Dishevelled by Julia Justina




art by Kei ‡ 110K

Julia Justina » julia_justina@hotmail.com
Kei » dhanpir@aol.com

*****

First published in the MfU slash zine Clandestine Affairs 2.

*****

He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen, wonderfully dishevelled from being searched. He was tied to a chair in the cubby-hole I called an office. It called for some comment. The best I could come up with was, "Is it my birthday? Is this a present? Can I unwrap it now and play?"

The room was crowded with people. Apart from the prisoner, Wilson the acting Satrap was there, together with Robinson, the head of security, and three guards. Wilson ignored me as usual; Robinson just scowled and issued his instructions. The prisoner had been caught snooping round looking for the entrance to the satrapy. Robinson had recognised him as an U.N.C.L.E. agent. He was to be watched carefully until the next day when he would be sent to Thrush Central for questioning. I had been selected for first watch.

"What's the big deal?" I was practising using American slang. "He's just an U.N.C.L.E. agent, not Houdini."

Robinson smiled wolfishly. "He's not just any agent. This is the great Napoleon Solo."

That did impress me. Solo had only been an U.N.C.L.E. Enforcement agent for two or three years, but he had already become a real nuisance to Thrush and was notorious for his uncanny luck. Thrush Central would pay a handsome bounty for him.

Wilson and the guards left. Robinson lingered long enough to tell me he would send a replacement in two hours. I shifted my chair so I could watch Solo while I worked at my desk. I was supposed to be off duty, but there was no point in wasting the time. I had some calculations to complete.

As I had expected, Solo quickly got bored with my silence. After five minutes he cleared his throat. I looked at him and lifted one eyebrow questioningly.

He had decided to be charming. "We haven't really been introduced. You know my name, but all I know is they called you Nicco."

I took my time looking him over. Standing he would be two or three inches taller than I. His hair was a dark brown. It had been disordered when he was captured, and fell forward over his eyes. They too were dark brown. His skin colour was olive-toned. He had a mole on one cheek and a dimple in his chin. He looked fit. I guessed he was older than I was, but not by much, two or three years, no more. Still under thirty. I allowed my eyes to linger on his wrists, which were tied to the arms of the chair. "In the circumstances, you can call me 'sir.'"

He grinned, which surprised me. His composure was impressive. You would expect a captured man awaiting interrogation and probable torture to show some apprehension. Solo seemed unconcerned. Perhaps he expected to charm me into letting him go. He was well known as a ladies' man; maybe he was more versatile than rumour allowed. I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. A skinny boy who looked like he needed a square meal and a haircut?

He did not give up. He looked like the type who didn't know how. "They also called you the pretty boy. Did you know that's their name for you?"

I did know it. As it happened, it suited me very well, but I did not want to acknowledge that to the U.N.C.L.E. agent. "I don't care what they call me, as long as they pay me."

He was not going to give up. "So, may I call you Nicco?"

I shrugged in answer.

"Is that short for Nicholas or Nicolai?" When I did not answer he continued, "You can call me Napoleon."

That made me laugh, and I replied, "That's not a name that comes easily off the tongue of a Russian. Perhaps I should just call you Uncle Sam?"

His lips tightened. He didn't much like being laughed at. I went back to my sums, but he would not be discouraged. To my surprise, his next sentence was in Russian: slow, with a bad accent, but grammatically correct. "I thought you must be Russian, but your accent is not from Moscow." It was a statement, not a question.

I thought about gagging him. Instead, I pushed back my chair, abandoned my work, and gave him my attention. I knew it was a mistake, but it was weeks since I had last spoken my native language. In addition, it gave me an excuse to look at him. I wondered what he would look like naked. Some people look better in clothes, some don't. It was unlikely I would get the chance to compare the two views. I tried not to think about how he would look by the time Thrush Central had finished with him.

We spoke for a few minutes about Russia. Solo had never been there; he told me he'd learnt my language whilst in the American Army. He was curious to know if I'd seen some of the things he'd read about in language class. I remember we spoke about Moscow Metro, its palatial stations with marble floors and crystal chandeliers, so different from the New York subways. Like all Americans, he wanted to know if I had visited Lenin's Tomb.

Eventually, predictably, he turned the conversation from Russia to me.

"You're a long way from home?" He made it a question.

I shrugged and switched back to English. "I wanted to travel and see the world; broaden my horizons." I fluttered my eyelashes at him. "Meet new people."

"And do you like the people you meet working for Thrush?" He raised one eyebrow to emphasise the question.

"That's how I met you, Uncle Sam."

Again he laughed. His amusement seemed genuine; it made him look younger, almost boyish. My fingers twitched with the desire to touch his dark hair. I told myself to be careful. I had to remember I was working for Thrush, and this man was my enemy.

He looked me over again, his eyes lingering on my legs. When he spoke his voice was quieter, encouraging me to lean forward, closer to him. "Well, now we've met, perhaps we could get better acquainted..." He let the sentence taper off suggestively.

I smiled at him through my eyelashes. It was fun to flirt with someone who knew how to play the game. "I could always loosen your ropes. That would make it easier, wouldn't it?" I watched his eyes, while I pretended to think about it. There was a quick flicker of surprise, before he hid it. I had jumped a page of the script.

