Listening for Trouble

Title: Listening for Trouble

Author: Elizabeth Helena

Fandom: Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Rating: PG-13 for naughty language, and for naughty hijinks that one generally stops doing after graduation. Sorry, I meant never do, of course. Study hard, kids.

Pairing: Slashy gen, or genny slash depending on one’s perspective. Hey, just like the show!

Warning: I rarely write first person POV. So, please keep in mind that I could be under the influence of a Thrush mind probe.

Summary: Illya has reasons for being pissed off at Napoleon (pardon my French).

Disclaimer: I do not own these gentlemen from the U.N.C.L.E., and their opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the author. After all, while I comprehend my inner Illya’s obsession with Napoleon’s posterior, I would never employ the negative language he uses to describe it.

Dedicated to: Adrienne, as she figured out just what got Illya rolling. Plus, she’ll recognize another portion of the story she inspired. I swear it wasn’t plagiarism, only research (with apologies to Tom Lehrer).

Beta: C.W.W. who saved me from embarrassing myself with blunders the size of – oh, I’ll leave such metaphors to Illya. Suffice to say, her input regarding canon and characters was invaluable. I could go on, but it would just devolve into fangirl squeeing.

Further Thanks to: Rebelcat for feeding my Muncle habit with the European release movies. Thanks as well to Patricia Foley, for bringing to my attention the unsung heroes of U.N.C.L.E., the long-suffering Security personnel. Finally to the good folks at the Survival School for MFU Writers for their encouraging feedback.

Feedback/Critique: Yes, please. I can be reached lurking about in my new fandom, at elizabeth loves her thesaurus @ (no spaces), or possibly wherever I posted this (no cigarette case communicators).

Archiving: mfuwss, hopefully muncle, and someday I hope to have a MFU website of my own with lots of pretty pictures of the boys in chains. Not that I’m into that sort of thing. Them being tied up with ropes works equally well for me.

Listening for Trouble

Die Muh'ist klein, der Spass ist gross.
[The trouble is small, the fun is great.]
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Over the years I’ve acquired a number of important life-saving skills. Trusting my instinct to duck before I’ve heard the sound of a gun being fired. Checking under the mattress for sharp objects or loaded guns before enjoying a night of pleasure with ladies who do not share my allegiances. Learning to judge how angry my partner is before any unpleasantness ensues.

All right, I confess that last one is still a work in progress.

However, I have learned certain warning signs over the past year. For instance, if Illya swears in English, it’s business as usual, and he can be safely ignored. Especially if it’s a real curse word, for that means Illya’s had time to translate it in his head. His regular use of “good grief” and “blockhead” has convinced me that the naughtiest English words he knows by heart are all from Peanuts cartoons.

If Illya swears in Russian, on the other hand, I’ve learned to pay close attention because the current mission or my person is in jeopardy. Sometimes the danger is as close as my partner, or actually is my partner. Naturally, I can handle anything Illya can dish out. Still, no matter how often I’ve slept with Thrush agents, I’m not a masochist.

Now, when Illya begins to swear in German, if you can’t run for it, you need to find the nearest cover and batten down the hatches. A killer storm is about to break and you better pray it’s not aimed at you.

Please understand I’m not a fan of the mass market psychology books that have recently proliferated, and I hope this trend will die out like the hula hoop did. My relationships with women are perfectly healthy given my lifestyle, thank you very much. Even if I do occasionally have to check under the mattress first. Emptying Serena’s gun clip, and spraying Angelique’s purse with pesticide isn’t a bad idea either.

Still, I think these head-shrinkers are onto to something when they talk about suppressed rage, and how it can lie in wait for decades, just waiting for the chance to sneak past tightly wound controls. Say, for instance, in a torrent of German expletives aimed at me.

While much of Illya’s past remains a mystery to me, I do know enough world history to realize he learned that particular part of the German lexicon well before he hit puberty. And not, shall we say, under the happiest of circumstances.

I really wish Illya would stop pointing his gun at me, it’s making me a trifle nervous. Especially as I’m not sure what kind of ammunition it’s loaded with right now.

