invitation only by confirmed dealings with people who had secrets to hide and assurances of no law. The order kept was their own as the organizers ruthlessly enforced the boundaries and sales – and took twenty percent of every sale. It was worth it for the sales of things not meant to ever come to light, and the prices people would pay for them.

The buyers and sellers were dressed up, treating it like a gala affair. Some went masked. Most did not, knowing that each person there was like them, dealing in the dark depths and enjoying the ability to be free about their vices.

So far up for sale had been some of the usual black market items, things stolen and rare, collector’s pieces that could never be displayed, except like this. Weapons, both large and small. Rare and dangerous animals, for either pets or fighting rings. Drugs, in lots or as samples. People. Services of kidnapped scientists, chemists, artists... and slaves of beauty, youth, or danger. For prostitution, experimentation, or fighting rings.

Napoleon had forgotten the range of things that would be for sale. He thought nothing of the art and goods, didn’t blink an eye at most of the weapons, shrugged at the drugs, grimaced at the animals... and fought not to reveal how much he disliked the slave sales.

People. Up for sale just like the art he had stolen. Only these were not drawings, paintings, made of canvas and oil and frozen in time forever. They were human beings just like all others, crying, screaming, disconnected from reality, all too aware of reality.

Death was nothing new to Napoleon, having seen it before he left home and then even more when he came overseas for the war. People died, some for the war, more from disease, and other less noble causes. Napoleon had dealt out death himself, and seen it strike by his side indiscriminately. But there was more than death out there and things no person should experience. He’d been part of the occupying forces staying for years after the war, cleaning out the concentration camps, tracking down the hidden Nazis... and their caches of looted art.

Art, in the midst of terror. Things that had been more precious to their masters than people. While the Nazis had been putting people in concentration camps and starving and killing them for simply thinking differently than they liked, they’d been collecting art and things that they wanted for their own.

It made Napoleon sick, the contrast of value. He also thought it was stupid and yet another example of the follies of human beings... and easier to stomach in some ways. So he turned his hand to the art, robbing it of its significance by turning it to money. Money in his hand, goods for trading, things that made life easier.

The challenge was also something different – finding the best, finding the ways to sell them, getting them through the ranks without his superiors noticing, thumbing his nose at the system. There were others like him, disillusioned and disgusted... and others who just wanted money. He’d found his way into the darker waters and did well there, carefully rafting the eddies between the dark and the light and making a name for himself.

He worked with fences, people who could sell what he brought to them. He worked with forgers, those who would take what he had and make wine of the water, duplicating one into loaves to pass out. He worked with customers who learned to ask him for particular items.

He did not work the auctions. Not normally. Not these. When they were art alone, then he’d come out with his cache of goods, relocated from the Nazi caches, hidden in various places because he knew the value of rationing while at the same time striking while the iron was hot. But the mixed auctions... he generally avoided those.

Too greedy. Wanting too much. Napoleon had made his way through the occupation and did his research and followed the clues to find hidden treasure – art that had been looted, sorted through, and the best to be brought to Hitler himself. He had quietly relocated some of it – that which he could get out in the time he had. And the most valuable of those, he had put out feelers to see what he could sell it for. The results had come back with the eagerness of fish coming up for chum, overwhelming him with the possibilities and speaking to his own greed. Instead of picking a buyer and selling to one, or sending it through a fence, or waiting for a special auction, Napoleon had put it on the black auction. It had been a suggestion from one of the potential buyers, who had been amused to see Napoleon’s dilemma of trying to choose but wanting the most he could get.

And so now he was here with his Angel to be sold as one of the highlights, with at least twelve people who were here special for it, mingling with the other guests and casually bidding on other interesting things that came up.

Interesting things. Like the child who had been sold.

Napoleon gulped the rest of the champagne and then traded the empty for a full.

He didn’t know children’s ages, but she’d been young. Too young. Pretty, blonde, dressed in silk and velvet and an empty look in her eyes that haunted him still.

She’d been placed up, bidding had been quick and heavy, and sold before Napoleon absorbed what was happening. There had also been others... but the child was who he couldn’t forget. He knew such things happened, and fairly regularly. The soldiers often traded their military supplies for sex from the locals and some of those fairly young. But that was a choice, even if not one he approved of. Okay, probably not all of it by choice either. But he couldn’t do anything about it, like he couldn’t do anything about this, and so he normally chose instead to stay away and not be involved. If he couldn’t do anything about it, he could at least not condone by his presence.

He hoped his painting would sell soon so he could leave.

And there it finally was. With a sigh of relief, he turned to the stage and watched as they brought the Rembrandt up to show the potential buyers.

All twelve of the ones he’d known about plus several others all bid on it, the price going higher and higher until Napoleon started to worry if he would actually make it out with his life – somebody else perhaps wanting the money and valuing his life rather less than he himself did.

It finally sold, and Napoleon breathed a sigh of relief. He wandered over to congratulate the winner – one of his marks, though not the one who had steered him to this auction. The winner was happy about obtaining it, less so at the price. He suggested Napoleon might make it up to him by offering some of the other items he had as exclusives, rather than auctions. It wasn’t a bad idea, considering how disturbed Napoleon was at this one, and they dickered for awhile, cautious about details while still making arrangements. Others kept interrupting as well, wanting to meet the person who had obtained the rare painting and wondering if he had more.

If it wasn’t for the other things, Napoleon would have considered this to be a very good night. Money, that he would hopefully make it out alive with, new contacts, and future sales. Pretty good alcohol as well. Considering the possible issues, he periodically put in some bids on other interesting pieces that came up, mostly jewelry or smaller portable items. He was curious about some of the new weaponry too. He didn’t win them all, but enough that there was a chunk taken out of his winnings that would hopefully make him less of a target.

As the night wound down, there was a disturbance in the back, before they brought out another person. He was naked and shackled both hands and feet yet still struggling. There was an unsteadiness that suggested he was also drugged, and blood streamed from several places on his body that they hadn’t bothered to clean up.

The unusualness of it drew everybody’s attention. Most of the people sold had been... well, they hadn’t been like this.

Napoleon’s attention also was riveted. The man was tall – he thought probably taller even than himself when standing straight. Caucasian, the pale white skin of northerners who didn’t see the sun much, though his face and hands were slightly darker than the rest of him. Blonde, all over, from top to middle though darker in the middle. And gorgeous. Napoleon liked art, and this man was that. Strong, with finely honed muscles and well proportioned all over. He couldn’t get a good glimpse of the irises of the eyes through the drugged pupils, but he thought they were blue. From what he could tell, the man was young – older than a teenager, and finished growing, but still in that prime of condition and peak of youth of early 20s. About Napoleon’s age, probably. The man would not stop struggling. Drugged, shackled, bloodied, but not beaten. Not yet. Too many of those who had been on that stage before had already given up. This one had not.

The proprietor of the auction came forward with a grin. In French, the language of the trade, he regaled the audience with the details. “Here, we have something special for you all, something not on the original list. What we have is unusual and rarely seen out here. You will want to pay attention to this unusual specimen – a live KGB agent.”

Murmurs went through the crowd and some of the ones who had bought for laboratories or fights drifted forward with interest.

They went on to describe how he was caught breaking in and how long it had taken to subdue him, detailing his physical condition and his prowess.

Napoleon listened with half an ear, distracted by watching as the man stopped struggling... and the way his hands twisted to catch at his chains. The two men holding him relaxed after a minute, and that was their last mistake. The agent twisted his body, bringing them down. He drove his elbow into one man’s neck and they could all hear the crunch of cartilage and bone in the sudden hush in the room. The other he grabbed the gun from with his chained hands.

Before anything else could happen, two popping shots rang out and darts appeared on both sides of his body. The man crumpled down over the body of his victim, the gun dropping out of his hand.

The audience had briefly posed to run but things had happened too quickly and they relaxed again as he fell. They resumed their conversations and their drinking.

The body of the dead guard was hauled out and the second guard slunk out in shame. Two new guards replaced them, even though the man was now unconscious from the darts. The men with the tranquilizers reloaded and stood ready again. The tranquilizer guns themselves were part of the weapons that had been up for sale earlier – a new invention of a New Zealander for use with wildlife but quickly recognized by the underground as potentially useful for other reasons and brought over for the auction.

After that pause, the bidding started. It was going in fits and starts – even the bidders weren’t quite sure about this one – but it was going. The main people bidding were those who were looking for people to experiment on, whose research was quite illegal and dangerous. The ones with the fighting rings had bowed out, recognizing that here was one who would not fight to their tune.

Napoleon felt the ground going out from under him. He hated this, hated it. And this brave man would soon be sold into something worse than death.

Quiet now in unconsciousness, the man was held up by the guards so the bidders could see what they were bidding on. His chest still rose and fell, so he was still alive... for now. The blood from his wounds smeared over his pale skin and made patterns on the floor. His head dangled down, limp and swaying every time the guards shifted.

He was still beautiful.

The room was silent for a long moment, and the auctioneer to call the final bid.

Napoleon heard his voice call out a bid, a third over the last.

Heads turned to look at him.

If he could have turned to look at himself, he would have too. What had he just done?

The proprietor raised an eyebrow at him. “Going into a new line of work?”

“Same one,” Napoleon said with a smirk. “He’s really quite... magnificent, isn’t he? Quite the work of art. Having let one lovely piece go, I feel the need to acquire another.”

There was a general feel of amusement and speculation as the people in the room reevaluated both the possible uses one could have for such a specimen, and also Napoleon himself. Internally, Napoleon cringed. Externally, he held his smile and let it deepen as the looks continued. “I trust the shackles will accompany him.”

The feel of amusement deepened. They all believed him out of his depth with this one. Well, Napoleon thought he was too, so he was in complete agreement.

There were no more bids. The increase had been enough and the other bidders amused enough that they let him have it. Have him. Have a person. Napoleon had just bought a human being.

That was the end of the auction. The party started breaking up as those who hadn’t bought anything left, and those who had, along with those who had sold items stayed behind to sort themselves out and settle up.

Well, nobody would be murdering Napoleon for his auction winnings this night. Humans still weren’t anywhere worth the value of old oil on canvas, but what with his other purchases, this last one had made him not quite the same sort of target anymore.

How was he going to get him home? Where was he going to take him? What was he going to do with him?

He was going to have to sacrifice his cottage – there was no way he was going to stay where the underground knew the location, but he had to have someplace for them to take the man. It wasn’t like Napoleon could drag him through the streets by himself. Within the next few days, he and his things would have to find a new place to stay. After he dealt with this problem. With an internal sigh, Napoleon went to go bargain for transportation with security, the shackles plus installation, and bandages for the wounds before his new slave bled to death.

--

The first indication Napoleon had that his new slave was conscious was the sound of destruction. His pencil skittered across the page and tore a hole in the paper, mimicking the sounds from the other room.

Wincing, he grabbed his army gun and walked into the parlor. To his relief, the shackles holding the man to the floor were still secure and holding tight. To his dismay, there had apparently been enough slack in them and enough objects close enough that a small tornado had flown through the room. He looked at the opposite wall in sheer pain.

“That was a genuine Cézanne!” Napoleon walked over to inspect the damage. The stool had ripped a huge tear in the canvas and knocked off much of the paint around it. Putting the gun on the side table, Napoleon touched the rip lightly, running his fingers over it. Then he sighed. The war had seen a lot of destroyed artwork, but once they got into his safe house, they were supposed to be safe.

There was a loud growl behind him. Napoleon winced and turned around. “I’m sorry, but it was!”

The KGB agent was yanking at the shackles, trying to tear them from the floor. His gaze on Napoleon was angry and fierce. If looks could kill, Napoleon would have been dead already.

Earlier, when they’d brought him home, Napoleon had instructed the loaned guards to put the unconscious man sideways on the floor. He’d done it so the hands and feet would stay together and not be spread apart, but he was starting to think that might have been an error as it had too much slack in the position. Shackling to the wall was unthinkable, what with the weight of an unconscious person dragging his wrist shackles into the skin and arms forced to the limits of their sockets. The spread apart position on the floor was just so undignified, Napoleon couldn’t ask for them to do that. But he wasn’t about to let the agent be loose until he could talk to him, so he’d settled for the sideways position. The loaned guards, of course, had thought he wanted the man sideways for a different reason that Napoleon blushed to think about. He hadn’t bothered correcting them.

