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Runaway Milk Run

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Runaway Milk Run

February 13, 1966, New York City
Illya POV

Illya’s communicator trilled at him. He instantly put down the paper he was reading and pulled the pen out. He flipped the ends that made the connection and opened the link. “Kuryakin here.”

“Illya, come help, please!” His partner sounded desperate.

Pulling the communicator away from his face, Illya stared at it for a split second of delay. Something didn’t sound quite right. He answered, though, as he always would. “Where are you? How much back-up do you need?” Normally, he wouldn’t have added the last part but...

“Ah... it’s not that type of help...”

With a roll of his eyes, Illya cataloged everything he’d been tallying about what had felt off about the call and filed it under ‘Napoleon’s personal exploits gone wrong’. He waited until the communicator could pick it up and then sighed loudly. “Dare I ask?”

“Just... my apartment, please?”

That was two ‘please’s in three sentences. While Napoleon was known for being smooth and courteous, there was definitely something going on when he was using that much butter on his partner and didn’t want to say what it was out loud.

“I’ll be right over.” Illya disconnected the communicator before Napoleon could respond. Thank yous could wait until he found out what was happening and chose what to do about it.

He also forbore to remark on the personal use of the communicator – Illya was sure Waverly would have some words about it later on, seeing as how the UNCLE head got all communications reports. It wouldn’t, though, likely have any effect on Napoleon, since he still persisted despite previous words.

--

“Napoleon, what is this?” Illya surveyed the mess in Napoleon’s apartment with some surprise. Normally his American partner kept his place neat and tidy. Not covered with bags and boxes and boxes of... oh. That was right. Tomorrow was...

“Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day,” Napoleon explained, stress written all over his body as he closed the door behind Illya and locked it.

“Ah, a holiday that is the epitome of American capitalism, exchanging sentiment for commercialized buying and bankrupting those who cannot resist the lure.” Illya reached out to one of the open boxes and picked up a chocolate and popped it in his mouth.

Napoleon eyed him with exasperation. “And that would be the reason I didn’t call you earlier, you bottomless pit, you. Illya, you can’t eat the candy! I need it.”

“You mean your women need it,” Illya pointed out complacently, eating another one. He picked up one of the boxes and read off the top, “’A woman never forgets the man who remembers.’” Putting that one down, he perused an ad on the table mixed in with the boxes. “’Free kisses... with every box of Brach’s Valentine’s Chocolates you give to her.’” He kept browsing. “Wink ‘n Kiss chocolates.”

 

There was something very different about this year’s selections. “Napoleon, you have all types of boxes here. From Brach’s to Whitman’s to See’s.” He picked up another box, his eyebrows raising. “And not all chocolates. ‘My love is pure, my love is true, you can have my heart, and eat it too!’” It was a gummy candy in the shape of a real heart – not the sort of thing Napoleon normally handed out to his sweethearts.

Napoleon blushed. “I thought the nurses might like them.”

“You’re not going to try the disaster of last year again, are you?”

The problem with being a serial womanizer who dated in the office was that everybody remembered. Napoleon kept on good terms, for the most part, with all his past women by never forgetting them and staying courteous and kind, even while moving on to new ones, sometimes rotating back again. In the early days of Napoleon’s years at UNCLE New York, this wasn’t so hard to do. By the time Illya had arrived, the problems were starting to become apparent.

UNCLE employed women in all departments. Many, many women. Once security cleared and trained, very few UNCLE employees left, though they did periodically rotate to other jobs. After years of working at the New York office, Napoleon had gotten himself into the position of having dated all, or nearly all of the women there. The few he hadn’t taken out at least once for dinner and drinks were the ones who had turned him down. Keeping them all happy, or at least on speaking terms, was constant work.

Napoleon, however, was an expert intriguer and good chess player and wasn’t top spy for nothing and managed to both keep track of all women past and present, but also to regularly give them little gifts, showing he remembered them. Valentine’s Day, however...

