Note: This takes place six months after Part 1
"The other shoe drops"
How does he do it? Illya sat behind the desk normally occupied by his partner and worked his way slowly through the impressive pile of folders threatening to spill out of the in bin. The full attention of his mind not needed to do the work, the Russian agent occupied himself by planning the murder of one Napoleon Solo.
No matter how many times he resolved that his senior partner would not con him into doing all the paperwork, Illya always seemed to end up here, pen in hand. This time Napoleon had avoided the paper mountain by volunteering for courier duty. It had been an admittedly rather sensitive set of documents, but nothing that warranted his personal attention. However, that particular maneuver had left Illya Acting Chief Enforcement Officer and had gotten Napoleon a few days off in Paris. There was no justice in this world, Illya decided, and picked up another file.
When he opened the folder and got a look at its contents, he rolled his eyes in exasperation. Their encounter with the Thrush docility drug had been months ago, just after Illya had been released from hospital, but here it was still on Napoleons desk. Illya had even done the hard part, his report on the mess a principal part of the contents of the file. He scanned everything again for completeness, then signed his name, officially closing the case. The other five cases theyd handled in the intervening months were underneath.
To be fair to his partner, only their own case files were delinquent. The considerable stack of remaining cases were those of other agent teams and less than a week old, several of them having come in after Napoleon had left for Paris. It seemed Thrush and minds with similar bents had been very active of late.
Seven files also required nothing more than the Chief Enforcement Officers signature to close them. The paperwork on four others lacked a certain completeness, so he routed them back to the attention of the agents involved. While Napoleon might enjoy getting Illya to do the paperwork, the agents in the Enforcement Section had good reason to dread the Russians famed thoroughness.
The babysitting roster came up next. The United Nations handled most of the monitoring duties on treaties, but sometimes nations agreed to dismantle facilities of a more classified nature. In those cases, U.N.C.L.E. did the monitoring. There were eight such assignments coming up, and Illya frowned as he looked at the dates agents would be needed for the three United States operations. They should have been assigned over a week ago. Napoleon might detest paperwork, but it was not like him to be so careless.
A quick check of the received date cleared up the mystery. The requests had only arrived this morning. There could have been some accidental foul-up on the American militarys end. But more than likely it had been one of those deliberate inconveniences designed to let U.N.C.L.E. know just how thrilled the host government was to have an outside agency checking up on them.
Fortunately it was easy duty and actually needed little preparation time. It required an agent assigned to the pertinent hemispheric office, but not a native of any of the countries involved. Illya had pulled it quite often in his earlier days with the organization. He reviewed the files, approved the codes and assigned an agent to each operation.
Next he reviewed the schedules carbon copied to U.N.C.L.E. from various outside agencies. Three he marked as not requiring further U.N.C.L.E. attention, two were directed to Alexander Waverlys attention, and he assigned teams to assist with four other operations. That left ten reports to write up. He decided on dragging Napoleon around New York Harbor from the stern of that ridiculous boat of his and keyed up a blank screen on the computer to start the next report.
"Illya!" He looked up as April burst into the room, her face a bit flushed, something clutched in her hand.
Not liking the looks of this at all, Illya stood up. "What is it?"
For a moment she seemed at a loss for words, then she sighed. "This was on the bulletin board in the vending area," she said, laying an 8x10 photograph on the desk.
Illyas first thought was of an American expression about the other shoe finally dropping. It was almost a relief to see it, but as he studied the image, he realized that he was in big trouble. Both he and Napoleon were clearly identifiable, while Napoleon was undeniably inside him. But it was the look on his own treacherous face that concerned him. It was one of pure rapture. Napoleon is going to be quite insufferable about this.
He looked from the photo to April. Though she was one of the few who had known of its existence, she was obviously a touch embarrassed at actually having seen it. "It is the one I would have used," he said.
"Mark is checking the vending areas on the other floors, but its a safe bet there are photos there as well."
He nodded his agreement, not quite certain what to say to her.
She was silent for a moment, then admitted, "This one had drawn quite a crowd before I ripped it down."
Illya sighed. Suddenly just drowning Napoleon for leaving him here to face this day alone didnt seem like quite enough. The notion of shark-infested waters carried a very satisfying image with it.
"How much trouble do you think this is going to cause?" she asked.
Personally, quite a bit, but professionally? "Not much," he answered. "U.N.C.L.E. does not discriminate etc., etc.." The most he would have to endure was the embarrassment of a temporary suspension from the field while his partnership with Napoleon was re-evaluated. But since Waverly had gotten them into this, that was not a real threat. Of course Thrush didnt know that.
Like any employee, Shoemaker had known about U.N.C.L.E.s anti-discrimination policy, so Thrush must know of it as well. But in addition to the pictures, Thrush also had a recording of Napoleon dismissing the practical protection of that same policy. Given that carefully staged conversation, Thrush had every reason to believe that Waverly would see to it that Illya was on the next plane to Moscow. They must have thought themselves quite clever in giving Illya six long months to agonize about it.
He took some comfort from the fact that Thrush would soon know just how thoroughly he and Napoleon had misled them. In fact, making the operative behind this look like a total fool almost made the trouble it would cause Illya all worthwhile. Almost.
He turned his attention back to April, who looked uncertain of what to do next. He gave her one of his infrequent smiles. "Thank you for bringing this to me. It would have been unpleasant to walk into the section head meeting not knowing about it."
April frowned. "I thought the section head meeting was on the first Thursday of the month."
He shook his head. "It is on a floating schedule right now. Part of the attempts to shake up the routine Shoemaker knew about." A bit of silliness as far as he was concerned, but if it made everyone feel more secure, who was he to argue? "Now, if you will excuse me, I only have twenty minutes before it starts."
She looked somewhat relieved to have an excuse to escape the situation, but she was a good friend so she stopped in the doorway. "Forgive me, Illya, but..." she nodded toward the photo on the desk, "you look like you were having quite a good time."
It was an offer to talk about it, but he shook his head. "I was supposed to." Maybe he would settle for strangling Napoleon with his bare hands.
Very nice. Napoleon took his club soda and lime from the flight attendant, then gave her a smile. Beautiful, curvaceous and interested -- just his type. Almost a pity he considered himself officially off duty. Oh, he could still enjoy himself with his customary gusto when he encountered a sultry bedmate in the course of an assignment, but ever since that blackmail mess, he had found the one night stands that served as his personal life singularly unsatisfying. Blasted Russian.
The constant threat of Thrush traps seductively baited had long since taught him never to go to a dates home or to bring one to his own, so he favored hotels -- always picked at random. Another rule was to be charming before, during and after the act, but to never stay long, certainly not for the night. Waking up with his arms around someone was a form of emotional intimacy that he had avoided since his wifes death. And then Illya had been forced into his bed.
Though hed had better, the sex with Illya had been very, very good. Still, hed meant it when hed said he could resist the Russians charms if that was what Illya wanted. In fact, it had seemed like quite an easy promise as he seldom lacked for willing partners. He hadnt thought a thing about it when hed left the hospital that night, gone home, then fallen asleep on the couch while reading. However, the fifth night in a row that it had happened, hed finally admitted to himself that he was avoiding his bed.
Hed forced himself to return to that bed the next night, but as he had done every evening and every morning since, hed missed the warmth of Illyas body nestled up against his and the silken head resting against his shoulder. When hed realized that he was thinking of Illya when he had sex with others, hed simply stopped going out in search of new sex partners. Instead of the night clubs hed used to haunt, he now spent most of his nights at home, watching movies hed never gotten around to seeing.
Sometimes he had even invited Illya to join him, but invariably Napoleon had ended up trying to seduce the Russian. Oh, he had always been careful about it, his overtures subtle enough that Illya would know he was interested, but would not feel pressured. At least not too much. He wanted Illya, but more importantly, he wanted to keep their partnership intact.
So hed kept the invitations and the seductions limited to once every two or three weeks.
But hed also discovered that when they were on assignment things were different. As usual, they had shared a room each time Waverly had sent them out of town, and having Illya asleep in the next bed had been enough to make a difference. It seemed that as long as he knew he would not have to wake up in an empty room, Napoleon could enjoy himself with his former zeal.
He sighed. He had not liked the implications of that. Since the day Illya had first become his partner, the Russians life had rightfully become the most important one in the world to him. It was the life he could count on to save his own, the one he could turn to when the battles threatened to overwhelm him, but he had never wanted Illya to be important to him in an intimate way. Commitments had never mixed well with Napoleons life. And though he had dearly loved her, he knew that if his wife had not died, their marriage would not have survived the strains that a life in U.N.C.L.E. created.
You already have the most important commitment with him that two people can have. Hes your partner. Aprils words came back to him as they did every time he had tried to dismiss the notion of a commitment with Illya. Napoleon realized he was finally ready to admit that Illya was a part of the one thing that kept him from looking for someone else to spend his life with. If there was anyone who could still wake up next to him fifty years from now, it was Illya.
His brief excursion to Paris had only confirmed everything. Hed hoped that an ocean between them instead of a few apartment floors would give him enough distance from his partner to let him enjoy himself. Though dumping his paperwork on Illya had been a happy side benefit, it was that experiment with distance that had made Napoleon jump at the chance for a trip without the Russian along.
Hed caught the plane out with visions of wining and dining a different beautiful woman each night. Instead hed spent the time playing heir apparent to the North American Hemisphere throne. Observing how the Paris office worked, getting to know the agents, sitting in on a briefing or two -- none of it was anything hed had to do, but it was better than going back to New York early. He did have a certain reputation to uphold.
Oh, hed had his usual good time flirting with the lovelier members of the staff, but the wining and dining had consisted of coffee and sandwiches in the office commissary. Every time hed considered something a bit more physical, his thoughts had returned to a blue-eyed blond back in New York. Blasted Russian indeed.
"I didnt think anyone could melt that iceberg."
"Youve obviously never spent an evening with Napoleon Solo."
Must be a slow day, Illya thought, hearing yet another version of the same conversation as he walked through the hallways. No matter what the emotion behind the words, they always came back to the same theme. You look like you were having quite a good time. As if Napoleon would ever let him forget. As if he could ever forget.
He entered the outer office of the Security Section and surprised Mohammed ab Surs secretary as she was studying a Xerox copy of the photograph. Illya sighed inwardly as she scrambled to hide it. By evening the only personnel who hadnt seen some copy or other would be those who had deliberately decided not to look at it. He refrained from asking the blushing young woman if she wanted him to autograph her copy and nodded instead toward the inner door. "Is he in?"
"Yes, but --"
"Tell him the Chief Enforcement Officer needs to see him. Now." Illya disliked throwing the weight of titles around, especially of one he had only a tenuous claim to, but there wasnt enough time before the meeting for a lot of nonsense, and this had to be done.
A moment later the inner door opened, granting him an audience with the Chief Security Officer.
When he entered, ab Sur looked at him like something offensive clinging to the bottom of his shoe. Illya didnt take it personally. The man tended to give anything Soviet the same look. The fact that the Soviet Union no longer existed did not impress the Afghanistanian at all.
Mohammed ab Sur, a tall, lean man, with only a touch of grey about his temples to betray his 55 years, glanced over the top of his wire-rimmed glasses at the file folder in Illyas hand and guessed what must be in it. "There is a procedure for reporting harassment, Kuryakin. Coming directly to me is not part of it."
"I am aware of that, but a security breach is something that is properly brought to your personal attention."
"And how does a pin-up picture of you and your lover constitute a security breach?"
"Thrush took the picture." Illya sat the file down in front of him. It was an edited version of the original file, which had an Eyes Only status. Basically it protected a few details that no one outside of Enforcement should have access to. It did however contain vague descriptions of all twelve photos, plus a detailed report on Illyas and Napoleons involvement. "This will explain the matter more fully, but the punch line is that our affair was merely a lure for a Thrush blackmailer."
ab Sur considered that, then said, "So that is how you caught Shoemaker."
Illya nodded and the tension in the room eased just a touch. It had rankled ab Sur that Enforcement had caught the Thrush mole instead of his own people. Apparently the method used had convinced him he was better off with things as they had worked out. "Waverly opted to destroy the photos Thrush gave us, so todays copy had to come from the Thrush negative."
"Ill look into the matter. Personally," ab Sur said.
Illya nodded, then started for the door.
Illya turned back to face him. "Yes?"
"Do you want me to be, shall we say, careless about some of the details?"
You did your assignment. You should not have to suffer for it. It was nothing more than Waverly had suggested doing six months ago. Illya had wanted to keep things ambiguous then. Let em guess, as Napoleon had put it. For six months he had lived with that decision, had even become comfortable with it. And as he had hoped, things had settled down around the office. There were still those who avoided him, who looked at him with contempt and disgust, but the pranks had stopped. Although that particular blessing was not so much a sign of growing tolerance, but of the fact that Illya had taken the time to find out just who was doing what. A few quiet... talks with those responsible had ended the problem not only for him, but for anyone else who fell under suspicion. Being ex-KGB did sometimes have its advantages.
And so he had found balance in ambiguity, but the pictures were proof. The file explained that proof away. He was not fool enough to believe anyone would dismiss those pictures so easily, but again there would be doubt. Yes, perhaps a few words from Security in the right ears would restore the balance. "I would appreciate it."
ab Sur nodded, then said, "There is, however, the matter of your security dossier."
Illya sighed. One of the first things sacrificed on the altar of security clearance was the right to secret relationships. Entering into anything more than a one night stand required fairly substantial paperwork, something he had often thought contributed to the casual state of Napoleons love life. "What about it?" he asked, though he knew what was coming.
"I will need to note when you and Solo became lovers."
Illya actually opened his mouth to deny it. Then he thought of a morning when he had woken up and wanted Napoleon, the lack of cameras conveniently forgotten. If he never let Napoleon touch him again, to him that memory made any denial a lie. He gave ab Sur the date.
A consultation on a minor crisis in an Alaskan operation delayed Illya, so that he arrived at the meeting a good fifteen minutes late. Normally that would have earned him nothing more than a scathing look from Waverly. Painful, but survivable. However, this time an oppressive silence filled the room when he entered.
"So nice of you to join us, Mr Kuryakin," Waverly said, breaking the silence and giving him the expected look.
Illya flinched a bit in spite of himself. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir," he said as he quickly took his seat at the conference table.
"Now, then, I believe you were in the middle of your report, Ms ok Paik."
After a long, uncomfortable moment, Chin ok Paik, head of Section Eight: Personnel Support, picked up where she left off.
When she finished, Waverly nodded to Alice Ramsey, and the head of Section Seven reported on the state of U.N.C.L.E. transportation and heavy equipment.
Slowly, Waverly moved through the sections in the usual reverse order. Dr. Leslie Graham, Medical; Howard Wainwright, Technical Support; Mohammed ab Sur, Security, who casually mentioned a matter Enforcement had asked him to look into; and Arthur Matthews, Intelligence and Communications; all gave the usual status reports, and pretended that nothing unusual was going on.
Illya listened carefully, noting anything that directly affected Enforcement, and pointedly ignored the occasional glance directed at him.
Lisa Rogers entered the conference room with a fresh pot of coffee, but Illya declined her offer when she reached him. He hated the stuff, but appreciated the slight encouraging smile she gave him. It had to cost her, since she numbered among Napoleons many amorous targets. She must be wondering what the hell was going on, but now was not the time to tell her.
When his turn came, he kept his own report brief and vague, as between the classified and unimportant items there was really very little that happened in the Enforcement Section that could or should be discussed here. He did not mention the photograph. "Finally, our agents confirm Mr Matthews opinion that Thrush communications have managed to make a full recovery from the Babylon virus."
"Ah, well," Waverly said. "It was fun while it lasted."
Illya smiled. "Yes, sir. That is all I have, sir."
"Excellent," Waverly said. "Well, I believe that is all for today, ladies and gentlemen. You will be notified of the day and time for the next meeting."
Too easy, Illya thought, and waited for it.
It wasnt a long wait. With a skittering sound, the photo slid from Matthews hand to the center of the table. "I take it that you havent seen this."
No one had to look at it to know what it was. Waverly said, "On the contrary, Mr Matthews, I am responsible for its existence." That got everyones attention. "All part of an operation that netted a traitor and delivered the Babylon virus to Thrush. Mr Solo and Mr Kuryakin are to be commended for an excellent performance."
Illya stared along with everyone else at their superiors choice of words. Given Waverlys age it was easy to forget at times that he and Napoleon had been cut from the same cloth. Which was why Napoleon got away with so much. "Thank you, sir," the Russian said, forcing himself to sound like he always did when enduring praise.
"Of course, the appearance of this does have its disturbing elements," Waverly admitted. "When last seen it was in the hands of Thrush. Mr Kuryakin?"
"I have turned the matter over to Mr ab Sur."
"Then we will leave it in his more than capable hands."
ab Sur nodded. "Thank you, sir."
"Now was there anything else, Mr Matthews?"
Matthews exploded. "You cant let this... this obscenity go un--"
"Punished? Is that what you were about to say, Mr Matthews?" Waverly asked. He lit his pipe, something Illya had come to recognize as a sign of agitation. Doctors orders had reduced the old man to only one pipeful a day, so he tended to reserve it for moments such as this. "Perhaps you have not grasped what the nature of their assignment was."
Matthews swallowed hard, shaking with what he undoubtedly felt was moral outrage. "Those arent two agents doing their job! Any fool can see that they are lovers."
"Ah, I see," Waverly said, a cold hardness entering his eyes that Illya would have been hard pressed to match. One did not challenge the lion in his own den. "We are not here to discuss your personal prejudices, Mr Matthews. And if you will consult the by-laws of this organization, I believe you will discover where I stand on such matters."
"My God, Alex, Solo is your successor. You cant allow this."
Illya bristled at the attack on his partner. His own weaknesses might be fair game, but not Napoleon. "If I may, sir," he said, his quiet voice like a shout in the tension-filled room.
Waverly looked a bit surprised, but nodded.
He sat very calmly, his hands folded in front of him, nothing more than a detached professionalism about his manner. "It is the right and obligation of everyone in this room to report any indication that a field agent is no longer performing his or her duty to required specifications. Mr Matthews, do you know of any instance in which either Napoleon Solo or I have ever failed our sworn duties?"
There wasnt, of course. Unlike Napoleon, Illya knew the value of humility, but he also knew that they had well earned their reputations of being the top agents for this or any other hemispheric office. Matthews glared at him, and Illya had the distinct impression that the man would have shot him like some rabid dog if he could. That was fine as far as the Russian was concerned, for he would have gladly returned the favor.
Furious, Matthews ignored everything and shouted the only real question anyone wanted answered. "Are you and Solo still lovers?"
A suffocating silence filled the room as the two men glared at each other, and more than one person jumped when Illya finally broke it. "That is none of your business."
Napoleon watched the woman in front of him run with a squeal of delight into the arms of an older couple who he guessed were her parents. It wasnt until he reached the baggage area that he realized he had his own reception committee to deal with.
Two men, one in a blue suit, one in grey, stood on the opposite side of the baggage claim area. Nothing about them seemed particularly suspicious, but they looked at him for a moment too long, and instinct told Napoleon they did not have his best interests at heart. A quick glance around the area identified three more possible greeters -- a woman who didnt seem the right fit with the tall, broad-shouldered, redheaded man she stood next to, and a hulk who looked more like a linebacker for the Giants than an enemy agent.
So much for needing a workout tonight, Napoleon thought with a sigh. Not for the first time since hed left for Paris, he wished Illya was with him, but at least his U.N.C.L.E. identification allowed him to keep his sidearm at all times. It would also smooth out the consequences of any mischief he got into in the next few minutes.
He walked over to the luggage belt; then, while he waited for his suitcase, he considered his options. He could go screaming to airport security, but this gaggle of unfriendlies looked a little on edge. If he made a move toward a guard, the guard and half a dozen innocent people would probably be dead before he could shout a warning.
The front door was out as well. His new friends had taken up positions in an arc around him that had him cut off from the user-friendly exits. That left just one place to go, and they knew it as well as he did.
Napoleon frowned. He detested being herded. Not only did it mean that a nasty surprise waited at the end of the trail, it was usually very hard on his suit, and he was wearing one of his favorites. Perhaps he could make things a bit less predictable.
He moved closer to the end of the luggage belt, then leaned over as if he were about to pick up a suitcase. He was obviously expected to follow the suitcases through the rear flap and out into the loading area. He had no choice other than to go along, but he twisted and lunged at the last moment, diving through the flap of the luggage belt one behind him, instead of the belt servicing his own flight.