I pushed myself up off my chair and walked over to him. I would have liked to sit on his lap facing him, astride his legs. But that was not possible; the arms of the chair were in the way. So I sat sideways on, twisting to face him and kissed him. He kissed me back. It was a good kiss, long and deep. I ran my hands through his hair. It was soft and thick. Before the kiss ended, I could feel his erection poking my thigh. If he was acting, it was the best I had ever encountered.

His eyes had gone even darker. His voice was husky. "I want to touch you."

I have always disliked being taken for a fool. Suddenly the game bored me. I slid off his knee and walked back to my desk. My own erection was throbbing; it had been a long time.

Solo's gun and other belongings were piled on the desk. I looked them over; a cigarette case was in fact some sort of radio - very ingenious. I put the gun, the cigarette case/radio and the other gadgets into a drawer of my desk. I hoped that it wasn't too obvious how unsettled I was. There was a pause. I pulled some plans from a pile of papers on the desk and started making some notations on them. It was make work, but I needed to do something to keep my hands busy.

Solo spoke again. I suppose he had nothing else to do but to try to talk his way out of trouble. "So how did a nice boy like you get to be working for Thrush?"

Again, I considered gagging him. It would have been the wise thing to do. My orders were quite clear. I was not in the mood for being wise.

"My lifestyle was not compatible with life in Mother Russia, so I emigrated, and ended up in the land of the free. Of course, my lifestyle is not much more popular here. But I have skills that have value to the right employer."

"And Thrush is the right employer? Your standards must be very low. I hope they're paying you well." He managed to get a nice amount of concern into his voice.

I smiled at him. "Very well, all tax free and no worries about green cards or work permits."

"You do realise that Thrush is not known for long-term employment?"

"That doesn't bother me. I have a contract to do certain work for them. At the end of the job, I'll take my money and go somewhere, possibly another country. I'll be able to live for quite a while on the proceeds while I decide what to do next."

"So you're nothing more than a hired gun. Would you consider working for another employer, one who would offer better long-term benefits?"

That was crude, but I suppose he was getting desperate. He knew he only had a limited time before the shift changed. I sat back in the chair, trying to look older, a man of the world who had heard it all before.

"I prefer to think of myself as a mercenary, tovarishch. But I am an honest mercenary. Once I have accepted a contract of employment I give my loyalty for the term of that contract. I do not swap sides."

That stopped him, for the moment. If I betrayed Thrush to them, they would never be able to trust me either.

Further conversation was stopped by the arrival of Robinson's lieutenant, Luis Salinas, with a plate of food for the prisoner. He watched while I untied Solo's left hand so he could eat. Solo was not lacking in nerve. He ate the plate of stew without turning a hair. He even commented on the seasoning. Afterwards Salinas watched again as I carefully refastened Solo to the chair.

I had said too much to Solo. I refused to talk to him any more. Instead, I just sat and watched him. My orders had been to keep an eye on him. I kept two. I was determined that he should not escape on my watch.

Eventually my relief appeared, a New Yorker called Hubble. He was not unintelligent, but tended to over-estimate his abilities. I put the plans I was working on away in the drawer with Solo's gun, and left him to it.

I went to the commissary to find some food. While I was eating, I thought about my conversation with Solo; my behaviour had been uncharacteristically reckless. I cursed myself, star-struck by a pretty face who could speak Russian. I needed to remember who and what I was. Rash behaviour like this could get me killed. I was agitated. The temptation to break something or start a fight was very strong. I was stressed; I needed to find some way of blowing off steam. There was no way I could go to my room and sleep.

It was late evening. The normal poker school was set up in one corner. After I finished eating, I joined them. Wilson was a careful man; he tolerated his men gambling to pass the time, but made it clear that the games had to be for low stakes. This suited me. I played poker three or four evenings a week, lost a little, won a little and listened to the other men gossip. Over time, they had come to accept me. They were not, on the whole, good players. I was careful to appear neither too good nor bad. Another balancing act in my life. One of these days I would fall off the tightrope. It was a long way down and, as a stranger in a strange land, I had no safety net.

In time, I managed to work the conversation round to the local whores. Not too difficult. It was always one of the main subjects under discussion. A group of the men were planning a trip to the local whorehouse the following Saturday. It was easy to manoeuvre them into offering to take me with them. A chance to 'straighten me out.' I let them know I was thinking about it. It was out of character for me, but I needed to do something to burn off some of the tension bubbling inside.

At midnight, Salinas went off to take over the watch from Hubble. He was back within minutes. Solo had got free, overpowered Hubble and escaped.

The rest of that night was busy. We searched the whole satrapy, and the surrounding area. There was no sign of Solo. He had more sense than to hang around.

The satrapy had been very carefully designed to deal with the contingency of discovery by U.N.C.L.E. Think of an octopus or a spider. The room where Solo had been held was at the end of one leg or tentacle. It was possible to seal off that leg and hide the existence of the rest of the satrapy. So, that is what we did.

I cleared my gear out of my 'office.' The drawer where I had placed Solo's gun and communicator had also held the papers I had been working on - a copy of the blueprints of the whole satrapy, with the explosive booby traps carefully identified. The drawer was, of course, now empty. The copy of the blueprints was an extra one I had made myself. Nobody else knew of its existence. It did not seem a good idea to mention it.

*****

We lay low and very quiet for the next few days. U.N.C.L.E. agents came and examined the area where Solo had been held. They seemed to accept that there was nothing else to find.

