Her name was Cynthia Omid Bakke, and she was American by birth, Norwegian-Persian by descent, exotic on any continent. She was tall and voluptuous, with forest-green eyes and rippling black hair and a vanilla complexion so creamy that one could practically taste the strawberries, looking at her cheeks. She started work in U.N.C.L.E. New York, Research section, on Monday; Napoleon had his social calendar cleared by Wednesday evening.
(Which rendezvous ended up being postponed, courtesy of THRUSH's latest effort to seed clouds with hydrochloric acid rain, this time to fall over China.
"I'm sorry you're missing your date," Illya said at four thousand feet over the South China Sea, in a tone that might have been sarcastic, but being Illya, just as well might have been sympathetic. Or possibly hungry.
"I'll be happy if we don't crash and burn," Napoleon said.
Illya fiddled with a few more dials in the cockpit, keeping one hand firmly on the stick. "We're unlikely to burn in the sea," he offered. "Drowning is more likely."
They were at three thousand feet now. Through the smoke pouring from the engines, Napoleon could see the white crests of waves marring the endless blue below them. "Just get us to the carrier, okay?" he requested.)
On Friday he took Cynthia to Adephagia, latest Manhattan hot spot for haute cuisine. Bribing his way back onto the reservation list after Wednesday's cancellation cost him twenty bucks; the wine was fifty dollars for the bottle, and the entrees thirty dollars a plate. But the food when it came was worth it, boar braised to golden perfection, melting in the mouth like ambrosia.
(If not as good as the gyros they'd had on Cyprus, their last mission in the Mediterranean. Illya chatted with the vendor in rapid Greek as the man sliced meat off the turning spit. The pork dripped greasy stains on Napoleon's lapel, and the tzatziki sauce was so rich in garlic that it burned the tongue.
"I'm sure Stephanos has some ketchup," Illya said. "Do you want me to ask?"
For that, Napoleon stole Illya's last bite, and then had to buy his partner a generous helping of souvlaki to make his bottomless stomach stop growling.)
After dinner Cynthia insisted on dancing. "I've been told you're worth asking," she told him, gazing at him flirtatiously from under thick lashes.
"I'll endeavor not to disappoint," Napoleon returned. He had heard she had placed in several competitions. Taking her hand, he led her out onto the floor. His hand fit perfectly on the curve of her hip, the emerald satin of her dress smooth under his calluses. Even in her tall pumps, she floated across the floor, following his lead with effortless grace.
He heard the murmurs as they glided past, other dancers moving back, the better to watch them. When the band finished the waltz and struck up the first alluring beats of a tango, she rose on her toes to whisper in his ear, "Shall we give them a show?"
"It would be my pleasure," Napoleon answered, and whirled them into the music, to the admiration of their audience.
("What do you mean, you don't know how to dance?" Napoleon asked. They had been partners scarcely two months, but he'd already realized that it would be easier to list the things Illya Kuryakin couldn't do than those he could.
"I know how to dance," Illya shot back, prickly as a cactus on a bad day. "Just not this one."
"Maybe they should add a course in basic ballroom to the Survival School curriculum." Napoleon checked his watch. They had nearly two hours before they had to infiltrate the jazz club; that should be enough time for the basics. "The swing's easy. If you can waltz, you can jitterbug."
"I can waltz," Illya said. "And foxtrot, and tango—"
"Then prove it," Napoleon said, grabbing Illya's hands. His partner, usually touch-shy, didn't retreat this time, just aligned their bodies, expression studious. "Mirror me," Napoleon instructed, "starting with a triple step—"
In an hour, Illya could whip, crossover, and throwout like he had been born in Harlem. His focused face hardly cracked a smile, but his blue eyes were sparkling, as he took the lead and reeled Napoleon in.)
Catching their breath and quenching their thirst at the bar, Cynthia took Napoleon's hand, pushed up his shirt sleeve and gently ran her thumb under the yellowed bruises ringing his wrist. "So I wasn't imagining these," she said. "Where'd you get them?"