Where was I? Oh yes, warning signs. Well, if there’s one thing being an U.N.C.L.E. agent has taught me, it’s that sometimes warning signs are as useful as 20/20 hindsight. For example, when you’re caught in a dead end alley with no cover in sight, and your weapon has been kicked out of your reach. At this point, the warning bell they tell you to listen for in Survival School is long past tolling for thee.

In my own defense, there was absolutely no reason to suspect an imminent attack. Yes, Illya was surly this morning, but when isn’t he grumpy when he hasn’t had enough sleep? Furthermore, I’ve always believed that successfully completing another dangerous mission, against all the odds as usual, is a cause for celebration. So, I think I can be forgiven for not expecting that the moment I closed Channel D, my own partner would relieve me of my communicator and send my gun flying.

Besides, it’s not like I’ve had a lot of sleep this week, either. Or food come to think of it. Doubtless low blood sugar has contributed to both Illya’s actions and my own slow response.

Unfortunately, none of this changes the fact that I’m faced with an armed, enraged Russian, swearing fluently in German. With very few options that won’t risk my weary life and limb, and quite likely my suit as well.

A situation which is particularly unjust considering how many times he’s lectured me about my supposed lack of professionalism when it comes to firearms. After all, what he’s currently doing and threatening to do with his gun does not qualify as safe handling of a loaded weapon under any stretch of the imagination. However, I doubt reminding him of this would help matters much.

In fact, I’m not sure if anything I say will either snap him back to rationality, or ensure my early retirement from the field. For if what he’s suggesting doing with his weapon is actually physically possible, it definitely would result in a crippling if survivable injury. Well, hopefully survivable.

I’d definitely find it easier to concentrate if Illya would stop waving his gun around (just out reach, unfortunately) while threatening to use it on a part of my anatomy that I doubt could be clenched any tighter. Well, there was that time in Finland with Angeli– damn, you see the problem?

Thank God, he’s actually pausing now between unkind references to my parents and even unkinder words regarding the son they produced. I was beginning to suspect that Russians had secret gills that made ranting possible without needing to breathe. Possibly the British too, considering some of Waverly’s –

Dammit, I really need to focus before Illya catches me off-guard. Again.


Too late. At least the demand was in English, although the wild look in his eyes isn’t reassuring. I scramble to translate what I can recall of Illya’s diatribe, as his German is far more fluent and profane than my own.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that to me as –”

Apparently that was the wrong tactic. He’s now complaining loudly that I never listen to him. All accompanied by a number of German expletives, and a number of insults about the obtuseness of Americans. I resist the impulse to take advantage of his next pause for breath to remind him that my mother was French-Canadian. Instead, I apply one of the lessons she imparted to me.

“I’m sorry, Illya, you’re right. I was completely irresponsible, and treated you unfairly.”

Now, that’s stopped him in his tracks. I silently thank my mother for all of her attempts to turn me into a good Roman Catholic. While I’ve never learned to resist temptation, I did discover how potent a weapon of self-defense confession can be.

“You have every right to be angry and disappointed in my recent behavior.”

I’d throw in a mea maxima culpa, but I suspect that would be pushing my luck. Especially, as I haven’t got a clue what I’m apologizing for. At least Illya’s gun is now pointing toward the ground. If I wasn’t so exhausted, I’d move on him now. Under the circumstances, it seems wise to keep talking until his trigger finger relaxes.

“I jeopardized both you and the mission, and when we get back to New York, I’ll take all the blame.”

Damn, his gun is coming up again.

“Napoleon, you have no idea what you’re apologizing for, do you?”

Fuck, it’s really unfair. They partner you with a man who can blow up, shoot, and untie just about anything, and I’m not saying those skills aren’t appreciated, but does he have to be so damn perceptive too?

While Illya’s question was neither shouted nor in German, my palms are beginning to sweat. I realize now that there’s nothing to be done, other than to rely on a hard-earned lesson from years in U.N.C.L.E. When outgunned on all levels, unconditionally surrender until the first chance for escape comes along.

