THE FUSION AFFAIR
It was official. Napoleon Solo was no longer.
No longer solo, that is.
The tomcat at last had a collar and leash. The stallion had been put
into harness. The anointed heir to Alexander Waverly's throne had been
given a mandatory playmate. Waverly himself had beckoned with his wand
(all right, his pipe, but the effect was the same) and made it happen,
and that meant there just wasn't anything to be done about it.
Not that Napoleon had never been on cooperative missions. Oh, no. He
genuinely liked his fellow agents. He worked and played well with others.
But that was on a mission by mission basis--entering a team in order to
lead it, leaving when the work was done. Riding triumphantly away, dropping
a silver bullet. Who was that masked man. Hi-yo Silver, awaaaaay.
Hi-yo Silver, Napoleon called out wistfully in his head, flexing
his arms slightly to counteract the pull of the chains from which he and
His Partner (the newness hadn't worn off yet, and the words still sometimes
appeared in his mind in capital letters) were suspended. Their bodies hung
as counterweights from either end of a monstrous iron I-beam precariously
balanced across the top of a tall metal column, like a see-saw atop a flagpole.
Whenever one of them moved (as Napoleon had just moved to ease his numbing
arms), the beam tilted a little to one side or the other. Napoleon bent his
head to eye the cement floor of the shaft far beneath them, careful not to
move too suddenly. It was a long drop. The moment they got out of balance,
the moment one man made a move not counterbalanced by the other, gravity
would take over and bring beam, chains, and men tumbling down. It was a nice
setup when you stopped to think about it. Sort of elaborate, but nice. Not
just immobilizing and uncomfortable, but nerve-wracking.
Napoleon held still again, feeling a little extra circulation thrum refreshingly
through his arms and hands, and let his eyes roam over the device that
held them. It was their first down-to-the-wire situation as a pair. A pair,
that was the sticky part. He hadn't ever been tied to anyone as a permanent
partner before, a member of an indissoluble duo. Till death do us part.
Death or Waverly, whichever came first. Napoleon wasn't sure which one
he'd rather face. Sometimes he thought the Grim Reaper might be a little
more amenable to persuasion than Mr. Waverly when his mind was made up. After
all, Napoleon had escaped Death's scythe more times than he cared to remember;
he'd gotten used to feeling the breeze from the sweeping blade whistle past
his ear. He'd seldom been as successful at thwarting the head of U.N.C.L.E.
Especially this time. Hold out your ankle, Solo, he thought idly,
without venom but without joy. Here's your ball and chain.
Said ball and chain hung quietly across from Napoleon, arms over his
head, feet dangling with the toes slightly pointed. Long blond hair was
combed down over his forehead in the front and fell nearly to his collar
in the back, giving him a dissolute air. He was compact and wiry--and stronger
than he looked, judging from the way he presently had his arms bent, steadily
taking the strain in his biceps rather than on the joints of wrist and shoulder.
As Napoleon's gaze passed across the composed, chiseled face, Kuryakin
looked up and caught his eye, lifting his brows in the equivalent of
Napoleon thought that he looked pretty damn calm for someone harnessed
to a deathtrap. Of course, he himself wasn't exactly whimpering at the
moment; he'd been in situations like this before. It was part of the job.
But Kuryakin was newer to the high-pressure field missions Mr. Waverly
saved for the elite enforcement agents. Napoleon would have liked to see
at least a little bit of sweat. Prove it meant something to him when the
stakes were high. It just went to show you--of all the agents in all the
world, Napoleon had to get himself partnered with a workhorse. Nothing
wrong with workhorses, but they were meant for plowing, not for cross-country
He matched the eyebrow-shrug and wondered if it was something about Russians.
Maybe they were just naturally taciturn. All that Siberian tundra cooled
them off, slowed them down. Fine over a game of chess, but useless when
you needed quick thinking. Like now. He took a few deep breaths, willing
away the creeping numbness in his fingers.
"Aren't you glad you took the New York transfer?" he asked wryly.
But Kuryakin didn't laugh, nor return Napoleon's rueful smile. "I have
no regrets," he said, his voice measured.
The smile turned into a polite laugh. "You knew the job was dangerous
when you took it."
Napoleon eyed the serious face. "Mm-hmm. Maybe. Still, I don't think
hanging was in the job description."
Kuryakin was silent for a few moments, and Napoleon thought he was at
last getting through to something underneath the stolid exterior. But
finally, in the same grave tone, the Russian said, "It isn't the hanging
so much as the tilting."
Napoleon glanced upward toward his smarting wrists, twisting his mouth
in a grimace. He said dubiously, "Well, you have to admit that the hanging--"
(He's got it,) came a sudden thought, unbidden.
Napoleon fell silent. Whatever he was about to say left him entirely.
