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What Are Partners For?

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Act I: Confession is Good for the Soul

Looking up at the church, Napoleon Solo hesitated, his mouth dry. He didn’t have to do this, but something deep inside told him that he must.

He flinched as he pulled the massive door opened, the creaking sound loud enough to cause people to turn. Sounds of a choir practicing could be heard as he slowly entered the dimly lit church. He moved over to a side aisle to advance quietly to the altar, sparing a brief glance to the confessionals and the people waiting, but not stopping. They did say confession was good for the soul … but he wasn’t quite ready for that.

He hesitated before genuflecting, his eyes on the portrait of the Virgin Mary. Kneeling down, he closed his eyes, mentally saying what he had to say. He had done many things in his life that required forgiveness, but regretfully it was his feelings that were considered a sin by the church.

A burden was lifted from his heart and he looked up. Mary’s smile seemed to shine down upon him, her eyes understanding. He gave a sad smile back as he left, stopping on his way to light a candle.

Opening the door, he paused, squinting at the brightness outside. Starting down the stairs, he was caught unaware by the sharp crack of gunshots and the impact of bullets hitting his body.

He fell, his head hitting the steps. From the angle where he lay, he could see the sky, a blue backdrop to the church. Screams assaulted his ears. He was so tired. Before his eyes closed, he felt the presence of someone kneeling beside him, blocking his view. He couldn’t make out who it was. Something dark covered their head.

***
Shots rang out and in the church Sister Bernadette reacted automatically. Opening the door, she scanned for the source of the shots. What she found was a body. Pushing her way through the crowd that had gathered, she knelt beside him and checked for a pulse. In spite of all the blood the man was still alive. His brown eyes opened and found her’s. “Keep still, my son,” she counseled, not sure he heard her, before his eyes closed. “Someone, please call for an ambulance … and I think we had better send for Father John.”

Having served as a nurse during the war, she knew better than to move an injured man. She closed her eyes, made a sign of the cross and whispering a small prayer. When she pulled away his jacket, his gun became exposed; she ignored it in favor of trying to stop the bleeding. Miraculously one of the nuns that had followed her had a bundle of cloth. Grabbing it she applied pressure on the wounds, of which there were many, amazed at the precision of the shots. She only paused when Father John knelt beside her and taking in the situation, started the last rites. She looked down; the injured man’s pain-filled brown eyes had reopened. He was trying to say something. She stooped down, brushing her cowl out of the way to make out the words. A bare whisper of “Illya?” was all she made out, before his eyes closed again. Do not let him die, Sister Bernadette beseeched silently. Fortunately a siren sounded just then as an ambulance finally arrived.

***

Illya Kuryakin was out of the cab almost before it stopped, throwing money at the driver as he hurried into the hospital. Of the tide of emotions he was experiencing, anger was at the top. Anger that someone had shot an U.N.C.L.E. agent. Anger that it had been his partner. Anger at his partner. And fear. Fear he might no longer have a partner.

April Dancer appeared at his side as he strode purposefully down the hallway.

“Do we know what happened?” Kuryakin asked quietly, keeping his emotions in check.

April was practically running to keep up. “Not really. He was shot on his way out of a church.”

Kuryakin stopped short, a sideward glance aimed at the female agent for just a moment before continuing his fast pace. “A church?” It seemed an unusual place for U.N.C.L.E.’s Section II head to be. Not at all what he would have expected of Solo.

April nodded. “He was coming out when it happened.”

“Witnesses?” Illya growled as they reached the waiting room. He stopped in the doorway, blinking in surprise. The room was filled with nuns, all praying. One nun in particular stood out, her expression more serene than all the others. Nuns?

“Not to the actual shooting,” April responded reluctantly, knowing it was not what Kuryakin wanted to hear.

All movement seemed to stop as a weary-looking doctor entered the room. Illya stepped toward him. “Mr. Solo?” he asked.

“Are you next of kin?”

“No.” A reluctant admission.

“Yes.” April overrode him, glaring at the Russian.

The doctor looked at them as if to say, okay which is it, then he continued apologetically, “I’m sorry. I can only give out information to the next of kin.”

The nun that had caught Illya’s attention, her habit darkened where blood had dried, looked up from her prayers, watching the two young people as they approached the doctor. From the looks on their faces, they were not happy with the situation. Excusing herself from her fellow nuns, who like her, had been praying for the poor soul found on their doorsteps, she moved closer in time to hear the doctor’s decree. Never one to think things through and taking matters into her own hands, she interrupted, “I am Mr. Solo’s sister. What can you tell us?”

The doctor turned his speculative gaze toward the small nun. With a nod of acceptance he made his report. “Mr. Solo took four bullets to the chest. We’ve operated but the outcome does not look good.” He paused, and then added, “I’m sorry.”

Kuryakin's façade of unconcern dropped as numbness settled over him. There was still a chance he could lose Napoleon.

“When can we see him?” he asked in a dazed voice.

The doctor turned to the nun, who nodded. “In about an hour.”

After thanking the doctor profusely, Sister Bernadette turned toward the young people. April Dancer, she had already met.

“Sister Bernadette, this is Illya Kuryakin. Mr. Solo’s partner. Illya, this is Sister Bernadette. She stayed with Napoleon after … after he was shot.” April made the introductions.

Illya? That was the name uttered by the man she now knew as Mr. Solo as he lay bleeding. Somehow, it had never occurred to her that the name belonged to a man. No matter. Sister Bernadette looked at the intense young man with the blue eyes, her gaze contemplative.

Kuryakin in turn looked intently at the nun. Less than five feet tall, her grey eyes shone with sympathy.

“Thank you. At least he wasn’t alone.” He paused, his curiosity getting the better of him. “I was unaware that nuns could lie.”

Sister Bernadette’s grey eyes sparkled. “Are we all not brothers and sisters?” she asked simply. “Do not despair. Prayers have been known to work miracles.”

***

An hour later, Illya entered the critical care ward. Napoleon Solo, his partner, lay on a bed at the far end. Someone had tried to kill Napoleon. His mind went over the possibilities. There were so many suspects, the who and why would have to wait. Napoleon was hooked up to various monitors, all flashing lights and buzzing. Distracting, but not unusual. He moved closer.

“Napoleon,” he said softly. Why had he called to him? It was much too early for the anesthesia to have worn off.

Brown eyes opened and a gentle smile appeared on the older agent’s face. “Illya,” Napoleon murmured before his eyes fluttered and the heart monitor attached to his chest went flat line.

The alarms sounded and Illya found himself pushed to the side as nurses rushed to the bedside of his partner and friend. One of the nurses came over to where he stood. “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to leave now,” she said with authority and nudged him toward the door.

He was unwilling to leave, but April Dancer and Sister Bernadette were at the door. They each took an arm, coaxing him back into the waiting room.

***

Suddenly, he was standing in the hallway, watching his partner’s yellow head bury itself in his hands. April’s face was wet with tears, her mascara running. What had happened?

There was a woman wearing a veil bent over the Russian, offering comfort. In a flash of memory, he recognized her. She had been there when he’d been … shot. It all came back to him and Napoleon Solo looked down at his chest. Unbelievably, there were no bullet holes and the suit he was wearing was dazzling white.

Moving toward his friend, Napoleon called out, “Hey, Illya, it’s okay. I’m all right.”

“He can’t hear you,” a soft voice said behind him. Napoleon spun around. Standing behind him was a man, tall with longish brown hair and sympathetic eyes, he too was wearing an immaculate white suit.

“What do you mean he can’t hear me? Am I … dead?” Napoleon asked reluctantly. “I don’t feel dead.”

The man shook his head. “No … not yet. You have a choice to make.”

“A choice?” Napoleon looked down at his white suit. “Does this mean I’m going to … heaven?”

The other man smiled. “At this place and point of time … yes. However, as I said, you have a choice. To go or to stay. If you stay, I cannot guarantee that the next time it will be …” He looked up to the heavens.

Napoleon looked back at his Russian friend. It should have been a hard decision, but it wasn’t. The choice was simple to make. Everything faded.

***

Illya sat there, wondering what he would do without his partner. He’d become use to having the man at his side. Face it, he told himself, he had become more then use to it, he’d come to be dependent on it. Damn. He looked up as footsteps approached.

Addressing Sister Bernadette, the doctor announced, “We were able to revive him. He’s alive and it looks like he’s going to make it.”

April’s tears changed to tears of joy, relief flooding her that U.N.C.L.E had not lost its CEA.