“You’re absolutely right, tovarisch, I don’t know what I’m apologizing for.”

I’m hoping the ‘comrade’, which pleased him so much the first time I used it, will help. Perhaps it has, for Illya’s ranting has become less loud, and is now thankfully German-free. He’s also stopped using his gun for punctuation, which is much appreciated.

Wait a second, did he just say something about soap?

“. . . never use the soap dish, you just leave it at the bottom of the sink to melt away to nothing. And you threw out my bottle of shampoo!”

To hell with unconditional surrender. “It was empty!”

“No it wasn’t! You Americans are so wasteful, you can’t be bothered to add just a bit of water and shake it so. . .”

I’m now convinced that his complaints that I don’t listen to him are completely unjustified. If this is the sort of ridiculous nit-picking I’m supposed to pay attention – did he just say toilet paper?

“You use up half a roll every time, and not once have you replaced it when it’s empty. . .”

Okay, now I’m getting seriously pissed off. Pun not intended, but really, toilet paper? Although that does explain why so many of his earlier threats were aimed in the direction of my ‘fat rear end’. Which is not fat, but a very attractive, rounded shape, in more than my opinion.

“You act like your backside is the size of Peter the Great’s!”

“That’s enough! I can’t believe you’ve been insulting me for,” I glance at my watch, “ten minutes over something as pathetic as toilet paper. You should be grateful you now live in a country where we have enough –”

Oh shit. Pun most definitely not intended, again.

Illya’s face has gone white, and all I can think of are the stories on the news whenever some American politician wants to hammer home the failure of Communism. Reports of Soviet citizens lining up for days for common every day items that overflow America’s grocery store shelves. Like toilet paper.

“Illya, I. . .”

Genug!” He snaps, and marches off in the direction of the car.

Enough, indeed. I don’t hear any screeching of tires or crunching of metal, so I take a moment to recover. Well, collapse against the nearest alley wall, while my brain reminds me of a number of things that would have been much more helpful a minute ago.

I remember the first time I was allowed to wander around Illya’s apartment, not long after we’d been made partners. We were cleaning up after a particularly messy affair, and I was fetching an extra towel. In his linen closet, I uncovered an impressive stockpile of razor blades, light bulbs and bars of soap. The sharpness in Illya’s voice when he asked me why I was taking so long had discouraged me from asking about my discovery, and I soon forgot.

Now though, I can recollect all the times I’d come across hoards of batteries in his kitchen cupboards, or enough match books to burn Chicago again squirreled away in his underwear drawer. And of course, paper products of all kinds, from writing paper to damned rolls of toilet paper overflowing in his closets.

Once, I got clomped on the head by a few errant rolls when I opened a cupboard door too quickly. He’d taken the teasing in apparently good, that is to say, no worse than usual humor. He’d growled that he had little time to waste on shopping between missions.

I take a deep breath, realizing that despite all the signs of his outward adaption to living in the West, he’s still a product of his homeland. And what I’d just discounted as petty complaints, he perceived as extreme thoughtlessness. Shoulders slumped, I head to the car, preparing myself mentally for days of coddling Illya out of his bad mood.

As I slip into the passenger side of the car, I avoid looking at him directly. I’ve seen enough nature shows on TV to know the foolhardiness of any action that an outraged predator might interpret as a challenge. However, what I can see with my peripheral vision makes me think that all is not as it seems.

Yes, Illya’s genuinely mad at me, and doubtless this blow up over my bourgeois bathroom habits has been a long time coming. Nonetheless, despite his attempts to hide his contentment, Illya looks far too pleased with himself for that to have been his sole motivation.

I clear my throat. “So, shall we return to our probably toilet paperless hotel room, or are you not done messing around with my head?”

Illya gives me the wide-eyed immigrant act I’d stopped falling for at least a month after meeting him. Three months tops. “Messing around,” he enunciates slowly, as if he’s just arrived off the boat. “Isn’t such behavior reserved for inside American hotel rooms?”