Two years ago, Valentine’s Day nearly broke his partner. Literally. As a Section Two agent, Napoleon made good money, UNCLE not stinting on those who risked their lives for them. Napoleon, though, regularly lived on the brink of poverty, not bothering to put anything into savings (not expecting to live to use it for retirement), and what he did get went through his fingers like water, dispensing out to restaurants and candy shops and florists and all the other things he regularly came up with for his dates. Napoleon didn’t count it a problem, even with Illya regularly nagging him about it when he would come over to help with his taxes. He just shrugged, put on that disarming grin of his, and said they were all worth it. The problem came when Valentine’s Day rolled around. On that day, all women expected to receive some token of appreciation. Many years ago, Napoleon had started the trend of giving everybody he’d ever dated a box of chocolates. Finally, the point had been reached where Napoleon was now giving something to literally every woman in UNCLE New York. He didn’t want to leave out those who had turned him down, or those who were new and he hadn’t reached out to, or those who were married, or those who were too young (and there were some of those, mostly in filing). Napoleon liked women, all women, and wanted to be fair and generous to all of them. Which meant boxes for all of them. Which meant going into debt.

When he realized just how much all those boxes of chocolates were going to cost, Napoleon had sheepishly approached Illya for a loan, not having nearly enough to cover the enormous costs of all that candy. Illya had shaken his head, muttered about the extremes of capitalism, and given it to him. Of all the lessons, Napoleon taken that one to heart, so to speak, and vowed to do something about it.

So the next year, Napoleon had given just one box of chocolates to each department, addressed to all the women together. One for accounting, one for transcription, one for nurses, one for communications... Illya had warned him it was going to be a disaster. Napoleon had waved it off, saying who knew women better? In this case, it proved to be Illya. The two of them had escaped on a mission the next day and didn’t return home for a month, taking two other assignments directly from the field. By that time, tempers had settled somewhat.

And this year? Illya looked to his friend with raised eyebrows, holding one of the boxes in his hand. “Dare I ask what the plan is for this year?”

Napoleon lifted up the small bags to show him. “Individual packs, but not whole boxes! If I put four or five chocolates in each bag, add some candy hearts, and a paper rose...” He looked at Illya hopefully.

“Napoleon, you have become a teenager,” Illya pronounced. He surveyed the assembled boxes. “At least you did not resort to candies and gum.”

Switching what he had in his hands, Napoleon extended a packet. “Juicy Fruit?”

Illya looked at him silently.

Pulling out a stick, Napoleon unwrapped it and popped it in his mouth. Chewing loudly, he grinned at his partner.

“What do you want me to do?” Illya asked with resignation.

“While I hesitate to put you in charge of the candy, I doubt if the girls will appreciate having the hand-written notes in your writing instead of mine. Could you put the packages together?”

“Of course, Napoleon.” Illya resigned himself to a long day of stuffing bags. Maybe he could talk Napoleon into putting on some jazz records while they worked.

--

Illya cracked his neck and then his fingers. “Is that all, Napoleon?”

“That was the very last one, my friend.” Napoleon looked at the pile of bags on the floor in satisfaction, then knelt down and started sorting them.

Illya glanced at the table. “What about those boxes?”

“Oh, those aren’t for UNCLE girls – they’re being delivered to a few special ones outside.”

Flipping tags, Illya stiffened as he got to one. “Na-pol-e-on!”

Napoleon looked over. “Ah.” He flicked his gaze between Illya and the package. “It’s not like I’m taking them there in person.”

“You shouldn’t be—” Illya clamped his lips shut.

Napoleon shrugged disarmingly. “She’s very beautiful.”

“And deadly,” Illya grumbled. But he let it be. Napoleon wouldn’t change. “Shall we have dinner now?”

“Always food with you, my friend. But I’m grateful that you didn’t eat all the chocolates, so I owe you dinner at the least.”

--
The Next Morning
--

“Good day, gentlemen,” Mr. Waverly didn’t look up from his paperwork. “Sit down, please.”

Napoleon and Illya traded glances and then sat down.

“How’s your knee, Mr. Solo?”

“Doing much better, sir.” Napoleon stretched to prove his fitness.

Illya ducked under Napoleon’s arm and glared at him.

“That’s good, Mr. Solo. You and Mr. Kuryakin are to retrieve the journals of Dr. Hantil and deliver them to UNCLE Dallas.”

The two partners looked at each other and then back at Waverly.

“With all due respect, sir,” Napoleon cautiously said, “That’s a junior agent job. A milk run.”

“Yes, well,” Waverly looked up from the file he was annotating and then spun the table so the file was now in front of them. “It will get the two of you out of here for a decent amount of time. Did you get all your packages delivered this morning?”

Napoleon swallowed. “I promise, sir, it won’t be like last year.” He nudged Illya.

Waverly’s eyes cut towards Illya. “Mr. Kuryakin?”

Illya sighed. “It does seem to be a good plan this year, sir. Odds are about 86 percent for success.”