He paid close attention to this particular thought, as irritating as it
might be, precisely because it came out of nowhere. It was the familiar,
small, steady voice that drifted up through the layers of his conscious
mind when he let his thoughts wander. It was the voice that told him to
jump right before an unexpected shot rang out, or guided his hand to the
one book on a shelf of a thousand that triggered the entrance to a secret
passage. This part of himself, when heeded well, had gotten him out of scrapes
and into clover time and again. Some kind of intuition, maybe. His U.N.C.L.E.
colleagues called it "Solo's Luck," but he tried not to think too much about
it. All he knew was that when that little voice spoke, his job was to relax
(He's got it. It's not the hanging, it's the tilting,) it said patiently,
and Napoleon let his eyes wander back over the mechanism he had been idly
examining. There were a few inches of clearance between the ends of the
I-beam and the scarred cement walls of the shaft. But farther down. . .
he lowered his eyes, scanning intently. Farther down, there were a few sets
of jagged outcroppings that he had first seen as the beam was being hoisted
into position. Probably leftover protective shelves for whatever machinery
the shaft used to house. His gaze flicked up to the I-beam, then down to
the outcroppings. The point was, if the beam didn't tilt as it fell, then
there wouldn't be enough clearance for the ends to get past that gradual
narrowing of the shaft walls. It would slow down as it scraped the sides
and then jam there, a comfortable distance from the ground and as solid
as you please. Much easier to get free if your only means of support wasn't
subject to this constant, precarious motion--
"Solo." Kuryakin's voice finally broke into his train of thought.
Napoleon looked up, feeling a little dazed. "Hmm?"
Kuryakin said nothing more, simply watching him.
"How are your hands?" Napoleon asked without preamble.
To his credit, Kuryakin asked for no explanations. "Cramped, but not
"Good." Napoleon moved his fingers experimentally. "You'll need to be
able to hold on. This beam has to fall."
Not a flicker of reaction. Napoleon made a mental note to look for the
circuitry panel in the man's back the next time he got a chance. He imagined
sticking a screwdriver in and giving His Partner's enthusiasm levels
a few turns up. A few rough turns.
Kuryakin carefully bent his head to look down. After a few moments, he
looked back up. "And it has to fall level."
He caught on quickly, Napoleon had to give him that. "Absolutely level."
"Come on then. We have to get up top." Napoleon flexed his aching arms
and pulled himself up, grasping the chain above him. He figured the sooner
the better; it was a fair climb from here. It was also a mistake. The
precipitous movement swung his body backward, bumping solidly into the
shaft wall. This sent the weight ratio off for just a moment, and the beam
remorselessly began to tip.
Napoleon could see it far too clearly as time slowed down to a crawl.
Every solitary second thudded like a cannon shot. Boom, he saw the beam
tip tip tip and slide, the fulcrum too narrow to contain it. Boom, he saw
the great wedge of metal tilted on end, slicing down through the shaft,
dragging Kuryakin's struggling body with it at the lower end and towing
himself along above it. And boom, he saw them all hit the cement with rupturing
force, the beam gouging a trench, their bodies leaving patterns of blood
and brain to decorate the grimy surface. Heightened adrenaline crossed the
line into sick shaking fear, because he knew exactly what was going to happen.
Except that it didn't quite happen that way. There was a tremor in the
beam's progress--Napoleon jerked his head back to gape up at it, unbelieving,
before looking sharply across at Kuryakin. Amazing. Just in time to stop
the beam from tipping too far and crossing the balance point of no return,
it looked like the Russian had swung himself back to press at the shaft
wall. Not too forcefully, not too lightly. Just enough to send the beam
slowly back the other way. It was rocking itself back to stability, each
tip a little less drastic.
Napoleon stared at the other man. He couldn't help himself. Perhaps he
looked a little grim, because after a few moments under his regard Illya
spoke. One word, his accent giving it a precise articulation: "Physics."
Napoleon hung there for a while, digesting that. Physics. "Thank you,"
he said at last, urbanely. He could feel sweat trickling between his shoulder
The fair head moved in the slightest of nods, not enough to set the beam
wobbling again. Silence descended.
Gradually, Napoleon's breath slowed, and the leftover adrenaline sorted
itself out to a manageable level. Into the quiet, he suddenly said, "I shouldn't
have moved without you." It was the truth, and he had to acknowledge it,
but it felt strange on his tongue.
Illya curled and uncurled the fingers of one hand. He didn't directly
reply. Instead, he looked up the length of the chain appraisingly. "Are
Napoleon would have nodded had he not been so newly and agonizingly conscious
of every extra movement. As it was, he simply looked at Illya, making solid
eye contact. Waiting. If they were going to do this, they had to do it
together every step of the way. Clear blue eyes settled on his--unnervingly
fair, pupils constricted in the midst of glittering pale irises. And as their
gazes met, Napoleon felt--something, though he couldn't put a name to it.