“Look,” Napoleon said hurriedly, “I’m sorry about the shackles! I really am. But you killed that guard with your bare hands! I didn’t want to risk you waking up violent. Er... well, violent and loose.” He dragged his hand through his hair, heedless of his combing. He was making a mess of that. “I don’t want you! Um, I mean, I’m not going to keep you. The shackles are just... I didn’t want to die.”

The man stopped yanking at the chains and paused, staring at him. His eyes were definitely blue, but they were also still somewhat dilated.

“You’re still drugged,” Napoleon realized. “Well, I guess that’s to be expected. I don’t know what they had you on before, and then being shot, and then the tranquilizers too... I didn’t really think you’d be awake before now.”

“Tranquilizers are for animals,” the man rumbled out in very thickly accented English.

Napoleon abruptly realized he’d been rambling in English. He’d forgotten to switch to Russian. Well, apparently the agent spoke it, so hopefully that was okay. “Um, well, yes, but that’s what they shot you with at the end, after you killed that guard.” Hesitantly, he tried to translate that into Russian, but he wasn’t so sure about all the words.

The man’s eyebrows went up at the translation. His brows were a darker blond than his hair, but they still blended in with his fair skin. “Military tried tranquilizers.” He continued in the same thick English, not switching to Russian. Which Napoleon figured was just as well since his was incomplete. Maybe his translation hadn’t done so well. “Do not work unless dosage is exact. Problems and overdoses common.”

Napoleon blinked. “You okay?” he asked hesitantly. He hadn’t even thought of that, but it made sense. The man looked okay, though. Well, not overdosed, at least. He wouldn’t have woken up if that had been the case. Napoleon was very glad he had.

The man looked at him funnily, then he turned his attention to the bandages on his arm and side. “You are odd slave buyer.”

“I’m not...” Napoleon said helplessly. “I’m an art dealer! I was there selling a painting. They were going to kill you. Well, they were going to do... things to you and then kill you. I couldn’t... There was a child... I just... I’m not a slave buyer! Well, I bought you, but...”

Breaking off, Napoleon closed his eyes and counted to ten silently. When he had a bit of composure regained, he opened his eyes again. “Okay, look. I’m not planning on keeping you. I didn’t want you to wake up and kill me, so that’s why you’re still shackled... and I’m not about to get any closer – I saw the way you killed that guard, and you have no reason to believe me or not kill me, and I’m not taking any chances. But the shackle keys are right here,” Napoleon gestured to a bowl on the side table under the ruined painting, “and there are clothes beside you... or there were clothes beside you – you’ve knocked them around a bit. I couldn’t quite go out shopping, but those should fit you at least well enough. I’ve got some things I have to finish up, but when I’m done, I’ll toss the keys within your reach and you can... you can do what you want to after that.”

With a frown, the man turned to look around him until he saw the clothes nearby. Napoleon had covered him with a blanket too, but that had been knocked off in the struggles as well. “US Army?” the Russian agent asked, suspicious.

Napoleon’s old army pants were the only thing he had that were flexible and big enough to fit the larger man. “I’m not in it anymore. They’re... they’re what I had that could fit.” He gestured at his own slacks, “My tailored pants wouldn’t work for you.”

There was a bit of silence. “Very strange slave buyer.”

“I’m not—” Napoleon cut himself off and gritted his teeth. He counted to ten again. “Look. I really do have something I have to finish. I have to do it while I remember, and I don’t have another place to stay other than here until I can clear my things out. I’m just going to finish it, then I’ll give you the keys and go. Just...” he looked a little helplessly at the bound and shackled man on his floor. “Just hold on a bit longer, please.”

Running his hand through his hair again, he walked into the kitchen, resolutely not looking back at the man. He got a glass of water, drank it down, then poured another and sat down at the small table. He flipped the sketchbook to a new page, trying to focus again. It was hard to. Earlier, the man had been a force of nature, uncontained and savage and magnificent in his fight to live. Now... he was also intelligent, rational, spoke foreign languages, and ... and had beautiful blue eyes.

Napoleon was such a fool.

With a sigh, he flipped the page back to see where he’d been, then went to the new one and started again.

--

His mind was full of sketching, full of remembering, focusing as much as he could because the details were hazy. He reached out for the water while he tried to remember more, but the glass was empty.

With a sigh, he ignored it and went back to his task. He didn’t want the interruption to go to the sink right now.

Beside him, a full water glass was set down. Napoleon reached out and drank from it without looking up, murmuring an absent thank you.

Then he paused.

Slowly he looked to one side... and saw a lot of pale skin next to him. Wrenching his eyes from where they were at, he looked up and up. The Russian was looking down at him, at the sketchbook he’d been working on.

Yelping, Napoleon jumped back, knocking the chair and himself over in his scramble to get away.

The very much not-shackled and also not-very-dressed man picked up the sketchbook before the spilled water could get on it. With a scowl at Napoleon, he walked to the sink and grabbed a towel to wipe the table with.

“I left you clothes,” Napoleon said weakly, slowly picking himself up while keeping a good distance between them.

The man slanted a look at him. “Dressing compromises hands and movement while putting on. Did not know you were so... focused.” He sat down on the other chair and opened the sketchbook. He set Napoleon’s gun beside it, on the far side from Napoleon. The gun Napoleon had forgotten all about. Oops.

“But at least the shorts?” Napoleon couldn’t help but ask. He tried very hard not to think about the bare bottom on the wooden chair.

The man snorted and flipped through the pages and then paused. He turned the book sideways to look at the drawing that went over both sides.

Napoleon felt his face flush hot. He’d been using his normal sketchbook, not a new one, and that particular drawing... She’d been lovely, and loving and her skin had been soft and her breasts a delightful handful and her hair a curtain of silk. And not wearing not much more than the man was now.

Turning the book the normal way again, the Russian flipped to the end and started going backwards through the book instead of forwards until he came to Napoleon’s recent set, then quickly worked his way until he got to the first of that set.

He studied it for a long time, and Napoleon’s heart rate slowed down enough for him to make his way closer until he was looking over his shoulder at it. The man didn’t seem to be disturbed by Napoleon’s presence there.

“This is your child,” he said softly.

“Um, well, not mine...”

“The one you were thinking of when you bought me,” he clarified impatiently.

Napoleon looked at the drawing and sighed. “Yes. I’d forgotten the auction was going to... she was sold before I realized it. They just... sold her. Like one of my paintings. He bought her like it was nothing.”

“The buyer?”

Napoleon reached carefully around the exceedingly dangerous naked man sitting at his dining room chair and flipped the page.

The next page had a sketch of the buyer, along with notes about everything he could remember about the man. He’d gotten it fairly detailed, having had a lot of chance to study him through the rest of the auction, wondering just what sort of a person could do that.

There was a very satisfied sound from the man, a hum of approval. He touched a finger to the page, reviewing the information.

Involuntarily, Napoleon felt himself react to the approval. He liked praise, especially when it was deserved. Even if this was a really weird circumstance for it.

The next page showed a woman. “The seller, I think,” Napoleon said. “I wasn’t so sure, but... the buyers and sellers often would talk to each other after transactions. I wasn’t near enough to hear details.”

Another page, a different man, older, with intelligent eyes and a gaze that said he’d calculated every avenue and only found despair in all of them. Another person sold. The next pages, his buyer and seller.

Napoleon had sketched out as many as he could with what he remembered. He hadn’t always seen, being in conversations or the other side of the room, or just in a bad position. But he tried his best. Some of the drawings were detailed, some bare outlines. Where he could remember things, he noted them down too. One of the buyers had been a man wearing a half mask that made recognition hard. So instead he’d concentrated on what the man had wearing other than the mask – his clothes, his jewelry, the unique ring and the antique stickpin. Napoleon’s eye for those was pretty good.

There was the page with the line and the rip through it.

The page after... the man made a sound of surprise and Napoleon found himself blushing again.

Naked but standing strong and tall on the stage, his hands shackled but his bearing unbowed, his anger fierce, as he had been.

“Red Peril?” the man asked about the caption Napoleon had written over the drawing. Napoleon wasn’t sure, but he thought he sounded amused.

Napoleon coughed. “Yes, well... it seemed appropriate. They said you were KGB, captured breaking in.”

The man stilled most of his body, though his finger tapped on the sketchbook. “Mistake.”

“You’re not KGB?”

He chuckled, a low, dark, dangerous sound. “I am.” The tapping continued, appearing more agitated.

Napoleon took a careful step back, remembering the elbow to the throat of the guard.

The KGB agent turned slightly so he could see Napoleon, his gaze sardonic at Napoleon’s obvious caution. Yet at the same time, he was relaxed, as if what Napoleon did was no concern of his. “It was my mistake to my capture. I...” he hesitated, then spread his fingers out upon the table, stopping the taps, “took too long unlocking outer door. Mistimed entry and guard patterns. Stupid mistake.”

Napoleon felt his heart racing though he wasn’t sure why. The agent wasn’t threatening him, at least not directly. But the weight of attention was focused on him and it was... intense. He swallowed, forcing himself to the words he’d heard instead of the things he could only feel. “Locks can be tricky. Get one tumbler wrong and you have to start all over again. Some of them need special tools too, and if they’ve been set to alarms or traps... It took me awhile to learn all the different types and how to quickly recognize them. Each approach has to be slightly different.”

The man’s attention focused even more sharply as Napoleon spoke, listening to his words and evaluating him, calculation evident in the clear blue eyes. They weren’t as dilated as before, the pupils more of a normal size. Pale eyelashes framed the eyes perfectly, complementing the fine pale skin. Only a bruise on the left cheekbone, a slight red scrape in the center of the bruise, marred the smoothness on his face. His hair was the rich blonde of a gold mixed with an alloy to make it stronger. He was truly beautiful. Napoleon’s fingers itched for the pencil and his notebook again.

“Art dealer,” the agent said, amusement in his voice.

Napoleon cleared his throat and looked away. “Yes, well...”

With a chuckle, the man returned his attention to the sketch book and flipped it forward. The next page wasn’t a buyer, but more sketches... the hands, clenched around the chains while the body rested in deceit. Though had Napoleon really had to sketch in such detail the waist area directly behind the hands? The placement and angle had meant that certain... parts... were also sketched... Napoleon felt his cheeks heating again.

“If they had been as observant as you, I would be dead,” the man observed.

Napoleon wasn’t sure how to react to that, so he didn’t.

Going on were more pictures of the man. Unconscious on the platform, sprawled out undignified over the floor, yet even that showing his strength and perfect condition of his body... other than the blood running over his skin. Then, at Napoleon’s, with the blanket tucked over him and the shackles almost hidden other than the chains threading under at the far edges of the sketch. There, he looked almost peaceful, if such a thing could be possible. Another picture, back to the beginning again, when he was awake and defiant, focus of the sketch on his face and the way he’d challenged the world.

Written around the sketches were, like the other pages, the scant details Napoleon knew about the man.

The next pages were crowd shots of the auction and the crowds, with other things up for sale. Then individuals resumed, recapturing some of the sellers and buyers, with more notes.

The agent quietly went through the whole of the sketches, then back again to the start. He didn’t dwell on the ones of him, but he didn’t skip over them either.

When he was done, he leaned back in the chair and regarded Napoleon. “What were you planning to do with these?”

Napoleon hesitated, then he righted the chair he’d knocked over and sat down on it. This way, at least, there was a slight expanse of table between them, and he could almost forget the other wasn’t wearing any shorts or pants. Or at least he could pretend. “I thought I’d take the sketches to the police with a note about it.”

“Not yourself,” the agent said dryly.

Napoleon flushed a little. “No, I wouldn’t take them in directly. But I know how to get them to where they need to be.”

The man shook his head. “Thought you knew the world. You only know part of it.” Before Napoleon could get a good bristling going, he expanded. “Police are bribed. They will do nothing.”

“I know they are generally, but for this... those are people being sold. People. Not things. Not art, not weapons, not drugs, not animals. People.”

The look leveled upon him was almost that of pity, though there was still an evaluating quality to it. “Will not matter.”

In some ways, Napoleon had already known that. But... “It should.”

The man directed his attention to the far wall and focused there for some time. Napoleon even looked, but no, it was still just a wall.

Eventually, he had to ask. “What’s your name?” Even just in his own mind, he couldn’t keep calling the other man ‘that gorgeous KGB agent that I bought at an auction’.

The light blue eyes returned to him. White teeth showed briefly. “Yours was fine.”

Napoleon blinked.

The man flipped to his picture again and put the tip of his finger on the caption. “Red Peril. Why not?”

