|This story contains a completely impossible crossover, given the respective time periods of the shows involved. But then, given the basic premise of the story, I'm not sure anyone complaining about realism has a leg to stand on, now do they?|
|My partner's a dog; he's always been a dog. But this morning when I woke up, he had four legs and a tail.
My name's Illya Kuryakin. I'm a spy.
I work for the U.N.C.L.E., which actually makes me more of a high-rent policeman than a spy. But it's easier just to say I'm a spy. With the accent, if I tell people I'm an international policeman, they think I'm a spy and turn me in to the authorities. If I say I'm a spy, they think I'm merely touched in the head. Saves a lot of time and effort, especially my boss's. He was getting tired of bailing me out of jail. Actually, bailing Napoleon and me out of jail -- Napoleon takes the bit about 'wither thou goest' a little too literally. Then there's the partnership bit of keeping me out of trouble, which generally just means we're in the drink together. Partnership, partner, Napoleon -- there, you've got it now. Yes, Napoleon is his real name -- if he was born anytime this decade, I'd suspect drug use; as it is, his parents have no excuse -- and no, people don't believe that any more than they believe I'm really a spy.
Anymore, probably, than you believe Napoleon was really a dog.
I woke feeling pleasantly tired and stretched luxuriantly. There's nothing better than waking up with my lover. Unless it's waking with my lover and the prospect of two whole days off. I smiled, thinking of what we could do with the time. Hot breath fanned the back of my neck.
"Hm... Napoleon..." I rolled over and yelped. So did he. Thinking back on it, I was probably on his tail. At the time, however...
Imagine finding yourself unexpectedly in bed with a large Newfoundland. And no, I don't mean that Newfoundlands are a large breed -- which they are -- I mean a large Newfoundland. I swear Napoleon hadn't lost any of his stature; just a great deal of his savoir faire.
I know what you're thinking: why leap so precipitously to the conclusion that my partner had somehow been transformed into a dog? Isn't that a little... outlandish? Even crazy?
You have no idea.
And I didn't so leap.
Not entirely true. I did remove myself from the bed somewhat... precipitously. I did not scramble back until I fell out, no matter what Napoleon says. Just because I've never felt particularly sanguine about canines is no reason to imply any foolishness on my part. Anyone who's been chased by dogs as often as I have is entitled to a few qualms about the species.
In hindsight, snatching my gun from the bedside table might have been unnecessary, but at the time... Did I mention how large he was?
The dog just looked at me. His eyes flicked to my gun, as if it had some meaning to him, then back to rest soulfully on my face. I kept the gun trained on him and sidled around the bed to check the door. No hotel room can be as secure as our apartment, but this one came close, with the additional U.N.C.L.E. locks. Not to mention one of my own devising -- keeping out the enemy is imperative; keeping out one's friends is, at certain times, just as desirable. No change to the locks. No one had gone in or out during the night, and there was no place to hide. The door to the bathroom was open, the peptobismol-pink shower curtain drawn, and the tiny mint-green room was clearly empty. Hideous, but empty.
From under the bedcovers, the large black dog watched me patiently. The blankets stirred to the beat of a thump thump thump which sounded like my heart but was probably his tail.
So you see, I didn't jump to any conclusions. Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must-- Oh, you've heard that one. Regardless, what had happened to Napoleon was clear. Besides, those eyes watching me... it couldn't be anyone else.
They were his eyes. I know Napoleon; know his face better than my own; know his soul better than anything in this world or the next. Most especially, I know his eyes. I know how the corners crinkle when he's concerned, how they gleam when he's happy, the dark velvet depth of them when he's... well, you get the idea. It wasn't some sort of fuzzy-headed, soft-hearted anthropomorphizing on my part. That dog definitely had my partner's eyes.
"Shh!" I shot a glance at the door, as if I expected hotel management to materialize outside in instant response. Foolish. It would take them at least a few minutes to call in animal control.
"Wuff." Quieter this time.
I put the safety back on the gun and put it on the bedside table. I'd have felt safer with it on me, but I didn't exactly have any pockets. Nudity isn't something that bothers me. Nudity with my partner especially doesn't bother me. Suddenly, however, I was finding the experience decidedly disconcerting.
"Stop looking at me like that." Now I know what a steak feels like.
No, that didn't remind me of Napoleon. Well, perhaps when he's deeply asleep. Or when-- But I digress.
"What the hell happened?"
Do dogs shrug? Never mind. It was useless to ask him anyway. Trust me, if Napoleon had had any clue he might end up like that, he'd have done anything to stop it. Not that he made a bad dog, as dogs go. His coat was thick and glossy, and he was actually quite attractive, in a furry sort of way. Nonetheless, the initial statement stands -- Napoleon couldn't have known in advance that this would happen. He'd have killed someone first. And if he didn't know anything about it in advance, he certainly didn't know anything now.