I reviewed my position. It was starting to look like a good time to move on. Wilson had forbidden anyone to leave the satrapy until he was sure that U.N.C.L.E. had been fooled. If I were caught trying to leave, Wilson would blame me for Solo's escape and kill me. He might blame me anyway. I was foreign and queer, not a true member of Thrush; I would make a good scapegoat.

*****

It was on the third night that I had a surprise visitor. I had fallen asleep fully dressed whilst trying to decide on the best escape route. I must have been sleeping deeply, or he was very quiet. The first thing I knew was a hand over my mouth and the pressure of a gun against my head.

A sibilant voice spoke quietly, "If you make a noise I will have to kill you. Do you understand?"

I nodded.

The hand and the gun withdrew. The voice said, "Sit up slowly and put your hands on your head."

The room was pitch black, but it was possible that he had some form of night sights. So I did as I was told. After a moment, he switched the light on. It was Solo, of course. I had recognised his voice. A heavy pair of goggles was in the hand that did not hold the gun.

This time he was immaculately dressed, not a hair out of place. I decided that I preferred him less pristine and more ruffled. He looked at my clothes - jeans, check shirt and sneakers - with disfavour. "Do you always sleep in your clothes?"

I grinned back at him and took my hands off my head. "If I'd known I was going to have a visitor, I would have stripped off ready!"

His lips tightened. I got the impression he expected to be taken seriously. "You really do have a dirty mind, don't you? Keep your hands where I can see them."

I did not think he would shoot me unless I asked for it, and he was fun to tease. I smiled into his eyes. "You can always search me. We may both enjoy it!"

Even in the dim light, I could see him blush. He cleared his throat and changed the subject. "Do you have a gun?"

I nodded.

"Where is it?"

"Under my pillow. There is another in the dresser drawer." He was expecting me to make some further comment, so I let the silence lengthen.

Eventually he spoke again, point one to me. "Don't you want to know why I'm here?"

"I'm sure you're going to tell me."

My room was small. There was only the bed, one chair and a dresser. He sat in the chair and tried to look comfortable. All the time his gun was pointed at me. He was taking no chances, a compliment of sorts.

"We have quite a file on you. My boss has decided he would like to talk to you."

"Does he like blonds too?"

He decided to ignore that comment and settled himself in the chair.

"Your full name is Nicolai Andreivitch Kaminski. You were a rating in the Soviet Navy until last year when you disappeared from your ship in the Mediterranean. They're not sure if you fell overboard or jumped."

He paused expectantly. I declined to comment, so he continued, "Our sources say that you were supposed to be in the brig for deviant behaviour. Nobody is admitting how you got out of the brig."

Another pause, but I wasn't going to give him any information he didn't already have. I waited, curious to see how much he knew about me. He glanced quickly at his watch, then carried on. "You were the ship's diver, which means you're trained in the use of explosives. Other than that, we know that you were orphaned in the war and brought up in various orphanages. You score highly in intelligence tests, but you continually get into trouble for anti-social behaviour. It's a wonder, really, that you managed to keep out of the special schools for social deviants."

Suddenly, the lights in the room flickered. Then the alarms started. I guessed that U.N.C.L.E. had managed to cut the power lines and the emergency generators had cut in. Of course, U.N.C.L.E. had my blueprints. They would know how to neutralise most of the defences. The alarms, which I had had little to do with, would be the most difficult. But others, like the explosives I had carefully placed so the complex could be sealed from the outside world and if necessary self-destruct, were more...vulnerable.

There was the sound of running feet outside. Someone was shouting orders. There was the noise of guns: the quick rattle of machine pistols, the individual shots of revolvers. Someone screamed. The noise ended on a horrible gurgle.

After a time the running gunfight outside my room moved on. We sat in silence for a while longer. Finally, Solo glanced at his watch, pulled a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and tossed them onto the bed. "It's time to go. Put those on."

I picked them up and looked at him. He had tensed, obviously prepared for trouble. It did not seem a good time to tease him, so I kept still, merely asking, "Are these necessary?"

"It'll be safer for you." He paused and I waited, curious to see what he would do. He was a pro; he wouldn't shoot me unless I gave him cause. So far, I hadn't. He tightened his lips; he disliked having to explain himself. "Outside that door, there's a war going on. When we go out, if your Thrush friends see you with me then they might decide you're a traitor and shoot you. If U.N.C.L.E. agents see you, they'll know you're not one of us and they'll shoot you. If you're wearing cuffs, then it's clear you're my prisoner and neither side is likely to shoot you."

It made sense. I had no desire to be shot unnecessarily, but still it was hard for me to submit to being chained. "Well, I don't normally do bondage, at least not on a first date...but for you I'll make an exception!" I fastened the cuffs, but kept my hands in front of me. I gazed at him, trying to look innocent without overdoing it. Difficult.

"Now pull your hands apart."

Damn, it hadn't worked. I pulled my hands apart and the cuffs fell off. He raised his eyebrows and gestured with the gun. I put the cuffs back on and tugged my hands as far as they would go. The cuffs were locked, so this time they stayed on. I was disconcerted that he could anticipate me so easily.

I swung my legs off the bed and stood up, Solo opened the door and peered out. The noise outside had died down. The corridor was empty. He opened the door fully and pushed me through, his left hand on my shoulder, the gun in his right hand held against my side. My room was on the upper level. He steered us down and towards the back of the satrapy. From time to time we passed groups of men checking the many rooms. They all acknowledged Solo with nods or waves, looking at me with varying degrees of curiosity. One area we passed had a number of my former Thrush colleagues, prisoners now, handcuffed together waiting for interrogation. Some were wounded. After that, I kept my eyes focussed on the floor in front of me.

