Wings of Angels

by Glenna Meredith

The woman had been sitting at the little outdoor table for about an hour. She had ordered a glass of iced tea, sipped it slowly and, when it was completely empty, had asked for another. Only now was she beginning to feel uneasy and disappointed.

In the past two weeks there had been so much to consider and so many emotions through which she sorted and agonized.

She knew the man she was meeting again today was the "enemy". Of that there was no doubt. Their destinies were uncertain, being so at odds in their disparate ideologies, but the connection that had been instantly recognized by them both became unavoidable, the attraction mesmerizing.

Ignoring any thoughts of danger or repercussions that might follow, they had begun an affair that was consuming them, both emotionally and physically. Under different circumstances, perhaps, it might not have happened this way. Had they met while on assignment, the time for being vulnerable would have escaped them, each of them would have been intent on the mission.

Instead, they had met in a restaurant on a beach, two single people asked to share a table during a busy dinner hour. Perhaps the host had considered himself a matchmaker, or simply efficient. It didn't matter now; the dinner had been enough for them both to realize what serendipity meant in a love match.

It was instantaneous. Love at first sight. They spoke about music and art, philosophy and dreams. It was the stuff of romance, and it was true for them. No amount of training or sophistication could have prepared her for him, and the effect he had on her. Tan and blond, he had looked like a local, and she thought he might be until he spoke. The accent was not purely British, but something else as well. His eyes had stunned her, the blue of them so vivid in the tan face.

As the evening wore on, after their meal, they were drawn to the beach, each of them removing shoes in order to walk more easily on the sand. The ocean provided a soundtrack to their increasing attraction to one another, the moonlight added drama. Then, gently and timidly, he had drawn her to him, turning her chin up to meet his face, kissing her gently and then passionately as she yielded completely to it.

They had returned to her room and the night was transformed into something magical. She had never known that kind of passion or tenderness; it was at once aching and celebratory. His touch never betraying the title given him by some: Ice Prince.

He had melted into her, the two becoming one in a rare moment of complete surrender. Both of them were held by this revelation, this awareness of a consuming love.

It was impossible, but here it lay in their paths. But, for how long?

The days turned over, each one more languid and happy than the one before. And during these days they had been blissfully ignorant of the world and its concerns. They avoided the remembrance of what lay ahead, and hoped without conviction that this might go on.

Separately they knew it shouldn't, but neither of them spoke it. Neither of them knew about the other's secrets, nor did they suspect the worst that might happen.

Both of them were unaware of the other's beginnings, uncaring for the details of career or politics. They didn't talk of those things. But the discovery of them was inevitable. When disclosures were finally made, the pain of it seared into each of their souls as they considered how to escape into a place devoid of responsibility to their ideals, and to the people who depended on them.

Neither of them wanted to confront it, yet neither of them could deny the decisions that would have to be made.

How could their allegiances be so different, yet their hearts so perfectly joined?

Terror struck her heart in the midst of such deliberate joy.

She was being given orders. They had followed her, watched her; had they engineered the entire affair?

Was it not fate for them to meet, but rather more interference from superiors whose vigil over her life maintained that false sense of purpose, lying in wait while she performed whatever task was assigned. She couldn't remember not being a part of it, and she wondered if he shared her disillusionment with his own organization. Could they have an "after life"...something that didn't include the past?

'Could they change?' she wondered...

They had sent her an ultimatum: kill the Russian or suffer the consequences. Perhaps the Soviets wouldn't deal with him, but East Germany did not recognize the political overtures that had sent this man to the west. They had no sympathy for traitors.

What they shared was sacred, as sacred as a church and the heart of one who worshiped there. Those who commanded her every movement would now take what she deemed holy, and turn it into a despicable and unyielding horror.

For the first time, after years of obeying without conscience, she knew that the order would go unheeded.

The warning was her sentence.

She couldn't kill him. She wouldn't do it, and she would have to pay the price.