Well, if that was all the name he was going to get, why not. “Okay, Peril.” ‘Red’ was too common. ‘Peril’ worked better. “I’m—”

The agent lunged forward and put a hand over Napoleon’s mouth.

Napoleon stopped speaking, broken off by both the sudden movement and the hand on his skin. Calloused hand, large, strong.

The hand was taken away and the Red Peril leaned back again. “Not good idea. Let’s see. American... Most common thing about America...” He studied Napoleon with a very slight curve to his mouth. Napoleon thought he liked that curve. “Cowboy. You’re American Cowboy.”

Well, it probably fit with his ‘Red Peril’, but Napoleon still grimaced at the new nickname. He didn’t live anywhere near the west and didn’t ride any horses. But still, the Europeans asked. The curve on Peril’s mouth turned a little more upward.

“You are very skilled,” the KGB agent said, approval in his voice. “These notes... very good.”

Just as before, Napoleon brightened. Weird circumstance or not, the sincerity of the praise was clear and Napoleon had put a lot of work into the sketches and notes. In his opinion, the compliment was well deserved, and he appreciated it. “Thank you,” he replied simply.

“I will rescue your child first.”

The agent had a way of making Napoleon flip from one extreme of emotion to another, and fairly often into bafflement as well. “What?”

Peril had his hand on the sketchbook, keeping it close to him. He shrugged. “My mission was for a scientist, to retrieve before he sold. Failed at that, but your notes... With your notes, I can complete mission. So I will rescue your child first, then mine. For your help.”

Napoleon didn’t doubt in the least that the KGB agent could do it – as long as no lock got in his way again. But... “What about the others?”

“Be content,” Peril replied with a frown.

“No.” Napoleon felt himself tremble and controlled his body, leaning back as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “No person should be sold, and they all need their freedom.” He was fairly sure he had a bargaining point. If Peril wasn’t already inclined that way, he wouldn’t have offered the rescue in that order in the first place. As KGB, his mission should have come first, no matter what Napoleon had done. That he would put the girl first meant that Napoleon could push it more.

Fingers tapped on the book, restlessly. “The more rescued, lower odds. Girl, yes. Scientist, yes. Others... not so good.”

The reality of the world sucked. Napoleon knew this, he did. But there was a chance here for something he’d not expected. “As many as we can, then.”

Eyebrows snapped down, flattening the eyes and narrowing the gaze. “No we. Just I.”

“We,” Napoleon said confidently. “I am very good with locks, can move quietly, won’t get in your way, and can help. I have made my way into many of Hitler’s caches, and learned to deal with more hazards than you would imagine. Finding deadly traps is a specialty of mine, and disarming them. Dodging Nazi guards, and keeping time without a watch. I am good at what I do, and while I don’t know what you do, I assure you that I can hold my own in a break-in. Also, if you’re dealing with people, I can help there too. How were you planning on getting the child out?” Not that Napoleon would be that much better with a hysterical kid, but he wasn’t going to say it. “If we both go, the odds go up.”

The Russian had been listening, not commenting, but not automatically dismissing what Napoleon had said. He did say, “Unless you make mistake.”

“Or you do,” Napoleon countered, secure with the knowledge Peril had given him. Of the two of them, he hadn’t been the one captured.

He was treated to that very intense evaluating stare again, eyes drifting over him, flickering at every point. Most of the time, when Napoleon was looked at like that, it would mean a nice night of sex afterwards. This time, though,... well, Napoleon was still hoping he’d pass the test. He was confident he would and gave the Red Peril his best stare back. He was just as good as he’d said, and the other man had already had a taste of some of it. He really wanted to go along, and this was definitely better than the police. He smiled confidently as he returned the evaluating gaze.

Problem with returning the stare was that the other man was still sitting buck naked on Napoleon’s dining room chair, and he just couldn’t forget that fact. Sex wasn’t on the menu... but it was really hard not to think of dessert while eyeing that much skin. His gaze had a distinct tendency to wander away from the face, and he kept having to go up again. One would think with so much at stake that Napoleon could keep a better focus... but anybody who thought that didn’t have a glorious, naked KGB agent in their kitchen giving them an intense stare as if he was planning on crawling inside Napoleon’s body. Napoleon licked his lips at the thought.

“You are impossible,” Peril said with his lips curving again. “Cowboy.” He said the new nickname for the first time, as if he was trying it out, fitting it upon Napoleon to see how it wore.

To Napoleon’s surprise, it fit fairly well. Comfortable as an old pair of pants, settling on just right without any need for adjustment. Or maybe that was the person saying it. Napoleon couldn’t imagine anybody else using it. He responded to the first words. “Of course I am. And I assure you, I can do it.”

Peril’s eyes flitted around the kitchen, going from the framed art on the wall to the pieces of sculpture on the bookcase. “I believe you. Okay. You come along.”

With that decided, he stood up and went to the cupboards, rummaging through until he came back with a loaf of bread, the cheese wheel, and a knife. Still naked.

Napoleon noticed wryly that he hadn’t said anything about how many of the others they would rescue. Well, one thing at a time. And speaking of which... Napoleon got up himself and went to the family room. He noticed how Peril turned to keep him in view and switched his grip on the knife as Napoleon walked by the gun still on the table, but Napoleon carefully kept his hands and body well away from it and didn’t tempt fate. He wasn’t planning on shooting the agent – that would have been counter-productive.

The family room looked like a small tornado still, slightly worse even than when he’d been out here before. He wondered how he’d missed the side table falling over. That explained how the agent had gotten out of the shackles, though. Knocked the table over, keys fell to the floor, used... the blanket, it looked like, to reel them in close enough to grab and unlock the shackles. The agent was good. Napoleon may not have presented too much of a challenge, but still, that was pretty good.

Scooping down, Napoleon grabbed what he’d come out for and went back to the kitchen. The agent moved away from the doorway as he came back in. Napoleon noticed the gun had moved too, though he wasn’t quite sure where to. The bread and cheese were on the table and Peril’s hands were free.

Napoleon tossed the bundle at him. “At least the shorts,” he repeated from before. “If you’re going to eat my food in my kitchen...”

“Never knew Americans to be so prudish,” Peril remarked as he stepped to the far side of the kitchen, then drew on the shorts.

Napoleon watched him. The stepping back was obviously to give himself maneuvering room if Napoleon made any moves, and he managed to somehow use only one hand at a time to draw them up, leaving the other free at all times.

Even during the war, Napoleon had never had to be so careful. Training for a KGB agent must be some sort of special hell.

“You betray yourself, Cowboy,” Peril said softly as he returned to his meal.

Napoleon shrugged. “I don’t care.” They might be talking about the same thing, they may not be. Either way, he wasn’t a spy and he didn’t care to be as guarded as the other was. Or at least not to him. There might be things he could use in the future for other things.

Putting shorts on hadn’t really made a lot of difference to Napoleon’s interest. Sadly, it seemed to have focused it instead. He knew a little too well now what was under them. Ignoring it best he could, Napoleon stepped to the sink and got another couple of glasses of water, then rummaged for some apples that were still mostly good. He put them within reach of the agent, still careful not to get too close. There wasn’t really chance any more of Peril killing him out of hand – though killing in and of itself was still on the books – but the closer he got, the more wary the Russian was. It was polite to stay back some, and easier to watch.

The agent was both looking better and worse at the same time. He wasn’t as guarded or on the edge as he had been since he woke up, and his eyes were almost back to normal, but at the same time, that very relaxation made it apparent how tired he was. Napoleon remembered the blood all over the floor when they had first dragged Peril up there. It was less obvious with the bandages, but even some of those were showing red again. A drugged sleep wasn’t much of a real sleep, and it hadn’t been all that long either.

Glancing to the window, it was still full dark out. Napoleon had no idea how long he’d been working on the sketches, but in retrospect, it had probably been a few hours or more. His hand was stiff. Reminded of his own aches, he worked his hand, curling the fingers in while twisting the wrist, then opening them while turning the other way. His line of work required deft fingers and he trained to keep them that way, using techniques borrowed from musicians, dancers, and martial artists.

There was a weight of attention on him. Napoleon looked up to see Peril looking at him, watching his fingers move. He caught his breath and stilled his movements.

The agent raised his gaze and met Napoleon’s without words. Getting up from the table, the Russian put the rest of the loaf and wedge away and put his glass next to the sink. Then he stepped in next to Napoleon.

Peril was tall... Napoleon was used to being the tallest and biggest person in most rooms. He usually tried to keep people from thinking about it by being charming and smiling a lot, relaxing his body so that people didn’t see what was underneath – or looked at other things. The KGB agent was the opposite. He used his tallness, his strength, the violence that lurked just underneath. And even now... even when Napoleon was fairly sure killing wasn’t on the table – even now, Napoleon felt the power and the fact that he other could kill him at any moment.

He honestly wasn’t sure if he liked it or not. He wasn’t scared, but it raised his senses, heightened his awareness, made him hyper-alert to every move, every part of Peril that was near him. It was like breaking into one of the most dangerous caches, knowing that a wrong move could kill him, and yet the challenge and the thrill were too much to resist. It wasn’t even about the art, half the time, it was the challenge. That was this, all bundled up into a living being who stood before him. A very dangerous human... and a very challenging one indeed.

Peril lifted his hand and rested it on Napoleon’s chest, touching in what was less of an invitation than a command. Napoleon considered, but didn’t particularly want to say no, even if it would be the smarter thing to do. He raised his own hand to touch back.

The difference being that Peril was touching him over the top of Napoleon’s shirt, and Napoleon was touching bare flesh. Napoleon had originally been keeping his gaze steady with the other man, tilting his head up to meet his eyes, but when he touched flesh... he had to look. He’d been looking for the last hour. But touching and looking and feeling... The man wasn’t completely smooth – he had a fine layer of chest hair, also blonde and blending in but still noticeable to the touch. There were also some scars, which Napoleon had wondered briefly about when looking, and wondered again about while touching. The muscles of a man’s pectorals were firmer than a woman’s breast, and the nipples at the bottom, almost overlooked but still there. Peril’s light-skinned body made even his light colored nipples stand out. Napoleon’s hand traced them, curious and explorative.

“You did not touch.” Peril’s rumbling voice with the thick accent brought Napoleon’s attention back up again.

“Huh?” he said eloquently, not understanding. He was demonstrably touching now. Unless Peril meant he shouldn’t? But he wasn’t trying to stop him.

Peril’s eyes lidded over. “When you bought me. When you brought me here.”

When the agent was unconscious. Napoleon wrinkled his nose in disgust. “No.” He wouldn’t say it hadn’t crossed his mind – unconscious, the KGB agent wouldn’t be able to kill him, and there was all that lovely, beautiful skin... But no. He guessed it was obvious in how he touched right now, that it was his first time. He hadn’t even thought of that. How could he have known?

“Why?” Napoleon had to ask. Then clarified, “Why are you doing this?” For as close as Peril was right now, for as obvious as he was being... there didn’t seem to be a lot of desire on his part.

The taller man shrugged, the movement rippling his chest and making Napoleon’s hand move along his flesh as he did so. “You have not hidden your want.”

Well, that was very true. And interestingly enough, not something that most guys who weren’t into men usually noticed – men were very good at not seeing what they didn’t want to see. Napoleon guessed that a trained spy would be more observant than the rest. It still, though, wasn’t really a great reason for why Peril was pursuing this; he didn’t really seem like the type who would fulfil a stranger’s desires just because they were there. Napoleon kept his gaze steady and waited for more.

The corners of Peril’s lips turned up again in almost a smile. “I need to rest. Can’t have you wandering while I do. Best way to accomplish is sex, then sleep.”

“The things they must teach you in the spy world,” Napoleon mused. It was true, but not something he would have ever thought of. Well enough. It wasn’t like he would have believed any declarations of lust or love anyhow. This was a reason, and who needed much more to have good sex? He smiled in anticipation, giving his consent.

Peril leaned over and kissed Napoleon.

Apparently they also taught kissing in spy school.

Napoleon tilted his head for a better angle and let himself lean back slightly. He parted his lips and let the Russian invader in, welcoming him to his world.

Given permission, Peril did so. He shifted an arm around to Napoleon’s back to hold him securely. Amazingly enough, Napoleon trusted this barely known person to do so, to not let him go, and he relaxed into the hold.

He was giving back as good as he got, and while Napoleon may not have been trained in any school, he’d been trained in life, and he dared to say his kiss was as good as anybody’s. The rumbling sounds that were a little like purring coming from Peril seemed to indicate that he approved.

