THE GAME PIECE AFFAIR
"Didn't you pack the
suntan lotion?" Napoleon Solo wondered lazily. Without opening his eyes he
flicked a bug from his sun-baked cheeks. "Do I have to do
"You don't do
everything, Napoleon. It was your turn to bring the iced tea." Illya Kuryakin responded with a
matching tone of indolent disregard.
Solo nodded in agreement. "You're right. I forgot the lawn furniture, too."
"Must you two joke constantly?" Emil Sobaneau snapped waspishly.
Solo's lip curled with distaste -- his only comment to their French colleague's most recent rebuke. Kuryakin glanced from his study of the valley, which stretched before them, to Solo, to Emil, and back to the valley. His bland expression never changed yet his tone contained a sneer at least the equal of his partner's visible dislike.
"There is little else to do while we wait."
The three UNCLE agents lay on a cliff just above a derelict building overlooking the Moroccan Mediterranean. Kuryakin's chin rested on folded arms as he watched the target. Next to him Solo was stretched on his back, sunglasses shading his eyes, as he relaxed in the sun. A few feet away Emil Sobaneau studied the building through high-powered binoculars.
"Patience is a measurement of control," Emil disdainfully retorted. His clipped, precise words verbal missiles of disapproval. "A wise agent would use this time for contemplation and mental preparation for the mission."
The American and Russian
had clashed with the hot-tempered Frenchman since they had met in Tangier only
hours earlier. The three agents had tracked the case from separate angles, at
last meeting in Morocco for the final, joint wrap-up.
Reputations on all sides had preceded the agents. An almost instant antagonism sparked between the Frenchman and the team from New York. Resentment had turned to active anger when the agents stubbornly disagreed on the plan of attack on the THRUSH base. Irked by the Frenchman's attitude, Solo had actively spurred the antagonism at every opportunity. Kuryakin's dislike was much more subdued, but just as apparent as his partner's. Unable to agree, Solo had suggested they take three separate assignments inside the complex. Sobaneau, at last, went along with the plan.
"I AM in contemplation," Solo coldly insisted. "Can't you tell? I'm contemplating why we were called in at all." His voice filled with an icy contempt. "You're such a model of perfection you could destroy ALL of THRUSH's European bases if only you didn't have us to get in your way."
Anger boiled over the eruption point and Emil swung his fist toward Solo's jaw.
Kuryakin caught the Frenchman's wrist just inches above his partner's face.
"Let's save the fighting for THRUSH," he counseled evenly, yet with a deadly edge to his voice.
Emil's hand turned white from the Russian's strangling grip. A tight nod of agreement was Emil's reluctant acceptance of the advice. Kuryakin released the Frenchman, who slid away from Solo. The Russian placed his hand on Solo's shoulder in a firm reminder of restraint. Without looking, he had felt Solo's tension -- recoiled for a fight with Emil. He glanced down and found confirmation of his suspicions in Solo's eyes. Even through the tinted glasses the brown eyes burned with anger.
"Deal with him later," the Russian whispered.
"I intend to," Solo confirmed quietly.
Kuryakin glanced from his troublesome partner, back to the building. A small motor boat had just rounded the cliff and was headed toward the building.
"Wake up, Napoleon." Solo turned over and watched the boat pull onto the sand.
"It is Konrad," Emil whispered. His binoculars traced the path of a dark-clothed man who had just stepped from the boat
"Show time." Solo came to his knees. Now completely businesslike he adjusted the belt pack on his waist and double-checked the scope on his modified Special.
"Let's go," Emil
ordered and started down the hill with his colleagues at his heels.
Each agent quickly and
efficiently carried out his prearranged assignment once the trio separated and
entered the building. A few minutes ahead of schedule, Solo finished planting
his explosives in the communications center and fled to the rendezvous point
just inside the beach entrance. Since the complex was sparsely staffed Solo had
not encountered any THRUSH, nor did he expect to. It was really a very simple
assignment -- hardly worth the fuss Emil made over the affair. The trickiest
part would be the capture of the high-ranking Konrad
-- a task Emil had assigned to himself.