“Only 86?” Napoleon asked.

“Women are capricious.”

“That’s true.”

“I am not risking a 14 percent chance of a repeat of last year,” Waverly said firmly. “You two will collect and deliver those journals. Now.”

“Yes sir,” they chorused in unison. Picking up the file with the details, they left together.

--
Two days later
Napoleon POV
--

They sped madly down the road, Napoleon forcing the car well past the safe limits and wishing he could see the ground better.

“This was supposed,” Illya leaned out the window and shot at the cars behind them. He ducked back in as the gunfire was returned. “To be,” he ducked out again, but came in before he got a shot off. “A milk run.” He sounded disgruntled.

“Apparently nobody told Thrush that,” Napoleon replied dryly, waiting until Illya was mostly seated again before swinging the car in a curve and avoiding the gunshots. He returned to the main straightaway before the car could skid on the soft shoulder.

To be honest, Napoleon wasn’t sure if he was cursing their luck right now, or being glad of it. The normal run of junior agents who would have gotten this sort of run probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with this many determined Thrush. He and Illya were just barely managing it. He had, though, every confidence in the two of them working together.

Illya patted down his pockets, then reached inside and pulled out his money clip. He took the money out and tucked the bills back inside his jacket.

“Will that have enough boom in it?” Napoleon asked, raising an eyebrow. The money clip was designed for indoor use and Section 8 was still working out the bugs.

“Timing will be more of an issue.” Illya concentrated, watching the cars behind them. Then he leaned precariously out the window for longer than Napoleon liked before he saw his partner’s hand move and Illya was crawling back in again.

There was an explosion behind them.

Napoleon glanced in the rear-view mirror. “Got one of them.” His partner was very, very good; a fact that Napoleon was often thankful for.

“Good. That only leaves three to go.” Illya reloaded his gun. “Do we have more explosives?”

Napoleon shook his head. They’d used everything else earlier when getting away.

“Spare gas can?”

“This isn’t a jeep, Illya, and we’re not in the middle of the wilderness.” Well, not entirely the wilderness. In the middle of nowhere, Texas, could somewhat be considered to be such, especially if they got stranded there. Napoleon weaved the car in random wiggles across the road, minimizing the chances they would get hit by gunfire, and also preventing any of the cars from getting ahead of them.

“That’s a no?”

“That’s a no.”

Illya peered over his seat behind them. “Veer right.”

Without questioning it, Napoleon did so.

Illya ducked out and fired.

There came a squeal and the sound of a car fishtailing on the asphalt road.

“Two left,” Illya said with satisfaction, settling in his seat again.

Even knowing how good Illya was, that shot was still something bordering on the mystical. It was darker than a pit out here, and the only lights were the car’s headlights and the sparks from the gunfire.

The car started slowing without Napoleon’s foot having changed position on the gas pedal. “Uh oh.”

“What is it?” Illya asked sharply.

“They hit something. We’re slowing down.”

Illya breathed out a Russian curse.

Just then, Napoleon spotted some light ahead, on the left. “Town.”

“Out here?”

“We’re not in the middle of the wilderness, just in Texas,” Napoleon repeated himself.

Illya didn’t reply, but Napoleon was sure that if he could have spared a glance, his partner would be giving him one of his speaking looks.

“Hold on.” Napoleon spun the wheel and turned them onto the road going into the town. It was dangerous for the townspeople to bring Thrush in amongst them, but it was more dangerous for the world to let Thrush succeed.

The first car behind them missed the turn off and would have to turn around. The second car, however, made it and was right behind them as they barreled in.

Their own car weaved down the road, barely keeping from spinning-out as they started to pass the occasional houses in the town. The reduced speed helped Napoleon steady the controls, but unfortunately also had the Thrushies dangerously close. Thankfully it was late enough that there weren’t any people out walking around. Where they could safely go still had to present itself. Napoleon kept a sharp lookout as they entered the town, watching for something that might help them. A hardware store, maybe, or warehouse, or barn.

Illya watched behind them and grunted. He turned to the window, looking behind them and pulling himself partway out.

“Watch out, Illya,” Napoleon warned. “We’re slow enough and they’re close enough to get a bead if any of them are good sho—”

There was a loud bang from the right side of the car and Napoleon struggled in vain to keep it straight. They’d lost a tire and were veering across the road uncontrollably. “Illya – in!”

His partner slithered into the car, though it was more thrown in than deliberate. At least it hadn’t been the other direction.