Sister Bernadette kissed her beads, not surprised. Her faith had told her everything would be all right.

Illya Kuryakin sat there, letting a gasp of relief escape, then he stood up, once again in command of himself. “When can I see him?” he asked.

“As soon as he’s out of recovery. Someone will come for you.”

***

Much later, Illya Kuryakin again entered the ICU. Standing at the door, he braced himself, looking at the bed surrounded by tubes and monitors which continued to blink, and there was his partner. Alive.

Napoleon, his face scruffy, his dark hair matted to his head, lay still. Illya quietly walked over to the bed, watching as his fellow agent’s eyes opened. He was a little surprised at that and glanced down at his watch. Had it been only six hours since Solo had been brought in? The dark eyes caught his. Napoleon smiled and it was the most beautiful smile Illya had ever seen.

“Did … did you … miss me?” Napoleon asked groggily before his eyes closed and he went back to sleep.

“Oh, Napoleon,” the Russian said affectionately to the sleeping man. “Did I miss you?” Then because he couldn’t help it, he began to laugh.

Act II - Traitor? – Impossible!

As he rested out in the sun, the sound of a car stopping and car doors opening, then footsteps floated to where he lounged.

It was nearing mid-day and he had spent a tranquil morning relaxing on an oversized hammock that hung between two trees. The beach lay before him, the waters a tranquil backdrop on this remote resort island beach. Behind him was a rather primitive looking bamboo shack where he was making his recovery.

Casually dressed in bathing trunks and tank top, a straw hat was situated over his face to keep the sun off. One bare leg hung over the side of the hammock and every once in a while he used it to push off the sand and sent it swinging. He hoped that whoever it was would take the hint and go away. No such luck. One side of the hammock dipped as someone settled onto it.

Napoleon muttered irritably, “Go away. I’m not in the mood for company.”

“Not even if I were a beautiful blond?” a Russian accented voice laced with humor asked from the far side of the hammock.

“Nope.” Napoleon Solo didn’t bother to move a muscle. “I’m on medical leave, remember?”

The clearing of a throat off to one side reminded him that they were not alone.

“Mr. Solo, sir?” a deep male voice asked tentatively.

Reluctantly, Solo pushed back the hat, his dark eyes taking in two extremely muscular men who, if memory served, were Section III Security. Reclining at the other end of the hammock was his partner.

Dressed in a dark suit with narrow tie, Illya looked out of place in this setting, especially since he was, of all things, handcuffed.

“What the …?” Solo asked, his eyes widening.

“Ah, Mr. Solo? You’ve evidently mislaid your communicator,” one of the Section III agent's deep voice said as he offered the pen shaped unit that even now was beeping.

Napoleon reached out to take the pen. His eyes remained fixed upon his partner, his gaze silently asking for an explanation. Kuryakin remained quiet as he returned the gaze, his blue eyes deceptively giving the impression of not having a worry in the world. Waving the pen toward his partner’s handcuffs, Napoleon finally asked, “Is there a reason …?”

“I would rather not say,” the softly accented voice blandly answered.

Automatically activating the communicator, he removed his straw hat and stretched forward to place it upon the blond head, aware of how the hot sun could affect the pale skin of his partner. Only when Illya set the hat set jauntily upon his head did Napoleon finally speak into the communicator. “Solo here.”

“Ah, good. I see our men found you,” the familiar voice of Alexander Waverly came through loud and clear. “I trust Mr. Kuryakin arrived safely?”

“Uh…yes, sir.”

“Good. I know you have questions, but this is most important. Mr. Solo, you are not to trust Mr. Kuryakin in any way. Is that understood? He has proven to be a traitor.”

Napoleon stared at the pen-shaped object in disbelief, then pinched himself to see if he was dreaming this conversation.

Imperiously Solo commanded the two agents with a wave of his free hand, “You may go now.” His eyes remained fixed on the Russian, as he heard footsteps leave the area, a car door open and close, the motor start and a vehicle leave.

Covering the communicator, he suggested, “You’re a little over dressed, you know. Why don’t you get those things off?” His head nodding toward the cuffs.

With an amused look upon his face, Kuryakin raised his manacled hands, stretching them apart as if to say ‘go for it’.

With a grunt, Napoleon reached over and grabbed the chain links of the cuffs, pulling the blond toward him in the process. Alexander Waverly’s voice could still be heard over the communicator. Irritated, Napoleon placed the communicator into his partner’s hand, and muttering “Yes, sir,” from time to time as he examined the locked cuffs.

His examination complete, he narrowed his eyes, looking intently at the Russian, then motioned with his hand in a fashion that clearly said ‘come on, hand it over’. Illya stared at him uncomprehending until Napoleon covered the receiver with one hand and pointed to his open mouth with the other. “Arar ar.”

“Oh,” Illya said as enlightenment dawned. He gave Napoleon the communicator and reached into his mouth, removing a small length of wire.

Napoleon’s brow puckered as he watched, several unpleasant questions tickling through the back of his mind. Illya should have had plenty of chances to use the wire himself. Why hadn’t he? To his knowledge, no one except himself knew that Illya kept that wire there. It had come in handy before. Still he would have thought a thorough search would have turned it up.

Only partially listening to what Waverly was saying, Napoleon decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and handed back the communicator as he reached out for the piece of wire, working it until he was satisfied. He poked it into the lock, twisting it until the lock clicked open. As the cuffs came apart, he retrieved the communicator and watched as Illya rubbed his wrist. Covering the communicator, he stated the obvious, “You could have done this yourself, you know.”

“I know,” Illya said simply, too tired to think of anything witty. Sure, he could have released himself. He could also have easily killed the two men guarding him. But to what end? They were bringing him to Napoleon which, at the moment, was where he wanted to be.

The communicator was still squawking.

“Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir,” Napoleon said before closing the channel and tossing the communicator over his shoulder onto the sand. Keeping his eyes on his partner, he waited for some sort of response to the information their superior had advanced. When none came, he asked, “Did you?”

“Yes.”

“You had a good reason, I hope?” Napoleon kept his voice calm while virtually begging for an affirmative answer.

“No, not really.”

Realizing that he probably should not have expected a more elaborate answer, Napoleon peered critically at his partner. If he looked closely, he could see the tiredness that was not noticeable to anyone who didn’t know the Russian. “When was the last time you slept?”

Illya looked down and shrugged.

“Hmm-mm,” Napoleon said, as he pushed his partner to lie back. “Take a load off.” That got a tiny smile from his friend, as it was something he normally would never say. He was pleased when the Russian pulled his feet up and reclined, pulling down the hat to cover his face, and was instantly asleep. Removing the sleeping man’s shoes and socks, Napoleon pitched them over his shoulder after the communicator.

Happy as he was to see the Russian, Napoleon had come to this remote place to get away and think things through. Something he was still working on. Keeping an wary eye on his partner, Napoleon thought over the strange conversation he had listened to from Alexander Waverly. Illya a traitor! Impossible! To whom? And why send him here? Napoleon had brought neither a communicator nor a gun to the island with him. Plus he was on a medical leave of absence. It was most puzzling. Illya’s answers hadn’t been helpful either. He brought his fingers to his head, massaging his temple.

“Don’t think about it,” floated from beneath the hat. “You’ll only give yourself a headache.”

Smacking the leg closest to him, eliciting an “Oww, that smarts.” Napoleon decided to follow his partner’s advice. Pushing off with one leg, he set the hammock gently rocking and turned his gaze to the calm blue sea, wishing that his thoughts were as calm.

As dusk approached, Napoleon slapped Illya on the leg and suggested, “Let’s move indoors.” As he pulled himself up, a sharp pain radiated from his chest area. Even a couple weeks after having been shot, he was still uncomfortably aware of the wounds. The doctors had given him a complete list of exercises to do, which he had not followed.

Illya was instantly at his side, supporting him. “I’m fine,” Napoleon grunted as the pain started to fade away. Brushing his partner off, he made his dignified way back to his home away from home.

From a distance, the structure did not look impressive. In fact, it looked more like a rickety shack then something Napoleon would have chosen to spend time in. Napoleon led the way up a short flight of stairs to the wood deck, where a wicker fan was gently whirling overhead. The bamboo walls and the thatched roof kept out the elements and that was all Napoleon had cared about. He stepped back to let his partner pass, wandering what his impression would be. There wasn’t much to see, a deck chair, a couple of small tables and a small bar, well stocked of course, next to the double glass doors that led into the shack itself.