The last time they were together, after the last passionate kiss was exchanged, and the tenderness of his touch had etched itself into her soul, she had watched him sleep. The blond hair was falling around his face, bleached nearly white from the sun these past two weeks. Had he opened his eyes, the blue would have reflected love and contentment, she knew that. He loved her, and that was her reward in exchange for what she knew must happen.

For once in her life, of a certainty, she was loved. In spite of everything and all that she had done, he had chosen to love her, and would consider sacrificing everything for the sake of it.

There wasn't a way for it to work, and they both knew it. Neither of their paths would allow for their happiness, and there were powers above them that would never forgive the defection they contemplated. They each knew too much, and had done the dirty jobs for which they needed the protection of those who had sent them.

There was no hope for anything better. She regretted everything, except for him.

Today they had planned on meeting for one last time. Neither of them had any misconceptions about the future. Anguish was showing in his face when she left him yesterday. He didn't have a plan, couldn't figure out a way to get around their differences, yet neither could he find a path away from loving her. His devotion to her was battling with his allegiance to his ideals and his sense of right, in all things. He was stricken with grief, not wanting her to leave, not wanting to confront those who would counsel him to get on a plane and forget about her.

He had gone one last time to the beach, to see if the ocean would yield an answer, as though a happy future might be conjured up with the waves coming to shore.

Her hair was blowing around her face, hints of gold mixed into the brown curls. Sunglasses hid the formation of tears in her eyes as she came to the unhappy conclusion that he wouldn't come to her today.

A self-righteous judgment from a hovering entity was revealing itself in his absence.

There would be no love everlasting. Choices had been made, and she had no say in it. Her actions had no doubt been discovered by men in authority, and the betrayal would have repercussions. She knew and understood.

Her last thoughts were of him, the images clear and beautiful. The smile he so rarely shared, the blue eyes sparkling as he talked to her, speaking Russian in loving tones that illuminated feelings not easily expressed in any other language.

And then there was nothing...

Illya missed his scheduled flight. He couldn't leave her alone, no matter the consequences, he wouldn't abandon her. He needed her to be there, waiting for him, forgiving him for nearly failing.

He was ashamed of what he considered cowardice; he had counted his own life and security above hers and now he only hoped that he could get to that café in time to tell her he loved her, needed her and would not, could not go on without her by his side.

'Life will never be the same after today', his thoughts pressing him to hurry as he made his way to their meeting place.

No one had heard a shot, and only a passerby was observant enough to alert someone of a woman in need of help.

There was a crowd gathering by now, police and civilians jockeying for position to see the victim whose body lay in a silent repose, her blood pooling around her head.

Police cars with flashing lights, an ambulance and a fire truck; none of it would help her.

He knew without seeing that it was Angela, his ahren...his angel. He needed to see her, he...

Suddenly he was heaving and retching, emptying the contents of his stomach onto the sidewalk as the horror hit him, the absolute and irreversible fact that she was dead.

"No...noooo...he was dizzy, sick, guilty and...damned.

'It's because of me she's dead. I didn't come for her. I could have saved her...'

In an instant, just as suddenly as this agony had assailed him, he shifted into survival mode. He had to get out. The assassin might still be there, and he was the one they wanted. Angela had merely been the warning shot, the signal that would tell him they were near, and that she was expendable.

His grief and anger gave way to logic and a sense of self-preservation. He would survive this, but payment would be required...someday.

He walked away from the nightmare scene, never looking back and not retracing his steps. He had missed his flight, and it would be hours before he would allow himself the luxury of leaving L.A.

The flight was nearly empty. The lights were turned down low and the hum of conversation that usually filled flights at other times of the day and night was now subdued. This would be a long one for the flight crew, and no less so for the passengers.

The stewardess noticed the slender blond man on this redeye to New York City. He wore sunglasses and had an aura of sadness about him that was palpable. She wondered what might have happened to cause that type of demeanor, hesitating to ask if he needed anything.