Momentum stilled suddenly, with the sound of metal tearing and bricks crumpling. Napoleon slammed into the steering wheel, jamming his knee into the control panel.

It took him a few seconds to catch his breath. When he did, he looked up and blinked. There was a wall in front of him. A brick wall. Literally in front of him, just on the other side of the windshield. Not beyond the front of the car, but directly past the windshield... if the glass wasn’t there, he could have reached out and touched the wall. Napoleon wiggled his feet just to make sure they were still there, it was that close.

A lack of sound shook him out of his absorption and he turned right, seeking his partner.

Illya was crumpled, twisted in the seat, body turned partially away from Napoleon, his head down on the dash and blood dripping down.

Napoleon drew in a sharp breath. Illya hadn’t been seat-belted or even settled securely when they’d crashed. He reached out and touched the side of Illya’s neck gently.

A low moan reassured him, even as Illya instinctively turned towards him.

“Did you get the number of that truck?” Illya murmured, his hand going up to his forehead.

“I don’t think it was a truck,” Napoleon said, getting out his handkerchief and pressing it to Illya’s head.

Illya took over the pressure and looked up. Napoleon was gratified by the dumbfounded expression Illya showed as he saw the bricks in front of them. “What... —Ow!”

The exclamation of pain was near simultaneous with the sound of a gunshot. Illya grabbed his upper right arm. Napoleon reached into his jacket for his gun but didn’t pull it.

“Oops,” a falsely contrite voice came from outside the car. “I meant that to miss. A warning shot, as it were.” The voice hardened. “No funny tricks – toss the gun out the window.”

Napoleon traded glances with Illya. From the moment they crashed, they were outnumbered and outgunned. It was better to take the next opportunity than to foolishly squander what they had. He pulled his gun out and tossed it over Illya though the window open on his side.

“Bet you’re wishing you’d gotten that out sooner instead of worrying about your partner,” the Thrushie snorted.

Like he hadn’t heard that one before. Napoleon almost didn’t reply, but he saw the duck of the head that Illya gave and he got mad. “You know, Thrush keeps thinking that it’s a liability, but in actuality, caring about my partner is my greatest asset. It’s what keeps UNCLE winning over Thrush.”

“You just keep believing that, and we’ll keep killing you.” The voice hardened again. “Hand over the journals, Uncle.”

“I don’t think so,” Napoleon said politely. “Terribly sorry, but my diary is personal. It’s boring anyhow, really. Just about things like girls, what I had for breakfast, girls, a robin I saw, girls...” Napoleon had never been one to surrender too lightly, he liked to make them work for it.

Illya rolled his eyes, but there was a grin playing at the edges of his lips. Napoleon grinned back.

“Oh, a wisecracker.” The Thrush agent came up to the window next to Illya, his gun negligently waved before it straightened to point at them again. “There’re four guns aimed at you. You’re not getting away. Might as well just give it to us, nice and easy.”

“And then you’ll let us go?” Illya spoke quickly, sarcastically.

The Thrushie reached through the window and poked Illya’s arm. Illya hissed and flinched away, recoiling into Napoleon.

“Exactly,” the agent grinned. “Now, the journals?” He pointed his gun again. “Or your life?”

“Or yours?” A new voice emerged. “Downright un-neighborly of you folks, I say. Dropping in like that and then threatening to kill folks.”

The Thrush agent stepped away from the window and half-turned.

Napoleon and Illya exchanged glances and turned together to look through the back window.

“Ah, ah... you might have four guns, but we’ve got eight. Put them all down, y’all.” The voice struck in command, “Now.”

Outside, the four Thrush agents that had spread out and surrounded their crashed car were in turn surrounded by several men, locals by the look, of various ages and fitness levels, but all with guns aimed with confident hands. The one nearest them wore a uniform and approached the Thrush agent. “Drop it, slicker.”

Napoleon tried his door but it was stuck, the frame apparently shifted just enough from the crash that it wouldn’t budge. He was glad he hadn’t tried any dramatic heroics earlier as they would have fallen a little flat. He looked a question at Illya. Illya shrugged just a little, then winced after he made the motion. He twisted to get at the door handle with his left hand.

“Ah, how about if you two stay in the car for now...” The uniformed man gave a piercingly direct look to them. He shifted his gaze to Illya’s wounded arm, giving it a field evaluation and deeming it less than life-threatening. “Just until we sort this out.”

“I don’t think he trusts us,” Napoleon muttered in a low voice. Outside, the man gave him a wink, then turned back to the Thrush agents.