The sudden crackle of gunfire startled Solo. Almost immediately an explosion rocked the corridor and he fell against the wall from the impact. His mind raced over the calculations; the heavy explosion from the direction of the carpool, the telltale sound of enemy fire -- it added up to trouble for Illya. The map of the building etched in his memory, Solo raced back toward the center of the structure. He desperately called Illya on the communicator, but there was no response to his urgent entreaties.
The sound of a single set
of running footsteps in the next corridor brought Solo to a halt. He relaxed
the muscle of his trigger finger only when he saw the target was Emil. The
disheveled Frenchman was running so fast that he almost missed the American
flattened against the wall
Emil was no longer the
picture of the perfect agent. His shirt was blackened and torn from an
explosion, his cool manner replaced by breathless urgency. His pistol and
utility pack were gone. He held only a detonator in his hand.
"We must flee, Solo!" he gasped as he grabbed Solo's jacket.
"Intelligence was all wrong. THRUSH has hidden an entire strike team here.
They are ready to attack our training force at Madrid! We must destroy this
entire building! Now!"
Only a few seconds ticked by while the impact of the emergency penetrated Solo's mind. New field agents on training exercises in Madrid could be slaughtered by the deadly THRUSH strike force. Innocent civilians would be killed in the vicious battle against the trained assassins. The strike force teams were a new and scary innovation of THRUSH. Working like a well-trained terrorist group, the strike force would hit without mercy or warning. Yet even this emergency had not pushed Solo's initial anxiety from his mind
Madrid! Where's Illya?"
"There is a jamming
blanket over the entire area. We must leave to call HQ."
Now he knew why he had not
been able to contact his partner. "All right, all right.
As soon as Illya gets here --"
"He is not
coming," Emil interrupted with a snarl. "He is wounded from the
explosion! We must leave him -- now!" Emil snapped. "I have set the
explosives -- I will detonate as soon as we leave! But they know we are here.
We can't fight them all."
"You just left Illya?"
his voice hoarse from the tightness in his throat. His mind had snagged on the
most critical element of the emergency: Not THRUSH, not assassins, but a wounded
partner. Almost by instinct Solo had known something had gone wrong; somehow
sensed it. Fear for his friend's life; the seeming hopelessness of the
situation, the anger at Emil all swirled within his thoughts.
"He's as good as dead,
Solo. There is no time to waste on
Outrage overwhelmed Solo at
that comment. Emil turned to leave and Solo seized the man's shoulders. He
savagely slammed the agent against the wall.
"Where is he?"
Solo demanded as he clutched the man at the throat.
"Carpool," Emil gasped. "You can't save him."
"Want to bet?"
Solo answered angrily. Impulsively he threw a punch that flew Emil to the floor
and skidding several feet down the corridor. "Run then! Blow the damn
place! I'm going after Illya."
killed," Emil assured as he wiped blood from his mouth. He didn't sound
like he would mind. "UNCLE lives are depending on us to save them. All you
can think about is one man!" The words were spat out in condemnation.
"I think I'll live
long enough to prove you wrong," Solo flung back over his shoulder.
He ran through the complex
with the reckless speed of abandoned reason, free of caution or prudence. Sense
had been thrown away by a loyalty more primal than his survival instincts. He
was too stubborn, or desperate, or both, to turn away while there was still
some slender hope of saving his partner. His mind couldn't even comprehend
turning his back on his wounded friend and running away.
Only obliquely did he
wonder at the strange lack of resistance as he raced through the complex.
Occasional shadows and snatches of gunfire met his flight. Napoleon returned
the fire almost without a pause as he ran toward the heart of the building --
toward his own destruction?
He didn't allow himself to
dwell on the abandonment of responsibilities. Or the risks he was taking with
the lives of dozens of others. What if Emil didn't make it? What if this
self-indulgent impulse allowed the strike force to reach Madrid? He would
probably be dead anyway, he reasoned fleetingly, then
closed his thoughts to anything but the goal of finding his partner.