The figure in black was seated alone, next to the window and near the back. He looked tan, with whitish blond hair that hung down on his forehead. She'd seen this cut gain in popularity, but remembered when she'd first seen it in Paris among the existentialists and students there. He could have passed for one of them, she thought.

He showed no interest in being social, so she took her time getting to him. When she finally asked him if he would need anything, he spoke without looking at her, requesting only a pillow.

As Illya stared through dark glasses out into the night, he was numb from grief and shock. No feeling passed through him now, only the ache of emptiness that comes when something is over. There is a state of denial that accompanies death, the failed hope of it being a falsehood, the power of resurrection perhaps circumventing tragedy.

For him, none of that was present. He knew she was dead, knew part of him had died with her, and that he would never stop searching for her killer.

Just then, in the midst of these thoughts, the stewardess returned with his pillow and a blanket, her look of concern for this man evident even to him.

It was of no relevance, and no amount of pity would revive him. Time might create scars over this wound, but the hollowness, he thought, would remain forever. What did it matter what people thought of him, or how he acted in their presence?

He thanked her, turned off the overhead light and placed the pillow against the window. With his face buried there, his eyes covered by the glasses and his soul torn into shreds, Illya heaved a great sigh, and then he wept.

Chapter Two

The young man who appeared in the doorway of U.N.C.L.E. headquarters was tan, with blond hair bleached to nearly white by the same sun that had darkened his skin. At any other time in his life, Illya Kuryakin would have taken a moment to reflect on that, going over in his mind the differing effects of sun exposure to skin and hair, melanin and proteins...

"Good morning Mr. Kuryakin"

Miss Powers was at reception today, and her recurring dream of spending an hour or two in this agent's arms received another boost of imagination as she admired this new image of him; tan and even more moody than usual.

He accepted the section 2 badge without much more than a nod, never making eye contact, as he headed through the door into the maze of hallways and offices that were U.N.C.L.E. New York.

He wasn't sure how he had managed to come here today. His flight hadn't arrived until after 5:00 this morning, and the sleep he had gotten was interspersed with tears and nightmare images of Angela lying in her own blood.

The greeting that came next was unavoidable and cheerful, adding to his own sense of sorrow and dread.

"Good morning Illya! You know, tovarisch, I've missed you, and here you are tan and...'

Napoleon stopped short as he really looked at his partner. The tan face couldn't camouflage puffy eyes and a look of ...what was it? He couldn't be certain, the smaller man wasn't looking directly at him, keeping his gaze directed down the hallway, avoiding him.

"What's wrong?" He softened his voice as he asked the question, never expecting to hear a real explanation, if the past was any indication. But he had to ask.

That's all it took for Illya to succumb to the agony that roiled beneath the surface of calm. His chest felt pressure, as though it might burst open, and his head ached unbearably. He felt as though he might throw up again, but it was just the pain, the unrelenting pain of his loss, and he knew that Napoleon, his friend, would hear his story and understand.

The Russian agent headed for their shared office, and Napoleon followed, closing the door behind them and waiting for what, he couldn't imagine.

He sought solace, redemption and forgiveness, but that would have to wait. Right now, he needed Napoleon to trust him.

The two men sat solemnly as Illya described the events of the past two weeks. Neither of them showed emotion as the narrative described Angela and Illya's romance, and ultimately, the discovery of their opposing roles in international affairs.

As concisely as he could, with as much control as he was able to gather, the blond described Angela's role as an East German agent. At only twenty-eight, she had already been in their employ for twelve years, having been recruited as a student and then meticulously trained and propagandized in order to fulfill her duty to the state. During that time she had been effectively transformed into an American, deposited in Los Angeles with all of the tools necessary to meld into society without being too noticeable. She had a job in a nondescript office, working with unaware people who thought she was friendly and pretty.

No one ever suspected, which left her free to wait for the call; when it came, it had been him. She had been told to kill him, and failure on her part meant betrayal, so they had killed her for it.

Napoleon listened carefully and sympathetically. Illya was near breaking, his voice becoming unsteady as he finished the story, told of seeing the crowd around her body, and the nausea that had swept over him in the knowledge of what had happened.