It seemed to take forever, that walk through the captured Thrush stronghold. The energy I had felt sparring with Solo had drained away, leaving me tired and numb. My Thrush career was over; I had no idea what the future held. I trudged along, aware of Solo's warm body close to mine. His hand was heavy on my shoulder. He pushed and I moved forward; his hand tugged back and I stopped.

We were outside; more men moving round. Solo was talking. He pushed me towards a car and I climbed into the passenger seat. Someone fastened my handcuffs to a chain that in turn fastened inside the glove compartment. Solo pulled the gun away from my side. I felt cold, away from the warmth of his body. It was still early morning, not long after dawn. I felt empty, incapable of thought. I was vaguely aware of Solo getting into the car and starting the engine. Before we reached the highway, I was asleep.

*****

Some time later Solo shook me awake. The car was moving through a built-up area, New York probably. I felt better for the sleep; perhaps I would be able to cope with whatever was going to happen next. I looked over at the American. He was watching the traffic, but when we stopped at a red light, he glanced over at me. He looked puzzled.

"You're a cool one, aren't you?"

I wasn't sure what he meant; it was pleasantly warm in the car. Seeing my confusion, he shook his head and explained: "You've just been captured. You're going to be interrogated. Then you'll probably go to prison, and either way at some point you'll be deported back to the Soviet Union. So what do you do? You go to sleep for two hours like there's nothing wrong."

I thought about what he said. What did he expect me to do? I was chained up; it was unlikely I could escape. But if I were to try, a city was a better place to hide than the rural area we had left.

He didn't seem to expect me to reply because after a minute he said, "What will happen to you if you're sent back?"

That was an easy question. "Everyone knows what happens to deserters. They will shoot me. There might be a show trial first, to set an example."

"Doesn't the thought bother you?"

Well, no, it didn't, but I wasn't going to tell him that. "I would rather be shot then sent to a gulag or a psychiatric hospital."

He had no answer to that. The car drew up outside a brick building; there were shops at a lower ground level and what looked like offices or apartments above. It seemed a strange place to stop.

Solo said, "I've been told to bring you in this way. In a minute I'll unchain you, but I'll leave the cuffs on. We'll get out of the car and walk into that tailor's shop. I'll have the gun on you the whole time and there are other agents watching. It will be better if you behave yourself. We don't like to draw any attention."

This was all getting a bit serious. I fluttered my eyelashes at him and simpered. "I'll do anything you say, Uncle Sam. Are you sure I can't do anything for you before we go in?" I looked at his groin to get the message across.

He jumped out of the car so fast you would think I'd bitten him. His face was red as he walked round the car. I held up my hands so he could unlock the chain from the handcuffs, and then waited while he opened the car door. We walked, very close together, down the steps and into the shop. The old man behind the steam press nodded to Solo and we walked through into a changing room.

There was a hidden door at the back of the cubicle, which took us through into U.N.C.L.E. New York. A complete contrast to the shabby shop, the walls looked to be made of stainless steel. There was a modern desk with a pretty girl sitting behind it. I concentrated on looking hangdog and pathetic. People judge so much by first impressions.

"Wanda, my dear, this is Comrade Kaminski, who should be on your list. He needs a prisoner's badge, one of the special ones."

Wanda smiled back and made great play of pinning a badge to his lapel. I too was given a badge. Solo's badge was yellow, with the number 11 on it. Mine was green with the number 177. Solo had kept his gun in his pocket as we walked across the sidewalk. Now he pulled it out and gestured to me to walk towards the sliding doors at the back of the room. However, the girl called him back.

"Napoleon, what about the knives?"

Solo looked at the girl, then back at me. I looked innocent.

The girl who was looking at a screen on her desk said, "He has a knife up his right sleeve and another inside the waistband of his jeans."

Another gesture with the gun. It was awkward with the handcuffs on, but as Solo made no move to help, I managed to get the knives out and onto the desk. Solo was looking irritated so I gave him my sweetest, most innocent smile and explained, "You didn't ask about knives, only guns."

The girl giggled, which annoyed Solo even more. We finally made it through the doors into a corridor, steel lined like the first room.

We walked along the corridor, into a lift, out of the lift, down some more corridors and into another lift. Except my feeling was that it was the same lift, and Solo was trying to confuse me. I didn't comment on it. He still hadn't told me where we were going.

The corridors were quiet. Solo told me to stop. He looked down at me with a frown in his brown eyes. In the bright light of the corridor I could see they were flecked with green. We were so close I could smell the cologne he was wearing. He was some two inches taller than I was; I had to tilt my head back slightly to look at his eyes. He suddenly seemed uncharacteristically hesitant. I waited, curious to know what was on his mind.

"I've been told to take you to see my boss. Mr. Waverly is a gentleman of the old school. He's unlikely to be amused by your filthy little mind. He has the power to help you, or to see that you're on the next plane to Moscow. Just...think about it!"

It was good advice, and probably better than I deserved, given the way I had teased him. I kept my face calm and thanked him. "I'll consider what you say."

We moved on, round the next corner. Another desk with another pretty girl. "Go straight in, Napoleon. He's expecting you."