Hoping surprise would be to his advantage he dove through the damaged, explosion-bent carpool doors. He came to his feet ready to fire on masses of THRUSH enemies. Mentally and physically he came to a dead stop at what met him in the room.
Solo nearly reeled from the shock when he found no enemies at all. Neither was there, as he had imagined, a desperately wounded Kuryakin lying in his own blood. Instead, there was a rather contrite, pale Kuryakin staring at him from across a large, empty room. Near the Russian, seated in chairs, were calm leaders Alexander Waverly, the #1 Section One from New York, and Thomas Rickston, the #1 Section One from Australia.
Solo slowly lowered his weapon. His heart, his thoughts still raced from the adrenaline -- too pumped up to come to an instant halt. He was so confused he could not even sort out an appropriate question. So he snagged on an irrelevant, natural comment which bubbled to the top of his muddled emotions.
"Well, looks like I've just crashed a private party." His voice was almost toneless. It was empty of the irony that should have colored the remark. After all, it looked like the joke was on him.
Without humor a very sober Waverly shook his head. "No, Mr. Solo. You are an invited guest."
"Not a party, Mr. Solo," Rickston corrected sharply. The grey-haired, tanned and wrinkled man in his sixties lithely sprang from the chair and stabbed Solo with a piercing glare of -- satisfaction? "A test. And you have just flunked it, my boy." Rickston turned to glance at Kuryakin, then back to Solo, then beyond to Emil, who had just entered the cavernous room. "Just as I knew you would."
Solo was still too stunned to respond. He silently cursed himself for being so slow on the uptake. The acute embarrassment was what locked out most of his other emotions. He had been made a fool in front of two very important member of UNCLE and an agent he was really beginning to hate. Sensing his mind floundering in a morass of confusion, he turned to his usual source of support -- his lifeline -- his partner.
This time there was no comforting look of support from his stalwart friend. Illya refused to even glance his way. The Russian paced; his eyes trained on the floor, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched in -- disappointment? In that moment Solo felt the color drain from his face. His sweat-soaked skin plunged to a cold which chilled him deep into his bones. There was an emptiness within his chest that nearly ached with despair. He could take the failure -- whatever he had failed at. He could even handle the embarrassment or lashing cruelty from the loathsome Emil and the arrogant superiority from Rickson. But Kuryakin's silent barricade of rebuke was more stunning than a physical blow; more demoralizing than any other condemnation. Out of habit rather than courage, Napoleon mentally recovered the shattered tatters of his ego. Whatever was ahead he would have to face it; have to see it through. Somehow he would forge past this moment of darkness.
Heartlessly, he turned back
to Rickston. "Failed?" His throat was dry
as dust, but he managed to intone some fortitude in his voice. "What
"For my successor, Mr.
Solo," Waverly commented tiredly.
Without wanting to,
Napoleon looked at his Chief. There was a weariness, a
disappointment in the face, which made the Old Man seem ancient. That he was
the cause of the disappointment and regret was another emotionally
disheartening blow which Solo withstood without expression. Perhaps he was
experiencing so much emotional damage he was becoming immune to further
strikes. Or perhaps he had already hit rock bottom judging from the silent
withdrawal by Kuryakin.
"I am retiring next
year," Waverly revealed, his momentary regret now
wiped away with his usual gruffness. "My choice of a successor was
The slightest hint of
rebuke accompanied the comment. Solo was familiar with the tone: A frequent
expression of Waverly's disapproval of, or disappointment in him. There was no
surprise in the statement. Rumors had long ago pegged Solo as the Chief's
successor. Although it was unusual to promote from Section Two #1 to Section
One #1, Solo's flamboyant and brilliant career seemed to justify the unique
Napoleon had never thought
much about the speculated promotion. As long as he could stay alive in the job
he had hoped to stay in Section Two. Since the mandatory retirement age of
forty had been rescinded, Napoleon thought his position was secure for some
years. He avoided any thoughts of a future growing grey behind a desk. Vainly
sensitive about aging anyway, he tried not to think about desk-duty at all.
