The Bohemian Attitude Affair

by selyndae

Bohemian, falling, suitcase

A special thank you to my awesome beta who leaped to my rescue just under the wire! Another thanks to svetlanacat who posted the lovely picture on mfu-scrapbook- it was perfect here!

"What do you mean, you can't find our reservation?" Napoleon Solo's tone was even, but firm. "Look again—it was made by my UNCLE earlier this week. Solo—S-O-L-O."

"I am sorry, but there is nothing for Solo." The clerk, a small man with a dark, bristly mustache, had a forced smile as he attempted to appease this irate customer. "I have looked through everything we have—there is no reservation."

Illya added his lethal glare to that of Solo's at the harried clerk, but although the man quaked in fear, he stood adamant—there was no reservation for Solo or Kuryakin. Desperate to please, the clerk even searched under Waverly. Nothing from New York at all.

Solo sighed heavily. Putting on his charming smile, he tried tact. "Can't you look again—see if you can find us a room? Surely you must have something available for a couple of weary travelers?"

The clerk shook his head sadly. Men like this probably would have tipped well... "I am sorry Monsieur, but we have nothing at all. Our rooms are completely booked through the entire week." Perhaps there was still a chance— "If you wish, I could try the other hotels within the area?"

As the agents went into the bar to wait and see what the clerk could find, Napoleon found himself reviewing their mission...

"Ah Mr. Solo... Mr. Kuryakin. Gentlemen, please be seated." It had been a rather slow week so they both sat down with anticipation.

"Thrush has come up with another one of their confounded chemical threats. We have a tip that the handoff will be early next week... somewhere along one of the Aquitaine Beaches." Waverly spun the tabletop. "Here are your tickets. Your plane leaves in three hours. Room reservations have been made at the Auberge de l'Etang Bleu." Waverly cast an appraising look at his agents. "You'll need to blend in... Something lightweight and a bit more... tourist-like, I should think."

Sensing dismissal, the agents rose to go. As they started for the door, their superior added one more suggestion. "Oh, and gentlemen... see to it that you sign out some of the new sun blocking formula Section VIII has been developing..."

On that odd note, they left to get ready...

Napoleon, who was driving, began to look askance at the dilapidated buildings and general run-down appearance of the area. They were obviously heading into a poorer part of town. "Are you sure this is right?"

"If the directions that clerk gave us are—oh, look, there it is."

Just ahead on their left was a sorry looking motel. Some of the lights were burned out in their marquee, which proclaimed 'vacance' just under the garish flashing white bulbs of the motel's name, Le Jeux d'Esprit.

With a shrug, the men walked into the dark lobby with its faded carpet and scarred desk. A touch of the bell brought the clerk from out of the back room. His eyes lit up and his face took on a highly speculative look as he studied the agents' well-dressed appearance.

"Oui, yes! We do have one room still open. It is our best room and only 45 francs an hour." The clerk gave a knowing leer at the two men.

Stunned, Kuryakin spoke up hastily, "No, thank you." Carefully avoiding each other's eyes, they backed away until they reached the front door.

After hurriedly starting the car, they sped away from the parking lot before bursting into laughter.

"I could just see Waverly's face if we had to explain that expense on our report," gasped Napoleon trying to control himself.

"I guess we'll have to come with something else." Illya suppressed his own laughter with some effort. "Unless you want to go back in...?"

"Are you kidding? Honestly, could we even sleep there? It probably hasn't been cleaned in over a year! Let alone what else we might find..." Napoleon's nose wrinkled in disgust.

"Let's get lunch and inform headquarters. Surely two spies can find someplace to stay."

The buffet luncheon, which boasted French and American cuisine, was surprisingly good. Illya made sure he got his money's worth by piling up his plate five times. Napoleon sighed to himself as he took only a small second serving. The prime rib had been worth the extra trip though...

Unfortunately, the clerk hadn't lied—absolutely nothing was available. He had been on the phone nonstop calling all the listed hotels, motels, rooming houses, bed and breakfasts, but no luck!

They'd notified headquarters of the current situation, but all they learned was that everyone seemed to be at a loss to explain the mix-up. The credit card had been declined for no reason anyone could discover and New York was still investigating, but that wouldn't help them now.