Napoleon held his breath as Illya found the book he had started soon after his arrival to the island. The view of the ocean from this spot had proven most distracting and he’d not read more then a chapter or two.

“Really, Napoleon. Goldfinger?" he snickered, then brought his gaze around to find and linger longingly on the bamboo enclosed outdoor shower in the corner.

Walking past the well-stocked bar, Napoleon slid open the glass sliding door, then stepped back to watch Illya’s reaction. There really wasn’t much to the place, the furniture was plain and simple. Most notable was the king-sized bed draped in mosquito netting that dominated the room. Napoleon watched as Illya’s experienced eyes found and noted the wood door that led to the outside, before sliding on to a corner cupboard next to the only dresser, and stop as his gaze fell on yet another door. This door had an odd plaque on it – a caricature of an old man sitting on a toilet reading.

“Not up to your usual standards,” Illya commented as his gaze swept past the tiny stove and even smaller sink to rest placidly upon Napoleon.

“Ummm,” Napoleon said as he retrieved a towel, tossing it to Illya. “I assume you saw the shower outside against the back wall?”

It didn't escape Napoleon's attention how physically and mentally exhausted Illya was, in spite of his nap on the beach. Amused at Illya’s enthusiastic examination of the strange bamboo enclosed shower situated in one corner of the deck, Napoleon headed to the bar to fix them drinks as clothes were stripped then tossed aside and his partner entered the unusual outdoor shower and turned on the hot water tap.

The amusement turned into a chuckle as Illya yelped when only cold water hit his body. Ignoring the glare Illya sent over the top of the shower door, Napoleon grinned as he handed him a glass filled with cold vodka.

 

“I suppose you need cold showers with the lack of female company that you have around here,” Illya surmised.

“Sorry, the choice was either a hot shower or ice for my drinks,” Napoleon replied as he picked up Illya’s clothing and went through them, coming up with all sorts of odds and ends. Things were not adding up. Napoleon’s mind always came back to the fact that if Illya was a traitor, he should have been thoroughly searched. Also why had Waverly made such a point that Illya was not to be trusted? “Exactly who was it that searched you?” he asked.

Illya smirked over the shower door.

Setting aside the clothing, Napoleon sat down in the deck chair with his drink, watching the sunset beyond the ocean. “I don’t suppose you want to tell me your version of what happened?”

Illya looked over the shower door, his hair full of suds. “I don’t suppose you want to tell me what you were doing in that church?”

Napoleon continued to look out to sea. To tell Illya why he’d been there was asking for trouble, as if he didn’t already have enough. Napoleon decided to change the subject. “You know I could have been in heaven by now.”

Illya looked over the shower door again. “What makes you assume it would be heaven?”

Napoleon wondered if he should tell Illya of his out of body experience. He had almost died on the church steps. Hell, he should have died. At this point, he no longer cared who shot him. It wasn’t the first time, after all. He closed his eyes, hearing the water stop, and the pad of footsteps heading into the shack. His imagination supplied the nude body sliding in between the clean sheets on his bed.

***

Napoleon had fallen asleep in the deck chair at least until Illya tapped his shoulder, waking him. He spared a quick glance at his partner, relieved to see him attired in his spare pair of swim trunks, even if they were too large and hung around the Russian’s slender hips.

“Did you plan to sleep out here all night?” the Russian asked a small smile on his lips.

Napoleon got up and stretched. He felt sweaty and in need of a shower. His mind kept running over everything Mr. Waverly had said and he'd tried to make sense of it when he’d fallen to sleep. He walked to the edge of the deck and looked out on his private little space of beach, the sun shining on the greenish-blue sea. Yesterday it had seemed so tranquil.

“You should have come to bed. After all, it is yours.”

Napoleon went into the shack, brushing past his partner without answering. After all what could he say, I didn’t go to bed, for fear that I might…he squelched that thought before it could go further. Going to the small stove in one corner, he fixed some coffee.

“Napoleon. I need you to talk to me.” Illya stood framed in the glass doorway. For the first time since their partnership, he was unsure of Napoleon’s state of mind. One minute he was normal, the next distant. Did Napoleon consider him a traitor?

“What is it you want me to say?” Napoleon turned around and for the first time that day, took a good look at his partner. He looked a little better then yesterday. The rest had done him some good. What a pair they made, both dressed in swim trunks and unshaven. At least Illya was clean. Napoleon went to the corner cupboard and pulled out a towel.

As Napoleon passed him on his way to the shower, he noticed Illya shift from one leg to the other, uncertainty in his eyes. “I need to know where we stand? Our partnership?”

Napoleon was silent as he turned on the shower and lathered up. He looked over the shower door at the look of worry on Illya’s face and was unable to keep from smiling. “We stand where we’ve always stood. Partners … together in sickness and in health.”

“’Til death do us part?” Illya responded automatically, his mind centered on the time in ICU. He leaned against the wall, staring at the floor. “I saw the monitor go flat line,” he said as he brought his eyes upward, looking Napoleon straight in the eye, “You did die, you know.”

Napoleon shrugged. “So they tell me.” He wrapped the towel around his waist and exited the shower before walking over to put his hands on the Russian’s shoulders. “But I am not dead.”

Deep blue eyes peered intensely into warm brown eyes. “They said they knew who shot you,” Illya admitted sheepishly.

Napoleon did not bother asking who they were. He’d thought it might be something like that from what Waverly had said. His hands tightened on the thin shoulders. Napoleon was torn between shaking him or hugging him and cursed his upbringing that made it unacceptable to show his love for this man. He compromised by letting his hands drop to his side. “And they’d tell for a price? You didn’t request back-up? Ask Waverly’s permission? Just put your entire career on the line for me? ... I’m not worth it, you know.”

You are to me, Illya thought but did not voice. He looked away, biting his bottom lip. “It was a risk, but I could not afford to take the chance. It seemed the only way to find out. All other ways had drawn blanks.”

“I take it they lied.”

“I would not know. I never got a chance to find out.”

“Oh well. C’est la guerre,” Napoleon said with a sigh.

Act III - Memories of Why

“Napoleon?”

“What?”

“Your towel is slipping.”

“Grrrr,” Napoleon growled and grabbed the towel before it could fall, then turned to go inside. Illya cocked an eyebrow before sliding down into deck chair, stifling a laugh.

Napoleon slid the glass door open, dropping the towel to the floor, kicking it aside. Normally neater, he would have stooped to pick it up. But things had not been ‘normal’ since he had entered St. Stephen’s Church.

At the corner cupboard, Napoleon selected a pair of trunks and tank top from his meager selection of clothing. Gone were the suits, white shirts and ties. He had arrived on the island with nothing more than a change of clothing in a duffle bag. Upon leaving the customs area, he had done away with his tie and headed for his first point of destination, a realtor. He specified that he wanted a private stretch of beach.

Pouring two mugs of coffee, Napoleon brought out the fruit that he normally ate for breakfast. His appetite had proven almost nonexistent of late. As he headed out to the deck with the two steaming cups in one hand, the bowl of fruit in the other, he set one of the cups, as well as the bowl, down next to where his partner relaxed before proceeding to the edge of the deck. He stood there, sipping his coffee, his eyes looking upon the blue sea. He wasn’t sure which problem should take precedence, his or Illya’s.

Without a word, Napoleon set out down the steps and crossed the warm sand, his feet eventually sinking into wet sand as he arrived at the water’s edge. He stood there for a few minutes, wondering what would it be like to just float away? Then dropping his cup and tossing off his tank top, he walked into the sea. First ankle deep, then knee deep, the going getting tougher as the water rose higher. When the water reached his waist, he plunged in and with clean even strokes swam until he could swim no further.

Napoleon ceased moving, flinging the water from his hair and swimming in place, getting his bearings. He could see Illya in the distance, but was unable to make out his expression. His chest hurt, but not from the wounds that had so nearly ended his life. That Illya had no clue as to his feelings for him, he was sure. The funny thing was that it wasn’t a physical desire, though that was part of it, which fueled these feelings he had for his partner.

Partner, he thought as he turned on his back, closing his eyes, letting his thoughts drift to the past.

Napoleon remembered being angry as he stormed into his office and threw a much-abused folder down on his desk.

Illya, working on an expense report at his own desk, glanced up before saying, “I take it your medical examination did not go well.”

“Go well … go well!” Napoleon sputtered. “Do you know that the dear doctor threatened to pull me from active duty? Just because my blood pressure was a little high!”