I bite the inside of my mouth to prevent myself from smiling. “Considering my profligate habits with bathroom products, perhaps you’re the better judge of what’s appropriate behavior inside or outside hotel rooms.”

“Yes, expecting self-restraint would be asking a great deal from you.” Illya announces as he finally starts the car, pulling out without risking our imminent deaths for a change.

My partner is the only person in the world who can actually smirk without changing his facial expression. However, he has just handed me the perfect opening.

“Speaking of self-restraint, what do you call your recent display? Whatever happened to ‘maintaining professional standards whenever handling a weapon’?” It’s always a pleasure to use Illya’s own words against him, but especially this time.

Much to my disappointment, his expression remains serene. “I thought a demonstration might work as words never have.”

“Excuse me?”

He gives me a quick, but smug look that says ‘you heard perfectly well what I said’. Illya has an entire lexicon of smug looks.

I suddenly recall a relevant incident during our just completed mission. “Now wait one minute, I had no choice but to point that gun at you. I was impersonating a Thrush agent, for heaven’s sake!”

Keeping his eyes on the road, Illya grumbles, “You didn’t have to hit me on the nose with the barrel.”

“What? I didn’t –” I stop, as I realize I had. “You’re exaggerating. It was just a playful little tap on the end of your nose.” The Thrush guards had certainly thought it was funny, which had made it an excellent distraction.

Illya turns the corner, and treats me to one of his more scathing glances. He has quite an extensive collection of those as well.

I realize that ‘playful’ probably hadn’t been the best choice of words. I sigh. “Didn’t they ever teach you in Russia that two wrongs don’t make a right?”

He wordlessly pulls into the parking lot of our hotel, and sets the parking brake. Then with complete aplomb, he hands his U.N.C.L.E. Special over to me. Properly, of course, with the handle extended toward me, the safety catch in place, and the muzzle pointing at neither of us.

I pop the magazine and discover that it’s empty. I know it’s useless, but I check the ejection port anyway. Sure enough there’s no round in the chamber either.

Sneaky, underhanded, and very Russian bastard.

I return his weapon, treating him to a dirty look of my own. “Whatever happened to ‘there’s no such thing as an unloaded gun’?”

He pretends to think it over as he holsters his weapon. “The Russian Navy never taught me that either.”

Illya quickly exits the car before I give him more than just a playful tap on his nose this time. I sit for a moment, shaking my head. Thinking what a shame it is that he’s smart enough to know when he’s pushed me just far enough.

With no choice but to admit temporary defeat, I climb out of the rental car and suggest lunch. The light in Illya’s eyes is answer enough. Definitely time to raise my partner’s blood sugar. No doubt a stiff drink will work wonders on my blood pressure.

I smile at him, for I really don’t mind letting him get away with this morning’s stunt. Fact is, Illya can be just as guilty of underestimating me as I am of overlooking how much he enjoys keeping me on my toes. He thinks I’m not a patient man, but I learned long ago that revenge is a dish best served cold – or at least, very dry.


It’s dark and cramped, but the important thing is that I’m safe. For the moment, at least.

The office door slides open, and I hold my breath, not making the least sound or movement. I’d also taken the precaution of not wearing any aftershave cologne this morning.

There’s a pause reminiscent of the moment before lightening strikes, but there’s only a hushed muttering of threats that break the laws of nature, quantum or otherwise. I’m reassured that the comprehensible parts of his grumbles are in English. My early morning actions to the contrary, I really do want to live a long and full life.

Finally, Illya stomps out. The moment the door slides shut, I can no longer hold in my laughter. It’s at least a minute before I have sufficient self-control to speak into my communicator. “Open Channel D, Solo here.”

“Channel D open. How can I be of service to you, Napoleon?”

Ah, sweet, accommodating Wanda, but I have no time to prolong this exchange. “Only the delight of hearing your voice, my dear, and a quick transfer to Section Six’s Security Officer please.”