"I realize accommodations are not as expected..." Fortunately Illya's snort was muffled enough not to carry through the communicator. "...but I expect you will think of something. I need not remind you that the formula must be intercepted." Waverly was adamant.

"Yes Sir." After closing down the communicator, Napoleon made a face as he looked back at his partner. "I'm fresh out of ideas. Short of sleeping in the car and—" Something in Illya's face made him pause, "What?"

An hour later found them at the U.S. Military base borrowing their field equipment. More specifically—tents!

"Camping? You want to camp out?" Solo was shocked.

It didn't really matter—they either slept in a tent or in they slept the car. As it was, they were extremely fortunate to grab the last empty spot in the crowded camping area. Parentis En Born was small, but it was near their target and even had a couple of nice amenities like a pump where they could get spring-fed water and a fairly level spot for the tent. It was also some distance from the small bathhouse and toilet, but that could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Once the large tent was set up, cots and sleeping bags flanking the entrance, a tiny camp stove on the picnic table, a stack of wood next to the fire pit surrounded by stones, and an ice chest with steaks and mushrooms ready to grill, (the stove would have been easier, but alcohol cooked too slowly and grilling would pick up its fumes...) Napoleon began to feel slightly mollified. His partner had garnered the giggling interest of three little girls from the next campsite. The mother, a large woman wielding a large wooden spoon, apparently had sized up Illya as no threat to her daughters, so the girls watched eagerly as he built a fire for cooking.

Dinner over, they relaxed, staring at the crackling flames of the fire.

"Illya, some more information about the beaches around here..."

Illya frowned. "Okay Napoleon, what is it you are so carefully not telling me?"

Silence. A log crackled and snapped sending up a spray of sparks as the flames cut through the log.

"Nothing much...only that it's a nude beach."

"Optional? Or is that too much to hope for?"

"Afraid not. It's one of those, uh, naturalist settings."

"Like the 'flower movement,' peace and all that?"

"Something like that, yes, I suppose it is."

A shrug. "Looks like I'll have to keep watch from a distance then."

"I don't think so, Tovarisch. Besides, if anyone has the option of remaining covered up, as senior agent that would be me. Anyway, what's the big objection? From what I heard, you weren't all that shy about parading through that hospital in Tangiers in your birthday suit. Gave the Sisters rather a shock, I should think," Napoleon drawled.

"That was to make a point," argued Illya mildly, "I needed to leave and they wouldn't give me my clothes."

"So you'll march through a hospital completely naked, but won't sunbathe on a nude beach, where by the way, everyone goes without clothing."

"I sunburn easily."

Napoleon scrunched up his face as he pretended to ponder that excuse. "Nope, I don't buy it."

"Why would you wish to buy anything?"

"Changing the subject won't work, Tovarisch. The Thrush handover is going to take place on that beach which means we've got to be there and that means blending in—au natural."



Napoleon went back to checking over their gear before heading for the beaches. If he'd been able to see the wicked look on his partner's face, he'd have been a trifle worried.

Illya's tone was very innocent and idly speculative. "I wonder how a naked Thrush hands over a formula and sample...?"

Napoleon answered smugly, "A beautiful woman is always worth a second look and a kiss would be a perfectly natural way of transferring a small capsule."

Illya's eyes sparkled with mischief. "And if it's a beautiful man...?"

", then I suppose a public kiss would be out, but wading out into the water would lend itself to, er...possibilities, I imagine."

A silent 'touché' at his partner's quick response as Illya gave in. "I'm warning you though—I had better not get sunburned! I wasn't in on the sun-blocking formula, so you'd better spring for the sunglasses and umbrella!"

Making their way to the beach, Illya stopped at a drink vendor along the cobbled road. The ocean breezes could be felt, but the views were somewhat hindered by the odd rock formations. Bringing over two iced lemonades, Illya wiped his sweaty brow after handing one of the welcome drinks to his partner. Replacing his wide-brimmed hat, he sighed.

"He says the beach is about a half a kilometer further."

"But...?" Napoleon clearly heard the doubt in his partner's voice.

"He doesn't think anyone will be there—at least not too much longer. A bad storm is headed this way."

"I wondered why everyone seemed a bit rushed."

"So it would seem."

Napoleon took a calculating look at the sky. Clear, blue, not a cloud in sight. But something about it...

"The air does feel a bit tingly. I think maybe we should go ahead and head back to the camp."

