Napoleon Solo could be accused of many things, some of them polite, many of them complimentary and a few not suitable for mixed company. He also had a few weaknesses, the pursuit of women chief among them.

Not many men have the inherent ability to simply charm women out of their clothes with a smile. Napoleon could do that; his smile promised so much and the reports that followed seemed to indicate that he always kept his promise.

It was after one of his very enjoyable sojourns into a lover's boudoir that a letter arrived at his apartment. It was addressed simply to Napoleon Solo, with no address for either the recipient or the sender. Normally the scent of perfume on a discreet correspondence would be considered par for the course to the handsome American. His world revolved around the unknown, so an anonymous letter was like catnip to the man.

His partner had a decidedly different response to the mysterious note.

"You know, my friend, at some point you may be in danger of romancing the wrong woman. Perhaps this is only the beginning of a campaign of terror."

Illya was being facetious, to be sure. However, he did wonder at times about the sheer numbers of women to whom Napoleon pledged his undying love, if only for a single night.

"There's no such thing as the wrong woman, tovarisch. That's your problem, you think there's only one."

The Russian grunted his disapproval of Napoleon's chastisement.

"At the very least I think there is only one at a time, Napoleon. You act as though you are being served a buffet of some sort, and offered a plate for every course. I find the idea of that manner of hedonism decidedly not quite right."

The American squinted his eyes, as though he might be able to see the blond's point by doing so. It was no use, the point was lost to him.

"Life is like a buffet, now that you mention it. And why not a different woman for every new course; sort of a serve yourself extravaganza.'

He caught the scowl on Illya's face, and dismissed it as the usual dour response to anything fun.

"Look, Illya… Maybe you do have more self-control, or higher morals or whatever the heck the Soviet system instilled in you to make you back away from the kind of romantic pursuits you find so galling in me. The truth is, I love women.'

The blond didn't change his expression, merely continued to stare with concentrated disdain.

"And, I happen to recognize in you the same trait. You just refuse to give in to the wild abandon that results in short term affairs. I have never forced myself on a woman, but I've rarely been turned away."

Somehow this office seemed an inappropriate place for the conversation they were having, something that contributed to yet another stifling of the Russian's ability to deal with his partner's sometimes dangerous liaisons.

"You mix your romances with work, Napoleon. Take Angelique for example…"

"Oh, I do… whenever she lets me."

Napoleon had the temerity to wink when he said that. Illya felt a surge of irritation at his partner's insensitive actions.

"Yes, I've noticed. And every once in a while it has created a problem… mainly for me. You seem to not recognize the position it puts me in, to either cover for you or end up in the line of fire while you are trysting with Angelique, or Serena or…"

Now Napoleon felt defensive, and he considered bringing a little leverage into the conversation; seniority, for instance.

"What about Marion? You didn't mind shutting me out of that little arrangement. You acted as though there was some type of entitlement reserved for you when she came along. You know…"

So that's the way it was. Illya had always wondered about Napoleon's feelings for the coquettish Marion Raven.

"Do I know what, Napoleon? That you had, how do they say, dibs on her? That I should have stood back and let you steal her heart while I simply obeyed the protocol of seniority? She wasn't something to be handled as a proprietary element.'

Illya's face drained of all color. Stop it now, he thought to himself. But he couldn't stop, couldn't forget… His voice was hoarse with emotion, barely above a whisper now.

"I cared for Marion. And even knowing that, you would have made a move on her had she not slammed the door in your face, quite literally I might add."

Napoleon hadn't been prepared for this shift in the conversation. The flippancy of his earlier remarks now seemed to be mired in the reality of his friend's bruised emotions. Why hadn't he noticed this before?

"Look, Illya… I'm sorry. I know you cared for Marion, but you were so off and on, and then… Well, you seemed rather cavalier about it all."

A sorrowful expression marked the blond's features as he looked up into his friend's eyes. This is not how he was trained to respond.

"Forgive me, Napoleon. Of course you meant no harm, just as I have no real intention of harassing you for your romantic proclivities. It is simply that…"

"Did you love her? Marion and you … did you have plans?"

A shake of the blond head was enough to say no to the question. But something else in Illya's eyes told a different story.

"This job doesn't make it easy. It doesn't even allow for something meaningful.'

There was a pause in which both men pondered the state of their hearts. Napoleon braved a response.

"That's why I do what I do. I want to know the kind of intimacy that will lead to a long and happy life with the woman of my dreams. The trouble is, that woman doesn't live in this world; she doesn't marry a man who may or may not come home for dinner for weeks at a time."

This time Illya nodded, a long intake of breath the only sound he made.

"What happened with Marion? You two seemed like a perfect match; you looked good together."

"What happens between any two people whose lives are so different as ours are? She needed stability and I had none to offer. I needed someone who shares my devotion to a cause, and she … couldn't."

Napoleon considered that, remembered something he'd read somewhere…

"She's married now. I saw it in the paper recently. Did you know?"

"Yes. I actually ran into her, and her new husband … He seems like a good fellow, respectable and … settled."

There. Napoleon couldn't quite identify it, but there was something else to this that Illya wasn't saying.

"What aren't you telling me?"

Illya smiled, that wan expression that bespoke sadness in the guise of complacency.

"Nothing, my friend. Someday perhaps, there will be something to tell, but today… I could use a drink. I could stand getting drunk, as a matter of fact. Would you care to join me? I'll even consider picking up a woman, just to prove I am not afraid of a lack of commitment."

The offer scared Napoleon, just a little.


Marion and Illya's romance: s/7359842/1/A-Fragile-Heart

*Did you forget about the note? More on that later…