|"It's about time you showed up," Illya remarked acidly when Napoleon was shoved into the room. "What did you do, get lost?"
"I was run over by the welcome wagon," Napoleon countered, hiding a grin. Illya's sour remarks didn't faze him in the least. He knew they covered a range of emotion, from disappointment that Napoleon's rescue attempt had manifestly failed, to relief at seeing his partner once again, only a little the worse for wear. Likewise, Napoleon's flippant response covered his own relief. Illya appeared in good health -- Napoleon smiled to himself -- actually, Illya looked strange. Jeans and a workshirt ought to have made him look boyish, but made him look older instead. Napoleon didn't dare guess how he looked in his own, similar attire.
The thug behind Napoleon prodded him in the kidneys with the muzzle of his gun again, knocking him off balance. Hands cuffed behind him, Napoleon stumbled. Illya grabbed him by the arm before he could go down. The Russian was less encumbered by his handcuffs, which were in front of him.
"Thanks," Napoleon muttered.
"Don't mention it."
"All right, social hour is over." The speaker entered through the opposite door. He was tall, well-dressed, with pleasant features and sandy-blond hair. The gentle smile curving his lips didn't impress the U.N.C.L.E. agents in the least. "Good morning, gentlemen."
"Parker. I should have guessed you had a hand in this."
"I'm flattered, Mr. Solo," Dave Parker, one of Thrush's rising stars, preened. "It was the complexity of the project which led you to that assumption, of course."
"Actually, it was the sheer stupidity of the plan." Napoleon's smile dared Parker to react. "Provoking a war between the U.S. and Mexico by diverting all the water from the Colorado river before it crosses the border? Ridiculous."
Parker turned an unhealthy shade of red. He managed to contain himself with a visible effort. "Very amusing, Mr. Solo. But if U.N.C.L.E. was so unimpressed by my intentions, why were you sent?"
"Curiosity?" Napoleon shrugged, managing to invest the gesture with his usual style, despite his cuffed hands.
"Boredom," Illya suggested deadpan.
"We'll see if we can't enliven things," Parker promised urbanely, his good humor inexplicably restored. "Perhaps my little plan won't yield the intended results, but it won't by any means be a failure. I have, after all, captured the great Solo and Kuryakin. Hardly a matter for censure by Thrush Central. Chris?"
At his gesture, a third Thrushman entered the room. This one, too, was known to Napoleon. Chris Ferret, a borderline psychotic whose sallow countenance bore an unfortunate resemblance to his namesake. Thoroughly amoral, Ferret had a preference for messy work which made him the darling of Thrush, even as his unpredictability unnerved his masters. He passed his rifle, a Kalashnikov instead of the usual Thrush-issue machine gun, to Parker and advanced on the U.N.C.L.E. agents. Ferret most likely chose the Russian-made assault rifle contrary to orders because it continued operating under even the worst of conditions.
Rather like, Napoleon considered, other items of Russian origin he knew. He suppressed his grin at the thought.
While Parker and the Thrush goon kept them covered with the machine guns, Ferret unlocked Napoleon's handcuffs. Rubbing his wrists, Napoleon watched while the man fumbled with Illya's shackles. He hid another grin as he realized Ferret's problem -- the cuffs had clearly been put on Illya while his hands were behind him. Trust his contortionist partner to rearrange the situation to his own liking. Napoleon exchanged an amused glance with Illya over Ferret's bent head.
As soon as Illya's cuffs came off, Ferret snapped another manacle onto his right wrist. He attached the other cuff to Napoleon's left wrist, leaving a short length of chain dangling between the two men -- more than in normal handcuffs, but not long enough to offer much slack.
"What's this?" Napoleon asked with an air of unconcern so practiced he almost believed it himself, as Illya lifted his right arm to examine the shackle more closely.
"Solo and Kuryakin." Parker handed the Kalashnikov back to Ferret. "Kuryakin and Solo. A pair. It wouldn't do to break up the set, now would it?" He jerked his chin toward the far door and Ferret and the thug herded Napoleon and Illya in the indicated direction, Parker trailing behind. "Now, you see, I can safely deliver you both to the man Thrush Central is sending down to collect you, in return for enough money to complete my little project."
They were poked and prodded into a dingy old station wagon, with more malicious jabs from Ferret's AK-47 than Napoleon thought were warranted. Parker leaned in the open door to smile brightly at them. "We're going to go for a little ride, and you two aren't going to cause any trouble, are you?" He produced a vicious little pistol and laid the muzzle lovingly on the bridge of Napoleon's nose. "Because, I guarantee, if either one of you happened to get shot, his corpse would prove... something of a burden to the other. Wouldn't you say?"
Neither man responded -- Illya sat stonefaced next to Napoleon, who merely blinked, trying not to cross his eyes at the shining metal which sat so squarely between them. Parker laughed, a high childish giggle, and withdrew both himself and the gun, plopping down in the front seat. Ferret commandeered the driver's seat and the goon climbed into the back.
Illya immediately slid over, his thigh pressing firmly against Napoleon's. A quick glance across his partner explained the move. Napoleon wouldn't have been comfortable sitting up against the muzzle of a machine gun either. He scooted over and let Illya lean against him.
Napoleon watched idly out the window as the scenery flickered past. The fact that Parker was making no effort to prevent the U.N.C.L.E. agents from seeing enough to direct a demolition team to his hideout was not at all heartening. Nor was the projected meeting with a man from Thrush Central. Whoever he turned out to be, he'd have more men and more guns, and be more serious about the business of delivering two top U.N.C.L.E. agents to Thrush's interrogation rooms, than a loose cannon like Parker. If they couldn't escape before that meeting, their chances dropped to almost nothing.
Illya prodded him in the ribs and, with a flick of the eyes, directed Napoleon's gaze to a point of genuine interest in the passing scenery. The road wound along a riverbank, following its sweeping twists and turns. As he watched, the road slowly began to climb, leaving the river below, but not behind. He took their course in, and met Illya's gaze with a tiny nod of understanding.
Lady Luck was with them. The car pulled into a scenic overlook before they had risen too far from the river's side. A large black sedan was already parked in the turnout, two men in the requisite long overcoats leaning negligently against the hood. There were times Thrush agents seemed to think themselves stars in a particularly bad gangster movie.
The Thrush goon opened his door as soon as Ferret brought the car to a halt and slid out with unexpected dexterity for a man his size. The door was slammed shut before either agent had a chance to try anything, and the man jogged around the car to open Parker's door. Dave Parker headed for the car from Thrush Central, his gait an odd amalgam of arrogance and servility. Ferret followed close on his heels, leaving Illya and Napoleon in the tender care of the remaining thug.
The man jerked Napoleon's door open. "Awright, get outta there." Since the order was backed up by the snub nose of the man's machine gun, Napoleon shrugged and complied. It was surprisingly difficult to get out of the car without yanking on the chain which connected him to Illya.
Once they both stood in the dusty gravel, a vicious poke of the gun in Illya's ribs set their course toward the other car. When they came even with Parker, Napoleon stumbled suddenly, crashing into him and knocking him back into Ferret. In the confusion, one of Solo's hands dipped into Parker's coat. Illya felled the machine-gun toting goon with a well placed kick, and snapped the pistol out of the hand of the last trenchcoated Thrushman.
The turnout was edged with a rock wall about a foot and a half high, and the river -- as they had seen from the road on the way up -- was a sheer, but short, drop. It took five seconds to reach the edge. Long enough for their opponents to recover their wits and their weapons. A shot sheered past Napoleon's head as he leapt up on the wall, Illya dragging only slightly on his left hand. They must have made superlative targets, silhouetted with only blue sky as a backdrop.
Yes, Lady Luck was with them, and a cruel mistress she was. Shots ricocheted off the stone at their feet. Illya's hand closed on Napoleon's wrist in a painful grip, and they leapt into space.
The river wasn't all that far below. The water hit Napoleon with a slap and sucked him under. He fought for the surface, his only thought the certainty that if he let it take him, he'd drag Illya down as well. The current pulled one way, the water another, and the iron hand on his arm a third. He followed the latter, and surfaced a hundred yards downstream, gasping for breath.
The turnout, along with their Thrush captors, was already out of sight behind them. Illya helped keep Napoleon afloat as they let the river sweep them away. Downstream -- the powerful current dashing them along, over rapids and into rocks, the water chilling them to the bone. And the iron links of the cuffs keeping them together through it all. Napoleon swallowed a veritable ocean of water before Illya battled them to shore.
Coughed up by the river on a rocky beach, Napoleon coughed the river up in turn. Illya obligingly pounded him on the back a few times, then settled crosslegged next to him and began to inspect the cuff on his wrist.
"That was fun," Napoleon managed finally, slicking his bangs back off his forehead. "What do we do for an encore?"
"You're asking me?" Illya arranged a link of chain on a large stone, picked up a rock, and struck the metal with calculated precision. Then he lifted the chain to eye the barely perceptible scratch. "Interesting."
Napoleon irritably retrieved his hand, along with the chain Illya had been looking at. "Is it?"
"New alloy." Illya fingered the cuff where it joined the chain. "We're not going to be able to break or cut through this."
"Are you saying I'll have to go through life with you dangling on the other end?" Napoleon made an effort to smile. "That could get awkward on dates."
Illya scowled, but his heart clearly wasn't in it. "Could you be serious for once? I'm sure U.N.C.L.E. has something in the lab which will serve."
"Good. Let's go."
"It may not be quite that easy."
"Is it ever?" Napoleon pushed wearily to his feet and offered Illya a hand up. He absently reached to straighten a shirtcuff, then grimaced as he remembered the gesture was woefully out of place under the circumstances.
The amused gleam in Illya's eyes made it clear he'd noticed the aborted move. "Your usual suit would never have survived that," he remarked calmly, flipping his damp bangs out of his eyes with a practiced jerk of his head.
"Small consolation," Napoleon decreed, making a show of studying his own clothing with disgust. A plain denim shirt and jeans, with heavy leather work boots to complete the ensemble. The whole matching Illya's, and all soaked through and through.
"Neither of us could have penetrated Parker's defenses in the usual suit and tie," Illya pointed out.
"Given how that turned out..." Napoleon picked a direction and began walking, the chain forcing Illya to follow. As it was the only direction away from the river and downstream from their erstwhile captors, his compliance was guaranteed in any case. A half dozen squelching steps later, Napoleon had a few choice words to say about his boots.
"Good protection for your feet," Illya said serenely, passing Napoleon, but only by the length of the chain.
"Yeah, and great at dragging me under in the river, too."
Illya pretended to ignore Napoleon's complaining; in turn, Napoleon cast about for wilder and wilder things to grumble about. The routine reassured them both. If Napoleon could complain, and Illya could look disgusted, then things couldn't be all bad.
"Any idea where the nearest phone is?" Napoleon asked after a while. Illya only gave him a look, without slackening his stride one iota. The pace was grueling, but both men knew they had to get as far away from the river, and Parker, as possible. With Thrush Central breathing down his neck, Parker was hardly likely to give up easily.
As Illya had demonstrated a talent for finding the most accessible path up the rocky slope, he continued in the lead. Napoleon kept close on his heels, walking abreast wherever possible. However, most of the time, he found himself behind the other man. On one such occasion, he glanced up from eyeing the uncertain footing to notice how the handcuff rode Illya's narrow wrist, and the angry pink of the skin underneath. Without thought, he took Illya's hand in his own, the cuffs lying slack against their wrists. Illya turned his head to glance briefly at Napoleon, but said nothing.
They both heard the train at the same time. The whistle was distant, but approaching fast. Illya pointed to a cut some fifty feet above them where the tracks passed, shadowing the river. Napoleon grimaced, but picked up the pace, and they reached that section of track about the same time the train did.