A tiny smile played across his lips as Illya’s eyes remained on his paperwork and he muttered, “I can not imagine why. After all, what with being shot at, drugged, and generally tortured …”

“Exactly!” Napoleon replied heatedly, slamming his hand down on the desk. “Plus, he had the nerve to say that I need to lose ten pounds!” He stood up and opened his jacket for inspection. “I ask you, where is there an extra ten pounds?”

Illya looked over the top of his glasses before pushing them back up and returning to his paperwork. “Have you checked your rear end lately?” he offered wickedly.

Napoleon, a frown on his handsome face, turned to check out his rear before buttoning his jacket closed and regaining his seat. “Very funny, IK,” he said indignantly.

Illya laughed softly to himself. “Perhaps all you need is to eat properly and exercise.”

“This from a man who eats jelly donuts for breakfast and can’t pass up a chocolate desert,” Napoleon muttered under his breath.

Setting down his pen and focusing his full attention on his partner, Illya said seriously. “Napoleon, perhaps you should do as the doctor says. I will be happy to help out in the exercise department. We could go jogging in the park every day before work.”

“Just how early would I have to get up for this?” Napoleon asked suspiciously. “And why not here at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters?”

“Oh six-thirty should be early enough,” Illya replied, “and I think you might find the … scenery more conducive then the jogging tracks here.”

 

Six o’clock a.m. the following morning found Illya Kuryakin pounding at Napoleon’s door.

“Okay, okay. I’m coming,” Napoleon said as he opened his door. Dressed in jogging pants and sweatshirt, Napoleon did not feel at his best. He always felt better in a three-piece suit or a tuxedo.

“Come on, Napoleon, we are missing the best part of the morning,” Illya complained.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Napoleon muttered.

Illya raised an eyebrow. “You would rather be pulled from active duty?”

“No, thank you.” Napoleon shuddered.

Illya Kuryakin proved to be a tough taskmaster and Napoleon found himself panting hard before they’d even gone a quarter of a mile. True to Illya’s forecast, the scenery was nicer than the track at the U.N.C.L.E. gym, but then anything would have been better.

Illya had decided that they would start small, only going a mile this first day. They were at the halfway point when Napoleon slowed down and stopped, panting hard, his hands on his knees. “Don’t say it. I am not out of shape,” Napoleon warned.

“Of course not, Napoleon,” Illya said, jogging in place. Napoleon was beginning to wonder if this was worth it all, when two female joggers started to pass them. The two young ladies turned, jogging backwards, flirting shamelessly with the U.N.C.L.E. agents. One of them even blew a kiss, before they both turned with a laugh to jog away.

Illya could not resist a small smile as Napoleon straightened up, unable to resist the lure of two females, and started to run after them. Shaking his head, Illya followed at a more leisurely pace.

Six weeks later, a jubilant Napoleon returned to his office and bounced on his partner’s desk, sending papers flying.

“I see your examination went better this time,” Illya observed as he leaned over to pick the scattered papers off the floor.

“You bet. My blood pressure is down and I’ve lost fifteen pounds,” Napoleon acknowledged. “I feel great and it’s all thanks to you.”

“You are very much welcome,” Illya replied, pleased to hear it. “But what else are partners for?”

Napoleon unconsciously smiled; it had been a couple of months later when…

An extremely angry brunette brushed past a startled Illya Kuryakin on his way into the research section. He paused to contemplate her receding figure before entering and finding his partner sprawled on the floor, rubbing his jaw.

“And what, may I ask, was that all about?” Illya asked as he looked down upon his partner.

His expression one of confusion, Napoleon answered. “I’m … I’m not sure.”

The blond Russian squatted down and held out his hand to help his friend up. “Perhaps I should follow her and ask?”

“I’m not sure I want to know,” Napoleon remarked, as he rose from the floor and adjusted his cuffs.

Illya turned a thoughtful gaze at the door. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Stacie so angry before,” he murmured.

“Stacie?” Napoleon stared at his partner. “Did you say Stacie?” He let out a groan. “And I called her Tracy. No wonder she hit me,” he covered his face with his hands.

“I have told you before about keeping better track of your women,” Illya said with amusement.

Napoleon grinned, “Why do you think I use ‘Sweetie Pie’ and ‘Sugar’ so much. Now tell me, what brings you here?”

“We are wanted,” Illya said as he started for the door. “by Mr. Waverly.”

As they headed toward Waverly’s office, Napoleon was reluctant to mention the ache that was making itself known at the back of his head. As they settled into their seats, Napoleon hoped nobody noticed when he almost missed his. His seemed to be having problems with his vision, things were blurring and he blinked his eyes to clear them. Unable to keep his mind on the conversation, he stayed quiet, nodded in what he hoped were the right places, planning on having Illya bring him up-to-date later.

It wasn’t until Illya rose to leave that he realized the briefing was over and got up as well. He felt strange, a little dizzy, as he followed his partner out of the room.

Illya looked at him strangely. “Are you alright? You did not say two words in there,” he asked with concern.

“I’m fine,” Napoleon replied as they got into the elevator. He went to push the button for their floor and missed. Illya scowled and reached over, pushing the correct button for him. Suddenly the elevator seemed to grow dim. “Ah…Illya, did the lights in here just go out?”

Illya stared at the American. “No.”

“Then I think I have a problem,” Napoleon said as his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he passed out.

Illya immediately pushed the emergency button, barking into the speaker. “Medical emergency.”
***

Napoleon froze for just a second upon hearing the door to the room swish open, pausing in his effort to finish dressing. “Who’s there?” he called out.

“It is I,” A Slavic accented voice replied. Illya Kuryakin paused to watch as his partner, who without the benefit of his sight, was managing to dress himself impeccably. “How do you do that?”

“I will never understand why it is that you have to remove all of your clothing just for a head wound … and do what?” Napoleon complained.

“How do you manage to dress yourself, when you cannot see what you are doing?”

“Oh, that. Practice,” Napoleon said with a grin, his eyes focused at a point two inches to the side of Illya’s left shoulder.

“What did the doctor have to say?” Illya asked as the door swished open again and a brunette whirlwind swept pass him, throwing herself into his startled partner’s arms.

“Ohhh, Napoleon!” the brunette cried. “I’m soooo sorry. I never meant to hit you that hard.”

“Uh, it’s okay, Stacie,” Napoleon said awkwardly as he patted Stacie’s shoulder. Only it wasn’t her shoulder.

“Really, Napoleon!” Stacie cried as she backed away to straighten her blouse.

Illya watched in amusement. Just then, the door swished open once again, admitting Alexander Waverly. Out of the corner of his eye, Illya noticed his partner had frozen for an instant when the door opened.

Mr. Waverly paused just inside the doorway. “Young lady, don’t you have some place you need to be?”

Stacie’s face turned red as she eased past the two men. “Yes, sir. I’ll talk to you later, Mr. Solo.”

Illya turned away so his superior couldn’t see the smirk on his face.

“Well, Mr. Solo, – how do you feel?” Mr. Waverly asked.

“I’m fine, sir. Just fine,” Napoleon asserted. It might have worked if Napoleon’s gaze had rested Waverly’s face.

Waverly let out a grunt, and then turned to the man who had just walked in. “Doctor. What is Mr. Solo’s condition?

Leafing through the papers on his clipboard, the doctor said crisply, “After having an x-ray done, it appears that swelling of the tissue is putting pressure on the optic nerve. It should be temporary, once the swelling goes down, he may suffer some dizziness for a few days, other then that I see no major difficulties.”

“Temporary?” Waverly asked. “You’re certain?”

“Yes, it is my feeling that the effects are temporary.”

“Well, if that is all, I think I’ll go back to my office,” Napoleon said as he moved unobtrusively away.

“Napoleon!”

The sharp cry from his Russian partner caused him to freeze. Just in time. Had he taken one more step, he would have walked into a piece of equipment jutting out from the wall directly at eye level.

Illya Kuryakin, shaking his head, moved over and pushed the equipment flat against the wall.

Mr. Waverly turned to the doctor. “Recommendations?”

“Well, we could keep him here in medical until his eyesight returns,” The doctor suggested.

“Do I have to?” Napoleon asked.

Illya turned away to hide his smile. To him, Napoleon had sounded like a five-year-old responding to being told he had to go to bed. Clearing his throat, he offered. “Sir, perhaps I could stay with him and keep him out of trouble.”

“I don’t need any help,” Napoleon argued, making a face. It would have been more effective it if had been aimed toward the culprit.

