|Note: Enjoyment of this story may be increased by reading all lines after a certain, obvious, point in a high squeeky voice.|
|"Now remember," Illya murmured as he probed delicately with the
lockpick, "be careful. We think they may be working on some kind of
"Whatever that is," Napoleon muttered. Illya shot him a look and he smiled innocently until Illya rolled his eyes and went back to work.
Napoleon leaned against the wall, the perfect picture of a man at ease, and watched his partner break into the Thrush facility. This particular outpost was extraordinarily low-rent: no cameras, spy-eyes, electronic trip-wires, or fancy pick-proof locks. There wasn't even a spy-hole in the door. Dr. Haas, it seemed, did not rate Thrush's highest funding. He'd obviously responded, as scientists invariably did, by investing every dime in his project and skimping on "unnecessary" things. Like guards and specialized security systems.
Illya made a satisfied noise as the second lock yielded to him. They had chosen to go in silent, on the off-chance that Haas's back door, apparently secured only by three deadbolts, was in actuality a sophisticated trap monitored by sonic systems that would detect the distinctive crump of a magnesium lock-breaker. Illya was adept with a pick, tripping most locks in less than a minute. These were Rabson -- good locks, resistant to the average picklock. They took Illya slightly longer.
Napoleon rocked his shoulders against the wall -- in theory seeking comfort; actually, just testing to see if he could draw Illya's eyes away from the door again. He could; just a quick irritated flicker. He smiled.
Hands in his pockets, the sole of his right shoe flat against the wall, he looked to the average passerby -- of which there had so far been two, each of whom moved on without sparing him a second glance -- precisely what he was: a man waiting. Most would assume he was waiting for his lover.
They'd never guess at the coiled readiness of the relaxed pose, or the level of attention he paid his surroundings through half-lidded eyes. Nor that the lover for whom he waited crouched an arm's length away, jimmying the locks to a mad scientist's door.
Napoleon let his eyes linger briefly on Illya. They'd been lovers more than three years -- sticking together through thick and thin and some damned strange experiences -- and still Napoleon's mouth went dry at the sight of Illya's trousers pulling tight across the curve of his ass, his heart gave a tender thump at the odd vulnerability it insisted in seeing in the strands of over-long hair that caught in Illya's collar, and his mind whirled at his ability to experience two such disparate reactions simultaneously. Loving Illya was no hardship. Nor did he allow it to become a distraction. It just was.
"Ah!" Illya breathed, and the door swung silently open.
Napoleon pushed off the wall and followed his partner into the gloom, his gun held slightly away from his body. Straight as an arrow, the hallway marched into darkness, doors opening off at uneven intervals, each one conveniently open, each room inconveniently empty.
Napoleon put his lips to Illya's ear and murmured, "Think he moved out?" Illya's hair stirred in Napoleon's breath, clinging to his lips.
Illya shrugged and led the way further down the hall. It became apparent even before they reached the door at the end that Dr. Haas had not, in fact, vacated the premises. This door was closed and light shone from beneath it. Napoleon flattened himself against the wall to the right of the door, Illya to the left. Napoleon held up four fingers, then placed his hand on the doorknob and counted silently backward. On one, he turned the knob and thrust the door open. Napoleon rolled to the left into the brightly lit room, Illya to the right. Aside from the brightness, the first thing Napoleon noticed about the room was the noise -- a constant hum that rose and fell in pitch.
When Napoleon's eyes adjusted enough to make out the blur he was pointing his gun at, he found it was Dr. Haas, eyes very large and round, mouth open.
"Good afternoon, Doctor," Napoleon said pleasantly over the noise of the machines that filled the room from top to bottom and one end to the other. "I hope you don't mind a little company. The door was open, so we thought we'd let ourselves in."
"You, I, what, but...." Not the most coherent of men. You'd think working with Thrush would inure a man to the sight of guns.
"Illya?" Napoleon asked without looking towards his partner.
"Just the good doctor," Illya confirmed. He didn't put his gun away.
