The "Cold War Collar Affair" continues, with: "The Theremin's Protege Affair" Pt 1, Ch 1
-a Man from UNCLE slash fanfic by Taylor Dancinghands
Pairing: Napoleon Solo/Illya Kuryakin
Genre: slash, h/c, BDSM, A/U: BDSM Universe (Origionally created by Xanthe )
Warnings: explicit BDSM (Duh!) + m/m sex; gratuitous insertion of classic newspaper comics.
Rating: adult, aka NC-17
Beta: The highly precise and efficient spikesgirl58 Thanks!
Length: 3 parts. 1st part (4 chapters) ~19,000 words. Parts 2 & 3 probably similar.
Summary: The disappearance of a KGB scientist spurs Illya's -probably permanent- recall to the Soviet Union, but both he and Napoleon come to conclude that a dissolution of their partnership is not acceptable to either of them. There is only one way for Illya to be allowed to return from the USSR, and it requires Napoleon to undertake great personal risk. Other, more subtle risks will be required of Illya, and though they will be allowed to work together, it will be under such conditions that it may work a profound change in each of them and in their relationship. A sequel to The Top to Bottom to Switch Affair, this story will make considerably more sense if you read that first.
Part One: The Other Shoe
Chapter 1 (below)
Part Two: Capture the sub
Part Three: Reset to Default
The Theremin's Protege Affair
Part One: The Other Shoe
Living the life of a spy meant living in the moment. Napoleon knew that as well as anyone at UNCLE, and tried, usually successfully, to follow that advice. Bad times come and go, and good times, too, so that when they do come, they are to be cherished and enjoyed without regrets about the past nor worries about the future. Times were, in fact, pretty damned good for Napoleon these days and much of the credit for this went to his partner, Illya Kuryakin. Napoleon took each day he spent with the man as a gift, but when the news came that those days might be coming to the end, it came to him like the dropping of the second shoe.
He was dismayed to discover how much he'd apparently been dreading this day, all the time he'd supposedly been enjoying his partnership with Illya, both in the field on missions and in private. In fact, it was now apparent, he'd been putting some effort into not thinking about how impermanent Illya's situation was, nor how little say the Russian ultimately had in how and where he might serve his country, or even live his life. It all came home to him as Master Waverly gave them the news in his office, one spring morning, about a year and a half after they'd first begun working together.
"We've been following some recent reports about a Soviet scientist, named Leon Theremin," Waverly had begun. The name meant nothing to Napoleon, but Illya became very subtly alert the moment he heard it.
"As of yesterday we can definitely confirm that he is no longer working with the KGB, as he has for the last decade or so," Waverly continued, "and is either missing or dead, though we have no specific evidence that the latter is true. We know he is no longer with the KGB, because the Soviets have identified his replacement, which will come as something of an inconvenience to UNCLE, I am afraid."
There was a pause, and then Illya said with a sigh, "It's me, isn't it?"
This was the moment of the other shoe dropping for Napoleon, even as part of him remained thoroughly confused about who this Theremin guy was and why Illya had to be his replacement. The confusion must have shown on his face, as Waverly's next comment was directed at him.
"Leon Theremin is, or was, a brilliant electrical engineer and one of the foremost experts on miniature electronics and listening devices in the world," he explained. "Mr. Kuryakin worked as his assistant in the five years or so prior to his transfer to UNCLE and, according to the information we have, was far and away his most successful assistant. One might go so far as to describe him as his protégé."
"That… would not be entirely inaccurate," Illya confirmed, his expression almost wistful.
"But…" Napoleon finally found his voice, "we're going to fight this, right? We're not just going to turn Illya over to the Russians; we need him here."
"Unfortunately, Mr.. Solo," Waverly's voice was it's usual implacable calm, carrying with it a mild admonition against rash behavior, "we have very few options. The move would stand as a considerable advancement for Mr.. Kuryakin's career, and one we have no right to interfere in. You may, of course," Waverly turned to address Illya personally, "request asylum in the US at any time, but I don't need to tell you how complicated that would eventually be."