Napoleon’s hands were delighting themselves by roaming all over that bare, naked skin he’d been staring at for ages. Except for where the shorts were. Why had he insisted on shorts again? But the rest... oh, there was a lot of lovely, wonderful skin to explore.

On the other side, Peril’s hands were resting over clothes and not making a lot of advances. Content, seemingly, to let his lips and tongue speak for himself. At least for the moment.

After awhile, they wound down from the initial exploration and stepped back slightly to look at each other.

Napoleon was happy to see a flush upon Peril’s skin, and the way he licked his lips as if to chase after Napoleon’s taste. He flicked a glance down, and yes, the other man was definitely affected by the bit they’d been doing. There was interest there now.

“Your bedroom?” Peril rumbled, his already deep voice even deeper.

With an easy grin and a bounce in his step, Napoleon led the way there. The agent paused for a moment to regard the bedroom, looking at the paintings on the walls and the dressers within.

“This is... actually your place? Not a... safe house?” There was a note in there that Napoleon couldn’t decipher. Peril walked a circuit through the room, getting used to it. He flipped the curtains shut over the window and placed Napoleon’s gun on the side table. Napoleon hadn’t even seen him picking the gun up when they’d left the kitchen.

“A little bit of both,” Napoleon replied, not seeing any reason to hide it. “This seemed like a nice, central location to work from.”

There was a frown on Peril’s face when he turned back. “You need to hold things less closely.”

Napoleon flicked his gaze through the room. It wasn’t opulent, but it wasn’t austere either. “There’s no point not to enjoy them while they’re here.”

After a moment, the other man shrugged and gave one of his slight smiles. “Your philosophy.”

Napoleon’s smile was wider. “But of course.” To everything.

He stripped off his clothing, wanting to make a production of it, but the Russian agent wasn’t obliging by watching. Instead, he took the time to prowl some more around the room. The shorts went off faster than they’d gone on, and that was saying something. Now that he was allowed to look, Napoleon appreciated the view even more.

“You are beautiful,” he whispered, admiring the sleek muscles and gorgeous body, the way he moved like a cat... a dangerous one, but oh, so lovely. Absolute prime youth, the sort the Greeks would immortalize in marble, athletes racing nude against each other in the Olympics.

Peril turned to him, the corners of his mouth down in a frown. “Is that only thing to matter to you?”

Well, that was different. Napoleon took a moment to think about his answer. “I have seen both beauty and ugly both in war and after, and it is true that often beauty on the outside can hide ugliness inside... and an overlooked visage might conceal treasure more precious. But...” Napoleon looked to the paintings on his walls. “Art is. There is no inside to paintings and statues. What you see is what you get. And not everybody will like the same thing. The trick is to find the value and the one who values it and match them up.” He lifted his hand and then turned it over in the air. “Not everybody will love a Picasso, for it takes a particular person to see the art in it... yet many will buy for what it is. Yet almost everybody will love Botticelli’s Venus, for she is incredible in almost all expectations. The Romans carved so true to beauty that all admire them. Yet, the Etruscans before them carved people and gave them life.”

Napoleon shrugged. “You are beautiful. It is what it is, and there is no denying that, no matter what you might want. And yes, I admire beauty. If I had admired you from afar, and then you got closer and I saw something else underneath... that would be different. But... I don’t know what all is inside of you, but it is not ugly. So I’ll just keep admiring the outside too, thank you.” He longed to change the Russian from the Roman statue he saw before him into an Etruscan one. But he only stole art, he didn’t create it. He would take what there was.

A flash of pain came and went across Peril’s face. It made him look younger, and Napoleon realized that in any real world, a world without war, the two of them would still be in college. War changed everything.

“You do not know that,” the KGB agent said, referring to what was inside of him, his voice low. The face was back to neutral, but his hands trembled beside him.

“I don’t know,” Napoleon agreed easily. He thought he did, actually, with that same instinct that had saved his life so many times, but Peril didn’t want him to think that for some reason. Or maybe he himself didn’t believe it, which would be sad. Napoleon walked up to the dangerous predator, showing only confidence himself and reached up for a kiss.

His lips breathing over the other’s, he said, “I want this.”

Peril allowed the kiss, letting Napoleon take the lead in it. When Napoleon stepped back, the corners of Peril’s mouth turned up slightly. “Then have it.”

“I will,” Napoleon’s smile was brighter and more obvious. But before they got there... “By the way, do you catch or receive?”

The Russian blinked at him. “Are those not... the same thing?”

Napoleon’s lips twitched. Not everybody realized that so quickly.

With a low laugh, Peril shook his head. “Funny man. I... Baseball, no? I throw the ball.”

“Pitch,” Napoleon gave the term, lost in wonder at the laughter. He’d made him laugh. It was a small miracle in itself. “You sure? Receiving can be pretty nice.”

Perfect lips curved upward higher than they had before. “I am sure. Do you have English coats?”

“French letters, sure,” Napoleon agreed. Speaking of which... “They’re in the top drawer there, along with the Vaseline. I’ll be back in just a second.”

He was a little surprised when the Russian didn’t follow him into the wash room. But he guessed all things had their limits, even suspicion.

Peril took his turn after, with a wry glance in acknowledgement of some truths trumping others.

Napoleon sat on his bed and wondered what he’d gotten himself into. He wanted too much, and he was bad about controlling his wants. This time... this had definitely spiraled out of control. And yet, it wasn’t such a bad thing either. He’d bought a human being at an auction, and amazingly hadn’t been killed by said human being after he’d gotten loose. Instead, they were here about to have sex. Sex for practical purposes, sure, but it was still sex. He wasn’t about to turn that down. Take what there was for the moment, because all too often there were no other moments. He liked to give pleasure as much as he received it, because there was too much pain in the world already.

“You, also, are handsome.” Peril leaned on the doorframe and looked at him. This time, really, actually looked in such a way that was more than just evaluating him for danger.

Napoleon stretched out, raising his arms over his head and tightening his abdomen, showing that he, too, had muscles.

With a chuckle, Peril approached, looking as he came forward.

“I’m not usually this direct,” Napoleon had to say, just to get it out. Both his actions and his words. Normally he was more subtle than this, and didn’t reveal quite as much of himself with other people.

“You are good... art dealer,” Peril shrugged. “Know your target. I would not be happy with lies.”

No, no, that wouldn’t really be a good idea with the KGB agent. But that also meant that Napoleon’s truths were getting him something in return – a more open Peril. By revealing bits of himself, the other was slowly opening as well. It was fascinating and unexpected. Not that he’d expected anything from this to start with.

“I just wanted to sell a painting,” Napoleon whispered, still dumb-founded by what he’d done instead.

“Lucky for me,” Peril murmured, and reached out to Napoleon.

There wasn’t so much talk after that. Kissing, touching, gasps and moans, and the occasional laugh, but words were fewer and more to the point.

Despite Napoleon’s initial position on the bed first, they quickly switched around after some exploration, and Peril was the one spread out on the sheets with Napoleon moving down his body to seek and discover. It was his area of expertise, after all, and Napoleon loved doing it. Finding all the little areas that made the other gasp, and clench the sheets in his fists, and arch his back and moan for more. Napoleon made his own share of those as well, reacting to the reactions and growing ever more needful the more he went.

There were some obvious points that almost everybody loved – the neck, the junction with the shoulder blades... but there were other parts that were individual. Some people loved nipple play, others were indifferent. Peril proved to be mostly wondering why Napoleon was lingering there, though he didn’t complain. On the other hand, the inside of his arm ended up being a spot to slowly move up with tongue and gentle strokes until it was too much and the Russian grabbed back, hauling Napoleon up for more kisses before Napoleon moved down to seek new areas out.

Napoleon loved the kisses. Peril was good at the kissing, and when he grabbed and pulled him in... his strength was exciting. Napoleon could feel fingers digging into his skin and he was sure he was going to have some bruises come the morning but he didn’t give a damn about it. To be man-handled by a stronger man, and one who was excited by him... it was a heady sense of power along with everything else. As he explored, Napoleon periodically had to close his eyes and pause just so not to be overwhelmed with his own feelings. He was rock hard and it hurt in the most delicious fashion, but he wasn’t about to let the fun stop yet. Down the chest again, over the hard pectoral muscles, rubbing his cheek through the chest hairs... he had to pause and wrap his legs between Peril’s for a little bit of grinding together for awhile, needing the friction on his hardness, the rise of the passion before he could come down to the other pleasures again.

Men in the army were usually in good shape, though the war hadn’t usually allowed for more than quick contacts, a few hand jobs, rubbing against each other at night in the blankets to stay warm. Outside the army, Napoleon had had more women than men, flirting his way through the nurses, the secretaries, the society women, the wives... The men outside the army were less well defined. Peril... Red Peril, the KGB Agent, who was perfection itself and regarded it so little. Napoleon couldn’t help but take his time over the muscles on the glorious chest. The abdomen so perfectly divided in that way, three and three, a hand on each defined pack, rippling as Peril thrust up with his hips, unable to keep still while Napoleon rested between his legs and played with his body. Napoleon’s weight seemed not to make any difference as the Russian easily moved below him, seemingly not pinned at all.

A little further down... Napoleon got to the most obvious part that gave pleasure and lingered there for awhile. He had to put a hand down to stroke himself as well, aching with the need yet it was still too soon. He used his mouth and his tongue and his other hand and teased and pleasured but not too much. Peril placed a hand on the back of Napoleon’s head, fingers sliding through his hair, then took it off again after he’d started to tighten the grip. Napoleon appreciated the courtesy but missed the hand. His partner was mostly silent other than gasps, and it was not easy to tell on a first time if he was getting everything right. At the least, Peril didn’t seem to object. Not objecting at all, with how hard he was, and leaking at the tip. If his voice wasn’t saying so, then this part of his body was definitely revealing how much he was enjoying it.

Napoleon pulled off before it got to be too much – for either of them – and continued moving down. He liked legs. Most people ignored them, but he did appreciate them. From watching a lady’s trim figure with smooth legs encased in panty hose shown off below the skirts, to a man’s more muscular calves and thighs only rarely seen because of unrevealing pants. Peril’s legs were quite as nice as the rest of him, pure muscle and sinew, tendons tight and needing some love to relax. His legs were not unduly furry, if more so than his arms, and the blonde hair blended with his skin.

“Cowboy, stop wasting time,” the Russian peered down the bed at him, twitching his foot out of Napoleon’s grasp.

“You want me sleepy, right?” Napoleon countered. “If it’s over too soon, that won’t happen. This is not something that needs to be rushed through.”

It was hard to tell from the angle he had, but he thought that Peril looked confused. The other man didn’t reply, though, and Napoleon compromised and made his way up again. He only paused briefly at the middle and then again on the abdomen and chest. Back to the lips, where Peril joined enthusiastically in. Yes, Peril most definitely knew how to kiss. Napoleon moaned and wrapped his arms around Peril and pressed them close as they tangled on the tongues.

Interestingly, Napoleon was getting the impression that the Russian didn’t do this often. Not that he was a virgin, obviously not, and familiar with men as well as women, but the lingering... the joy in it. The having sex for fun and enjoyment and not just as a means to an end. Again, Napoleon had to wonder at KGB training... if Peril wasn’t doing it for the fun of it, then he shouldn’t be as experienced as he was. With him being experienced but not knowing the joy... Well, Napoleon would just have to keep showing him that part as well. Maybe to the benefit of future lovers down the line.

His mind made up, Napoleon took his time. He explored, he teased, he loved, he lingered. Skin on skin, sliding as the sweat built up between them. The fiery bursts of explosions as they ground against each other, pulling off before it got too far. The lips and tongues between each other and along their skin. Peril responded to it all, and slowly started to reach back for the same. His expression rotated between a cautious blank slate, bafflement, lust, and delight. His need grew stronger the more Napoleon lingered. Napoleon’s did too. It could have been done much sooner, but this slow build-up was winding them both tighter and higher the more it went.

Eventually, they were at that point where if they didn’t start preparing for the finish, it would overtake them before the apex. And while frottage and oral were delightful on their own, Napoleon really wanted the experience of having the large Russian in him, pounding with those muscles where it counted most. If they only had this once, then he wanted the most out of it that he could get. He’d been in lust with the other man since they had brought him out on the stage, and it had only increased as they had talked in the kitchen, and with the added components of intelligence and danger. The time in bed had only solidified both the lust and the want and the desire... this was a man that Napoleon wanted, so very much.