The slope steepened sharply at that point, forcing the train to slow, and both agents were able to get their hands on the iron rungs of the ladder which skirted the front of a passing freight car. The car swayed alarmingly, and Napoleon made very sure not to look down at the slope which dropped steeply away beneath their dangling feet. Illya leaned out to force the lock, fighting to slide the door open enough to squirm through. The iron chain pulled taut between them until Napoleon released the ladder and dived through the door. They lay on the floor in a jumbled heap, panting, shaking with the adrenaline rush.
"What are you planning to top that one?" Napoleon asked, once he'd regained some of his breath.
Illya sat up and sorted himself out, sitting almost primly next to Napoleon's sprawled limbs, his knees tucked up under his chin, arms wrapped around his legs. His eyes glittered mischievously at Napoleon in the scattered light from the open door.
"Did you have a better idea?" he asked finally.
"I swear you're enjoying this," Napoleon groaned, hauling himself to his feet and dragging Illya along. He dared a quick glance out the open door and shook his head at the dizzying passage of countryside before sliding the door closed on rumbling hinges. The noise of the train lessened considerably.
"We're not injured or dead," Illya pointed out reasonably. "We're not guests of Thrush."
"True." Napoleon wrapped his arms around himself, unintentionally yanking Illya's right arm, and gave a great shiver. "God, I'm cold."
"We should stay on the train for a while." Illya gingerly retrieved his hand and led Napoleon to the dozen or so crates stacked in the rear of the car. "Give Parker time to give up."
"He won't," Napoleon predicted. He helped Illya release the tarpaulin tied over the crates and flip it off the stack. "And it won't take them long to figure out we might have hopped a train." They spread the heavy canvas on the floor, and crawled onto the makeshift bed.
"Which is why we have to get off someplace the train doesn't stop." Illya pulled one side of the canvas over his shoulder and rolled, settling securely against Napoleon.
"I can't wait," Napoleon grimaced. He hauled up the other side of the tarp, cocooning them in the musty fabric.
Illya only grinned in the dim light. He draped himself against
Napoleon's right side, the length of chain coiling on Napoleon's chest
where Illya's right hand curled into a loose fist. Slowly, the
involuntary shivers faded and, even in their clammy, river-soaked
clothes, they grew warm.
Napoleon woke from a fitful doze when the train slowed. The whistle blasted its warning, long drawn out cries for attention, then fell silent as the train picked up speed again. The car was dark, the blackness absolute.
Illya stirred, raising his head from its warm nest in the crook of Napoleon's neck. Silently, they untangled themselves, and made an effort at returning the tarpaulin to its previous state. The door slid open easily, the wind raised by the train's passage striking chill fingers at clothes still damp from their dunking. Outside, the dark countryside passed in a shapeless rush.
It was Napoleon who first saw the lights in the distance, well away from the tracks. Enough for a small town. Enough for their purposes.
Getting off wasn't as easy as getting on had been. Although the train wasn't moving at top speed, inky countryside sped by outside the open door, and it was impossible to tell where they might land. Napoleon barely made out Illya's shrug in the faint moonlight. One invisible foot of ground was as good as any other. Napoleon took Illya's hand in his own, gave it a squeeze for good luck, and they jumped.
They hit and rolled, letting the force of the blow disperse in continuing momentum. The tumble was practiced, but they'd never before done it while chained together. Napoleon bit back a cry as the chain cruelly wrenched his wrist. But they landed on soft ground, relatively speaking, and nothing was broken or badly damaged. After a few minutes of shaken recovery, they slowly stumbled to their feet.
The moon had more effect out here in the open, and something could be made of the shadows. Napoleon eyed Illya in the moonlight, scanning his partner's disheveled body for any sign of injury, and caught Illya doing the same. He took Illya's shoulder in his free hand and gave it a quick squeeze, delighting in the warm solidity under his hand. All was well; they'd survived one more hurdle.
The lights they had seen from the train were several miles distant from the tracks, as the crow flies. Though the path Napoleon and Illya took was of necessity somewhat more rambling than that -- detouring around uncertain ground, taking the path of least resistance -- they reached the town in less than an hour.
Street and porch lights cast long soft shadows across the roads, forming pools of light and deep wells of darkness. They kept to the shadows and off the street, slipping silently through the sleeping town. They finally found a pay phone, sandwiched between a movie theater and a mom and pop restaurant. Napoleon stooped and picked up a small stone from the sidewalk and handed it to Illya. As accurate with the primitive weapon as he was with a gun, Illya spun the rock up into the nearby streetlight, smashing the bulb with a faint tinkle of glass. Their part of the street newly dark, they both crowded into the small booth.
However, Illya laid a hand on Napoleon's arm when he went to lift the receiver. "It may not be safe."
"Are you suggesting this phone could be tapped? A little out of the way for Thrush, don't you think?"
"No, but the phone at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters might be. Or worse."
"This is a little paranoid, even for you," Napoleon responded automatically, though Illya's very serious concern was starting to get to him. The Russian sighed and glanced away, then back.
"When I was Parker's guest, I... heard things. Overheard, actually."
"What kind of things?" Napoleon prompted.
"Didn't it occur to you that you were captured too easily?"
"Maybe. And maybe they knew you were coming."
"A Thrush plant in U.N.C.L.E.?"
"It wouldn't be the first time."
Napoleon sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. "So we bypass the local office and call headquarters in New York."
Illya shook his head.
"Then we buck channels and call Mr. Waverly's direct line."
Illya was silent.
"You're not serious. If it went up that high, U.N.C.L.E. would already be a faint memory."
"Let's just be careful, all right?" Illya slipped his hand into Napoleon's again. It was a welcome reminder that no matter the circumstances, they stuck together. Even without the added... encouragement of the handcuffs.
Napoleon lifted the receiver and spent several minutes convincing the operator that his long distance collect call would be accepted, if only she'd put it through. It was answered on the second ring.
Napoleon closed his eyes, a familiar sense of relief washing through him at the sound of that gruff voice. Illya elbowed him in the ribs, and his eyes flew open. He pantomimed slapping his partner upside the head, receiving a faint grin in response. He tipped the receiver so Illya could listen in on both sides of the conversation.
"Mr. Solo? Where are you?"
"I'm afraid we've run into a few problems."
"You've missed your last five check-ins and Mr. Kuryakin has missed twelve. What's going on?"
"We were guests of Thrush temporarily."
"Give me your location, and I'll have the local office send someone out to pick you up."
"Ah, Arizona. Other than that, I'm afraid I'm not quite certain of our location, sir."
"I'll get it from the operator, then. Just stay put, Mr. Solo. Someone will be there shortly." The connection closed with a sharp click, and Napoleon returned the receiver to the cradle.
Illya shrugged. "We wait and see." He wrestled the door open and slid out. "From over there."
Napoleon followed Illya's gesture, taking in the two story building across the street. The top of it, to be precise. "After a crash course in cliff diving, a swim, a hike, running for a train, and jumping off of it again, followed by a cross country trek in the dark, you expect me to navigate an ancient fire escape?"
Napoleon sighed dramatically, but he followed willingly enough, and it was easier to reach the roof than it looked. The breeze was stronger up there, and Napoleon appreciated the warmth of Illya's back against his own. They sat on the flat roof in silence, each watching his own end of the street to see who answered their call. They didn't have long to wait.
Two cars, headlights doused, pulled up in front of the theater from opposite directions. A classic pincher movement, unnecessary for a simple pick up. Sure enough, the shape of the machine guns carried by the half-dozen men who spilled out of the cars was familiar. As was the high pitched clicking noise of Thrush-issue night scopes.
Napoleon and Illya melted away from the edge of the roof. In minutes, they had descended the fire escape on the far side and slid into the darkness, running silently. Napoleon drew them to a halt six blocks away. The Thrush cars were between them and the train tracks which passed several miles outside of town. Even if they could reach them, they couldn't rely on a train passing in good time, nor could they risk hopping a train again. It wouldn't take Parker long to figure out how they'd gotten from the riverside to the small town. Another form of transportation was necessary.
"Napoleon?" Illya said quietly.
He pointed. They were already on the outskirts of town, on a narrow road with dark buildings on one side, and farmland on the other. As they watched, unseen in the shadows, a stocky man in faded overalls finished changing a flat tire. He threw the jack into the bed of his pickup and pulled the tarp back over the contents. Task finished, he braced his hands in the small of his back and stretched lazily, then wandered a little off the road to water a bush.
When he continued on his way, his truck was heavier by the addition of two desperate men.
"Another tarp," Napoleon muttered, sotto voce.
"You have only yourself to blame this time," Illya countered softly. He helped Napoleon secure the fabric as they rumbled down the road. "Wonder where he's going."
"To market, I guess." Napoleon poked something unidentifiable with the toe of his boot, then decided he didn't want to know. "Phew! Smells awful."
Illya didn't dignify that with a response, and Napoleon fell silent. It hardly mattered where the man was going, or with what. It would keep them out of Thrush hands. Both agents would have stowed away on a truck full of manure if it got them past their pursuers.
The ride was rough, and they didn't try to talk, concentrating instead on merely surviving largely unbruised. The situation was grim, and there would be time enough once they were in a more secure location to discuss their options.
The truck finally stopped again just before dawn. They froze as the driver swung his door open and jumped out, his boots crunching over gravel. But he walked in the other direction, his footsteps receding into silence. Breathing a shaky sigh of relief, Napoleon risked lifting the front corner of the tarp just enough to see out past the cab in the pale morning light.
A weatherbeaten diner crouched at the other end of an uneven parking lot, the sign "Open All Night" blinking fitfully in one grubby window. Though there were several large trucks in the lot, there appeared to be no one around. Not, at least, outside the restaurant. Napoleon tapped Illya on the shoulder, and they slid cautiously out of the truck bed and into the high grass which bordered the tiny oasis.
Once hidden from both the diner and the road, Napoleon plopped down in the soft grass, Illya perforce following. They lay there for a moment, both enjoying the simple cessation of movement.
"You think we should leave a note?" Napoleon asked after a moment. Illya cocked an eyebrow at him and he continued, smiling. "'Advice from your cargo: get new shocks'?"
"Howabout just 'thanks for the ride'?" Illya brushed dirt off Napoleon's sleeve. Napoleon wiped a smudge off Illya's nose.
They simply looked at each other for a moment, before they started laughing. Neither the jokes nor the situation deserved the level of hilarity, but relief fueled their laughter. Things would be deadly serious again soon enough, but for now they were free and clear.
Finally, Napoleon made an effort to control his laughter, and Illya's chuckles petered off beside him. Silence settled slowly back around them, unbroken by any sound of activity from the diner. Even the nearby road retained the quiet, without the roar of passing cars. Too early yet.
Napoleon sat up and ran his right hand through his hair, trying without much luck to restore order. Illya watched for a moment, then sat up and shook his head vigorously. The blond hair fluffed out endearingly, then settled down into a semblance of its normal style, which Illya completed with a few pats. Napoleon sighed.
Of one mind, they rose and began walking north, keeping the road in sight, but not so near they couldn't vanish completely before an approaching driver spotted them. After about a dozen strides, Napoleon took Illya's hand in his own. Though it felt very odd to hold Illya's hand, the gesture prevented the cuff from scraping against his already raw wrist. He felt Illya's other fingers lightly touch the angry abrasion, and that was it. They walked in silence for a while.
"Getting back to New York won't be easy," Illya said after a time, picking up a discussion that hadn't truly been started, except in their minds. After years as partners, they thought so much alike that the comment wasn't startling.