Illya nodded. "I have considered it previously," he said, looking right at Napoleon so that Napoleon could not miss the fact that he was the reason Illya had made such considerations. "It would have been complicated then; now it could potentially cause a diplomatic incident. If Theremin has, in fact, disappeared and not been killed, it is probably because he has found a way to flee to the West. This will be a great blow to Soviet pride, and I am the price they are demanding in compensation. I do not think I dare resist, at this point."
Only Waverly's quelling gaze kept Napoleon from exploding. How could Illya give up so easily? To hell with diplomatic incidents and Soviet pride! Illya was his, dammit! That, however, was Napoleon the Alpha Top speaking, and Napoleon, the Number One, Section One of UNCLE knew that this was not actually the case at all. Illya was, and always would be, his own man, and as much as Napoleon did love him, heart and soul, Illya's destiny must be his own to choose. He deflated a bit in his seat, marginally aware that Waverly had not missed his near lapse, and approved of his self-control.
In the meantime, Waverly was confirming that, yes, Illya would have two weeks to settle his affairs here, and that in that time he and Napoleon would also be investigating what they could about Theremin's actual whereabouts. Illya had some ideas about a lead there.
"I believe he had a… paramour," he said. "A Top named Clara Rockmore, who lives here in New York. She was a student of his and became the preeminent performer on the musical instrument he invented."
"He invented a musical instrument?" Napoleon asked. "I thought you said he was an electrical engineer?"
"It is an electronic instrument," Illya explained, "which bears his name, the Theremin. You really should pay more attention to modern musical trends, Napoleon. Everyone is using such instruments nowadays."
Waverly dismissed them after that, and they walked back to their office in silence. Napoleon had just enough restraint to wait until the door was closed to round on Illya, releasing the pent up anger and anxiety he had suppressed in Waverly's office.
"Illya, for God's sake, are you really just going to walk away without a fight?" he cried, taking hold of Illya's shoulders. "I can't believe you'd just give in to them like that!"
Angrily, Illya shrugged Napoleon's hands away, turning to pace the small confines of their office. "There is no 'just' about it, Napoleon. If you have a knife and your opponent has a rocket launcher, do you say that you 'just' surrender? No, you acknowledge common sense. There really are some fights you can't win, Napoleon. Even you have experienced this."
"That's bullshit and you know it!" Napoleon riposted, slamming his hand against the wall with such force that Illya paused briefly in his pacing. "You surrender to greater forces so that you can come back and fight again, when the odds are better. If we let you go back there now you're never coming back!"
"'Let me'?" Illya whirled around to face him, eyes blazing. Napoleon had known it was the wrong thing to say the minute the words had left his mouth, but by then it was too late. "'Let me'?! You are not my Top, Napoleon Solo! This is not your collar!" Illya pointed to the dark leather emblazoned with the Soviet hammer and sickle which encircled his neck.
"The ones who put this collar on me, they are the only ones who may 'let' me do anything and they have let me serve here as long as it pleases them. Now it does not and I do their bidding as I always have."
"But you hate that they forced this collar on you," Napoleon countered. "And they had no right to do it, Illya! They had no right to force a collar on you then and they have no right to force you back to Russia now! You can't just give in to the bastards like that. We have to fight them!"
Illya had begun to slow as Napoleon spoke, and now he stopped in his pacing to cross his arms and gaze with overt disgust in Napoleon's direction.
"You are just as arrogant as every other American I have ever met," he said. "You are so full of yourselves, you think that just because you are 'right' in some sort of capitalist-Christian moral sense, that you can take on the world and expect everyone to come around to your side. You have no idea of the realities that apply to every other citizen of the world, and so you judge us all." Napoleon started to object, struggling to find words that would refute this and failing. "You do!" Illya exclaimed before Napoleon could utter even a word. "And you have judged me as well, as a coward, a quitter, a man who 'just gives in' too quickly and easily, cowed by the evil ogre of his government; do not deny it!" Napoleon felt his throat close, and could only shake his head.