It felt like the solid click you got when you popped a fresh magazine into
your weapon. Hidden levers engaging, well-oiled metal latching. A sense of
connection. Slowly, Napoleon reached up with his right hand, shackle dragging
at his wrist; Illya's right hand moved at the same time. Both men gripped
the chain and flexed their muscles at the same moment, pulling themselves
up. There was a pause. And then, with more certainty, another release, another
grip, another pull. Hand over hand they climbed gradually up the chains,
each pull and shift of weight happening at the same moment. Their eyes were
locked together, binding them in a unity of thought, purpose, and effort.
Time reduced itself to the rhythm of their interlinked motion. His hands
were Illya's hands. His arms were Illya's arms. His body was Illya's body.
Whose fault it was Napoleon could not say, but the steady pulse of the
climb suddenly skipped a beat, fragile unity cracked. There was some
kind of mismatch for only a fraction of a second. Off kilter, Napoleon's
body swung back to bump into the side of the shaft again, sending the
weight ratio momentarily into the danger zone. The I-beam tilted slowly,
ponderously. This time, though, there was no moment of prescient fear.
Napoleon's eyes were still on Illya's, and he knew--saw? sensed?--that
Illya would quickly counterbalance that swing with one of his own, touching
the wall on his own side. And this he did, sending the beam back in the
other direction until it had basically equalized itself. As one they waited
for the tipping to stabilize, and as one they continued the climb until
their fingertips finally touched the beam itself.
Napoleon had no idea whose initiative sparked each movement, nor did
he care. All he knew was that there was a strange new current singing
along his nerves and down his spine, and he was scarcely "he" anymore.
He was "they." There was no planning aloud, no "one two three go." They
both locked their hands around the beam, pressed their feet against the
sides of the shaft, balanced, and pushed. The mass of iron slipped from
its perch, level as you please, and they were all falling. Wind ruffled
through their hair--he felt its cool lick along his scalp, he watched it
lightly toss Illya's bangs. Blue eyes so strong and clear he could drown
in them and never notice.
Scraping. Slowing. Impact. With a shrieking, echoing crunch, the fall
ended, jolting their gazes apart and yanking their hands from the beam.
They swung from the shackles. This time, though, the motion didn't matter;
the outcroppings, though cracked, were holding. The trap was sprung and
Illya was already hoisting himself up with one hand and squirming his
other hand free of its metal cuff. That hand, then the other, and he dropped
lightly to the ground, landing in an agile crouch. Napoleon watched him
mutely. He wondered if this was how Siamese twins felt after the doctor
swept the scalpel between them, severing links of nerve and muscle and heart.
The blond head was tipped upward, on a level with Napoleon's legs as
he dangled. Without a word, Illya stepped close to him and wrapped his
arms around Napoleon's knees, pushing upward, taking the weight off the
shackles. Obediently, Napoleon used the surcease in pressure to aid him in
painfully working his hands from the clumsy restraints. He let go of the
chains at last and felt himself descend, half-falling half-sliding, slipping
down along the front of Illya's body until his feet touched ground. Illya's
steadying arms were still around him. Without thought, he slid his own arms
around his partner (where had the capital letters gone? They seemed to have
disappeared, taking his cynicism with them) and held him tight, closing his
eyes, savoring the memory of that strange link. That two-in-one.
Then strong hands were setting him back a pace, steadying him. He blinked
sweat from his eyes and watched Illya turn calmly toward the door.
"I'll see if I can . . . 'borrow' their delivery truck," Illya said.
"We'll need a quick escape route."
Napoleon cleared his throat and tugged each of his cuffs back into place.
Slowly. "I'll get the sample bottle from the lab and meet you out front,"
he said at last. "The detonators are set to go in eight minutes."
And with that, they went their separate ways.
* * * * *
Twelve hours later they sat two chairs apart during the debriefing in
Waverly's office. Napoleon's hands rested loosely on the polished table;
Illya's were steepled in front of him. When the two had been sent out
on the mission, their dark suits had matched. Now, while Napoleon's trousers
still held their crease and his lapels were still pressed, Illya's clothes
were in a sad state. The knees were caked with dried mud, and there was
a jagged cut up one sleeve from a knife blade. Dark patches of blood smudged
the collar of his shirt--mostly his own blood, in fact, from a wound on
his forehead now neatly covered by a white gauze pad and a fall of limp
blond hair. It was safe to say that borrowing the getaway truck hadn't been
an easy affair.
"So this is what all the fuss was about?" Alexander Waverly mused, carefully
lifting the small brown bottle before him. "This was the last sample
of X twenty-four B in Thrush's possession?"
"Yes sir," Napoleon said with no small satisfaction, stretching out both
arms and then folding his hands triumphantly behind his head. "Now that
the plans and the manufacturing center are destroyed, there's nothing to
worry about. All that remains is to seal it and put it in a safe place."
"All that remains," Illya broke in, "is to analyze it, break down
its chemical constituents, extrapolate the formula, and run the proper
experiments on it. That's all."
Napoleon lifted his chin to gaze at the ceiling. "Spoilsport."