Rickston picked up the explanation with
disgusting superiority. "All three of you were candidates."
Surprised, Solo glanced at Kuryakin, but his partner still would not look at him.
There had always been a quasi-competition between he
and the Russian. A subliminal undercurrent of one-upmanship laced through their
years together. It had started from the inception of their working relationship
and traces of professional rivalry had lingered although they were the closest
of friends. Possessed of occasional pettiness, Napoleon searched his feelings
for any trace of jealousy that Illya had beat him at this unknown competition. There was no pang of
resentment or envy; an ominous sign that he no longer cared about the job. What
his feelings were about Kuryakin were still unsorted
"You had great
leadership potential, Mr. Solo," Waverly commented dryly.
"Sentimentality has always been your failing."
"Your appointment, Mr.
Solo was opposed by the other Number One's," Rickston
continued before Waverly's faint flattery could bolster Solo's spirit.
"Your youth, energy and talent are not enough, Mr. Solo. We need a Number
One in New York who can use his vast experience tempered with prudence."
"And prudence is
something you possess in a very small degree," Emil smugly pointed out.
Solo wished he could
counter with some scathing, pithy and cutting remark, but his wit had abandoned
Waverly explained that as a
leading candidate for the position Solo was to be tested on this operation. Rickston explained the cunning, but mythical assignment
which sent the agents tracking clues around the world. Then this dilemma was
targeted to prove Solo's skill -- leadership abilities, objectivity under
pressure, and to gauge his ability to sacrifice for a cause.
As anyone in a leadership
position knew, making life and death decisions for colleagues -- friends --
were the hardest moments. Solo had known that since his assention
to the head of Section Two. Sending associates to their deaths was never easy.
However, it was different in the field when you were on the scene and felt
there was something you could do to salvage the fatal situation.
The five Number One's of UNCLE had studied their subject and concluded
Solo's greatest blind spot was his loyalty and commitment to his friend Kuryakin. The merciless test would prey on his deepest
fears; the terrible choice of sacrificing Kuryakin in
favor of a greater duty. As four out of five (according to Rickston)
had predicted, Solo was more than willing to forsake the welfare of others --
his mission, his own life -- to save Illya.
'One out of four,' he
ruefully thought, striving to salvage some measure of self-esteem. He thought
Waverly had been the hopeful vote in his favor. 'Maybe not,' he qualified.
Waverly knew his weaknesses almost as well as Illya.
"Aside from your
failure to attain Number One, this will also effect
your present standing as head of Section Two," Rickston
chastised with a harshness he seemed to relish. "Alexander has been very
lenient with you, Mr. Solo. Your new superior will have to reconsider the
leadership standards in New York." He finished with a meaningful glance at
Thinking he had been beyond
surprise, Solo once again felt shocked at this new revelation. HE had failed,
so they were giving the job to Illya!?! Working
beside his friend in the field was much different than Illya
succeeding the throne like this! The thoughts raced through his mind with
breathless speed: After he had sacrificed everything for foolish
sentimentality, could Illya turn around and stab him
in the back like this? No wonder Kuryakin
could not look at him.
Tumultuous emotions tumbled
through his mind, but it was hard to select one to voice. Solo finally allowed
his bitterness to surge forward and make his comments for him. What did control
matter? The upward mobility of his career was destroyed; he had disappointed
Waverly, he had lost Illya's respect -- friendship?
What did he care what happened next? What could they do, fire him? Right now
that prospect seemed inevitable -- even inviting.
"I don't especially
like to fail," he said in a quiet voice which trembled from the emotions
barely kept in check. "I like manipulation even less. Right
down there with playing God. If leadership means playing with lives --
playing like this -- then I'm glad I'm not in your class," he told Rickston. Then he glared at Illya,
who still did not meet his eyes. "I can live with this failure. I never
wanted to be Number One. I guess I'm just not cold-blooded enough. Some things
. . . ." his voice cracked. He took a deep breath. "Some things
shouldn't be betrayed for power and position."