Torture, beatings and a myriad of cruelties had failed to break his partner, but he realized that this was taking a toll he had never witnessed. The ultimate melancholy for this Russian had finally arrived, and he wondered if there was a way back. His heart went out to him, and he had empathy for his anguish borne of his own tragedies.

'Ah, Illya, my friend...and how will this end?'

Then, just as quickly as that thought entered his mind, he knew what was brewing. Illya was already plotting a way to look for Angela's killer and have his revenge. Just as surely as his Russian soul would be mired in this sadness for months and possibly years, that same soul would not rest until he had made it right, for her.

Napoleon knew that he wouldn't stand in his way. There was nothing to be done about it except to see it through. Thinking back to Terbuf, he was ready to respond to whatever request was made of him.

"You understand what I must do next, do you not?" Illya asked the question, but he knew his partner had already surmised his plans. There would be no sense in trying to pervert his intentions, or try to counsel him. It had to be done. The question remained,

"Are you with me on this, or do I go alone?"

Illya fixed his eyes on the other man, each of them understanding, neither of them speaking. His stare was icy, the blue eyes darkening as his mood resolved to a hard edged determination. He would weep later, again, when it was finished. There was no time for that, no spare energy for emotions that didn't propel him forward on this task of vengeance.

It was uncomfortable being on the receiving end of that stare, and Napoleon shifted in his chair, phrasing in his mind the response he should make. Instead, he held out his hand and received that of his friend and partner, confirming his support and aid, for whatever lay ahead.

"We'll find whoever did this. I promise.' Then he added, squeezing Illya's hand to emphasize his commitment, "And I always keep my promise".

Chapter Three

Alexander Waverly sat in a chair to which he had grown accustomed over the years. It was not so much because of his familiarity with the leather, or the feel of its construction, so well suited to his body that it seemed to have been the result of a mould of some sort.

No, he fit the chair and the responsibility that it represented. He gave his office a cursory glance, the round table that hearkened back to King Arthur and his round table, the noble ideal that had welcomed knights from all backgrounds who were willing to prove themselves ready to defend that singular kingdom, the haven known as Camelot.

This place, the entity known as U.N.C.L.E. was his Camelot. Conceived and built with his own blood and sweat...yes, and tears. He had made his sacrifices, just as he asked is own men to make them now. He knew their world, perhaps better than they.

He knew that the assignment to which his two top agents were heading would be emotionally grinding, if not physically dangerous. He knew of Mr. Kuryakin's recent vacation, and the tragic ending to what he understood had emerged as a romantic liaison. The older gentlemen had endured his fair share of heartbreaking moments, all the way back to the Great War; an event to which he had gained admittance as a young man, only to find himself a star crossed lover during the course of his service in Germany. That remained a detail hidden even now from his wife of 40 years. He assumed that the young Russian would similarly hide this sad story from any future lovers.

Illya and Napoleon heard the page. They had agreed on a course of action, in as much as they were both willing to do whatever was necessary to find out who had been in L.A. two days prior, firing the shot that had killed Angela. Tracking down an East German assassin shouldn't be too difficult, if indeed he were one of theirs. It could have been a freelancer, or another deep cover agent, as she had been.

They both strode purposefully down the hallway and through the sliding door that led to Lisa Roger's desk, outside of Waverly's office.

"Good morning Napoleon, Illya".

Her smile was genuine, if not a little affected by the blond man's appearance. He looked gaunt beneath the new tan, his hair even more blond than before, not recently combed.

Napoleon caught her look, and he motioned with his own hands that Illya should try to do something, whatever it was he actually did to his hair to tame it.

Illya relented to the suggestion and finger combed his hair, straightening it slightly and making himself a little more ready for the meeting with their exacting superior.

"Ah, Illya, Mr. Waverly wants to see you first...alone"

They all exchanged looks, Lisa simply shrugging her shoulders, indicating she hadn't any idea why.

"Okay, then...'