"You are like spoiled children, thinking you will always get you way," Illya continued. "You knew from the beginning, Napoleon, that what we had here could not last. I am Russian!" He said this last with his accent exposed, rolling his 'r's and deepening his vowels. "And I will never be anything else. I will never belong anywhere else and if you imagined otherwise then you were deluding yourself."
And before Napoleon could think of a thing to say in reply, Illya turned and left, sweeping out of the office in a Slavic tempest. The room seemed smaller without him, and much, much lonelier.
Striding forcefully down the corridor, Illya hardly knew where he was bound, only that he had to get away from Napoleon before he said something truly hurtful. There was a pesky little voice in his head telling him that it was already too late for that, but he refused to listen, steering himself instead towards the labs. He'd need to pack his things up there as well, so why not start now?
His work station in the UNCLE labs had always been a comforting place for him, with his desk and lab bench set up just the way he liked them. It was uncomfortable to think about never working here again. The thought stirred the pot of his already tumultuous emotions, making it harder still to focus on anything.
He had not wanted to hurt Napoleon, but Napoleon had hurt him… at least Illya felt hurt, but could not quite put his finger on just what had been said that was hurtful, or why. Dammit, why did this have to be so difficult? Why couldn't he just think rationally about this and for that matter, why couldn't everyone else? Opening his top desk drawer, Illya realized that the business of packing up his lab station was going to be more difficult that he'd figured as well.
The various supplies and bits of equipment in the drawer were a mix of UNCLE property, things he'd bought himself and things he'd borrowed from coworkers. He'd have to sort it all, and each of the drawers would be like this, or worse. There was stuff in the back of the drawer he hadn't seen in years, he was sure, only it was hanging up on something and wouldn't come out all the way. Illya jerked hard at the drawer to get it unstuck, then harder, and then all at once it came free, wrenching itself out of Illya's grasp and emptying its contents onto the floor with a loud crash.
Illya was aware of the gaze of many pairs of eyes turning in his direction in the silence that followed. "Sorry," he muttered, bending to gather up the contents of his drawer, depositing pens, pencils, slide rules, test tubes, litmus papers, note pads, pencil leads, ink cartridges, and diverse other things onto his desk by the handful. He stared at it when he had it all off the floor, but couldn't make sense of any of it. What did it matter, really?
Was he really going to bring any of this back with him to Russia? They would supply him with all the pencil leads and litmus papers he needed, just like they'd provide him with a furnished flat… or more likely a room in the flat of some high ranking Top who'd laid claim to him… and he'd only have his own room if he was lucky. There was no point in thinking about that, however, as that would all be out of his control.
The only thing that was not entirely out of his control was how he spent the next two weeks, and besides finding as many good jazz concerts as he could in the time remaining, there was only one thing that seemed important to do in that time, and that was sort things with Napoleon. A moment ago it had seemed sufficient to wait till tomorrow for that, but now, suddenly Illya couldn't bear thinking that Napoleon would go home with the memory of Illya's thoughtlessly cruel words fresh and unamended.
Impatiently, Illya swept all the drawer contents off his desk and back into the drawer and then left it all sitting on top of his desk. He exited the lab as swiftly as he had entered, heedless of the work he'd disrupted. Illya felt relief at seeing the light still shining through the window of their office door, as that meant Napoleon had probably not gone home yet, but something made him hesitate at the threshold. The light was dim, as though from only a single desk lamp, and when Illya peered in he saw that it was Napoleon's desk lamp and that the man himself was sitting there.
He did not seem to be working, however, as his posture was hunched, as if he had his head in his hands, and though he was not moving otherwise, Illya could see his shoulders shuddering unevenly. It took a moment before he realized what he was seeing.