"Thrush can't watch everywhere, but with these cuffs we risk getting picked up by every pennyante sheriff." Napoleon didn't need to look at his partner to know what he was thinking.
They both knew how grave their situation was. It was impossible to tell how wide a net Thrush had cast for them, or for how long the effort would be maintained. They couldn't count on U.N.C.L.E. for assistance, not without knowing who was still trustworthy. Independently, they had both arrived at the conclusion that they had to assume at least one person could still be trusted. Illya's comment assured Napoleon that his partner tacitly agreed Mr. Waverly was that person. The fiasco of their first attempt at calling in could easily have been orchestrated by anyone from the U.N.C.L.E. operator to the local office head. For the moment, they had to believe it wasn't set up by Waverly himself. Getting directly to him without going through any U.N.C.L.E. channels, however, was going to prove difficult.
The roadsign said Farmington was only a couple of miles off. They glanced at each other and picked up the pace. Food, supplies and a little rest, in that order, then picking up another means of transportation. All they had to do was get in and out without attracting attention.
Their first break came at a hotel just outside of town. The parking lot was in the back, and all the residents were still abed. A quick perusal of the cars in the lot netted the unlocked passenger door of a Ford sedan. The backseat yielded a trenchcoat, the glove compartment a pair of sunglasses and a penknife, and Illya swiped a safety pin from its necessary task of holding up the fuzzy dice.
They snuck past a dozing attendant into the none-too-clean men's room of a gas station down the road to make themselves presentable. Or at least unexceptionable.
While Napoleon washed his face and slicked down his rioting hair, Illya slit the right sleeve of the coat from the wrist through the underarm to six inches down the side seam with the penknife. Both men's tasks were made more difficult by the restriction of the cuffs, which made it necessary to "share" hands. Illya was able to wriggle into the altered coat by pulling the split armhole over his head. Napoleon helped him straighten it up, wrap the ruined sleeve around his arm and secure it at the wrist with the safety pin. The result was surprisingly effective, the alterations all but invisible to the casual viewer.
Well, perhaps not that good, but it would have to do. With any luck, their act would be good enough to distract anyone they dealt with.
"Why do I have to play the helpless one?" Illya demanded while Napoleon made the finishing touches.
"Because I've got my right hand free." Napoleon brushed and tugged at his own clothing, trying to look less like he'd taken an impromptu swim fully clothed, then slept in the back of a farm truck. "And someone's going to have to sign the credit slips."
"Just whose credit card do you plan on using?" Illya asked, submitting with poor grace to Napoleon's attempt to put his clothing to rights as well.
With a grin, Napoleon pulled a fancy brown leather wallet out of his back pocket. He flipped it open to show the driver's license. "I picked Parker's pocket when I ran into him." He flipped through it quickly. "About a hundred dollars in cash -- slightly damp -- and a credit card." He shoved forty dollars in cash into his front pocket and returned the wallet to the back pocket.
Illya grinned back and produced a thick wad of cash. "Chris Ferret doesn't believe in banks," he remarked, with a hint of teasing in his voice.
"Now when did you do that?"
"When he was trying to take off my handcuffs." The money disappeared back under the coat. Napoleon whistled appreciatively. It's no mean feat to pick a man's pocket with two -- no, make that three; Napoleon himself had been watching -- witnesses.
"Best use the credit cards wherever we can. Conserve the cash for later." Napoleon pulled the sunglasses out of his breast pocket and handed them to Illya. "Ready?"
"Huh?" Confused, Napoleon watched as Illya's cheeks took on a faintly pink tinge.
"I have to... ah..." he jerked his head in the general direction of the toilet.
"So do I, actually," Napoleon realized with a start. Agents' training -- go when you can, and forget about it when it's inconvenient. "Well, go on."
"I need my hand, Napoleon."
It was Napoleon's turn to blush a little at the direct reminder. He obligingly moved closer, so Illya could take up the slack on the chain. Illya unzipped his pants and stood over the toilet.
"Something wrong?" Napoleon asked, perhaps a little maliciously, after a moment.
Illya sighed. "I'm not exactly used to an audience."
"Sorry." Napoleon ostentatiously turned his back, stifling a grin. His amusement deepened when it became clear that there wasn't enough slack on the chain for him to turn his back without leaning against Illya. Nonetheless, after a moment, he heard Illya relieving himself, then the sound of his zipper.
"Your turn," Illya informed him unnecessarily.
A few minutes later, it was Illya's turn to grin. While less inhibited than his partner, Napoleon found it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand with Illya's warm body pressed up against his side. Finally, however, he finished his business and they were ready to get on their way.
Napoleon adjusted the dark shades over Illya's nose, gave the bridge an affectionate tap, then stuck his head out of the bathroom door. The coast was clear, the attendant still asleep, and he led Illya out as if they presented the same appearance as when they went in.
In only a few minutes, they were in the city proper, and encountering people on the sidewalk. It was still before eight a.m., and the foot traffic was sparse, but it was an effort to keep their heads up and not look furtive. With Napoleon's hand tucked up under Illya's elbow as if to guide him, the chain remained out of sight under the split sleeve of the coat. They could have used a few more safety pins to prevent the sleeve from gaping, but all in all, other than being disheveled, they presented a relatively normal picture. Certainly no one seemed to look twice.
Napoleon tipped his head at the Greyhound bus pulling in at the station as they walked past, receiving a tiny nod from Illya in reply. They turned at the next corner, and walked three blocks before they found a five and dime.
With no one else in the store so early, the clerk bustled up to them immediately. She was middle-aged, and not unattractive. Napoleon smiled warmly at her.
"Good morning, ah... Susan," he read her name off her pin. "My name is Michael Simon, and this is my cousin, Jeremy."
"Good morning." She took his proffered hand and he, in turn, held hers just a fraction of a second longer than warranted. He watched the color mount warmly to her cheeks and his smile broadened a touch.
"Pleased to meet you," Illya chimed in, no trace of an accent discernible in his voice. His shuttered gaze seemed to be aimed just a little bit over her left shoulder, and she looked momentarily disconcerted before her expression subtly changed to sadness flavored by pity. Well played, Illya, Napoleon thought proudly as the clerk's eyes returned to him with new determination.
"How may I help you, Mr. Simon?"
There -- a touch of the Solo charm, and the Kuryakin deviousness, and she was ready to assist them personally. "Michael, please," he corrected her gently. "My cousin and I are taking the bus back home. We have a long stop over here before starting the next leg. But, of course, you're familiar with the local schedule."
She smiled brightly and nodded briskly. "You must have just come in on the Greyhound from Los Angeles."
"Precisely," he nodded his approval. "I'm afraid we've only just discovered that our luggage was misplaced somewhere back in California. We thought we'd take advantage of the break to pick up a few necessities..."
"Oh my, how unfortunate!" she breathed sympathetically. "I'm sure we can help you out. What did you think you'd need?"
"Just the basics, Susan," Napoleon assured her. "And some sort of bag to carry them in."
"I know just the thing." She brightened visibly at the chance to help, and led them briskly off down an aisle. Within minutes, she was putting a dark navy canvas carryall into Napoleon's hands.
"Perfect," he praised, "and... toiletries?"
She hovered while Napoleon perused the shampoo, wholly invested in fulfilling their every need. After a moment, Illya cleared his throat.
"Is that coffee I smell?"
"Oh yes! I just put a pot on in the cafe before opening up. Would you like a cup?"
"Actually, some food would be nice." Illya ignored Napoleon's subtle nudge.
"I'm afraid the cafe isn't open for breakfast yet," she said sorrowfully.
"Sorry, Jeremy. We'll just have to wait until the next city to eat." Napoleon barely prevented himself from grimacing at the intercession of Illya's bottomless stomach. He was hungry too, but not enough to risk taking too much advantage of Susan's sympathy.
"Perhaps..." she hesitated, though clearly her warm heart had been touched. "The cook isn't in yet, but perhaps I could put something together for you. It wouldn't be fancy; just sandwiches."
"Anything would be wonderful," Napoleon assured her. "We haven't eaten since yesterday."
"Oh, you poor dears." She was already headed for the back. "I'll be right back with some sandwiches and coffee."
"Do you always have to think with your stomach?" Napoleon hissed once she was out of earshot.
"Do you always have to think with your... oof," Illya broke off when Napoleon elbowed him again, harder this time. He grinned sunnily at his irritated partner. "Did you really want her seeing some of the things we need to pick up?"
"Might be hard to explain," Napoleon agreed. He sighed. "All right. Can we get on with it before she gets back?"
They made quick work of the shopping. Napoleon piled acceptable travel necessities, and a few luxuries, into the bag while Illya secreted a variety of questionable items in the capacious pockets of his overcoat. At all times, at least one of them kept watch for Susan's return. Shopping and pilfering took longer than it would have if they could have split up, but they had still accomplished their task before she reappeared. Napoleon had a few moments to consider the consequences of getting caught shoplifting. Somehow, he doubted Mr. Waverly would be amused at the headlines: "U.N.C.L.E. agents nabbed in petty theft." He almost smiled before remembering that Thrush would put an end to any such story, by doing away with two U.N.C.L.E. agents turned petty thieves, before it ever got to print.
"Here you are," Susan returned with a flourish, carrying a brown paper bag and a thermos, and accompanied by a savory smell. "It's not much, but it's filling."
"However can we thank you?" Napoleon smiled warmly. He accepted the bag and thermos from her, handing it over to Illya, whose slight awkwardness in accepting the burden with his left hand could easily be excused by his pretense of blindness. Napoleon put the carryall up on the counter and watched as Susan rung up the purchase. He let his fingers slip over her palm as he handed her the money, and gazed intently at her as she counted up his change.
"E-enjoy your trip," she stammered, flustered by his warm regard. Her eyes followed them out the door and onto the street outside.
"Laying it on a little thick, weren't you?" Illya murmured, once out on the sidewalk.
"Behave," Napoleon admonished, leading him down the street, his "guiding" arm actually nudging a reminder for Illya to walk a little less surely. "Did you want to answer questions about where we were going and when our bus left?"
Illya's disbelieving snort was as eloquent as it was inelegant. Napoleon only shook his head, fighting a grin. It was a testament to their friendship that they were able to forget for even a moment just how dangerous their situation was.
They walked back past the bus station, detouring inside to consult the departure timetable posted next to the restroom before continuing. The motel they finally stopped at was almost halfway across town. Though the exterior was unprepossessing, the motel had rooms available on the second floor, solid doors with effective locks, and a manager who wasn't overly picky about his clientele as long as they paid in cash.
The room, at the far end of the second floor hall, was small but relatively clean. Illya locked the door and helped Napoleon drag the chair over and brace it under the knob. The window looked out over a fifteen foot drop to the ground. It was secure, if not precisely safe. Napoleon desperately missed his gun.
The bathroom was minuscule, which was just as well, as the manacles would have prevented them from taking advantage of more spacious facilities. Illya pulled a bottle of baby oil out of his coat pocket.
"First things first." He uncapped the bottle. Holding his right wrist over the sink, Illya poured a generous quantity of oil over and around the handcuff. Napoleon watched as his partner tried to drag the cuff over his hand. Wincing, he reached out and stopped Illya when it became immediately clear that the effort could only tear up his wrist.
"It's those large hands of yours." Napoleon slid the cuff back into place and gently rubbed the red crease at the base of Illya's thumb. Illya's skin felt extraordinarily silky through the mask of oil. He turned the water on and tugged Illya's hand under it to wash off the oil. "I think we're stuck with each other." They'd already determined that the cuff on Napoleon's wrist was too tight for any chance of success. Napoleon smiled at Illya and retained his partner's hand until he got a faint smile in return.