Waverly gently placed the bottle back on the table and rotated the circular
tabletop until the bottle rested directly in front of them. "If that's
all that remains, Mr. Kuryakin," he said imperturbably, settling back
in his chair, "then you had best get to it. Good night, gentlemen, and good
Thus dismissed, Napoleon eagerly rose and headed for the door, leaving
Illya and the bottle behind. He was looking forward to a shower and shave
in one of the locker rooms, and a suit fresh from the press at Del Floria's.
He wanted to feel human again. He wanted to feel like Napoleon Solo, self-contained
and ready for anything.
He wasn't sure what he wanted.
* * * * *
Showered, shaved, and dressed to the nines, Napoleon wandered through
HQ chatting with all and sundry who had pulled night duty on a Saturday.
They were happy to see him, as always. And after twenty minutes or so, he
realized that he was prowling again.
He tried not to think of it as prowling, not if he could help it, but
when it came right down to it that's what it was. It was a habit he had
fallen into early in his career. First thing after a mission, blood full
of the pleasantly tingling remnants of adrenaline, there was nothing he
loved more than to turn his energy toward a date. An expensive dinner, a
dimly-lit cocktail lounge, a warm bed with an even warmer woman--that was
the usual pattern, and it had served him well so far. He had made some fine
friends, at the very least: women who were pleased to be the goal of the
prowl, who thoroughly enjoyed his enjoyment of them.
There was something unsettling about this particular night, though. He
felt restless and uncomfortable, and he knew that it was showing. He had
talked to a number of women who ordinarily would have been happy to accompany
him. Tonight, though, aside from a little friendly flirtation, they all
seemed to be keeping their distance. He began to watch the faces of junior
agents and support staff more carefully as he spoke to them, trying to
see some kind of reflection of himself. Mostly what he saw in their eyes
was unease. Friendly unease, but unease for all that. Napoleon shouldered
his way through another door and took the stairs down two at a time. He was
out of luck for tonight, he was sure of it. He was carrying something with
him, something indefinable, and everyone else could sense it. He'd just
have to clamp down, brace up, and turn his prowling to some more productive
purpose. Damn this mission, anyway. It had turned him into a wreck.
That thought brought him to a halt on one of the stair landings.
Come on, Solo. You live for danger, he chided himself. How often
have you foiled dastardly plans just in the nick of time? What makes this
one so special? He sorted through the events and impressions of the
day, and mentally shrugged. He didn't know.
Oh, God. There was that voice again. Napoleon wasn't sure if he was happy
to hear it this time. He was glad to take drastic mental leaps sideways
when the success of a mission depended on it, but the mission was over
now. He wanted his feet back on solid ground, mentally speaking. No intuition
out of the clear blue, thanks. Fervently trying to ignore any more interruptions
from the depths of his psyche, he dashed the rest of the way down the flight
of stairs he was on and pushed the door open.
Blue subbasement. Very quiet this time of night, with most if not all
of the lab techs and scientific support staff off until tomorrow. A nice
place for a stroll. He could shake off whatever the problem was, and at
least get himself in shape to go out for a solitary nightcap before catching
some sleep. He was sure he'd be over it by--
He stopped. What was that noise? Someone else was still here. Either
that or Mr. Waverly had taken to renting out his organization's laboratories
and experiment facilities for band practice. A melody was threading its
way through the empty halls, faint and nearly indistinguishable from here.
Napoleon followed it with aimless curiosity, his head cocked to one side;
the trail of sound eventually led him to a side hall and up to the door
of one of the less-used labs. He straightened his tie and nudged a shoulder
against the door, preparing to breeze in and see who might be entertaining
themselves in the basement at this time of night. But the door wasn't fully
latched, and it drifted open an inch or so at the light pressure. Through
the small opening Napoleon caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure of white
and gold, and he stopped where he was with his body pressed against the
Illya was inside, his crisp white lab coat hanging casually open over
a snug black turtleneck and dark trousers. He stood before an expansive
workbench that held a wealth of equipment; the little brown bottle of X
twenty-four B sat in the midst of it all, the center of attention. The music
was clear now, a smoky melody of jazz guitar against a backdrop of soft
snare drum. It rose from some unseen turntable and floated in the air,
wrapping itself around the laboratory's lord and master, brushing against
his skin like a contented cat.
Napoleon observed Illya silently, watching the way he turned and moved
intently from one part of the experiment to another. This was a side of
Illya he had not yet seen: the scientist and scholar, immersed in his
element, his mind brought to bear like a laser. The rich notes of the
guitar flowed over and through him, and as he concentrated, measuring
and testing and calibrating, his body and hands expressed a kind of fierce
grace. He was sinuously and unconsciously in rhythm with the music. Or
was it in rhythm with him , singing the essence of what he was?