“Because we’re such upstanding, moral people,” Illya responded sarcastically. “Everybody can see that at just a glance.”

“Well, people usually trust me,” Napoleon said. “It’s obviously my disreputable ragamuffin partner who is throwing him off.” He reached up to tussle Illya’s wind-tossed locks into even less order than they’d been in before.

It took some back and forth between the locals and the Thrush, but eventually all the agents were disarmed, handcuffed, and lead off to the local jail.

“I’d be careful with them,” Napoleon called through the window, “They’re not your average criminal. International thieves and spies.”

The uniformed man raised his eyebrows then nodded at his men. “Careful, as he says, y’all.”

He turned to the car. “Now you two...”

“We’re with the U.N.C.L.E. Perhaps you’ve heard—” Napoleon broke off at the look on his face. “No? United Network Command for Law and Enforcement...?” He gave a hopeful question to the extended name.

The man solemnly shook his head, an amused glint in his eyes.

Illya gestured to indicate what he was going to do, then slowly reached inside his jacket with his left hand to pull out his wallet, extracting his identification card and passing it over. Napoleon followed with his own.

“Well, these do say ‘uncle’ on them, boys, but it leaves me no more the wiser. If you’re some fancy international organization like them that were chasing you, as you called them, we’re just a small little town, and I’m just a constable. My boys and I were just... er... having a meeting inside when you ran into my house, which is also the constable office.”

Their eyes all went to the brick wall that was just a few feet away.

“We heard the shot before we came out, and decided to scout a little instead of barreling straight into the rodeo. You sure got those gents all riled up.”

“It’s Napoleon’s specialty,” Illya quipped wryly. “Thank you, sir. We appreciate the assistance.”

The man’s eyebrows went up at hearing Illya’s accent, before he shook his head. “It’s not assistance yet, until I can verify you two are on the side of the angels. Got anything besides these?”

Napoleon was impressed that the constable didn’t make a big deal of Illya’s accent. It was more than he’d expected from a small town in Texas. He looked to be older than the two of them by at least a decade or so, but not ready for the pasture yet. By his bearing, he’d seen service and returned, not just here his whole life.

“If you call your local CIA or FBI branch, and give them the number on the back and a password, they’ll vouch for us,” Napoleon offered. They rarely needed to go this far, but it was a system they’d worked out with local authorities. The numbers were shared with groups of agents, and the passwords rotated. “Current password... er, I’ll need to see your ID first.” It wouldn’t be the first time Thrush had been a lawman, though the odds were against it here.

The amusement bubbled over to a laugh as the constable got out his own badge and handed it to Illya, who glanced at it then passed it on to Napoleon, who looked enough to verify it wasn’t a cheap copy, then passed it back. “Name’s Wilkens. Jeremy Wilkens. Y’all might as well come out of the car while we sort this out.”

With a bit of effort, Wilkens and a couple of his men got the door on Illya’s side open. Napoleon’s was given up as a lost cause until they could extract the car from the building.

Illya got out first, being careful of his arm, but still letting out a few gasps of pain along the way. After he got out, he looked back in, searching the interior. “Napoleon, I am not sure where my gun ended up after we crashed. I do not see it here.”

There were rumblings from the other men outside and the distinct words of “a Russkie!”

Illya bit his lip and grimaced where none but Napoleon could see it, before his inscrutable mask slipped over his face.

“Button it, Hawk,” the constable snapped. “International means just that. There’s worse out there than the Commies.” He shook his head. “Agent...” he glanced at the IDs he held. “Kuriakin. We’ll get your gun. And I’ve got the other already.” He showed them Napoleon’s gun that he’d put in his pocket. “Anything else not to be left in the car?”

Despite the inaccurate pronunciation of Illya’s name, the two agents looked at each other, heartened by the constable’s words and manner. Ilya took a few steps away, giving Napoleon room to get out. Napoleon moved gingerly across the seats until he was on the passenger side. Napoleon replied to Wilkens, giving the others outside a good, solid American voice to reassure them. “There’s a package inside the glove compartment that we need, and there’s a box in the trunk that nobody should touch.”

Illya’s eyebrows rose but he didn’t say anything. The journals were split, one each inside of the interior pockets in their jackets. Napoleon hid a grin, yes, there really was a package in the glove compartment, and his friend would just have to stay puzzled. The box in the trunk was the usual sort of UNCLE equipment, that might have done them more good inside the car on this wild chase, but they hadn’t known they’d need it when they’d started and hadn’t had time after to retrieve it.