“Hmmph. I suppose that would be best,” Mr. Waverly stated. “I will turn over your current assignment to Masters and Johnson. You, Mr. Kuryakin, will stay close to your partner until his eyesight returns.”

“Yes, sir,” Illya acknowledged as he took Solo by the elbow, herding him out the door.

Once the door swished closed, Napoleon jerked his arm out of Illya’s grasp. “I’m perfectly capable of making my own way,” he said testily as he started down the hall.

“Yes, Napoleon.” Illya grabbed the tail of Napoleon’s jacket, pulling him to a stop and turning him around. “Our offices are this way.”

“Thank you,” Napoleon said stiffly as he marched in the correct direction, unaware of the people scattering to the right and left in his wake.

Illya shook his head ruefully and followed, offering apologies as he passed. When Napoleon stopped, having walked into the elevator door, Illya felt called upon to point out, “Napoleon, you are going to need a little assistance until your eyesight comes back. Let me help.”

“Okay,” Napoleon answered grudgingly, once again managing to sound five-years old. Actually, he was secretly relieved. After all wasn’t that what having a partner was for?

***

He smiled as he thought back to all the things Illya had done for him until his sight returned. It was one of the things that had made him realized that he … felt more than friendship for his partner. Exactly when had the sneaky little Russian stolen his heart? Letting out a sigh, he opened his eyes and saw the sun shining overhead. It must be around noon, he thought.

Turning on his stomach and using long leisurely strokes, he made his way back to shore. Retrieving his tank top to cover the scars left by the shooting, Napoleon’s gaze found Illya, whose pale skin was turning a soft pink, napping in the hammock.

He walked to the hammock, and nudged Illya’s foot. “Hungry?”

Illya came awake with a start, pushing himself out of the hammock. “Da,” he said. It had been a while since he had eaten. He looked at his partner’s face. “Are you all right?”

“I am now,” Napoleon said solemnly. He averted his eyes when, as Illya stooped to pick up his shoes and socks, shaking the sand out of them, and the loose fitting trunks slid lower. He really should tell Illya how he felt, he thought, but perhaps it would be best to feed him first. Damn, he mentally swore as he realized that the larder was almost bare. They would have to go into the village and replenish supplies. They could pick up some more clothing for Illya, as well. At the rate they were going, neither of them would have anything to wear soon. Now there was an idea.

Gathering together fresh fruit, cheese, and crackers, Napoleon set the platter down in front of the famished Russian. “I know it’s not much. Maybe we should go into the village?”

Illya, a piece of fruit on its way to his mouth, let out a smirk. “I was more or less under the impression that I was under house arrest.”

Napoleon turned his chair around and sat, resting his arms across the back. “You know that puzzles me. Why send you here? Why not just keep you in New York and throw away the key?”

“Do you think they should have?”

“No. Of course not,” Napoleon said as he sipped his coffee. “Had it been anyone else, though, I would have. All that aside, if you are going to stay here, we have to go get some more supplies.”

“And if they try to stop us?”

“They can try.” A feral smile flitted across Napoleon’s face.

***

Following lunch, the two man made plans to go into the village. Napoleon lent Illya more of his own clothing, which didn’t fit very well. Transportation could have proven a problem; Napoleon had not rented a car. Hell, he didn’t even have a phone. What he did have was a moped. Illya’s snigger aside, they got on it and set out.

As they stopped at a crossroads leading into the village, Illya’s prediction proved correct. They spotted a car with the two agents who had delivered the Russian into Napoleon’s keeping, obviously on guard duty. An intense glare from the American quelled any desire they might have had to stop them.

Napoleon insisted Illya purchase some new clothing, stipulating that none be in basic black.

“I don’t need any new clothing.”

“You don’t need any new black clothing. You can not continue to wear mine. First off, they don’t fit you and secondly, I don’t have that many to begin with.”

Illya, of course, protested, until Napoleon pointed out that it was U.N.C.L.E.’s money paying for it, not his. Illya acquiesced reluctantly and soon found himself the recipient of several light colored slacks, shorts and shirts. All the shirts were in varying shades of blue - azure, cobalt, sapphire and Napoleon made the snarky remark that they matched his eyes.

Napoleon pretended not to notice the glare that Illya sent his way when he had plopped the shirts down on the counter. Socks, tee-shirts, underwear, and a pair of sneakers rounded out the purchases. A problem developed when they realized that these purchases, along with food items, would prove too much for them to cart back to the shack on the moped.

“Okay, what do we do now?” Illya asked.

Napoleon pursed his lips, and looked across the road, spotting a familiar car. “Aha. Traveler’s aid. Follow me,” he said as he approached the car and leaned down to look into the driver’s window. “Hi there. Why don’t you two be good chaps and cart these back to my place?” He opened the back door of the car and tossed the packages inside. “Don’t forget to put them away. Illya and I will join you later.”

The two Section III agents looked at one another, then the driver turned on the ignition and drove away. As he looked into his rearview mirror, he saw the two men they were charged with watching wave after them.

“Mr. Waverly’s not going to like this,” his partner said.

“If you want to take on those two, be my guest,” the driver replied.

***

It was late when Napoleon and Illya finally returned. Tourists, in all shapes and sizes, filled the village and Napoleon insisted on Illya also seeing all the local attractions. Upon their return, Napoleon was relieved to note that the food had been properly put away and Illya’s packages stacked neatly on the bed.

 

Act IV – The Esquire Affair

Fixing them each a drink, Napoleon let out a deep breath. “Illya, do you remember the Esquire Affair?”

Illya nodded, wondering why Napoleon had brought it up. “How could I not,” he said in disgust.

The two agents had been called into Waverly’s office. After hmming and hawwwing for a while, Waverly finally came to the point. An old friend of his, the publisher of Esquire Magazine, was worried that something rotten was happening with the publication. THRUSH was suspected and someone was needed to go in undercover discreetly and investigate. That someone was Illya Kuryakin.

“You, Mr. Kuryakin, will pose as a male model,” Waverly informed him.

“Why me, sir?” Illya asked. Napoleon was wondering that, himself.

“Pictures of several agents were put forward. Yours was chosen,” Waverly apprised him.

“Ah, what about me, sir?” Napoleon asked, slightly perturbed that his partner was preferred over him. After all what was he … chopped liver?

“You, Mr. Solo, will accompany your partner as his agent. Collect all pertinent information and travel arrangements from Miss Rogers on your way out.”

Illya had not been amused. Upon their arrival at the studio providing photos for the current issue of Esquire, the photographer, Stanley Upington, had taken one look at the Russian and started fawning over him. Illya had quickly been passed on to wardrobe and makeup. Napoleon blinked in surprise, shocked at how well turned out his partner looked when he emerged. His blond hair was absolutely shining, the soft golden tresses gleaming under the spotlights. Attired in an expensive Russian style silk shirt, matching slacks and shoes so shiny you could see your face in them, he looked nice, better than nice, he looked hot with a capital H-O-T.

Napoleon watched in amusement as Upington, snapping pictures of the Russian agent, who awkwardly posed for the camera, simpered. “Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. Those cheekbones. Turn this way. Let’s have more pout.”

“I … do … not … pout,” Illya responded, his tone holding a dangerous edge to it, as he glared intensely at the photographer.

“That’s it. More of that,” Upington enthused.

After snapping what seemed like a hundred pictures, Upington called for a break.

“I’m glad you find this all so amusing,” Illya said irritably in passing, on his way to wardrobe, for yet another change of clothing.

“Who, me?” Napoleon asked, his expression all innocence.

When Illya emerged, dressed in a skimpy pair of swimming trunks, Napoleon choked. Another male model, Derek somebody or other, they never did find out his last name, arrived. He was extremely handsome, dark hair and a multitude of muscles, attired in an equally skimpy outfit, his muscular stature making the Russian appear even smaller than he actually was. After snapping a few pictures, Upington shook his head. There was obviously no chemistry between the two models, and the poses were not to his liking.

“Good,” Illya muttered aside to his partner. “Maybe now he will use someone else.”

Napoleon smirked, bringing Upington’s attention his way. The man looked at him speculatively then turned to assistant, consulting with her, before calling out, “You there.”

“Me?” Napoleon asked, surprised.

“Yes, you,” Upington retorted. “Have you ever done any modeling? Marcie, take him and get him fitted out.” His eyes were appraising Napoleon’s physique. “Something different, I think.”

For the first time since the start of the shoot, Illya was amused.