"The British Honduras," Napoleon said. There were advantages to dating within U.N.C.L.E.; while the ladies were less dazzled by the glamour of the spy world, it necessitated fewer outrageous cover stories. "Last week, that little affair with the missiles in the ancient temple."
"That was you?" Cynthia asked, suitably impressed. "Tell me, what was he like—El Magnifico?"
"Surprisingly short, astonishingly insecure, and disturbingly fond of dogs," Napoleon said, grimacing to think of the strange little man and his strange little chihuahuas. Cynthia laughed, rich and multi-toned as a viola, and interlaced her cool fingers with his, as with her other hand she drew down his sleeve and hid his souvenirs.
(It was Illya's turn to write up the mission report, and with usual Russian efficiency he tended to mentally compose those during free moments on the mission itself, typing them up later from memory. So Napoleon wasn't surprised when after a half hour of meditative silence, Illya finally asked, "What is the psychological term for the successful defense mechanism? The transformation of energies towards an alternative goal?"
"Like, say, world domination?" Napoleon eyed his partner suspiciously. "Are you psychoanalyzing THRUSH kingpins again?" Illya had recently been rereading Freud, and applying it to their foes with unsettling conclusions. A THRUSH-man's Oedipal complex was not something Napoleon cared to contemplate in detail, especially not when he had met some of the mothers in question.
"Vytesnenie," Illya muttered to himself. "Displacement? No, that's not quite it. I know there's a word for it..."
"It might come to you faster if you weren't hanging upside down by your ankles."
The effect of Illya's arched eyebrow was scarcely diminished for being inverted. "Napoleon, if I couldn't think hanging upside down, I'd hardly have time to think at all."
Napoleon was getting dizzy, watching his partner slowly revolve in circles, suspended from the ceiling like a blond, rope-bound piñata. He turned away his head as best he could, chained as he was to the temple's stone wall. The bolt was almost loosened enough to come free, but not quite. "I think I know the word you mean," he said. "When someone, what is it—redirects their impulses. Channels them into some other activity." In the case of El Magnifico, however, the impulses were being channeled from local homicide to global annihilation, which wasn't, to his mind, a significant improvement.
"Yes, that's it," Illya said. "What's the specific word?"
Napoleon gave the chains one final tug, listening to the bolt rattle. There, that did it. "It's on the tip of my tongue..."
"Where it does no good to anyone."
"You can look it up when we get back," Napoleon told him, "now brace yourself." By the footsteps and yipping barks in the passage outside, their captor was coming to gloat for the last time, and their daring escape must be now or never.)
"Your place, or mine?" Cynthia murmured, not quite giggling at her bravado, as he opened the taxi door for her, and Napoleon leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Allow me."
In the backseat of the cab, he instructed the driver turn by turn, a roundabout route on the off-chance that he had missed a tail. A precautionary fiver settled the man's arguments. Napoleon relaxed back in the seat, and Cynthia snuggled up beside him, deftly undoing the lower buttons of his shirt to slip one hand inside, just below the range of the driver's rearview mirror. Her painted fingernails grazed the skin of his belly as she worked her hand down, and it was all he could do not to hiss aloud.
In turn, Napoleon slid his hand along her leg until he found the slit in her dress, stole under it, and she buried her face in his shoulder to hide her own gasp.
"Which way, mister?" the cabbie demanded, and Napoleon, voice steady, said, "Left at the next light, then take the second right," while Cynthia pressed closer, parting her thighs enough for his hand to slip between them.
("Which way?" Illya asked. When Napoleon didn't answer, he impatiently repeated, "Which way, Napoleon?"
Napoleon blinked and tried to marshal his scattered thoughts. Looking out the car's windows made him nauseous, so he closed his eyes, slid down in the seat.
His partner's voice was so sharp it hurt, pain shooting through his gut, making it hard to breathe. Whatever THRUSH had dosed him with this time packed a hell of a wallop. He didn't even remember getting drugged. Before Illya could really get cranky, he managed to ask, "Where are we?"
"Lisbon," Illya said. "Rua da Esperança. We are going to the safehouse on São João da Mata."
"Right," Napoleon said.