Napoleon rummaged through the carryall, pulling out soap, shampoo, shaving cream and a safety razor while Illya fished the rest of the pilfered items out of his coat pockets. A knife, safety pins and scissors went into the bag, bandages, peroxide, antibiotic ointment, and a package of hair dye went on the counter. Napoleon blinked at that last.
"I... ah... didn't see you hide this one away." He picked up the box. Black.
Illya was unconcernedly stripping down, his pragmatism now a stark contrast to his modesty in the gas station bathroom. He dropped his discarded clothes in a pile against the bathroom door, pulled his shirt over his head and pushed it down his right arm and over the cuff to dangle from the chain like washing from an extremely short clothesline.
"Thrush could have agents anywhere." Illya took the hair dye from Napoleon and scanned the instructions on the back. "They have certainly distributed our descriptions widely by now. And this," he gave his shiny blond locks a brisk tug, "tends to stand out."
Napoleon opened his mouth before realizing he had nothing to say. He tried to imagine Illya with black hair and failed miserably. He felt a sharp pang, a strange sensation of loss, and almost told Illya not to do it. Instead, he watched dumbly as Illya worked a rubber glove onto his left hand.
"Why don't you take the first shower," Illya suggested absently without looking up. "This is going to take a bit."
"Ah...?" Napoleon gestured vaguely at Illya's naked body.
"I don't want to get dye on my clothes, Napoleon," Illya scolded, impatient at having to state the obvious.
Silently, Napoleon shook his head and started pulling off his clothes. He dropped them in the pile with Illya's and slipped his shirt off to join Illya's on the handcuff chain. In an effort to keep their shirts dry, he bundled the material into a plastic bag and tied it tight around the chain at the top. For a moment, he watched Illya matter-of-factly applying black goop to his bright hair. The sight was oddly disconcerting.
They climbed into the shower together, Illya still messing around one-handed with the dye. Napoleon silently helped him with the final touches: catching that last lock of blond at the nape of his neck which persisted in escaping the dye, very carefully dabbing a tiny amount of the liquid on Illya's arching eyebrows. Napoleon backed up quickly when he was done, retreating to the end of the chain. Disconcerting indeed.
The water was hot, and should have been soothing. Napoleon washed his hair one-handed, ill at ease with the familiar body sharing the cramped space. It wasn't that he'd never seen Illya naked before. He had. He'd even showered with him in the locker room. But there he had merely been in the same room. Here... here, he couldn't get farther than arm's length away. The truly disturbing thing was, he wasn't sure he wanted to.
Napoleon twisted to let the water beat on his face. He could feel Illya's eyes on him. Of course, what else could Illya look at while he waited out of range of the shower's spray for the dye to do its work? What else? Napoleon felt himself shiver in the hot spray. He ran a hand over his face and decided to shave later. Fighting the discomfort, Napoleon dawdled in the hot water until Illya nodded at him.
They changed places in the narrow tub. Napoleon shied instinctively when their bodies brushed.
"Watch it, Kuryakin," he covered quickly, "don't get any of that stuff on me."
Illya shot him a look -- half annoyed, half amused. When he stood under the spray, the water ran black down his body. Then grey. Napoleon watched Illya tilt his head back into the water, basking in the warmth. The pale skin slowly tinted pink. He blinked and looked away. But there wasn't anything else to look at.
"Lend a hand, will you?"
Napoleon blinked. Illya looked expectant, still trying to rinse the remainder of the dye from his hair. Napoleon shook himself and moved to help. The wet strands clung intimately to his fingers as he ran his right hand through the darkened locks. The water cascading off Illya's body finally ran clear, and the Russian turned off the taps. In the sudden silence, Napoleon stepped back and cleared his throat.
It was a good thing he was too tired to become aroused.
Shocked, Napoleon pulled the curtain with a sharp jerk and busied himself with a towel, looking everywhere but at his partner. Illya dripped in the tub a moment, absently pushing his hair back with his left hand. With a nearly silent growl, Napoleon tossed him a towel.
Illya used the cloth vigorously over his whole body, leaving his hair standing on end and his skin flushed a becoming pink. Ignoring his nakedness, Illya immediately went to the sink and ran the comb through his damp hair. Though it was impossible to tell for certain what the color would be when dry, dark it most definitely was. Napoleon had slowly regained his equilibrium while Illya was otherwise occupied. He waited until Illya had his hair combed to his satisfaction, then turned his partner toward him, taking the square jaw in his right hand and tipping Illya's head one way, then the other, as he studied him with a critical eye.
"Well, it's certainly different," he decided finally. "But if you expect this'll get less attention, you're going to be sadly disappointed." Illya's newly blackened eyebrows went up in skeptical query. "The blond may show up more from afar, but dark hair only makes your eyes stand out. Black Irish," Napoleon identified the look with a grin.
"Black Russian," Illya countered. He shrugged, and retrieved their shirts from the plastic bag. Napoleon pulled his on with a grimace -- the right sleeve was wet through in several places. He dug into the carryall and pulled out the packages of underwear and socks they'd purchased at the five and dime, tossing Illya clean articles of each. They shook out their jeans and hung them from the shower rod to air out a bit.
They quickly bandaged their wrists to prevent the cuffs from inflicting any more damage. The scrapes were minor, but they couldn't afford to risk getting blood on their clothing.
They sat on the bed in the dimmed light to unwrap their breakfast. The woman at the five and dime had been generous with the food.
"Turkey or roast beef?"
"Turkey," Illya responded without looking up from the apple he was slicing. The sandwiches disappeared fast. They passed the coffee back and forth between them, with only a few awkward moments when an unconsidered movement pulled at the chain.
Napoleon wiped his hands on a paper napkin and returned the remaining food to the bag for later while Illya licked off his fingers. He settled for leaving the bag on the floor, rather than rousting Illya off the bed. The Russian looked entirely too comfortable sprawled across the gaudy bedspread in his shirt and underwear. It wasn't cold in the room, but Napoleon wished fervently for his pants.
"A gun would be nice."
"The five and dime didn't have any," Illya responded, still staring at the ceiling. Napoleon was forced to smile. "Wouldn't help anyway," Illya added after a moment. He rolled to face Napoleon. "If Parker finds us, he'll come in with more than enough men to outnumber us."
"True. A gun would still be nice." They shared a look, joint acknowledgment that neither felt anything less than naked without a weapon.
"Sleep is also nice," Illya remarked after a moment, flopping back on the bed.
"Subtle. That's what I like about you." Napoleon climbed awkwardly in next to him and flipped the blanket over them both. The next bus headed in the proper direction wouldn't leave for hours. First rule of running: sleep when you can.
Even with the shades pulled, the sun infiltrated the hotel room and burnished everything to a soft glow. Napoleon yawned. He was so tired, the sun wouldn't prove a problem. And Illya, as he well knew, could sleep damn near anywhere.
Illya lay on his back on the left side of the bed, staring idly at the ceiling. Contrary to Napoleon's expectations, Kuryakin moved around restlessly, apparently unable to drop off. Every time he moved, the chain rattled, and occasionally tugged lightly at Napoleon's wrist. Napoleon was awfully close to snapping at his partner when Illya rolled once more and wiggled over to him.
He was surprised when Illya's head ended up on his shoulder. However, as neither of them wanted to pull on the handcuffs, it made sense to sleep close. Satisfied that Illya was finally getting serious about sleep, Napoleon closed his eyes against the light and tried not to think about the gun which wasn't under his pillow.
"What time do we need to be up?" Illya asked softly.
"Okay." Just like that, and better than any alarm clock. Napoleon would probably already be awake by then, but it was reassuring to know Illya would wake him if he wasn't.
They lay in silence for a while. Napoleon's muscles twitched randomly, adjusting slowly to inactivity as he tried to relax. He could feel the tension slowly seep from Illya's body in the slight movements of his partner's settling.
Illya yawned hugely. "Which one do you fancy yourself?" he asked, "Tony Curtis or Sidney Poitier?" He wiggled his right hand, shaking the chain with a soft clink.
It took Napoleon a moment. "Neither, if you don't mind. You watch too many movies."
"Tony Curtis, I think," Illya mumbled into Napoleon's shoulder, already drifting.
It was just as well he fell asleep before they could continue the absurd conversation, Napoleon considered. He settled in a little more comfortably, turning his face away from the window. The slight odor of hair dye tickled his nose, but he mentally brushed it aside and firmly ordered himself to sleep.
Despite his determination, sleep played tag with his mind, hovering elusively just out of reach. Strange. He wasn't uncomfortable. Quite to the contrary, in fact. It was nice lying here in the soft bed, the weight of Illya's head against his shoulder comforting. He thought vaguely that he'd be more comfortable with his arms around Illya, but if he wrapped his left arm around Illya's shoulders, the position would twist his partner's hand up behind his back. Napoleon wiggled eloquently under Illya. The somnolent man didn't seem to notice. Finally, with a sigh of frustration, Napoleon curled upright, picked Illya up, and shifted him to the other side. Illya lifted his head to look at him in confusion, but he gently pushed his partner's head back down to his shoulder and wrapped his free arm snugly around Illya's waist.
"There, that's better. Go to sleep."
"I was asleep, Napoleon."
"Then go back to sleep."
They caught a bus to Denver that evening.
The long coat fit Illya more snugly with safety pins strategically holding the sleeve in place. His hair had dried a lustrous black which more than bore out Napoleon's prediction, insofar as his eyes seemed to glow in contrast. Napoleon privately thought they'd be hard-pressed to keep the girls off if Kuryakin removed the dark glasses.
Parker's credit card paid for their bus fares. The driver
courteously loaded his "handicapped" passengers first, and Napoleon led
Illya to a window seat, placing himself on the aisle to ward off any
interest. It was a night trip, and the bus was only half full. They
took turns dozing through the hours, alternately keeping watch and
storing up sleep, like people stockpiling food in preparation for a
famine. In the dark, surrounded by drowsing passengers, there was no
one to notice that the hands of the blind man and his cousin were never
more than six inches apart.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Illya nudged Napoleon awake. Blinking dazedly, Napoleon lifted his head, vaguely aware he'd been sleeping with his cheek on Illya's shoulder.
"Denver," Illya murmured.
The rosy predawn light silhouetted a congregation of tall buildings, the only skyline like it in a radius of several states. Carrying its load of sleeping passengers, and two wide awake U.N.C.L.E. agents, the bus wended its way slowly into the city.
They were very cautiously not the first off the bus. Though half the passengers were going on, and continued to stubbornly drowse in their seats, a good dozen people got off. Napoleon and Illya waited for the first hasty people to disembark, then slipped out before the slower sleepy passengers made their way out. Carrying their overnight bag in one hand, the other under Illya's wrist, safely tucking the chain out of sight, Napoleon made a show of leading his friend into the terminal. Slipping quietly past friends and relatives who, having made the effort to traipse out to the Greyhound station just after dawn, joyously greeted the weary travelers.
No one was there to meet them, thank heavens. No one paid them the least attention.
Napoleon guided Illya through the terminal to a bank of pay phones located just outside the front entrance. The street was quiet -- only the occasional passing cab breaking the early morning hush. Unable to separate due to the manacles, they squeezed together into the phone booth, leaving the door ajar.
Illya turned sideways in the close confines of the booth, letting the handcuffs drag his right arm across his body, watching the open door and the street behind Napoleon. Napoleon's eyes flicked back and forth from the phone to the vista over Illya's shoulder. He dropped in the change from the five and dime and spoke quickly to the operator, his eyes never leaving their roving path.