When Napoleon reluctantly returned, he was wearing a modest pair of bathing trunks complete with matching cover-up, and sunglasses. Upington nodded his approval, and posed the two men together. Both men posed rather stiffly, much to the photographer’s dismay. Calling another break, he watched as the two men relaxed with each other. He contemplated for just a minute before calling his assistant over. “Marcie, bring me the special camera,” he requested in a low tone.

Once the miniature camera was brought out, Upington, unbeknownst to the two agents, snapped an abundance of pictures. When he was done, he sent them back to wardrobe for yet another change. The two returned, meticulously attired in the latest style tuxedos. He faked taking more pictures, before calling for another break. More pictures were taken with his miniature camera, catching the two agents as they chatted with each other. The tediousness of the shoot had gotten past their usual defenses.

“You were out of town for the repercussion,” Napoleon reminded his partner, as he went to the dresser and pulled a magazine out of the drawer.

“What repercussions? The whole thing was a, what is the term, a fizzle?” Illya asked. Nothing had come of the investigation. No involvement by THRUSH or anyone else had been proven.

Napoleon tossed the magazine down. The cover photo was of the two of them, in swimsuit attire. Napoleon was straddling a bench, while Illya, his eyes closed, stretched out languidly on the same bench, relaxed against him. The moment was totally unguarded. Napoleon’s face reflected the affection he held for his partner.

Illya leafed through the magazine, finding more unguarded shots of them. “Mr. Waverly must have been furious,” he said calmly.

“Livid, is the word,” Napoleon confirmed. “More so at the cost in attorney fees to keep this issue off the newsstands than anything else.”

Illya raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“Those pictures show quite plainly how I feel about you.”

“What exactly are you trying to say?”

“Our … partnership … means a lot to me. You personally mean a lot to me and there are some … people … and um religions … that,” he looked away, not sure how to phrase what he wanted to say. “That consider the way I feel about you … improper.”

“Improper in what way?” Illya asked, his blue eyes intent as he moved closer.

Could he possibly be that dense, Napoleon thought? He reached out and seized the Russian’s face, bringing their lips together. The kiss started out cautiously, but soon turned bolder. Napoleon’s hands left Illya’s face as his arms moved to embrace the body of his partner, holding him close.

When they finally pulled apart, Napoleon looked into the dazed eyes of his partner. I think he’s finally got it, he thought.

Illya licked his lips. “Does this have anything to do with why you were in that church? If so, why could you not just tell me?”

Napoleon brought his head down to Illya’s shoulder, shaking with laughter, and wanting to shake him. He raised his head to look into the deceptively innocent blue eyes. “Because, you irascible Russian, I wasn’t sure how you would take it … and I was sure how the church would.” He tilted his head to one side. “By the way, how do you feel about this?”

Napoleon held his breath while Illya appeared to deliberate. “Well … as a kisser you’re not too bad,” he said, managing to keep a straight face.

“Il-ly-a!” Napoleon growled.

“Let me see if I have this straight. You are telling me you were in church to confess something you had not done?” Illya asked with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

“What can I say?” Napoleon, his eyes downcast, replied with a shrug. “I was raised to feel guilty.” Needing yet not wanting to need.

He didn’t see the sudden look of compassion in his partner’s blue eyes. Nor the struggle the Russian made as he strove not to pull the older man into a firm embrace.

“Unbelievable,” Illya murmured, shaking his head in disbelief. “Napoleon, I find I have no objections to our … expanding our relationship. Providing…”

“Providing?” Napoleon prompted.

“Providing you do not expect me to bottom all the time.”

Napoleon laughed nervously. “Er … Illya, there is something else I need to tell you.”

As Illya looked at him questioningly, he continued, “Ah, I haven’t needed cold showers in quite a while,” Napoleon confessed. “I am unable to respond … sexually.”

An eyebrow went up. “Really? Are you sure?” Illya asked, as he looked at the area in question.

“Quite sure,” Napoleon responded dryly. Even the use of his own hand hadn’t gotten a rise out of him.

“How disappointing,” Illya murmured. “Napoleon, my feelings for you are not contingent upon your performance.” He stretched, tiredness suddenly overtaking him. “It has been a long day, a long week in fact, and I am bushed. You too, my friend, must be tired. It could not have been comfortable sleeping in that chair last night.”

Napoleon willingly acquiesced and soon the two men were undressed and spooned up against one another, the warmth of their bodies intertwined feeling right and natural. Neither man fell asleep right away. After a while Illya stirred slightly. “Napoleon? Do you remember our first mission together as partners?”

Napoleon pressed a kiss on a bare shoulder. “Yes, why?”

Illya sighed in contentment as he turned to face his partner. “I think … for me … that is when it first occurred to me I could trust someone else with my life.”

Napoleon smiled remembering.

The cavernous walls of their cell were dank and cold. Water trickled down, leaving a thin coat of green slime.

“I told you to leave me,” the blond agent hissed angrily, his low pitched voice tinged with pain. He was lying upon the only cot in the room, his partner’s dark head bent over his foot as Napoleon gently undid the shoelaces.

“Since when do you tell me what to do?” the brunet agent responded just as quietly, a frown on his worried face as he gingerly pulled the boot off over the swollen ankle. “Besides, leaving my partner to be killed was not an option,” he stated flatly as his hand lightly examined the swollen ankle. He was relieved that it was only twisted and not broken.

“It is better than both of us ending up dead. It is not like you have never lost a partner before.” The Russian was irritated with his partner, who, not looking up, mumbled a reply. His annoyance was enough that he grabbed the older man’s dark hair and pulled his head up to look him in the eye. “What did you say?” he asked his voice tinged with anger. Anger with himself for getting hurt. Anger with his partner for not leaving him to his fate.

“Ow, let go, you crazy Russian. Who’s the senior agent here?” Napoleon responded with an annoyed glare. He pulled the younger man’s hand from his hair. “I said,” he raised his voice slightly, angry that he had to say this at all. “No, I haven’t lost a partner before. Until we were partnered, I never had a regular partner, never really wanted one. But I’ve lost enough people in my life to know I don’t want to lose anymore. Happy now?”

Illya shrank back on the cot, sorry he’d asked. “So now we both die,” he said gloomily.

Napoleon shrugged as he straightened from his squatted position on the floor. “So what, if I’m dead, I’m sure it won’t bother me. I doubt if I’ll even care.” There was a small tug of a smile on his lips and his eyes were now dancing with merriment.

“How can you joke about a thing like this? What is it - you have a death wish?” Illya asked grumpily, his twisted ankle sending sharp jabs of pain through him, making him irritable.

Napoleon looked down on his fairly new Russian partner, laughter in his voice as his anger dissipated. “No, life’s too short as it is.”

The Russian shook his shaggy blond head. Were all Americans this crazy?

The sound of wheels rolling echoed down the tunnel carved out of rock leading to their cell ended the conversation. Napoleon swiftly and silently moved over to the barred door.

An attractive blonde pushed a covered cart, while a larger thug followed. The woman stopped at the door to their cell and stood aside as the guard opened the door. She wheeled the cart inside, while the guard remained outside. With a twist of her wrist, she flicked the cloth covering the tray away to reveal soup and sandwiches.

The Russian’s blue eyes lit up. At least they would not die hungry.

Napoleon frowned slightly as he stared at the food. His mind correctly deduced that evidently they were not to be executed right away. Why bother to feed them if they were? He gave a speculative glance to the woman, letting his eyes rake her body from top to bottom. It was a million-in-one shot, but what did they have to lose? It just might work.

Moving closer to her, ignoring the gun that was swinging his way just beyond the doorway, he lowered his voice seductively and said, “This is all very nice, but there are nicer things I’d rather do before I die.”

The attractive blonde-haired woman pulled a gun as she backed away, her eyes wary. “Don’t try anything cute,” she ordered, aiming the gun at his crotch.

“I wouldn’t think of it,” the American murmured, stepping closer into her personal space. He leisurely brought his hand to her hair, gently pushing back a blonde strand. “Surely one kiss wouldn’t hurt.” His smile was seductive, his eyes holding her’s mesmerized. “Especially if we’re to die?”

Illya, from his place on the cot, groaned to himself. Here they were in a life or death situation and his partner was flirting with a woman.

Acting as if they were the only two people in the cell, Napoleon moved closer, taking her in his arms, his face inches away from hers, his lips so very close. “We who are about to die,” he murmured before claiming her lips in a tender kiss. She melted into his arms as her eyes slowly closed, and her gun gradually dangled loosely to her side. His kiss became more demanding and his hands began to roam over her body.