I really needed to sit down. I perched gingerly on the edge of the bed, and not entirely because most of it was occupied by a large dog who used to be my partner. I was trying not to think about last night's activities. Activities which now took on a decidedly immoral cast. Not that they weren't rather pleasingly immoral to begin with, but not like this.
Napoleon was looking at me again. And panting. Second thoughts got me back on my feet and into my pants. Napoleon whined.
"Hush." I sat back down and tried to think. "I don't suppose you've recently been bitten by a werewolf?"
He gave me a look. Okay, so it wasn't remotely near the full moon. Not that that would have made any difference with the sun streaming through the windows.
"It was just a thought."
Napoleon somehow insinuated himself between my arm and body. I stroked the soft fur absently. When he responded by leaning into me, I had to brace myself to avoid falling over.
"What are we going to-- oh ick." I've always liked what Napoleon can do with his mouth. Have I mentioned that yet? Perhaps not. Trust me, dog slobber is in no way comparable.
I pushed his massive head away and tried to think. Somehow, I doubted calling headquarters would help matters. We weren't supposed to report in until the weekend -- two days. With any luck I could get things sorted out before I had to tell someone that Napoleon was missing. I was certainly not going to report his transformation. I'd find myself in Medical, talking to a shrink, and Napoleon... I seriously doubt he'd take well to being neutered.
As if he could follow my train of thought, Napoleon lay down next to me and put his head between his paws. And sighed gustily. I patted him.
"Maybe Mark and April could--"
Napoleon growled. And let me tell you, it took guts to stay put with that base snarl rumbling up through the body of the animal next to me. I knew it was Napoleon, and I knew he wouldn't attack me -- at least not in that way -- but there's a visceral threat in a dog's snarl that's hard to ignore. I kept my hand on his head by force of will, and a half-felt concern about losing it if it came in range of his mouth.
"Got any better ideas?"
He whined again.
"I didn't think so."
April started checking my arms for needle tracks and feeling my forehead five minutes after we got to her apartment. She usually works out of New York, but circumstances requiring an extended stay in Los Angeles had come up, and April had courageously volunteered. None of the other New York agents would have taken our lives in our hands that way.
"Are you sure you're-- Blast, I wish Mark was here."
"Where is he?" I shoved Napoleon off the couch and sat down. He glared at me, and drew his lips back from his teeth, but stopped when I put my hand on my gun, and went to sulk under the coffee table.
"I never saw you as a dog person. Hm? Oh, Mark -- he's making the weekly run to New York... Illya, where did you get the dog? And where's Napoleon?"
"April," I sighed wearily, "we already covered that."
"And it was very amusing too. Where did you get such a big dog? I didn't know they came this large, outside of Saint Bernards." She knelt to rub Napoleon's head. He listed slowly over onto his side and she switched to rubbing his stomach. Heavy-lidded brown eyes looked smugly into mine, filled with a remarkably familiar look of pleasure.
"Ah, April, you don't want to do that."
"Why not? He's sweet."
"He doesn't like it."
Napoleon groaned and rolled further onto his back. April laughed and stepped up the rubbing.
"And," I added, "I haven't had a chance to check him for fleas." Her hand lifted, Napoleon snarled at me, and I quickly added, "or rabies."
April stood nonchalantly and brushed her hands off on her trousers. "I think the coffee might be ready." She went into the kitchen. Napoleon rolled back over, put his head between his paws, and gazed mournfully at me.
"Serves you right," I hissed.
"What was that Illya?"
"Nothing." I took the cup of coffee she handed me. "So," I said after taking a sip for politeness sake, my stomach far too disturbed to appreciate even coffee just then -- which was saying something, "when do you expect Mark back?" I honestly don't know why I thought he could help, except... Mark knows the oddest people.
"Sometime tomorrow," April said, her eyes on Napoleon. "What's his name?"
"Wh--, oh, ah... Leo."
She grinned. "Short for Napoleon, no doubt. Honestly, you two. How did he rope you into whatever game he's playing now? You really ought to know better, Illya," she added without waiting for me to answer the unanswerable. "So, really, where is he?"
"Napoleon? He's... ah..."
"Back at the hotel?"
"No." I rubbed the back of my neck and tried not to notice Napoleon snickering at me. Yes, dogs can snicker. Trust me on this one. "No, we... we got thrown out."
"Illya." April would make a good mother some day. She's got the tone down -- maybe it comes from working with Mark. "Not again. You two weren't--"
"No!" I know when I'm turning a particularly vibrant shade of red: my skin tingles unpleasantly. "No, we certainly weren't," I said decisively, to stop the speculation before it got any worse. I told Napoleon we shouldn't do that anyplace that isn't soundproof and very, very private. It is, indeed, desirable to keep one's friends outside locked doors at certain... important junctures. Even better to keep them out of earshot. They tend to jump to all the wrong conclusions--
"Good. I'd hate for you two to be fighting again."
-- which is sometimes a good thing.
"Ah, no. It was..." I cocked my head at the furry black lump under April's coffee table. He looked asleep. "The hotel didn't allow pets."