The first conversation was quickly concluded. Napoleon repeated the information -- train schedules, fares, location of the Denver terminal -- aloud, so Illya's perfect memory could back up his own. Then he hung up and fed more money to the machine. The conversation with the operator was longer this time, and occasioned the sacrifice of even more change. Illya watched the street without moving his head, preserving the illusion of blindness; likewise, Napoleon's quick gaze took in the deserted sidewalk without seeming to do more than stare blankly ahead while waiting for his call to ring through.
In a moment, they were connected, and Napoleon tipped the handset enough that Illya could hear.
"Mr. Waverly's office," a brisk, efficient voice intoned.
"Hello, Sandy." Napoleon's tone was cheerful, unconcerned. "Is he in?"
"Mr. Solo! We're all awfully worried. Where are you?"
"Nowhere that wouldn't be improved by your presence," Napoleon flirted lightly. Illya made a face. "Is he in?" he asked again.
"Sorry, Napoleon. Mr. Waverly isn't available right now. If you give me your location, I can let him know as soon as he returns, and contact the local office in the meantime."
"Thanks, Sandy, but we'll get in touch with the local office ourselves. Take care." He hung up before she could respond.
"Amtrak?" Illya asked.
"Amtrak," Napoleon agreed.
They didn't take a cab. Denver's Union Station was less than a mile away, and they had a couple of hours before the train to Chicago left. Tails were easier to pick up when you were walking.
Activity in the cavernous room of Union Station was muted in the hour just after dawn. Though a couple dozen people waited for various trains, the early hour seemed to muffle voices and the sound of movement. Most of the station's denizens lounged listlessly in the wooden high-backed benches, or slept draped along them, their luggage crowding up against their make-shift beds.
Napoleon led Illya to the lunch counter opposite the main doors, and purchased coffee and muffins. There were no seats with clear views of the whole room, and none against the walls. The benches ran half the length of the room, with backs high enough to prevent even a tall man from looking over. They sat facing one set of street doors, turned slightly away from each other to maintain the largest field of surveillance.
"Hand over the money you swiped from Ferret," Napoleon directed softly.
Illya snorted. "Ran through Parker's money already? Napoleon, you are so spendthrift." His hand dipped into his pocket and emerged with a roll of bills, which disappeared instantly into Napoleon's pocket.
"I'm the one who's paid for everything so far, my thrifty Russian friend. That's not all of it."
"No. Someone has to watch the money."
Napoleon mock growled. "Quiet. Eat your breakfast."
"Whatever else this may be, Napoleon, it's not breakfast. Coffee and muffins simply doesn't qualify for the title."
Nonetheless, the much maligned coffee and muffins were consumed quickly. Their last meal had been the remainder of the food from the five and dime, eaten the previous night before they left the hotel room in Farmington.
Time passed slowly. The worst sort of time: jumping at every sound, planning for every conceivable contingency and knowing you could neither anticipate them all nor be prepared for them. Waiting.
"Denver," Napoleon said, after a time.
"Reno," Illya countered, unsurprised. Neither man looked away from his constantly roving surveillance.
"Ontario. California," he added when Illya remained disapprovingly silent.
"Austin." It was a simple word game, far less complicated than their usual Superghost, or Botticelli. But it was easy to play without diverting any attention from the task at hand. And it provided a minor distraction from brooding over unpredictable dangers.
"Kalamazoo." He grinned slightly at sticking Illya with another "O" city.
Illya growled and thought for a moment before firing the next salvo.
Activity slowly picked up as the day commenced with greater certainty. A perceptible increase in the noise level of the large room marked the opening of the ticket window. They waited for ten more minutes before wandering slowly over to purchase their tickets.
They didn't recommence the game after returning to their bench, each lost instead in his own thoughts. Napoleon couldn't have guessed what Illya was thinking about. His own mind worried fretfully at their situation, picking at the events which had led them to this point, shaking cautiously at their tentative plans with one eye cocked to see if anything fell out. Amtrak to Chicago. Then on to New York. Or another means of transportation, if one presented itself. Airplanes were out -- too much scrutiny, and too likely that Parker had operatives at every airport in the region. And once they reached New York, what then? It was possible to get to Mr. Waverly without going to headquarters, if one knew how. Napoleon knew how; he just hoped it wouldn't prove a mistake. Every so often, for a change of pace, his mind switched over to less comfortable topics.
Waking up with Illya sleeping on top of him in a dim hotel room, for one. Waking up aroused. Nothing unusual there, but he didn't usually wake up to another man's hard cock pressing against his stomach. Illya had been sleepy and nonchalant when he woke, kneeling up to stretch long and slow, unaware or unconcerned about how little his thin shorts did to disguise his arousal.
Napoleon shook himself vigorously and stood. Illya gave him an odd look, but followed easily enough. They slipped into the restroom and took care of business at the urinals as quickly as possible, before anyone else came in. No inconvenient modesty this time. Napoleon forced himself not to linger, or peek.
The tired man who had yawned as he filled their coffee cups had been replaced by a sleepy girl, who likewise yawned as she filled their order. Juice this time, more muffins. Also scrambled eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns, all in a little cardboard box. They returned to their bench.
The muffins went in the bag. The rest of their second breakfast disappeared in short order. This time, Illya looked more content with the fare. Second rule for men on the run: eat when the opportunity presents itself
Fifteen minutes later, the overwhelming noise of a train pulling in echoed through the bare stone walls of the station. The noise of the people who now filled the station rose in response -- people repacking overstuffed luggage, searching frantically for a misplaced ticket, saying goodbye to loved ones, waving, crying, smiling. Napoleon and Illya waited silently.
It took ten minutes for the train to jockey into its berth on the tracks nearest the station. Another ten minutes to let off passengers. Finally, it started boarding. They waited, watching the boarding travelers, and finally took their place near the end of the line. Was the man in the tan overcoat near the turnstile looking behind too often? Or maybe the chic lady in the flower print dress, who kept stopping and rummaging in her bag? No. The man in the overcoat turned once more and blew a kiss to a beautiful young lady standing tearfully near the wall. The lady in the dress pulled out a pair of glasses with a triumphant look, picked up her bag, and moved on.
They boarded the train.
They disembarked somewhat precipitously about twelve hours later, somewhere in Iowa.
It was Illya who spotted Chris Ferret from the observation lounge window. The Thrush man was walking up and down the platform during a rest stop, hands twitching nervously as he paced. In the harsh light, his sallow features were unmistakable.
There was no time to get off then; the train jolted into motion only a few moments later. They retreated from the lounge immediately, returning to their seats for a hurried, quiet conference.
The brochure Napoleon had picked up in Denver showed no further rest stops for hours. It was impossible to tell how long Ferret had been on the train, or how many men he had with him. If he was ignorant of their exact position, it was only a matter of time before he remedied the situation. There was no question, of course, that he was there for them. As Waverly himself had said many times: there was no such thing as coincidence.
There were two passenger cars ahead of the observation lounge, and three behind it. Napoleon and Illya were in the first car after the lounge. Ferret obviously wasn't in their car, which made the odds pretty much even that they would run into him whichever direction they picked. Staying put, however, wasn't an option. There had been a pay phone at the last rest stop, and there was little doubt, if indeed there had ever been any, that Parker and an army of Thrush henchmen would be waiting at the next stop.
"Back," Illya suggested, after they went over the situation for the second time. "Less chance of one of the regular passengers noticing anything." Napoleon shrugged. It was as good a reason as any. He grabbed their bag of meagre possessions and led the way.
Unfortunately, Lady Luck wasn't with them on this particular occasion. They got out of their own car just in time, apparently, because Ferret entered the second car back just as they were leaving it. He spotted Napoleon immediately, and lived up to his reputation by pulling his gun and taking a shot. Only the swaying of the train saved Napoleon from injury. The bullet buried itself in the front wall of the car two inches from his head.
Amid the screams of the passengers, Napoleon pushed Illya before him through the breezeway. No longer trying to hide the handcuffs, they raced through the car, compensating every fifth step for the rolling seesaw of the speeding train. They were down the stairs to the lower level before Ferret made it into the third car.
"Can you open the door?" Napoleon asked breathlessly as Illya investigated the locking mechanism. The next car was a baggage car, and there wasn't any access to it, either above or below. It wouldn't take Ferret more than a minute to figure out where they'd gone.
"Simple," Illya decreed. In a few seconds, the wind whipped in through the open door, tugging commandingly at Napoleon's clothes and snapping at the hem of Illya's coat.
It was pitch black outside.
"Haven't we been here before?" Napoleon joked weakly.
"No. There wasn't a gunman upstairs last time."
They shared a look. This time it was Illya who took Napoleon's hand. Solo took a tighter grip on the bag. He faintly heard Ferret clattering down the stairs before Illya pushed off, hauling them out into the blackness.
Their landing left a lot to be desired.
The ground slammed into Napoleon, blasting the breath out of his lungs and leaving him dizzy and disoriented. He vaguely felt the jerk and pull of the handcuffs as Illya tumbled to a halt beside him. The scream of the wind following the train sounded at once angry and forlorn.
Shaking his head to clear it, Napoleon quickly felt his way over to Illya. His partner lay still and silent, and there wasn't time to see if he was seriously injured. If anyone had seen them jump, or if Ferret played his cards right, the conductor would have to stop the train and return to check. They couldn't afford to be there when that happened.
With a grunt, Napoleon hoisted Illya's limp body over his left shoulder. The cuff pulled painfully at his wrist when he wrapped his hand around the back of Illya's thighs in a fireman's carry. Illya's right hand was pulled down behind his back by the shackles, but there was no help for it. In comparison, the bag hanging from his wrist was feather light.
By the faint light of the moon, Napoleon could make out a heavier blackness about ten feet back down the tracks. He scuttled quickly along the tracks until he came to the steep slope. The tracks were raised to allow something to pass underneath them. He slid down the slope, using his right hand to steady his faltering balance. If they'd jumped only a few seconds earlier, they'd have hit this gap, and fallen to their deaths.
It only took a minute to reach the bottom. The jagged rocks which scratched his supporting hand gave way to smoother rocks and fine dirt. Large smooth stones clattered under his feet. A dry creek bed.
It was tempting to duck under the tracks and take shelter in the dark hollow, hidden from the surface. However, though the Amtrak employees wouldn't think of looking here, Ferret most definitely would. Napoleon passed on through and out the other side, slipping as quickly and quietly as possible into the night on the opposite side of the tracks from where they had jumped. He didn't wait to see if any alarm had been raised.
The thin sliver of moon gave only enough light to make out vague shapes. For a time, it was safer to follow the creek bed, which at least provided something of its own path. Once he was out of immediate sight of the tracks, Napoleon paused and gently lowered Illya to the ground. A quick inspection revealed no broken bones, and a nice-sized goose egg on his head. His hair was tacky with blood.
Illya stirred and moaned when Napoleon slapped him lightly, but didn't awaken. There wasn't time to wait for him to come around on his own; Napoleon realized he'd have to carry him again. Now that he was traveling over flatter ground, he decided to forego the fireman's carry in favor of something which didn't strain so much on the handcuffs. Putting his right arm through the straps of the bag, he settled it on his shoulder before working out how to pick Illya up. He guided Illya's right arm across his body, and circled his left arm over Illya's head, effectively catching Illya in the loop of their joined arms. His left arm fit snugly under Illya's shoulders without the handcuff pulling. Sliding his right arm under Illya's knees, he stood, lifting Illya up to cradle against his chest. It was harder on his arms, but neither his nor Illya's wrists were being cut by the manacles, which was a distinct improvement.
The passage of time was difficult to gauge. It had been about nine at night when they leapt from the moving train -- already full dark and destined to remain that way for another eight or nine hours. The unrelenting dark, coupled with the strain of Illya's weight on his arms, and his anxiety about his partner's injury, confused his normally quite reliable time sense. It seemed like he walked for hours.