To punctuate his defiant remark
he threw his Special to the ground. The scope broke off from the violent force.
He noted Illya had snapped around to look at him.
Without acknowledging his partner, without looking back, he turned and strode
from the room.
For the first time in his
adult life Napoleon wished he could cry. Years of rigid control and suppression
of emotion had locked off the ability for that form of emotional release. A
second alternative was to smash his fist against the nearest wall. The
humiliation and anger would probably put enough force into the punch to
permanently damage his hand. It was a tempting impulse, but he restrained
himself from the self inflicted damage. Instead, he closed out the pain and
tried to blank out his thoughts as he stalked down the corridor.
The five Section One
leaders had been wrong about his personality. The weakest flaw in his nature
was not his regard for Illya, but pride. Humiliation
was a bitter sting he had avoided since he was old enough to feel the terrible
pain of public embarrassment. His proud, sometimes egotistical personality
hated failure -- hated underachievement of expectations more than anything
Was that why he could not
cope with losing Illya? 'A dead partner always looked
bad on the record,' he thought with brutal irony.
He knew that wasn't his
reason for trying to save Illya time and time again.
It stemmed from a selfishness to retain such an important person in his life.
And the selfless devotion of friendship was one of his few noble traits, which
he had always hoped counter-balanced his less savory habits. The willingness to
sacrifice had stemmed, for both of them, from a true and deep affection they
shared. After all they had been through -- even after this -- Napoleon still felt
that emotional commitment to Illya. It would take
more than alienation, more than betrayal, more than denunciation or failure to
sever their commitment and fidelity to each other. At least
on his part. Somehow Waverly and Rickston had
found a price high enough for Illya to betray that
loyalty. Alternately, they had never found Solo's price. That slender shred of
remaining integrity was a small comfort to him. Like being the last one to fall
at the Little Big Horn, it offered a strange form of empty comfort.
Almost flinching at his
name called by the familiar -- anxious? -- voice. The
footsteps ran up beside him, yet he refused to stop, or to look at his friend.
He could not even bring himself to send the Russian away with another cruel
censure. Whatever vestige of strength he had found to confront Rickston was now vanquished. There was nothing left inside
which he could summon to face Kuryakin.
A strong hand seized his
shoulder and brought him around with such force it jarred his teeth. Sizzling
blue eyes glared at him with livid anger. "I didn't deserve your
accusation of betrayal!" Affronted that Illya
was angry with him, Solo's temper flared. With considerable effort he struggled
from the Russian's grip, leaving his shoulder stinging from the bruising grip
"You're right. You
Without thinking he flung
out a blow -- Illya becoming a substitute for the
wall he had intended to pummel. The punch could have badly injured the intended
victim if the blow had landed. Probably expecting it, Illya
ducked as he grabbed Solo's arm and wrestled him into an armlock,
then pressed him face first into the wall with the weight of his body. The
defensive maneuver had been easy. Solo's attack was spurred by clumsy anger and
lacked even instinctive skill. Never in their career together had they struck
one another in anger. Their sniping was sometimes petty and hot, but they had
never come to blows.
Smashed against the wall,
Solo had a moment to get a grip on his emotions. Anger cooled, replaced by
shame that he was the one to lose his control in such a childish manner.
Napoleon's face jammed on the wall, inches away from each other, the two sweaty
antagonists glared eye to eye as they caught their breath.
"Do you really think I
would betray you?" Kuryakin wondered, his voice
clearly disclosing his distress.
The blue eyes were no
longer angry. They were mellowed to a soft expression of receptiveness, even a
gentle hint of regret. The familiar and supporting eyes of his friend, Solo
swept away all other judgements. He had been wrong --
it certainly wasn't the first time. Illya was here as
a comrade and never had he felt in more need of his friend to lean on.