Napoleon broke away from their latest round of kissing and nibbling and stretched away from Peril, reaching for the jar on the dresser. In that moment of reaching, as he put a hand on the jar, there was suddenly a cold metallic point at his throat.

Freezing, Napoleon glanced back at Peril’s cold eyes. “The Vaseline?” Napoleon squeaked out, trying not to move much.

Peril’s eyes drifted over to the dresser. Then he got a very, very sheepish expression and the gun was withdrawn from Napoleon’s neck. “Sorry, Cowboy.”

Napoleon rolled onto his stomach and settled down with his head turned to one side. “Fine, you can get it. Don’t forget the French letter.”

Amusingly, the break and the gun had done nothing at all to lessen Napoleon’s desire. In fact, he was even harder than he’d been before and his body was wound up like never before. He’d always known danger was an adrenaline rush – he’d never known before how immediate it could be to his lust. Napoleon hoped, though, that he wasn’t going to be one of those people who couldn’t get off without that element of danger, needing it for completion. This was well enough for him, thank you.

There was a kiss placed at the back of his neck, surprisingly gentle and somewhat sweet. Then a momentary lapse before a warm body encompassed the whole of him; Peril lying down, covering him chest to back, kissing the cheek that Napoleon had uppermost, and hands drifting along Napoleon’s arms.

It was adorable and felt very, very good. If, sadly, a little too heavy. The pressure was good in one way as it pushed Napoleon’s hips down into the bed, giving him friction and a delicious sort of almost pain. He murmured something wordless from lips that chased the kisses too far to capture.

A moment more, then Peril lifted up again and moved to the side. Sounds indicated the jar being uncapped. Napoleon bit his lip in anticipation and then rose to his hands and knees, grabbing a pillow and putting it down by his hips in case his balance gave out before his companion did.

Napoleon had been a little worried that Peril’s lack of experience would mean less than perfect preparation, but it seemed that that part had been covered well enough in training. Even to the point of reaching in with his long fingers and twisting around until he found the perfect spot to press on.

Gibbering, Napoleon jerked, pushing his hips back into those strong fingers and demanding more, more... just more, please.

There was a low chuckle. “Nice to see you can break down, Cowboy. Was starting to wonder. So always in control... So cool while so hot.” One large hand curved around Napoleon’s hip, bracing him and holding him, while the fingers of the other quested inside.

Making a questioning sound in his throat, Napoleon resisted the impulse to turn his head to look. Instead, he bent his head down into his arms and waited for the more.

Peril obliged him with another wiggle and pressing, rubbing on that spot and making the sounds jerk from Napoleon’s lips and vocal cords again.

“Ah, Cowboy... You spent all that time winding me up... Finally, is mine. You... Never met anyone like you, Cowboy. Never.”

The words drifted in and out of English and Russian, but oddly enough enunciated well enough that Napoleon had no problems translating the Russian parts and putting it all together for the whole. At least for the meaning.

The Russian would probably not be very happy in the morning if he remembered all he was saying now. Napoleon moaned loudly, and reached between his legs to stroke himself, pleasure spiking through straight along the axis.

Time was lost to Napoleon, seconds, minutes, even the concept itself as he drifted along with pleasure, spikes and stretching and Russian murmurings accompanying it all. He couldn’t translate anymore so didn’t know what the other was saying. Heck, even if it was English, he may not have understood. There was only the moment and the next moment and the one after that.

He roused back to himself briefly as the fingers were withdrawn and there was a pause. Napoleon lifted himself up again on his arms, turning his head so he could see.

Peril was putting the letter on, coating it with more slick, stroking himself while his gaze was intently focused towards Napoleon. He met Napoleon’s gaze with equal heat and not a little bit of wonder. Moving forward, he cupped Napoleon’s head with one hand, holding him steady while he knelt down for another kiss, thrusting his tongue inside and commanding surrender.

Napoleon gave it willingly, wanting too much more to struggle.

Moving back into position, Peril lined up, holding himself at the entrance and waiting, his blue eyes capturing Napoleon’s in a question. Napoleon nodded. Words were still beyond him and he didn’t trust himself to try and speak. It was enough, though, and Peril pushed forward.

After only a little bit of it, Napoleon had to look down again, seeing only the sheets on the bed, closing his eyes even to that, too much work to keep his head turned, when every fiber of his being was focused only on the point where Peril was entering in.

He went in slowly, pausing periodically, stroking along Napoleon’s flanks, reaching up to touch the back of Napoleon’s neck, then drawing his hand down his back, leaning forward to kiss where he’d touched, then around to nibble at the edge. Sinking further and further in, but taking his time.

Maybe he’d learned Napoleon’s earlier lesson a little too well.

Napoleon grunted, pushing his hips backwards, trying to force more inside quicker.

Peril gasped, and the next movement jerked forward in a rush before he controlled himself and paused again.

It hurt, but it was one of those burns that said I live and wanted more. Fire was life-giving, and Napoleon wanted to be consumed.

Finally, they were there. Joined as far in together as was humanly possible. Their breaths both were harsh and loud. Napoleon could feel Peril’s upon his neck, the heat of his chest along his back, the powerful grip of his hands upon his hips.

Peril kissed the side of Napoleon’s neck again, teeth gently gripping without biting down. Then he licked the spot and kissed again. There was a pause while Napoleon almost wished he wasn’t so gentle. Being marked right now, to be owned, in such a different way than he’d bought the Russian... a more real way of the world. A mark wasn’t necessary for the moment, though.

With a grunt, Peril lifted himself up off Napoleon’s back and resettled his grip on his hips, then pulled mostly out and pushed in again. He did that slowly several more times, getting them both used to the motion, making sure the slide was smooth and not sticking or painful. Then he started moving faster.

Napoleon keened, whining out his pleasure in a sound that would be humiliating at any other time, but in this moment... it was all he could do. He pushed his hips back, meeting Peril’s thrusts and jolting with the impact each time. He was so glad he’d waited for this, not letting them settle for another type of pleasure. This was the intensity that he’d been looking for, with this man who had so oddly entered his life and was now in him as well. He wanted more, he wanted it all.

Panting with no words now, Peril’s thrusts were fast and hard and heated. Then they started to mis-time, not connecting at the same as Napoleon’s hips back, slower and more erratic. “Cowboy,” Peril grunted, his fingers digging in. One hand left its grip and reached under, the thrusts slower as his balance moved to accommodate.

When Peril’s hand found its target, Napoleon gasped, his arms sinking down, his face to the bed. Strong fingers stroked him from root to tip, gripping around and pumping, while he still had the stretch and burn inside. It was too much, and Napoleon came with a yell, muffled into the sheets. His body went limp, draping down with loose limbs sprawling.

Bringing his hand back around, Peril held him up, adjusting his grip to account for the lack of help from Napoleon’s body. Then he resumed the age-old rhythm, pushing in, pulling out, over and over again until he pulled in, held.... and then released.

Napoleon lay there for some while longer, his body curved up over himself and not caring about such little details as comfort. Not while the pleasure still drifted through him. He could vaguely feel the loss of warmth along his body, and he hissed as Peril pulled out.

The bed shifted. Napoleon didn’t care. A moist towel on his netherends, though, had him yelping a little – that was cold!

“Sorry,” a newly familiar voice apologized. Then towel and hand and voice all disappeared again.

With a sigh, Napoleon straightened himself out, stretching his limbs and wincing slightly but with that good sore feeling. There was a wet spot on the bed where he rested. He shifted over to avoid it.

“Roll towards the wall,” Peril crawled in on the outside.

Shifting over, Napoleon scooted past the wet spot again. Peril could have it instead. He was naturally a side sleeper, but with another person, he usually cuddled more. It depended on the person. As Peril curved his body around Napoleon’s they fit naturally together. Back to front again, with Peril’s large arm draped over and his hand loosely clasped around Napoleon’s forearm. His face in Napoleon’s hair and not seeming to mind.

Objective met. Napoleon’s mouth curved up as he remembered the original point to this, and knew it wasn’t going to be a problem now. He shifted again, aligning himself with the body next to his, then fell asleep.

--

Waking up with a full bladder, Napoleon found himself still in Peril’s arms. He smiled at the surprisingly cuddly nature of his new bedmate – not something he would have expected. Squirming his way gently out from the embrace, he quietly stood up from the bed and headed to the bathroom.

When he left, he almost ran into Peril, who was standing next to the small lavatory. With a yelp, Napoleon shifted to one side before he actually did. “Okay, I’m awake now.”

With a grunt, Peril slipped around him for his turn.

Shaking his head, Napoleon returned to bed. It was still dark out and they probably hadn’t had much sleep yet. When Peril got back, he again took the outside of the bed, nudging Napoleon over to the interior, and he wrapped his arms around him.

Very strange, this much cuddling. Napoleon stared at the ceiling, thinking. “That’s a warning method, isn’t it?”

“Hum?”

“You wake up if somebody leaves your embrace... and the point of this was so I wouldn’t go wandering off.”

“Go to sleep, Cowboy,” Peril grunted.

Napoleon noted that he didn’t exactly deny it. Spy training sure had some interesting things in it. Who even thought of these things? And then trained their agents for it? What sort of training had Peril gone through, to be so good at it now? Yet at the same time, so inexperienced? Well, life and school were very different things, for sure.

With a sigh, Napoleon curled himself up against the larger body again. He could pounder such things later. For now, rest was still good idea.

--

In the morning, after Napoleon had fixed them both some omelets for breakfast, they headed into town. Peril was wearing the clothes Napoleon had found for him the night before, and they fit relatively decently. He’d also dredged up some household ingredients that turned his nice blonde hair a darker muddy brown.

Napoleon rather enjoyed seeing Peril in his clothes. Not quite an ownership statement, and he winced at the comparison, but at least a bit of marking... a territorial thing that was primal and satisfying. He liked less the change of the hair color, but he did have to admit it was probably practical. The agent also did something to his walk so that he didn’t move like a sleek, skilled KGB agent ready to kill. It was rather disconcerting to watch – Napoleon had gotten used to the predator in his house.

After some prodding, Napoleon had given in to some of the necessity and dressed in some of his plainer clothes. Nobody would let him into a museum wearing those. Or a private party. Neither were on the agenda, though. It reminded him of being in the trenches and having no choice as to clothes or cleanliness. He also didn’t style his hair, letting it trail over his forehead in stringy locks. He’d put his foot down at anything more, though, despite some other suggestions from the agent. Napoleon suspected at least some of those, however, were simply made to get his goat up and not real. It was a little hard to tell with the dry delivery.

In town, they went to a merchant area that was somewhere between low-end and middle. “Do not speak,” Peril warned him, “Would leave you out if I could.”

Napoleon didn’t want to be left out of anything interesting happening. “Not a chance, Peril,” he replied with a grin. He rather suspected the Russian agent was still of two minds on bringing him along for the rescues, and Napoleon didn’t want to give Peril the chance to give him the slip. Complete reversal from the night before. “I won’t say a word,” he promised.

Acknowledging both statements with a grunt, Peril shook his head briefly, then they headed into a small bookshop that was run down and looked like it was barely hanging on. Most of the books were second or third hand, and showed the wear and tear of the war and refugees. Peril did a quick loop through the store with Napoleon at his heels, and then came back to the counter. His KGB bearing was back in full mode. The older lady looked at them dispassionately, waiting.

They exchanged a spate of Russian that was too fast and too far from schooled accents for Napoleon to follow very much. Also, an early glare from Peril discouraged him from showing any understanding he did have. Turning to the bookshelves, Napoleon started looking them over while trying as hard as he could to translate anything at all.

After some back and forth, the lady pulled a phone out from behind the counter and dialed a number. She spoke into it, with a slower and more standard Russian accent, asking for a person. Another look from Peril reminded Napoleon to not show any signs that he could understand anything and to make himself as invisible as he could. He slipped further into the stacks, moving to where he could see Peril and the lady, but it was harder for the lady to see him. As soon as he was in place, however, she glanced up at an upper corner of her store, revealing a mirror that she could still see him by. She covered the receiver with one hand and asked a question of Peril.

Peril turned to Napoleon and frowned at him for a long moment. Then he shrugged. “I will take the responsibility for him,” he said in the slower Russian, enough so Napoleon could understand. “I want him in my sight, but he is no threat.”

Bridling slightly at the ‘no threat’, Napoleon pulled out a book and gave no signs he’d understood anything said. But the message had been received loud and clear. He’d be no threat nor appear to be one while in the shop.

The phone commanded the other two’s attention again. There followed first a set of exchanges from the lady, then another small wait, and she handed the phone to Peril.