Drawing his gun in mid-lunge, he cleared the outer edge of the belt, rolled as he landed on the concrete beyond, then came up on his feet.
A man who could have been Linebackers twin swung his gun from where Napoleon should have come out toward where he was, but Napoleon fired first, the bullet striking the big man right between the eyes. Two more shots took care of Blue Suit and Redhead as they came through the flaps of other belts, but before he could eliminate Grey Suit as well, a foot connected with his gun hand.
The weapon went flying as he ducked a second kick from the woman. She recovered her balance, then brought her foot around again in a fancy tornado kick but, expecting it, he stepped in and punched out. Her own motion slammed her into his fist, and she collapsed.
Napoleon ducked, then dove under the massive fist Linebacker aimed at his head. As he rolled, he pulled his fountain pen from his inside jacket pocket, then came up on his feet again.
A knife with Grey Suit on the other end of it flashed in the corner of his eye, and Napoleon threw himself backward, triggering the pen as he fell. The single charge of sleep gas burst out, filling Grey Suits lungs.
Napoleon stood up as Grey Suit fell. His last weapon used, he sighed, then turned to face Linebacker. Where is that blasted Russian when I need him?
"What do you mean it didnt work?"
The voice on the other end of the phone sighed. "I dont understand it either, Randal, but Waverly took no action against Kuryakin. In fact, the old man said that their whole affair had just been a ruse to catch Shoemaker."
Stewart cursed, realizing hed been had. For six months, whenever he had been bored or had felt particularly irritated at one of Solo and Kuryakins triumphs over Thrush, he had rewatched the video tape of the night Kuryakin had brought the photos to Solo. He had always taken a great deal of pleasure and comfort from the fact that he could have ended their careers at any time. Hed particularly enjoyed that thought when the Babylon device had turned out to be a destructive fake. Fortunately, hed been able to lay all the blame for that disaster on Shoemaker. A dead man could hardly contradict him.
The only question remaining had been exactly when to use the photos. Thrush Central had made that decision simple when theyd put him in charge of Operation Thunder Head. He needed to have a chat with Solo to pull it off, but the Russian was not only the mans partner, but a very effective bodyguard as well.
When Solo had left for Paris without Kuryakin, Stewart had thought he might not have to use his precious photographs after all, but U.N.C.L.E.s Chief Enforcement Officer had quickly made it clear that he would not be playing tourist on that trip. Stewart had set up the attempt to take Solo at the airport, but hed never really expected it to succeed. Too many people, too many things that could go wrong, so hed sent several copies of his favorite photograph to someone he knew would make good use of them.
Hed thought Waverly would eliminate the problem of Kuryakin for him, which would leave Stewart free to concentrate on capturing a Napoleon Solo who would be more than a bit off balance at the sudden, involuntary absence of his partner. He was not at all pleased to discover that he had been played for a fool.
He sighed, then said, "It seems we will have to resort to cruder methods."
Illya knew that he should have said nothing. Certainly he had not been obligated to answer, and one of his nice icy stares would have ended things perfectly. Instead, he had said yes. At least that is what Napoleon kept telling him "its none of your business" meant. To Illya it meant "the answer may be yes or no, but this matter is not something in which it is appropriate for you to express interest." Americans.
It was Lisas reaction that had bothered him the most. He had found her sitting at her desk quietly crying when hed finally escaped Waverlys conference room. Hed tried to comfort her, but had not been doing well, when Robert Gearhart, one of Matthews people, had arrived to take her to dinner. He had given Illya a look of pure hatred, so the Russian had exercised the better part of valor and had made a hasty retreat.
He shook his head at the memory. Poor Lisa. In love with Napoleon, but knowing it could never go anywhere, she tried to get on with her life. Gearhart had to know that, and Illya suspected that the look he had given him had been meant for Napoleon. Illya sighed. Sometimes he felt like he was in one of those American soap operas.
"Were not all jerks, you know."
Illya blinked, Mark Slates voice pulling him from his thoughts. "What?" he asked, turning his attention to the Englishman behind the wheel of the car.
"We work with good people, Illya. The picture just caught everyone off guard."
"Theyve had six months to get accustomed to the idea."
Mark shook his head. "Rumors are a funny thing, mate. People love to hear them, and the worst of the lot was ready to damn you for them, but most know better than to pay much attention to them. However, to paraphrase an old saying, a photograph is worth a thousand rumors."
"So the best of the lot will make life miserable for me this time?"
"No." Mark sighed. "Illya, I dont think that you understand what is creating such a stir. Its not so much that there is finally proof that you are Napoleons lover, but that you can be."
"I dont follow you."
"Oh hell, Illya, most would admit that Napoleons capable of seducing anything this side of a week-old corpse, but...."
Illya remembered the conversations hed overheard, then it clicked. "No one thought I could match his sex drive."
Illya sighed. He had a well-deserved reputation for a detached manner, so hed thought the photo of him being quite undetached had merely shattered that image. It seemed it went deeper than that. So now I am not only a pervert, but a sex maniac as well. Wonderful. Just wonderful.
He looked at Mark. "So you are saying that things will get back to normal once everyone gets over the shock of my not dying from sheer exhaustion after the first time I slept with him."
Mark nodded. "Thats about the size of it."
Illya scowled. He hated this. Then something else occurred to him. "You are speaking as if Napoleon were really my lover, when youre one of the few who knows that he is not."
"Do I? Ive always thought you made a rather cute couple."
Illya glared at him. "How enlightened of you."
"Remind me to tell you some time about my favorite cousin. He ran off with the captain of his rugby team."
"Spare me the details of your sordid family history," Illya grumbled.
Mark laughed, then turned his car into the drive in front of Illyas apartment building. "Just so you know. Whatever you decide to do, youll always have friends to annoy you."
"How comforting," Illya muttered and got out of the car, a large envelope in his hand. He supposed as he watched Mark drive off that he was lucky to have such friends, and even luckier that hed asked Mark for a lift while his car was in the shop. Illya was certain he did not want to have had that same conversation with April.
He shook himself, realizing that he was standing at night in a well-lit doorway. Not the best route to longevity for a man in his line of work, so he quickly went inside, then straight to the elevators.
It had been a long, hard day, but Napoleon should be in by now and he needed to be told about what had happened. With great regret, he pushed the button for the penthouse floor instead of the sixteenth floor where his own apartment was.
The elevator opened on a short hallway with only one door, but instead of going to it, he stopped just outside of the elevator and leaned against the wall. Thanks to that damned photograph he was tired, depressed and, oddly, a bit aroused. All of which left him in absolutely no shape to resist Napoleon tonight.
For six months his partner had rather subtly been trying to seduce him. Illya had pointedly ignored him, but he had heard the quiet argument. He believed Napoleon had put it something like if youre going to be damned for something, you might as well do it. A dubious philosophy in most cases, but he could see the value of it here.
What Napoleon didnt seem to understand was that Illya didnt really care what people thought. It was an issue of control for him. As the senior agent, his partner dominated much of his life. Napoleon even had a specific tone of voice that commanded instant obedience from his independent-minded partner.
Illya had no such tone for Napoleon. Only the urgency of a situation and Napoleons trust in him compelling the older man to listen to him. Trust. That was what it all boiled down to.
And he did trust Napoleon. He trusted him to be a vain, egotistical, capitalistic source of constant irritation. But he also trusted the American to be there whenever he needed him. He wondered if Napoleon knew just how rare the trust he gave him was. Illya had been brutalized and used sexually so often in his life that he had never dreamed he could feel so close to, let alone so completely trust, another person.
He pushed himself away from the wall, walked to the door, then knocked, but there was no answer. He took out the key Napoleon had given him, then slipped it into what looked like an ordinary lock. The magnetic coding in the key caused a hidden panel to slide aside, and Illya pressed his palm against the plate. A quick scan identified him, then the steel plate hidden inside the door slid away, and he finally could turn the key. It would be some time before Thrush or anyone else would be planting hidden cameras in Napoleons apartment again.
The sound of the shower running greeted him as he opened the door, so he reset the lock, then walked into the front room. He dropped the envelope onto the coffee table, precisely where hed thrown the original photos. He found himself wondering what would have happened if Shoemaker hadnt put him in the hospital the next day. Five days in the hospital, then a quick case that had left Napoleon with no opportunity to pursue him immediately, had let Illya restore a bit of distance between them. Not that that distance had done any good, he thought.
He took off his suit jacket, shoulder holster and tie, draped them over a nearby chair, then headed for the kitchen. He spotted three empty containers of Chinese carry out in the waste paper basket. His stomach growled, reminding him how long ago lunch had been, and he pulled open the refrigerator door. An extra egg roll and a container of kung poo chicken, a spicy dish Napoleon hated and he loved, sat on the top shelf. So his partner had expected him to show up. Did he already know or was this just part of another one of his little seductions? Guess Ill find out soon enough, he thought as the shower was turned off.
A blow dryer started up while Illya ate, then stopped as he opened the freezer door and pulled out the bottle of Stolichnaya that Napoleon kept for him. He poured himself a healthy glassful. Half of the vodka disappeared in a long swallow. The icy fire that surged down his throat felt good, and between it and the food he almost felt human again.
Glass in hand, he walked back into the living room, then groaned inwardly. A satisfied smirk on his face, Napoleon was examining the photo with a little less than professional detachment. Illya didnt know if it was the smirk or the fact that he noticed how good Napoleon looked in the blue sweatsuit that irritated him more. "Would you stop admiring your technique and say something?" Illya demanded.
If Napoleon had just made some crack he might have made it through the evening, but Illya knew that he was lost when the smirk vanished and his partner looked up at him. "How much trouble did this cause you?"
Illya pressed the cold glass against his forehead as he dropped down onto one of the bar chairs. "A few uncomfortable moments, but nothing I could not handle."
"Im sorry, Illya, I should have been there," he said. "The whole trip to Paris was a dumb idea to begin with."
He was tempted to agree, but decided on mercy instead. "Well, it wasnt a total loss. I managed to clear most of your desk."
Napoleon smiled. "My hero," he said, then walked over to the bar and pulled out a bottle of his favorite scotch.
As he poured some into a glass, Illya got a close look at his partners hands and the fresh bruises on his knuckles. "You flirt with some football players girlfriend?"
"No, but one of them certainly looked the part." Napoleon sipped at his drink and sat down on the chair next to Illyas. "Actually if you hadnt shown up, I was going to call you. I had a little run-in at the airport. When someones ticked off at me, they usually arent too fond of you either."
"We do seem to have a way with people. Any indication of who was after you?"
"Nothing that screamed Thrush, but theyre always a safe bet."
Illya had to agree, but if Thrush had decided to get aggressive on a shoot-on-sight order, something didnt quite make sense. "Why would they try for you here? Youre not as familiar with Paris; it would have been easier to take you there."
"I was never alone in Paris."
Illya tossed him an I have no doubt of that look. "Your paramour of the evening would hardly have intimidated Thrush."
Napoleon was quiet for a moment. "Once I arrived, I didnt leave the Paris office, Illya. Consultations and all that. I was still working with a couple of agents right up to the time my flight took off." He said it like it was some sort of confession.
Illya stared at his glass, toying with the notion of refilling it, but decided he was tired enough that a second glass might make him tipsy. That was all he needed. "No romances?"
"I wasnt interested."
Illyas eyebrows arched in disbelief, then, as was his habit, he started to analyze things. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not keep constant track of his partners sexual exploits. But he was aware that Napoleon talked more often about evenings spent at home, and he could think of a half a dozen beautiful visitors to the New York office who had left without the American indulging in more than his usual outrageous flirtations.
Illya could, however, think of two duty demands conquests and several dalliances with women who had gotten sucked into their cases when they had been in Prague, Vienna and London. Budget constraints demanded that they share a room on most assignments, and on those occasions Napoleon had returned with a satisfied smirk on his face and smelling of womens perfume. Business as usual. But not in New York. Not when they werent on assignment. In an odd sort of way, for an U.N.C.L.E. agent, especially one named Napoleon Solo, it was almost monogamous. And he was the only one he knew of that Napoleon was trying to seduce.
Illya shook his head in confusion. "Is this some sort of game you win if I become a willing notch on your bedpost?"
It wasnt the politest way to put it, but Napoleon seemed to opt against taking offense. He leaned back in the chair and looked at the Russian for a long moment. "I was in love once. I married her, and I lost her. I dont expect to feel that way about anyone again."
Napoleon stood up and touched Illyas cheek. "But I love you, Illya. And I want you."
Illya drew back from the tender touch, then shook his head. "My life has to mean more to you than a one-hour fling."
"I am well aware of the fact that I could never be so casual with you."
"I thought you were the one who was afraid of commitments."
Napoleon shrugged. "I realized that we already have one."
Illya looked at him. "We what?"
"Illya, were partners. If that isnt a commitment, what is?"
"That is different."
"It was until we made love."
Napoleons hand moved to his shoulder, and Illya looked up into a pair of warm brown eyes. How many times had that touch soothed him after Thrush had finished with him? How many times had he drawn strength from those eyes when he hadnt any of his own left? The warm intimacy of their partnership had kept them alive against all odds, but, thanks to Waverly, sex was now part of that bond, and try as he might, Illya knew he could never make it go away. "ab Sur asked me when we became lovers. For the files."
"What did you tell him?"
"March 28, about 6:30 in the morning."
Napoleon smiled, a sparkle in his eyes. "You can do the paperwork."
"I never doubted it," Illya answered with his own slight smile. "Napoleon, I...."
"I wont hurt you, Illyusha," he promised.
"I trust you, Napasha," he answered, tilting his head back a bit, lifting his lips in a silent invitation.
The kiss easily lived up to his memories, the warm strength of Napoleons arms moving around him, making Illya marvel at how long hed managed to hold out. The press of a tongue made his lips part, and Napoleon quickly took possession of his mouth. Lost in the intimate touch, it took him a moment to feel Napoleons arm moving beneath his legs to pick him up.
He pulled back abruptly and swatted the hand away from his legs. "I am not a sack of potatoes, Napoleon. I will walk to the bedroom."
Napoleon sighed. "You have absolutely no sense of romance."
"I am not one of your paramours, Mr Solo. You may have me tonight, but it would be best if you did not forget that." Illya turned on his heel, then stalked off into the bedroom.
I knew this was too easy. Napoleon watched Illya disappear into his bedroom and shook his head in bemusement. He had only really forgotten one thing, but it had been quite enough. For the few weeks they had been lovers, Illya had been playing a part -- that of a young man desperately in love with him. Apparently part of that role had been a certain tendency to go along with things. It seemed that tonight Napoleon would find out just what had been real and what had not.
Oddly, he found himself not at all disappointed. In fact he found he rather looked forward to it.
He gave Illya a moment to forgive him for presuming, then entered the bedroom himself.
The Russian was sitting on the bed, still dressed, though hed slipped off his shoes and socks. With someone else it would have been difficult to recapture the mood, but Napoleon had spent too many months wanting this. He undressed while Illya watched with large, blue eyes that were unreadable in the dim light from the bedside lamp.
His nakedness was aggressive, yet made him a bit vulnerable, so Napoleon moved slowly as he walked over to the bed. His hand cupped Illyas cheek, and the younger man leaned into the touch, a simple act that sent a jolt of arousal all the way down to Napoleons toes. His other hand touched the top button of the Russians shirt. "May I?"
Slowly, button by button, he worked his way down the shirt, until the slender, muscular chest had been bared. The gentlest touch pushed Illya back against the bed, and Napoleon gave that marvelous torso the attention it deserved. The nipples were hard already and the teasing of his tongue and teeth brought a gasp of delight with each touch. A fine, silken patch of hair decorated the center of the chest and, not being one to pretend he was with a woman when he was with a man, Napoleon rubbed his cheek against the tickling softness.
Then there were the scars. So many on such a small, beautiful body. He made certain to kiss each one, to trace them with his tongue, until Illya began to squirm, then finally whispered, "Napoleon, please."
Napoleon unfastened the trousers, and Illya lifted up a bit to help him slide them off. The older man sighed, drinking in the sight of the now-naked body. Hed told Illya that he was beautiful when he was aroused, and hed meant every word. And now that arousal had his full attention. He avoided the tip at first, sliding his tongue down the hard length to another dusting of silky blond hair.
The hips started to twist as he continued his explorations, and Napoleon grabbed them, holding them still so nothing could escape the probe of his tongue. Illya moaned several times, trying to get free while at the same time demanding a tighter imprisonment. "Napasha," he groaned.
At the urgency in the voice, Napoleon instantly took the engorged organ into his mouth and loosened his hold enough for the slender hips to begin to thrust. He loved the taste and smell of Illya, so he drank greedily when the Russian came.
His lover satisfied, Napoleon hesitated, waiting for some sign of what to do next, the manner of his own release becoming more urgent.
It took Illya a moment or two to recover himself, then he reached out to the night stand drawer. His hand dipped inside and drew out the ever-present tube of lubricant, but he didnt give it to Napoleon.
Instead he poured some onto his palm, warming it, then he reached for Napoleon without any hesitation. His little Russian was reserved, not shy. Napoleon groaned as the hand closed around him. With the efficiency in which he did all things, Illya coated the hard penis. Then his hand moved to Napoleons, gently transferring the excess lubricant to the older mans fingers.
Illya shifted onto his side, then groaned in pleasure as Napoleon prepared him. Once he was ready, Napoleon started to move closer, but Illya shifted away. "I want to see you," he whispered, settling onto his back.
"I was hoping youd say that," Napoleon admitted, lifting the Russians legs up over his shoulders. They watched each other as Napoleon slipped inside the tight passage with a practiced ease. Looking into those blue eyes while he once again loved the Russian to the brink of climax nearly pushed Napoleon over the edge before he was ready, but he kept control of himself.
Illya was more aggressive than hed ever been, the competitive nature of their partnership spilling into their bed as he matched Napoleon thrust for thrust. For a moment, Napoleon worried that he would hurt the Russian, but the absolute trust was there as well as the competition. With a sigh, the American lost himself in the delicious sensation of being so utterly connected to the young man beneath him.
Illya groaned loudly, and a liquid warmth spread between their bodies. Three hard thrusts, and Napoleons own release flooded the passage.
For a time neither of them moved, then his softening flesh broke the connection. Napoleon sighed with regret, but knew Illya was hardly in a comfortable position. Reluctantly he got out of bed and headed for the bathroom.
He washed quickly, then soaked a fresh wash cloth with warm water. He returned to find Illya out of bed and about to pull on his trousers. "Just where do you think you are going?"
"Home. Its been a long day and Im tired," Illya answered.
"Is there some reason why you cant sleep here?"
Illya looked utterly perplexed, a sight Napoleon found rather enjoyable. "But...."
Give me strength. "Illya, get back in bed," Napoleon said.
"You want me to sleep with you?"
"It will make what Im planning on doing to you tomorrow morning much more convenient. Now get back in that bed before I throw you there."
"You and what army?" Illya muttered, but he stepped back out of his pants, then climbed into the bed.
Napoleon settled down next to him and pressed the damp cloth against the stickiness clinging to Illyas belly.
"Thats cold!" Illya protested, squirming away.
"Well, it wasnt until you decided to be an idiot." Napoleon captured the smaller body with his free arm. "Now, hold still."
Illyas body obeyed, but Napoleon didnt get lucky enough for the rest of his lover to be so compliant. "How was I supposed to know you wanted me to stay?" he demanded. "You never sleep with --"
"My paramours. Yes, I know. Damn it, Illya, if you dont want to be treated like a one-hour fling, dont act like one."
Illya fell silent for a moment. "Point taken."
"Good." Napoleon dropped the wash cloth into a large ash tray hed put on his night stand during their first affair for just such occasions, then settled himself into the bed. "Come here."
Illya curled up against him, his head coming to rest on his lovers shoulder.
Napoleon drank in the scent of the blond hair and sighed, a sound of pure contentment.
The movement of Illyas facial muscles told him the blonds eyebrows were arching, a sign hed finally figured out just what was going on in his partners mind. "Wouldnt it have been simpler to just get a teddy bear?"
"Shut up and go to sleep."
"Yes, Napoleon," he answered, and Napoleon felt the Russian smile.
Illya found a fresh box of Cheerios and a tin of his favorite tea in the cupboard the next morning. He poured a big bowlful of cereal and wondered if his ancestors were turning over in their graves at his idea of breakfast. Though he handled mornings just fine, he could never stomach much before mid-morning.
He ignored the smell coming from the automatic coffee pot on the counter and poured enough water into the kettle to make himself his usual generous cup of tea. He put the kettle on, then got the milk from the refrigerator, noting with satisfaction that Napoleon had not switched back to 2% from skim after Illyas previous stay.