“I believe Mrs. Drosten is in, if you’d rather speak to the Section Chief.”

I grimace at the idea, but keep this reaction to myself. “No, today’s Security Officer will do fine.”

“As you wish.”

As I wait the requisite seconds, I pop my head out from underneath my desk, and make myself a bit more comfortable.

“Security, Prasad here.

“Solo here. Kuryakin hasn’t contacted you today, has he?”

There’s a slight hesitation before Prasad answers in the negative, but I know he’s not lying. Prasad has been in Security longer than I’ve been in U.N.C.L.E. He’s smart enough to put two and eleven together and realize there’s a mad Russian on the loose.

“Excellent.” I put extra cheer in my voice to allay Prasad’s fears. “Seize this morning’s security tapes for Section Eight and put them in a vault right away.”

“Oh God, what did you do this time? I swear, every time Waverly’s out of town. . .”

In the background, I can just pick up someone asking, “It’s not a code thirteen is it?”

“Just follow my order, Prasad.” I sharpen my tone.

Prasad’s voice hardens. “Not without written authorization from you and my boss. And Simpson in Section Eight too.”

Damn, I wish someone less experienced was in charge this morning. You’d be surprised how many people will obey orders you don’t have the authority to give as long as you sound confident enough. It was a lesson I learned in the army, along with what to do if the bluff fails.

“I don’t have time for all that red tape right now. Tell you what, I’ll give you ten dollars for your trouble now, and I’ll fix up the necessary paperwork later.”

There’s a momentary pause which promises success before Prasad answers. “No way, Solo. If Kuryakin ever finds out, he’ll shoot me!”

“Illya won’t –,” but stop myself, as he’ll know it’s a lie. “Okay, twenty dollars. Worst case scenario, he might shoot you with a tranquilizer dart. Don’t be such a wimp.”

A disgusted sound. “It’ll cost you another twenty if he does.”

Even louder, behind Prasad’s whining, I can hear a younger voice announcing, “Attention Section Five and Six personnel. Code thirteen, I repeat, code thirteen.”

“All right,” I agree reluctantly. “Consider it danger pay.” To distract myself from the rising cost of my escapade, I ask, “But what in Sam Hill is a code thirteen?”

“Uh, nothing, just a new protocol for security drills.”

The other voice was now shriller, responding to someone out of hearing range. “No, this isn’t a fucking drill! Waverly’s out of town, isn’t he?”

“I’ll get right on those security tapes.” Prasad cuts our connection.

Now, that was very suspicious, but at the moment I have another – well, not bigger, but certainly more homicidal – problem to worry about than Section Six personnel having a collective nervous breakdown. However, if I lay low for another half hour, Illya will work the worst of his temper tantrum out of his system while trying to hunt me down.

As I put my communicator back into my jacket pocket, I reflect on how lucky we are in U.N.C.L.E. Northwest. Alexander Waverley has a reputation as a ‘by the book’ man, and is definitely someone you never want to cross. Nonetheless, the Old Man turns an officially blind eye to most of the practical jokes played in headquarters, although any property damage caused definitely impacts the responsible party’s pay check. However, as long as no staff or missions are endangered, the punishment usually ends there.

I’d been careful to ensure that all was quiet on the Western front before pulling my stunt this morning, so as not to earn Mr. Waverly’s substantial wrath. Also, I’d waited until the Old Man was out of New York, as safe money bet on him being the organizer of the annual office Christmas party films which highlight such pranks. My request to Section Six for the security footage was another preventative measure, for I’d rather enjoy a private viewing than deal with Illya sulking for an entire holiday season.

I hope Prasad was successful, as I can hardly wait to see the look on my partner’s face when he arrived this morning and discovered that his laboratory had been thoroughly T.P.ed.

I chuckle softly at the memory of festooning Illya’s sanctuary with half a dozen rolls of toilet paper. Even after paying Simpson ten dollars to let me into the lab, another ten to Heather to cover for me, and whatever Prasad ended up demanding, it would be well worth the price.