Alexander Waverly, the Number One, Section I of U.N.C.L.E. was an English gentleman in a tweed suit. His office was large with a round conference table that he used as a desk. Behind him was an impressive array of communication equipment. He must have been in his sixties, but his faded blue eyes were sharp as needles.

"Ah, Mr. Solo, I was wondering what was keeping you." He gestured towards the gun Solo still held. "That's not necessary, please put it away. Sit down, gentlemen."

We sat at the table. I noticed that Solo sat in such a way that he could watch me whilst looking towards his boss. I put my hands on the table, making the handcuffs clink. Mr. Waverly noticed; he noticed everything.

"Oh, Mr. Solo, do get rid of those things."

It was interesting watching the two of them together. The old fox and the young wolf. Solo was unhappy, but obedient as he unlocked the cuffs and put them away in his pocket.

Mr. Waverly turned towards me. Something, amusement perhaps, flickered in his eyes. "That's better. Welcome to U.N.C.L.E. New York, Mr. Kuryakin."

I smiled back. "Thank you, sir. It's good to see you again."

I was facing Mr. Waverly, with my back half turned to Solo, but I was acutely aware of him. His silence was like a physical force. I could feel his surprise and his curiosity. Waverly started packing tobacco into his pipe, waiting for Solo's reaction.

Solo cleared his throat. "Ah, sir, perhaps you would like to complete the introductions."

"Of course, of course. Mr. Solo, this is Mr. Illya Kuryakin. Mr. Kuryakin is an Enforcement agent. He graduated from Survival School last year and since then he has been on special assignment, reporting directly to me."

I turned towards Solo. I caught a flash of something in his eyes that I couldn't quite identify. It might have been relief, but that didn't make any sense. Whatever it was, he hid it quickly and managed a smile that was only slightly forced.

We shook hands like civilised people and I waited to see what he would say. He turned back towards Mr. Waverly. "You put him into Thrush as a mole. That's why we've had so many successes recently!"

Not bad, brains as well as beauty. A dangerous man.

Mr. Waverly seemed to have enjoyed his little joke; now he moved on to issuing his orders.

"Mr. Solo, I would like you to take Mr. Kuryakin under your wing. Show him round, make sure he gets a proper badge and that people know whom he is. Mr. Kuryakin, I need all the information you have on the senior personnel of the satrapy. Everything you have not already put into your reports that can help us in the interrogation of these people. After you have done that, I need the same information on the rest of them. Mr. Solo will find you somewhere to work."

"Yes, sir."

I looked over at Solo, who nodded and said to me, "There's a spare desk in my office - you can work there."

The audience was over. Solo and I moved back out into the corridor. Once in the corridor, he paused as if undecided then set off back to the lift. "Breakfast first, I think. The commissary should be quiet. Section Two will still be out rounding up prisoners."

He didn't say anymore until we were sitting at a table with trays of food. The commissary was quiet, the food was very good, and I was hungry. I was happy to wait whilst he thought over what had happened.

"Tell me your name again."

"Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin, Mr. Solo."

"May I call you Illya?"

I nodded.

He smiled. "And you must call me Napoleon." He held up a hand to stop me speaking. "I have a rule. Anyone who saves my life may call me Napoleon."

I stamped firmly on the childish impulse that regretted not telling him to call me Dr. Kuryakin, and produced a smile. "Of course, Napoleon." Even in Survival School I had heard of Napoleon Solo; he was Mr. Waverly's protégé. It would be foolish to annoy him for no reason.

He ate a few more mouthfuls, then moved the conversation on. I had the feeling that he had a list of points he wanted to cover.

"It was very slick. You gave me the information you wanted passed on, that you were still loyal to U.N.C.L.E., showed me where the blueprints were, retied my hand so I could get free and all without me realising what was going on. Very slick."

I produced what I hoped was a modest look. "I gave you an opportunity. Not many people would have been able to seize it."

In fact, I was worried that I had made the call correctly. My orders from Mr. Waverly had been very simple and very clear. I had disobeyed them by freeing Solo. I wondered if he had realised that yet.

However, Solo was concentrating on another angle. "I heard about the Russian who went through Survival School last year. You came top of the class, and then disappeared. The rumour was that you had been recalled because the Soviet authorities wanted to know about our training methods. You must've had previous experience to be able to go from Survival School into deep cover in Thrush. So, what were you? KGB, GRU, or something else?"

"Yes, Napoleon."

He waited for me to go on. When I didn't, he started to frown. I relented somewhat.

"Mr. Waverly has a file on me. If you ask, he may show it to you. I don't know what it says. My orders are that I am not permitted to discuss my previous training or service. So the most I can say is that 'Yes, I was KGB or GRU or something else.'"

He put his knife and fork down, pushed his plate to one side, and sipped his coffee. I found him surprisingly easy to read. He was coming to the point. "I'm surprised that the KGB, GRU or something else Soviet would employ an active homosexual."

Ahhh, so that was it. I pushed my empty plate away and gave him a cool look. "What makes you think that I am homosexual, active or otherwise?"

Whatever answer he had been expecting, that wasn't it. His cup went down on its saucer with a crash.

I took pity on him. "I am an agent. If I need to play a part or sleep with someone to accomplish my mission, then that is what I do. Have you never had to sleep with anyone in the line of duty?"

"And in your off duty time?"

"A good agent is never completely off duty. I am careful not to do anything that would upset or embarrass my superior officers. Such actions could be extremely dangerous."