Arms encircled him from behind as he poured the milk over the cereal. "I dont know how you can eat that stuff," Napoleon said.
"So am I," his lover said, nuzzling the Russians neck.
Illya groaned in utter exasperation. "Napoleon, I have already gotten dressed twice." Not to mention the trouble hed had taking his shower. The man was utterly unsatiable.
"You know what they say about third times a charm." His arms tightened around Illyas waist.
"We have to go to work."
"No one will take over the world if were just a few minutes late," Napoleon answered, his hands beginning to roam a bit.
Illya realized that saying no to Napoleon was definitely going to be a problem, especially since the mans touch quickly stirred an answering heat within the Russians own body. Fortunately he had a trump card to play this morning. "If you say so. Still, I would think that Mr Waverly might want to talk to you after yesterday. But if you want to explain why we werent in on time, who am I to argue?"
"Killjoy," Napoleon muttered, but released him.
Illya favored him with his best triumphant grin, then happily set about eating his cereal.
Still grumbling, Napoleon fixed his usual morning bagel and washed it down with a cup of coffee. He was about to pour a second cup, when Illya stood and said, "Ill meet you at your car."
"Dont trust yourself to be alone with me, Illya?"
Illya gave him a disgusted look. "I may not be the fashion plate that you are, Napoleon, but I will not wear the same shirt two days in a row," he said, then swallowed the last of his tea. "I need to stop by my apartment for a clean one."
"Wear one of mine," Napoleon said, though they both knew that his shirts hung on the smaller Russian.
"Fine. Then I need to stop by my apartment for my I got laid by Solo button. They should compliment each other nicely."
"Point taken." Napoleon finished pouring his second cup of coffee, then glanced at Illya. "I guess youll just have to move in to avoid this inconvenience in the future."
Illya sat back down and stared at him. "You want me to live with you?"
"Lock stock and limited wardrobe," Napoleon answered. "Ill even find room for all your books. Or do you want to argue about this for six months?"
Illya started to splutter something, thought better of it, then tried to think. Acting like some blushing virgin seemed pointless. They had known each other for over five years, a good part of which had been spent together in small hotel rooms. And packing a bag every night or going back to his apartment to change every morning would grow old quickly. But he wasnt quite ready to surrender that much of his independence. "Most of my limited wardrobe and I will stay with you, Napoleon, but my books will remain in my apartment."
Napoleon smiled. "Agreed."
"There is one condition."
"You will not subject me to your ridiculous American custom of humiliating euphemisms masquerading as endearments," Illya said. "One sugarpie and I take your head off at the shoulders."
"Perish the thought," Napoleon said, doing a less than successful job of keeping a straight face. "Now get that disgracefully dressed body of yours downstairs and get changed. You know how I hate waiting."
Illya sighed and headed for the door.
He stopped in the kitchen doorway and looked back. "Yes?"
Napoleons eyes were gleaming, which always meant trouble. "Wear the grey sweater. You always look so cute in that."
"I am never cute," he muttered, then made his escape. Napoleon would drive him mad yet.
"...worth communing with a few penguins..."
Illya hit his apartment door on the run. Yanking off yesterdays clothing, he quickly replaced the suit with his jeans, boots and the grey sweater. As he pulled his shoulder holster back on, he thought it would be quite interesting to see the expression on Napoleons face when he saw that Illya had actually honored the teasing request.
He had always made it a policy with Napoleon to chose his battles with care. Hed wear grey every day if that was what his lover wanted, but right now Illya was more concerned with not keeping his partner waiting.
He took the elevator to the lobby, but opted for the stairs to reach the parking garage beneath the building. He opened the door to Level Three and started toward Napoleons assigned parking spot. The American was nowhere in sight, and Illya sighed. Apparently hed moved a little too quickly. Oh, well, he could do the bomb check while he waited.
Life in U.N.C.L.E. tended to make one justifiably paranoid. Any agent who hoped to live beyond the next sunset never stood on the outer edge of sidewalks or subway platforms, kept his eyes open in crowds, and avoided like the plague just getting into a car and starting it up. Any attempts to tamper with an agents car alerted a sensor grid that would subtly change the paint color on the car doors, but a wise man still took the time to look for any wires around the hood, beneath the car or under the steering column.
A wise man also paid attention to subtle warning signs in parking garages full of nooks and crannies for unfriendlies to hide in. Illya had only moved a few steps away from the door when something told him to pull his gun. He held the weapon close to his body, so he could hide it quickly if someone who belonged here showed up.
He moved toward Napoleons Porsche in a shallow arc, trying to figure out just what was making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. A sound. That was it. Though he couldnt smell exhaust, he could hear a faint sound like some highly muffled car engine idling. He could think of a half-dozen innocent reasons for a car to be idling in a parking garage, but he knew better than to relax. He reached the mid-point of his arc, putting him an equal distance from the safety of either Napoleons car or the stairwell.
A black sedan leapt from a parking space at the far end of the garage, and Illya threw himself backwards. He brought his gun up and fired as he fell, his bullet catching the gunman in the back seat right between the eyes. His own momentum carried him clear of a barrage of bullets, but not quite far enough to escape the gas canister that accompanied it.
He got a partial lungfull before his mind separated the bullet impacts from the canisters explosion. The noxious taste of Thrushs particular blend of knock out gas filled his mouth as he rolled away from the rest of the cloud.
A grogginess swept over him, and he fought to clear his head as he heard the sedan screech to a halt. He brought his gun up and around, but a foot slammed into his hand, sending the weapon flying. While the car had distracted him, hed been flanked, and now he found himself unarmed, staring up the barrel of a machine pistol.
Out of the corner of his eye, Illya saw two pairs of feet get out of the car, one in expensive sneakers, the other wearing a shabby pair of cowboy boots.
"Get him up!" the owner of the pistol snapped in a deep, gruff voice.
"What do you mean get him up? Do him and lets get back in position!" Cowboy Boots protested. "Solo could show up at any minute."
"Yeah, and that bastard killed a couple of my friends yesterday," Gruff Voice snapped back. "I want to give him a little thank you present for that."
"Theres no time to argue about it. Just do what he says," Sneakers said, grabbing Illyas right arm.
Grumbling, Cowboy Boots grabbed the left arm, then they yanked Illya to his feet.
Illya did not fight them, going a bit limp instead to make them think the gas had affected him far more than it had.
Gruff Voice sat the pistol down on the hood of a nearby Cadillac, then pulled a switchblade from his inside jacket pocket. "Get his head back," he ordered, snapping the blade open.
Sneakers grabbed a handful of Illyas hair and jerked his head back, the pain clearing the last of the fog from Illyas brain. Stupid, the Russian thought as he watched Gruff Voice approach. A knife was a rather intimate way of killing someone, which meant one had to get close to use it. Not a wise way to conduct business.
He let the man get within three feet of him, then Illya straightened, the sudden shift of his weight throwing the men holding him off balance. He brought his right leg up and out, the full force of the kick striking into his would-be killers groin.
Gruff Voices eyes bulged and he dropped to the floor.
Illya brought his foot back down, his boot heel smashing Sneakers instep. The thug howled in pain, pure reflex making him release Illyas arm and head.
Cowboy boots had the most time to recover, and he brought up his gun, while trying to jerk Illya off balance. The Russian moved with the pull, his free hand coming around to grab the gunmans wrist, but to the side he could see Sneakers raising his own gun.
Illya twisted hard, spinning Cowboy Boots between himself and the gun. Sneakers jerked his gun up, trying not to hit a fellow Thrush agent, but the bullets struck Cowboy Boots in the head.
Diving to one side as the body fell, Illya hit the floor then rolled beneath the Cadillac and out the opposite side. A quick lunge netted him the machine pistol Gruff Voice had so carelessly set aside. The Russian fired a short burst, the bullets catching Sneakers in the midsection.
The Thrush operatives body fell to the concrete, and Illya swung around, firing at the sedan as Gruff Voice jumped inside. With a squeal of tires, the car raced off.
Illya sighed, relieved to still be alive, but more than a little irritated with himself for letting Gruff Voice get close enough to disarm him. If the man hadnt been equally stupid, the outcome would have been far less to Illyas liking. Now where had his gun gone?
He dropped to the floor and looked in the direction in which it had gone skittering off. There, three cars over and one up, beneath a red Volvo. He got up, walked over to the Volvo, dropped back down, then reached out.
"Illya!" he heard Napoleon shout.
"Its about time you showed up," Illya answered, getting hold of his gun. "What did you do? Stop for donuts on the way down?"
Napoleons expensive shoes appeared on the opposite side of the car. "The office called. One of our information brokers phoned in with a tip that Thrush might try to kill us."
"Now theres a useful piece of information," Illya muttered, stood up, reholstered his gun, then started brushing himself off. "So what do we do now?"
Napoleon returned his own sidearm to its holster, then shrugged. "Check my car for bombs, then use the car phone to call in a clean-up crew to take care of this mess."
Illya nodded, but sighed. He hated it when a day started like this.
Stewart fired once. The only survivor of the attempt on Kuryakin fell dead at his feet. "Fool," Stewart spat, then gave the body a kick in the ribs for good measure.
Now both U.N.C.L.E. agents would be on guard, making it nearly impossible to take them.
He sighed. Hed tried clever, surprise and crude, perhaps it was time for elaborate.
Napoleon glared at the file on his desk and willed it to evaporate. He would have rather faced anything Thrush could throw at him than deal with the quarterly budget for the Enforcement Section. Of all the things for Illya not to have gotten around to. Finance had prepared it, of course. All it required was his authorization, but that meant he had to read it first. By the look of it, he had about an hours worth of the dullest reading on the planet ahead of him. He sighed, then poked at the file with his pen.
"My secretary assures me that such things do not bite," ab Sur said from the doorway. "I, however, remain unconvinced."
"Have a seat, Mohammed," he answered, more than grateful for an interruption and a kindred soul. "I wonder if Thrush has to deal with all this paperwork."
ab Sur sat down in one of the two chairs opposite Napoleons desk. "Where there is an organization, there is paperwork, my friend. Perhaps the true universal evil."
"Has my vote," Napoleon muttered, once more considering how he could beg, seduce or con his partner into reviewing the report. "Ah, well, what can I do for you?"
"I wanted to inform you that we have located the person behind yesterdays incident. One of Matthews men, James Anderson. He found an envelope containing the photos on his doorstep when he went home for lunch yesterday."
"Any particular reason Thrush picked him?"
"He is a right-wing Fundamentalist with somewhat outspoken homophobic views, or at least as much as one can have these qualities and pass the standard U.N.C.L.E. psychological evaluations." ab Sur paused for a moment, then added, "Although Medical seems to have made a mistake in approving this one. According to what I learned during the interrogation, this is not the first time he has sought to humiliate Kuryakin."
"It seems that he was behind many of the indignities your partner suffered last March. Most notably an ink-soaked tampon on Kuryakins chair."
Napoleon frowned. "This is the first Ive heard of it."
"Myself as well," ab Sur said, looking even more displeased about the fact than Napoleon felt. "Kuryakin opted to handle the matter himself."
"Im almost afraid to ask."
"Let us just say that Anderson had reason to be grateful that your partner used catsup, instead of ink, to redden the tampon he gave him in turn."
In spite of themselves both men smiled at the mental image that conjured up, then ab Sur shook his head slightly. "After that little snack, Anderson behaved himself until the photos showed up. It is a case of a small mind and even poorer judgment, Napoleon. There was no direct involvement with Thrush. He will, of course, face the disciplinary board, which will undoubtedly recommend dismissal."
Napoleon couldnt muster up much sympathy for Anderson. He had never suffered idiots or self-appointed bastions of morality well. He was more concerned with the damage the bastard had done. Things had seemed very quiet when they had come in, but in matters like this, Napoleon had to admit that he was out of the information loop. He found that... irritating. "Whats the mood like out there?"
"On the whole, Id say most are quite embarrassed by their behavior yesterday," ab Sur said, leaning back in his chair. "Everyone seems to love a good rumor, Napoleon, but this was a gross violation of your privacy. Something few people approve of. Also, between Waverly and my department, it is now common knowledge that Thrush was behind this, and while everyone may not approve of same-sex relationships, we are in the business of hindering Thrushs goals, not furthering them. It may take a week or two for some to look the two of you in the eye again, but things should return to normal shortly. There will, of course, be exceptions, but nothing Kuryakin cant handle."
ab Sur stood up. "As for myself, I am appalled by your choice of bedmates," he said. "Really, Napoleon. A Russian?"
Napoleon chuckled. "We all have our character flaws, Mohammed."
The Chief of Security smiled, but only for a moment. "Some more unpleasant than others. If I were you, I would keep a watchful eye on Arthur Matthews. We both know that you are virtually untouchable, Napoleon, but he may see your partner as vulnerable."
Illya had mentioned that a few uncomfortable moments had occurred yesterday. That Matthews had been behind at least some of them didnt surprise Napoleon. Arthur Matthews was one of the few people who had absolutely refused to believe the rumors, dismissing them as merely vicious gossip. That would have left him totally unprepared for the shock of seeing the picture. Given that gathering information was what the mans section did, Napoleon had always found the refusal to even consider that there might be a touch of truth to the rumors a bit odd. He should have realized there was something behind it. "Tell me exactly what happened in that meeting."
Napoleon stopped in the doorway of the Communications Center and took a moment to evaluate the importance of what was currently occupying the attention of the Chief Intelligence and Communications Officer.
The section occupied most of the fourth floor, the main room taking up over half that space. Monitors covered the walls, filled with the images of every television station from here to halfway to Boston. If there was a news station anywhere within that area, someone was assigned to watch and analyze it. The radio broadcasts also had to be monitored, and a constant, random scan for suspect private signals had clued U.N.C.L.E. in on more than one plot against world security.
Photo analysis and decoding occupied other areas on the floor, but Matthews was here, talking with a young woman at a desk in the troubleshooting section. In addition to monitoring the local communications, the New York office also lent a hand to any problems encountered at regional offices in the hemisphere.
As Napoleon made his way through the maze of desks, he tried to attach a name to the short, pretty redhead and came up with Sharon Rennie.
"Theyre having a bit of trouble zeroing in on it, sir," she was telling her boss as Napoleon moved into hearing range, "but something seems to be causing some low grade interference with the university station in Vancouver."
Matthews considered that. "Thrush communications tight signal band can cause that sort of disruption," he said. "Thats how we tumbled onto Field Marshal Gurnius and his alliance with Thrush last year."
She nodded. "But they must have improved on their technique. Vancouver cant locate the source."
"Give them whatever help you can, Sharon. If you need another pair of hands, pull Ming-Chang off of CNN for a while. And keep me posted."
Matthews turned toward his office and saw Napoleon. Pure disgust twisted the mans face, but that didnt bother Napoleon at all. In fact he found the honesty of it definitely refreshing. "A moment of your time, Art?"
"I have nothing to say to you, Solo," Matthews spat with a bit too much volume to go unheard, and several of his people glanced toward the two men.
Napoleon smiled rather sweetly and kept his own voice low enough that only Matthews could hear him. "Here or in your office. Your choice."
Matthews glared at him, but headed for his office.
Napoleon followed, then closed the door behind him. "Its come to my attention that you and I need to reach an understanding, Arthur," he said, casually sitting down on the edge of Matthews desk. It was a typical perch for him, but today he used it as a way of re-enforcing just who had the most clout.
"I have no desire to have an understanding with a fucking queer."
The smile returned to Napoleons face. "Now that is what we need to have our understanding about. I thought it only polite to tell you that you may say anything you like about me. Or Illya, for that matter. After all, that kind of verbal garbage diminishes you, not us."
The smile vanished. "However, if you make any formal move against him, youd better have a hundred witnesses to back up your case, or I will intercede until Waverly has no choice but to assign either you or me to the Antarctica Monitoring Post."
Napoleon stood up, straightened the line of his jacket, then walked toward the door. Both men knew the most probable winner of any clash between them, but there was always a chance things might take an unexpected turn.
His hand on the door knob, the Chief Enforcement Officer looked at Matthews and said, "Loving Illya is worth communing with a few penguins, Art. I guess youll have to decide if destroying him is worth the same risk."
Illya knew he was in trouble the moment he entered Napoleons office. The thought of lunch had been a source of irritation to the Russian most of the morning. The two of them often ate lunch together, the time usually spent on brainstorming about one problem or the other. It was also not unusual for Illyas lunch to be a quick sandwich gobbled down while tinkering away in the lab on something too important or too interesting to be abandoned for a lunch break. A days events tended to dictate the option he chose.
Today, however, Illya had found himself actively thinking about it. Or rather, thinking about what others would think about it. If he didnt have lunch with Napoleon would it look like he was avoiding his partner? If he did, and they ate in the commissary, the assumption could be that they were avoiding being alone together. And he could just imagine the looks that would turn his way if they had lunch in Napoleons office.
By 12:30 he was hungry as well as annoyed by all the analyzing of something he wouldnt have given a second thought to last week. By 1:30 he felt like he was starving and, in an act of what he saw as pure defiance, he stalked into the commissary, got two sandwiches to go, then headed for Napoleons office, everyones opinion be damned.
The moment the office door closed behind him, Illya realized he should have been more concerned with what Napoleon was thinking. More than once, Illya had seen the American give a woman he was involved with a long, sensuous look. Not even close to something as crude as that expression about undressing someone with ones eyes, Illya had overheard one woman describing it as an arousing caress. Now that same look caressed his body and, to his utter irritation, he found himself susceptible to it.
Willing the fires stirring inside him to cool, the Russian opened his mouth to say something to divert his partners attentions, then thought better of it. They had already established that his evasions were tacit permission to try and seduce him. Mixed signals would not do.
Illya took a deep breath to chase away the tickle of arousal, then said, "No, absolutely not. I will not be taken on your floor like some love-sick fool," he said firmly. "Consider me off limits at the office."
Napoleon sighed, a martyred expression on his face, but he nodded his agreement, then said, "So whats for lunch?"
Considering most of the morning a total loss, Illya headed back to the lab as soon as theyd finished eating. As he walked through the hallways, he noticed a few people stopped when they saw him and changed directions to avoid any further contact, but most just glanced toward the floor as he passed. He quickly stopped making even those observations and let his mind turn back to the captured Thrush files he was analyzing.
Back to back cases would burn out any agent, so U.N.C.L.E. had established a minimum of two days down time, preferably a week, for any team just coming off a case. For Napoleon and Illya that inactive time had occasionally lasted for up to two weeks.
Napoleon assigned the case loads for the other agents, but Waverly assigned the two of them. Though they might be the best U.N.C.L.E. had, any assignment involving them had to be weighed against the risk to someone of Napoleons position. That kind of dire case came up all too frequently, but not so often that the Chief Enforcement Officers partner could be just another agent. Illya was also a scientist. He held his doctorate in quantum physics, but there was little that happened around the lab that he could not help out with.
Coupled with his field skills, his scientific background had made Waverly peg Illya as Napoleons partner the moment he had finished his doctorate. And it was generally acknowledged that when Napoleon actually did take over Waverlys job that Illya would have the rare choice of choosing which section he would head -- Technical or Enforcement. Illya thought hed surprise everyone and chose Enforcement, but that decision was still years away.
His thoughts on more important matters, he didnt really see Arthur Matthews until the larger man grabbed his upper arm, then fairly slammed him up against the wall. The hand stayed on his arm, holding it in a grip that spoke of a former field agent who had kept in shape. There would be bruising the next day, but Illya ignored both the pain and violation of the touch. Instead he merely looked up the six inches that separated their eyes and, in a very casual voice, he asked, "Is there something I can do for you, Mr Matthews?"
"I just wanted you to know, Kuryakin, that Ill be watching you. Solo can make all the threats he wants. Just one slip up is all Ill need. Theres no place in U.N.C.L.E. for perverted filth like you."
Illya noted the reference to Napoleon and filed it away in the back of his mind, then focused on the current problem. Several people had stopped and were staring at the two of them. In a moment at least one of them would either try to intercede or call Security. Worse, one of them might think to call Napoleon. Illya had no intention of being rescued by anyone. "Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?" he asked.
Shortly after the KGB had recruited Illya, one of his training officers had told him that he was too small and pretty to ever be of much use for anything but bait, that no one would ever take him seriously. After that, every spare minute Illya had, hed spent standing in front of a mirror, working on a certain look, the same one he now turned on Matthews.