"Yes, so which—"
"Right," Napoleon said again, "onto Rua das Trinas."
"Right." Illya wrenched the steering wheel around, brakes squealing, provoking a cacophony of honking horns outside. The u-turn's momentum slammed Napoleon against the passenger side door, and he nearly blacked out at the impact, only to be revived by a greater agony.
Squinting through tears of pain, he looked down at his stomach, at Illya's red hand pressed there, and the deep crimson liquid staining his shirt, leaking out between Illya's fingers in sluggish surges.
Oh, Napoleon thought. He didn't remember getting stabbed, either.
"Napoleon," Illya said, harsh with strain, one arm stretched across the seat to Napoleon, his other hand clenched around the steering wheel. His teeth were gritted and his eyes were locked on the busy streets, and his face was as pale as if he were the one losing blood. "Which way?")
In uniform at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, coiffed and flawlessly made up, Cynthia looked amazing. Sitting on Napoleon's sofa, the green of her dress bringing out the green of her eyes and her black hair let loose to fall in rippling, silky waves, she would put a goddess to shame, too gorgeous to be touched by mortal hands.
Fortunately, Napoleon had never shied from blasphemy. He wondered if perhaps other men might have; the way she shuddered, as he lifted up those shining ebon tresses and pressed his lips to the curve of her neck, made him think she had not been touched like this often, not nearly as much as a woman deserved. With another girl, he would have murmured praise of her beauty, but Cynthia needed different proof, and he admired her with his mouth and his hands, wordless and heartfelt.
Though when she shivered in his arms, more breathless than when they had danced, he gently pulled apart, stroked a soothing hand down her back. "Would you like a nightcap?" he inquired.
She caught her breath, pushed her hair from her face in a habitual motion, intimate in its casual ease. "Yes, that would be—yes. Please."
"What would you like?"
She swiped at her hair again, and her fingertips brushed her mascara, smearing it. Smiling, he brought up his hand to wipe away the smudge with his thumb. She tipped her cheek into the cradle of his palm, sighed.
"Vodka or gin?" Napoleon asked.
"Gin," Cynthia said, then surged up to catch his mouth with her own. "Or, never mind," she said, curving her arms around his neck, "let's not bother," and Napoleon kissed her back, ardently, saved the embarrassment of admitting he had no gin handy.
("Za Vas!" Illya said, his shortest toast by far and the first Napoleon completely understood. He drank and threw the glass, hard, into the fireplace. It shattered, the flames flaring blue for an instant around the last drops of vodka.
Illya staggered, off-balanced, then sank into the armchair behind him before he could fall. Napoleon watched him, curious; after nearly a year as partners, he had seen Illya tipsy, never more—but even Russian genes were not immune to 100-plus-proof vodka, apparently. Or whatever else Illya had had before he had turned up at Napoleon's door, bottle in hand and eyes grim and hard. "One does not drink alone," he said, and that was the last English he had used.
His eyes were heavy-lidded now, bleary, as he stared into the fire. "I have had too much," he said, the words stilted, pronounced with exaggerated care that paradoxically canceled his accent, rather than intensifying it. "I should not have."
"Everyone needs to loosen up once in a while," Napoleon told him.
It took a couple seconds for Illya's gaze to lift from the fire and track to him. "You are practiced in such practice yourself," he said. "Disciplined in lax discipline."
"I'm a diligent hedonist," Napoleon cheerfully agreed, rolling his half-empty glass between his hands. He'd shared in Illya's long and mostly incomprehensible toasts, but stuck to scotch so he might sip instead of gulp, having learned a while back that matching his partner shot for shot was a fast road to oblivion.
"It is not safe," Illya said.
"Safer than tamping everything down 'til it explodes," Napoleon said. "And it's safe enough if you take care. Take precautions. Make sure you've got someone watching your back, someone you can trust."
Illya frowned at him, slow and thoughtful, the warm firelight painting a ruddy flush on his cheeks but casting his eyes in shadows. He had taken off his jacket but not his holster, and the straps creased his white shirt.