He smiled at me. He had a way of smiling that was more with his eyes than any other feature. It was incredibly intimate, as if only he and I existed. His voice dropped a tone, making me shiver.

"Mr. Waverly is impossible to embarrass. He has no objections to members of his staff indulging in a liaison, providing that they are discreet and it doesn't interfere with their performance in the field."

He could not really be stupid enough to expect me to rise to that bait. I looked back at him calmly. "That's worth knowing. The girl at reception, Wanda was it? She was very pretty. I might ask her out if I'm in New York for a while."

That distracted him, which was what I wanted, and produced another frown. "Do you think that you'll be sent away?"

I shrugged. I had no idea. "I serve where I am told to serve."

We finished our coffee in silence. Solo - no, I must think of him as Napoleon - seemed genuinely concerned that I might not be in New York for long.

Napoleon took me down to the Enforcement section. He introduced me to the secretaries and showed me to the spare desk in his office. I settled down to the reports Mr. Waverly wanted.

The rest of the day passed quickly. At some point a yellow badge marked with a number 2 appeared. Later some sandwiches and coffee arrived. Later still, a hand appeared in front of my eyes and removed the pen I was holding. I looked up, startled. It was Napoleon, of course. Still looking immaculate, still the most beautiful man I had ever seen.

"Come on, tovarishch, that's enough for one day."

I looked at my watch. It was after six o'clock. I stretched, rotating my shoulders and flexing my fingers, only then realising how stiff I was.

Napoleon perched on the corner of the desk and looked at the papers I was working on. "This is good stuff. The Thrushies are singing like nightingales. We know so much that they think we know everything." Abruptly he changed the subject. "Have they booked a hotel for you?"

I shook my head. "No, I've been told that there are some rooms in-house. One of those will do."

"Nonsense, you can't stay at Headquarters. Those rooms are only one step up from the holding cells!"

I leaned back in the chair, trying to loosen up my neck and shoulders. I didn't feel up to an argument. I just wanted to find a bed and lie down on it. But Napoleon carried right on.

"You can come and stay at my apartment." He must have read something in my face, because he dropped his voice slightly and carried on. "I'm serious, there are no strings attached. I have a spare room you can use. You'll be much more comfortable. Believe me, I know, I've stayed in Headquarters when I had to. I'd never do it from choice." He paused, I thought I saw hurt in his eyes. "Don't you trust me?" He tried to make it a joke.

The funny thing was, I did trust him. It was myself I was uncertain about. My fingers were itching to disorder that slicked down hair.

"I don't want to be a nuisance." Looking into those brown eyes it was the best I could do.

He smiled brilliantly in response. "Don't worry, you won't be. Besides, Mr. Waverly said I should look after you. Are those your bags?"

U.N.C.L.E. New York was nothing if not efficient. The two suitcases I had last seen when I packed them at the end of Survival School and the duffel bag from my room at the Thrush satrapy were piled in the corner of the office. I nodded. Napoleon picked up the duffel, threw it to me, grabbed my bags, and set off. I scurried to catch up. Within minutes, the luggage was in the trunk of his car and we were on our way to his apartment.

*****

By Russian standards, Napoleon's apartment was a palace. He gave me a quick guided tour. Two bedrooms, a bathroom with separate shower cubicle, a spacious living room and a small but well equipped kitchen. It also had a very good security system, even though it was in an U.N.C.L.E. owned building.

Napoleon carried my cases into the spare room, and disappeared muttering something about ordering takeout. I had been wearing the same clothes for thirty-six hours; it was bliss to strip them off and shower. I also shaved and cleaned my teeth, mentally thanking whichever U.N.C.L.E. agent had picked up my belongings from the satrapy. Then, feeling more human, I ignored the temptation to lie down and sleep, pulled on some clean clothes and wandered out into the living room.

Napoleon was just putting the phone down. He looked me up and down, his expression hard to read. "How old are you?"

I told him.

"You look about sixteen dressed like that."

"I'm sorry. Do you want me to change?" I was puzzled by his reaction.

"No, no. It's fine. It's just that you're a chameleon. When I first met you, you were like a young hoodlum, and then today in the office you were all business. Now you look like somebody's kid brother. It's a bit disconcerting."

I didn't know what to say to that. The best I could do was to apologise, though I wasn't sure what I was apologising for. Being good at my job? "I'm sorry, I-"

"No, don't apologise. I'll get used to it in time." He patted me on the shoulder as he walked past. "I'm going to shower. Make yourself at home. There's beer in the fridge."

By the time the takeout arrived, Napoleon had reappeared dressed in an open-neck shirt and casual trousers. We ate the Chinese, drank beer and talked shop. Napoleon told me how the interrogations were going and I told him what the interrogators were doing wrong.

After we had finished, we tossed the empty cartons and took our beers over to the sofas. The long day, food and beer merged everything into a blur. I half listened to Napoleon's voice without taking in the sense of what he was saying.

Suddenly, I realised that Napoleon had stopped talking. I looked up and found him staring at me. A phrase from The Bible came into my mind: 'His eyes were as a flame of fire.'

There was hunger clear in his eyes. I became aware of two things. One was that he wanted me; the other was that he would not make the first move. He had promised me 'no strings.' He would abide by that. It was my choice. I could say no. I could just stand up, say 'Good night,' and go to my room.

Can water run uphill?