A cold ice to match the Siberian winds filled his narrowed eyes, a coldness that carried with it the assurance that he never bluffed, never threatened, only made promises. His voice hard and also full of the promise that he would do exactly whatever he said he would do, Illya said, "Then remove your hand, or I will break every bone in it. Twice."
Matthews let go.
Fairly squirming in the oppressive silence that filled his car, Napoleon glanced at the Russian, willing him to say something, even if it was just to make some scathing remark about his driving. No such luck. Illya was in the middle of a full blown sulk and nothing short of a major pile-up was going to get a word out of him.
Napoleon sighed and tried to concentrate on watching the road to kill the remaining time to this sentence in Purgatory. Normally, he would have just ignored the whole thing, letting Illya work out whatever he was angry about in his own good time, but the Russian had directed one or two looks in Napoleons direction which told the senior agent he was the culprit this time. A quick review of the days events made it quite simple to figure out what hed done that might have displeased Illya, but he was puzzled by the intensity of that displeasure. It made him a bit leery of forcing the issue while driving in rush hour traffic.
What just had to be a full year after theyd left Headquarters later, Napoleon turned the car into the parking garage of their building. Napoleon considered weeping for joy when he stepped out of the car, but there was still the minor inconvenience of making certain they got upstairs alive to deal with.
Napoleon hated stairs, but given his partners mood, he followed Illya to the stairwell without his usual complaints. Their guns drawn, he pushed open the door, waited a moment, then took a cautious look upward. The stairwell was empty, requiring neither their guns nor split-second decisions about friends or foes.
They stayed on their guard as they climbed the stairs, then moved their guns into jacket pockets as they entered the lobby. A walk across that, a nice wait for the elevator, then inside the car and pray that the cables hadnt been tampered with -- nothing like coming home to relax a person, Napoleon thought as the elevator doors closed behind them.
As Napoleon had expected, Illya reached out and stabbed the button for the sixteenth floor. Napoleon did not press the penthouse button.
Illya made no response, though the temperature in the elevator seemed to drop at least ten degrees. Like it or not, and right now neither of them did, with a Thrush contract out on them it made more sense to stay together.
They left the elevator the same way theyd gone into the stairwell and met with the same nonexistent reception. Illyas apartment was down a long hallway and to the right, and they kept a careful eye on the other apartment doors as they passed them.
Illyas door had the same fancy, high tech lock as Napoleons, but Thrush had found their way around other security measures in the past, so they kept their guns drawn until a quick check of the small apartment verified that they were indeed alone. Only then did the closest thing to a sense of security their lifestyle allowed settle over them.
Unfortunately, that same security returned Illya to his sulking mode. The Russian glared at him, holstered his gun, then stalked off into his bedroom.
Napoleon shook his head. No avoiding this storm, even if he could find a place to sit down and wait it out. In addition to three full floor-to-ceiling bookcases, Illyas books were stacked everywhere. Several weighty scientific tomes covered the tables, while the counters held the literary classics, several of which Napoleon had given him for Christmases and birthdays. He made a note to switch his gift buying to something that took up a bit less room.
He spotted a lone paperback book sticking out from beneath the sofa and out of curiosity picked it up. It was a spy thriller by an author Napoleon quite liked. He remembered teasing Illya last week about his utter unfamiliarity with anything that even remotely qualified for the bestseller lists. Illya had made some remark about not having time for mind candy, but apparently hed decided to eliminate that small character flaw. Or hed been reading these things all along, but Napoleon doubted that.
He sat the book down, then with a sigh, he went after his partner. He didnt go into the bedroom, opting to lean against the door frame instead.
Illya was lying on the bed, his arms folded over his chest in a defensive posture, while he stared up at the ceiling. He did nothing to indicate he knew Napoleon was watching him, but they both knew that he did.
"This is about Matthews," Napoleon said.
Illya remained silent for a long moment, then he sat up and actually looked at him. "When did I become helpless in your eyes, Napoleon?" he asked. "When did you join those who now think of me as nothing more than your plaything?"
Napoleon could have lost his temper or snapped back his own accusations about Illya keeping things from him, but he knew Illya had been through hell the last six months, a hell Napoleon had escaped almost untouched. The Russian had more than earned the right to feel a little hostility.
"Not to be difficult, Illya, but let me answer by asking a question of my own," Napoleon said. "Why didnt you tell me about Andersons harassment?"
"I saw no purpose in telling you."
"I could have stopped it."
Illya shook his head. "How? The way Matthews dealt with me today? I think better of you than that."
Napoleon appreciated the thought and hoped it was not misplaced. He found that he enjoyed the notion of knocking out a few of Andersons teeth. "I am Chief Enforcement Officer, and there are procedures to handle that sort of thing."
"Which is exactly why I did not wish to ask for your help. Your involvement would have required a more formal form of censure and the risk of dismissal. He was good at his job. I tried to give him the opportunity to continue doing it. I am truly sorry he did not take it."
Napoleon saw Illyas reasoning, had actually figured it out on his own, though he still didnt like it. He didnt like the fact that the bastard had harassed his partner, nor did he like the idea of any of his agents lives depending on the information gathered by a man with such a small, petty mind. Which brought them back to the subject of Arthur Matthews. "Matthews has all those formal forms at his disposal as well," the senior agent said. "I merely let him know that I wouldnt stand for any bureaucratic nonsense as far as you were concerned. I dealt with the section chief, Illya. I knew that you could handle the bigot behind the title."
A slight sad smile touched Napoleons face. It still stung that hed had to find out about everything from ab Sur. "Although it wouldnt kill you to pretend you could use my help from time to time."
Illya looked at a loss for words, and Napoleon suddenly felt tired of his suit, not to mention in dire need of a drink. Thrush be damned. "Look Im going home. You have the key."
Illya stared at the empty doorway long after Napoleon had left. Hed done it again, hadnt he? For twenty-five years Illya had stayed alive by trusting his instincts, but now he seemed to be second guessing things too much.
Hed known all along why Napoleon had gone after Matthews, had also known he should have told him what had happened in the meeting, but he could neither accept the first nor do the second. He had to solve his own problems, that was his nature. To do any less made him feel like he was a child in the labor camp once again, being passed around from one set of cold hands to another until the KGB had taken him to Kiev. They had taught him how to keep away the hands he did not want to touch him, but it seemed learning to allow others to touch him emotionally was the harder lesson.
He got up, pulled his largest suitcase from the closet, dropped it on the bed, then started packing. Underwear, socks, shirts and sweaters, pants, he threw in enough of them to last a week. If he and Napoleon survived that, he would bring up more, although he wouldnt be a bit surprised if he got upstairs and found the locks programming changed to reject his palm print.
The last thing he threw in was the book hed been reading. Hed accurately described it as mind candy, but he had to admit that he was enjoying it. Another guilty secret hed kept from Napoleon, who knew it now, since he had to have been the one whod moved it from beneath the couch to the end table. Perhaps if he chose the secrets he kept from Napoleon with the same care as he chose the battles he waged with him, things might smooth out a bit.
He closed the suitcase, turned off all the lights, then locked the door behind him. Not forgetting that Thrush could still be lurking about, he kept his eyes open as he went from his apartment to Napoleons.
He just managed not to laugh when he stepped through the front door and saw Napoleon. He was sitting on the plush couch, wearing a designer sweatsuit that cost more than Illyas best suit, a glass of red wine in one hand, the financial section of the Times in the other. A true picture of decadence. How had their partnership ever lasted more than a week?
Inwardly shaking his head at the odd twists and turns his life made, he carried his suitcase into the bedroom, then set it down in the corner. While Napoleon might complain about his books, Illya did not even want to begin to think about where in this miniature clothing store he was going to find room for his own things.
He took off his jacket, then the shoulder holster, and draped both over the suitcase. He put his socks and boots beside it. That only left the need to apologize. He would have rather taken on an entire satrap with his bare hands, but he knew hed been a bit of a brat.
Now how to do it? He stopped in the doorway and looked at Napoleon, who was now doing his imitation of someone who didnt know someone else was in the room. It seemed that at the very least they deserved each other. Trying to think, his glance fell on the coffee table and another section of the Times.
Inspiration struck, so he walked into the room, picked up the paper, got a pen out of the end table, then sat down on the couch just outside of the reach of Napoleons arm. Not wanting to put on his reading glasses, he squinted just a bit as he went to work.
He filled in ten words before he got up the courage to ask, "Napoleon, what is an eight letter word for utter idiot?"
The older man looked at him strangely. They both knew that Illya needed no help with a crossword, especially on figuring out a word as simple as imbecile, then he saw the light dawn in Napoleons eyes. "Kuryakin."
Illya wrote it into a row of eight boxes, not at all concerned with what was actually supposed to go there. "Yes, it does fit," he admitted, then said, "I am sorry."
Napoleon sighed. "Its all right. I should have told you I talked to Matthews when we had lunch. If you had known before he waylaid you --"
"We would have had this fight at lunch."
"Yes, well, I rather suspected that. Illya, youre a hell of a lot of work."
"And I suppose you are a pure delight to work with?"
"Of course. Now, finish your damned puzzle so we can get some dinner," Napoleon said, then turned his attention back to the financial section. "And use a pencil like the rest of us mortals. I hate it when you use a pen."
Illya smiled sweetly. "Yes, I know."
There was a brief moment of calm, then the American lunged at him. Papers went flying as they crashed to the floor, a quick twist of Napoleons body pinning Illya beneath him.
Illya looked up into a pair of warm brown eyes and tried to scowl. "You are squashing me."
"Serves you right," Napoleon answered, then bent down to kiss him.
Illyas lips parted at the touch, his arms encircling the older mans torso. He heard the soft little gasps of pleasure escape his own throat as Napoleons tongue explored his mouth. "What was that for?" he asked, when the kiss ended, his voice sounding annoyingly breathless.
"Mmmm, consider it a thank you for wearing your grey sweater."
Illya rolled his eyes. "Why is this so easy for you?"
"I learned at a tender young age that no matter how you conduct your life, when it comes to matters of a sexual nature, there will always be those ready to damn you for it. Its a lot easier on the nerves, tovarish, if you just accept that fact and do what feels right."
"In that case, stop admiring my ridiculous sweater and take it off of me," he said, raising his hips a bit to press his arousal against Napoleons thigh.
Amusement glittered in Napoleons eyes. "Why, Illya, I thought you were the one who didnt want to be taken on the floor like some love-sick fool."
Illya glared at him, spluttered something about not mixing business with their pleasure, then sighed and tried a different argument. "You have obviously never been on the bottom when making love on a cheap office carpet. The rug burns are most unpleasant."
"Spare me the sordid details," Napoleon teased, stealing one of Illyas favorite lines, then turned his attention to getting rid of the grey sweater.
"Illya takes a fall"
"Good morning, gentlemen," Waverly said, when Napoleon and Illya entered the conference room just off of his office.
Illya returned the greeting, sat down in his usual chair, then turned his attention to the screen on the far wall and the slide that filled it. He shared a questioning glance with Napoleon. There was nothing pictured but water. The view was a straight-down shot from a satellite camera and showed a violent wave pattern, as if a tremendous storm churned the waters. But any clouds would have obscured the water.
"You are looking at a point exactly 15 miles off the Pacific coast of Canada," Waverly said. "The time is 9:38 p.m., Pacific Standard."
The slide changed, and a large freighter filled the center of the slide, the waters surrounding it calm except for the ships wake. "This is the same position at 9:36."
Freighters did not move that quickly. The ship should have still been in the later shot. "And at 9:37?" Illya asked.
The projector clicked and a white ball of light filled the screen. An explosion, but conventional explosions usually left debris and the first slide had contained none. "Some sort of nuclear device, sir?"
Waverly opened his humidor and scooped the last of his special blend into a pipe. "Satellite telemetry recorded a massive surge of radiation as the explosion began, but most of it was re-absorbed into the blast itself."
Illya just stared at Waverly for a moment, then he picked up the file the old man offered him. He studied the figures on the satellite readouts, shook his head, re-read the figures, then had to admit, "It has a quantum signature."
"Yes, Mr Kuryakin." Waverly lit his pipe, and the room quickly filled with the scent of Isle of Dog Number 22.
"Quantum? That blast had something to do with quantum physics?" Napoleon asked, though he usually just sat back and listened during the technical aspects of a briefing.
Illya nodded. "Atoms have a fairly violent reaction when destabilized, and it is difficult to control. The explosion and a radiation flux of this sort are consistent with quantum theory." "It seems your theory has produced an extremely powerful weapon."
"But I doubt a practical one," Illya said. "A device capable of atomizing a freighter would have to be massive in both size and power consumption."
"That should make it fairly simple to find."
"And indeed we believe we have, Mr Solo," Waverly said. The slide changed to a fly- over shot of a large compound on the coastline. A respectable harbor, an airstrip with two hangers and five buildings were all clearly identifiable.
Napoleon recognized it first. "Criton Industries. Thats just outside of Vancouver, and Communications was having a problem tracing a signal in that area yesterday."
"Yes, and a quite fortunate happenstance it was, since a great deal of our monitoring array was focused on that area because of it," Waverly said. "Both the signal and a tremendous power surge just prior to the explosion have been traced to Criton."
Napoleon frowned. "Art thought Thrush was probably behind that signal."
"We cannot be certain, of course, but the communications signal did have a Thrush signature to it."
"Criton Industries does a lot of government work," Illya said. "Is it possible that this was a test for the Canadian government?"
"We have been assured that is not the case, and our assistance has been requested," Waverly said. "Mr Kuryakin, your background makes you particularly suited for this mission."
Any other team going in on a fact-finding mission would have to take along a physicist who would have to be protected. Illya would not require babysitters. But Waverlys choice of words puzzled him. "My background, sir?"
"Yes, I believe you know this woman."
Illya just managed not to groan as the slide changed to an attractive woman in her early sixties. "Dr Helen Greyson," he said. "She was one of my faculty advisors at Cambridge."
"I trust she would remember you."
"Oh, yes," Illya answered, his tone drawing a questioning look from his partner.
"Excellent," Waverly said. "Dr Greyson is now chief physicist for Criton Industries."
Illya muttered a Russian curse, then flinched at the look of disapproval Waverly threw him. "Sorry, sir," he apologized, then said, "If Dr Greyson is there, it is quite likely she is responsible for the weapons development. When she was at Cambridge, she was working on a molecular destabilizer that would contain the explosion. Such a weapon could, for example, virtually dematerialize the main smokestack of a ship while leaving those walking on the deck below relatively unharmed."
"Apparently she still has a few bugs in the system," Napoleon said, his face grim.
"It is still a powerful weapon, Napoleon."
"Quite right, and one we cannot allow to remain in hostile hands." Waverly took another puff on his pipe, then said. "Mr Kuryakin, I think it is time you looked up your former teacher. Find out if this quantum weapon is indeed at Criton Industries, then destroy it."
"Yes, sir," Illya answered.
"Your plane leaves in two hours, gentlemen. Good luck."
Napoleon waited until the door to Waverlys office had closed behind them before he asked, "So whats the story with you and Greyson? She yet another in the long line of those of us who want your body?"
Illyas glance shot to Lisas desk, but she was talking with Gearhart again and did not act like she had overheard. It had been said quite quietly, but he still gave Napoleon a disgusted look, then started down the hallway. "Actually I had a bit of an unrequited crush on her," he admitted. "She considered me promising, but undisciplined." And was not at all shy about telling him.
"You? Undisciplined? You must be joking."
Illya shook his head. "You forget, Napoleon, I disappeared quite frequently in those days. All those little assignments you sent me on to see if I was worthy of the honor of becoming your partner. I could hardly tell my faculty advisor I was off playing U.N.C.L.E. agent."
"So you lost the fair lady and won me instead."
Illya switched to Arabic and made a rather rude comment that was anatomically impossible.
Napoleon laughed despite the fact that Illya pushed opened the stairwell door, then started down the stairs that led from the Policy level to Enforcement. "Well, if you can find the camel, Im willing to give it a try," he announced, quickly catching up with the Russian.
"You would," he muttered over the sound of the door theyd just gone through opening again. "Have you no shame?"
"None at all, tovarish, but then who would know that better than you?"
"Napoleon --" He half turned to give his partner the proper scathing look, his foot lifting off the step to move down to the next. At that moment, a shape barreled out of nowhere and slammed into him.
Caught totally off balance, Illya fell forward. He tried to twist around to minimize the impact, but there wasnt enough time or distance, and first his side, then his head struck concrete.
And here we are again. Napoleon stood to the left and near the head of the infirmary bed and, to his disgust, he realized Illya had ended up in this damned bed enough times that he didnt even have to think about where to stand to be both nearby and out of the way. He looked down at the Russians pale face, hoping for some sign of motion, but Illya hadnt moved since his head had impacted against the stairs with a sickening thud.
He reached out and brushed the blond bangs aside. Napoleon always felt a twinge of guilt whenever he stood here perfectly healthy while he waited to find out how badly Illya had been hurt -- but this time it was much worse. This time it had been his fault.
If he hadnt been teasing Illya, or if hed just been faster when that bastard Gearhart had rammed into the Russian, Illya wouldnt be in the bed this time. Napoleon had grabbed for Illya, but Gearhart had lunged for the stair rail to prevent himself from falling, an act that put his body between Napoleon and his partner.
Leslie Graham glanced up at him as she took a pen light from the pocket of her lab coat. She was an attractive woman with graying dark brown hair and a face that always reminded him a bit of Katherine Hepburn. "Blaming yourself isnt going to do him any good," she said, then checked Illyas left pupil.
Napoleons eyes narrowed. Even doctors without psychology degrees could be quite annoying when they were friends who knew him well enough to know what he was thinking. He started to say something as she shifted the light across the bridge of Illyas nose to his right eye, but then he saw the slight tremor pass through the Russians body just as she pulled the eye open.
Napoleons hand shot out at the same time Illya struck out to remove the pain the light caused. He caught hold of the Russians wrist, stopping the blow just short of Leslies throat, and snapped, "Illya, stop!"
Illya obeyed instantly as he always did when Napoleon used what he called his Chief-Enforcement-Officer voice. Napoleon shifted his hold from the wrist to the hand, and he let his voice soften as he said, "Its all right. You just had an accident."
Illyas eyes opened, and Leslie smiled at him. "Well, there is certainly nothing wrong with your reflexes, young man."
"Sorry," Illya said, looking a bit sheepish, then he gave Napoleon a grateful look. It really was bad form to try and kill ones doctor. "How long was I unconscious?"
Napoleon would have guessed hours, but Leslie surprised him by saying, "Just a little over ten minutes. A good indication that nothing major is wrong."
"Gearhart accidentally pushed you down the stairs," Napoleon answered. "So I accidentally broke his nose."
"My hero," Illya said. "I would have broken his leg."
"Now, boys," Leslie said, her fingers moving to probe the area just behind Illyas left ear, "behave. I have enough work to do without you creating more."
Illya lay still, but his hand tightened on Napoleons, telling him that the pain got worse at her touch.
"You have quite a bump, but the skin isnt broken," she said. "Do you feel any nausea or dizziness?"
"No. Just a headache."
"A beaut of a one, Ill bet. Try sitting up."
Napoleon helped him up, then she repeated the question.
"No, still just a headache."
"I reserve the right to change my mind after your x-rays are developed, but you seem to have a mild concussion," she said. "That means that you should let someone drive you home and put you to bed for the next 24 hours. Then I want you to keep your activity level as low as you can for the next week. Any chance of you following my sage advice?"
A slight smile touched Illyas face. "None. I have a plane to catch."
"I dont suppose anyone else can catch that plane instead?"
This time Napoleon answered. "Im afraid not."
"I should have been a veterinarian," she sighed. Leslie had the undisputed authority to remove Illya from the active roster and order him to bed, an authority Napoleon could tell she was sorely tempted to exercise. She looked at him. "You really need him?"
"Hes the only point man we have for this one, Leslie. Im the excess baggage this time."
She sighed again and muttered something about wondering why shed ever bothered to go to medical school when no one ever listened to her. The doctor in her seemed to be screaming to say no, but Leslie had reached the rank of colonel in the U.S. Air Force before coming to U.N.C.L.E., and she understood all too well the concept of the mission coming first. "All right, Ill release you," she finally said. "But, Napoleon, I expect you to watch him carefully. If he exhibits any odd behavior, experiences any nausea or dizziness, you get him to the nearest emergency room as fast as you can."
Napoleon nodded. "Yes, maam."
Having given Napoleon his orders, she turned her attention back to Illya. "Youre going to have a murderous headache for at least 24 hours and every time you exert yourself for the next week. Take aspirin for it."
"Yes, maam," Illya answered.