Illya had to step away from the door then to lean heavily against the corridor wall. The ugly reality he'd been striving to ignore was at last crashing in on him and the terrible foolishness in trying to 'manage' it with his usual coolness. He'd gone from cool to downright frosty when Napoleon had tried make him see the truth. Somewhere in his beleaguered brain Illya had believed that he was 'sheltering' Napoleon from what this truly meant for him… and for them. He'd been trying to shelter himself too, trying to convince himself that leaving UNCLE, and Napoleon, would just be like leaving any other job, and that was an impossibly preposterous lie.
He returned to their office door, scuffling and making unnecessary noise with the handle before he entered so that Napoleon would have a moment to compose himself. Illya entered slowly, closing the door behind him and sitting heavily in his own desk chair, which he turned to face Napoleon. His partner did not turn away from his desk, however, though he seemed to have straightened somewhat.
"Napoleon," Illya began quietly after a moment. "I… I don't know…" He was interrupted almost immediately.
"Illya," Napoleon interjected, still facing away, his voice rough, as Illya had never before heard it. "You don't have to say anything else. You were right. I need to… face reality. I should have kept certain things in mind… things I was perfectly aware of…"
Illya could literally not sit still and listen to this. He'd endured Thrush tortures less painful. He stood abruptly, hands raised to either cover his ears or clutch his head in agony. "Stop, Napoleon, just stop," he cried. "It's bad enough that this drivel came from my own mouth," he said. "Please do not make me hear it again from you."
Now Napoleon turned, and the expression on his face was utterly lost. "Illya?" was all he could manage.
"I was an idiot, all right?" Illya paced the floor once, then sat abruptly. "I was harboring some… delusion that if I hid how wretched I felt that I could… protect you from feeling the same. I said a great deal of rubbish and wish more than anything that I could take back every word of it, Napoleon… I am so very sorry…"
"I… I'm not sure I understand," Napoleon said after a moment. Illya sighed heavily, scrubbing his hands over his eyes.
"It was a cowardly thing that I did," he explained. "I couldn't face… how painful this is going to be, for me or for you, so instead I tried to pretend that I wouldn't be. I knew there would be consequences to letting myself become close to you, and I told myself that I would deal with them when the time came… and at the moment I can't say that I am very pleased with my conduct."
"You think it was any different for me?" Napoleon said softly. "I may be an 'arrogant American'," and the gentle smile he gave as he spoke took almost all of the sting out of the words, "but I'm no idiot. I knew as well as you that our future was uncertain at best. I told myself the same thing —that we'd cross that bridge when we came to it— never imagining that there might not be a bridge at all."
Grimacing, Illya shook his head, steeling himself for what he must confess next. "But there is a bridge, Napoleon, and seeing as I knew about it from the beginning and kept it to myself…" He sighed, shaking his head sorrowfully. "A lie of omission is still a lie, even if it is to protect you from embarking on an endeavor in which your life will be at grave risk. If I trust you, then I do not have the right to take that choice away from you by withholding the truth."
"And what is that truth, Illya?" Napoleon asked.
"As I am considered a submissive by my government," Illya began deliberately, "you, as a Top, have the option of making a 'claim' for me, which you may validate by means of a 'challenge' that will take place under my government's supervision. They are widely known to cheat, and raise the odds in favor of their own 'champion' in these challenges, but there remains a small chance that you may win me from my government by this means."
Now Napoleon was sitting straight up in his chair. "Illya," he said, drawing a sharp breath of surprise. "Are you saying that you'd let me… that you'd accept my claim, if I made it…?"
"'Let you'?" Illya said with a pained smile. "Who am I to 'let you' do anything?"
"Who are you?" Napoleon echoed. "You are the only one, who can say what you will or won't let me do. And I'm serious, Illya. If you tell me you don't want me to do this, then I won't. I swear."