The air was thick. I could hardly breathe. My skin was hypersensitive. I could feel the clothes I was wearing pressing against my body, the force of gravity pulling me against the sofa. The surrounding room vanished, my sight narrowing down to the man sitting opposite me with his burning eyes. My heartbeat was pounding in my head.

Like a moth to a candle, I pushed myself off the sofa and went to him. He didn't move, just waited while I stumbled across the room. I climbed on to him, straddling his thighs, tangling my hands in that thick dark hair. As our mouths found each other, his hands came up onto my hips, pulling me against him. His mouth opened to mine. I was too hot to be gentle with him. If I could have climbed inside his skin, I would have done it.

Time was short-circuiting. I was on him, rubbing my body against his, thrusting my tongue into his hot mouth. Then somehow we were on the floor. His hands were pulling off my shirt, and his chest was bare to my roaming fingers. He pulled away from me and I cursed him in any language that came to my tongue. Then he was pulling my trousers down from my hips, standing up to strip off his own clothes.

He was on top of me, his weight forcing me into the carpet. Our erections touched, and I cried out. I dug my fingers into his bare back, feeling the muscles flex as he moved against me. His hands were on either side of my head, pulling on my hair as his mouth descended on mine. Waves of heat were crashing through me. I couldn't get close enough to him.

I wound my legs round his, trying to pull us even closer together. I could hardly move, trapped under him as he thrust against me. It should have been frightening. It was exhilarating. There was no future, no past. Just the now: his hard body, his soft lips, his voice when he stopped kissing me long enough to pant Italian endearments into my neck.

The speed and force of his thrusts increased, then orgasm was ripping through us, so in tune that we came together, crying out in unison as our seed mixed against my belly.

I must have blacked out with the force of my climax, something that had never happened to me before. When I came back to myself, we were lying side by side, still on the floor. I was still shuddering with the afterglow. I ached all over as if I had been beaten.

I felt newborn, boneless, as if I would never move again. I lay stretched out alongside Napoleon and cursed my lack of self-control. I had all but attacked him. I didn't think he would mind, on a personal level. He had been a more than willing participant in our little orgy. But I had demonstrated a level of recklessness that was unforgivable in an agent. Anyone who loses control to that extent is a liability and a danger to himself and his fellow agents. The long day, the series of changes from Nicco Kaminski, Thrush minion, to Illya Kuryakin, U.N.C.L.E. agent, crashed down on me like a ton of bricks. It flattened me.

After a few minutes, Napoleon stretched and said, "Why are we lying on the floor when there's a comfortable bed in the next room?"

He climbed to his feet and pulled me up with him. Taking my hand, he led me not to the bedroom, but to the bathroom where he cleaned us up. If he noticed my lack of response, he chose to ignore it. Instead, he led me to his bed, and tucked me in like a child. I half expected him to read me a bedtime story. He merely said, "Don't go away, I'll just be a minute," and walked out of the room. I could hear him moving about the apartment, checking the alarms and turning off the lights.

After a few minutes, he came back and climbed in beside me. He slipped one arm round my shoulders and pulled me against him. His other hand brushed through my hair. I felt his lips on my brow. It made me want to cry, but I didn't know why. We lay in the darkness; his voice when he spoke was very gentle. "How long has it been for you?"

I didn't try to pretend to misunderstand him. "Since I had sex with something other than my own hand? Weeks."

"And how long since you made love with someone who...cares for you?"

I felt that he had changed what he was going to say at the last minute. I tried to remember the last person who had really cared about me as an individual. Whoever it might have been, it had been a long time ago.

I gave him the best answer I could. Lying against him in the darkness, I couldn't lie. "The last time I was with someone who even knew my true name was before I left Russia. Over a year ago."

His hand had moved down and was rubbing my back in gentle circles. "Do I?"

I didn't understand.

He must have sensed my confusion, because he rephrased the question. "Do I know your true name?"

It was a question to which I had no real answer. I tried to explain. "My papers and family were lost during the Great Patriotic War. The name you know is my legal name from when I was reregistered after the war. It is my name as far as I know it." The hand on my back stopped for an instant, then resumed its gentle rubbing.

We lay in silence for a while, before he spoke again. "I don't have a talent for undercover work. However, I've heard that when an agent takes another identity for a long time, he can find it very difficult to go back to being himself again. It must be more difficult still when you have to go back to being yourself, but in a new environment."

I had no answer to that. I had done undercover work before, but never for so long and never outside the Soviet Union.

I fell asleep in Napoleon's arms and woke the next morning to find he was wrapped round me like a second skin. We had rearranged ourselves during the night and he was spooned up behind me. My head was resting on one of his arms and the other was tight round my waist, holding me against him.

I made a tentative effort to move away, but his arms tightened round me. He started nibbling my neck; suddenly there was nowhere I wanted to go.

It was different from the night before. That had been a frantic coupling, fuelled by adrenaline; this was a slow sensuous dance. Napoleon took control of the situation and of me. His hands and mouth mapped my body. He took his time, rousing me to a pitch of excitement then moving on. Finally he reached the secret opening to my body, and paused.

"Yes?"

It was all I could do to gasp my agreement. Always before there had been some pain. With Napoleon there was only a deep feeling of completeness. He moved inside me as if he knew what I wanted better than I knew myself. My climax was a sweet agony.

He took possession of me that morning, and I gave myself over to him.

*****

That had been ten days ago. I was still staying at Napoleon's apartment. Yesterday, Thursday, Napoleon had been sent to Washington on an assignment. He's due back this evening. This afternoon, I was summoned to see Mr. Waverly. The timing was not a coincidence.