It was his turn to wince as he stepped out of the car. Or tried to. He collapsed back onto the seat after his left knee threatened to buckle on him.

“Napoleon?” Illya moved in.

“Just my knee, partner,” Napoleon reassured him. “Banged it when we crashed.”

“Oh good, more milk runs,” Illya grumbled, and got an arm around Napoleon’s waist to help him up.

Better milk runs than desk work, which is what Napoleon was afraid they’d be reduced to after Waverly heard about the injuries piled up on this latest one.

“Bring him into the office here,” Wilkens directed, gesturing towards the nearby door. “Hanks, get the gun and be careful with it.” The constable leaned in the car and got the package out of the glove compartment himself, giving it a quick once-over. It was a brown paper shopping bag wrapped around something. He glanced at the two agents for permission, and Napoleon nodded. After the constable looked in the bag, he wrapped it up again, his lips twitching. Napoleon grinned and winked.

Illya’s sigh was under his breath and long-suffering. “Dare I ask?” he murmured.

“Later,” Napoleon brushed the question off while using his partner as a crutch to hobble inside. The two of them made quite the pair with their injuries, but neither suggested it would be more comfortable to brace on anybody else.

 

Inside, Napoleon and Illya stopped to stare.

The entire front of the car was inside the room.

Well, logically, they knew it should be, what with having crashed it outside. But knowing it and seeing it were two different things. The interior wall didn’t seem to be too damaged, though the painting above had been knocked askew, and there were items on the floor from a shelf that was on its side. But in the room itself, just to the right of the window, was the front of the car, with two tires below, the hood above, and ending at the wall just before where the windshield would be.

“I’m amazed at the structural integrity of this house,” Illya said after a long few moments.

Wilkens grinned. “Yeah, us too. When this place went up, before my time, it was on a factory slab and was supposed to be a three-story building. Cut-backs made it into a single-story, but I reckon they’d already put in the structural supports for the three-story.” He shrugged. “Or we got real lucky.”

“Don’t think I’ll be working in here, though, ‘til they get it fixed. Just in case.” Wilkens moved past them and gestured for them to follow him further into the house. This part was apparently the constabulary office, and the door he led them through went into the living room of a home.

“Donna?” Wilkens called out, and a woman came in from a hallway.

“Yes, Jere—” She broke off when she saw the others. “Oh!” She hurried over, calling in her turn, “Suz – bring the medical kit!”

Napoleon and Illya traded quick glances, amused despite themselves. They’d gone from being chased by Thrush through the dark into a lighted domestic scene of tranquility. It was a dichotomy they found themselves in often and would never grow old. The reasons why they did this.

“This one banged his knee, and the other has a banged head and a, er... cut arm.” Wilkens gestured at them. “I have to make a phone call. Could you patch them up?”

“As if you even have to ask!” the matron scolded gently but fondly. “Sit yourself down over here, mister, and we can get an ottoman under your leg while I fetch some ice. Sir, after you’ve settled him, could you sit at the table there? Looks like we’re going to have to clean you up a bit to see how bad it is.”

“It’s nothing, madam,” Illya assured her, helping Napoleon to the spot she indicated. “I’ve had worse.”

Wilkens snorted at that as he made his way to the hallway and a phone hanging on the wall there. He could still see them, but wasn’t in easy distance. The actions, and bringing his wife into it, implied that he believed and trusted them, but was still going to follow through and verify. Napoleon had done the same on occasion – instincts were valuable in the field. Solid information was better, but sometimes you just had to go with your gut.

Replying to Illya, the lady said firmly, “That doesn’t mean we can’t do for you now what we can.” She disappeared through a different door; there were sounds of rummaging, and then she came back with a bag of ice.

“Jeremy, do be a dear and introduce us, please,” she commanded as she bustled over to Napoleon, checking that the ottoman was securely under his leg before putting the ice on it.

“Busy, Donna,” Wilkens called back. “Introduce yourselves.”

“Oh, that man,” she huffed, though she sounded more fond than angry. They had obviously been married for many years. “I’m Donna Wilkens. That there is my bear of a husband, Jeremy.” She held her hand out to Napoleon for him to shake.

Napoleon took her hand in both of his and brought it to his lips. She smelled very faintly of perfume – a generic rose variety – and more strongly of cleaning products. “Delighted, Ms. Donna. I am Napoleon Solo.”