Illya shrugged but followed his partner's lead.

Hot, tired, sticky, the two men headed wearily for their tent. Walking past the bathrooms, Napoleon thought longingly of a lovely long, cool shower. The weather had lived up to its promise and a nasty storm drove the agents to take shelter in a local café. The storm was over before they'd finished their coffees and croissants but left behind unusually humid air.

Glancing over at his partner, he sighed inwardly. What right did his slightly-built partner have to look so darned 'put together' in this disgusting climate! The blond hair seemed to fall around in a haphazard fashion, and yet looked neat and tidy. Glancing ruefully upward (as if he could even see his hair) he knew the crisp, sharply-parted style he usually affected was hopelessly mussed. Roughing it in this campground left him bereft of his usual hair cream and the dampness in the air allowed his usually tamed curls to spring free. Even the heat was affecting him more than his partner! That was definitely not fair. Illya was the one who flourished better in colder climes... not in this heat! But no, just look at him all...all not sweaty!

As if he heard his partner's thoughts, Illya glanced over at his unusually disheveled partner, keeping his smirk to himself. Truth to tell, this heat was almost unbearable, but somehow, seeing Napoleon clad in casual clothing, hair free of that disgusting hair cream, looking almost—

Illya firmly reined in his errant thoughts and focused back on the mission.

As they neared their tent, they did the usual check to make sure of no unpleasant surprises.

"If you want to grab a shower, I'll start a fire and make dinner," offered Illya.

Giving a sharp glance, Napoleon grinned suddenly. "That sounds wonderful, even with your indifferent cooking skills."

The next day, even delaying the inevitable by having a leisurely breakfast out, they still arrived by mid morning. Lying on the beach, Illya was careful to stay in the shade of the umbrella as much as possible. Napoleon was leaning back against a beach chair ostensibly reading as he scanned for possible contacts, eyes carefully hidden behind his tortoise shell sunglasses. He'd discovered that holding the paper at just the right angle kept the sun from hitting a rather sensitive area.

Illya, lying down on his stomach, head cradled in his folded arms, muttered without turning toward his partner, "I suppose you're going to brag about not having 'tan lines' when we get back."

"Ah, you know me too well." Taking a quick glance at his partner's rosy behind, he suggested offhandedly, "And speaking of tan lines, I think you should add a bit more suntan lotion. You're starting to burn."

Raising his head high enough to glance down over his shoulder, Illya managed a shrug. "I don't suppose you'd—no, never mind." With that, he scrambled to a sitting position, careful to get completely in the small shade the umbrella offered. Sitting cross-legged, he reached over to the small basket they'd brought with them and pulled out his sunglasses. "I'll keep watch if you'd like to lay down for a bit."

Rolling his shoulders, Napoleon did a few stretches before reclining again. As he looked over the beach, his eye was caught by two particularly attractive women, long legs, firm breasts, and completely unconscious of their lack of attire. Their skin glistening from a liberal application of suntan oil, they were headed for the water, obviously in the mood for a quick dip in the warm ocean. It was tempting, but... With a sigh he settled back on the sand—he preferred his encounters a bit more private.

As he moved the warm sand around, trying to make a more comfortable 'seat,' he realized he'd been idly watching one of the beachgoers.

"Illya, tell me your impression of that man near the water, about, um, 2:00 o'clock, the long-haired one."

Shifting over a bit, Illya murmured, "I've been wondering about him myself. Something about the way he moves..."

"Hmm... maybe he's used to carrying a weapon?"

"Perhaps I should go and see."

Matching actions to words, Kuryakin got up in one fluid motion, dusting off some clinging bits of sand as he walked unselfconsciously to the ocean's edge, pausing briefly before plunging into the warm, blue water.

Napoleon pretended to admire a pretty girl strolling over to a waiting blanket on his left as his eyes followed his partner's movements in the ocean. It was only a matter of minutes before the tall man with chestnut brown hair swam over within reach of Illya. The stranger stood up in the water, smiled and began talking. Illya, obviously playing his own role, smiled back and in a few short moments, the taller man reached over and gave Illya's shoulder a squeeze.

That movement almost caused Napoleon to jump to his feet and run down to join his partner to— to what? Make him stop? Giving a snort of disgust, he leaned back, giving the appearance of complete relaxation, but still ever vigilant to his partner's movements.