Illya considered this for a moment with real surprise. He hadn't expected this possibility at all, assuming that once Napoleon knew he had the option to make a claim for Illya, he'd act on it immediately. It was perhaps the most overt declaration of love he'd ever heard from his partner, and it touched him to the core. He could do no less than answer in kind.
"I told myself," he replied after a moment, "that knowing you were safe here in the West would be consolation enough for me… but I don't want consolation. I want you. I want you to make that claim and win me. I said before that I could never belong anywhere but Russia, but that was a lie too. Wherever you are, Napoleon, that is where I truly belong, and nowhere else."
Napoleon was up and bridging the space that separated them before Illya had even finished talking, lifting Illya out of his chair and pulling him into his arms. His embrace was nearly crushing, and trembling with desperation as well as affection. Illya could do no less, and if the shoulder of Napoleon's jacket grew a little moist in the minutes that followed… well it wasn't anything that Del Florio couldn't deal with.
These challenges, for the claiming of a sub in the Soviet System, were a complicated business, Napoleon soon came to learn. Illya was able to explain some of it, and further information could be gotten from the Soviet consulate, but Illya cautioned that anything that came from the authorities must be considered suspect. One person who would be able to supply the most detailed and current information on how these things were run would be Dr Theremin, assuming he was not dead and had made it to somewhere on the western side of the Iron Curtain.
Illya seemed confident that this latter was true, and that Mistress Rockmore would know something about this. It was as Napoleon was driving them to the address Illya had for her that he divulged what he knew about the claiming process.
"It was originally designed and implemented in the early days after the Glorious Revolution, as a way to get subs away from their previously noble or wealthy Tops," he began. "The State could take away their titles and estates, but not their subs, so a way was devised for individual (party approved) Tops to make a claim for another Top's sub and 'prove' that claim by a contest of arms or loyalty."
"A contest of loyalty?" Napoleon repeated, leery of such propagandistic terminology.
"Yes, in a manner of speaking," Illya replied. "When you make your official claim for me —there will be a lot of paperwork, I am sorry to say— you will be asked to choose the method by which you will prove your claim: by individual combat —which they call 'Proof by Strength'— or by what they call 'Proof by Right'. This latter would require both of us to take part in a sort of 'Capture the Flag' type of exercise, in which I am the flag and you will be facing an opposing team of at least three to your one."
"Sounds fair," Napoleon commented blandly.
"In your case, it might be," Illya replied with a smirk, clearly buttering him up.
"That's as may be," Napoleon said, smirking back. "But, seriously, that still sounds too fair and easily winnable. What's the catch?"
"The catch is that the Party cheats, and always has," Illya said. "The game is always rigged, and the man favored by the party nearly always wins."
"Nearly always?" Napoleon caught this significant word.
"There have been two, maybe three instances in my memory," Illya said, "where things did not go as expected. The Party generally tries to bury such news, so it may have happened more often than that. There are maybe a dozen or more challenges in a typical year, though there were many more in the years immediately after the revolution, and after the war as well. Most are considered commonplace and of little interest. The fact that you are a foreigner, and that I am a relatively well-placed KGB agent will raise our profile somewhat, however."
"So, you're saying that, as the contests are usually tilted toward the Party favorite," Napoleon clarified, "they're going to be tilted ten times worse in our case."
"Yes, they will," Illya answered flatly. "There is one factor in our favor, however, and that is that in all the challenges which did not go the Party's way, there was always a sub who was clearly highly motivated to stay with the unfavored Top who eventually won."
"So the sub is able to make a difference in the outcome?" Napoleon inquired.
"To some extent," Illya answered, "and depending on which type of challenge is chosen."
Pulling up to stop at a red light, Napoleon shook his head ruefully and then turned to meet Illya's eyes. "Half of me knows that we'll be better off working together, even though it may mean putting both our lives at risk," he said, "but the other half is determined to keep you out of harm's way and take all the risk myself. For the first time in my life my instincts as a Top run exactly counter to my instincts as an UNCLE agent."