Napoleon was mesmerized. Music and man combined before him in a utilitarian
dance, filling the air with power and electricity. With potential. As
he watched, he could feel himself drifting slightly, drawn as by a whirlpool,
reaching out. The pull was inexorable.
Alarm shot through him, and he resisted. He mentally shook himself and
tried to retreat, just admiring from a distance. After all, his partner
was a good man, and the sight was undeniably pleasant. Look at him move.
The man shouldn't be cooped up in here on a Saturday night. He should be--
(We should be . . . )
He throttled the parenthetical comment before it could go any further,
finishing sternly to himself, --he should be out on a date.
(He should be with me, I should be with him,) the inner voice insisted
gleefully. Napoleon cut that line of thought off without mercy, but something
about the way it meekly retreated to the depths of his mind told him that
it wasn't finished with him. It had not yet begun to fight.
Illya had stopped roving among various sets of equipment and was now
poised in front of one complicated setup involving a burner, several
stoppered flasks, and a few tubes and pipes that Napoleon couldn't make
much of. Napoleon's attention wasn't on the tubes and pipes, in any case,
but solidly on his partner; blond hair falling softly across his bandaged
forehead, Illya was very still, very intent, eyes fixed on some tiny measurement
or other. The music followed suit, gradually settling into a series of
light, flickering notes across the guitar strings. The growing quiet was
becoming so intense, so profound, that Napoleon found himself almost holding
his breath so as not to disturb it. He couldn't help it--he found himself
swept once more toward the fugue state he had been in for a moment there,
when Illya's experiments and their jazz accompaniment had almost shown him
a way back into that morning's strange experience. Two-in-one. It carried
him like an undertow.
And then--as he had half-expected, as he had wholly feared--Napoleon's
inner voice, the intuitive and divergent part of his mind, the one that
had gotten him out of so many scrapes, pushed him right into the middle
of a new one. And it did this with nothing but one simple comment, whispered
from the depths.
(I need him.)
Now this was unexpected. True aching need revealed his own incompleteness--a
foreign feeling and a painful one. That's what the mission had wrought
in him. It had slipped around Napoleon's guard very effectively, waiting
for just the right moment of stillness and anticipation, and he was blindsided
by it. He flinched inwardly. . . and outwardly as well, unfortunately,
expelling his half-held breath in a frustrated puff.
That slight noise was all it took. The fusion of science and jazz, the
intense solitary peace, tumbled down like a house of cards before that
breath. Illya's posture stiffened, straightened, becoming at once less
graceful and less powerful, battening down the hatches. He whirled and glared
in Napoleon's direction. Napoleon blinked at him, disappointed; he looked
. . . unfamiliar, all of a sudden.
"Can I help you?" Illya asked formally, stalking toward the record
player on a corner table.
Yes. No. Napoleon padded the rest of the way into the lab and carefully
closed the door behind him. He didn't really have an answer to that question;
he seemed to be having trouble marshaling his thoughts. The music ended
in mid-note as Illya lifted the tone arm and flicked it back to its rest.
"Don't turn it off."
Illya gave a narrow shrug. "It was nearly over." His voice was
polite now, and patient.
"Who was it?"
"A Belgian Gypsy. You don't know him." Illya returned to the burner
and one of its simmering flasks, eyeing a temperature gauge closely.
He took a pen from the lab coat and began to write on a clipboard.
Napoleon put his hands in his pockets and lounged diffidently against
the workbench. He felt like ten kinds of fool. Now that the need had been
awakened in him, he found himself thirsting for any companionship, any contact
with his partner at all--even down to standing in his lab and watching
him scratch incomprehensible data onto a chart. It was irritating. He decided
to give it five minutes and then take himself home where there was no danger
of anyone seeing him look quite so stupid.
Five minutes passed, and ten, and fifteen. Napoleon was sitting on the
edge of the workbench now, swinging his legs, content. Illya was generally
quiet as he worked, but Napoleon gradually came to understand that this
wasn't a hostile or uncomfortable silence. In fact, he was beginning to
find it restful, watching his partner deep in concentration, discovering new
ways to eke bits of information out of the stubborn chemical.
"Pardon me." Illya was leaning past him, setting up a new burner
in close proximity with a small vial on top.
Napoleon scooted over slightly. "Should I move?"
Illya waved a careless hand and wandered over to another set of experiments.
Napoleon secretly rejoiced in that permission even as he berated himself
for being an idiot. This uncomfortable state of affairs might have persisted
all night had the nearby vial not begun to make a faint squeaking noise.
"Say, Illya," he said, hopping lightly down from the workbench and turning
to call to his partner, who was buried in a forbidding jungle of glassware
and machines across the room. "Is this something I should be--"
The squeak suddenly turned into a hiss and a pop, and a bubble of simmering
liquid burst, sending a fine mist of droplets into the air. Napoleon instinctively
flinched; a dozen red-hot pinpricks stung his skin, flared, and
vanished almost before he could register the pain. He lowered his protective
arm and began to turn back toward the burner, opening his mouth to say
something droll about Illya's tremendous skill with basic chemical equipment.