His irritation almost made him miss the next move—not too difficult to interpret considering the circumstances! The tall man had scooted down a bit, ostensibly to bring the water up to his shoulders, but by the almost imperceptible start on Illya's part, the other's hands had obviously touched his partner rather...intimately.

This time, he did get up. Carelessly brushing off sand, Napoleon found himself walking down to the lapping waves almost without thought. Before he'd quite reached the shore's edge, though, he saw Illya give him a cool glance before smiling up at the other man. Not sure what to do, Napoleon, suddenly feeling a, plunged into the warm ocean waves, wading out until he was waist deep, before lowering himself down to float. After a moment, he took a few lazy swimming strokes.

It wasn't long before he found himself drifting over within easy reach (and hearing) of his partner. As he floated, seemingly aimlessly, he could feel his partner's sharp glance, even through his own closed eyes. Napoleon chanced a casual stretch and roll, eyes still closed but senses on full alert. It wouldn't do to make the probable contact too nervous.

Apparently it was working. His partner and the stranger waded closer to the outcropping of rock, which made a kind of pseudo-island. Now why—? Oh. For some privacy, it would seem. Despite the distance between Napoleon and the other, the quiet water carried the sounds of kissing clearly to his straining ears. Some indistinct murmuring in his partner's distinctive baritone had prickles of interest pop out on his exposed flesh.

Torn between allowing Illya— Whoa! Now he was being ridiculous! Allowing Illya? That was insanity talking! Even if he got away with it—and he'd barely done so in The Foxes and Hounds Affair with Mimi—the partnership would almost certainly be damaged (not to mention he would also probably be!).

Abruptly he stood up, ducking his head underwater for an instant. Standing back up, he pushed the water away from his face before lunging back into the water and swimming strongly back to shore. Wading back onto the beach, he found his towel and shook it out before drying himself off as he headed back to the umbrella. A quick check showed their things undisturbed.

Settling back, sunglasses in hand, he almost jumped when a shadow suddenly blocked the sun. Squinting up he could just make out Illya's body limed by the bright sun, his stance far from relaxed.

"Ah, back so soon?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Napoleon knew it was a mistake.

"Why?" The tone was quiet, casually conversational... and deadly.

Uh oh...

"I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself." Illya's voice never raised, yet his partner could feel the waves of anger rolling off.

"I never said you weren't." Napoleon kept his tone even and quiet as well.

The agents stood staring at each other for several tense seconds before Napoleon forced himself to relax and began gathering up their things.

"A bit public here," he murmured, not quite meeting Illya's lethal glare.

His partner snorted almost imperceptibly as he too, began packing up to leave.

Rapidly slipping on loose dungarees, a shirt and flip-flops from the rented locker at the small changing cabana, Illya strode purposefully to their rented convertible. Napoleon took a few more minutes to run his fingers through his hair and tuck in his shirt. A quick glance showed he was leaving nothing behind as he hoisted the duffle and folded umbrella. Spotting his still irate partner sitting behind the wheel, Napoleon let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding at his relief in seeing the car and partner still there.

Dropping the gear in back, Napoleon sat down in the passenger seat, barely closing the door, when the car started with a roar and they were off in a cloud of exhaust and sand.

The (long) drive was conducted in a thick silence. Without a word, Illya strode into the tent where he began doing a silent check. Napoleon followed suit. Once complete, Illya sat on his cot with a huff. Casting a sharp glance at his partner, he finally demanded, "Aren't you going to call it in?"

"Call it in?"

Nothing was said for several moments until Illya reluctantly pulled an earring from his ear.

Napoleon grimaced—he'd never even noticed the thing. Closer examination revealed a capsule sealed within the clear vial. He watched his partner pull out his suitcase and tuck the jewelry away until it could be safely delivered.

"I did my part—this is what I got from the contact. Now, are you calling it in or shall we discuss that little performance you put on at the beach?"

"Uh, maybe lat—"

"No. Now. A simple hand-off—that was all! No secret labs to infiltrate. No highly guarded installation to destroy. Just a simple interception of formula."

"I know, I know... I, ah, don't know what came over me. Look, Illya, I'm really sorry..."

Illya blinked in surprise at his partner's apology. "We will speak of this no further." Looking down at the vial, he brightened, "At least we were able to intercept the formula with a minimum of difficulty."

