"Everybody knows oil and water don't mix."
"Very profound Alexander, but not exactly original," Mrs. Waverly said with a smile as she linked her arm through her husband's and joined him in watching their guests swarm towards the now open holiday buffet. "I hope it's not a critique of the food."
"My dear Alma, I wouldn't dare. I was thinking about what Jules Cutter said about Solo and Kuryakin."
Alma followed his line of sight. The two young men were at opposite ends of the buffet table, each busy with his own plate, each with a female helper or two unabashedly vying for his attention. She watched for a moment; the way they were ignoring each other almost sparked the atmosphere between them.
"I see what he means. But you know that's what Bishop Waverly said about us too. An older woman, a a foreigner; not at all what he wanted for you."
Waverly pulled her more tightly to his side. "Older woman! Three years, ridiculous. And he couldn't have been more wrong about everything."
"You have to admit the beginning was a bit... uneven."
"I knew from the moment I met you," Waverly said. He tilted his head toward her. "It took you a while to catch on but I always knew," he added softly and was pleased to see he could still make her blush.
"And is Mr. Cutter right this time?"
Waverly looked back at the young men moving through the ebb and flow of guests with their laden plates. They circled each other within the swirling crowd which somehow deposited them at the same table, buffered by a gaggle of Heathers and Mandys and Taffys and Susans. "The Jury is still out. They're both very confident in their own opinions, there's bound to be friction. But overall I think the situation is promising."
"A bit of tension is not always a bad thing, is it. It keeps everyone on their toes."
Waverly looked thoughtful. "Yes, I thought a bit of friction would be good for our seamless Mr. Solo. A mooring line to pull him back into safe harbour, he's often too eager to challenge the fates. Mr. Kuryakin seems to have a knack for providing the right tension."
And what does Mr. Kuryakin get from all this?
"Look at where he comes from. A lifetime of being constrained by custom and duty. Now has the freedom to be himself. I think Mr. Cutter is wrong. With the right emulsion, oil and water do mix. I just have to find what it is."
* * * * *
An assignment on the edge of disaster, a pointless fight about strategy while dark clouds continue to mass and roil in from the East. A hard bump of shoulders as the ship lists in choppy waters, a push back; and frustration erupts into a furious grappling to the floor. Shocking, the sudden bloom of desire, quelled before it takes life and now both men on opposite sides of the bridge, smoothing down jackets and breathing hard.
"If you two prima donnas are done with your drama, let me tell you what this old boat will and won't do," Lanois says, struggling to hold the wheel steady in the gathering storm. "She don't care about your damn troubles and I got no time for 'em."
Both nod. Cool now through and through. Professionals after all. But not quite forgetting they'd seen their own shock reflected in the other's eyes.
* * * * *
"I'm glad you made it Marion, Illya wasn't sure when you'd be back." Heather slipped into the wooden booth at Pete's Tavern greeting her friend. "Did you get something to drink yet?"
"Heather! I didn't see you when we came in. Illya is at the bar getting us beers."
"We have a table in the back. George finally got Carla to say yes to a date, then got nervous and asked Napoleon to double up with them. Silly man. We're giving them a few minutes alone. Listen, I saw your photo report on the Grand Prix in Stern. I'm envious, you really captured the atmosphere of the event. What are you up to now?
"It was the first time I've done anything like that. But I find I quite like photo-journalism. I just finished working on a year end look at the Youthquake for Stern as well. "
"I'm looking forward to that, I'll check it out at work. The jobs have been keeping you out of the country though."
"Yes." Marion looked towards the bar. The high dividers of the old wooden booths blocked her view, but there's a slanted mirror above the bottles and glasses. She saw that Napoleon had collared Illya at the bar, her face stiffened and she looked down to smooth her skirt. "Actually Stern has offered me a contract as feature photographer. It's a fantastic opportunity, I'll be first in line for the top stories." She looked at the mirror again. Illya was leaning against the bar, Napoleon's hand on his arm, both laughing at the bartender's joke. "It means that I'll have to move to Hamburg though. At least for a couple of years."
Heather gave her a sharp look. "Have you talked to Illya about it?"
Marion's face stiffened again. "I don't know that there's a point. He'll tell me to do what I want. And the irritating thing is that that's the right answer, but I don't know if it's the answer I want."
"Honey, the first thing you learn when you go out with an UNCLE agent is that nothing comes without a cost, nothing. It's up to you to decide when the price is too high for what's on offer. "
"Nothing is on offer." Marion's voice was flat. "That's just it. Illya never tried to fool me. But I tried to fool myself. "
"But it didn't work did it. You're a smart girl. Smart enough to make a life for yourself."
Marion took a shaky breath. "Yes. you're right of course. But still... How do you deal with your relationship with Napoleon?"
Heather laughed. "What relationship? I have other plans, always have had."
At the bar, Illya and Napoleon remained deep in conversation, obviously comfortable, intimate.
"Look at them," Marion said shaking her head. "They might as well be married to each other." She caught herself and gave Heather an embarrassed look.
"Oh honey, you're not the first to say that and you won't be the last. UNCLE partnerships are a double edged sword, the intensity becomes a drug. Come on. Let's go break up the lovefest and get you that beer."
* * * * *
Napoleon knocked on Illya's door, knowing Illya could tell who it was, and it didn't take long before he heard chain and tumbler rattling on the other side.
Illya , blinking behind his glasses at the hallway light, was still wearing the white shirt and black pants of his work uniform. Tie and holster were gone though, as were his shoes. He'd padded to the door in his socks. The light by the sofa was on, but it was the only one, and Illya's white shirt was the one thing that stood out in the gloom.