He didn't get a chance.
Something barreled into him, hard, rocking him off balance; a strong
pair of arms wrapped around his chest from behind. Arms? Illya?
Napoleon ducked his head and struggled, trying to evade the merciless grip.
His mind was frozen, left behind by the turn of events, and his mission-sharpened
body took over. He had sparred with the man a few times, and he had managed
to break this exact same grip once . . . Muscle memory kicked in, and he
automatically reached up and backward, but he could feel his fingertips
barely grazing Illya's hair as Illya jerked his head out of reach. The
arms around him tightened, and he could feel Illya's body pressed against
his back, muscles coiling and heaving to half-lift and half-shove him forward.
Napoleon stumbled a few steps, striving to brace his feet against his
partner's relentless force. Every time he thought he had found purchase
with which to break from Illya's grasp, his feet slipped from under him
and he found himself manhandled another step forward. Napoleon was shocked
to find himself damning his new Italian leather shoes, shoes he had been
proud to spend hundreds of dollars to have custom made and flown in from
The shoes metaphorically fled Napoleon's mind, though, when the imprisoning
arms released their hold just as Illya's foot hit him lightly and deftly
in the back of the leg, buckling that knee and bringing him down heavily
to the floor. Napoleon landed on one knee and let his momentum carry him
a bit further forward, catching himself on both hands to cushion the impact.
It had only been a few seconds, more than enough time for his mind to catch
up with his body. Now he had some words for Illya. Choice words. Unoriginal,
"What the hell is--" he began as he lifted his head. But the words
were choked off by a burst of tepid water catching him full in the face,
filling his mouth and eyes. He sputtered and coughed, ducking again behind
an upraised arm, trying to retreat; a merciless hand grasped the back of
his neck and pinned him beneath the water's flow.
"Hold still." Illya's answering words were rushed. "Hold still
Water drenched Napoleon's hair, soaked into his shirt. He blinked rapidly
to clear his vision, and turned his head as best he could with Illya holding
him by the scruff of the neck for all the world like a disobedient cat.
"Kuryakin," he said, very quiet now. Smooth, the tone of his voice, as
smooth as ever he used on a Thrush mastermind. Smooth and dangerous.
Illya's habitually impassive face actually changed for once, surprise
flickering across his features. He drew breath to speak, but Napoleon didn't
really want to hear it. He'd been fighting Thrush for the past two days
and fighting his own thoughts since then, and he was sick and tired of it.
Frustration welled up and overpowered all reason.
He jerked away from the restraining hand, and this time he succeeded,
Illya's grip sliding off his water-slicked skin. Napoleon unhesitatingly
charged, lunging upward like an arrow loosed from a bow. He slammed into
his partner without feinting or dodging, cutting off whatever Illya was
about to say; they seized each other, grappling, each straining to break
the other's grip. Napoleon gritted his teeth, feeling Illya's muscles tight
against him. He tried to twist away, using the slipperiness of his wet skin
to his advantage again, but Illya anticipated it this time and his grip
held. They stood locked in a practically motionless struggle. Napoleon felt
frozen in stasis--irresistible force meets damned traitorous immovable object.
(Traitorous?) came that stern, inconvenient little voice. And moments
later Napoleon's grip was slackening, because of course he didn't believe
that, not really. An automatic measure of trust flooded him, cooling his
confused fury. He couldn't help it. Ever since that morning, when he had
first felt--well, partnered--there had been trust there, nestled
in the back of his mind. He didn't have to try to trust Illya . . . it just
happened. He suddenly let go, spinning from Illya's hands, and allowed the
momentum to push him back a few steps, out of reach.
Illya made an abrupt move forward as if to grab him again, but stopped
short. His face was still drawn tight. "What's the matter with you, Napoleon?"
he asked urgently. "It only takes a few seconds to soak in. Look at your
What's the matter with me? was Napoleon's first thought, roiling
with indignation and something that felt uncomfortably close to embarrassment.
He pushed that thought away. Then, after a moment, the rest of Illya's
demand registered: Look at my what? The absurdity of the non sequitur
left him little to do but obey. He glanced downward.
Around his neck now hung a tatter of wet cloth, ragged and uneven holes
smoking in the pattern of the silk.
He looked up, peering at Illya through his wet forelock. Illya met his
gaze squarely, wordlessly, and now he could see that the tightness in
the angular face held a definite cast of worry. Worry for him. He found
the source of the water: a bright yellow showerhead, looming over the
emergency shower in the corner of the lab. Oh, brother. Now he'd done it.
"X twenty-four B?" he asked, at last.
Illya nodded once.
"I liked this tie," Napoleon said mournfully.
In response, Illya held a hand under the cascading water, silver droplets
pounding his palm. "You're not finished yet. Get back in."
Napoleon reluctantly leaned his upper body into the full force of the
shower. "As long as it's an actual emergency."