"And, for crying out loud, rest when you can. Remember you are not the --"
"Rabbit in that battery commercial," Illya finished for her. "So Napoleon tells me. I will sleep when I can."
"All right. Get out of my infirmary. Both of you," she ordered. "I have a broken nose to take care of, then I think Mohammed would like to have a little chat with the owner of it."
The phone rang. "Yes?"
"Theyre on their way."
Stewart smiled. "Excellent."
Pain was many things to Illya. An inconvenience, a familiar acquaintance, an impairment, but most of all, it was exhausting. He had a reputation for successfully completing assignments while in such a state of agony that others would have been curled up in a ball, sobbing in hysteria. He did this partially by looking at pain as just another part of himself, like his arm or a leg, but he also knew when to surrender to the pain.
He stayed awake and alert in the airport terminal, but the moment the flight attendant closed the L-1011s door, he allowed himself to fall asleep. The pain kept it from being a deep, restful sleep, and he drifted in and out for some time. The bump on his head made resting with his head straight back or to the left impossible, so he kept turned to the right. His head dropped too far, and he woke to the sensation of falling into one of the two empty seats separating him from his partner, who sat in the aisle seat happily flirting away the time with one of the prettier members of the crew.
"Having trouble sleeping?" Napoleon asked, when Illya sat back up.
"It is difficult to get comfortable," the Russian admitted, rubbing his forehead and seriously considering the benefits of a cyanide capsule.
Napoleon turned his attention back to the statuesque redhead standing in the aisle. "Janice, my lovely," he said, "I dont suppose that there is a nice empty aisle for my friend to stretch out in? He had a bit of a fall this morning."
"Oh, Im sorry, Napoleon, were full up. The only available seats are between the two of you."
And U.N.C.L.E. had paid for those. A small measure of security against agents being trapped by hostile seatmates. "Ah, well," Napoleon went on, "I guess well have to make do. Hand me a pillow, would you?"
He pushed back the arm rests separating him from his partner, then put the pillow Janice handed him in his lap. "Come on, Illya," he said. "Lie down."
"I am not going to --"
"Illya, you need to sleep." Napoleons voice told him that he considered this the only practical solution and that any further protests would be met with The Voice.
Illya sighed, realizing that he was second guessing his behavior again. Six months ago, maybe even six days ago, he would have already been asleep. He stretched out, his head sinking into the pillow. He noted that he had a lovely view of the magazines in the pocket in the seat in front of him, vaguely heard Napoleon returning to his conversation with Janice, then closed his eyes.
The sensation of someone shaking his arm slowly penetrated Illyas dreams, pulling him back to a very painful reality. He wanted to groan as he opened his eyes, but out of the corner of one he could see Napoleon watching him, so he cracked a joke instead, "Not tonight, Napoleon. I have a headache."
His partners lower jaw shifted to one side in his typical very funny expression. "The planes about to land. Time to put all seatbacks and Russians in an upright position."
Illya sat up, refastened his seatbelt and realized that he must have been asleep for over three hours. He felt like it had been less than three minutes, but by the time the plane arrived at the gate, he gave no outward sign that he was anything less than fine.
A brunette from the Vancouver office met them at the baggage claim, and after giving their suitcases a quick check for any sign of tampering, they headed for her car.
Illya climbed into the back seat and had to fight to resist the temptation to curl up and go back to sleep. There could still be trouble before they reached the hotel, and Agent Sarah Tompkins was pretty enough that she could distract Napoleons attentions. An inconvenience now, but she seemed interested in Napoleon, which ought to keep the American entertained well into the night.
"Weve already checked you into the Radisson," Sarah said as she pulled the blue sedan away from the curb. "Now, what can I do to help you."
"What can you tell us about Criton Industries?" Napoleon asked.
"Not much, Im afraid. That complex is like a mini-city, and its a very closed community." She held up a file. "These are all the blueprints that we know exist. If Old Man Criton holds true to form on the secrecy end, you should consider them sketchy and a bit fabricated."
Illya took the file. Hed memorize it before they went out to the complex in the morning. "Any ideas as to whether were looking at a Thrush satrap or just an infiltration?"
"Our best guess, and Im afraid it is little more than a guess, is that Criton finds Thrush a useful ally, but is not a member himself."
Criton Industries was born in 1945, the brainchild of Winslow Criton, an arms dealer who saw the mushroom cloud as opportunity knocking. Over the years he had gathered together one of the finest scientific teams in the world, a team that had developed more than a few nasty government devices. However, retirements and a growing anti-war sentiment among newer generations had depleted his think tank and his profit margin had dipped low enough that he was ripe for a few Thrush promises.
"Certainly the profits for the last five years cant account for the money needed to build the complex, yet the whole thing was built with a very cavalier money-is-no-object attitude," she finished, and turned into the hotel drive.
Illya got out, then waited for Napoleon to follow. As expected, he heard Sarah say, "Mr Solo, perhaps we could continue this... briefing over dinner."
"A tempting offer," Napoleon said, getting out of the car. "But Im afraid I have other responsibilities tonight. Perhaps tomorrow night?"
She smiled and gave him their room keys. "Ill look forward to it."
Illya scowled. Couldnt he count on anything any more? Then he realized he should have counted on that response. Napoleon might be a sex fiend, but he also had a very strong mother hen complex when Illya was injured. Frankly, he would have preferred a sex fiend who went off on a date and left him in peace.
They went straight to their room. Forty minutes had passed since their plane had landed, and another thirty slipped by as they checked their accommodations for listening devices or any other nasty surprises. Only when that job was done did Illya let the utter exhaustion show as he sank down onto his bed.
"Do you want anything from room service?" Napoleon asked.
"No, Im too tired to eat."
Napoleon called downstairs and ordered a sandwich and some soup, and Illya guessed he would soon be fending off spoonfuls of chicken soup. He definitely preferred the sex fiend.
"I do not need a babysitter, Napoleon."
"Just consider me your live-in nurse."
Illya sighed. Arguing would get him nowhere when Napoleon was in this frame of mind, so he opted for graceful surrender. "Then could you get me some aspirin?"
He must have dozed off for a second because the next thing he knew Napoleon was helping him sit up. Illya downed two fat orange tablets that looked more like candy than medicine, plus the entire contents of the glass of water, then without thinking, he curled up against Napoleon and went to sleep.
Nature seem to call a moment later, but as he stumbled into the bathroom he noticed the bedside clock read 3:12. When he finished, he took some more aspirin, then realized he was wearing his blue pajamas. While sleeping nude or in ones underwear might have its benefits at home, the threat of activity at night made such states of undress impractical when in the field. The thought of having to deal with a midnight intruder was far easier to take when one was wearing something.
Still, it bothered him that hed actually slept through Napoleon undressing him, then dressing him in the pajamas. He did not like being in such a deep, oblivious sleep. It seemed Napoleon had been right in insisting on staying in to care for him.
He walked back into the main room, then stopped. The bed nearest the door, the one Napoleon always took, was empty. Instead, the American was sleeping in the bed Illya had just left.
He sat down on the edge of the empty bed and tried to think over the pounding in his head. It was not supposed to be this way when they were on assignment. Napoleons behavior in the past six months had implied that they would be only partners when they were on assignment. Had the rules changed again?
He heard Napoleon sigh and realized the American was awake. "Illya," his partner said, "this isnt exactly the first time youve slept with me when you were hurt."
That was true enough. Napoleon had sat up all night holding him so that he wouldnt move and aggravate the gashes in his back after Mother Fear had finished with him. Napoleon had called it his penance for the fact that they hadnt bothered to torture him. "That was different," Illya said. "We were in a Thrush cell, and you were afraid I would bleed to death if I didnt stay still."
Napoleon sighed again and sat up. "All right, this is different. So just indulge me."
"I indulge you far too often as it is," he said, but he shifted over to sit on the edge of the other bed. "I have to know what the rules are, Napoleon." He reached out and touched the face he could just make out in the darkness. "Even though I know youll find a way to break every last one of them, I have to know what they are."
He felt Napoleon smile at the rather accurate assessment of his dubious character. "All right, Illya, what do I have to agree to to get you to go back to sleep?"
"Because I am hurt?"
"Tell me what happens when I am not hurt."
Napoleon thought a moment, then said, "There will always be certain duty demands situations, but beyond that I can refrain --"
"No, Napoleon," Illya stopped his lover before he could say something absurd. They both knew that Napoleon was not the one sex-partner type. "I do not require such absolute fidelity. Even if you were actually capable of it, in truth, I doubt that I could survive it."
"What do you suggest?"
"When we are on assignment you are free of all commitments to me other than professional ones."
He thought Napoleon would eagerly agree, but the American was quiet for a few moments, then he said, "Wont you end up feeling a bit used?"
Though he found the assumption that he would not take similar advantage of an on-duty arrangement irritating, it was for the most part an accurate one. There might be an occasional exception, but he was not the sexual creature Napoleon was. "I will do or not do what is right for me, Napoleon." He smiled. "However, if it will make you feel better, I will promise to cut your heart out if you ever do more than flirt with anyone when we are off duty."
A serious threat given how proficient he was with a knife, but Napoleon chuckled. "All right, Illya, Ill be an utterly irresponsible cad outside of our leisure time. Now come here."
Illya let Napoleon draw him into his arms, then poked the American in the chest with a finger. "Not too irresponsible, Mr Solo. I expect you to take the proper precautions when you are with someone else."
"I always do," he said. "Cross my heart and pass the little foil packet."
"Then shut up and let me sleep," the Russian said, his head settling against Napoleons shoulder.
A twenty-foot electrified fence and a gate with armed guards served as Criton Industries first line of defense against uninvited guests with mischief on their minds. Good thing we have an invitation, Napoleon thought as the gate rose to admit their taxi. "Nice to have friends in high places," he said.
Illya had called Dr Greyson first thing in the morning and had arranged a mid-morning visit. A bit of advance notice to any unfriendlies in the area, but not too much, and a simple "were expected" to the guard was a lot easier on Napoleons suit than a midnight climb over that fence would be. Of course, if things turned out the way they expected them to, that climb might still be in the cards.
A non-committal sound came from Illya, and Napoleon looked at his partner. There was a slight paleness to the Russians face and his eyes were still a bit too bright. "I thought the murderous part of your headache was supposed to be gone by this morning," the senior agent said, wondering if it wouldnt be wise to plan a trip to the doctor between the tour and the fence climbing.
"Apparently no one told my head," Illya answered, then seemed to realize that such a comment might net him a trip to the hospital. "Truly, Napoleon, it is down to a mere dull throb. I will be fine."
Even a half-dead Illya Kuryakin was worth more than three fit agents as far as Napoleon was concerned, but he detested fielding injured agents, and the Russian was certainly no exception. Though he would have much rather confined Illya to his bed until he was well enough to be confined for more interesting reasons, Napoleon merely nodded. Much as he might hate it, he needed Illya on this one.
The cab stopped in front of the main building. Napoleon paid the driver, then got out and joined Illya on the front step. The Russian sighed. "I suppose it is too late to consider a career in fashion design."
Napoleon frowned a bit, worried about how down his partner seemed. "Weve walked into worse situations, tovarish."
Illya looked at him. "Speak for yourself. Youve never had to deal with Dr Greyson."
"Remind me to tell you some day about Sister Mary Katherine from my school days. Id rather walk on ground glass than meet up with her again."
That made Illya smile, a smile that took on a somewhat forced quality as the front doors opened and Dr Greyson emerged.
Napoleon noted that the woman looked older than she had in the photo Waverly had shown them during their briefing. Given that it had been a recent photo, it stood to reason that the good doctor was under an undue amount of stress. Well, maybe they could do something about that, Napoleon thought as Illya exchanged greetings with her.
"And this is my friend, Napoleon Solo," Illya said, turning a bit toward his partner.
"A pleasure to meet you, Dr Greyson," Napoleon said.
Greyson shook Napoleons hand, though she seemed less than thrilled about it. "Mr Solo. Or should that be Dr Solo?"
Napoleon smiled, mostly at the amusement he saw flash in Illyas eyes. "Im afraid not, Doctor. I sell computers."
That seemed to relegate Napoleon to the utterly unimportant category, for the woman turned back to Illya and scowled. "Illya, Id expected to see at least a few major papers with your name on them by now. How could you waste such a brilliant mind and a fine education?"
Illya sighed. "My work has its rewards, Doctor, but neither fame nor fortune is one of them."
Greyson considered that for a moment. "That sounds like government work to me. Does everything you do have a big red Classified stamped on it?"
Greyson visibly brightened at that. "Then perhaps you can help me with a problem Ive been having."
"Really, Helen, you could at least let the poor boy come inside before you start picking his brain," said a booming voice.
Napoleon looked up as Winslow Criton started down the front stairs to greet them personally. The man was a bit taller than Napoleon, with a full head of gray hair and the soft, flabby body of a man who had lived the high life for too many years.
"Mr Solo, did I hear you say that you worked with computers?" Criton asked after the introductions were made.
Apparently even the rich and powerful enjoyed eavesdropping. "Actually, I own a small computer company."
"How delightful! You must allow me to give you the grand tour and show off all of my toys."
"A generous offer, sir, but I dont want to trouble you."
Criton dismissed the remark with a wave of his pudgy hand. "Nonsense, Mr Solo. Helen here has designs on your young man, so she has enlisted me to try and convince him to stay. You must give me the opportunity to convert you to the cause as well."
Though a tour of the place was precisely what Napoleon had wanted, hed hoped for an easier guide to manipulate. He certainly wouldnt see anything Criton didnt want him to with the man himself along. And the offer of the tour was also a mite too easy for his tastes. Ah, well, one makes do, he thought, then glanced at Illya. "Do you mind if I disappear for a while?"
"Not at all, Napoleon. You would only be bored if you stay with us."
"Well then, Mr Criton, I would be happy to take you up on your offer."
"Excellent, Mr Solo," the old man said. "I can promise you a most interesting day."
Napoleon smiled, but an old curse hed once heard flashed through his thoughts. May you live in interesting times.
Illya rubbed his forehead and tried to concentrate on the computer screen in front of him. He hadnt lied to Napoleon when hed told him that the pain was down to a mere dull throb, but that was before Greyson had given him a tension headache on top of his injury.
The science labs were in a long five-storey building near the back of the complex. The physics labs took up two of those floors and part of another. It took two long hours on his feet for her to show him every shiny, little, state-of-the-art piece of equipment. Worse, despite his assurances that he had not abandoned his scientific interests, as she had showed him around, she had quizzed him constantly. He had been able to answer most of the questions, but he was a field agent first, and a physicist second. A decision for which she had made him pay dearly, for with each wrong answer had come a long lecture about waste and lost opportunity.
Finally, she had tired of showing him the facilities and had led him back to her lab. Before he could even ask for an aspirin, she had started hauling out the data on her pet project. A waste of a brilliant mind though he may be, apparently she still wanted his opinions on it. Hed expected something diversionary, but instead the data on her molecular destabilizer had popped up on the screen.
Shed made some improvements in the design during the last five and a half years, but little else had changed since Cambridge. She was certainly no closer to eliminating the explosive side effects, but he had known that from the freighter incident. And as hed expected, the device would also have filled half the floor and required something close to its own nuclear reactor as a power source. Thrush wouldnt have gone for something that impractical, so he had to assume that he wasnt looking at the real files. Nevertheless, he had no choice but to play along.
"As you can see, Illya, Im still struggling with the same old problems," she said. "Fortunately, Ive had enough success with other projects to keep Criton happy, but I always keep coming back to this one."
"It does seem to be somewhat of an obsession with you."
She gave him a slight smile. "True enough, but Illya, just think of the implications of a working molecular destabilizer. It could eliminate an enemys fortifications with minimal loss of life on either side."
He nodded his agreement. "It would be useful, but you are a long way from a weapon that could be carried into a war zone."
"But what about one that didnt have to be carried?" she asked, sitting down on the edge of the computer table. "Ive been thinking that building it into a satellite might be the way to go."
"The size and power problems could be improved with such a delivery system, but it would do nothing to eliminate the explosive reaction."
"One thing at a time," she said. Her manner softened. "We could do it together, Illya. I know we could."
That statement rattled him a bit. At one time in his life, hed desperately wanted her approval. Even now he found that he had to force a calmness into his voice as he said, "Perhaps, but I have other commitments."
The lines of her face shifted into a deep frown. "To what? The United States? You arent even an American. Or are you referring to that strutting peacock in the Armani suit?"
Illya opened his mouth to protest, but it was an awfully good description of Napoleon. She always had been good at sizing up someones character quite quickly, and shed certainly picked up on at least one aspect of their relationship. Something about that bothered him, but he dismissed it, and decided that Napoleon was his to insult, no one elses. "We are not going to have this conversation, Doctor," he said, his manner cold.
"Oh, Illya," she sighed. "You deserve so much more than some stuffy government office and a man like that."
She reached out to brush his bangs aside, an old gesture of affection. Not wanting the touch, he turned his head without thinking, and her fingers brushed against the bump on his head. He hissed in pain and jerked back from her.
He barely heard her demand to know what was wrong over the roar in his ears, but he forced the pain back into a small corner of his brain. "It is nothing," he assured her. "I just took a fall down some stairs yesterday morning."
She insisted on taking a careful look at the bump, though she knew no more about medicine than he did, then said, "Ill get you some aspirin."
Illya let a few moments pass after she had left the room, then he turned his attention back to the computer and began searching for the real files.
Interesting proved to be a word and a half. After three hours of touring the complex, Napoleon had dismissed his earlier concerns about not seeing what he needed to see with Criton along and had started focusing on the this-is-too-easy side of the equation.
Criton seemed very much a man just bursting to tell a secret as he led Napoleon around. Theyd started at a huge salt water tank that the old man had said the marine biologists used to study dolphins, though there had not been a dolphin in sight. Criton had apologized for the absence of the "delightful creatures", explaining that the tank had been needed for a brief, alternate project. He had been quick to reassure Napoleon that the six dolphins would be returned to the tank to entertain him on any future visits.
Three hours later, when they had finished up at the Communications Center, Napoleon had the distinct feeling that he and Illya were in trouble. Between the Cheshire Cat smile and the tour of sensitive areas that should have been restricted from any but authorized personnel, Criton had made it clear that not only did he know that they were U.N.C.L.E. agents, but that he wanted Napoleon to know that he knew.
The old man stopped in front of a console covered with a lot of buttons and monitors, smiled that blasted smile again, then said, "And this is our current crowning glory. A little something your government contracted us to do, then went elsewhere when we hit a few minor setbacks. Fortunately, I found an alternate source of funding."
"Imagine my delight," Napoleon said dryly. "Dare I ask what it does?"
Given Critons eagerness to flaunt his cleverness, Napoleon wouldnt have been at all surprised if the man had said that it was the firing controls for a quantum cannon. Instead the old man said, "It transmits data to satellites."
That seemed benign enough, Napoleon thought, then remembered the water tank and a few other stops on the tour. "Shit."
"An accurate assessment of your situation, Napoleon," said a voice behind him.
Napoleon turned. A fortysomething man in an expensive grey suit stood about twenty feet away. Two men dressed in Thrush coveralls and armed with rifles stood on either side of him.
Napoleon raised his hands, noting two more Thrush minions moving to cover him from either side of the room. "You seem to have the advantage."
"Forgive me for the familiarity, Napoleon," Expensive Suit said, "but youve been a project of mine for so long that we just have to be on a first name basis."
"Again you seem to have the advantage."
"It seems I must beg your forgiveness again. Randal Stewart, at your service," Stewart said with a solicitous bow.
Before Napoleon could respond his communicator trilled.
Stewart smiled. "Oh, do answer that. I think you will find it most interesting."
He pulled out the silver pen-like device, shifted the cap to the bottom, then activated it with a twist. "Solo here."
"Code 20-A," a voice so calm that it sounded mechanical announced the end of the world. May you live in interesting times, indeed.
Illya sat very still and told himself that it was all a nightmare brought on by Chinese carryout. Hed wake up soon and discover his head no longer felt like it would soon explode, one of the few people he had admired in his life did not work for Thrush, and he would not feel nauseous. ...get him to the nearest emergency room as fast as you can.
Leslies instructions echoed in his mind, yet again. At first hed tried to pass off the churning of his stomach as the lack of dinner and a scant breakfast, but a feeling had settled in that told him if he moved, the room would start spinning. He knew he should call Napoleon, tell him he was probably bleeding inside his head, but something stopped him.