Speaking in clipped tones, Peril relayed what Napoleon thought was a summary of his capture and a modified version of an escape that didn’t involve a second person so much. The non-emotional voice and militaristic clip while delivering the news made Napoleon presume he was talking to a superior. Napoleon really needed to learn more Russian. He’d thought he’d been at least adequate, but that was apparently only if both parties were trying. For casual use... he needed more work. His ‘enough to get by’ wasn’t nearly enough for understanding all the nuances of what was going on. Though there was always body language and human standards to interpret the rest.

Peril stood straighter and straighter while he was talking, and he’d already been pretty well upright when he’d started. Now he was listening and his shoulders were solid rock, though there was a tick starting on the side of his face and the hand not holding the phone was starting to tremble, fingers tapping against his leg.

The lady behind the counter backed away, her eyes wary.

Even Napoleon knew better than to run from an enraged animal – it only focused their attention. He had to admit, though, that freezing wasn’t always the best method either when there was nothing else around.

Peril’s gaze snapped to the woman, then away again. He lingered briefly on Napoleon, then directed his eyes outside while his attention was still on the phone. He answered in monosyllables, several short Russian ‘nyet’ for noes, and not very many ‘da’ for yeses.

Finally, he nodded, then gave a final ‘da,’ and handed the phone back to the lady. She came cautiously to get it. Apparently, whatever doubts she’d had about this young man being a full KGB agent had been completely removed, and though she herself was apparently an agent, there was a difference between being a contact in a location and a deadly killer from the secret service.

She spoke to the other line, and listened, and nodded and enunciated many more ‘da’s than Peril had. At the end, she hung up and waited.

Peril took out the sheaf of papers that he’d cut from the notebook, giving her only the pictures that showed the buyers. Earlier in the morning, he’d sorted through the rest, but had given them to Napoleon to hold. Napoleon had taken the destruction of his notebook in good order, knowing he’d planned to do the same himself with his original plan.

They were back to the rapid-fire, accented Russian now while they were speaking. It must be a regional dialect and it was hard for Napoleon to figure anything out from what they were saying. Even without language skills, though, it was fairly apparent they were talking about locations. Peril was trying to find out where the buyers lived, or kept their... their purchases. She was nodding, and bringing out maps, so apparently the people were known to her, or at least some of them. That made sense if they were all connected with nefarious activities. Somebody for spy agencies to keep an eye on.

Napoleon tried to watch and learn while not attracting their attention. This was pretty fascinating stuff, all told. Spies did not, apparently, work in a vacuum. And Peril was smart enough to go where he needed to and locate what he needed. He wasn’t too proud to report failure, either. Though not reporting it could be worse, Napoleon had known many, many soldiers who had gone the route of covering up their failures instead of simply owning up and moving on. It generally backfired on them down the line. Peril hadn’t even looked like he’d thought of going that route. Which might be his training... but he had covered for Napoleon, downplaying his role as much as he could and, perhaps even taking more upon himself to distract from Napoleon’s involvement. A perfectly trained agent who reported everything would not cover for another person. Or maybe Napoleon was reading too much into that. He hadn’t been able to understand everything he’d been hearing.

A sack came out and the maps and some other pieces of paper that she wrote out were loaded into it, as well as some gadgets that Napoleon didn’t have the right angle to see. Peril thanked her politely, and she responded, though still with that same caution she’d shown since the phone call. Then Peril made his way through the stacks to Napoleon and grabbed him roughly by the arm to yank him out.

Outside the store, Napoleon muttered, “Ouch.” He didn’t really mean it – the grip hadn’t been that hard – but had to say it.

The Russian agent glared at him and let go as if dropping something dirty.

Napoleon sighed. One little trip in a mother language and there went the attitude.

“Shut up,” Peril muttered, stalking off and letting Napoleon walk to catch up.

Not that Napoleon had been planning on saying anything, but at that, he decided whatever he had could wait. The Russian was seriously pissed off and annoyed at something. He wasn’t quite sure what else happened other than being chewed out by his superior, but Napoleon didn’t think that was what was wrong. The periodic glances Peril directed at Napoleon told him that he had something to do with it, but he didn’t know how when all he’d done was look at books in the store. Maybe it was because he’d insisted on going along in the first place. But he had known well enough that if he’d let the agent go on the fact-gathering without him that he’d then be left out of the rescue as well, and he wasn’t about to let that happen. This morning, Peril had given in suspiciously easy. Maybe he was regretting that now.

After some distance and time had gone by, the international relations eased somewhat. Napoleon felt safe enough to venture a question. “Are you in trouble?”

Peril sighed. “Yes. Less trouble, though, if I get him back.” He slanted a glance at Napoleon. “Might even have extra credit, if another on your list agrees to come too.”

There had been a few scientists sold at the auction. He didn’t know which other one Peril was referring to, but he would probably find out. “That’s good.”

The conversation petered out, both of them wrapped up in their other thoughts.

They visited three more places after that. The first was arranging for a place for the child to go after they got her out, and Napoleon participated in that one, using his French and as much charm and sincerity as he could bring up. He showed the couple the drawing and told them about how scared the girl had looked at the auction. Peril backed him up and gave them routes to get out with the child once they had her. Napoleon didn’t know where the agent had come up with these particular contacts – they didn’t seem to be aware of his KGB status and Peril was doing his best to look non-threatening – but the people looked both competent to get the child out of the area and also able to handle her gently.

The second was arranging for Peril’s scientist and the possible additional one. Peril gave him one of the slips of paper the bookstore lady had written for him, which was evidently a confirmation of his status. Just as had happened at the store, when the KGB was known, the agent gave a second look to the youth. This person, though, was more evaluating, marking him as another dangerous person. He seemed almost as competent as Peril, and he didn’t leave Napoleon out of the evaluation, studying him with careful eyes. Napoleon almost wished that he’d stayed back on this one – he was now marked and known by somebody dangerous. But then, that was his life. This agent also seemed a little suspicious that Peril wasn’t going to take the scientist out of the country and back to Russia himself, but “complications” were the word of the day. Peril also picked up more equipment from this contact, fitting them into a worn backpack that was similar to many post-war similar ones that wouldn’t stand out.

Napoleon could follow this Russian much easier than the bookstore and he felt better about his abilities. As long as it wasn’t in a dialect. He rather thought his crash course this day was doing him more good than any schooling.

He didn’t feel so great at the way Peril was simply dragging him along in his wake without Napoleon contributing anything other than his charm at the last stop, but at this point it was the thing to do. The Russian agent knew what was needed for extractions and had the contacts for them. Napoleon’s contacts were more in the line of retrieving and fencing art and sculptures and jewelry. He probably could have found a few to help with this... but he thought he’d watch and learn instead. Tagging along with the trained spy was proving to be very interesting indeed.

The last stop was arranging for anybody else they got out after that. Napoleon’s heart lifted at seeing this evidence of Peril’s following his demands from the night before. He hadn’t really been quite sure that they were going to do it. The time he’d spent with the Russian spy was nowhere near enough for him to calculate the level of his sincerity or when he might drop Napoleon as not needed anymore.

Peril had used KGB connections for the first and third places they’d gone, an undefined one for the second, and for this last, it seemed to be related through the spy business but not directly tied to it. He was drawing heavily on past favors and promised future trades to make the connections. Napoleon frowned when he realized that, uneasy about what this might mean for Peril, what with the trouble he was already in with his superior.

“I have money, if it would smooth things out better,” he said quietly in a spare moment between transactions, when nobody could overhear them. “Or goods.” He wished he’d thought of it before they’d left the cottage; he could have brought some things with them.

The agent shook his head. “Better not,” he replied just as quiet. “These... they would be more suspicious, and may not deliver. This is better.”

Better for whom was the question. But Napoleon left off, letting his offer stand in case of need.

Finally, they were all ready. They drove out in an older car that Peril had cajoled out of one of the people at the last stop. In the morning, he’d talked Napoleon out of using his own, saying it would be too recognizable as his, and they didn’t want the people to figure out Napoleon was involved. Which Napoleon had to agree with. He hated not being able to provide any resources for this, but Peril kept making good points to keep him out of it.

The man they were after first resided several kilometers away, almost to the next city, in a large home, nearly a mansion but not quite reaching to those heights. As they drove there, Peril was tense, constantly checking the clock.

“What’s the matter?” Napoleon finally asked.

“Spent too much time earlier. Not all the... people will be kept in locations for long. Transport elsewhere. We need to hurry, and that is bad for missions.”

Napoleon was just not used to thinking of people as property and goods. It was something he would have expected for a painting or other works of art, relocated from a central auction to where the buyer’s home was, or wherever they wanted it displayed, or hidden. It wasn’t something he’d even considered with the people. He glanced worriedly at his watch, now clued in on some of the issues.

“Needed to rest before this, could not help that. Also had to wait for contacts to be in place. But did not think this morning would take so long.” Peril’s hands tightened on the wheel. “Talking takes time.”

Napoleon had to grin a little at that. His young friend might be a dangerous KGB agent, but he really didn’t know quite as much of the world. His missions had probably mostly been arranged for him, and not so ad hoc. Knowing that, Napoleon was all the more impressed with how well he’d gotten through everything.

They drove cross-country to get towards the back of the home where hopefully nobody would be looking for an escape path yet they could still quickly get back onto a road. Peril split the contents of the items he’d gathered in the pack with Napoleon, though he kept the lion’s share for himself. That was okay, Napoleon had his own supplies as well, having brought most everything he thought he’d need for a break-in. Then they split up for a reconnaissance of the house.

Meeting again in a shrubbery patch, they compared notes, sketching out the house and the people they’d seen, and discussing strategy. Initially, Peril was inclined to take the lead and was simply telling Napoleon what he’d be doing – which was mostly following, except at doors. Napoleon, however, wasn’t inclined to take it that simply, and carefully inserted himself into it with suggestions and pointing out where he could be the best used beyond the locks. Peril brushed him off the first few times, then finally paused and looked him over carefully. After several moments of study, he slowly nodded and then let Napoleon join more into the planning.

They only got into one major argument, and that was where Napoleon lost the most ground.

“Girl is likely in upper rooms, here.”

Napoleon nodded, agreeing. The binoculars had shown those rooms to have children’s decorations, and the man had none of his own. It was sickening to think that this child may not have been the first. Likely had not.

Putting his finger on one of the ground floor segments, Napoleon considered, “The other two women he bought are likely to be here. It’s got the feel of a barracks to it, but not as open.”

Peril looked up sharply. “We are not rescuing the women.”

Napoleon blinked. “They’re right here. We can go in, get them and the child and —”

“No.” His eyes were as hard as his voice, and just as cold.

Getting angry, Napoleon hissed, “Now look—”

Peril cut him off again, this time with a hand to Napoleon’s mouth. He held it there for a long moment while he studied Napoleon. When he brought his hand down, his eyes were less hard, but instead they held sorrow. “We cannot. Not and be sure of rescuing the child. Cowboy,” he hesitated, then went on, “not all captives want to be rescued.”

This time, when Napoleon blinked, it was of bafflement.

Peril sighed, and looked away, towards the house. “Where were they, what did they come from, what do they have elsewise? Freedom is not always best option. Depends on what else in life. Rescue... from whom, going where? Might be easier to gain favor from alarm. Might be accidental alarm, too scared to trust. Might be other things. You have drawings?”

Silently, Napoleon got them out and handed them over. Peril sorted through them until he had the three he wanted. The three people the owner of the house had bought, just more possessions for his home.

Putting the three down where they both could see them, Peril tapped one of the drawings. “I do not trust this one.”

No. Napoleon had to admit, looked at objectively, this was not a cowed captive. Peril hadn’t been cowed either, but he’d been defiant and bloody. This woman... radiated sexuality out of her pose, the tilt of her head, the look from her eyes. She was up there on the block being sold, but she hadn’t fought or been defeated. At the time, Napoleon hadn’t thought much of it, too outraged by the very act to consider anything else. With Peril’s words running through his head... he wasn’t sure if he trusted her either.

“We have to try,” Napoleon said weakly, still not happy.

“You have choice. Child. Or women. Not both. If she does not cooperate... we do not get child, and we will have to fight our way out.”

Napoleon swallowed. He touched the picture of the other woman, her drawing showing a beauty that had commanded high prices... and a terror in her eyes of what was happening.

“She will be with other. Cannot separate her out. Not without days and learning routines to single her without guards or other people.”