Now I was packing my bags.

It had been a strange ten days. At work we were two people building a working relationship and becoming friends. We continued sharing Napoleon's office. He gave me a guided tour of the Headquarters building, introducing me to everyone I needed to know. We spent time together at the firing range (I outshot Napoleon, who later sneaked off for extra practice when he thought I wouldn't notice). We worked out together in the gym and practised unarmed combat together (Napoleon's extra reach and weight gave him an unfair advantage). At no time when we were in Headquarters did either of us say or do anything to indicate that we were more than colleagues.

However, as soon as we arrived back at the apartment, everything changed. Once we had closed the door and set the locks, Napoleon would smile and reach for me. Sometimes we didn't even get out of the hall before we started pulling each other's clothes off. Sometimes we didn't even bother getting out of our clothes. He was an inexhaustible and imaginative lover. I was used to using sex as a weapon or a bargaining counter. Napoleon taught me that it could be fun.

I was standing with a shirt in my hand, lost in memories, when I realised that Napoleon was standing in the bedroom doorway watching me. The attraction I had felt the first time I saw him had only grown stronger in the time we'd been together.

"Hello, you're back." Well that would get me no marks for wit or originality. "How was Washington?" That wasn't any better.

Napoleon chose to take my inanities seriously. "Washington was sticky, as always. What are you doing?"

"Packing, as you can see. Mr. Waverly called me in today to talk about my future role."

"Ah. What did he say?" Napoleon finally left the doorway and entered the room.

I put the shirt down and sat on the edge of the bed. I needed to be careful what I said. My concentration wasn't helped when Napoleon removed his jacket and started to unfasten his tie.

"It was more what he didn't say. He could almost be a Russian, the way he says one thing and lets you know something else." This was a blatant lie; Mr. Waverly had been very direct, and to the point.

Napoleon had removed his tie and undone the top button of his shirt. There was a mark on his neck where I had kissed him too hard on Wednesday night. It had been hidden by his collar, but was now just visible. He glanced up at me and I realised I had stopped.

"He knows that we're sleeping together; I'm sure of it."

Napoleon was taking off his shoes and socks. "What did he say?"

"He hinted that we should be more discreet. That's why I need to move out."

Napoleon wasn't looking at me. "Where are you going?" He rolled his socks up into a ball and threw them at the hamper. Hard. It made me smile. He looked up in time to catch my expression and frowned. Which made me smile more.

"Not far. There's an apartment free on the sixteenth floor."

He froze. Just for an instant. Then his frown became a glare. He didn't like being teased, but was torn between annoyance and relief.

"One of these days, Illya Nickovetch, you are going to push me too far!"

He was trying for menacing, but couldn't stop the corners of his mouth turning up. Normally, I would have answered him back and we would have ended up wrestling on the floor, until the wrestling became something else. But for now, it was important to finish this conversation.

"He wants us to work together in the field. He thinks you take too many risks on your own and need a partner to be a 'calming influence.'"

I didn't tell him the rest. Waverly had plans for Napoleon. He saw him as a future member of Section I after he retired from the field. My job was to keep him safe until then. I was to be his bodyguard; my life was disposable as long as Napoleon was kept safe. It would, however, give me the perfect excuse to keep close to that perfect body.

My musing were interrupted when Napoleon took off his cufflinks and started to unbutton his shirt. He was not wearing an undershirt, and the sight of his smooth hairless chest gradually coming into view framed by the white shirtfront was enough to make my fingers twitch. It affected my cock in the same way. He peeled off his shirt and walked over to put it in the hamper, then turned to face me, hands on hips.

"When are you planning to move in?"

"The apartment is ready to move in. I can go there anytime."

He unfastened his belt, and started to unzip his trousers. I couldn't tear my eyes away. It had been all of thirty-six hours since our last time together, but I could never get enough of him.

"Have you been to look at it?"

"Excuse me?" Startled, I looked up to his face. He was laughing at my reaction, and laughed harder when I blushed.

"The apartment." He spoke slowly as if to an idiot. "Have you been to look at the apartment yet?"

"No. But when I picked up the keys, they said it was ready for me to move in."

Napoleon had turned away to hang up his suit in the wardrobe. He was wearing only his briefs. The view was...enticing.

He turned round to face me. That view was pretty good as well. He stood for a moment, thinking. He was planning already; I knew the way his mind worked. He nodded, as if he had reached a conclusion.

"They always say that, but you should look over the place before you move in. There are bound to be things you need. Tomorrow is Saturday; we'll go and check it out first thing. Then you have time to do any shopping that's necessary."

I tried to interrupt that I wasn't a decadent American, and whatever was provided would be fine.

However, he ignored me and carried on. "For one thing you should get some new bedding. I hate sleeping on second-hand sheets. Then tomorrow night we'll christen your new bed." He smiled and looked me up and down in the way that always made me go weak at the knees. "Perhaps I'll pour vodka all over you and lick it off."

I imagined the feeling of cold vodka on my skin. I thought about Napoleon's warm tongue licking it off. I was held spellbound. Napoleon strolled across the room. I stood up as he approached; he took hold of the end of my tie.

"For now, partner mine, you have a decision to make." He tugged at my tie, reeling me in as if I were a fish and he the angler. "Are you going to get out of those clothes before we go in the shower or after?"

Then he kissed me.



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