Except for the pain, hed been fine for over twenty-four hours, and he kept thinking of the water and aspirin Greyson had given him. Either one could have been more than it had seemed, making him more the fool for swallowing them. But shed been watching him, like a mother expecting a child to fake taking his medicine, so hed had no real choice. That lack of choice left him with two possibilities now. He was either dying or had been drugged and would soon be in Thrushs tender hands. Not the best selection hed ever faced.
Sighing, Greyson sat back from the terminal, looking not at all pleased with either the figures on the screen or the quite useless input hed given her. "You know better than this, Illya," she said, starting what seemed to be yet another lecture, but then she gave him a rueful smile. "I guess I deserved it. I am sorry. I had no business saying those things to you."
"I am accustomed to it."
"I guess I deserved that as well." She shook her head as if trying to clear it. "I should have told you not to come. Im still so tired from being up all night a few days ago that Im forgetting even my meager grasp of good manners."
"A few days ago?"
"Night before last actually." She smiled again. "Im too old for all-nighters, and Winslows whole idea for a movie studio is ludicrous to begin with, all of which has left me a bit short-tempered."
"Movie studio? What has Criton Industries got to do with a movie studio?"
"Oh, he wants to make the next Star Wars. I must have watched that freighter explode a thousand and one times before the special effects people finally got it right and let me go home to bed."
Special effects. Of course. Illya might have laughed if he hadnt been in such a mess and understood now why he had found no sign of hidden computer files. Greyson had showed him the genuine data. There was no working quantum weapon. There had been no quantum explosion. Somehow the satellite had been programmed to relay false information, including a scene worthy of the next science fiction blockbuster. Even the signal flux that had drawn U.N.C.L.E.s attention to the area must have been part of the scheme. It had all been a hoax, but why?
Helen here has designs on your young man.... The statement made him finally realize what had been tickling away at the back of his brain all morning. How could he have missed that slip? Illya cursed himself for a fool. Hed let his familiarity with Greysons usually accurate snap judgements distract him from the fact that her employer should not have had any idea what his relationship with Napoleon was. Unless hed been briefed. The whole thing had been a trap.
Thrush had known his physics training had guaranteed that he would be assigned the case. But why all this to just take the two of them? It made no sense.
He pushed himself to his feet and, as hed feared, the room tilted wildly.
Greyson grabbed his arm, steadying him until he caught hold of the computer table to support himself. "Illya, whats wrong? Should I get a doctor?"
He could feel his consciousness beginning to ebb and knew that he wouldnt last much longer. "What did you give me, Helen? Was it poison or just some unpleasant knock out potion?"
Gaping at Illya, she took a step back and away from him. "Have you gone mad? What are you talking about?"
She seemed so utterly astonished, he suddenly wondered if she truly understood what was happening. On impulse he pulled his U.N.C.L.E. identification from his inside jacket pocket, then tossed it to her.
Greyson stared at the yellow card. "You work for U.N.C.L.E. now?"
"I have since before you knew me. How long have you worked for Thrush?"
"What? I --"
The trill of his pen cut her off. "Kuryakin here," he said, once hed activated it.
"Code 20-A." Waverly is down.
A cold chill swept through Illya as the last piece fell into place. Thrush had not set a ridiculously elaborate trap for two field agents. Theyd set it for a man whod just become the acting head of U.N.C.L.E. North American Operations.
Out of the corner of each eye, he could see the guards in their little Thrush uniforms coming for him. A signal that the game was indeed over. He drew on everything he knew about resisting pain and fighting off drugs, then let himself collapse. As he fell, he pulled his gun, then fired twice, a bullet hitting each guard right between the eyes.
Their bodies joined him on the floor. Illya knew he had to get to Napoleon, but he could barely move. The room spun, Greyson screamed and his head throbbed, but a thought managed to occur to him. Just before he blacked out, he lifted his gun one last time, then fired a single bullet.
Code 20-B meant Alexander Waverly was dead, 20-A that he was seriously incapacitated, so, though it wasnt much, Napoleon felt some hope as he said, "Understood."
Five guns of various makes all aimed at his chest convinced him of the folly of trying to say more, so he switched off the pen.
Stewart held out his hand.
Seeing no other choice, Napoleon handed over his only link with not only U.N.C.L.E., but his partner as well. "Where is Illya?"
Stewart dropped the pen onto the floor, then stomped down on it with his foot, smashing the fragile antenna relay at the bottom. "Fairly certain that hes dying at the moment, I would imagine."
"No, but Im afraid his headache will not have improved when he wakes up." Stewart sat on the edge of one of the consoles, looking far too pleased with himself. "I knew that if we slipped him a drug that made him think he was dying that hed ignore it until he was too far gone to defend himself against a baby with a rattle."
An alarm sounded, a wail that hovered just this side of painful, and Critons people started rushing around in something that struck Napoleon as controlled chaos.
"What the hell is happening?" Stewart shouted over the din.
Criton looked up from a control panel. "Somebodys pushed the panic button in Greysons lab. That means evacuate."
Napoleon smiled slightly. A few less guns on him, a bit more chaos, and he might have been able to make his own escape. It was a good try, tovarish. Now, for once, do the sensible thing and get clear.
Stewart cursed. "No more chances," he snapped, jerked out a cigarette lighter, then he gave Napoleon a face full of sleeping gas.
Illya woke up in Hell. His head throbbed with an agony even he considered beyond endurance, and he tried to pass out. The noxious smell that had invaded his dreams returned, his body jerking awake in response. "Illya, get up!"
He wanted to scream for someone to shut off the alarm. His hands flattened over his ears, trying to block out the sound, and he started curling up into a little ball. "Illya, Solo needs you!"
That got his attention. He forced his eyes open, then had to put an equal effort into making them focus. Greyson knelt beside him, the small capsule in her hand close enough that he could still smell the fumes. "Where is Napoleon?" he demanded.
She shook her head. "I dont know. You set off a full-scale evacuation alarm. With everyone rushing about, he could be anywhere."
Hed actually hit it? When hed aimed at the alarm plate on the far wall of her lab, hed seriously doubted that he could hit it. Hed even been less certain of the results if he did so. He pulled out his communicator, then said, "Open Channel D. Napoleon? Napoleon, come in."
Nothing. Apparently setting off the alarm had done his partner no good. Still, that alarm would soon have both the press and the Vancouver authorities swarming all over the place. Which meant that even if Thrush had originally planned to hold them here, theyd probably want to move to another location now. "The airstrip," he said more to himself than to Greyson.
He requested a different channel, raised the Vancouver office, told them to get something into the air, then signed off and turned his attention to doing what little he could.
Requiring all too much help from Greyson to do so, Illya got to his feet and for the first time realized that they were outside. "How?"
She smiled. "Fortunately, youre small, and Im in shape, but dragging you was no picnic, I assure you."
"Thank you," he said. If she hadnt got him out of the labs, Thrush would undoubtedly have had two prisoners by now. He took a few steps away from her, but they were slow and unsteady.
She sighed, pulled his arm over her shoulders, then started toward the airstrip. "You know, Illya, if youd just stuck to physics, we wouldnt be in this mess."
"What do you mean you cant find him?" Stewart glared at his men, thinking seriously of having the lot of them shot. He was also beginning to think that Illya Kuryakin was his own private demon. How could one small blond cause so much trouble?
Solo was already on the jet warming up behind him. Strapped to a seat and out for the next few hours. Stewart had wanted Kuryakin in a similar state or dead. Missing, held no appeal at all.
"Spread out and see if you cant keep him away from the plane," he snapped, then turned his attention to Criton.
The old fool had been told to keep the two U.N.C.L.E. agents busy until Waverly had been taken out of the equation. A bit of delicious drama that Stewart now realized had been a mistake. Hed wanted to take Napoleon Solo at the precise moment when the agent found out about his mentor. Criton had ruined that by teasing Solo with all the information he needed to put things together.
Stewart realized now that he should have had his guards take them the moment they were inside the walls of the complex. If he had done that, he would have had the information he needed by now, and Solo and Kuryakin would be in their graves. Instead, he still had the interrogation ahead of him and Kuryakin was prowling about almost certain to cause trouble. All for a moment he never got.
He glared at Criton, who didnt have enough sense to look worried about it. Of course, it made the look on the old mans face when the first explosion rocked the complex all the more satisfying. "Ah, so much for your communications center," Stewart fairly purred the news.
"What! Are you insane?" Criton screamed over a succession of explosions. "It will take years to recreate that technology."
"Something Thrush is counting on," Stewart assured him. The design specifications were safely stored away at Thrush Central, which gave his people a few years of technical dominance. "Since Kuryakin saw fit to evacuate your complex, I thought it might be nice to indulge in a little pyrotechnics." Maybe hed even get lucky enough for the Russian to be standing next to a building when it blew.
"You cant do this! Ill report you to Thrush Central. They --"
"Have no further need for an old fool like you," Stewart answered, drew his gun, then shot Criton twice in the heart.
The pilot signaled he was ready to go. Stewart gave the same signal to his men, then climbed inside the small jet. The five members of his personal guard moved toward the plane to follow him inside. One of them stopped suddenly, his attention on another. Three shots sounded, three of his men fell. Stewart slammed the jets door and shouted for the pilot to get going. He also promised himself that if it was the last thing he ever did, he would see that the Russian was a long time in dying.
Walking had helped and by the time they had reached the airstrip Illya was moving quickly and on his own. They slipped up alongside the far hanger, then he motioned for Greyson to stay where she was.
She nodded, and he moved forward. His head felt clearer, his body steadier, but he knew he was in no shape to try anything fancy.
Deciding to save his guns ammunition, he pulled the knife from his boot when he came up behind the first Thrush guard. His arm flashed around the taller mans neck, then pulled him down onto the blade. The man died without making a sound.
The first explosion roared as he pulled the knife from the body. Just what he needed -- more complications. But at least the explosions dulled the monotony of that damned alarm.
He reached the end of the wall, then peered around it in time to see Criton fall. The jet still out of range, he moved forward with the guards, then had no choice but to start shooting when the closest one got a good look at him. He dropped three of them, then the fourth. The fifth man turned and ran away from both Illya and the plane.
Not that it mattered. The others had delayed him long enough. Out of range of both his gun and his overtaxed body, the jet zipped down the runway and out of sight.
"...your Russian is quite predictable"
April met Illya the moment he cleared reception. "Oh, God, Illya, you look terrible," she said, falling into step beside him.
Illya had no doubts about that. He still felt a bit sick from the lingering effects of the Thrush drug, his headache had moved well beyond murderous, and hed just spent two hours crammed in the jumpseat of an F-16. It might have gotten him back to New York quickly, but it had just about put him in the hospital. "Any word from Vancouver?" he asked.
Given all that was going on, the question was telling, and she touched his hand. "Yes, none of it good. The plane never appeared on radar. It either stayed too low or had some stealth characteristics. Vancouver didnt get a plane up in time for a visual."
That meant there was no way to trace the plane. "All right, I want the word put out to anyone who even remotely qualifies for our information net," he said, as they reached the elevators. He pushed the up button. "Someone saw that plane come down."
"Already in the works, Illya." She tried a comforting smile, but he could see his own fears mirrored in her eyes. "Well find him."
No, we wont. Not in time. Better at hiding his emotions, he trusted his own smile at least reassured her that she had given him hope. "Of course. Now, what about Waverly?"
"He collapsed, thats all anyone knows. Theres a section head briefing scheduled in ten minutes. His conference room."
A loud ping announced the elevators arrival. "Matthews in charge?" he asked as they stepped inside. He pushed the buttons for both Enforcement and Policy.
"No, Waverlys standing orders named Leslie."
"Good," he said, hoping his relief wasnt too obvious.
Hed worked well with Leslie during the disaster drills Waverly constantly staged to make certain that things would keep running no matter what part of the office hierarchy was destroyed. The Chief Medical Officer did not seem a logical replacement for the Chief Policy Officer, but her military background more than qualified her. Matthews, on the other hand, had always been difficult to work with even before the rumors and the photos. Now, it would have been impossible. He suspected that was why Leslie had drawn the nod from Waverly when everyone had assumed it would go the other way. That thought made him pause a moment. Yes, it was another piece to the puzzle.
The doors opened, and April stepped out. Illya held the door for a moment and said, "Tell Mark hes relieved, but not to get too comfortable about it. Leslie could be difficult about a Chief Enforcement Officer who looks terrible."
She nodded, squeezed his hand, then took off down the hall.
Illya let the doors close, then got out of the elevator himself when it opened on the next floor up. He entered the outer office area, saw that Lisas desk was empty, and allowed himself the luxury of sitting down for a moment. He stared at the door to Waverlys office and a thousand memories of the old man flooded his thoughts. One stuck.
Someone has to look after our Mr Solo here, and you seem to be the only one up to the task. The words spoken only partly in jest echoed in his mind, and he shook his head sadly. Im sorry, Napoleon. It seems that I didnt do a very good job of it this time.
A crash on the other side of the door brought him quickly to his feet, then into Waverlys office. Lisa stood beside the old mans desk, the shards of Waverlys prized humidor and clumps of tobacco at her feet. "Oh, God," she whispered in something between horror and shock.
Her face was swollen and streaked, her eyes red from crying, and Illya hurried over to her. "Its all right, Lisa," he said, then stopped a foot away from her, uncertain whether his presence would help or disturb her further.
"I -- I was just getting the files.... Leslie might need them. I didnt see...." She sank downward and picked up one of the larger pieces. "Oh, Illya, he loves this horrible old thing."
"Its all right, Lisa," he repeated, this time his hands reaching out to touch her shoulders. "Well find him another one."
She shook her head. "Hell never forgive me. Hell...." Lisa looked like she wanted to cry, but she seemed to have cried herself out, so she began to tremble.
He drew her to him and held her for as long as he could, but finally he had to say, "I have to go, Lisa. The briefing."
"Im all right," she said, lifting her head from his chest.
He didnt believe a word of it, but he could not be late for this meeting. "Call building maintenance, Lisa," he said. "You will cut yourself if you try to clean it up when youre this upset."
She nodded, then kissed him quickly on the cheek. "Go."
He obeyed, emerging into the outer office just as Leslie entered. "Illya, you look --"
"Terrible. So Ive been told," he said, making certain to stay between Leslie and the inner office door until after it had slid shut behind him. He studied her face for a moment. "You do not look much better."
She took his arm and headed for the conference room door. "Its bad, Illya."
"Will he survive?"
"I honestly dont know."
They were the last to arrive, and he walked her to Waverlys chair at the far side of the round table, then took his own.
Leslie swallowed, then said, "As most of you know, four hours ago Mr Waverly collapsed. Hes still unconscious. His symptoms suggest a massive stroke, and he is not currently responding to any treatment."
She paused to let the worried murmurs die down. "We are, of course, checking for an outside cause, but Mr Waverly is seventy-six, and it is possible that this a genuine stroke."
"No, it is not." Illya would never have spoken so abruptly if Waverly still sat in his chair, but he had found that the same informal approach he used with Napoleon worked best with Leslie as well. "Vancouver was a trap."
He briefed them on the details, then summed up, "The only way it makes any sense at all is if Thrush knew that something was about to happen to Mr Waverly."
ab Sur spoke up first. "Reasonable, but flawed. Napoleon would have had to return to the office to have Waverlys current security codes turned over to him. He was still Chief Enforcement Officer when Thrush took him."
"They did not want the codes," Illya said. "We would have changed them too quickly for Napoleon knowing them to have done them any good. They wanted this office in chaos."
Leslie shook her head. "Illya, it still doesnt make sense. Losing both Waverly and Napoleon is a terrible loss, but they could kill everyone in this room and this office would still function smoothly."
"Would it?" Illya asked. "Mr Waverlys standing orders name Napoleon as his successor. Everyone knows that. The rest of that list is not well known, but I believe everyone would agree that we all expected Arthur Matthews to be next on it."
"Whats your point, Kuryakin?" Matthews demanded.
"Give me your professional opinion, Mr Matthews," Illya said. "What would be the result on this office of a Chief Policy Officer waging a moral crusade against his Chief Enforcement Officer?"
Matthews turned a look of pure hatred on him. "Chaos."
Illya shifted his gaze to Leslie. "Such chaos would not last long, since you would be forced to step in and end it. Thrush will try something major in the next few days. We must find out what it is."
She nodded. "Thats your job, Illya. Mine is to find out when and how Mr Waverly was poisoned." She turned her attention to the others in the room. "Lets get to work, people."
Illya stood with everyone else, but she touched his hand, so he did not follow the others out.
When they were alone she said, "I have to know, Illya. Can you handle losing Napoleon like this? Can I count on you?"
He looked at her while he considered the question. The man whose life his world had revolved around one way or another for the last five years was gone. He could tell her just how bleak the years stretching out in front of him looked, tell her how off balance he felt at the idea of facing anything without Napoleon backing him up, even tell her how utterly empty he felt inside. He knew precisely what look he wore in his eyes. My partner is dead. What did she want him to say? He knew she would think less of him for it, but he looked her straight in the eye and spoke the truth, "Of course."
In a way it was fascinating. The part that consisted of Napoleons rational mind floated in the back of his drug-fogged brain and watched the interrogation like just another observer. He was already quite irritated with the efficiency of this new Thrush truth drug. The first thing Stewart had asked him was how he planned to escape and, just like that, hed told him. So much for the easy way out. Hed have to come up with something else, but he quite deliberately did not think about what that something else was.
"What are the access codes for Thunder Head?"
What? "I dont know," his drugged out little motor mouth answered.
Stewart looked utterly perplexed, a sight Napoleon appreciated even more than seeing Illya look that way. "You have to know what those codes are," Stewart said. "The dismantling operation takes place in three days. You had to have assigned it by now. What are they?"
A part of this struck Napoleon as wildly funny. They had grabbed him for information he didnt have. It must have come across his desk while he was in Paris. All that fancy plotting and he didnt know the answer. "I dont know."
Stewart picked up the vial of truth serum as if he were considering a second injection. Napoleon rather hoped hed try it. It certainly wouldnt do Thrush any good, and he suspected an overdose of it would prove quite a pleasant way to die. But Stewart set the vial back down. "The facility is in the middle of an U.N.C.L.E. security lock down. The codes have been assigned. Someone had to do it; if not you, who?"
Napoleon fought that answer even harder than hed fought betraying his own escape plan, but his traitorous mouth said, "Illya."
Stewart cursed and struck Napoleon hard across the mouth in a display of utter frustration.
Napoleon tasted blood and something trickled from the corner of his mouth. He wanted to wipe it away, but even if his wrists werent bound to the chair arms, he was far too incapacitated to make his body work.
With a heavy sigh, Stewart started pacing. Napoleons sense of time was utterly fouled up, so he had no idea of how much of it passed before he saw inspiration strike the Thrush official.
Stewart leaned over him. "Napoleon, if he knows where you are, will Illya come for you?"
Say no! Damn it, say no! "Yes."
"Excellent." Stewart sat down on the edge of the table. "Now, Napoleon, I am going to brief you on the layout of this complex, then you are going to tell me exactly how Kuryakin will break in. Do you understand?"
Stay away, Illya. For Gods sake, stay away. "Yes."
Illya sat behind Napoleons desk and stared at the folder holding the budget report. It was the only thing left on the desk to do, but he found himself completely unable to touch it. Hed absolutely sworn that he would not let his partner con him into taking care of it this quarter. Now, he felt like if he opened it, he would be admitting that Napoleon was dead.
Yesterday he had been certain of that, but not now. Leslie had insisted he spend the night in the infirmary and, not ready to face an elevator with buttons to the penthouse and the sixteenth floor, he had agreed. Exhausted, hed slept almost twelve straight hours before waking up, his headache finally gone. That let him think a bit clearer.
Hed figured out each piece of the puzzle, but the whole didnt fit together right. If what hed said yesterday had been Thrushs goal all along, then what had come before Vancouver did not make sense. Thrush had wanted Napoleon from the beginning, of that much he was certain.
His sudden sense of monogamy had made taking Napoleon in Paris impossible, so Thrush must have turned their attention to New York and the elimination of one major obstacle to such a kidnaping -- Illya Kuryakin. He realized now that it hadnt been a mere unfortunate coincidence that the photo had appeared shortly before the section head meeting. Tempers had been hot in the meeting and, if Waverly hadnt backed him, snap decisions could have been made that would have at least temporarily neutralized his active agent status and his right to carry a gun. He should have been helpless when theyd tried to kill him the next day.
Having failed to eliminate him figuratively and literally, Thrush had come up with the Vancouver plan. They must have seen that as almost foolproof. Napoleon had walked right into their hands, and his own fate was inconsequential. If they had taken him as well, they could have used his life as leverage to make Napoleon more cooperative. Dead he would have been no further threat to them. Alive and uncaptured, he should have returned to the New York office and a war with Arthur Matthews.