Her brow crinkled. "Where are you staying tonight?" Unfortunately, she can read my expressions all too well. "Oh no! No. Definitely not. My landlord does not allow pets, even temporarily. If he weren't out visiting his mother -- or more likely his bookie -- you'd never have gotten in here."
"No. You'll break my lease." Apparently, Napoleon is better at the lost puppy look than I am. Especially now. She did look contrite, however. "I'm sorry, Illya, but I really can't risk it."
"That's all right." I scratched my neck, and wondered how much of a lie that bit about fleas was. "I think our best bet is a campground. I don't think any hotel is going to accept me with a dog."
"Trust Napoleon to saddle you with one and take off. Where is he, by the way?" she asked again. I took refuge in my coffee cup. April sighed and shook her head, but her gleaming eyes gave the lie to her prim-faced disapproval. "Napoleon is such a dog."
The sound of his name apparently waking him out of a sound sleep, Napoleon stood up under the coffee table.
"Look, you're just going to have to stay in the car."
I winced. I swore I could feel the car shake when he did that. "I know you don't like it, but you can't sit out here and bark hysterically like you did in front of the army surplus store. I almost got arrested for animal abuse and disturbing the peace."
Napoleon half-closed his eyes and panted.
"Oh, don't look so smug. You sounded like your balls were being squeezed every fourth bark. Is your voice changing?" I made my tone as sweet as honey.
He retaliated by slobbering on me.
"Gah! Look," I said as I reached surreptitiously for the door handle, "the windows are down and you'll be fine. I'll only be gone a minute."
With that, I pulled the handle and slipped out with all of my much-lauded agility. Almost made it. Let me tell you, it's not easy to shut a car door with 175 pounds of determined Newfoundland on the other side. I had to put my shoulder to it.
"Now stay." I instantly regretted it. I could feel his eyes on me all the way into the small grocery. At least he didn't start instantly barking -- yelping, actually -- as he had last time. But I think I felt even more guilty under that silent regard.
I dithered in the pet aisle for a while. I doubted that human food was good for dogs, but doubted even more that Napoleon would agree with me. Although an imp still tempted me to get a bag of dogfood, I had a feeling it could prove unhealthy for me. Just then, Napoleon's bite was definitely worse than his bark. I did pick up a leash and choke chain, however. There were laws, and I'd had enough of the authorities already.
I was picking up buns to go with the several pounds of hamburger -- and wondering whether to bother getting any for Napoleon -- when I heard it. A car horn. Mine. Don't ask how I knew. I just did. The sound continued in an unbroken wail of complaint. He was standing on the horn.
I grabbed the necessities off the shelves as quickly as possible, wondering how long I had before another officious policeman showed up to threaten me with charges. Mustard, pickles, coffee, crisps -- chips, sorry -- apples, a package of cupcakes with alarmingly-colored frosting which caught my eye--
The noise stopped.
So did I. What could have--
A noise suspiciously like a woof. A skittering sound. A lot of running footsteps and a stifled scream. Then Napoleon rounded the end of the aisle, a stock clerk in hot pursuit, and a policeman not far behind.
His nails scrabbling wildly on the linoleum, Napoleon failed to come to a complete stop before sliding into me. My groceries went everywhere, and he yelped when the jar of instant coffee landed on his paw. The stock clerk slipped on the cupcakes and fell against a display of canned string beans. For a minute or so, we were all too busy dodging beans to say anything.
"Awright, what's the meaning of this?" The cop gave me what he probably thought was a menacing look. It was nothing compared to the look I knew I'd get from Mr. Waverly if Napoleon and I were dragged in for causing a nuisance. Again.
I picked myself up and dusted off my pants. "Yes, officer? Is there a problem?"
"A problem? Yes, Mr, ah...?"
"Mr. Kurtz. We have laws in this community."
"I'm certain you do, officer...?"
"Seilig," he supplied. "Now, for this dog of yours..."
I was tempted to say he wasn't mine. But that would only get Napoleon hauled off to the pound, and I'd have to break him out somehow before they... altered anything. I'm rather fond of him the way he is -- well, at least the way he was. Besides, it would be a hard lie to carry off with Napoleon pressed up against the back of my legs.
"I'm very sorry, officer," I said, trying to put as much England in my voice as I could manage, "I thought he would be safe in the automobile."
"Well, he isn't in the car, now is he, sir?"
"No, I'm afraid not. I suppose he squeezed out the window." I shook my head. "I knew I shouldn't have brought Rufus along on this excursion. I told my sister, the duchess of-- but you don't want to hear about that, and rightly so. Dashed difficult doin' business with this lad hanging on my heels all day. And now I've made your day difficult as well. Jolly bad show, that." Now that was laying it on thick, but the cop seemed to fall for it.
"Well, sir, I guess that could happen to anyone. But really, sir, he ought to have a collar on him."