Napoleon looked his friend in the eyes, and then gripped his shoulder, sending him through the door to meet the man...

"I suppose I'll join you in a few minutes".

The Russian sat squarely in his chair, his hands clasped in front of him on the table, waiting for Mr. Waverly to speak. The older man's back was turned to him at present, as he searched through a stack of files on the small cabinet behind him, finally retrieving the one he sought and turning to face Illya.

He then produced the pipe, loading it with tobacco and tamping it slightly, lighting it and waiting...

There, the puffing began and smoke rose up lazily, all the while the old man was watching his young agent, waiting for eye contact.

He didn't receive any. Illya kept his eyes intently on the table, never looking up, never acknowledging the ritual going on before him.

"Mr. Kuryakin, I wanted to speak with you privately before we begin our meeting with Mr. Solo'

His eyes were now searching out some response from the weary looking man before him, his knowledge of recent events stirring up memories of his own past tragedies, the cost of lives spent on the construction and maintenance of this organization. Even he had secrets...

"I am aware, Illya, of your...loss".

That got his attention. The use of his name like that, and the tone of voice...why? 'You won't break me, not like this', the thought echoed a dread of revealing the emotion so near the surface.

Waverly continued on, commanding the blue eyes to look up and pay attention to what he was saying.

"It has come to our attention that an assassination attempt will be made on a member of congress, a Californian. He is currently in his home state, readying himself for a run at the presidency. He is an outspoken opponent of the Soviet block, and has angered many in the international arena, both on the left and the right.

We believe that he is being targeted by the same assassin who is responsible for the death of Angela Mason, your...friend".

There was a pause that indicated he knew everything, and then he continued.

"Congressman Mike Dugan represents a portion of Orange County, that area south of Los Angeles, and is currently at home there, in his territory. He will be announcing his candidacy next week at a rally that is estimated to draw several thousand supporters. We suspect that to be where the assassination attempt will take place.'

Waverly was looking over the file, glancing at his agent as the information was recited.

"You and Mr. Solo are going to be there, in addition to secret service and FBI. Threats have been made, but we are quite certain that those are not related to our assassin'.

He continued... "The man has enemies, but the threat upon which we are commissioned to act has not been verbalized, as such. We have it on good authority, however, that the shooter has been in the Los Angeles area for several weeks, and that there was some recent event for which he has taken credit. That unfortunate event, we believe, was the murder of Miss Mason".

At that, Illya's eyes began to burn, tears nearing the surface as he fought to maintain control.

'Her death was not an event', and then he forgave the use of that word. He understood. And, he accepted what was being presented to him with this information, wondering at the conflict of interest that was so obviously present, and yet being so flagrantly overlooked. He was being given permission to take out the killer; Waverly was handing it to him. It was unbelievable, and his reserve of composure was thin as it all sank in...

He couldn't speak, didn't dare try. He nodded, looking at the old man seated in the place of authority, understanding that his wisdom was virtually unquestionable, and his compassion suddenly evident.

"This is not a carte blanche affair, Mr. Kuryakin. You will try and capture this person, if at all possible. But, I trust you to act in the best interest of the congressman, doing whatever is necessary to stop this assassination. Do we understand one another?"

Illya nodded, affirming that he did indeed understand.

With that statement, and without incriminating himself, Waverly had signed the assassin's death warrant.

"Miss Rogers, please send in Mr. Solo".

Chapter Four

The flight into LAX was uneventful, even for two U.N.C.L.E. agents. Neither of them felt inclined to much conversation, both of them mulling over the events of the past several weeks.

Their new assignment was at once one of preserving a life and, in their best case scenario, ending one. Illya felt no remorse in acknowledging that pursuit, and Napoleon had no plans to stand in his partner's way.

Each of them knew the priority, however, was to ensure the safety of Mike Dugan, the California congressman whose head was being sized up in an assassin's rifle scope. Someplace out among the orange trees and ranch style houses that populated the area called Orange County, an enemy was roaming and planning as his prey tried to carry on with a political agenda.