"Actual," Illya agreed. "All the way in, please."
Napoleon shook his head. "These shoes have had enough water damage as
Illya glanced up at the ceiling. Mildly: "Would you rather your feet
had the damage?"
Napoleon sank down to sit on the shower floor; he squinted through the
spray of water and fumbled with his shoelaces. His cheeks burned. Napoleon
Solo, Super Spy, least perceptive man in the universe. His wandering mind
and his frustration had gotten in the way of what should have been obvious.
He felt ridiculous. He was sure he looked ridiculous. As soon as
he had the stuff washed off his skin, he was going to retreat--right out
of here and into a dry suit. A dry suit and a dryer martini. He wouldn't
come up for air until he had forgotten all about this. All about the way
Illya had looked, supremely unselfconscious, music moving through his bones
and into his deft hands. His face rapt. His clear, fierce eyes soft with
ecstatic concentration. New to Napoleon, but part of him, tempting him
into that odd and addictive meshing of thought and muscle he'd found on
the mission. That damned mission. Napoleon yanked off the shoe and threw
it savagely to one side, reaching slowly for the other foot.
All at once, Illya's hands were on his. Napoleon looked up.
"I'm sorry. But there isn't time." Illya was kneeling close, his brows
drawn together, the droplets pattering on his hair and glittering in his
eyelashes. Slipping his hands beneath Napoleon's, ignoring the wet, knotted
laces, he efficiently pulled off the other shoe and set it aside. Then
his fingers delved into the dark dress socks, peeling them off as well.
He caught Napoleon's foot and lifted it, bending down to it, the back of
his head darkening with the water's spray.
Napoleon blinked. "Ah . . ." he began, but his words trailed off. What
did you say when your partner was curled over your bare foot like a demented
Prince seeking a damp Cinderella? They never covered this in U.N.C.L.E.
training sessions. He opened his mouth and simply let words come out. Any
words at all. It couldn't hurt now--nothing could. "Your bandage is getting
Illya moved to the other foot, cradling it between his hands, examining
the skin intently. "It doesn't matter." Then his hands were inside
Napoleon's trouser legs, skimming up his calves; his fingertips roamed across
the skin as if he were reading Braille. Napoleon started, jerking reflexively
backward. Illya straightened up and reached for the buckle of Napoleon's
thin leather belt.
I can do it myself. That's what Napoleon meant to say. He had caught
up to Illya now; he understood that the tiny chemical stings he had felt
might have some more sinister consequences. But this closeness fed the
need, spoke to his inchoate newborn desire to find once more the uncanny
unspoken synthesis of this morning. Find it and hold on to it. Rational
speech was finally beyond him as he struggled with the strange hunger.
Illya was drawing the expensive trousers quickly down his legs, and Napoleon
lifted his hips to let the material pass. They were flung in the same
direction as the shoes, and Illya's damp gold head bowed again, scanning
Napoleon's exposed thighs with a scientist's gaze. His fingers brushed
across the olive skin, reading the texture. Napoleon leaned back on his
hands, and the falling water caressed his overloaded senses, flooded his
eyes and ears, masking the world in a steady soft roar of sound. He felt
the nimble hands at the waist of his undershorts, slipping them off, opening
him to the touch of water and to those knowing fingers somehow both alien
He was getting hard, hard to bursting, and he didn't care. He didn't
have a thought left for what he was or wasn't supposed to feel. He gasped
in a mouthful of air through parted lips, tasting the flat shower water
slippery on his tongue. The strong touch skimmed over his cock, his scrotum,
along the quivering muscle of his lower belly. To the tails of his shirt.
Up to his throat to unfasten buttons and loosen the leftover scrap of
his tie. He felt the length of Illya's body along his own, kneeling astride
one of his outstretched legs, leaning close to pull off the remnants of the
The steady inner voice wasn't speaking to him now, it was keening--a
long, low cry of thirst and eager uncertainty. And if there was one thing
Napoleon Solo knew, it was how to obey his intuition. He pushed up off
his hands, his eyes closed tight against the water, and clamped his arms
around Illya's body. He thought that one of his wrists might still be
caught in the sleeve of his poor bedraggled shirt. No matter. He roughly
pulled his partner close. His partner, the other part of himself. He had
discovered just that morning how alone he was in his own skin, and he couldn't
bear it. Burrowing into Illya's strong neck, he found the pulse-point there.
Listened to it. Felt it against his cheek. Sank into it.
The muscular body was awkward in his arms. The wet wool of the turtleneck
rasped across his nipples as Illya shifted against him. Napoleon was beyond
reason, beyond will, but if he could have spoken, his only words would
have been Please. Please. Please.
"Please . . ."
It was Illya's voice, rough and low, speaking the only word left in Napoleon's
buzzing brain. His word was their word. And as Illya surged forward, pressing
him down to the wet tiles, Napoleon realized that his need was their need.