The stock clerk was, by now, scurrying around gathering my scattered shopping from the sea of canned vegetables. I reached into the untidy pile and plucked out the choke chain and leash. Napoleon even stood still while I put them on him -- eyeing the policeman all the while.
"Will that do, officer?"
The man jerked his eyes up to mine, looking unnerved. Napoleon looked smug. "Ah, yes sir. Yes, that'll do fine. You just... ah, finish your shopping and, and see that you keep that animal under control."
"I'll do that, officer." But he was already walking away, with a -- no doubt unconscious -- quick touch to the brim of his cap, as if he'd just come from Scotland Yard. I shook my head -- Americans are strange.
Holding the leash lightly in one hand, I picked up the re-filled shopping basket with the other and thanked the clerk. I prudently waited until he'd wandered off, leaving the green beans where they lay, before trying to head for the front of the store.
Napoleon balked. He lowered his head and pulled against the chain. My feet slipped on the linoleum, but so did his claws. After a moment, he stopped pulling and hacked violently.
"Then stop choking yourself," I told him, somewhat less than sympathetic while the memory of the policeman was still fresh. "Can we get out of here now?"
He walked politely by my side, and even made up with the girl
at the checkout, the source of the scream. He'd apparently leapt over
the counter and startled her badly, but she wasn't inclined to hold a
grudge. She alternated between cooing at him and making eyes at me, and
somehow managed to take fifteen minutes to total up our meager
The campground was sparsely tenanted in what was, thankfully, the off-season.
The army surplus tent only took a few minutes to put up, once I convinced Napoleon to stop trying to help me. That, at least, was familiar. I laid out the tarp and blanket and collapsed for a few minutes. A sleeping bag would have been more comfortable, but I wasn't about to spend the money. No chance Waverly would reimburse me for camping supplies. Or, most likely, for the campground fees. Not if I couldn't explain why we'd opted for this over the nice inexpensive hotel the Travel Office had arranged for us. (If, that is, the hotel hadn't already called to complain about the dog.)
"Why is it you always cost me money?" I asked Napoleon. He lay down next to me and put his head on my chest. And sighed. I put my arm around him and burrowed my fingers into his fur. "Oh well, what are partners for?"
It was cosy and quiet in the tent. After a while, even Napoleon's bone-shaking pant could no longer keep me awake. Last night had been... active, and the events of the day more stressful, it seemed, than even the most harrowing of missions. Sleep proved a temporary relief from worries over my partner. My lover. Somehow, I couldn't see spending the rest of my life with a dog.
I woke rolling to a crouch, gun in hand. The growl sounded again and I realized it was Napoleon. I poked him in the ribs with my gun and he jerked awake.
"For god's sake, Napoleon, was that your stomach?"
He looked hopefully at me. I never could resist a pleading
look in those warm brown eyes, though it wasn't usually food he wanted.
I sighed and crawled out of the tent to see about feeding us. The fact
that my stomach felt remarkably empty as well had nothing to do with
"Are you sure?"
I put the hamburger I was eating on the paper plate with the other two and set it aside. "Don't eat that."
He gave me a look which clearly said what he thought of that.
"I can't believe I'm doing this." I picked up the plate I'd put on the ground for him, and set about fixing up buns for his hamburgers. Only when they were sufficiently dressed with condiments, pickles, tomatoes, etc, did he deign to do more than sniff at them. They disappeared in three bites, and he came sniffing around me again.
"Oh no! That's quite enough. This is mine."
Just then, my communicator started beeping. I put my plate down and pulled out my pen.
"Open Channel D, Kuryakin here."
"Mr. Kuryakin, you have a communication coming in on Channel A."
I told the cool impersonal voice thanks and switched over. "Kuryakin."
"Illya? That you?"
"Mark!" Thank god.
"What's this cock and bull story April's on about?"
"April told you everything I told her?"
"Every blessed word. Do you really expect me to believe that--"
"I don't really have time to go into specifics, Mark." Especially not on an open channel -- the Communications personnel were absolutely trustworthy when it came to preserving U.N.C.L.E.'s secrets, but that didn't mean they didn't gossip. "Just do me a favor and see if you can't find someone who can help."
There was a long pause. I rarely plead for anything, and I knew that was a deciding factor when he reluctantly said, "All right. But if you two twit me about it later..."
"We won't, promise."
"All right, then. I think I know a bloke who can help. Problem will be finding him. Last I heard, and some years ago it was at that, he was running around London, going by some unlikely name or other. Crusher? Mauler? Stripper! No, that's not it."
"Anything you can do to help, Mark."
"I'll get right on it. Probably won't know anything until morning, though."
After giving him my location, I signed off with a sigh, and looked down to find Napoleon licking the last traces of hamburger off my plate.
"Glutton. Anyone would think you were me."
Why didn't anyone tell me it got cold at night around here? The blanket was woefully inadequate, and the fire had gone out long ago. I could have gotten up to coax it back to life, but I'd already been out of the meager warmth of the blanket twice, putting the tent back up. I don't know why they call them pup tents. If Napoleon stood up inside one more time...