The overhead signs gave the go ahead to begin disembarking, and passengers began collecting their belongings, anticipating the long wait at the baggage area. The two men from New York remained seated, surveying the line that began to form in the aisle, always aware and ready for whatever might occur. From their vantage point in the back of the plane, all seemed to be in order; no one looked suspicious or threatening, merely weary from the long flight. "Are you ready?" The blond inquired dully, trying to shake off the lethargy of having been seated too long. He was next to the window, and waited for his dark haired companion to make the first move.

His partner stood and stretched, still looking forward at the line of people as they emptied into the waiting terminal.

"Yes, ready and hungry. How about you?"

"What type of food do you suppose they eat in Orange County? I've never actually been down there, although I hear they're not entirely provincial."

Illya's familiarity with the county below L.A. was non-existent. Not surprising, since it was just now beginning to "grow up", in comparison to the neighboring Los Angeles.

Orange County had been the beneficiary of the post war exodus from the eastern United States. New homes and an abundance of jobs were to be found, the cost of living more affordable than the city that claimed places like Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

As the area began to grow, it's political clout had increased as well, and several prominent names were beginning to be heard, and others were paying attention.

The two agents had their assignment, and it was going to be a little tricky. They were going to be rubbing shoulders with other agency representatives: FBI and Secret Service. To the others, their positions were less defined and slightly suspicious. Illya, being Russian, was even less welcome than his partner, and they each knew the difficulties that could potentially put the proverbial bumps in their road.

Once they had retrieved their luggage, they headed for their rental car; it was a welcome surprise to be directed to a new Mustang convertible. The car was white, with red leather interior, just waiting for a drive down the Pacifc Coast Highway.

"I wonder who arranged for this one?" Illya's reserve (he being in the midst of his melancholy) was slightly dented by the sight of this car, it's effect not lost on his appreciation for it's design and reputation.

"Well, if it's a gift from our uncle, then it's highly appreciated. If someone else has maneuvered it into our grasp, say someone who would like to take a shot at us without obstructions, it should give us pause..." Napoleon let that last bit trail off, wondering it if would curb his friend's enthusiasm.

"Well, I don't think I mind taking a chance...just this once".

A slight smile turned up the left corner of his mouth, making Napoleon glad that a little of the ice was chipping away. A risky ride down the highway with the Pacific Ocean on one side, sky overhead...

"You're on. You drive."

After they had finished checking everything and had loaded their luggage in the trunk, they headed out of the airport and onto Sepulveda Boulevard, following the signs until they reached Manhattan Beach. From there it was a southerly route, a zig zag through Torrance and Lomita, Wilmington and finally Long Beach. The Long Beach Naval Shipyard was beyond the refineries and oil wells, a draw bridge being the only connection between the stretch now named Ocean Boulevard, and the Navy vessels that lined the active yard. It was a major employer for the area, including veterans who had settled in both L.A. and Orange Counties after serving in Korea or, in some cases, WWII.

They continued driving along the flat beach fronted highway until they had left Los Angeles County and crossed into Orange County, where the city of Seal Beach greeted them. They both noticed the subtle change in topography, and a marshy wetland that permeated a portion of this stretch.

Huntington Beach, on the other hand, was the picture perfect example of the genre of movies and music that the surfing culture had spawned. Girls in bikinis, and kids on surfboards out on the water, a pier full of colorful tourists and locals; this was the place dubbed as Surf City, U.S.A.

"I believe we're home, James", Napoleon smirked as he eyed his driver, noting the rolling eyes behind the sunglasses. 'That's good, Illya. Nice to see some things don't change'.

They had a small apartment rented for the duration of their stay here. The congressman lived about two blocks from the beach, and they had arranged for a place close by. It was an old building, with commercial space on the bottom floor and a series of apartments above that. It wasn't strictly an U.N.C.L.E. property, but it was deemed safe, it's owner trusted, as far as they knew, making it at least as desirable as a hotel room.