From time to time, I wonder about Mr. Waverly’s attitude that just falls short of encouraging such hijinks. Now that I really think about it, I realize that there are a lot more destructive ways the stress of our work could manifest itself than through the occasional harmless prank. An even deeper respect for Mr. Waverly’s acumen takes hold as I contemplate the overall smooth operation of the New York headquarters. Especially considering it’s not just the staff of the top three sections who are vulnerable to assassination, blackmail or the more mundane strain caused by long hours and unpredictable schedules. In less capable hands, this place could easily become a human powder keg.

Which reminds me of the short Russian fuse that I’d already lit this morning. Deciding that enough time has passed for the surrounding corridors to be safe, I get up from underneath my desk. After straightening my rumpled suit, I check that my gun is fully loaded with tranquilizer darts. Satisfied, I approach the door, and stick my head out for a quick reconnoiter before stepping into the hallway.

All’s clear, so I take the short cut to the gym. Even if Illya finds me there before he’s sufficiently calmed down, the mats will protect me from too much bruising. Plus, I’ll be able to stop by the locker room and change out of my suit, preventing any unnecessary damage to it as well.

As I stealthily make my way down the corridors, I can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right. I commandeer the freight elevator, and I realize that it was much too quiet. No secretaries were dashing about on various errands, and there was a notable absence of any Security personnel in sight. Still, I’ve got no time to investigate this mystery. As long as Heather doesn’t contact me and none of the enemy incursion alarms go off, I need to stay focused on keeping my own body safe from friendlier fire.

I slip out of the elevator and into the agents’ change room. I slink past the first few rows of lockers, but the tell-tale click of a safety being released brings me to an abrupt halt.

“Don’t move.”

I take heart that the command was in English, but the look on Illya’s face as he moves into my line of sight tones down my optimism somewhat. His Special pointed at my chest isn’t very encouraging either.

“Place your weapons in the locker behind you, please.” Illya said, his expression humorless.

I can’t help but hesitate. I do outrank him as C.E.A., no matter how often he ignores this fact. Which reminds me of something I’d forgotten in all the excitement.

“Illya, even if your gun’s unloaded again, you better put it away before Security shows up.”

Come to think of it, what was taking them so long? With Waverly gone for the day, I’m more important than usual. We should already be up to our eyeballs in armed Section Six guards.

I swear I see Illya’s lower lip twitch for just a moment. “After you contacted Mr. Prasad, I paid him a visit. I negotiated certain liberties in exchange for considerations important to Security’s peace of mind.”

Prasad backstabbed me! I’m torn between admiration and the impulse to pack him off to Greenland before Mr. Waverly returns. First, however, I have to take care of a more immediate case of insubordination. “I’m not going to fall for the unloaded gun trick twice in a row, Illya.”

“Of course not. This time it’s loaded with the very latest in tranquilizer darts.”

It’s moments like these that I wish I’d listened to my Mother who’d believed in turning the other cheek, instead of my Father who’d always recommended nailing the bastards to the closest wall. Obviously, Dad had never had to apply hammer and nail to as slippery a devil as my partner.

“You’re not seriously expecting me to play along with this farce,” I say, testing his resolve.

“If you prefer, you can wake up in an hour with a headache. Stripped naked, as well.”

Not wanting to know just where he might dump my comatose and nude body, I open the indicated locker door, keeping one eye on the gun aimed at me. I remove my Special from its shoulder holster, my backup pistol in its ankle holster, my exploding money clip, my cuff links (ditto), my watch (a trigger for a number of incendiary devices along with a serrated blade), and my tie clip (best not described in mixed company, really).

I’m sorely tempted to ‘accidentally’ leave one or two surprises hidden on my person. Unfortunately, my partner knows all my secrets, and isn’t prone to giving second chances. I also remove my belt, as the pedantic bastard counts flexible saws as weapons.

“May I at least keep my shoelaces?” I ask, with just a touch of sarcasm.