So I lay in my blanket and shivered, until something large and furry curled up next to me. Napoleon wiggled in close, bringing with him an abundance of warm fur and large, panting dog. It was heavenly.
I wrapped my arms around him and started getting warmer at once. Just as I was finally falling asleep, I felt a cold nose against my neck. Napoleon washed my face thoroughly with his tongue, and I was too tired to do more than rub it dry against his fur.
Maybe it wasn't so bad to have a dog for a partner.
"Get your nose out of my crotch."
Napoleon whined. I thought about doing the same. I was never particularly highly-sexed, until Napoleon and I became lovers. Now... Well, one has certain expectations. At least, one's body does. But waking up at the ready, so to speak, does not argue a willingness to take care of the matter with just anyone.
I rolled over and buried my face in my arms. "Sorry, Napoleon. I'm not into bestiality."
I yelped as Napoleon took rude advantage of my position. When I rolled back over, he was grinning his wolfy grin at me. I glared at him. "Do that again, and I'm going to chain you up outside."
He growled at me. I growled back. I've never been much of a morning person.
"Ah, anyone home?"
"Mark?" I scrambled to untuck my already rumpled shirt and pull it down to hide my condition. With a final glare at Napoleon's furry, laughing face, I crawled out of the tent.
"Good morning," Mark said, far too cheerfully, in my opinion. But then he handed me a styrofoam cup of steaming coffee and a bag of warm doughnuts, and things began looking up.
"So," Mark said, his voice a little high, "this is the dog..."
"Napoleon," I said without looking up from wolfing down my breakfast, "be nice."
Napoleon stopped sniffing around Mark and came over to beg a doughnut from me. I ignored him. For a moment, there was silence -- the waiting kind of silence which hints at thoughts of rubber rooms.
"You, ah... you really believe that's Napoleon."
I shoved Napoleon's furry face away and ate another doughnut, stuffing it whole into my mouth. He made a huffing noise, then whined engagingly.
Mark knelt next to Napoleon and patted him gingerly. "Illya?"
"It's Napoleon, Mark. Just look at his eyes."
"I, ah, can't."
I pulled Napoleon's head out of the empty doughnut bag, brushed flakes of frosting off his muzzle and shoved him around to face Mark.
Looking like he felt every bit as stupid as I would have under the circumstances, Mark looked the dog in the eye. Napoleon stared amiably back, panting. Mark blinked. Napoleon didn't.
"Napoleon?" Mark's voice broke. Napoleon barked happily and gave his face a lick. "Gah."
"Yeah, I know the feeling. What are you looking at me for," I asked Napoleon, "you just ate half a dozen doughnuts."
"So did you," Mark said, but he sounded distracted. Realizing that one of your fellow agents is a dog will do that to you.
I don't blame him for being distracted. He was watching Napoleon lick himself in a... well, a delicate place. I was trying not to notice. "Well, do you have anything for me?"
"Wish I could do that." He blinked. "What? Oh, yeah. I managed to reach that bloke I told you about." He fished in his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. "He wouldn't say whether he could help -- under the circumstances, I don't blame him. Fellow might end up in the nut house for saying he can fix things like this. But here's the address and directions. He's expecting you."
He shook his head sharply and got up. "I... I hope he can help." He brushed down his pantlegs. Napoleon got up and pushed his nose against Mark's hand. Mark patted him awkwardly on the head. He shook his head again. "April's never going to believe this."
"No." She'd already opted not to. Smart girl.
"I don't care whether you like the leash or not, you're going to wear it. We're going into a school, for heaven's sake. Now close your mouth." I tried to get the choke chain over his muzzle again. He waited until I had the top of it over his nose, then opened his mouth and acted surprised when it got caught. I let go of the chain and he spit it out. Again.
"Napoleon, if you want to go back to being human, you'd better let me put this on you."
He pawed at my arm, raising welts with his dull claws. "Stop that! You're going to scratch my watch." He did it again. "Okay, I get the point." It was after three. "I don't care if the place is empty. If I take you in there without a leash, it's a given we're going to run into a janitor or, worse, an overzealous principal and end up talking to the police again."
"Napoleon, if you don't let me put this leash on you, I swear, even if you do somehow become human again, I'm never going to sleep with you again."
"I mean it."
Napoleon hung his head and let me put the choke chain and leash on him.
"That's better. Now lets go see if Mark's friend can help." And pray god he could -- I honestly didn't know how much more I could take.
Napoleon pushed open the door to the library with his nose, ignoring my hiss of 'impatient.' His U.N.C.L.E. training, not to mention native intelligence, was losing the battle with doggie enthusiasm. Being dragged willy-nilly through a deserted high school did nothing to reassure me about my partner's mental state. A lot could be excused in the pursuit of a return to the proper shape, but Napoleon was nothing if not cautious. Usually. And he didn't usually drool that much.