"Sorry. I should know
better," he breathed unsteadily. "I didn't want to believe . . .
." He shook his head, unable to put the muddled emotions into words. His
voice was still shaky, raw from the turbulent emotions he had yet to deal with.
"You want to take a crack at me?" he generously, wryly offered.
Kuryakin retained the position although he
relaxed the tight grip on Solo's wrist. Now he simply held onto his friend's
arm and shoulder in support. "I am a fool to relinquish such a golden
opportunity, but, no. No, I am the one who should apologize. I had no desire to
play along with their disgusting test."
An almost painful relief
swept through Solo's chest and he felt he could breath
again. He had never wanted to believe Illya would
turn against him. Typical of his impulsive, rash judgements,
he had badly misjudged the situation. Illya had not
been condemning him, but had been too embarrassed himself to deal with the
situation. One of the few times in their partnership when
they could not help the other friend in need. However, he felt he could
be excused for his lack in perspicacity -- the extreme circumstances had left
him badly off balance. Now that the crisis was over, they each recognized the
truth and the problems were easier to deal with.
Solo took a few deep
breaths. "Well, now what do I do for an encore?" he asked, a measure
of his usual wry humor surfacing above the grim depression which had settled
A thin smile was Kuryakin's reassuring response. The compassion in his eyes
said more than his flippant comment. "Find a new tailor?" he
countered, tugging at the tear in Solo's fatigue jacket. "Just once I'd
like to see you complete a mission without replacing your wardrobe."
"So would the
accounting department," Solo responded.
He turned around to lean on
the wall. Illya released his hold, but stayed only
inches away, leaning beside the senior agent. Solo wiped sweat and grime from
his face. He noted how dirty, torn and sweat-soaked his clothes were. His mad
dash toward the supposedly heroic rescue had been a blind rush through the
corridors. Those anxious moments were little more than a blurred memory, yet
they had affected forever his future. He stared down at a blurred point on the
floor. Overcome by fatigue and weariness of spirit, mind and body, his knees
gave way and he slid to the ground.
"I've really burned my
bridges this time, haven't I?" he quietly wondered. The
self-pity and depression surging beyond the thready
defenses of his shaken control. "I've pretty much closed my career
doors," he sighed drearily.
inception of their partnership the tight loyalty of their partnership had been
the subject of a continual remonstration lectures from Waverly. Solo's mind drifted to further
ramifications of this Machiavellian test. Their actions would effect Illya's future as well. Now
the 'weakness' would be a detriment for Illya as the
new Number One in New York. To save both of them considerable strain Solo would
have to leave New York. Yet where could he go? This little incident would
curtail his advance in the organization -- certainly in Section One. After
retirement from the field (if he lived that long) there were few places left to
go. Section Two was not a place for an agent with a history of misguided
heroics and self-indulgent tendencies.
He glanced at Kuryakin with a hint of ruefulness in his eyes. "Well,
I guess my first request to my new 'boss' will be a transfer."
Solo pushed aside any
detailed speculation of life without Illya as his
partner -- with Illya as his superior! Ego taking the
forefront of his emotions, he felt it would be too humiliating to remain in New
York as the ousted 'former' head of Section Two. How could he leave and abandon
his partner? How could he stay without the respect of the rest of his section
-- the rest of HQ. Breathing out a sigh, he didn't
have the heart to think of the future anymore.
Kuryakin slid down to the floor. At eye
level with his friend he shook his head. "Two transfers," he corrected.
"That title is about to be given to Emil."
Napoleon gasped his surprise.
"But -- the test --"
"I failed it just as
you did, my friend," Illya said without a hint
Now Solo was truly
confused. "What --?"
"It was my test to
lure you in. But I refused to answer your calls, to deceive you. I wouldn't
play along with their little chess game and act as a sacrificial pawn. Rickston finally had to order Emil offer you the
Despite the gloomy shadow
cast over both their careers Solo felt a warm, affectionate wave of
thankfulness for his partner. A slow, yet heartfelt grin spread on is his lips.