“Replace them.” He points his Special at a pair of laces on the locker’s shelf. I frown for it’s bad enough that these shoelaces probably remain inert when dipped in salad oil, they’re also brown. Nonetheless, the alternative of mooning an unknown number of staff members while unconscious convinces me to lace up my black shoes with these offensive replacements.

I really wish I’d planned for changing my clothes upstairs. I’ll never be compensated if this suit is ruined while I’m assigned to the supposedly safe environs of New York's headquarters. $115 is a high price to pay for pulling my partner’s leg, although I still don’t harbor any serious regrets. The game is far from over, after all.

Now denuded of all my armaments, Illya waves me away from the locker. I decide that it couldn’t hurt to try to talk my way out. It’s a strategy that’s worked against T.H.R.U.S.H. often enough.

“Ah Illya, I’d love to stay for this party you have planned, but there’s a code thirteen in progress. With Waverly’s away, I really should check. . .”

I trail off as Illya gives me his ‘Don’t treat me like a Thrush imbecile’ look. Without lowering his Special, Illya positions himself between me and the locker filled with protective goodies.

“You have no idea what a code thirteen is, do you Napoleon?”

Okay, this time Illya’s going on report. Twice in the same month, I’m being held at gun point by my own partner, without the slightest idea what is going on. It’s nothing less than a complete subversion of the chain of command, and if my suit gets damaged as a result, Waverly’s going to damn well pay for it. He can take it out of Illya’s pay check, or out of Security’s budget, the close-mouthed bastards.

My inner ranting is brought to a halt when Illya tosses a number of items into the locker including the knife he keeps in his boot. I swallow as I watch him single-handedly remove his belt.

“I might have missed the recent memo.” I venture.

“Probably because you never read them. Perhaps you use them as toilet paper instead?”

I bite the inside of my mouth hard to keep from grinning. “No, I find the paper Waverly favors to be insufficiently soft and absorbent.”

I watch carefully as Illya places the rest of his impressive armory in the same locker, but the gun pointed at me never wavers. Don’t get me wrong, I trust Illya with my life, and could take him in an unfair fight. Still, it’s a bit nerve-wracking when I haven’t got a clue what he’s planning.

So, I try one of my more charming smiles that’s melted more than one. . . well, a gentleman doesn’t go into details. “Now that you mention it, tovarisch, I did notice a peculiar shortage of toilet paper today –”

Illya cuts me off with a suggestive gesture with his gun, but then his Special joins the rest of our mutual arsenal. I watch, flabbergasted, as he closes the locker and slips the key into the back pocket of his pants.

He meets my eyes, and there’s a sparkle in them I haven’t seen in a while. “Napoleon, are you familiar with the saying, ‘When the cat’s away. . ?’”

I finally get the complete picture as Illya smirks at me. Putting two and eleven together, indeed. “Let me guess, the normally heavily armed, Survival School-trained mice begin to play.”

Illya nods at the locker. “I thought we might try to minimize the damage, considering the large deductions from our pay checks the last time a code thirteen was called. I also promised Mr. Prasad that this time we would restrict our activities to the gymnasiums and associated areas.”

“And the surveillance tapes?” I ask. Illya’s glower raises my hopes.

“Unfortunately, a higher power had already expressed interest in them.”

It takes a moment for the truth to sink in. Not only Prasad, but Simpson double-crossed me as well. He must have alerted the Old Man when I bribed him for the key to Illya’s lab. No doubt, Heather was already filling out the requisition orders for all of this morning’s footage, including what was being filmed right now.

I hope that T.H.R.U.S.H. will be accommodating for a change and kidnap me before the next Christmas party.

“So, Napoleon, are you going to clean up the vandalism to my lab?” Illya’s eyes are gleaming, belying the chill in his voice.

I keep my distance, for even unarmed, Illya is a dangerous man. But so am I, and I can hardly ever resist provoking him, if only just a little. “Someone vandalized your lab? It looked fine when I checked it this morning. Better than ever, in fact.”

Illya treats me to one of his genuine, heart-warming smiles. “One – two – three –”

I’m already running for it. This is going to be fun.

- end -