Illya stirred in his arms, and Napoleon hoisted him a little higher. He tilted his cheek to brush against the top of Illya's head, imagining the familiar gold flyaway which so annoyed his meticulous partner. Illya shifted again, murmuring something -- Napoleon only made out one word: train.
"What was that again?" he asked, without much hope of an answer.
"No more trains," Illya repeated clearly.
"Agreed." Napoleon smiled. He continued on another dozen steps before asking, "Do you think you can walk? My arms are getting tired."
"I'd rather not."
"I could get to like this."
"That's enough. Down you go!" But he was gentle in setting Illya back on his feet.
"Spoilsport," Illya muttered, a smile evident in his voice.
"Where are we going?" Illya swayed a little, and Napoleon steadied him with a hand at his elbow.
"Damned if I know," he answered lightly.
"You and your sense of direction," Illya responded promptly, shaking himself a little and moving away from Napoleon's support. "How did you ever get into U.N.C.L.E.?"
"I cheated," Napoleon responded blithely, and not at all accurately. But Illya laughed, which was the idea. "Now that you're awake and operating under your own power, we should get away from the stream bed," he remarked after a moment.
Luckily, the bank was short, and it wasn't too hard to climb out of the dry gulch. Illya immediately picked a direction and started out. Napoleon was only too happy to follow. After about a dozen steps, Illya paused, and held out his right hand. Napoleon put his hand in it and they continued.
Napoleon considered as they walked. The cuff on his wrist felt
a little slick, and he knew only some of it was his own blood. They'd
have to keep their hands out of sight until they could perform a little
first aid. But that wasn't the reason the feel of Illya's broad warm
hand in his own made everything so right. The night itself didn't seem
quite so black now that Illya was awake and once again walking
alongside him. Napoleon shifted his clasp, lacing his fingers with his
partner's. In the faint light, he saw Illya's head turn to regard him
silently, but his partner made no comment. The intimate meshing of
fingers continued unchallenged.
"Dublin," Napoleon responded automatically.
"You've used that one already."
"Damn." It was still dark. They still didn't know where they were, and Napoleon had just lost another game.
However, Lady Luck had once again turned her fair face their way. Before Illya could suggest another game, they stumbled across a road. Quite literally: the suddenness of smooth pavement under his feet caused Napoleon to stagger slightly.
As if to prove her sudden concern for them, Luck also saw to it that the road was large, well maintained and, with Her grace, used even at this time of night. They had only walked about a mile before headlights swept across the blackness.
"Thrush?" Illya hissed.
"In a VW bus? Besides," Napoleon turned and stuck out his thumb in a universally recognized gesture, "they've already seen us. Where are we going to go?" The van pulled slowly to a jerky halt about five feet beyond where they stood. "Lean on me," Napoleon murmured as the door slid open. "Try to look injured."
He ignored Illya's snort and walked slowly toward the van. Two men in the brightly colored mismatched clothes favored by the young were leaning out the open door.
"Hey, man, need a lift?"
"Yeah," Napoleon shouted, moderating his tone as they drew nearer, Illya leaning obviously on his left arm for support. "Our car ended up in a ditch about a mile back. We grabbed a few things," he lifted the bag slightly, "and started walking, but we sure could use a ride to the nearest city."
"There isn't anything down this road until we get to Des Moines." The driver leaned back to direct his comment out the door. "We can give you a lift that far."
"Great." Napoleon helped Illya to the door and climbed quickly up after him without removing his hand from his friend's elbow. Even these free-spirited types would question the handcuffs. "Thanks. You really saved our lives."
"No problem, man."
The door was pulled shut again and, with a lot of revving and sputtering, the van continued on its way. Aside from the driver and the two men who'd yanked the door shut, there were three other young people in the car, and one lump on the floor near the back which might be a fourth. There weren't any seats, other than the driver and passenger seats. Napoleon and Illya sat behind the driver with their backs against the wall.
"Your friend's hurt," one of the girls murmured softly, reaching out to lightly touch Illya's black, blood-matted hair.
"He hit his head when we went off the road," Napoleon explained quickly. A glance passed between them and Illya shifted about to lie curled on his side with his head in Napoleon's lap. The movement completely hid the chain, and discouraged them from questioning Illya directly. It wouldn't do for him to slip up and let his accent surface; that might provoke entirely too many questions. "I didn't realize there were deer in these parts," Napoleon continued, diverting attention. "One ran right across in front of the car. I guess I swerved too hard to avoid hitting it."
Sounds of wonder and concern were made. Someone started
telling a story about a near miss some friend of his had somewhere, and
general attention faded away from the strangers. Napoleon listened with
half an ear to the conversation, lulled by the movement of the van and
Illya's warm weight. He let the part of his mind which remained ever
alert to danger keep tabs on the situation, and dozed fitfully until
city lights began flickering at them through the windows.
"You know, for employees of a law enforcement agency, we're getting awfully good at stealing things."
"From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," Illya quoted in a schoolboy's singsong.
"Hush." Napoleon settled back more comfortably in the leather passenger seat of the sporty white Corvette they had "borrowed" in Des Moines. He absently watched Illya's highly competent hands on the wheel.
"You haven't been shy about using Parker's credit card," Illya pointed out without taking his eyes off the road.
"Stealing from Thrush is one thing, from innocents is something else entirely."
"You left money under the cash register at the grocery we broke into."
"Which reminds me -- when did you make yourself a lockpick?"
"On the bus." He canted a quick look at Napoleon. "You were sleeping."
"And you didn't tell me about it because..."
"It won't work on the cuffs anyway." Illya flicked another glance his way behind the dark glasses, now serving their usual function in the bright midday sun.
"Why not?" Napoleon yawned widely. The few hours of sleep they'd managed to catch in a moldering old motel hardly scratched the surface of his fatigue.
"New design. I've already looked at them. I'm not even sure how they lock, let alone how to pick them."
"We've graduated from petty theft to grand larceny in the course of a single day," Napoleon mused after a moment, returning to the original subject.
"Until he gets back from vacation, Mr.--" Illya flipped down the visor to read the name off the registration pinned there, "Jeremiah Frumple isn't going to miss his car." He flipped the visor back up and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Why in the world would a man with a name like 'Jeremiah Frumple' own a white Corvette?"
"Probably because his name's Jeremiah Frumple."
"At any rate, either we'll have it back to him by then, or we won't be in a position to care."
"That's what I like about you, Illya -- you're always so optimistic."
That said, Napoleon settled back into his own thoughts. They'd hotwired the car in Mr. Frumple's garage and gotten on their way very early in the morning. Des Moines was now some distance behind, and getting farther away with every mile the powerful car gobbled up under Illya's impatient driving. It was clearly an effort for the younger man to stick to a mere five miles an hour over the speed limit, and Napoleon was certain that Illya was only keeping it down to that for fear of getting pulled over.
"I shouldn't be letting you drive," Napoleon remarked.
"Says the man with no sense of direction."
"You have a concussion, Illya."
Illya shot him an annoyed look. "No, I don't."
"You blacked out, for several hours. By definition, you have a concussion."
"I was only out a short time."
"Bullshit. I carried you for hours." Napoleon sat up suddenly, turning a suspicious gaze on his partner. "And if you were shamming during any of that, I'll..."
"I wasn't shamming." Illya signaled and passed a lumbering truck.
"Really? Then how do you know how long you were unconscious?"
"We left the train at about nine, and got to Des Moines before midnight. So, logically, you can't have carried me that long."
"Sure seemed like it." He frowned, realizing he'd been led astray. "And it still isn't advisable to let you drive with a concussion."
"Don't you think by now I'd know if I had a bad concussion? Besides, what other solution would you suggest?" He flipped his right arm, jangling the chain. Napoleon subsided with a quiet sigh.
With Napoleon's left hand cuffed to Illya's right, there really had been no question about who would drive, just as there had been none about who would sign things. And no question of renting a car, even though stealing one wasn't to Napoleon's liking: they could hardly have carried off the "blind man" pretense if Illya climbed behind the wheel! Napoleon supposed he should be grateful -- Ferret could have cuffed their right hands together. They wouldn't have gotten very far that way. Napoleon spent a few minutes trying unsuccessfully to imagine how they could have carried that off.
All of which was merely a diversion from the path his thoughts wanted to take. He turned to look out the side window, though not from a sudden interest in the passing scenery. Merely to keep Illya from reading his face. He let the memory take him; waking in the hotel room...
...with Illya draped across him. This was starting to become a habit. Almost as predictable as waking up with an erection. And waking up with both Illya and an erection produced most disconcerting results.
The building they were in hardly looked capable of passing the local department of health inspection, which was probably why the motel was three quarters empty. They didn't check in. After the fiasco with the train, they just wanted to disappear for a while; rest for a time where no one knew they were there. With Illya's lockpick, breaking into one of the rear rooms was simple. They were only planning on sleeping for a few hours, and at least the sheets were clean.
Napoleon stripped down. Too tired to talk, he cleaned up Illya's wounds and let his own be tended. Gently washed and dried Illya's hair, careful not to start the scalp wound bleeding again. His hands tingled with the feel of that soft silky hair.
Later, he awoke with Illya tumbled across him, his hard cock pressed up tight against Napoleon's own erection. He tried half-heartedly to slip out from under his partner. Illya's eyes opened halfway -- that pleased panther look which made such infrequent appearances. Illya's hips rolled in an unmistakable invitation, sliding one cloth-covered erection against another and sending shivers of pleasure up Napoleon's spine.
How could any confirmed hedonist resist? Though his mind weighed in with a legion of reasons it was a very bad idea, his body ceased to listen from the first movement. Napoleon thrust his hips against Illya's in answering invitation, smiling to see those heavy lidded eyes grow vague with desire. Only to lose the smile in a gasp of pleasure when Illya responded in kind, retaking the initiative, his weight pinning Napoleon to the bed. Strange, to be pinned, to be at the mercy of someone as strong as he was, at the mercy of someone he trusted absolutely.
Illya's shirt was unbuttoned, draped loosely from his arms. Napoleon ran his right hand over silky skin, absently counting his partner's ribs. He circled around and slid his hand up Illya's smooth back, fascinated by the swell of muscle on either side of the backbone. Illya didn't lie still under Napoleon's touch. He pushed Napoleon's shirt up, ran his hand under the rucked fabric to tweak a nipple. Napoleon arched at the unexpected jolt of pleasure, his movement only increasing the pleasure in the thrust against Illya.
One of them shoved their shorts out of the way -- there came the sudden shock of skin against skin. Napoleon wrapped his right arm around Illya's waist, hand cupping one round cheek with shocking arrogance. Guiding. Hauling Illya closer, holding him tighter, pulling his hips down to meet every thrust. Napoleon's left hand was pinned to the bed by the handcuff, by Illya's right hand, planted on the mattress for support.
They rocked together, the pleasure flowing in dizzying waves between them. Napoleon held out against the overwhelming pleasure until Illya threw his head back, features suffused with triumphant ecstasy. Illya's face dropped back over his own, and soft lips brushed his. Napoleon cried out, eyes closing against the surge of climax and the brightness of his partner's intense blue gaze. As bright as the sky outside the windshield...
"King's Pawn to King Four."
"What?!" Napoleon whipped his head around to stare at Illya.
"Are you okay, Napoleon?" Illya looked at him oddly. Luckily, the Russian had to return his eyes to the road after only a brief glance.
"Ah... fine. Fine. You startled me."
"Well? What's your move?"