Napoleon frowned thoughtfully. "Yeah... about that... Methinks the drop was a tad bit too easy. Now I wonder..." In one swift movement, he stepped over to Illya's suitcase and popped it back open. Sliding his hands in deftly, he sprung the secret latch to reveal the secret compartment within the lining where the vial was hidden. Opening the compartment carefully, Napoleon pulled out the box.

"Napoleon..." warned Illya. This was, after all, some kind of deadly Thrush concoction.

Malleable packing material held the pseudo-earring, inside of which was the capsule. Napoleon hesitated.

"This should be done in a lab... remember, the tent is not self-contained," Illya warned testily.

"I don't think we need to worry about that. It's not the formula."

"It isn't?"

"Nope. For one thing it was too easy. I think it's more likely some kind of decoy." He sat back down on his cot. "Look, we were sent down to a beach to intercept a hand-off from some unknown Thrush who didn't have a clue about what either of us looks like? Gave it up without a fight, without code words—anything? Even the stupidest Thrush minion would know better than that."

Illya tapped the side of his cot thoughtfully. "Thrush does use our faces for dartboard practice, so for them not to know us..."

"Would be tantamount to either being the stupidest most naïve Thrush in existence, or..."

"...or be used as a decoy! That was sneaky." Illya glanced down at the suitcase holding the capsule. "We still shouldn't open this here; it probably holds a bomb or some other unpleasant surprise."

"Sounds reasonable." Napoleon glanced around the tent. "I don't know about you but working through probable Thrush scenarios gives me an appetite. What's for dinner?"

Illya raised an eyebrow. "I believe that's my line. Shouldn't we be packing up and—"

A sudden gesture from his partner hushed him immediately as he rolled off his cot, sliding his Special from out of its holster in one fluid movement. Following Solo's lead, Kuryakin, after a terse nod, crept over to the other side of the tent.

Tear gas shot through the window, the mesh tearing with a loud rip as the grenade was hurled through the window. Holding his breath, Illya flung himself through the new flapped opening, rolling to his feet as he reached the small clump of bushes at the edge of their campsite. Solo, meanwhile, caught the tear gas full in the face. Squeezing his streaming eyes shut, he threw himself out the opposite window accompanied by a sharp tearing of canvas and mesh and loud clatter of the aluminum poles clanging against each other as they fell. Under the cacophony of sound, he managed to grab his assailant and give him a quick but effective karate chop rendering him unconscious.

Forcing his burning eyes open, he glanced around blearily. Nothing—apparently just the two attackers. To his relief Illya had already dispatched the other man.

Tripping over the overturned picnic table, he caught the edge, recovering his balance before righting the piece of furniture and sitting down with a thump. Illya soon joined him, snatching up the canteen of water on the way. Napoleon gratefully poured the water over his burning eyes, trying to wash away the worst of it. Eyes red, but finally able to focus, he glanced up to see his partner's smirk.

"The Military is not going to like this, Napoleon."

Glaring at his partner, he sighed and turned to study the wreckage.

The tent was down completely—only one pole still remained upright. The canvas of the luckless tent was torn raggedly in several places. Even the saucepan was dented where it lay next to the small camp stove where a large boot had gone through it. The resulting effect was as if a tornado had struck. Staring at the demolished scene in bemusement, he was startled by a tug on his untucked shirt. Glancing down he realized it was one of the little girls from the next campsite.

"Salut. Can I help you?"

The little girl tsked as she looked over the disaster area left by the brief melee. "You sure made a mess, Monsieur."

Napoleon sighed again.

The mother, holding a crying, hiccupping baby in one arm and wooden spoon in the other strode over and gave Solo a sound whack with the back of the spoon.

"Shame on you! You woke the baby! Can't you men ever be considerate?" With that she turned on her heel and stalked back to her site where she rocked the baby trying to quiet her while glaring daggers at the agents.

Illya stared wide-eyed at the interaction before murmuring dryly, "You certainly seem to have a way with women..."

A jeep roared up just then, screeching to a stop. Startled, both men tensed until they realized it was the park's jeep. The ranger set the brake and got out of the jeep, looking around the demolished site.

"I very much regret, Monsieur, but you will have to leave..."