She reclaimed her hand with a delighted and amused smile at his antics.

“I am Illya Nickovitch Kuryakin.” Illya bowed in that very European manner he had when being formal. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Very pleased to make both of yours,” she answered, getting up from beside Napoleon and making her way into the kitchen. “Do either of you want something to eat or drink? I have some sandwiches we’d made up for the boys’ poker night, and there’s surely some beer left as well.”

“Nothing, thank you,” Napoleon replied, shifting around as the ice started to cool his knee, making him both aware of how much it hurt and also relieving it as it started to numb.

“A glass of water, perhaps?” Illya requested, his attention more on Napoleon than the lady.

She came out with a bowl of water that was steaming very slightly and put it down beside Illya. He looked at, nonplussed.

“To clean your head wound,” she explained with a laugh. “I’ll get your glass of water in a second. Mr. Solo, are you sure?”

“Water would be good,” Napoleon acquiesced. As long as Illya was getting some, he might as well too. It had been a long drive. Illya was probably thirstier, with all the hanging out the window he’d done. Of course, Illya was always ready to say yes to an offer of food or drink, to the delight of house wives everywhere.

“I’ve got it, Mom... oh!” A pretty young lady of the tender age of fifteen or so came dashing into the room and skidded to a halt at the sight of them. Her wide eyes tracked between Napoleon on the couch and Illya at the table. She brought the first aid box she was holding to her chest and clutched it close.

“Over here, Suz,” her mom beckoned her over. “Mr. Kur... Kuryakin?” She glanced at Illya to see if she had that right. “needs the medical kit. This is our daughter, Susan – she just finished a first aid class at school and knows everything now.” The last was said a little wryly with good humor.

“Please, call me Illya,” Illya requested. He smiled for them both. “It’s easier to say.”

Napoleon watched as both the women melted under that smile. It was a deadly weapon in his friend’s arsenal, even if he didn’t use it as often as Napoleon.

“What was that password again?” Wilkens called out, apparently having made it through the initial stages of bureaucratic rounds.

“Snowflake,” Napoleon called back.

Illya jerked around. “No, Napoleon – that was last week’s password.”

“Oh, that’s right, it’s Wednesday.” It had been a long few days and the passwords changed on rotating schedules. “Oracle! It’s oracle.”

“What was that? Snowfall?”

“Oracle!”

“Changed,” Illya muttered. “It’s changed after this. Must you yell it over the whole neighborhood?”

Napoleon clamped his lips shut and gave a guilty little shrug at his partner.

Donna put a hand up to her lips to hide her own smile. “Oracle?” she confirmed with them, then she went into the hallway to tell her husband more quietly.

Susan dipped a cloth into the warm water. “Is it all right if I...?”

Illya gestured resignedly for her to go ahead.

--

An hour later, the first aid kit had been put away, a report had been made to Mr. Waverly, a team was on its way to pick up the prisoners, arrangements made to borrow a new car so they could complete the mission, and Illya was teaching Susan how to play the guitar.

Napoleon sat on the couch, flirting harmlessly with Donna while her husband kept popping in and out to supervise the car extraction and temporary repairs, and watched Illya and the girl. It was amusing, really, how the young ones gravitated to his partner. The full-blossomed women went for him, and the younger to Illya. Not that Illya hadn’t had his own share of mature conquests, but the younger they were, the safer they apparently felt to let a little of the starry-eyed mists come out and play with Illya. When it had started here, Donna had given them both a sharp glance, then one to Napoleon in question, then let them be. The girl would be safe with Illya, and her daughter would have a dream for later.

There was a knock at the door and then Wilkens came in with two other men in suits. They glanced around at the scene and then came over to Napoleon.

“Mr. Solo?” They waited for his nod. “We’re out of the Dallas UNCLE branch, with your car, and we’re to stay to see that everything is taken care of here.”

“Wonderful. Thank you.” Napoleon maneuvered his way to his feet. His knee was not happy with him, and he wasn’t happy with it. If this kept him out of the field, he would be most unhappy. Hopefully a night’s rest would put it to rights, or at least as right as it had been before.

On the other side, Illya put the guitar down. The girl looked disappointed.

Napoleon hid a grin. “Illya, could you bring the package over here?”

Illya gathered up the nondescript paper bag as he walked to Napoleon, his eyebrows raised, but his trust in Napoleon still secure. Napoleon took the package and extracted its contents.