Napoleon raised up the bag he was carrying. "I brought my own liquor."
"In that case you might as well come in."
Napoleon nodded and made his way to the kitchen while Illya closed and relocked the door. He fumbled for the light switch; the light still worked and he placed his bottle of Scotch next to Illya's Vodka on the counter and quickly rinsed out the glass in the sink. Illya didn't invite people to his apartment, and when it came to dishware, he'd never seen the need to own more than two of anything.
"A waste of money, I don't have parties," Illya shrugged the one time Napoleon brought it up.
Napoleon shook the glass a bit to get rid of the water, the damp dish towel looked like it'd been sampling the morning coffee. He'd never waited for an invitation and Illya had never turned him away. Ever.
He'd had no luck either, when he suggested that Illya fix the place up. "Why?" Illya asked. "It's just temporary quarters after all."
He seemed to think that was all he needed to say, and over time Napoleon began to understand that for Illya home was an abstraction, he'd never been anywhere where he'd been expected to put down roots. A temporary shelter--maybe that's why they were both so comfortable here.
Napoleon filled his glass, turned out the kitchen light and seated himself next to Illya on the couch. "I didn't realize till Heather told me, that today was the day Marion left for Hamburg. I'm sorry."
"No need to be," Illya said. "In the end, it's for the best."
There was nothing else to say. So Napoleon toed off his shoes, put his feet on the coffee table next to Illya's and proceeded to drain his glass almost as fast as Illya was draining his. Nothing else to say, because how could he admit he was relieved when he knew that Marion was gone.
Illya didn't ask of course, but he made no objection when Napoleon decided to spend the night. Because two bodies sleeping are warmer than one and it's hard to sleep when you're cold.
* * * * *
Illya is cutting it close again, the explosion a malformed flower of dust and rocks expanding behind him as he runs; a graceless sommersault as he joins Napoleon behind the ridge. Muscle and sinew tangled together as the world shakes and jolts heartbeats into a synchronized rhythm.
...tumbling down the ravine until they hit scrub brush, and Napoleon clasps his arms around his partner to keep them both from rolling farther; low sweeping acacia branches give them cover from the searchers on the ridge. The unplanned indulgence of groins brushing against each other, cocks hardening in secret pleasure and it's just adrenaline after all.
...in the darkness of night, a whispered signal; a mouth moving close to an ear, then brushing against lips and breath mingling as it pulls away.
Touches, glances: sniping and chatter shielding things unthought, undone and unsaid. A balancing act on the sharp edge of desire; what is it that makes a partnership grow.
* * * * *
"Fascinating." Dr. Theobald muttered as he riffed through the folders in front of him. "With some imaginative publicity and a large enough data base, one could make a lot of money out of this."
Alexander Waverly gave a warning cough.
"Computer match-making. You could sell it as a way to save yourself all the problems of those awkward dates, those ill-advised crushes."
"Very interesting doctor, but beside the point. Back to the topic at hand please."
Dr. Theobald took off his glasses "Yes. well. I have to admit I was surprised at how obvious the comparison is on a superficial level. I'm surprised you didn't see it, I've certainly heard plenty of comments among the staff."
Waverly bristled. "Of course I see the resemblance now. But I hardly had time then, Solo brought me the woman immediately on my arrival and Kuryakin was certainly not as forthcoming as he might have been. My choices were limited, I barely looked at her, I made a quick decision without all the facts. UNCLE has something at stake here. I'm asking for your professional advice. How attached is Solo really to this woman, Mara?"
"There's no doubt that he felt strongly drawn to her. The similarities in the general look to his long-time partner, the similarities in their affect, she's a scientist too after all. But you have to remember that this all occurred while his memory was gone. She provided a comfort zone, a sense of familiarity. Being who he is, he of course translated that into a physical connection. And in his state of relative innocence he interpreted that connection as love."
"He would hardly interpret his connections to Mr. Kuryaking in the same way, memory or no memory."
Dr. Theobald shifted in his seat. "Mr. Solo's sexual profile is more fluid than one would expect from his dating behaviour."
"I see." Waverly sighed. "And Mr. Kurakin's profile?"
"Mr. Kuryakin," Dr. Theobald paused to gather his thoughts. "Mr Kuryakin is unremarkable. He sits right in the middle of all data. He never wavers an iota. He's also of course, quite knowledgeable about our tests. Not to mention a highly trained... prevaricator."
"Clever." Waverly said. "That hadn't occurred to me. We'll have to look into it. But right now I need a reading of Solo's emotional state."
"Thrush only needed the attraction to work for the two or three days they had him without his memory. They looked no deeper than that. The more he interacts with both Mara and Mr. Kuryakin, the more the differences stand out. The heightened emotions on his side are already beginning to fade."
"Is Solo aware of the connections, why the Thrush match making worked?"
"How could he not be, Mr. Waverly. Everybody knows."
* * * * *
"I brought her to the plane, Williams took over from there . New country, new name, new life. I'm sorry, " Illya says.
"No need to be," Napoleon answers. "In the end, it's for the best."
They're at Napoleon's apartment now, it's different there.
Napoleon stops at the bedroom door and takes Illya's face in his hands. "No temporary quarters here my friend."
Illya nods. No hesitation.
Now there are hands, a soft mouth and skin meeting skin; and a fire so hot Napoleon is lost in its flames. A long slow kiss and such strong, sure caresses soothing him, guiding him back to himself. Then then there are Illya's gasps and the way he arches his back with a moan as he's lost in the storm, and Napoleon kissing him until the blue eyes open again, surprised and content.
"I don't know what took us so long," Napoleon says, "who'd think we'd be the last to know."