The man and girl who looked up, startled, at my precipitous entrance appeared to be the only people in the library. The redhead was pretty in a petite, jailbait sort of way. Not that I was interested. Now the man -- the librarian, I guessed -- was another matter. Oh, he needed a few lessons on how to dress. Which is rich, as Napoleon would say, coming from me. But even I know that an outfit consisting entirely of tweed is probably a bad idea. But despite that, there was definitely something about him. He could have rung my bells, if I wasn't so sweet on my partner.
He stood up from the table he was leaning over, pushed his glasses back on his nose, and regarded me uncertainly. Mark's friend wasn't exactly the bruiser I was expecting from his nickname. Either that, or I was in the wrong place.
Napoleon put on the brakes rather suddenly, coming to a halt so quickly I nearly lost my balance, and sat, acting as if he had some clue as to the meaning of obedience. Since he'd never had any before he became a dog, there seemed little chance he'd discovered it now. I retrieved my foot out from under his fuzzy butt and seriously considered kicking him. He turned to look at me and whined, shaking his head until the chain jangled, nearly shaking my arm off in the process.
"Excuse me, are you--?"
With a rising growl, Napoleon expressed his irritation at being ignored.
"All right, Napoleon. Stop that." I pulled the choke chain off, not nearly as gently as I would have if I'd known it would catch on his ears. He whined, and I tousled his ears guiltily.
"Mr. Kuryakin, is it?" the librarian asked, pronouncing it right, for a wonder. His accent was as British, and as out of place here, as mine. Which is funny, given that I'm Russian.
I inclined my head. We sized each other up. He probably didn't look like much to most people -- a little stoop-shouldered, bland face, eyes peering studiously from behind glasses -- but I haven't lasted this long in my chosen profession by being stupid about these things. This man was formidable.
"Mark called you about our..." I looked at the girl, who'd knelt to scratch behind Napoleon's ears. "...problem."
He spared a glance at the oblivious teen himself. "Yes. I believe I should be able to... assist you."
Before I could ask him what he could do, and what it was going to cost me, two more teenagers breezed into the small library. The boy was talking a mile a minute, throwing comments over his shoulder at the blonde. She answered vaguely, and clearly wasn't paying much attention, a fact he appeared cheerfully oblivious to. They stopped when they saw me and, interestingly, glanced at the librarian, as if for guidance. He removed and began cleaning his glasses.
The blonde stepped around her companion, and in a flash Napoleon was in front of me, ears back, head down. His hackles rose as a growl rumbled from his throat.
"Napoleon," I said under my breath, laying my hand on his head. For once, his base growl didn't arouse visceral fears in me. Except for the safety of the others. "That's enough." I dug my fingers into his fur and projected as much calm as I could, given that something about the girl raised my own hackles too, though not as obviously as Napoleon's. She was, if anything, even more dangerous than the man.
"Everything is fine," the librarian said, and the blonde's stance relaxed. Napoleon quieted at the same moment, and I patted him awkwardly. "Just someone an old friend of mine sent to look me up." He put his glasses back on.
The blonde rolled her eyes. "Not more red jackets."
He frowned. "That's redcoats. And British will do just fine, thank you."
"And you do. Fine, that is." She stood on tiptoe to kiss him playfully on the cheek.
"Ha bloody ha."
Unchastened, she grinned at him. The dark-haired boy laughed. He sat down and leaned his chair precariously back on two legs to put his feet up on the polished library table. He looked inclined to stay. Napoleon would have known what to say to shoo them off, in good moods, no less; and he'd have figured out how to get a word in edgewise. All I could do was worry that they would never leave. "What's the plan for tonight, G-man?"
"Don't call me that." He swept the boy's feet off the table. The chair made a controlled descent back to four legs with the ease of long-practice. "Don't you three have studying to do?"
"Where better to study than a library?" The boy fidgeted under the librarian's stare for a good sixty seconds before adding. "Except maybe the park. Or the mall, or..."
He got up and grabbed the blonde's arm. His tugging utterly failed to budge her. She was looking at the librarian with a thoughtful expression at odds with the frivolity of her dress.
"Go on," he said with a tilt of his head. I ferverently hoped they'd obey, and let us get down to the business of returning Napoleon to his proper shape.
"What about patr--" She broke off, shooting me a suspicious glance. I pretended not to notice the byplay.
"You can pa-- party later."
"You hear that?" the boy exclaimed, "we can party later!" She elbowed him. "Oof! Oh yeah... party..." He looked rather less excited about that than most teenagers I've had the dubious pleasure of meeting.
Two of the three young people took their leave, which I found a great relief. I've never felt particularly comfortable around teenagers. Especially pubescent females.
Speaking of which. The cute redhead was lingering. In fact, she seemed not to have noticed her friends' departure, or for that matter their arrival. After he finished growling at the blonde, Napoleon had slunk back over to have his ears scratched some more. She was rubbing his head slowly, staring into his eyes with the most peculiar expression on her face.
The librarian's gaze followed mine. A line of concern appeared on his brow. "A-aren't you going with them."