Waverlys elimination must have been planned for a long time with only the timing in question. Leslie had been right when shed said that they could all die, and the office would still run smoothly. But running smoothly did not mean at its top efficiency. Poisoning Waverly had not been necessary to take Napoleon, so Illya still believed something important would happen in the next few days.
Waverly was what had bothered him the most. If the old man had collapsed before they had gone to Criton Industries, Napoleon at least would have returned immediately to New York. Thrush had not dared to administer the poison before they entered the complex. Illya had checked Waverlys schedule. The old man had not left headquarters during the entire day. That meant another mole, and one high up enough to have free access to Waverly. Shoemaker had not been working alone and that made trust a dangerous commodity.
"The last time I saw Napoleon, he was doing the same thing."
Illya looked up to see ab Sur standing in the doorway. "What?"
He walked into the office and nodded at the folder sitting next to Illyas hand. "He was doing his best to avoid that report, too. Though I thought such avoidance was out of character for you."
Illya had no reason to distrust ab Sur, but until he figured out who was behind this he deemed it best to trust only April and Mark. "Such things must be done, but I enjoy them no more than he does," he answered the assumption instead of correcting it.
"Then perhaps you will also appreciate a distraction," ab Sur said, then held out the file he was carrying. "A transcript of Gearharts interrogation. You might find it interesting reading."
Illya took the file, did a fast scan, then looked back up at the Chief Security Officer. "You used truth serum on him?"
"It seemed wise. A man who would seek to impair one of our best agents has a common goal with Thrush. I wished to make certain that was all he shared with Thrush."
Except that the act of pushing Illya down the stairs had made Gearhart the only one who could not possibly be the traitor. Napoleon had gone to Vancouver only because Illya had, and the fall had almost removed the Russian from the case. Gearharts push had definitely been at odds with Thrushs short-term goals. "He say anything interesting?"
"Yes. I suggest you consult page five. Let me know if you wish to pursue the matter any further."
ab Sur started to leave, then stopped in the doorway. "I am sorry about Napoleon. He was a good man, but so are you. Enforcement is in good hands, Illya."
It was the first time ab Sur had ever used his first name, and Illya recognized it as an offer of friendship. And right now, he could use all the friends he could get -- even those he didnt dare trust. "Thank you, Mohammed."
Once he was alone again, Illya turned to the indicated page and started to read. When he finished, he hovered somewhere between anger and relief. It seemed there was one other person that he could trust.
He was still contemplating that dubious fact when his phone rang. "Kuryakin," he answered.
"We may have located Solo," Arthur Matthews said, then hung up, his summons issued.
Illya stood up slowly, one thought sounding clearly in his mind. So now Thrush wants me.
It was a very complicated trail, one that Paul Coswell had managed to trace. Someone had overheard someone, who overheard someone, and so on down a line of over a dozen more someones until it reached a rancher in a Colorado bar who had been complaining about a plane flying too low and scaring his herd. It sounded legitimate and Coswell was one of U.N.C.L.E.s most reliable information brokers, not to mention the one with the highest prices but, to Illya, it still felt like a trap with his name on it.
He studied the photo on the screen in front of him. A high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft had taken it, Thrushs new technology courtesy of Criton Industries making satellite photos a bit too suspect for now. It showed what seemed to be an abandoned mine not far from the mountains, except that there were several people milling about. Guards walking their posts, no doubt.
Illya could see the route he would take in, so he turned and looked at Matthews. "Have you informed Leslie about this?"
"No. Her team seems to be making some headway on the poison. I thought it best to come up with a few recommendations before interrupting her."
Illya shook his head. "She will not allow me out in the field until my head has healed, and I must go, so she must not be told."
"Youre crazy, Kuryakin. Not only is it against procedure, but you wouldnt stand a chance. This is a strike team job, not a task for a lone Enforcement agent."
"If a strike team shows up, Thrush will have time to kill or move Napoleon before they can reach the entrance to the mine. And the possibility of my death should not trouble you."
Hed hoped the chance to be permanently be rid of him might sway Matthews, but the man said, "No, I wont risk my career for you to go charging to the rescue of your lover."
Illya sighed. That left only the truth between him and a call to Leslie. If hed reasoned it out incorrectly, if Thrush had wanted to abort Vancouver and make another attempt in New York, then speaking that truth would get Napoleon killed.
He decided he had to take the chance. "Gearhart was angry about Lisa and her feelings for Napoleon. During his interrogation, he said you mentioned to him that the best way to hurt someone was to hurt someone they loved. Later you gave him something to deliver to Policy when you heard that wed been called to Waverlys office. You knew we always took the stairs back to Enforcement."
"If you are suggesting...."
"That you in essence told him to push me down those stairs? We both know that you did. So does ab Sur. He offered to pursue the matter for me, but I think I shall decline."
"In exchange for what? Letting you go on a suicide mission? Either way, my career is compromised. Id rather go in a way that thwarts your plans."
"Mr Matthews, all I want is for you to listen to me for ten minutes with your head instead of your hatred," Illya said. "Do that and I promise you that the only career that could possibly be ruined is mine."
Matthews sat back in his chair. "All right, Im listening."
Illya told him everything.
When he had finished, Matthews looked at him for a long moment, then said, "Youll need a plane."
The chronometer read 2:15 a.m. when the small jet approached the drop site. Illya checked the auto pilot and sighed. It would have been a lot easier on U.N.C.L.E.s fiscal bottom line if hed brought a pilot along, but that was a risk he simply could not take. He set a course that would crash the jet in the high rocky planes of the mountains, then got out of the pilots seat.
He slipped on his parachute, picked up his equipment bag, opened the door, then stepped out into open sky.
"Weve sighted a parachute, sir," a voice crackled over the radio. "Shall we meet and apprehend?"
"Good heavens, no," Stewart said. "Let our little mouse get much closer to the bait. Blow this one, and Ill have every last one of you shot. Is that clear?"
Stewart turned to Napoleon. "In his own way, your Russian is quite predictable."
His blond hair hidden beneath a black stocking cap, Illya slipped through the darkness toward the compound. The quarter moon overhead cast little light, aiding him in avoiding the attention of the outer guard as he moved from one shadow to the next.
He managed to reach the fence without using his gun, but the inner guard was not so sparse. There were three guards and a possible fourth along the path he needed to take. Opting against taking any chances, he fired four times.
The soft cough of the silenced weapon drew no attention, and beyond a slight initial jerk, his targets gave no sign his shots had hit their marks. He smiled. Fallen bodies left quite a large sign that something was wrong, but thanks to an U.N.C.L.E. variation on an old hypno-paralysis drug Thrush had once used, the guards would just stay frozen right where they were. Eventually their lack of motion would attract attention, but not as quickly as a body or a missing man.
Illya moved toward the fence.
Napoleon pulled against the straps holding him the chair, but the heavy leather refused to yield. His helplessness added to his fury.
How could Illya be so stupid? Bad enough that hed walked blindly into the trap, why did Illya seem so damned determined to do the same thing? If Thrush got hold of the Russian, theyd get their information on Thunder Head, whatever it was. That offended Napoleons sense of justice. He also had no desire to watch Stewart torture Illya to death. The Russian seemed to have mortally offended the Thrush official, and Stewart had spent the better part of the last hour outlining precisely what he intended to do to Illya once he had the information Thrush needed.
Damn it, Illya, do something clever and get us out of this.
The radio crackled, "Hes inside the compound."
Illya slipped along the outer wall toward the entrance. Two guards were posted on the door. Two shots eliminated that problem. He walked past the rigid, oblivious soldiers, and over to the security panel. The door in front of him was a chunk of concrete two feet deep and reinforced by five inches of steel plating on either side. A host of sophisticated scanners stood ready to examine, then exterminate him if he failed to meet a single qualification for entrance. He touched a button on his watch and felt a slight vibration as a biosignal began to broadcast. If the techs in the lab had gotten it right, the signal should mask him from the scanners, while replacing his readings with the only person currently authorized to enter the facility. He pulled on a thin latex glove, then stepped into the sensors range. For a moment nothing happened, then a hidden panel to the right of the door slid open. He pushed his right hand against the palm plate, while his left hand moved over a number pad, punching in the proper access codes.
The heavy door opened and he walked into a large, empty room, then over to the far wall where another security panel waited. He repeated the procedure with the palm plate, punching in a different code this time. An elevator door opened.
He stepped inside, then pushed the button for the first sublevel. He had to swallow twice to clear his ears on the long trip down into the mountain, making him more than a little happy to hear the ping that signaled the elevator had arrived at its destination. The door opened, and Illya found himself looking into the muzzle of an M-16.
"Weve got him!"
Stewart grinned in utter triumph, then ordered, "Bring him to me at once."
Napoleon bit back a groan of utter frustration and prayed Illya had some sort of plan. Right now he would have settled for a bomb in the Russians shorts that would blow them all to kingdom come.
Two guards entered, dragging the slender man between them. Napoleon couldnt tell just how badly Illya was hurt, but he seemed very limp, his head down, a few blond wisps of hair sticking out from beneath a cap. But something didnt look right....
"Ah, Mr Kuryakin, how nice of you to finally join us," Stewart said, his hand forcing his captives head up.
"Names Slate, actually," Mark Slate said with a grin.
"Let him go, boys," a voice ordered from the doorway, and everyone turned to see April Dancer holding a very lethal-looking machine pistol in her hand. Simon Bainbridge stood behind her and just to the right, a similar weapon in his hand.
The guards obeyed so quickly that Mark had to scramble to keep from falling. April moved to him, a touch of her hand asking the question. "Im fine, April," he assured her and pulled off the cap, the few strands of bright blond hair going with it.
While April and Mark trussed up the Thrush operatives, Bainbridge moved to Napoleon. "The strike team has the area secure, boss," he said, releasing the straps. "Illyas plan worked like a dream. They were so busy making certain they got him, they didnt see the rest of us come up from behind."
Napoleon shook his head, a bit embarrassed that hed doubted the workings of his partners devious little mind. He looked at Stewart and flashed his own smile of triumph. "It seems that my Russian can still surprise us both."
Stewart cursed, a sound that was pure music to Napoleons ears.
Napoleon looked at his three agents. "Now, just where the hell is my partner?"
April smiled. "Well, he didnt dare come here, Napoleon. If something went wrong, we all agreed he shouldnt get caught and risk interrogation."
"So hes loitering around my office?"
Napoleon scowled. "Where is he?"
"You werent supposed to be here until tomorrow evening, sir," the guard said, his rifle leveled at Illyas chest.
"Thats all right," Illya answered, dropping his gun, then he slowly raised his hands. "You werent supposed to be here at all."
Just as his right hand reached the level of the guards face, Illya touched the trigger on the fountain pen hed palmed. The gas charge erupted, and Illya threw himself to the side, the gun burst the guard fired in reflex just missing him.
The soldier crumpled to the floor. Illya sighed, picked himself up, then turned his attention to the slumbering man. Hed finally realized that the clerical delay in getting the U.N.C.L.E. lock-down into place indicated that the United States was the latest country to try and get cute with a treaty agreement, but hed hoped hed been wrong.
He dragged the young man inside the elevator, retrieved his own gun, then wedged his knife beneath the elevator door to make certain it would not close. A pity the soldier wasnt even close to his size. A uniform might have come in handy when encountering anyone else who was accidentally locked inside the research complex.
Once the lock-down started, no one could go in or out until the agent assigned returned with the international delegation to begin the liquidation of the facility. Fortunately, Illya knew who that agent was and the codes needed to override the lock-down, since Illya had been the one to assign them.
Illya started down the hallway of the first level. It hadnt been difficult at all to figure out what Thrush wanted after hed realized they wanted him instead of Napoleon. They had to want something that had come across the Chief Enforcement Officers desk, something Napoleon should have seen before leaving for Paris, but hadnt. It also needed to be something that had been too minor for Illya to have briefed him on once he had returned. As the Russian recalled, hed just mentioned that hed assigned eight babysitters.
Something late and minor, but with major implications. Thunder Head was the only fit. It was a germ warfare facility with a very impressive stockpile. Thrush would have found that useful enough, but the data in the computers was what they must have really wanted. Hed read between the lines of the reports and had realized that Thunder Head was responsible for a minor virus that had erupted into a world-wide health disaster. That was the trouble with germs -- no sense of patriotism or respect for government borders. With proof of that, Thrush could have controlled the U.S. government. A far more ambitious blackmail scheme than Thrush had tried to use against him and Napoleon, but it was still the same game. And with Waverly out of the way, it would probably have worked. The old man personally knew several key members of the American government, and if anyone would have noticed something was wrong, it would have been Alexander Waverly.
Three technicians looked up from their work stations when he entered the computer rooms. A woman reached for the alarm, but he shot her before she could reach it. She froze, her face blank. Her two male coworkers stared at him in shock.
He held up his U.N.C.L.E. identification, then said, "We will be leaving soon and in a hurry. Since I cannot carry all of you, I suggest you behave yourselves."
He used duct tape to bind their hands, then made the two men sit in the far corner. That would keep them out of mischief for the few minutes he needed.
Pulling a computer disk from his bag, Illya sat down at the main terminal, then loaded the disk. He entered the access codes, typed in a string of commands, then activated them by hitting the enter button. The computer virus flooded the system, eating away at every scrap of data carrying this complexs prefix codes. He also made certain that it was transmitted along the modem line his three companions had been using. So much for sneaking around treaties, he thought with satisfaction.
Next he turned his attention to the self-destruct sequences of the complex itself. Hed debated long and hard on this decision. Though everything in Thunder Head was scheduled for shut down, much of the equipment itself could be reused as well as the facility itself. His plan would result in several billion dollars worth of unscheduled destruction. Still, hed needed every bit of his U.N.C.L.E. clearance level to access even the files that admitted to this facilitys existence. Hed gotten the rest through some very fancy, highly illegal computer hacking that had still relied heavily on his clearance. He did not like the fact that Thrush knew of Thunder Head and of the impending shut down. That suggested a Thrush mole in the Pentagon, and one very high up. A problem for another day, he told himself, but it also made the destruct system the only way to insure that Thrush did not gain access to Thunder Head.
He accessed the Command functions and was relieved to discover that the system matched the plans hed studied. A last-minute upgrade or a false set of files had blown more than one operation in the past. There were five levels of destruct protocols, each based on a particular type of disaster. The signals could be triggered or overridden from here or from the Pentagon. Before he could wrap this up, he had to disable the Pentagons override.
A special circuit box snapped into the proper spot, the reconfiguring of a few wires, and the scrambling of a few codes insured that the computers would reject any signal received from Washington.
He looked at the taller of his two male captives and demanded, "It there anyone else down here?"
"Just a guard."
That would be the soldier hed already met. "You are certain of that?" Illya asked. "It will be extremely unhealthy down here in a few minutes."
"We didnt think we could hide anyone else," the man answered.
Satisfied, Illya activated all five destruct sequences.
Alarms flared into life, a piercing sound that quickly restored his headache. "Self-destruct sequence has been initiated," a charming computer voice announced. "You have five minutes to evacuate the area."
As the computer began calmly reciting the countdown, Illya cut loose the technicians, then pulled the woman hed shot over his shoulder. At an inch taller than him and just a few pounds lighter, she wasnt an easy load, but getting her out was his responsibility. "Lets go," he said, shoving his charges toward the door.
As Leslie had promised, the exertion quickly returned his headache to just this side of murderous, but he ignored it. They all crowded into the elevator and he pulled the knife loose. The doors shut, and they started the long trip upward.
The computer reached T minus thirty seconds as the doors finally opened. The technicians dragging the soldier, they all ran for the main door. Illya entered the exit code, the door slid open, then closed behind them. The ground rumbled beneath their feet, and Illya dropped to his knees, letting his burden slide gently to the floor.
"Dont move!" a voice snapped.
Illya looked up to find himself surrounded by five very angry-looking soldiers, all armed with assault rifles which were pointed at him. He managed a weak smile. "Hi there."
Randal Stewart sat in the same cell hed slated for Napoleon Solos last days. Now Solo was on his way to fetch his lover, while his agents dismantled Stewarts base. He was not a happy man.
That damnable Russian had ruined everything. Thunder Head was lost to Thrush, and Thrush Central was certain to want Stewarts life in payment.
He sighed. He disliked confinement, but knew he would not have to endure it for long. He knew the identity of a Thrush mole placed very highly in the Pentagon. U.N.C.L.E.s truth drugs would get it out of him, but statements made under the influence of such drugs were not admissible in U.S. courts. He would simply cut a deal with the American government to gain his freedom. His lawyer was probably already talking to the proper people.
While Thrush had been a valuable ally, Stewart had his own resources and a number of men personally loyal to him who would insure his own operations survival until he gained his freedom. Yes, he would be free soon. Free of imprisonment, free of Thrush, and free once more to plan the destruction of his two favorite U.N.C.L.E. agents.
He smiled at that thought, then settled back against the cot to dream about a suitably painful end for one blond Russian.
Illya walked into an office, his hands cuffed behind his back and a large M.P. on either side of him. They stopped in front of a desk. The name plate on it said Colonel Benjamin Harris, and the man Illya assumed belonged to that name studied him for a long moment.
"You are in a lot of trouble, Mister," Harris said.
Perhaps. Illya looked at Harris and the young captain standing beside the window. If these two played by the book, he would be fine, but....
His U.N.C.L.E. identification sat on the desk top near Harris hand. Illya nodded toward it. "You are aware of what that means."
"A sweeping blanket of immunity, but there are ways around that sort of thing."
None of them legal. An U.N.C.L.E. agent could not even be deported without the express permission of the pertinent Hemispheric Chief, and such permission was very rare. Illya imagined the colonel knew that, which suggested he had a more violent way around it in mind. Illya opted to say nothing.
Harris glared at him. "You just destroyed a multi-billion dollar government facility, and you dont have anything to say for yourself?"
"All right. I am the Acting Chief Enforcement Officer for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. While the method I chose was a trifle flamboyant, I was charged with seeing to the destruction of Thunder Head as established in Treaty 3045289. None of my actions were a violation of either the powers of my office or U.N.C.L.E. itself," he said in a very calm, almost mechanical tone of voice. "All of which you know, Colonel, making this entire conversation quite pointless."
Illya sighed to himself. He knew that somehow some other government must have gotten wind of Thunder Head and forced the United States into the treaty, probably with the threat of disclosure. Such near-blackmail circumstances were typical of how most of the treaties U.N.C.L.E. monitored ended up being written and signed, but it would certainly make life easier if governments would stop signing treaties they had no intention of honoring.
Harris face flushed red with rage. "You are not going to get away with this."
There it was again, that threat of violence. Illya decided prudence was called for and said, "I should remind you that U.N.C.L.E. knows precisely where I am."
Illya did not find Harris smile encouraging. "Captain Michaels, perhaps you could tell our guest about your recent phone conversation," Harris said.
Michaels stepped forward. "I called an old friend at your New York office, Mr Kuryakin. He said that the place was in a bit of an uproar because the Chief Enforcement Officer had left without leaving any word as to his whereabouts."
Illya realized his fate rested in the hands of two officers who had reason to believe that he was the only outsider who knew about the treaty violation. That might not bode well for his life expectancy, but that wasnt what twisted Illyas stomach. If New York still did not know where he was, Napoleon had not checked in yet. If he had destroyed Thunder Head before Marks strike team got Napoleon out....
The intercom buzzed. Clearly annoyed, Harris hit the switch, "What is it, Lieutenant?"
"Sorry to disturb you, sir," came the answer, "but I have a Napoleon Solo on the line. He insists on speaking with you immediately."
Illya sighed with relief. It was almost over.
Napoleon paced beside the jet, the wait doing more to age him than the last twenty-four hours combined. A Russian national had just destroyed a multi-billion dollar, top secret American research facility. Talk about straining U.N.C.L.E. immunity to the limit. Hed had to do an awful lot of fast talking during the flight from Colorado to get Illya out of this one, and his stomach was patently refusing to settle down.
Aprils hand touched his shoulder, and he shared a worried glance with her and Mark. Bainbridge and the rest of the strike team had stayed behind in Colorado to oversee the clean-up job of the Thrush satrap, but the two of them had insisted on coming to make certain Illya was all right.
Aprils grip tightened, then she pointed toward a jeep heading for the runway. "That may be him."
"Mark, watch from inside and keep your gun handy," Napoleon said.
The Englishman nodded and April took up a position near the door.