The other men, one inside the cell, the other outside, watched in stunned amazement. Illya especially so, until he noticed that his partner had turned his back so as to obstruct the guard’s view, and a set of keys were dangling from his fingers. Carefully, not making any sudden moves that would alert the guard; he reached over and retrieved them.

When Napoleon felt the keys leave his fingers, he broke the kiss, whispering softly, “Thank you.”

The woman backed away, her eyes glazed, her fingertips pressed to her lips. Slowly, she backed out of the room and the guard shook her, bringing her out of her fugue state. With a scowl, they both moved away.

Napoleon shrugged as he moved over to the barred door and watched until they were out of sight. Turning back toward his partner, Napoleon, a smug smile on his face, reached down to pull him up. “Okay, it’s time we left this clip joint.”

Illya winched as his hurt foot touched the floor. “Leave me, I am just a liability,” he gasped, then muttered as if an afterthought. “What is a … clip joint?”

Placing his partner’s arm around his neck and wrapping his arm around the Russian’s waist for support, Napoleon answered, “I’ll explain later. If you think I went to all this trouble to escape alone, you have another think coming.”

The two men proved extremely lucky as they made their way through the rock tunnels. Lucky to find a small motorboat docked at a quay. An alarm sounded and Napoleon more or less tossed his injured partner into the bottom of the boat, then he hurriedly untied it from the dock and jumped in. Without a key available, Napoleon reached beneath the dash and pulled a couple of wires loose, putting the two bare ends together. The motor roared, just as two THRUSH agents came running down the dock with guns drawn. Napoleon jammed the boat into gear to speed away from the dock as bullets whizzed by.

Standing at the wheel, his hair blowing in the wind, his eyes shining, Napoleon threw a grin to his partner as the enemy agents faded in the distance.

“If the situation had been reversed I would have left you,” Illya shouted over the wind.

Napoleon shrugged, totally unworried. He shouted back, “It would have been your prerogative. I’m still new to this partnership thing.”

“You didn’t really know me, then. Yet you wouldn’t leave me.” Illya sighed. Surprisingly, having Napoleon’s arms wrapped around him felt good. Napoleon’s touches had always made him feel better.

***

The room was silent except for the scratching of pens on paper. Napoleon looked up at the desk across the way. His partner was sitting there, elbows on the desk, long fingers massaging his temples. His whole face had a pinched look that was not entirely due to the report he was reading.

“Head hurt?” Solo asked, keeping his voice low.

“A little,” Kuryakin answered, not taking his eyes off the paper. That little admission could only mean that it was hurting a lot.

After a few minutes, Napoleon pushed back his chair as silently as he could and made his way to the men’s room. Taking his best linen handkerchief from his pocket, he soaked it in cold water before wringing it out and carefully folding it into the shape he wanted.

Back in their office, he moved behind his partner. “Put your feet up on the desk,” he ordered, keeping his voice low.

“What?” Illya sat up in surprise.

“Just do it.” The order was given softly.

Reluctantly, the Russian’s feet went to the top of the desk, making his chair tilt back. A cool cloth covered his eyes, soothing the burning sensation. Fingers gently massage his aching temples, providing relief.

As Napoleon gently massaged his partner’s temples, he felt the tension leaving Illya’s body. He smiled fondly at the Russian as a soft snore issued from his lips.

Napoleon’s hands left off their massaging, and he headed back to his own desk, stopping to take the files that littered Illya’s desk. As he opened the first file, a softly accented voice muttered, “Thank you, Napoleon.”

No thanks are needed, after all what are partners for? Picking up his pen to sign off on the report, Napoleon admonished, “Go back to sleep.”

Even now, Illya felt compelled to obey that order. So he did.

Napoleon looked down in amazement at the face of the man sleeping against him. Amazed and pleased that their partnership had come to this. This fierce and loyal man, somehow considered a traitor, just lying there as if he had not a worry in the world. Napoleon frowned at the thought. Come morning he would have Illya tell him exactly what had occurred with Waverly. He kissed the top of the blond head, remembering the first time he had kissed his surly Russian partner. A kiss, in all innocence, that had started his realization of how much he cared for his partner.

Moonlight filtered down on the field of goldenrod, where two U.N.C.L.E. agents lay keeping a THRUSH installation under surveillance. Dressed totally in black to blend in with the night, they watched for signs of activity through their binoculars. Fortunately, the flowering plants surrounding them were growing wild and tall enough to hide them from anything but the closest of inspections.

“Ahhh chu.” Illya tried to smother another sneeze.

Napoleon put down his binoculars to peer at his partner. The Russian’s blond hair was covered by a black stocking cap, his face painted black, just as his own was. “Didn’t you bring anything for that?” he whispered.

“How was I to know my hay fever would act up? I was not expecting to be lying in a field of goldenrods,” Illya snapped back irritably, before another sneeze made itself known. He turned over onto his back, a hand over his nose and mouth. His eyes were watering, and it felt like he had a frog in his throat.

Suddenly, there was movement close by. One of the guards appeared to be heading in their direction. Was it possible that he had heard the muffled sneeze? In the silence of the night, anything was possible. The one guard called another over, and they both looked in the direction where the two men were lying. Flashing their lights in an arc, the THRUSH guards searched for the source of the sound.

As he pulled the handkerchief that he was never without from his back pocket and hid it beneath him, Napoleon held his breath as he lowered his face into the ground while the light passed over them. After a minute or two he looked up. The light was now shining off to their left.

Napoleon glanced at Illya, whose face was scrunched up. His eyes and mouth were clamped tightly shut as he tried his best to keep another sneeze for escaping. It didn’t look like he was going to succeed.

Napoleon closed his eyes, letting out a silent sigh – was it possible they might die … because of a sneeze? The men were moving closer. Napoleon spared a quick glance at his partner. There was only one option. Moving swiftly and silently he covered his partner’s body and brought his mouth to Illya’s to smother and block out any sneeze that might try to escape.

Time seemed to stand still as Napoleon felt the body beneath him stiffen. The sounds of footsteps drew closer, he put all of himself into keeping any noise his partner might make from emerging. The body and mouth under him seemed to melt, accepting his claim to them and the manner of the kiss, for kiss it now was, changed.

“There’s nothing here. We might as well go back,” a voice stated. Napoleon took in the statement in the peripheral of his mind. Waiting a few more minutes, Napoleon finally looked up and watched as the two guards headed back toward their stations.

Illya’s eyes were still shut when he felt the tap to his arm. He opened his eyes, to see his partner motion with his head in the direction of their car, indicating that they should retreat. After crawling back through the wild plants and making their way through the dense trees where their car was parked, Illya questioned, “Napoleon, why did you do that?”

Dark eyes, virtually unreadable, stared intently into quizzical blue ones. “I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?” Napoleon responded.

Illya considered the statement. True, if his sneeze had continued, they would be dead now. It was an unusual course of action, however, but what were partners for if not the unusual?

***
Epilogue- Who Shot Solo

Fingers stroking him, eliciting sensations he had not experience in many a week, slowly penetrated Napoleon’s consciousness. Fingers that most assuredly were not his. Moaning as his delightful dream, if dream it was, sent waves of ecstasy from the base of his cock to the tip. A low chuckle broke through his deep sleep. A sound, a cross between a sigh and a moan, escaped his lips as he opened his eyes. Mischievous blue eyes under unkempt blond hair caught his.

“So much for your claim that you are unable to respond,” the softly accented voice teased.

Napoleon’s gaze went down to his aroused shaft and to the skilled hand of his partner working him. Speechless, Napoleon returned his eyes to the Russian’s face. His open mouth was instantly attacked, as tempting lips covered his and a warm tongue invaded his mouth, expertly taking what little breath he had. A kiss like no other, because it was from someone he truly cared for. He closed his eyes, his hips bucking as he thrust into the warm hand wringing intense pleasure from him, letting the sensations take him over the edge.

It never occurred to him that he could enjoy waking up like this, in bed with a naked Russian. It was a new thrill for Napoleon, but one he didn’t doubt he could get used to. Thoroughly sated, Napoleon returned to sanity as fingers brushed aside the dark hair that dangled in his face. To think he’d been worried how Illya would feel about this. “If I’d known this would leave you speechless, I would have tried this years ago,” his partner’s sultry voice purred.

Basking in the glow, Napoleon smiled. “Anytime you want to shut me up, be my guest.”