It all made horrible, logical sense. Napoleon had never felt more helpless, not even the night before when he’d been watching. “Liberating artwork doesn’t have this sort of moral dilemma,” he said with a strained laugh.

“If we had time... yet still would not be able to rescue all. Never can.”

There spoke the voice of experience. So young. And Napoleon had thought he’d seen all the horrors that could be experienced in the war. He’d not even been in all that much of the war, only the tail end of it. But he’d been part of the occupying forces, and there had been plenty of horror left still while cleaning up after the Nazis. He’d also watched a people ravaged by war with nothing left, selling what they could just for something to eat, or starving instead while they watched the occupying soldiers with dull eyes. He’d had to work with many a person he didn’t trust or like simply because they were in the position they were in, and he’d seen what happened to the people under them. He’d never, though, had to make a choice like this before. Peril sounded like it was something he did all the time.

Choices, and none of them good. Napoleon wanted all of it... but he wouldn’t be able to have everything. That only happened in movies and this was real life. He wanted too much, and couldn’t have it.

He looked at the drawing of the child. She was the one that had started it, and it was while he’d thought of her that he’d made his impulsive buy of a KGB agent. The person crouched next to him, patiently waiting for Napoleon to think it through. He would never have had the chance to rescue her, if it hadn’t been for everything else.

Napoleon looked at the pictures of the other two women, memorizing their features, the look of terror on the one woman’s face. It was worse, being so close and having to make the choice. The night before, it had all just happened, and Napoleon had no chance to do anything at all. Now, there was a chance... but it was not enough of one. The house was too large, too well-guarded, and they were going to have to be their best simply to rescue the child. Peril was right – they couldn’t risk taking the other two women as well.

Clenching his jaw, Napoleon gathered up the pictures and tucked them away with the others. He would send them on to the police after, and copies to other agencies. Perhaps somewhere in the future, they would have a different chance.

Stealing art was much, much easier. He looked up and gave Peril a nod.

The agent studied him for a long moment more, his eyes showing compassion and sorrow. Then he nodded as well, and turned back to the planning.

--

They carried out that rescue smoothly.

In and quickly through the house with barely a pause at the locks with Napoleon’s expertise. The disbelieving look Peril gave him when Napoleon had opened the first one was priceless. The respect that grew in the blue eyes as they progressed through was even better. They both dodged the occasional guard and guest with equal ease, each of them showing their familiarity with breaking into places and proving their competence to the other, smoothly ducking back and making allowances for the other. Peril dealt efficiently with the guard outside the child’s room, rendering him unconscious with almost no sound and trussing him up before anybody noticed. Napoleon was glad to see that killing wasn’t the first option on the list. He would have gone along with it if they’d had to, but was relieved for it not to be.

The child herself was harder to deal with, confused and scared and not wanting to go anywhere. It took both of them, and a surprisingly gentle side of Peril to coax her out. The tall Russian was the one who carried her out, with Napoleon covering him as they went.

The couple that Peril had picked out earlier accepted the child and showered their love and concern on her, which won her over completely. She was telling the couple her life story as they left, and Napoleon knew they’d be able to find her family again, or find her a good home, one way or another. There was going to be a happy ending there, at least.

Watching her and the couple, leaving knowing they’d done a good thing there... it was something. It eased the pain in Napoleon’s heart for all the rest.

--

The next rescue was nearly a disaster, but missed it by bare centimeters of pure luck.

As agreed, they’d gone after Peril’s scientist next. He and the two others bought by that person were, per the bookseller’s information, probably being held at a warehouse on the edge of town, to be sent out to other facilities in Europe where they would be forced to work on projects for their lives.

When Napoleon had heard that the scientists were scheduled to be moved out, he was even more amazed that Peril had gone for the child first. Knowing how anxious his new friend was over the timing, and then realizing that it was even more delayed for this other rescue... Napoleon couldn’t quite understand it. He’d never been the one to insist on the child first. She’d been the furthest away. She wasn’t in danger of being moved any time soon. The same brutal logic that Peril had led him to while dictating the choices between lives surely said that the scientist should have been the first one they’d gone after, then the child. But Peril hadn’t even tried. He’d gone for the child first.

Which lead to them nearly missing the scientists. Napoleon was the one at the wheel this time, and as he was driving the twisted streets to the warehouse, Peril’s sharp eyes spotted the scientist in the back seat of a car going the opposite direction.

Then the crazy, insane, wild KGB agent jumped out of their car, while it was still moving! As Napoleon was pulling around, Peril shot out the rear tire on the other car. Then he ran to catch up with it, and got there just as it crashed into a wall.

When Napoleon finally drove up, it was all over. Peril had subdued the driver and the guard and was introducing himself to the scientists. If he’d used a name in the introduction, Napoleon had missed it. He hadn’t used one in the bookstore either, identifying himself to his superior by some other method than a name, and had used obviously false ones at the other places. Napoleon was starting to become curious about his name, but the two of them worked well enough with what they had.

Napoleon waited in the car while he watched Peril and the two others sort themselves out. Eventually, both scientists that had been kidnapped came with them.

“It is better than this,” the scientist that Peril had been after was telling the other. Apparently the other was not quite so enthusiastic to go to the Soviet Union to work for them. Napoleon winced, and remembered what Peril had said about circumstances.

As they drove to the extraction point, Napoleon noticed that Peril was agitated, his fingers tapping and restless. He refrained from saying anything with the scientists in the car. Again, he waited in the car while Peril and they went to meet the other KGB agent who would do the actual extraction. He didn’t want to come under that man’s gaze again, and apparently Peril didn’t want him to either. When Peril finally came back, he still hadn’t calmed down, so Napoleon asked what was wrong.

“Want the third one,” Peril said briefly. “Was still at warehouse, along with others, they said. To be transported elsewhere, later. But that one... He was the one my superior would forgive my mistake for. This second chemist, okay, but not big deal. The engineer I recognized from files. Want him. But dangerous. Very dangerous to go back. Cannot risk it.”

Napoleon thought about the way Peril had been standing so rigidly while on the phone, his barely-constrained tension bubbling through in the fingers, as they were now. He thought about the captured agent on the sale block, furious and bloodied, but unbowed. He thought about the way he’d woken up in arms wrapped close around him, a warning system or not. He thought about the way Peril had unhesitatingly put the child first.

“Let’s go,” Napoleon replied simply, pulling out his gun and checking the load.

Peril stilled, then turned to look at him. Napoleon looked back, steady and assured. Peril’s agitation disappeared under something like wonder as he gazed at Napoleon. He breathed out, accepting that Napoleon truly meant it.

Before Peril could be noble again and refuse to go for Napoleon’s sake, Napoleon turned and walked to the car. When Peril got in on the passenger side, he was silent until the car started. Then he described the layout and guards and setup inside the warehouse, as the two rescued scientists had told the best they knew. Depending on whether or not the driver and guard had been found yet, it was an open question as to if it would still be like that.

“One advantage is they won’t be expecting another raid after that,” Napoleon said wryly.

Peril chuckled. “True.”

Napoleon counted it a win that he’d made the other smile, even if it was battle humor.

--

They may not have been expecting a raid, but they had found the driver and guard and were on high alert, scurrying around and in full angry control mode. The buyer was there, directing activities with a furious attitude that said heads would roll.

Peril was ready to call it off after seeing the preparations, but Napoleon thought they could make it, and persuaded the Russian into listening to his plans. He’d carried off some pretty risky thefts in broad daylight simply because that was the opportunity he had, and as for danger... the traps the Nazis had left on their caches were surely more dangerous than anything this person could think of.

They went in through the roof, going up on the next building over and then over and down. Napoleon disabled alarms as they went and Peril scouted for guards and a route out that the scientists could take.

The captives were locked up in a group cell, which was fortunate for them as they didn’t have to go through multiple ones searching. There were five of them, which made Napoleon and Peril exchange a look, but they offered the same rescue to all of them. One was weak and beaten and would not leave. Another refused to go without him. Luckily, neither were the one Peril wanted – that engineer was perfectly willing to escape. The others, though, were trying to get the other two to come and that wasted time. Napoleon was starting to understand that Peril had been right to bypass rescuing the women at the first house. Who knew how many of them there might have been there, as well, and they couldn’t have taken all of them.

As the scientists were still arguing, the next round of guards came by. Peril disabled them and took them down before they even knew what was happening, with no alerts going out. But their window of time was now that much less.

Napoleon put on both his best charm and his command presence and got the three who would go moving. They went, not completely happy about leaving the others, but knowing they had no choice.

Half-way down the stairs, the one who had refused to leave his friend came dashing after them, yelling loudly for them to wait, that he was coming.

At the opposite ends of the little group, Peril and Napoleon met each other’s eyes once, in perfect exasperated accord and with a heightened awareness of what would happen next.

Then all hell broke loose.

They made it out, but not without casualties along the way. The one who had loosened the flood gates had been in the path of the waters as they came crashing down and didn’t make it. Another scientist was wounded, bullet to the upper arm, but he carried on and didn’t complain until they were out. Napoleon got a gash along his side from navel to armpit, but it was shallow. Peril didn’t complain of anything, but considering how much hand-to-hand fighting he’d done, Napoleon suspected a slew of bruises at the least.

All such things, though, were relative against the thrill of making it out, and with three captives who wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance.

The engineer Peril had wanted most agreed to go to the Soviet Union, thankful for his rescue. The other two decided to take their chances finding their own way, once they’d made it out of France. They dropped the scientists off with the respective extraction teams who would help them make their way. Napoleon could tell that Peril was nervous about his engineer, but the boat had sailed on the other KGB agent with the first scientist and they weren’t catching up to him now. Peril gave the engineer notes and some of his equipment to help him make his way.

They took a rest while planning the next steps, getting simple food on the opposite side of the town and ate it in the car.

“Talking takes too long,” grumbled Peril in a manner similar to this morning.

Napoleon had to admit, they had spent more time so far in transferring the people they’d rescued to the escorts than they had on the rescues themselves. He raised an eyebrow at his Russian friend.

Peril sighed. “Don’t usually hand them over. I get them out, I take them where they need to be. People or information. This... extra steps. Take time did not think about.” He glanced out the windshield and squinted up at the sky. “Can do one more, definitely. Maybe two.”

And it was back to more moral dilemmas for Napoleon. Choosing who would be rescued and who would be left. This day had been a crash course in hard lessons. As a young teenager, he’d had a romantic view of soldiers, built upon the parades and men home on leave in their uniforms, tall and proud with the adulation of hometowns welcoming their sons home, and the daughters in nursing uniforms accompanying them. The reality had been abrupt and painful, and he had been brought to know there were many more families who weren’t able to welcome their sons home, or had wounded and crippled sons to care for who weren’t in the parades. The war itself had not been glorious, and there was so much after the war that still needed to be done... Winning wasn’t everything, it was only a step along the way. This choosing... this was something yet again, and another part of the harsh world that most people never saw.

Napoleon pulled out his sketches, though he was already fairly sure which he would choose. So many, though, that he would not. “This one.” He handed over one of the ones who was buying for experiments.

Peril frowned. “You are sure?”

Napoleon nodded. The people in the other sales... they would survive. Well, maybe not the ones from the illegal fighting rings. But the people going for experiments... Napoleon shuddered to think of what they would encounter. The particular buyer he’d singaled out was the one that Peril would have gone to if Napoleon had not made his impulsive bid.

“Okay,” Peril consented readily enough once Napoleon reaffirmed it. “I will...” he went on to start a plan. It took Napoleon a few minutes to realize he was included only as the get-away driver.

“Hey,” Napoleon broke in. “Partners, remember? I’m going along.”

“You are wounded,” Peril objected, his eyes going down to Napoleon’s chest.

Napoleon rolled his eyes. “It’s a scratch. I’ll be fine.”

Peril reached over and pulled Napoleon’s jacket open, and his shirt up, looking the bandages over. He placed a hand gently over the one spot where blood had seeped through.

Concentrating on not wincing, it took Napoleon a moment to realize how close they were. He looked over and was surprised to see a soft, almost tender look in the agent’s eyes as he inspected Napoleon’s wounds.

“Hey,” Napoleon said in a much different voice than before, “It’s okay.” He placed a hand on Peril’s cheek, daring to think he might.

Peril’s gaze went up to meet his and he leaned in... then sat back, turning his head away and drawing in a long breath. Napoleon’s hand dropped away as Peril turned.

Leaning back in his own seat, Napoleon stifled a sigh. He’d been within an inch of a kiss right then, he knew he’d been. Oh well. He was still going on that mission.