"I... ah... don't feel like a game of chess right now, Illya." He turned to look back out the window, trying to convince his heart to stop pounding. However, at least the shock had put a damper on his erection.
"You're only saying that because you won the last one, and you want to gloat over it awhile longer."
"Hush." Napoleon made a face at his partner. Neither spoke for a while, but Napoleon recognized Illya's determined silence. Recognized, and resisted it. Napoleon didn't want to talk about it -- not when he didn't even know what he thought about it. And certainly not when he could still vividly remember that simply rubbing his body against Illya's had been a more sexually explosive, and ultimately satisfying, experience than any he could remember. Finally, however, he sighed. "You haven't said anything." He addressed his remarks to the window, not having quite enough courage to look at Illya.
A pause. "Neither have you."
"Illya..." He sighed again, and rubbed nervously at the side of his nose. "You act like it didn't mean anything."
A longer pause this time. "I thought you might prefer it that way." Illya glanced at him. The dark glasses hid his eyes. "Do you?"
"I... ah... don't know."
"Then we'll talk about it when you know."
As far as Illya was concerned, that was obviously that. After
a moment's thought, Napoleon decided that was fine with him. Thrush was
problem enough to contend with; re-evaluating their partnership could
wait for a better time. Now, if only he could get that brief taste of
Illya's lips out of his mind.
They stopped at a drive in for an early dinner. The carhop was a pert little redhead on roller skates. She smiled prettily at Illya when she took their order, and he flirted outrageously with her when she returned with the food. Napoleon should have been amused by his partner's playacting -- he knew it was more for his benefit than the girl's -- but he found himself sourly out of sorts. Illya merely shrugged and devoured his meal.
"Where are we?" Napoleon asked after they had been on the road again for about an hour.
"Ohio," Illya responded promptly.
Napoleon made a face at him. "Thanks, that's remarkably helpful."
"Why did you want to know?"
Napoleon shrugged. "I'm bored."
"Then that's all you needed to know, isn't it?"
"You know, for a subordinate, you get awfully uppity," Napoleon remarked off-hand, hiding his smile.
"Uppity? What kind of word is that?"
They were arguing good-naturedly about the vagaries of the English language when they heard the siren. Loud, obnoxious, and uncomfortably close. Illya glanced in the rearview mirror and said something impolite in Russian.
"Should I outrun him?"
"No," Napoleon decided, laying a cautionary hand on Illya's wrist. "If we run, we'll have all the police in the area looking for us. Maybe we can talk our way out of this."
Illya pulled cautiously over to the curb and waited nervously while the policeman walked up alongside the car. Napoleon slid his hand into Illya's and tucked their clasped hands down against the seat, out of sight from the driver's window.
"All right, where's the fire?" The officer bent to peer in the window.
"I'm sorry, officer," Illya responded in his most polite tone, "I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Let me see your license, young man."
"Is there a problem?" Napoleon asked, leaning close to Illya, one arm draped over the dash.
"The problem, my friend, is when strangers go whipping through my territory in their fancy sports cars like it's some kind of race track."
"I told you we should have stolen a station wagon," Napoleon whispered in Illya's ear.
The policeman was apparently getting impatient. "Your license, young man."
"Ah..." Illya made a show of patting his pockets, "I'm afraid I must have left it in my coat."
"Surely you can make an exception just this once," Napoleon suggested with a smile. "How fast was he going, anyway?"
"Forty-eight. The speed limit is clearly posted at forty-five." The man ignored Napoleon's sudden coughing fit to address himself to Illya again. "Step out of the car, please."
"Is that really necessary, sir? I'll pay the fine, whatever it is."
"Step out of the car." The officer opened Illya's door. "Now."
Illya glanced helplessly at Napoleon, who shrugged. He started sliding out of the car, Napoleon perforce following along.
"Just this fellow," the policeman admonished.
"Sorry, officer," Napoleon followed Illya all the way out of the car, "I'm afraid we don't have any choice."
Catching sight of the cuffs, the policeman dropped back two steps and pulled his gun. "You two stay right where you are."
Napoleon sighed. "You just had to drive, Illya."
"Look, we can explain if you'll just listen."
"Quiet. And get inside." The policeman gestured them through the door of the tiny local jail with his gun. He hadn't put it away since he saw the cuffs, even when his captives were bundled into the back of his police car.
"We belong to the U.N.C.L.E.," Napoleon repeated patiently. He walked calmly through the door, giving the small room a quick once over. Two desks pushed up against one another, one phone, a cork board for important wanted posters which had a single piece of paper fluttering on it, and the barred cells along the far wall.
"I don't care who you've escaped from. We'll get you back where you belong soon enough." The policeman edged into the building after them and toed the door shut behind him. "Until then, don't you give me any trouble."
"Can we put our hands down?" Illya asked. "My arms are getting tired."
"No! You just keep 'em where I can see 'em."
Napoleon flashed his most winning smile at the man. "I'm afraid you don't understand. U.N.C.L.E. is a law enforcement agency. Surely you've heard of it?"
"Perhaps," the man replied suspiciously. Napoleon almost felt sorry for him -- a small town police officer who was completely out of his element, and knew it.
"We work for them. This," he made a tiny gesture with his cuffed hand, "is all a mistake."
"Right," the man nodded, "and my mother-in-law makes great pot roast. Get in the cell."
"Ah... look, Officer... Clark," Napoleon read the man's badge quickly, "we don't want to cause you any trouble. Why don't you just call our New York office and clear up this whole mess?"
"Just call your New York office, eh?" Clark shook his head, his expression clearly suggesting he'd arrested a couple of complete idiots. "And how, pray tell, am I supposed to know the phone number?"
"I'll give it to you."
"You must think I just fell off the pumpkin truck!"
"No, really." Napoleon smiled again, an expression of total honesty. Illya rolled his eyes. "It wouldn't hurt to call, would it? I assure you, you'll know it's the real thing as soon as you speak to my boss."
"Very well," the cop decided after a moment, "I suppose it can't hurt." Keeping his gun on them, he advanced to the phone. "What's that number, then?"
Napoleon rattled off a number with a New York exchange, and shot Illya a warning look. Officer Clark dutifully passed the number on to the operator and waited while it rang. He opened his mouth to speak when the call was answered, and his jaw remained hanging while his face flushed a vivid shade of red. Napoleon grabbed the gun away from him before he could recover from his shock, and turned the weapon on the embarrassed police officer.
Illya picked up the phone and listened for a moment before returning it gently to the cradle. "Really, Napoleon! I'm surprised a man like you would know a number like this."
Napoleon grinned at him. "It was hard to forget. I read it off the bathroom wall of that dive in the Village you insisted on going to last New Years." He shrugged. "We can't have him actually calling headquarters when we don't know who we can trust, now can we?" He turned his attention back to the still furiously blushing officer. "Now, Officer Clark, if you wouldn't mind stepping into that cell over there?"
In a few minutes, they'd locked the sputtering policeman into his own jail cell and pocketed his gun. Napoleon picked up the keys to the police cruiser from off the man's desk and smiled at the man.
"We're just going to borrow your car for a bit, Officer. I'm sure your deputy will be along in a little while to let you out. Sorry for the inconvenience."
Illya paused on the way out the door. "Oh, could you see to it
that the corvette is returned to Mr. Jeremiah Frumple of Des Moines?
They ditched the police car half an hour later in the next city. Although Illya greatly enjoyed driving it, it was entirely too conspicuous. And they didn't make the mistake of stealing another sports car.
This time, they couldn't take the time to look for a car which wouldn't be missed. Just after dusk, they hotwired a dark blue Ford Fairlane from the parking lot of a movie theater. They stopped again in the next city to exchange the license plates with another blue Fairlane, so they wouldn't be pulled over when the car was reported stolen.
Illya shook Napoleon awake shortly after dawn. Blinking rapidly, Napoleon pushed himself upright in the seat and tried to trick himself into believing he was rested.
"I'm too sleepy to drive any longer," Illya explained around a yawn.
"'Kay," Napoleon mumbled. "I'll drive."
It took some doing, but if two U.N.C.L.E. agents weren't creative enough to figure out how to switch drivers while handcuffed, there was something very wrong with the world.
"Comfy?" Napoleon asked brightly, looking down at the oddly unfamiliar dark head in his lap. Stretching out to sprawl over the whole seat, Illya made a show of wiggling around to get comfortable, wrapped his right hand around his left shoulder to keep the chain in the right place while he slept, and finally nodded.
Napoleon shook his head and started the car. He usually drove mostly with his right hand anyway, so it was easy to keep the left down near Illya's head. At one point, he realized he was gently stroking Illya's hair and considered stopping, but Illya was asleep, so he shrugged and kept on. It was surprisingly addictive.
There wasn't much to do as he drove other than think.
Ferret's appearance on the train was no coincidence. Someone had tipped him off. Napoleon wasn't clear, however, on whether that cleared Mr. Waverly, or damned him. Their phone call to headquarters must have been the tip off, but they hadn't given the secretary their location. It was simple enough to get that information from the operator, but Mr. Waverly hadn't been in the office to do it. The only certain thing was that, as on the first occasion, the pay phone they'd placed the call from could hardly have been tapped, which meant either the headquarters phone itself was tapped, or someone in headquarters was Thrush.
Napoleon sighed. He'd almost rather think about what he was going to do about Illya.
Though not the introspective type, Napoleon wasn't an idiot, emotionally or otherwise. What had happened between them couldn't be ignored forever. Sooner or later, it would have to be addressed. Assuming they survived. The problem, as he saw it, was that whatever route they chose could break up the partnership. Either neither man acknowledged the incident, and it stood forever silently between them, or they decided to give a sexual relationship a try, and that blew up in their faces. In Napoleon's extensive experience, relationships rarely lasted past the first blush of desire.
He sighed again.
Illya rolled over in his sleep, somehow managing not to get tangled in the chain or roll off the seat. He sprawled face down across Napoleon's lap, his right arm thrown over his head.
Introspection forgotten, Napoleon shifted uncomfortably. Illya's face was about two inches from his groin, and his imagination really didn't need that much incentive to picture his partner doing something other than sleeping. He stifled a groan and forced himself to concentrate on the road.
Illya moved again. Napoleon swore he could feel the man's warm breath on his cock, even through the sturdy denim jeans. He was so distracted, he even bought the sleeping act until Illya rubbed his cheek against Napoleon's trapped and swelling erection.
"Stop teasing, Illya," he ground out. A light chuckle vibrated against his groin, making him groan aloud.
"You were brooding again." Illya's voice was light, teasing. "Have I distracted you?"
"If you don't watch it, you're going to distract us into a ditch. Go back to sleep!"
"All right. If you're sure there's nothing else I can do while I'm down here." He deliberately rubbed his cheek against Napoleon again, for all the world like a large, randy cat.
"Cut it out, Kuryakin!" Napoleon grabbed a handful of hair and pulled Illya's head away from his groin. Illya rolled his head on Napoleon's thigh to peer up at him out of the corner of his eye.
"Spoilsport." He rolled over again and scooted down until he was only using Napoleon's right thigh as a pillow. With a last grin, he turned on his side and snuggled down, falling asleep in moments.
"Damn sneaky Russian," Napoleon muttered, recognizing the little scene as something more than an attempted distraction. Trust Illya to bring up the subject without bringing up the subject. He had, after all, said he'd wait. But he hadn't promised to wait patiently.
Napoleon tried unsuccessfully to adjust himself more
comfortably in his jeans. One thing was certain -- he wasn't likely to
fall asleep at the wheel.
The car was stopped at one end of a perfectly normal suburban street. Illya, who took over driving in the mid-afternoon, had pulled to the side and turned out the lights.