"So." Napoleon bent his arm a little, bringing his gun in closer to his body. It was still pointed at the scientist, but no longer quite so threateningly. Haas swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing sharply, and put his hands up. Delayed reaction. Napoleon risked a quick glance at Illya, who raised an eyebrow. "Now, Dr. Haas." Napoleon smiled pleasantly. "Why don't you tell us all about what you've been doing?"
Haas blinked quickly. He was a pale-haired, bloodless fellow, who looked as if he'd crawled into a lab coat when he was a baby and never quite found his way back out. Where, Napoleon wondered, did Thrush find these people? Surely the concentration of madmen couldn't be greater in the scientific community than the population at large. Unless, of course, science was hazardous to brain function. Napoleon bit his tongue, anticipating sharing that theory with Illya later.
"Surely you'd like to share your discovery," he prompted when the doctor continued to stare silently. "Your kind always do."
Despite his apparent timidity, Haas didn't so much as flinch when Illya shouted Napoleon's name, or blink at the gunfire that followed. Spinning to face the Thrush guards who'd finally shown up, Napoleon saw Haas skitter away out of the corner of his eye, and noted the machine toward which he was running. Scientists could always be relied upon to rush for the most important part of their lab when threatened, like a mother running to save her baby. Making note of Haas's destination, Napoleon dismissed the man from his mind in favor of the gunfight developing between Illya and the guards.
There were three of them -- two scrawny fellows and one who appeared to be carrying all the weight the other two lacked -- dressed in the traditional light blue jumpsuits and toting the usual oversized rifles. Not the best gun for close quarters fighting, but then these were hardly Thrush's top-of-the-line troops. In fact, only one of them appeared to be even a mediocre shot, for which Napoleon was deeply grateful, given how suddenly they'd appeared. These little birdies were, however, good at laying down covering fire and Napoleon found himself crouched behind the gleaming mass of a machine while bullets whirred over his head, Illya pinned behind a bulky piece of equipment nearby. Napoleon rolled his eyes and banged his head gently against the side of the machine. It was demeaning, as someone once said, to be set upon by nitwits.
Several minutes later, he realized that one of the staccato sounds echoing around the machine-filled room was a voice. He presumed it was Dr. Haas who was shouting "no" with mechanical regularity, but it was difficult to tell over the rising hum of the machines. Not only was the volume increasing, but the pitch as well, making his ears ring unpleasantly.
The gunfire subsided slightly, and Napoleon risked a quick glance at Illya, who raised three fingers, then lowered two. Napoleon nodded -- he too thought only one of the Thrushies was firing now. He popped his head up to catch a quick look at the room, dropping back into place with the impression that two jumpsuited figures were scuffling with the white-coated doctor. Another quick glimpse confirmed the fact. This time, Haas was spinning away, and the Thrushies had their hands on the largest of the machines, rocking it forward. It looked enormously heavy, but the men were determined. In a moment, it would fall. Directly onto Illya.
Napoleon was up and shouting, "Illya!" just as the machine came down in a blinding blast of white light.
He came to with the distinct impression that something was not right.
For a moment, Napoleon lay perfectly still, doing a mental systems check. No pain. That was a good sign. The only noise was a skittering sound that seemed to come from a distance, as threatening as a bird chirping outside at dawn. He opened his eyes.
The floor was endless, broken here and there by large shapes that Napoleon couldn't identify. Machines, perhaps -- too large for furniture. And someone was a very poor housekeeper; the dust bunnies were large enough to qualify for social security cards.
There seemed to be something wrong with his vision. The edges of things were extraordinarily distinct, but all the color was washed out. Either that, or everything was one shade of gray of another, which was certainly possible, given the typical mad scientist's obsession with unusual home decor. Concentrating on that, he'd blinked several times before he realized his view of the floor was off -- too low to be anything but the perspective of a man lying on his side. Yet everything was properly aligned, as if he were looking across the floor from an upright position. Which didn't make any sense at all, unless--
His heart pounding so fast it seemed to shake his whole body, Napoleon lurched to his feet. All four of them. Startled, he looked down. Paws. Little, hairless, pink paws. That couldn't be right. Not that being anything non-human was right, but Napoleon had at least had some experience being a dog. Dogs didn't have hairless paws and pointy toes. Though they did have tails. As did he, at the moment. Instinctively, he tried an experimental wag. No, that definitely didn't feel right.