--

This one was different. Fewer guards, to the point of almost not being guarded at all... by humans. Instead, the place was riddled with traps.

Napoleon’s experience with the art caches came in handy here as he recognized them and was able to disarm them with some effort. Peril was good at the bombs but less familiar with the more subtle dart traps and falling floors. He got lots of experience along the way, though, with Napoleon’s tutelage.

He also got to save Napoleon’s life at one point when a particular trap proved to have an extra component Napoleon hadn’t seen.

They rested for a long moment in each other’s arms on the floor where they’d rolled away. Then they picked themselves up and kept going, only needing a look to confirm.

Later, Napoleon returned the favor when Peril was captured by the mad scientist himself. The scientist was overjoyed to have his experimental subject that he’d missed out on at the auction walk right up to him, and expounded on this joy for some time. While doing so, he missed Napoleon’s more stealthy approach and the silencer on the gun took care of anything he cared about after that.

The people rescued here weren’t able to walk out on their own. Peril found a phone and called his resources, persuading one of them to come to them instead of the other way around, and he carried them down one by one. Napoleon would have helped, but Peril insisted on him staying out of sight of the contact and making him talk in Russian when they were around the rescuees. Napoleon rolled his eyes but complied. He also worried about what sort of favors the agent was pulling in for this additional help, as medical aid was also needed for the people, and neither of them had anticipated that. Though they should have.

They’d missed several things in these impromptu raids. Perhaps if they’d had more time in planning, could have done a proper job of surveillance and checking, they would have been better prepared. But the more time, the less chance of getting it done at all. Well, lessons learned. Both of them would know better in the future and would make better plans.

--

Peril started to lay out plans for another raid, but Napoleon stopped him.

“No.”

The Russian looked out the car window. “Think we have time for another. Can try.”

Napoleon studied the KGB agent. He was dusty and grimy, with rivulets of sweat marking cleaner lines in his face, and, amusingly, darker brown streaks where his hair dye had run onto the skin. But his eyes were clear and his body strong, and he was ready and willing to go wherever Napoleon said, because Napoleon would say.

“No,” Napoleon repeated again, softer. “We’ve done enough. This day is over.” He would not risk Peril again, not for this. He wouldn’t say that to risk Peril’s pride. “The child is safe. Your scientist is on his way back. We’ve rescued many others who wouldn’t have had a chance. It’s all thanks to you, and it is more than I could ever have dreamed.” Well, actually, he’d dreamed of everybody, but his dreams were unrealistic and the reality more brutal than he imagined.

He smiled at his new friend and partner for the day. “Let’s go back to my place. We could both use showers.”

“Um,” Peril swallowed nervously. “Not good idea.” He looked away.

“Huh?” Napoleon narrowed his eyes.

Running a hand through his hair, Peril drew in a deep breath and then turned to Napoleon again. “Your place will be watched. Almost definitely searched. Probably they are waiting.”

It only took a few moments to connect the threads. “The raids. The auction last night, then today... They will connect them, and I was the new person last night. Not the only new one... but I bought you. Unexpected. A KGB agent, and I obviously had no clue how to handle you.”

Peril nodded. “They will look to you, looking for me... and they know where you live.”

Napoleon hissed. He was an arrogant fool. He’d planned the night before to give up his cottage because the underworld now knew where he was, but in the prospect of the raids and rescuing the others, he’d forgotten all about that. Obviously Peril hadn’t, but he hadn’t been that concerned until now. But then, as of this morning, he had still only been a not-quite-trusted encumbrance to the KGB agent.

A night of sex was less, much less, than a day of partnership.

Napoleon bit back several angry words. Then he swallowed some more. Finally he shook his head. “Let’s go back anyway. We can park out of the area and come in overland. Surveil the area first and see what’s what, and where the watchers, if any, are. We’ve done a lot of more complex jobs today. This will just be another.” He thought about it some more, then nodded. “Obviously we’re not going to stay there, but I want some things out of the cottage. Damn it, I could have done that this morning...” He bit the rest of it back again. There was a lot, lot more he wanted to say. But first he wanted to go to his erstwhile home and raid from it what he could.

Silently, Peril started the engine and drove.

They parked some distance away and made their way carefully in. Napoleon’s cottage was nestled at the bottom of a hill, with space between him and his neighbors. They came in from the back, where old industry blocked the way and hid the sight.

That’s why they didn’t see the cottage burning until they were over the rise.

Napoleon stopped dead, hoping for a moment that it was the trees, the road, his car... something else other than his cottage. When he couldn’t deny it past that moment, he ran towards it.

Everything he had. His clothes, his paintings, his supplies, the artwork he had there... He had rescued that art already, it was supposed to be safe at his home.

He didn’t get very far before he was tackled to the ground.

“Cowboy, no!” Peril hissed at him, as they rolled over the dirt and bushes.

Napoleon struggled for a bit, then stopped. “Let me up, Peril.”

Peril didn’t let go.

Napoleon dropped his head into the dirt. “I promise I won’t run into the fire. Let me up.”

Cautiously, Peril loosened his grip, but didn’t relinquish it altogether.

Not bothering to stand, Napoleon shifted and half rolled until he could sit up, his knees to his chest, looking down at his burning home.

Behind him, Peril knelt with almost no space between them, keeping one hand on his shoulder and the other hovering by his side. “I am sorry, Cowboy,” he said helplessly.

For several long minutes, Napoleon didn’t do anything but watch. There were several people moving in and around his place, and not firefighters. Napoleon fumbled for his monocular to see better. Yes, it was the organizer of the auction and his men. Getting rid of a loose hole in their secret underground. Tracking the mole down and extinguishing it. Crushing it so they could tell others it had been taken care of.

Except it wasn’t, really, because they were here and nobody was looking their way. They didn’t know where the two of them were. It was only his home that was paying the price.

Napoleon was somewhat relieved to see that some of his artwork had been liberated before the fire, and was being packed to go. Their compensation, he supposed. But at least it would survive another day.

“I am sorry,” Peril repeated again from behind him.

This time, Napoleon was aware enough to hear the guilt in the words.

He didn’t turn around. They hadn’t been partners until today. They hadn’t been friends until the third raid in. And Napoleon was just too damn trusting.

“Did you do this?” he asked, dully.

“No,” Peril denied. However, it wasn’t a very emphatic ‘no’. He drew in a breath, holding it before he spoke again. “Not... the fire. But they would have found your home much wrecked already.”

“This morning,” Napoleon realized. “At the bookstore. You arranged it then.” In the rapid Russian he couldn’t understand, when they were talking addresses and maps and he was too far away to see all of it. It was more than just getting the places for them to raid... it was setting up a hit on his home. That’s why Peril had been so agitated afterwards. Guilty conscience.

“I am sorry.” For the third time.

“Why?” Napoleon had to ask. He put down the scope and continued to watch with the unaided view. He didn’t turn to look at his partner of the day.

“They were going to come,” Peril said. “If we did it... even if we’d only done part of it. They were going to come. Probably would have come anyhow, once somebody realized not good idea to leave me with you.”

“So you... did what?”

“Was arranged to make it look like I escaped. Overpowered you, fought, harmed you. Then left. So they would not blame you.”

Napoleon had to admit, it wasn’t a bad plan. If they thought it was all KGB agent, and a really stupid thief, they wouldn’t necessarily kill him the next time they saw him. They wouldn’t put out a price on his head. Napoleon could show up again somewhere else, a little battered, a little lucky, with a tale and be back in again. Not trusted, not like he had been, but accepted. The derision would stay, but it would be for a fool, not a turncoat. They would buy his goods, and not ever let him buy a KGB agent again. Somebody had to pay... but the artwork they were taking out would go a long way towards that. And his cottage burnt, and himself...

“How did you... they... make it look like I’d been harmed?”

“Chickens,” Peril said briefly. Then he cleared his throat. “Blood. In bedroom. Kitchen, porch, walkway. Left you for dead. Then you crawled out, got away.”

It could work. Holding his bitter pain within him, Napoleon leaned back until he felt Peril holding him. The hands touching him felt surprised though their uncertain grip and the way they shifted around. There was a gulp behind him. Napoleon shifted until the grip was firmer.

Then he asked. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have... I already planned to leave. If I had known, I could have gotten some things...”

“Things that would make it obvious that you had left?”

“Give me some credit, Peril.”

He felt a head drop down and rest on his. “Am sorry. So sorry, Cowboy. I did not... I did not think. Not trusted. Was arrogant and knew best. But... so very sorry.”

Napoleon believed him. It was the difference of how they were from this morning to how they were now. The Russian agent of this morning would not have been apologizing to him now. Had liked him well enough, owed him enough, to arrange for this, for Napoleon to have this future chance when Napoleon hadn’t even seen it coming. But not known him well enough to think he wouldn’t mess it up. Like the people they’d been rescuing, giving the alarm inadvertently and ruining the rescue. Americans loved their things, after all, and Napoleon’s place had been full of things.

“Have you ever lost any thing you valued?” Napoleon asked, still feeling a step removed from reality. “Not a person, but a thing?”

There was a sound suspiciously like a choked off sob behind him. “Yes. My father’s watch...” A long sigh, and then Peril shifted, settling to sit down instead of kneeling, and his arms went around Napoleon to hold him more securely. Napoleon leaned back into that hold and listened.

“My father... long story. But was arrested when I was child. His goods confiscated. When they came to take him, he put his watch on my wrist and said it was mine, not his. They let him do that, then they took him. That watch has been with me ever since. Until yesterday.”

Yesterday, when Peril had been captured, stripped naked, then put up on the auction block to be sold. His watch would be somewhere else now, redistributed like the rest of his things. Even if they went back to where the auction had been held, it wouldn’t be there anymore. It was gone.

“Sorry,” Napoleon said, meaning it sincerely. Nothing in his cottage had anything near the weight of that. They were just things.

Peril shrugged, the motion rippling through his body where Napoleon could feel it. “Was inevitable. Agents get captured. Shot, beaten, barely escape... Would be miracle if had lasted much longer.”

True. But still, as inevitable as it might have been, it was something to mourn in the passing.

They watched the fire for some time more, sitting up on the hill together.

“What were you going to do after this?” Napoleon finally asked his friend.

“Was supposed to take scientist back. Now, just me. Will go back.” Peril smiled without much mirth, “See how much trouble I am in. See if engineer made it.” He paused. “Will take train. Car too obvious now. You?”

Napoleon stood up, brushing his pants. “Well, it’s obviously too hot for me here. Want some company on the way?” It would be several days by train to Russia, and Napoleon could get off at a friendlier country along the way.

Peril stood up beside him, turning to look at him questioningly, seeing if he meant it. Finding the answers he sought, the smile turned genuine. “Would like that, Cowboy.”

Together, they made their way up the hill, leaving the burnt out cottage behind.

--

They traveled by train during the day, and got hotel rooms at night, prolonging the journey as much as they dared.

Finally, in Vienna, Austria, they were at the last safe place for an American to be. Further east, Napoleon could not go. They spent one more day there, exploring the city, with Napoleon dragging Peril into the Kunsthistorisches Museum while Peril laughed at him.

The next day, they went to the train station.

They didn’t talk much, for what could they say? Napoleon had tried to tell Peril his name the night before, and Peril had again stopped him. For, as he said, he wouldn’t have to lie when he said he didn’t know. As always, Napoleon had bowed to Peril’s logic. Though he had written it into Peril’s skin, that night, with his fingers and his love. He might have to let his Peril go, but they would have that, at least.

The train was coming. Peril got up from the bench and picked up his pack. He turned to Napoleon.

Napoleon stepped forward. “Hold out your left hand.”

Puzzled, Peril did so, shifting his gear to his right.

Removing his watch off his own wrist, Napoleon transferred it to Peril’s. It needed one less slot than on his own, and he fastened it carefully.

Peril’s hand shook while Napoleon held it.

Then Napoleon let go with a smile. “Say you’ll remember me.”

“Always, Cowboy. Always.” Peril started to reach, then balled his hand up into a fist, drawing it back. Too many eyes on the platform, even if most of them were detouring around them, going into the train or streaming out from it depending on their travels.

Peril took one step back, then another. “Goodbye, my friend.” Then he turned and walked onto the train.

“Goodbye, my Peril,” Napoleon said softly as he watched the train leave. He waited on the empty platform until the next train came going west. He took that one, not really caring where he was going. He would make his way once he got there.

He wanted more… but what they had had would have to be enough.


END