"I think," Illya said with a sigh as the car moved forward again, "that you will need both sets of instincts in the ordeals to come, but that you should take Dr. Theremin's advice concerning which challenge to enter. He will know where the better chance lies today."
"You seem very certain that we're going to be able to find him," Napoleon said, pulling onto the side street leading to Miss Rockmore's apartment.
"I am," Illya answered. "I came to know him quite well, Napoleon. I learned more from him than from any other teacher I ever had, and while he may not be quite at Einstein's level, he is a real genius. I know he's wanted to get out of the USSR for a long time and that he and Clara are deeply devoted to one another. He will not have taken any undue risks and he will have headed directly to find his Top."
Clara Rockmore had an unpretentious penthouse in an older building, with its own extensive and beautifully gardened, private terrace. It seemed at odds with the eerie musical sounds issuing from inside as they approached.
"It sounds like she's practicing," Illya answered Napoleon's questioning look. "I hope we are not interrupting."
"Practicing what?" Napoleon asked. "Raising ghosts?"
Illya rolled his eyes and rang the doorbell. "The theremin." he said. "The electronic musical instrument she is said to be a virtuoso of."
"That's a musical instrument?" he said dubiously just as the door opened.
"May I help…" the woman behind the door began, then her eyes fell on Illya. "Oh… It's Mr..… Kuryakin? Is that right?" Illya nodded.
"It is an honor to meet you again," he said. "May we come in?"
"Wait a moment," Napoleon said. "You've met before?"
"Mistress Rockmore," Illya said, ignoring Napoleon's question as they were led inside. "May I introduce my partner, Napoleon Solo of UNCLE. You may trust him as you have trusted me."
"And you have trusted me," Miss Rockmore said cordially, turning to shake Napoleon's hand. "Pleased to meet you Agent Solo, and as My Kuryakin has been remiss, I will fill you in. Mr. Kuryakin introduced himself to me originally when he first came to New York, to work with UNCLE. He came bearing messages from my submissive, Leon Theremin, with whom he had been working in the Soviet Union, and from whom I dearly wanted to hear."
Clara Rockmore's handshake, formal and firmly commanding, would have told Napoleon that she was a Top even if he hadn’t known already. She was tall, possessing a wiry strength in her handclasp. Her misty grey eyes gave him an assessing glance before she shifted her gaze to Illya, assessing the two of them as a pair. Napoleon could not say what conclusion she was able to draw.
“Gentlemen, I must tell you that I have a good idea of why you’ve come,” she said next. “But I’m sorry to say that you will be disappointed. I know the kind of work Leon does, and I know better than to think I have any privacy, even here. Surely you understand why I may not… express myself freely on certain topics.”
Napoleon was already extracting the jammer from his inside suit pocket as Miss Rockmore spoke, while Illya made a gesture dismissing her concerns, drawing her attention instead to the beautifully gardened terrace.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “For now, I would very much like to get a little fresh air, and as the day is fine, why don’t we continue our conversation in the garden? I see that your green thumb is in no way diminished.”
It took her a moment, but it clicked for her when Napoleon waggled the jamming device in his hand, its fly-swatter like antenna deployed and making its purpose clearer.
"Oh…" she said. "Oh, of course! You must see how I finally got my climbing roses to cooperate, Illya. It took years, but they're finally growing the way I wanted."
"Excellent!" Illya said, letting Mistress Rockmore lead the way back out to her roof garden, to a long bench situated below a screen of climbing roses, just now forming their first buds. There was a small side table beside the bench, and here Napoleon set the jammer to working, its little antenna swiveling this way and that. After a moment a small green light lit up on its base.
"You may speak freely now, Mistress Rockmore," Napoleon said. "Not even Dr. Theremin's most advanced bugs will get past this."