Napoleon resisted the impulse to cross his fingers as he watched the vehicle approach. He caught sight of a distinctive blond head, then sighed with relief. It had been a very close thing. At first the military had tried to deny they even knew what Thunder Head was. Hed had the distinct feeling that Illya had been slated for a shallow, unmarked grave somewhere in the high country. Dead Russians told no tales and all that. It had taken a great deal of Napoleons persuasive skills to convince them otherwise.
The jeep stopped, then two M.P.s yanked Illya out of the back. A captain joined them, then shoved the Russian forward and, his hands cuffed behind him, his partner stumbled, then fell. Napoleon caught him, but the bump on Illyas head collided with his chest and he moaned.
Napoleon pulled Illya up, then around so the uninjured side of his head now rested against Napoleons chest. The American looked down and could see blood on the cuffs imprisoning the younger mans wrists. "Keys," he snapped in a voice that promised dire consequences for anything less than immediate compliance.
The smug look vanished from the captains face, and he handed the keys to April.
The cuffs sprung loose at the turn of the key, and Illya stood up, breaking the contact between his body and Napoleons. He turned, rubbing his wrists. "Thank you for your hospitality," he said.
The captain flushed, climbed back into the jeep, then the soldiers drove off.
Illya turned back around to face Napoleon. "Youre looking well," he said.
Napoleon shrugged, feeling strangely guilty for not bleeding from places he didnt even know he had. "They used drugs instead of indulging themselves."
"Yes, they usually treat you that way."
"I have a less irritating personality."
Illya rolled his eyes, then boarded the plane.
"Really, Napoleon, hes such a devious little shit."
"No argument." Napoleon leaned back in his chair and smiled at Leslies image on the small screen in front of him. "Just be glad hes on our side."
"Believe me, I am," Leslie answered. "Im even more grateful that he didnt complicate his head injury. Trying to perform surgery on that thick skull of his wouldnt rank up there on my list of fun things to do."
Napoleon stretched a bit, his muscles far from happy to find themselves confined to yet another chair. Even the relative luxury of one of U.N.C.L.E.s command aircraft was stifling after a twenty-four hour imprisonment. In addition to an impressive communications array, the jet also featured four sofas, three of which contained a slumbering Mark, April and Illya. That left the fourth sofa for Napoleon, but first he had to finish his call to Leslie. "Im a bit surprised you arent screaming for his head on the chopping block."
"Oh, I thought about it, but its difficult to argue with success. He got you out, uncovered a treaty violation and shut down said violation all in one hours work."
"All without your authorization," he reminded her.
Across the aisle and to the right, Illya rose up on one elbow and mouthed, "Whose side are you on?"
Napoleon gave him a stern look, and pointed at the pillow. Illya scowled, but lay back down on the sofa, and Napoleon returned to his conversation with Leslie. "I expected you to at least demand that I put him over my knee."
She chuckled. "I doubt youd survive the attempt, my friend." Her smile faded. "Seriously, Napoleon, I know he didnt tell me because he didnt dare trust me."
Napoleon didnt like the thought of not being able to trust Leslie, but he also realized that trust was a rather foolish concept right now. "The poison?"
"Yes," she said with a nod. "When he had to make his decision, we were all assuming that someone had slipped something into Alexanders lunch. Im one of the people he eats lunch with."
"But the poison wasnt in his food?"
"No, it was air borne and very fast acting. Security figures there was some sort of self-destructing triggering device hidden in his office. It could have been placed weeks ago, which makes a good third of our happy little office a suspect."
Napoleon sighed. "Wonderful."
"Well, at least Alexander is well on his way to recovery. By the end of next week, we should both be out of his damned chair." She looked at him. "I dont know how you stand the thought of having to sit in it permanently."
"By hoping it wont be for a long time."
"Ill do my best to see to it. And now you should get some sleep. I have no intention of doing this rotten job one second after you reach New York."
He nodded. "Ill see you in a few hours."
Napoleon broke the connection and the screen went dark. He stood up, stretched, then glanced at Illya, who was still wide awake. Frowning, Napoleon walked over to the sofa. "Youre supposed to be asleep," he whispered.
Illya shifted a bit, giving Napoleon enough room to sit down on the edge of a cushion. "I was thinking."
"You shouldnt do that," the American said, brushing Illyas bangs to one side. "I might not be able to keep you out of trouble the next time."
"Keep me out of trouble? You were the one suggesting beheadings and spankings."
"We have enough enemies, Illya. I wanted to make certain that she hadnt become one of them."
The senior agent smiled and squeezed Illyas arm. Long before they had become lovers, Napoleon had often felt the need to touch Illya. He always said it was the Italian in him that needed the contact, the physical reassurance that his partner was all right. Just looking had never done any good with the Russian. Illya was far too skilled at hiding how he felt. But a touch could feel the tremor of damaged muscles, the shivering of a cold or feverish body, the yielding of limbs too weak to last much longer.
Though his touch deprived Illya of some of his precious secrets, hed always allowed it, even seemed to take comfort from it. Now, Napoleons touch had the more intimate edge of a lover, but it still asked the same questions, sought the same answers.
Illya looked at him with those incredible eyes. "They did not hurt me, Napoleon."
"They could have killed you. Im certain they wanted to."
"It was a possibility, but it was the only way to insure that Thrush did not gain access to the facility."
He took hold of Illyas hand. "Perhaps, but if you ever do anything like this again, I will turn you over my knee."
"Try it and youll lose a kidney."
Napoleon smiled. "It might be worth it." He wanted to make love to Illya, not so much because he was aroused, but because he wanted to hold him, and his Russian wasnt the just snuggle up and cuddle type. Illya had to be seduced into it, but they were far from alone, even if everyone else was asleep.
He settled for giving Illyas hand a squeeze. "Go to sleep or Ill find a reason to keep you awake."
"Yes, Napoleon," Illya said, then settled down into the pillow and closed his eyes.
Napoleon waited the few minutes it took for the sound of Illyas breathing to change to that of a sleeping man. He waited a few more minutes after that to make certain the Russian wasnt faking it, then got up and walked over to his own sofa. He stretched out. It felt like pure heaven, but even as he fell asleep he had the feeling that Illya was up to something.
Napoleon signed his name for what had to be the one millionth time, then glared as yet another sheet of paper appeared in front of him.
"Dont scowl, Napoleon," Lisa said with a chuckle. "Itll give you wrinkles."
His lower jaw shifted and he looked up at her. "If this is supposed to be the computer age, why am I signing all these blasted bits of paper?"
"Transfer of power. If it makes you feel any better, Mr Waverly will have to sign twice as many when he gets back."
He rolled his eyes, then signed the damned thing. "Lisa," he growled a warning as she picked up the paper.
"Oh, behave," she said. "There are only two more."
Grumbling, he signed his name the last two times. "Now can I worry about world security disasters instead of terminal paper cuts?"
She nodded. "Do you want some coffee?"
"A marvelous idea. Do you want me to authorize a raise?"
"An interesting notion," she said, sliding open the door to a small kitchenette, "but Ill settle for the answer to a question."
"Why do you always set up shop in here?" she asked, making a sweeping gesture at the conference room. "Mr Waverlys office is more comfortable."
"Its also full of his personality. I prefer the neutrality of this room until that office is really mine." May that be at least forty years from now.
She considered that for a moment, then nodded. "I see your point. He can be a rather overwhelming man."
Napoleon let that certain twinkle enter his eye. "Well, Im not exactly a wall flower myself."
"Oh, no you dont, Napoleon," Lisa scolded him. "I owe Illya one. Find someone else to cheat on him with."
"Flirting is not cheating," Napoleon muttered. "Besides, our relationship was just --"
"Oh, please, Napoleon. Save the it-was-just-an-assignment bull for the rubes in the cheap seats." She picked up the coffee pot, filled it with water from the small sink, then walked over to the automatic coffeepot. "My only solace is that the only people slower than me to realize that you two deserved each other was the two of you."
Napoleon wasnt certain he liked the sound of that "deserved each other", but he opted for a graceful surrender. "So how about those Knicks?"
Lisa laughed and poured the water into the reservoir of the coffee maker. "You want caffeine or not?"
"Id kill for some caffeine." It had been a long couple of days without much sleep.
"Hmmm, Turkish coffee it is," she decided, reaching for the appropriate can.
"Bless you my child."
"Its your stomach lining."
Napoleon picked up the latest reports off the wire and started scanning them to the sound of a scoop moving in and out of a coffee can.
The door slid open and Illya stepped into the conference room, ab Sur behind him. "Do you have a moment, Napoleon?"
For you, always. Napoleon dismissed such a sappy response and settled on just nodding.
The two men walked over to the large round table, then sat down. "I had a thought about our mole problem," Illya said.
Imagine my surprise. "Why do I think Im not going to like this, Illya?"
"Because you wont," the Russian assured him, then he glanced at ab Sur.
"We all agree that timing was critical with Waverlys poisoning," the Chief Security Officer said. "Whoever did the deed had to be notified that you and Kuryakin had walked into the trap."
Napoleon still winced at the thought of how thoroughly theyd been taken in. Not one of their better days. "You checked the phone logs."
ab Sur nodded. The number and time of every incoming and outgoing call was logged by computers, not that unusual of a procedure for any office, and at U.N.C.L.E. it had come in handy more than once. "Of course, Thrush was not careless enough to call in from Vancouver, but there were forty long distance calls received between the time you arrived at Criton Industries and Waverlys collapse."
The pungent smell of strong coffee filled the room, pure perfume for Napoleon, but he glanced at Illya wondering if the Russians stomach was turning. "I suppose that well over half those calls were to shared phones."
"Im afraid so."
Illya stood up, then walked over to Lisa. "That smells awfully strong," he whispered.
"The boss needs a jolt," she whispered back. "Do you need one?"
"No, thank you. Ill have some tea later, but perhaps you should have some."
Napoleon shook his head a bit, trying to focus on two separate conversations. "Any way to narrow down the search parameters?"
He could hear the sound of Lisa picking up a mug. "Me? Why would I want to drink this crank oil grease?" she asked.
"It must have been a very busy week for you," Illya said.
ab Sur shook his head. "According to Leslie, the poison must have worked almost instantly, but the notification to use it could have come any time after you entered that compound."
Coffee flowed from the pot to the mug. "Well, it has been a busy couple of days, but before that it wasnt anything to get excited about."
"Hmm, I just thought you were having trouble getting everything done."
"Illya, what are you talking about?"
"Well, for instance, I could not help but notice that you let Mr Waverly run out of tobacco when you normally refill the humidor whenever it gets a bit below half full."
"Oh, well, things were hectic enough that I had some trouble getting away to the tobacco shop," she said. "Mr ab Sur, would you like some coffee?"
"Please," ab Sur answered. "Now, where was I? Oh, yes. The majority of the calls were to Communications, a few went to Enforcement, four to Policy, and one each to Transportation and Medical."
Napoleon heard the clink of a second cup being set on the counter, and Illya said, "You have my sympathies. I remember when Mr Waverly ran out of tobacco a few years ago, before you became his secretary. He was quite short tempered until he was able to have his pipe. As I recall, he smoked one the moment the humidor was finally filled."
Napoleon shook his head. "Medical? We arent back to Leslie again, are we?"
ab Sur shrugged. "We cannot really rule out anyone, Napoleon."
The coffee flowed again, and Lisa whispered, "Even a mild nicotine addiction can be a trial, Illya."
"Agreed. But since you knew that, I cannot help but wonder why you waited so long to fill the humidor."
"I just told you that I didnt have time to pick up the tobacco."
"The trouble with being a beautiful woman, Lisa, is that people tend to remember you," Illya said. "The clerk swears you picked up a pouch of Isle of Dog Number 22 the night before Waverly was poisoned. So even though you had it when you came in that morning, you still waited until after lunch to give it to him."
A dead silence fell over the room. Suddenly it wasnt at all difficult to guess who had received one of those calls to Policy.
Napoleon watched ab Sur lift his hand from beneath the table. The gun in it was trained on Lisa.
Napoleon slowly swiveled his chair around. Lisa was standing in the doorway of the kitchenette, the pot of coffee in her hands. Illya stood just a few feet away from her, putting his body quite deliberately between the coffee and Napoleon. Not a good day for the Russian to have worn a shirt and tie instead of one of his heavy sweaters. Though his suit jacket would spare him some injury, at that range Illya could expect several first degree burns and a few second.
Napoleon drew his own gun. "Lisa, if you throw that coffee, I swear Ill blow your pretty head off."
The pot clinked as she sat it back down on the coffee maker. "Oh, I wouldnt have done that, Napoleon," she said. "After all, I did tell you I owed him one."
She handed her holstered gun to Illya, then looked at ab Sur. "Guess its my turn for a little truth or consequences."
"I am afraid so, Ms Rogers."
Lisa shuddered. "And I just abhor needles. Ah, well." She gave Napoleon a sad look. "The funny thing is, Im glad you won this one, Napoleon. Ive always liked the two of you, and Stewart is such a pompous ass."
Napoleon stared at her. "Get her out of here, Mohammed."
ab Sur took hold of her arm. "You coming, Illya?"
Napoleon glanced at his partner at the use of his first name. Lose one friend, gain another.
Illya shrugged, then followed ab Sur and his prisoner out the door.
Illya entered the outer office and found Heather MacNab sitting behind Lisas desk. He distinctly hoped that wouldnt be a permanent situation. Heather was the best researcher he had ever worked with, but she was someone Napoleon could trust. Of course, Lisa had also fitted that description. "Is he in?"
The attractive blonde nodded. "But hes in an enter-at-your-own-risk mood, Illya," she said. "If it wasnt a slow afternoon, I think he wouldve been responsible for at least a minor war or two by now."
"Wonderful," Illya sighed, but stepped forward, breaking the electronic eye that activated the door.
It slid aside and he walked into the conference room. Napoleon was bent over a report, and Illya could almost see the waves of tension radiating from his partner. "Napoleon?"
At the sound of his voice, Napoleon looked up. "About time you got back," he growled, but the tension seemed to vanish.
"I was not aware that you required my presence," Illya answered, though he understood. Trust was a fragile thing, and the last few days had severely damaged it, but not between the two of them. Never between the two of them.
"You find out anything?"
Illya walked over to the table, then sat down in his usual chair. "Lisa was a Thrush plant from the beginning," he said. "She doesnt know of any other moles, but she did know about Shoemaker. She gave us the names of her outside contacts. I lent ab Sur a few agents to round them up. Beyond that, her job was collecting our secrets not Thrushs."
That was it then. There was no further reason for the Acting Chief Enforcement Officer to take up any more of the Acting Chief Policy Officers time, and every reason for both of them to get back to work. "I will see you tonight," Illya said, standing.
"Thats a long time away."
Something in Napoleons tone set off an alarm bell or six, and Illyas eyes narrowed. "Napoleon..." he warned.
Napoleon managed to look innocent, a rather absurd expression for him in Illyas opinion. "Perhaps you could help me out with a little project before you make your escape," he said, standing.
Illya instinctively took a step backward. "What?"
"Ive always wondered what it would be like to make love to a blond on this table," he said, his eyes racking Illya with a smoldering caress.
The Russian swallowed hard, took two more steps backward, then said, "Ill go look for volunteers."
Napoleon smiled, then touched a button on the control panel.
Illya heard the buzz of the door locking, then groaned inwardly as he realized his mistake. Hed evaded instead of just saying no. "Napoleon, unlock that door," he demanded.
His partners hand actually moved back to the control panel, but he depressed the intercom switch, not the lock release. "Heather, hold my calls. Mr Kuryakin and I will be in conference until something more important comes up."
"Of course, Napoleon," Heather answered, having the nerve to sound pleased. No doubt she had reasoned that a conference would improve his mood.
"Oh, and if Enforcement comes looking for him...."
"Ill give you a good three seconds warning before I override the lock," she quipped.
Napoleon laughed and switched off the intercom.
Illya scowled. "In conference? Good grief, Napoleon, why didnt you just tell her we were going to have sex?"
"I thought I did," Napoleon answered, advancing on him.
Illya retreated, but knew better than to turn his back on this one. "You are the most irritating, arrogant --"
"I think youll look quite fetching against this dark wood," Napoleon said, running his hand along the edge of the table as he walked.
"We are at work."
"And likely to be here until tomorrow."
"If that is true, neither of us has time for this."
"Now, Illya, I can tear myself away from three tons of paperwork long enough to spare you a minute or two."
"How generous of you," he muttered, then bumped into a chair.
With a start Illya realized it was the chair he had been sitting in a few minutes ago. He was literally being chased around the table. "This is ridiculous!" he said, holding his ground, and tried to look menacing.
Napoleon stopped just inches away, not in the least bit intimidated. "I agree," he said, slipping off Illyas tie. "So say no or shut up." The hands moved to the shirt buttons. "As you pointed out, we dont have much time."
Illya sighed, yet he couldnt manage to fight it when his shirt, holster and jacket were whisked off in one deft movement. "Must you be so good at this," he grumbled as his trousers were pushed down his legs.
"Part of my charm, Illya," Napoleon answered, having the gall to actually lift him up, then sit him down on the table.
"You have no charm," the Russian reminded him for the millionth time, but he laid back against the dark wood.
Illya had expected Napoleon to take him quickly, but when his lover joined him on the table, his attentions were slow and sensuous. Illya lost track of time, then nothing seemed to exist but Napoleons hands, his lips and the weight of his body against him.
When Illya could think again, Napoleon was stretching out beside him, then the American pulled him into his arms as if they were settling down for the night. The protest that they certainly did not have time for this died before the Russian could speak it as he realized this was what Napoleon had wanted all along. How like his partner to do things the hard way, he thought as his head moved to the Americans shoulder.
Illya had to admit that it felt good to hold Napoleon and to be held by him. It was a comforting reassurance that the other lived and could be counted on. Still, there was only so much of this self-indulgence that Illya could stand, and after a few minutes he said, "Wouldnt it have been easier to just say..." now what did that ridiculous bumper sticker he had seen the other day said? Oh, yes, "I need a hug?"
Napoleon shifted, easing Illya back against the table, then rose up on his elbow. He looked down at Illya with brown eyes that danced with laughter. "You are such a spoil sport."
"I am responsible," Illya answered, then something else occurred to him. "Ill blow your pretty head off?"
"I guess I was a bit tired of playing the fool," he said, then kissed Illya. "Besides, I had plans for your body besides rubbing on burn ointment."
Illya gave him a disgusted look. "ab Sur would not have let her throw that pot."
"Probably, but I noticed that you kept yourself between me and the coffee."
"You are my responsibility."
"And youre mine. My responsibility and my pleasure."
Illya didnt fight the kiss, even let the tongue slip into his mouth, but when Napoleon finally drew back, he said, "We do not have time to do this again."
Napoleon sighed. "I hate it when youre right," he said, but got up, then off the table.
He headed for the washroom next to the kitchenette and said, "By the way, how did things go with Matthews while I was away?"
"We reached an understanding," Illya said, hopping off the table. Hed decided against telling Napoleon about Matthews part in his little trip down the stairs. The connection was tenuous, unprovable and likely to provoke a violent reaction, making it definitely something better kept to himself for the time being. He pulled his pants back on. "But I doubt he will ever stop looking for a way to get at least me out of U.N.C.L.E."
"Lucky for us youre so perfect," Napoleon called over the sound of running water.
Illya rolled his eyes, then started looking for his socks. He found one on a chair, the other in the far corner. He thought about the dynamics of it, then decided that he didnt want to know. He shook his head -- the things Napoleon did to his equilibrium.
Worse, there was absolutely no controlling his lover. Illya knew he could set all the rules he wanted about the office or assignments, but Napoleon had always pursued sexual liaisons at inconvenient moments, and he would always find a way around any rules. Nothing had changed, but everything had. Now he was the target of all those sexual advances instead of the disgusted observer.
Illya sighed as he pulled on his shirt. Hed liked things the way they were before Babylon and Shoemaker had intruded into their lives. Now, he had to learn how to deal with an entire different side of Napoleon, and he feared that nothing would ever be the same again.
He adjusted his shoulder holster, then tied his tie. He tripped the lock release on the door as he pulled on his jacket. "Napoleon, Im going to try and get some work done."
His partner stepped out of the washroom, adjusting his own tie. "Illya."
"Finance needs the budget approval for Enforcement by the end of the day. Make certain they get it."
An odd sense of relief vied with irritation inside the Russian. Irritation won. Once again Fate had conspired with his partner against him. "Of course," he answered, heading for the door. Disembowel him first, then drag him through shark-infested waters. Some things never changed.