"What are we waiting for?" he asked after a time, his voice near a whisper.
"Inspiration," Napoleon whispered back.
"Mr. Waverly's private residence isn't protected solely by the fact that no one knows where it is," Napoleon responded, somewhat acidly.
"I know that," Illya answered with equal annoyance. "I was under the mistaken impression that you spent at least some part of the last five days planning for this part."
"I was busy," Napoleon defended. "And it didn't make any sense to plan until we knew what we were up against."
"And what are we up against?"
"Nothing we can't handle." Napoleon slid out of the car, Illya following him out the passenger door. They moved up the street silently, their approach made easier by the sparseness of the street lights in the classy neighborhood.
Napoleon skirted a long hedge in a crouch, Illya close on his heels. He paused a moment for a final look at the situation, then whispered, "Okay, follow my lead."
Napoleon stood up and dragged Illya up against him. He stepped onto the front walk of Waverly's house and hurried down the walk at a brisk clip, supporting Illya with both hands. Illya lolled against him, making a show of not being able to keep to his feet.
"Stop and identify yourself!"
"Don't just stand there, help me!" Napoleon called to the U.N.C.L.E. security guard who stepped out of the shadows of the porch. He didn't slow his advance.
"I said stop," the man repeated, but he didn't raise his gun.
"Don't you know who this is?" Napoleon demanded, now within a couple of feet of the man. Illya chose that moment to collapse entirely, and the guard instinctively leapt forward to help.
Napoleon hit him squarely in the nerve plexus of his neck, dropping the man instantly. Illya stood and brushed off his trousers, looking down at the man.
"I think Security needs more training," he commented.
"Never mind that now." Napoleon shook his aching hand. "Help me get him out of sight."
They dragged the man into the bushes to the right side of the porch, then moved to the door. Illya knelt and applied his lockpick to the front door.
"This'll set off every alarm in the place."
"As long as it gets us in. We won't need to worry once we've talked with Mr. Waverly."
Illya looked up at him. "And if Mr. Waverly's Thrush?"
"We won't need to worry," Napoleon repeated solemnly. Illya nodded once and returned to work.
There was no piercing klaxon when Illya pushed the door open. Napoleon hadn't expected one. He knew full well that plenty of alarms were ringing where they'd do the most good. He and Illya exchanged another look. On impulse, he leaned down and brushed his lips over Illya's. He moved into the house without waiting for a response.
"Well, Mr. Solo," the familiar gruff voice met them before they'd left the entry hall, "what's the meaning of this?"
"Good evening, sir." Napoleon kept his composure as he watched his boss walk down the stairs, even though he'd never seen the man in pajamas, a red brocade dressing gown, and slippers before. "We've been trying to reach you."
"Yes, I rather got that impression." Waverly walked calmly past them and closed the front door, then led the way into the study. "Was it absolutely necessary to attack my guard?"
"Sorry, sir," Illya offered, with a quick glance at Napoleon, "but we weren't sure who we could trust."
"There... ah... seems to be a Thrush plant." Napoleon tried very hard not to sound apologetic. "Highly placed."
"Hmmm... yes..." Mr. Waverly sat down behind his desk, picked up a pipe and reached for his humidor. "I suspected as much when the local team sent out to meet you reported sighting Thrush units leaving the area empty-handed, but you failed to make contact. After the second call to my secretary, I was sure of it. That's why I shut off the alarm system as soon as I realized that it was you breaking into my house."
"Ah... thank you, sir." This time, Napoleon shot a glance at Illya. Something about this didn't feel right, but he was at a loss to pinpoint it. Illya raised one shoulder in an abbreviated shrug. "What do--"
"However," Mr. Waverly interrupted, calmly packing tobacco into his pipe, "we can find no sign of a plant."
"No calls were made from any phone in headquarters after either of your contacts which could not be traced and verified."
"So..." Napoleon felt his way slowly, "the plant must be--"
Napoleon and Illya whirled at the sound of Parker's voice. The very man they'd been evading for days stood just inside the study door, Ferret smirking from behind him, cradling his trademark Kalashnikov. Waverly only blinked, and carefully lit his pipe.
"Well, he's lost me," Illya told Napoleon with a careless shrug.
"It's really quite simple," Parker obliged with an arrogant smile. "We were naturally very curious to know where your Mr. Waverly adjourned to every night. Unfortunately, that information is rather hard to come by via the usual methods. So, we... I," he smiled again, "came up with a different plan. Rather clever, if I do say so myself."
"You set us up." Napoleon smiled his own smile -- far more deadly than Parker's. "Made us believe there was only one safe place to go. So you could follow us here."
"Precisely. And it worked like a charm, didn't it?"
"But how..." Illya stopped, closing his eyes in disgust as the answer came to him. He lifted his right hand and looked at the cuff, for all the world as if it were a poisonous snake.
"There's a homing beacon imbedded in the shank of each cuff," Parker supplied sweetly. "And a microphone. Waterproof and very close to indestructible. I assure you, it's been entertaining listening." He smirked.
Illya growled low in his throat and took a step forward. Ferret raised his gun menacingly, but Napoleon had already caught his partner's arm and tugged him back.
"Which reminds me," Parker continued. "If you don't mind, hand the gun you stole from that poor policeman to Chris. Carefully."
"Clever." Napoleon retrieved the gun from the back waistband of his jeans and handed it meekly to Ferret. "The whole plan to divert water from the Colorado River was a decoy, to lure us into this scheme of yours. And we fell for it. Led you right to the prize."
Parker giggled. "You even took care of the security for us. However shall we repay you?"
"With a bullet to the head, no doubt," Illya muttered.
"Oh, no." Parker shook his head. "Chris has something much more... entertaining in mind." It was a toss-up whose smile was more disturbing: Ferret's or Parker's.
"Ridiculous waste of time and effort," Mr. Waverly barked, startling Parker, who'd apparently managed to forget all about his "prize" in the excitement of having his plan succeed. The head of U.N.C.L.E. sat comfortably behind his desk, puffing calmly on his pipe.
"Oh, really?" Feathers ruffled, Parker stalked over to put both hands on the desk, leaning over the seated man. "And what do you mean by that?"
"You might have simply followed me home from the office," Waverly responded serenely. "Sooner or later, my driver would have slipped up and taken the same route twice."
"We tried--" Parker broke off in a coughing fit, choking on the handful of tobacco Waverly tossed suddenly into his face.
Napoleon and Illya moved as one, grabbing Ferret before he could bring his AK-47 to bear. He struggled, clutching stubbornly at his weapon, and half slipped out of their hands. It was impossible to get a good grip on him; the manacles interfered with every move. Suddenly, Napoleon flipped the handcuff chain around Ferret's throat and grabbed Illya's right forearm in his left hand, pulling the chain taut. Illya met his eyes and gave a slight nod. It took all the strength of Napoleon's free hand to prevent Ferret from bringing the Kalashnikov around to bear on Mr. Waverly.
Parker staggered away from the desk, coughing and sneezing, rubbing uselessly at his streaming eyes. Blinded, he wandered directly into the path of Ferret's machine gun just as the Thrush psychopath, struggling in the ever-tightening noose of iron, squeezed the trigger. Parker's scream was as memorable in its own way as the distinctive clatter of the Russian assault rifle.
The self-proclaimed Thrush "mastermind" collapsed, bleeding his last on Mr. Waverly's expensive carpet. The AK-47 dropped from Ferret's weakening hands, soon followed by Ferret himself, as he slipped gently out of the loop of chain. A weapon he had literally put into their hands himself.
"Here," Mr. Waverly broke the silence. He gingerly retrieved a set of keys from Parker's coat pocket and handed them to Napoleon. "You'll want this."
Napoleon sorted through the keys until he found a likely one, and tried it on the cuffs. It didn't work, but the third one he tried did. The cuffs popped open with a gentle click, and Napoleon dropped them on top of Ferret's corpse. The agents looked at each other for a moment, each unconsciously massaging his freed wrist. Then Napoleon recollected himself.
"Ah... sorry about--"
"Never mind that," Mr. Waverly waved graciously. "I suspected as much from the beginning."
"But..." Illya frowned. The lack of proper sleep was beginning to tell on them both; Napoleon felt at least a step behind as well. "You turned off the alarm."
"Of course. If Parker saw the place swarming with U.N.C.L.E. agents, he'd have forgone his gloating and gone straight home to tell his superiors where I lived. I hate moving," he added tartly.
Napoleon shook his head in something like awe. "Come into my parlor..."
"...said the spider to the fly," Illya finished in the same low tones.
Mr. Waverly pulled open a desk drawer and lifted a red phone. "There's a Security team already standing by, you know, but we'll need someone to clean up this mess before Mrs. Waverly returns. She's visiting her cousin this weekend." He surveyed his confused, disheveled and very tired agents as he waited for an answer. "And someone to see to your injuries. After that, you might as well go home for a few days."
"Yes, sir," Napoleon managed after a moment. "Ah... thank you, sir."
Waverly waved off his agents' embarrassment once again. "All's
well that ends well, as they say." He spoke into the phone briskly,
then hung it up and turned back to them. "Now, Mr. Kuryakin. What in
the world have you done to your hair?"
Napoleon carried his scotch into the living room and set it on the end table before wearily lowering himself into the corner of his soft leather couch. He reached across his body with his right hand for the glass before remembering that he could move the left without restriction.
With a sigh, he sipped the liquor and returned it to the table. His left wrist was neatly bandaged and, aside from a set of nasty bruises, he'd been proclaimed none the worse for wear by the U.N.C.L.E. medical team Waverly had summoned. Illya had been likewise declared healthy, and both agents were sent home with orders not to show their faces at headquarters for seventy-two hours.
It was an unprecedented gift, which he knew they didn't deserve. He likewise knew he should be taking advantage of it. If nothing else, he felt like he could sleep for a week.
But he'd tried the bed already. He'd risen from it less than a half hour after retiring. Too empty. He'd flipped aimlessly through his little black book, and tossed it aside without calling anyone. Too shallow. Too little, too late, and too damn lonely.
Every time he turned around, he expected to see Illya. Less than a foot away. So close inside his personal space he didn't even have to reach out to touch him.
Napoleon sighed and swallowed another mouthful of scotch.
The knock didn't startled him. Not really. Four raps -- two quick, two measured.
"Come in, Illya."
The sound of a key in the lock, and then the sight of his partner. Still startling with that black mop. Even more startling, perhaps, seeing it from across the room. Illya glanced quickly at him through his lashes, then turned and locked the door behind him. He hovered a moment near the door before advancing into the room.
"I wasn't sure you'd be awake."
"Couldn't sleep." Napoleon waved Illya into the armchair on his left. Illya pulled the chair a little closer before sitting.
"Me neither." He watched Napoleon take a drink, took the glass from Napoleon's hand and sipped himself. Then put the glass on the end table. "I can't..." He stopped with a quick shake of the head.
Napoleon looked at his partner for a moment. Partner, friend. Lover. Once, just once. And why not again? He stretched out his left hand and encircled Illya's right wrist with his fingers, light against the bandage.
Illya looked down at their hands for a moment. "Do you know now?" he asked finally.
"And what do you prefer?" His voice was calm, but Napoleon could see how much it mattered in his eyes.
"I prefer..." He took a deep breath. "...to have it matter."
Illya smiled at him. "Good." He yawned. "Can we go to bed now?"
"Of course." Napoleon stood and tugged lightly at Illya's wrist. He leered playfully.
"To sleep," Illya amended, with a touch of scolding.
"Of course." He switched his grip to lace his fingers intimately with Illya's, and followed his partner down the hall. "For now."
Illya turned and smiled. "Of course."
Feedback is always appreciated.