"Forgive me for being delighted at your failure."
With a nod Illya said, "You're forgiven."
admitted, "I have to apologize again. Sorry I doubt--"
Kuryakin held up a hand to forestall the
apology. "A temporary aberration," he replied without hesitation.
"You are too sentimental and foolish to ever really doubt me."
Solo's grin returned. He
wondered how he had misjudged Kuyrakin's own level of
sacrifice. "Well, I guess we're in the soup. Again."
Illya returned the grin. "As usual. We sink and swim together."
in the unemployment line?"
not? I never
wanted the job, anyway."
There was an almost
cavalier tone in his voice. He felt almost giddy -- lightheaded with relief.
Truly, he had never wanted the job. Deep in his heart he knew he could not live
with himself if he was forced to send Illya into
dangers he could not share with his friend. There was no regret at the career
setback. Despite the prestige and honor of Section One Number One, what was a
job compared to friendship? The best kind of job security was dependence on a
"I never wanted it
either," Illya agreed wryly. "Too
"Well, our prospects
are great. With my charm and your brains -- our possibilities are almost
limitless." Leaning his head back on the wall he allowed the nervous
energy to run free, his arms shaking in residual stress. "Maybe we could
request Hawaii. Not much happens out there."
"You almost make me
believe it was worth the manipulation," Kuryakin
countered with an acid touch to his voice. "It is the first time something
good has come of being a pawn."
The comment brought Solo back to a more somber frame of mind. He hated being a
game-piece as much as Illya did. "Good? I
wouldn't exactly be that optimistic," Napoleon ruefully admitted. "A
lack of salary can put a serious crimp in your life."
"I think it is better
to know where we stand with our superiors. Just as they know where we
The jarring and cruel chess
game had opened their eyes to some shades of reality they had faced before, but
never quite like this. Authority, duty, and death were overshadowed by their
mutual commitment to friendship. They had emerged bloody but unbowed. Together,
was there anything they couldn't accomplish? Right now he didn't think there
As if reading his mind, Illya asked, "Do you doubt our survival
Napoleon shook his head
matching his partner's optimism. "Our partnership is probably the only
thing I have never --" he hesitated, guilt shading his face with a blush.
"-- almost never doubted, tovarich."
With a gesture Illya swept aside the confession. "I have learned to
live with your occasional quirks after all these years," he responded
sagely. "I expected the reaction. I knew you would come back to your usual
Solo countered skeptically. "I'm not that predictable."
Illya slowly nodded. "Yes you
are," he returned instantly. "I knew exactly what you would do --
almost down to the minute. I was expecting you all along."
The reminder slid Solo back
into a depression. It seemed everyone but him had
foreseen his inevitable downfall. With a nervous gesture he pushed the thick,
dark hair from his eyes, then thrust his hands in his
pockets. He stared down the corridor. Kuryakin placed
a hand on his shoulder.
"You have taken this
test many times before, Napoleon -- in real situations -- not one of their
games," he advised soberly. "You never failed me -- you never
abandoned me -- even when I asked you to," he added with dry irony.
"THAT is why I have never doubted our partnership, or you."
Solo felt his throat
tighten with emotion. "You have never failed either," he countered in
The comforting consistency
of their friendship was the most vital part of their lives. They could find
other careers, other places to go -- they could never replace their friendship.
He cleared his throat, uncomfortable with their emotional revelations. They
were the closest of friends -- obviously willing to sacrifice everything for
the other. They would, however, rarely express their most intimate thoughts
"Well, now that we've
settled that, what do we do with the rest of the day?" he asked with
"We still have time for
the beach, if only you had remembered the lotion."
Solo laughed. He darted a
quick glance down the corridor. "What about them?"
With a wryly evil look in
his eyes Illya decided, "Let them sunburn,"
he airily dismissed. He took his friend by the arm and helped him up, then led
the way out of the complex.