“Oh, Napoleon,” Illya said sotto voce, just barely loud enough for Napoleon to hear, but there was more a note of fondness instead of the usual critism when he said it like that. Apparently his partner approved, this time.

Napoleon stifled a chuckle and then turned to the females in the room. “For you, my dear Donna. And the lovely Susan.” He handed them each a box of fancy Valentine’s chocolates. “I know it’s a couple of days after, but I hope you’ll still accept them.” He glanced to the side, “With Mr. Wilkens’ permission.”

Jeremy didn’t bother to hide his own laugh. “How could I possibly interfere?”

“For me?” Susan’s eyes grew wide as she clutched her box to her chest and then pulled it away, afraid to crush the ribbons and flower on it. Her gaze went from Napoleon to Illya to her mother and father and then back again.

Napoleon and Illya both smiled and responded in their own ways, Napoleon giving a wink and Illya a slight bow.

“Oh, thank you,” Susan stammered out her thanks. It was obvious that the box would be kept and treasured long after the chocolates were gone, perhaps keeping letters or other little mementos inside for years after.

An exchange of more adult pleasantries and farewells were carried out between Constable Wilkens, his wife, and Napoleon and Illya. Napoleon was constantly reassured by the number of genuine good people they ran into over the course of one of their affairs. For all the bad people, there were also people like the Wilkens, and that was the best reward he ever had.

At the new car, Illya moved to the driver’s side with a look at Napoleon’s knee.

“It’s my left knee, and you’re not only concussed, but also shot,” Napoleon protested, half-heartedly.

“I do not have a concussion, it was only a minor head wound,” Illya retorted. He did, though, look inside the car first. “It’s an automatic, I won’t have to shift the gears.”

Napoleon capitulated, because was it only another hour drive and they were highly unlikely to run into more Thrush after taking out eight along the way. Plus, considering what happened to Illya this time around, the driver’s side might be the safer one.

Checking his jacket inside pocket, Napoleon verified his half of the journals was still there. Illya checked also and nodded that he had his as well.

Droving out of the small town and back to the highway, Illya asked, “Do you always carry spare boxes of Valentine’s Day candy around, in hopes there will be women to give them out to?”

Napoleon leaned back in the car seat and watched the sky lightening in the pre-dawn. “Actually, those were for you.”

“For me?” Illya blinked in surprise and turned to look at his partner before returning his attention to the road. “That’s absurd.”

Napoleon shrugged. “In thanks for not eating all the rest of the candy while helping out the other day. I’d been afraid that half of them would disappear along the way. Or you’d figure out something diabolical to do before the girls could get them.”

There was a suspiciously long pause from the other person in the car.

Napoleon’s brows snapped down. “Illya?” He sat back up again. “Illya, what did you do...?”

Illya coughed.

“Don’t make me torture it out of you,” Napoleon warned. “I’m armed, you know.”

“I, um...” Illya twitched nervously. “Well... Let’s just say turnabout is fair play.”

Several scenarios went through Napoleon’s mind. “Angelique’s box?” He bit back a grin. “What did you do, Illya?” He tried to sound gruff, but he was afraid he didn’t carry it off too well.

“She might have blue lips for a few days, if she actually ate any of the chocolate,” Illya reluctantly admitted.

Napoleon burst out laughing. “I almost wish we were in town to see that. Though it’s probably better that we’re not. But... blue lips! She’ll have to put so much make-up on to cover that.”

“It reacts badly to other dyes. She won’t be able to wear any make-up at all, not without getting a rash.”

It took Napoleon awhile to stop laughing.

“When we’re in Dallas and when the stores are open, you and I, my friend, are going to a store. I think that definitely needs a reward or two.”

“Napoleon, you’re broke again. That would be ridiculous to buy the over-priced silly things.”

“Ah, let me introduce you to one of the greatest retail secrets of our capitalist market. After Valentine’s Day is over, all the boxes are half off.”

Illya turned to look for several long seconds, long enough to make Napoleon nervous. “Eyes on the road, please. I don’t want to get in another wreck – and this time without the excuse of Thrush to go on the expense report.”

“Half off?” Illya returned at least his eyes, if not his attention, to the road.

“Half off,” Napoleon confirmed.

Another pause. “Okay. We can go shopping.”

Napoleon suspected there would be more bought than just the pair of boxes he’d planned to get. Which was perfectly fine. Oh yes, this Valentine’s Day had turned out quite well indeed. He smiled and leaned back in the seat again. “Home, James. Or at least to Dallas for chocolate.”


END