Illya’s laughter rang through the morning. “Oh, Napoleon. You should not tempt me.”

Napoleon blinked, Illya didn’t laugh often. It was a beautiful sound. “Have I … tempted you?” He pressed his palm against a strong cheek, loving the way Illya leaned into the caress. Napoleon wanted to tell him how beautiful he was, “Do you honestly know how much you mean to me?”

“You mean I am not just a convenient pair of hands in times of emergency?” Illya asked, his eyebrows jiggling up and down. His expression suddenly turning serious. “This will undoubtedly cause problems.”

“One problem at a time, my friend,” Napoleon whispered, his lips brushing the broad forehead. “One problem at a time. I can’t believe Mr. Waverly will sanction you. You’re too valuable a commodity.”

“Shut up, Napoleon.” Napoleon relished the feelings as Illya surged upward, his lips demanding.

Pulling away, Napoleon ran a finger lightly down his partner’s nose, over the ever so succulent lips, down Illya’s neck and lower down the center of his chest, fascinated by the humming noises Illya made, almost a purring sound, much to Napoleon’s delight.

“I see you have gotten over your feelings of guilt,” Illya said wickedly.

A knock at the door made them rolled apart, as if scalded. Napoleon hurriedly pulled on his slacks and went to the front door, grateful that it was not made of glass as was the back. Neither man had a gun. Nervously, he approached the door, carefully keeping to the side and called, “Who is it?”

“Alexander Waverly.”

“Waverly!” they each mouthed silently, their erections fast wilting from the shock. Napoleon turned a shocked gaze to his partner, who stared back at him while in the process of putting his own pants on. “Just a moment, sir,” he called as he opened the door a crack. He was greatly relieved to see his boss standing there alone. He had almost feared seeing a contingency of Section II agents waiting to cart Illya away.

“Mr. Solo, would you be so kind as to finish dressing and let me in,” Mr. Waverly demanded.

“Ah, yes, sir,” Napoleon said, closing the door.

Alexander Waverly stared at the closed door for a moment, irritated at having to wait, before turning toward the car, and the two Section III agents leaning against it.

Working fast, Napoleon grabbed a shirt, throwing it on. Then he grabbed the handcuffs from the table where they lay, pushed his surprised partner back down on the bed and handcuffed him to it.

“What the…?” Illya asked in shock as he stared at the cuff now chaining him to the headboard.

“Trust me,” Napoleon whispered as he planted a soft kiss on the Russian’s lips. Pausing to run his hand through his hair and straighten his clothing, he walked barefoot to the front door to let his superior in. “I’m sorry sir, I wasn’t expecting you.”

“Not surprising, Mr. Solo, as you seem to have misplaced your communicator again,” Alexander Waverly said pointedly as he removed his hat and stepped into the room.

Waverly was naturally surprised, though he didn’t show it. The plainness of the place was most out of character for his top enforcement agent. His sharp eyes took in everything about the place, including the Russian cuffed to the bed wearing nothing more than slacks. He winced mentally, remembering shipping Kuryakin here without benefit of money or extra clothing.

An agitated Alexander Waverly paced the floor inside his office, as two of his top agents, April Dancer and Mark Slate, exchanged worried glances. The door opened behind him and Miss Rogers stepped inside. “They have him, sir.”

“Send him in,” Waverly ordered as he sank into his accustomed spot.

Miss Rogers turned to her side, allowing a short blond man escorted by two Section III agents, each towering over him, to pass.

Mr. Waverly ignored them as he lit his pipe. When he had it going to his satisfaction, he leaned forward and with a steely gaze confronted the accused. “Mr. Kuryakin. You do realize your actions have managed to compromise this entire organization. May I ask what have you to say for yourself?”

Illya, his firm jaw held high, displayed no emotion. Keeping his eyes straight ahead, his accent thickened as he said calmly, “I am sorry, sir… but it was a risk I felt necessary.”

“No, Mr. Kuryakin!” Mr. Waverly interrupted, standing up swifter then anyone in the room thought he could. Slamming his hand down upon the desk, he continued, “It was most definitely not necessary. Is that all you have to say for yourself?” When no answer was forthcoming, Waverly said, “Mr. Slate, will you see to it that Mr. Kuryakin realizes the enormity of his actions while I have Miss Dancer arrange transport?” Waverly had the pleasure of seeing the Russian turn pale.

“Yes, sir.” Mark obediently rose and followed the three men out the room.

Once the door closed, Waverly walked to the only window. The exchange seemed to have dispirited him. “Miss Dancer, did you have a chance to see Mr. Solo before he left?” he asked quietly.

April, who had turned in her seat to follow her superior’s movement, was taken by surprise. “No, sir. Mark and I were out of town.” After a moments pause, she ventured, “Sir … you’re not really going to ..?”

Mr. Waverly waved the question aside. “No, of course not. It won’t hurt him to think so, however. It was Mr. Kuryakin’s thinking he could handle this alone that has gotten him into trouble. The impertinence of the man,” he muttered gruffly to himself as he walked back to his desk to activate his intercom again. “Miss…umm. Do try to locate Mr. Solo for me.” He flicked off the intercom. “Mr. Solo left without informing anyone as to where he would be staying.”

“You’re worried,” April divined.

“Not at all, Miss Dancer. Mr. Solo is more than capable of taking care of himself.” If he said it often enough he would believe it. “We will send that young man to Mr. Solo. Do them both a world of good and keep Mr. Kuryakin out of trouble at the same time. Do Mr. Solo good to have someone else’s troubles to occupy his mind.” He turned back to face the room and the twinkle that Mr. Waverly had kept hidden during the interview surfaced. “You will see to it won’t you?” He puffed away on his pipe, satisfied with his solution.

A smile spread across April’s lovely face. “Yes, sir. Right away.” She gracefully rose from her chair to leave the room. Stopping at the door, she turned back. “Mr. Waverly, sir?” she waited until he looked up. “What if Napoleon, ah, I mean Mr. Solo is already occupied?” April asked thoughtfully.

“Hmmmph,” was Waverly’s comment, and as April left the room, her soft tinkle of laughter drifted back to him.

Coming out of his reverie, noting the two men shifting nervously, Waverly came to the point. “I am glad to see you took heed of my warning.” Waverly nodded his approval. “But I think you can let Mr. Kuryakin go now.”

Napoleon went over and uncuffed his partner, before turning back to Mr. Waverly.

Illya sat up in the bed, rubbing his wrist. He slid off the bed and came to stand near Napoleon.

“Well, Mr. Kuryakin. It appears that your reckless endeavor worked in spite of your bad judgment,” Waverly admonished, pointing his hat at the young agent. “Mr. Kuryakin, would you please cover yourself up.”

“Sir?” Illya asked, mystified as he looked down at his bare chest, then realizing his semi-nude state. He quickly reached for a shirt, pulling it over his head.

“Late yesterday afternoon, THRUSH central delivered into our hands the culprit who attacked Mr. Solo,” Waverly explained.

The two agents looked at each other before turning back to Waverly and asking in unison, “Who?”

“Oh, didn’t I say? Dennis Jenks,” Waverly said apologetically with a shake of his head. “Mad as a hatter, I’m afraid. Kept talking about how he should have let the trains collide.”

Napoleon and Illya looked at each other in amazement. They both had good reasons to remember the head master of the boys’ school in Figliano. Illya still bore the scars from his encounter with the headmistress, Mother Fear.

“Well, gentlemen. You, Mr. Solo, according to the medical section, have ten more days of recuperation time coming to you. Mr. Kuryakin, despite your lack in judgment, I cannot find fault with the results. You are to stay, without pay, and see to it that Mr. Solo spends his time wisely. In my day, agents weren’t mollycoddled.” Waverly shook his head in disapproval as he walked back to the doorway, his two agents following.

The two men stood at the open door watching as one of the agents opened the back door of the limo and ushered their elderly chief in while the other went around to slide into the driver’s seat.

Mr. Waverly grumbled to himself, remembering how the two men bickered with each other. “Serves those two young whippersnappers right. I suspect that by the end of the week, those two will be at each other tooth and nails.”

The driver raised his eyes to the rearview mirror to observe the elderly man in the backseat. His eyes also caught sight, past his passenger, of the two men. The brunet pulled the blond to him, their lips joining as they closed the door. He let his thoughtful gaze return to the distinguished gentleman in the backseat, wondering if the old man had any idea as to just how his two agents would be at each other. Secretly smirking, he exchanged a look with his partner and responded respectfully, “Yes, sir.”

The End