Illya listened with interest as his partner reported the mission (and damages) to their boss. The beautiful rugged scenery along the coastline was unnoticed as Illya drove with determination (and Waverly chastised his agent).

"What now?"

"You heard him; we have to get that formula."

Illya spotted at a quaint roadside café and pulled over. "I'm hungry and I'll think better when my stomach stops complaining."

"Since the first hand off was definitely a decoy, what's our next move?" Napoleon tapped his finger against the steering wheel idly.

The capsule had been sent by courier to the Paris lab where it was tested. As expected, it wasn't any secret virus. Also as expected, it had been booby-trapped. Thrush had been unexpectedly inventive about their little 'surprise' this time... The foam filled the room with purple dye, which would take several weeks to fade...

Harking back to their next move, Illya reluctantly suggested, "I suppose we could continue to check out the different beaches in the area... We might even get lucky enough to find something." When his partner didn't respond, he glanced over to see him squinting in thought.

"Illya, why is it the reservation was lost?"

"Headquarters explained that; someone in accounting made a mistake."

"But, why now?" persisted his partner, "Why on this mission? Why now and not before?"

"A coincidence...?"

Even as he suggested that unlikely scenario, Napoleon was shaking his head.

Illya bit his lip. "You... don't suppose it...?" Answering his own question in disgust, he spat, "Of course it was deliberate!"

"But, again, the real question is, why now?"

"Thrush finally figured out how to tap into the credit card company computers?"

"Maybe... but I have a feeling it's more than that. We need to find a telephone."

"It's fortunate you contacted us in this manner."

It had taken some doing to find a telephone they were able to use to call overseas, but apparently Solo's hunch was right.

"Communications are completely out!" Waverly was irritated. "Thrush has our hands completely tied!"

"Can you give us any kind of lead at all?" The telephone connection was poor enough to cause Solo to raise his voice.

"Accounting discovered a link to Biarritz. It's a long shot, but we believe that the key may be located near the coastline in this town."

"It's a pretty rugged area, if I remember correctly."

"No doubt it is," Waverly harrumphed grumpily before continuing, "However, it's all we have, Mr. Solo. Now, find that operation and destroy it. Completely. Before we are permanently neutralized!"

"Yes, Sir."

Napoleon hung up on the crackling dial tone and they walked back to their car.

Illya snagged the dangling keys from his partner. "I'll drive."

"Aren't you tired?"

"You can come up with a plan." Illya smirked as he placed the small car in gear.

Nearing another village, one of the many in this region, Napoleon suddenly stiffened. "Turn here!"

Obeying instantly, Kuryakin pulled into the narrow lane and once out of sight, shut off the engine as both men ducked down.

"I recognize one of the men in that truck."

"How? They weren't following us." Kuryakin was positive about that.

"No... But I think we must be getting close." Solo chanced a peek over the side of the door before sitting back up. "Clear."

Illya turned the key and edged back out onto the road.

Another downpour forced them to pull over again—this time to put up the top. By the time they got back inside, both agents were completely soaked. The rain was heavy enough to almost keep them from spotting the small sign on the edge of the village.

"Okay, we're here—now what? We can hardly go knocking on every door to ask if there's Thrush activity or a new Satrap in the neighborhood."

"True, but we could start by finding out if anyone has recently opened a business or—"

"—or is building something..." Illya's voice trailed off as he squinted through the rain at something.

"What do you see?"

"Over there, will that suffice?"

Looking over Napoleon could just make out the large cordoned-off area replete with 'No Trespassing' signs, bulldozers and other heavy construction equipment. There was also a stylized black and white bird emblem.

"Thrush has no subtlety whatsoever..."

Illya snorted. "So, about that plan..."

Napoleon shrugged. "Get inside. Without being seen of course."

"Of course."

The uneven ground was broken up by large, craggy boulders and some forlorn clumps of dry grasses. Not a lot of cover—sneaking up would be difficult at best.

"Odd that no one seems to be working today."

"Very. Could be the rain...?"

"Maybe." Napoleon looked over the scene once more. There was something disturbing about looking over a huge Satrap in the making without anyone around, not even a guard.

A sudden clanging roar brought both agents' heads up to see a steam shovel's exhaust pipe flapping as the huge diesel engine roared to life. With a sudden swoop, the shovel lifted high into the air and the vehicle lurched into gear.