Napoleon tried not to feel slighted that she looked to Illya for confirmation before she began to speak, reminding himself that she'd only known him for a few minutes.
"I hope you will not take offence," she began. "It's not that I don't trust you or UNCLE, but I really don't have much information, and what I do know… I doubt it will be of much use to you and further, I simply cannot risk sharing it with anyone, even you."
Napoleon had an argument for this, but Illya raised a hand to preempt him. "It's all right," he said. "Given Leon's probable current disposition, it may be for the best that you keep such information to yourself. In truth, rather than requesting information from you, it may suit our needs better to ask you to deliver some information from us."
"Very well," Mistress Rockmore said, tentatively.
"First, we want you to know that UNCLE is willing to offer both of you any protection you might need, without any 'strings' attached," Illya began. "If Leon ever wished to volunteer his services to UNCLE, they would, of course, accept them gratefully, but they will not insist."
"All right," said Mistress Rockmore.
"Aside from this," Illya continued, "Napoleon and I, we would ask a favor of a more personal nature. If Leon would be willing to meet with Napoleon, later, at a time and place of his choosing and offer him some advice of a non-technical nature."
"Why just Napoleon?" their hostess asked. "Why not both of you?"
Illya grimaced briefly. "In a week's time I will be back in Moscow," he said. "They've recalled me to take Leon's place in the KGB technical division."
Mistress Rockmore's face had been carefully controlled up to now, but Napoleon saw her expression reveal honest dismay at this news.
"Oh, Illya, I'm so sorry," she said. "I didn't know."
"There was no way you could have," Illya replied. "But Leon surely did know that I would be chosen to replace him. He gave me as much time here as he could, and perhaps it was even enough. I… have a champion now." Napoleon did not miss the sidelong glance Illya threw in his direction, as brief as it was, and it warmed his heart.
"How do you mean?" Mistress Rockmore asked.
"My best chance of regaining my freedom will be if some Top from the West makes a 'claim' for me, as his sub," Illya explained. "He will have to undergo a challenge in order to prove that claim, and seeing as the challenge will be overseen by the Party, the odds will be strongly tilted against him, and his life will be at grave risk."
Napoleon felt the other Top's gaze upon him, assessing him more intently than before. "He is the one?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am," Napoleon interjected, unaccustomed to being talked over. "So you have an idea now, of the sort of advice we're going to need from Dr. Theremin."
"I do," Mistress Rockmore said, nodding slowly. "But I'm not sure how much Leon will be able to help you in this matter."
"As he knew what the consequences of his departure from the Soviet Union would be for me," Illya said, "and also knew by what means I might best escape those consequences, I believe —I hope, at any rate— that he will have taken some measures, or at least made some inquiries into the current state of affairs in the challenge system. Even if he has not taken any specific measures, his general information is still naturally more up-to-date than mine."
"Forewarned is forearmed, after all," Napoleon put in.
"Of course," Mistress Rockmore said thoughtfully.
"For now," Illya said, "you need only convey this information to Leon… should you chance to see him sometime in the near future. We will leave you with information on several secure ways to contact us, or UNCLE, should he wish to act on this information —or communicate with UNCLE for any reason."
"I'm sure Leon will want to do whatever he can to help you," Mistress Rockmore replied. "And he may well indeed have made some preparations for your benefit. I know you were often in his thoughts, Illya," she said, coming to place her hand gently on his knee. If Napoleon had been Illya's Top in truth, she ought to have asked permission before touching him at all, but he was not, and so he only frowned ever so briefly. The other Top did not miss it, however.
"The two of you," she said, glancing between Illya and Napoleon. "You are not actually Top and sub, are you?"
"No, ma'am," Napoleon confirmed.
"And yet," she said, brow furrowed, "you are taking a terrible risk on his behalf."
"We're partners," Illya explained. "And in our business… that's everything, really."
On to Chapter 2