She ignored the non-question, glancing up brightly at him as he went to her. "He's not a werewolf. Daylight and all. Besides, he doesn't look like a-- not that I'd know what a werewolf should look like," she added suddenly, her eyes wide.
"Quite." He knelt next to her and let Napoleon sniff his hand before reaching to pet him.
I shifted my weight, but Napoleon just half-closed his eyes and panted. He normally wasn't fond of being touched -- oh, he's not a misanthrope, far from it -- but with people other than friends, it was always Napoleon who did the touching. The librarian looked up at me, and in the flicker of his gaze, I could see his understanding and evaluation of my stance. I relaxed quite deliberately, and he offered me a small smile and quick nod.
"It's a spell," he said, more to me than her, though neither of us was unaware of her rapt attention.
I nodded, though I felt foolish for agreeing with such an incredible statement. But how much more incredible could it be than waking up next to a Newfoundland who used to be my lover?
"Do you know how this happened?"
"I'm afraid not." I told him all I knew -- for the sake of innocent ears, making it sound as if we were sharing a bed due to a stingy boss -- which wasn't much.
"Very well. I'll have to research this." He stood decisively, and glanced around at the books with an expression both vague and thoughtful. "Not knowing the source will slow things up a bit, but I should know how it was done and the counterspell in a few hours."
"I'll help." The redhead's expression became stubborn in response to him. "Research girl, remember? It'll go faster."
"I rather suppose it will. Very well." He turned to me. "If you'd like to leave him here and..." He smiled suddenly. I suspect my lip was curling as obviously as Napoleon's. "No, I didn't think so. Well... it is a library..."
"I'm sure I can amuse myself."
He nodded, and went into a cage which clearly housed the rarest of the books -- and an overlarge locked cabinet. Interesting. Before long, the two of them were poring over stacks of volumes, and the large table was covered with books. From time to time, they spoke quietly to each other -- the girl pointing something out, the librarian shaking his head. I wandered into the stacks and entertained myself by reading book titles. Soon I became engrossed.
The library was turning out to be as interesting as the librarian. I would have to remember to ask Mark how he met this fellow. And it might not come amiss to use some of U.N.C.L.E.'s vast resources to keep an eye on this place. How many high school libraries had such old and obscure tombs mixed in with the Shakespeare and Melville? Practical Demonology. Werewolves for Dummies. One Thousand and One Everyday Curses. Life After Armageddon. I snorted.
Napoleon whined. He'd been following me around, brushing against my pantlegs, occasionally tripping me. I knelt in front of him.
"We'll get this fixed," I told him softly, not particularly wanting to be caught talking to a dog, even by these people. "I want you back as much as you want to be back." I looked around quickly, but we were in the back of the stacks, well out of sight. I wrapped my arms around him, and buried my face in soft, thick fur. He leaned into me.
"Mr. ah, Kuryakin?" the librarian called.
I pulled away, feeling unaccountably better, and Napoleon licked my face. "Ugh. Coming."
The librarian was standing by the now-cleared table, a book open in his hand. "We, we think we've discovered the proper counter spell. It's, ah, Sumerian, actually."
"Pretty unusual," the girl said, coming out of the cage with an armful of objects. They began arranging things on the floor in front of the table, alternating with each other as they explained it to me.
"You see, spells leave signatures. Like fingerprints."
"Your... friend has the signs all over him, to an experienced eye. Thus it's possible to track down the spell which was used and find the proper counterspell to reverse it."
"Can we use the 'signature' to identify who did this?" I rested my hand on Napoleon's head as we both watched the preparations. The pentacle, drawn on the floor in white chalk, though expected, gave me a chill. I felt uneasy, as if I were watching the preparation of an operating room for a procedure which might or might not prove deadly.
The girl giggled as she poured water into a bowl. "We don't have to. That's what so interesting about this."
The librarian looked on indulgently. "It's the spell that was used, you see. The only extant counterspell will throw the curse back on the original practitioner."
"Your enemy -- whoever he is -- will get back what he gave out."
"In spades," the librarian added under his breath.
I shared a look with Napoleon. It wasn't as satisfying as cornering him in a dark alley with a knife, but I had to admit that it seemed like perfect justice. "What do I do?"
To my surprise, it was the girl who answered. "Just... just stand back and, well, be quiet while I'm casting?"
The librarian accurately divined my response to that. "It's a r-relatively easy spell. She's quite, quite good at these things. Really."
She beamed at him. He scowled unconvincingly and gestured for her to proceed. It didn't seem that an objection would get me anywhere, so I kept my mouth shut. It was an effort, as Napoleon obediently moved forward to sit in the middle of the pentacle, not to lay my hand on my gun. When he looked back, forelornly it seemed, I would have gone to him if the librarian hadn't stopped me.