Napoleon's own holster was on the coffee table, unbuttoned, in easy reach. He raised his glass. "Za Vas," he said: to you; and he downed the rest of the scotch and chucked the tumbler into the fire.
When he looked back, Illya's eyes were closed, his head slumped to the side and his hands loose in his lap.
Napoleon's Russian was not as good as it ought to be. Illya's first toast had been in honor of a special day, but the nature of the holiday, Napoleon hadn't been able to understand—a name day, perhaps, but whose he didn't know. Not his partner's, anyway.
It might be in Illya's personnel file, a note about a particular February 8, some clue to its private significance; as Chief Enforcement Agent, Napoleon had access to most of the file. Or he could ask the Russian translators for a hint from what words he remembered.
By the next year, Napoleon hadn't yet gotten around to asking, and his Russian wasn't much improved. But he made sure he had an extra bottle of Stolichnaya in his freezer, come February.)
"Napoleon," Cynthia breathed, and he'd always liked his name, as ludicrous as it was, but hearing her pronounce it—every woman said it differently, but something about hearing it here, in bed, so low and only for his ears, never failed to make his heart pound.
"Cynthia," he echoed back, and felt her tremble under him, as he scattered kisses like rose petals across her shoulders, her neck, the perfect swell of her breasts, golden in the lamplight. He was glad she didn't mind the light; some women preferred darkness, but she said she liked to see her lovers, and he always enjoyed the same. "Oh, Cynthia," he sighed, "if you could see what I see now, if I had words enough, and time, to tell you..." and she laughed, a thrilling quiver running through her and his body against her.
Later, she didn't laugh or say his name, just a helpless gasp, her head rocking back as her arms tightened around him, pulling him closer, deeper. For all her beauty—perhaps because, untouchably divine as she was to look at—she wasn't as experienced as many of the women of his acquaintance, but her abandon in lovemaking was delightful, her body so responsive that he hardly had to move to bring her to ecstasy.
After they showered, and then as they lay together, nude and pink-skinned from the water's heat, he drew her into his arms, brushing damp strands of her thick hair out of her eyes. They looked smaller without the mascara, but even deeper green. "You were wonderful," he told her, honest as he always was in bed, and she laughed again.
"And you," she said, and blushed, charmingly, but didn't look away.
He grinned at her, unrepentant if she was not. "So, worth asking?"
"Here, or on the dance floor," she said, kissed the side of his mouth and then rolled off him, pulling up the blankets as she curled up on the side of the bed with her back to him.
Napoleon smiled, reached out to stroke her silken hair once more, because he could, then switched off the lamp and lay down himself, hands behind his head on the pillow, looking up at the dark ceiling.
In a few minutes, Cynthia's breathing slowed to the rhythm of sleep, and Napoleon turned over, reaching for his nightstand. He could have gotten up and gone to his desk, but Illya only answered his telephone when he was in certain rare moods anyway.
Twisting open his communicator, Napoleon whispered, "Open Channel F, private connection. Illya?"
"Yes, Napoleon?" Illya answered after a moment—not urgent, as he had not used an emergency signal, but not sleepy either; he would be up reading for an hour or two yet. Probably more Freud, God help them.
"Are you still writing up our Honduras report?" Napoleon asked. "I remembered the word you were looking for, the displacement of impulses."
"Not Freud, Nietzsche. Sublimierung, isn't it?"
"Ah, of course. Sublimation. Yes, that's it."
"Always sounded like balderdash to me. Substituting the satisfaction of your libido with something supposedly more acceptable, rather than just going for what you really want—where's the fun in that?"
"Naturally," Illya said dryly. "And how was your date with Ms. Bakke?"
Napoleon looked over his shoulder at the beautiful woman asleep next to him. She had flopped onto her back, blankets pushed down so one lovely breast was bared, and was snoring softly, open-mouthed, rather adorably. "Eminently successful, on every count thus far. And I have hopes for the morning." Neither of them had to be at U.N.C.L.E. HQ before nine.
Illya snorted, the sound carrying quite distinctly over the communicator. "Good night, Napoleon."
"Good night, Illya," Napoleon said. "I'll see you tomorrow."