"I think they returned from their break!" shouted Napoleon as he scrambled away from the equipment.

Illya, finding himself in the path of one of the suddenly active bulldozers, also scrambled away, but lost his footing on the slippery ground, sliding down several feet until he was able to stop by grabbing a clump of brush—which fortunately held!

"You okay?"

"I'm fine. What do we do now?"

Solo edged a bit closer to his partner. "How many detonators do you have?"

Illya shrugged. "I don't know, a few."

"Good, I'll need one of them. Look, I'm going to make my way around and stop that shovel. If you can stop the dozer, we may have a shot at this."

Illya nodded and began to make his way around the pit.

"At least they haven't started shooting!" Napoleon had to shout to be heard above the roar of the equipment, which was shoving the heavy, wet clay into moist, slippery piles—mostly toward them!


A barrel hit by gunfire spun before tipping over and rolling down toward the pit where it dropped with a thunk.

"Next time, don't offer suggestions!" The swift, sputtering retort was almost lost in the background noise.

"I don't like the look of this..."

Something in Napoleon's voice dragged his partner's attention away from his own dilemma as he watched his partner slide closer to the large square pit. He couldn't go down there—not and live anyway!

Another strafing round of shots forced Napoleon to jump out of range. His arms wind-milled as he lost his balance and slid down rapidly toward the pit until he disappeared out of sight!

"Napoleon!" Illya looked around frantically for his missing partner. Suddenly he realized that yet another Thrush goon was almost upon him! Using the slippery mud as a launching pad, he pushed his way downward, increasing his speed until with a sudden twist, he launched himself into the air and onto the enemy! The bigger man, caught by surprise by the flying UNCLE agent, was dropped face first, into the slimy clay. Using that small edge in his favor, Kuryakin held the man down until his body relaxed. Not wasting a beat he scrambled back up, eyes darting in every direction trying to locate his partner.

He'd last seen him—there! Sucking in a noisy breath he half slid, half ran to the pit's edge. As he drew nearer, his heart clenched in fear. The hole had to be at least 40 meters to the bottom...

"Napoleon!" Illya hissed, "Napoleon!"

Almost under his feet, the ground shifted. Bright brown eyes opened in the mud-encrusted figure. Spitting out mud he shouted urgently, "Behind you!"

Spinning around, Illya snapped off a couple of rounds! One of them caught the motor in a lucky shot and the bulldozer sputtered to a stop. Another shot took out the driver.

Nothing else moved. Illya looked back down at his mud-covered partner as clumps of slick mud dropped off his equally dirty body. Bracing himself, he held out a hand to help up his partner, who was unable to grasp hold of the slippery hand.

Unable to contain themselves, they both burst into laughter.

"If you can control yourself," gasped Napoleon, still laughing, "maybe we can finish taking out this satrap."

Illya merely glared as the rain pushed rivulets of mud down his face.

Sniffing appreciably, Illya glanced around Napoleon's penthouse apartment. His eyes immediately riveted on the small intimate table setting with fine china and candles. Next to it was a small cart loaded with covered dishes. Lifting one of the lids (varenyky) Illya took a deep breath of the exotic and homey aroma. He eagerly checked out the other dishes.

So engrossed in the display of food from his native Russia that he hadn't realized his partner had come in from the kitchen until a glass of wine appeared in front of him. He raised his brow in surprise—wine wasn't usually his drink of choice.

"I thought we'd celebrate..."

"A successful end of mission? We've never celebrated in this fashion before." Illya took the proffered crystal goblet and sipped. He smiled. "This is really good. What is it?"

"I hoped you'd like it." Napoleon took his own savoring taste. "I've been saving it for a special occasion."

"And you consider this to be one?"

Napoleon took a deep breath. "Every time we go out on a mission, it's even odds that one or both of us won't come back... We came back this time and, well, I'm taking this as a kind of...reminder."

Illya took a hard look at his partner. Flushed with what... excitement? Something was going on... In a flash he knew. Keeping his voice deliberately casual, he asked, "Any special kind of reminder?"

Looking deep into his sometimes prickly partner's eyes, Napoleon apparently found what he sought. He moved closer until they were almost touching. At Illya's sudden blinding smile, he laughed in delight before gathering his partner close.

The kiss was only the beginning...

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