Napoleon lay back down and curled until he could see his rear end and tail. The rear paws were the same as the front ones, and the tail was long and thin and hairless. Aw hell, he thought with surprising calm, I'm a mouse.
He sat back up and sniffed the air delicately, his whiskers twitching in a most distracting manner. He listened intently. Still nothing but a remote skittering. Didn't smell like people. Didn't smell like cat. He relaxed with a tiny sigh, not asking himself how he knew what human or cat smelled like.
Napoleon was seized by an almost overwhelming impulse to run around in little circles and squeak "help, help, help." He subdued it with an effort.
Okay, so he was a mouse. He could handle that. He'd handled being a dog until Illya found a way to get him back in his proper shape; he could handle being a rodent until Illya managed to fix that too. It was demeaning, but there was nothing for that. He hoped, rather vaguely, that he was at least a good-looking mouse, though he hadn't the foggiest idea what that would entail. A tiny tuxedo and top hat was too much to hope for.
Still, no need to panic. Illya'd fixed the dog thing, he could certainly find a way to fix this. In the meantime, all Napoleon had to do was stay calm, and away from cats. Illya would get him back with all due speed. He knew how nerve-wracking it was to find yourself with four paws and a tail. After all, he'd spent two days as a cat. It occurred to Napoleon to wonder what the hell was wrong with their lives. Other U.N.C.L.E. agents never had to add "furry" to their list of potential health conditions.
Speaking of... Where the hell was Illya? Knowing his partner's luck, probably cross-eyed and tied up someplace. Lord, but Napoleon hoped not. Fables about mice and lions aside, he just knew chewing through ropes would be bad for his teeth.
He reared up on his hind legs, finding that the tail was useful for stability, and peered off into the distance. Large machines, larger dust bunnies. Napoleon let himself down to all fours, turned ninety degrees, and reared up again. Same thing. He continued until he'd looked in all directions, finding that one of the machines was quite close, a scattering of large metal pieces that were probably broken fittings surrounding it, but nothing more of value.
He sat down again and started grooming his whiskers with his paws before he realized what he was doing and made himself stop. It was actually rather interesting, if one shoved aside the sheer weirdness of it long enough to think. "Dog," when Napoleon had been one, meant drooling, wagging, and thinking about food and odors a lot. And sex. Don't forget sex. "Mouse" seemed to have a similar emphasis on odors, and a tendency to fidget while thinking. The sex part was the same.
Napoleon stopped himself from scratching around his ears and pushed up on his hind legs again. "Illya," he called in what to him sounded very much like his usual voice, only entirely too high-pitched, "where the hell are you?"
Not that it would do much good. Napoleon rather doubted Illya spoke rodent.
He hoped Illya hadn't woken and worked himself free already. When he couldn't find Napoleon, Illya would no doubt head back to their apartment to take some aspirin and plan a rescue. A Napoleon-sized rescue, which would probably leave Napoleon-the-mouse making his own way home. In this form, the subway would be a nightmare.
Napoleon hunkered down and listened. Surely Illya was still around, still looking for him. His footfalls would be enormous; they'd vibrate the ground. Napoleon couldn't possibly miss them, and there was no way he'd let his partner pass him by. How, Napoleon wondered, would Illya react to a mouse running up his pantleg?
"Napoleon, are you there?"
Napoleon spun around, a startled squeak slipping out before he could stop it. Illya had sounded quite close, his voice strained. God, please let him not be injured. He didn't think he could manage CPR like this.
Out from under the nearest machine crawled a little gray mouse. Its ears were large and delicately veined, tail long and slender, and its nose twitched charmingly. As Napoleon stared, it sat down and started grooming its dusty fur. Its silver-gray, soft, slightly too-long fur.
"You have got to be kidding me!"
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