The redhead began chanting, pouring liquid from one bowl to another, then lighting the whispy contents of a third bowl. The language was unfamiliar to me -- which is saying something -- though I occasionally caught a word which I thought might be Latin. Definitely not the scientific Latin I'd learned in graduate school. I also thought I caught a few Romanian phrases, but it might have been just my Slavic imagination working overtime.
Napoleon sat in the middle of everything, panting quietly. When, finally, she seemed about to draw to a close, he began whimpering, and pacing in the pentacle. I tensed against the librarian's restraining arm. Before I could say or do anything, a blinding flash of light threw me to the ground.
I blinked, disoriented, and found myself enveloped in cloth. With a growl, I fought free and looked around. The enormous black dog inside the chalk lines stood, quivering, then bounded toward me. With a hiss, I rushed up the tall man next to me and clung to his shoulder. The dog stood up on his hind legs to get a closer look and I hissed again, digging my claws in. I could feel my fur standing on end. That was when I knew things were getting weird.
"Oh for heaven's sake."
"Sorry," the girl said, not raising her eyes from her hands.
The man took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Get down," he told the dog, and brushed the animal off without dislodging me. "Needless to say, this isn't exactly the result I was anticipating. Your claws are in my shoulder."
I realized he was talking to me and carefully extracted them. The dog sat at the man's feet and stared up at me. I found the steady regard unnerving. And oddly pleasing. On impulse, I leapt from the man's shoulder to the table and pussyfooted closer to the edge. The dog walked up and sniffed me over gingerly. I put up with it until he tried to lick me -- I draw the line at dog slobber. The dog retreated, licking his nose and looking needlessly hurt -- I didn't even have my claws out.
"What are we going to do now?" the girl asked in a small voice.
"Turn them both back, of course." He put his glasses back on, picked up the book next to me on the table and started paging through it.
"But what if..."
"What if what?" He didn't look up from the book.
"Um, what if turning him back..." and here she nodded at me for some reason, "well... what if it turns me into a cat?" Silly girl, as if that was a bad thing.
He smiled. "It won't. You didn't transform him with the same spell the original caster used, but with an error in the counterspell, so it won't backfire on you when I change them both back, all right?"
Silence for a moment as he flipped pages.
"What is it?" He really was remarkably patient.
She looked at me nervously. "Well, you remember Amy, of course you remember Amy, and we haven't been able to... I mean she's... well, we still haven't de-ratted Amy, and..."
"This, at least, I should be able to manage," he said drily. "We'll need some new ingredients. Get me--"
I stopped paying attention. That stupid dog was nosing around again. There are certain things a respectable cat doesn't put up with, and being molested by a dog is one of them. I put my paw on top of his nose and let the claws slide out slowly. He blinked cross-eyed at me. I honestly think he would have let me sink all five of them into his tender nose without even yelping. I slowly retracted my claws and removed the paw.
We stared at each other for a time. There was something remarkably familiar about his eyes, though I can't remember ever being on, shall we say, close terms with a dog before. After a carefully measured time, during which the humans chattered incessantly in the background, I put my paw back on his nose. He held perfectly still as I put a second one there, then a third and fourth. His head was wide and flat, perfectly suited for a short stroll. I contemplated my situation for a moment, during which he proved he wasn't likely to go suddenly bounding about. He was warm and soft. I sat down between his ears and curled my tail around myself.
There was a commotion outside the room to match the growing one the two humans were making inside. Two more young people came bursting into the room at the same moment that the other humans somehow produced an unnecessarily loud burst of lightning.
I found myself on the floor, sprawled across my partner. Never has that been a more comforting feeling. He blinked up at me, and smiled. My complacency came to an abrupt end when I realized I could distinctly feel a breeze across my backside. Just beyond arm's reach I could see a pile of clothing that was unmistakably mine.
"Oh my," someone said in a small voice.
Marion Raven sat back on her haunches and sent up a sad little howl to the moon. Now she'd never get Napoleon out of the way and have Illya to herself.
"More than fur does?" I didn't bother to take my eyes from the road.
Napoleon's silence made my point for me.
"What's that American expression about beggars?" I asked when he grimaced and pulled at his borrowed shirt. "You're lucky he had a change of clothes in his office."
He made a noise remarkably like a growl. Of course, he'd had a lot of practice at that lately. I doubt what he muttered was an answer to my admittedly rhetorical question, but decided not to call him on it. Finding yourself naked in front of four strangers -- three of them open-mouthed, and then openly appraising, adolescents -- is not an experience for the fainthearted. I had it better than Napoleon, though. At least my clothes were near at hand.
In a way, I was grateful for the... excitement which heralded our return to human shape. Embarrassing as it was, it would have been even more embarrassing to give in to my relief at having my partner back in the proper form. Emotional displays are better reserved for behind closed doors, if at all.
I let myself look at him for a minute, drinking in his familiar features. Much better. Napoleon might be a dog, but I much prefer him without all that fur. He scratched dolefully around his neck, and I smiled to myself. I doubt he was itchy so much as self-conscious. And on that, I had to agree with him -- Napoleon does not look becoming in tweed.
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