He spread himself under his partner's body, and without asking or planning
he found that Illya moved in synch to accommodate him. Soaked fabric,
with hardness beneath, ground against his cock in a short, strong rhythm.
He dug his fingers into Illya's shoulders. His every push was met with an
answer. The weight of Illya's body was comforting, draped heavily over
him, and for once he felt safe.
Sparks flashed behind Napoleon's closed eyes; the friction between their
bodies was vigorous and electric, shooting cold fire through his belly
and along his limbs. He moved his lips soundlessly, mouthing wet strands
of long hair, licking the curve of an ear. Blood leapt and thundered in
the side of Illya's neck, throbbing in him and through them both. Napoleon
was lost. And he was found. He no longer really knew whose back was against
the coldness of tile and whose felt the relentless needles of the water's
spray. Whose cock was bare and slick with need, and whose rubbed against
the inside of trousers. Who was who. And it didn't matter.
The tempo built, insistent, steadily rising. Breath panted and hissed
against hot, wet skin. Teeth snapped closed spasmodically, inflicting and
receiving quick soft bites, fleeting fragments of pain gladly accepted,
firing the frenzy. And in the center of both minds--the single mind--grew
a scene vivid in its sheer breathless desire: a future time, the two intertwined,
this time penetrating and being penetrated. Fucking and being fucked, thrusting
hard and fearlessly, fevered bodies tangled into one. Timeless. Effortless.
Fusion. Beneath the curtain of falling water, long, muffled groans burst
from two throats, two sets of arms convulsed and tightened, hips taut, hands
threading tight in wet tousled hair, semen pulsing over and over.
It was very quiet in the aftermath. Long, heaving breaths gradually fell
out of synch, each man's system beginning to slow and settle. Napoleon
came back to an awareness of himself, splayed beneath the warm, solid,
muscled heap of his partner. His softening cock tingled, faintly sore from
the enthusiasm. He opened his eyes reluctantly into the spray from the
yellow showerhead. He was himself again . . . but for a moment there, he
had been more. He had had more. Glorious.
Too glorious, he thought suddenly, uneasily. He knew he hadn't shaken
the desire to step outside of himself, to let go of his hard-won self-reliance
and completely trust his better half. He was well and truly hooked. Two-in-one.
He needed this partnership, and if he couldn't keep it . . . He listened
hard for any word from the depths of his intuitive mind. Tell me I did
the right thing, he pleaded. Tell me it's going to be okay.
His inner voice was quiet. Sated, probably. Ready to sleep it off. Napoleon
felt a chill trickle of unease seeping into his bloodstream. Just then
the body atop him stirred, shifted, and pulled away. Illya, looking dazed,
stiff, and wet to the bone, settled back on his haunches. He regarded
Napoleon silently, his pupils large and dark across the pale background
of his eyes.
At last, he spoke: "No signs of the X twenty-four B having penetrated
"Ah-hah." Napoleon matched his gravity. "You're sure?"
Illya nodded, rivulets of water streaming from his sopping hair. "A thorough
inspection showed no ill effects."
Napoleon lifted one brow. "A thorough inspection."
And wonder of wonders, Illya grinned. Rare, so far, to see that wry,
pleased look on his face. A man could get used to it. The fledgling unease
in Napoleon's middle died a quick and unlamented death, replaced by an
upsurge of relief. He smiled--it felt smug, but he couldn't help himself.
They clambered to their feet; Illya turned off the shower. The white
noise of the water died away into a gurgle and then a startling silence.
They stood, dripping, looking at each other. Napoleon rolled his shoulders,
eased his neck muscles, and lifted his left arm; from his wrist dangled
his wet shirt, turned inside out during the hasty removal attempt. He
delicately peeled it off and dropped it to the floor with a splat.
"Good heavens." Illya tugged at the hem of his turtleneck decorously,
his accent pronounced. "You're completely naked."
"Completely." Napoleon shivered, casting a woeful eye along the
workbench. "And likely to remain so, unless you can conjure new clothes
for me out of one of those flasks."
Illya pulled off the wet lab coat he was still wearing and let it fall.
"I'm afraid my scientific training never extended so far."
Napoleon eyed the scattered remains of his clothes with distaste. "Pity.
I suppose I'm destined to salvage what I can of those."
But his partner was moving with purpose, sloshing across the floor to
a wall cupboard. "Here." He pulled down the one remaining lab coat
and lightly tossed it to Napoleon. "Dry off. After I change I can go get
you some fresh clothes, if you'll give me your locker combination."
"Why, Mr. Kuryakin," Napoleon said innocently, rubbing the soft cotton
coat over his bare chest and arms. "We hardly know each other."
Illya smiled. "We know each other now," he replied. "We'll learn each
Napoleon ran one hand through his hair, slicking it back from his face.
"My friend," he said with satisfaction, "this is going to be some kind
And of course, that it was.
Thanks to Marian, for editing.
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