Illya pulled the car into the little space reserved for tenants. Across the street was a fenced area about a half acre in size, with an oil pump. The side of the block that faced the ocean was home to a collection of businesses; a surf shop and lunch stand both catered to the beach goers.

Looking up from the parking space, outside stairs led up to a shared landing that separated two separate apartments. Theirs was to the left, so that when they turned around, an unobstructed view of the ocean greeted them.

Upon entering the apartment, they were immediately in the living room. It was flanked on the left by a small kitchen, both rooms having the advantage of windows that looked out on the view of the rocking horse oil pump and beyond. It was a neighborhood similar to what could be found in many coastal towns and cities, except for that bit of hardware that worked in isolation, pumping from some underground well. It was out of place, and yet...there it stood.

To the right there was a bathroom and two small bedrooms.

"At least we have our own rooms this time" Illya was relieved to see that, and Napoleon nodded in agreement.

"Beach living at it's finest, no doubt", his smile was not convincing, but still, two rooms were better.

They checked the entire apartment quickly and efficiently, noting the alley beneath the bedroom windows and both men making a mental note to avoid it whenever possible. Illya chose the front bedroom that had the additional window and the view of the pump across the street. That left his partner the one adjoining the back apartment.

Illya threw his suitcase up on the bed and began unpacking, bringing out the same wardrobe he had worn just weeks before while vacationing just a few miles north of here. 'At least I'm prepared to go native', as he looked at clothing very unlike his normal black and white.

Blending in would be part of their tactic, all the while keeping vigil over the congressman. They didn't intend to interact any more than necessary with the other agency representatives, nor even with Dugan himself.

They really would be covert, even among their allies.

They didn't know yet if the assassin might even have infiltrated the congressman's camp. He could be anywhere, and they didn't yet have a description or even a history. The only knowledge of this person was that he had, most probably, killed Angela.

At that thought, Illya felt his heart lurch slightly, the memory of her causing actual pain in his body.

He wondered now if he would trade the love affair for her life. Could he relinquish what they had shared for the sake of her still being alive? That was a strange proposition, and he shuddered to think that his response had been slow.

"I'm a bastard" How could there be another answer than the obvious.

"Hey, Illya...'

Napoleon was unpacking now, realizing that suits might not cut it in this town. He was a world traveler, and yet this Huntington Beach was going to require him to loosen up more than was comfortable to him. His was a continental style, and this place was...Surf City.

"I think I may have to buy some different clothes, I don't actually have anything that doesn't look like it belongs in the city. If we're blending in then I guess some changes..."

The Russian had changed his clothes already, and was in loose fitting shorts and a sleeveless tank top, already tanned and blond...somehow he looked as though he belonged here.

"Gee partner, I think we've found your look. Why didn't you tell me that Russians were really just beach bunnies?"

His eyes were taking it all in, somehow reveling in the notion of his quantum equipped pal all dressed up for a beach party.

"The assignment says blend in, so I blend in. Besides, it is comfortable, and it is the beach' . The blue eyes smiled back at the dark haired man, challenging him to meet the unfashionable challenge.

"Are you going to wear shorts?" He sneered now, knowing how his friend hated them, imagining the white shins serving as reflectors when the sun hit them.

"Nooo...probably not". That came out in a staccato, as Napoleon realized that the two men would each handle different sides of the highway on this affair. Illya could troll the beach. He would attend to the cocktail parties.

Chapter Five

Congressman Mike Dugan was a maverick by design. He had built a reputation for shooting from the hip with witty and intentionally controversial repartee with the press and other politicians. He wanted to be known as a crusader against the dark specter of communism and the Soviet block nations that waved their blood stained flags in opposition to democracy.

Mainly, though, he wanted to be president of the United States. Whatever it took, he was willing to do it, say it and put himself on the line for it. Rhetoric was easy when it paved a road to such a great reward.

He wasn't really quite as opinionated as he appeared to be for the world's benefit. His politics had originally been fairly middle of the road, neither hot nor cold. But his ambition was red hot, and when he saw an opening in the wall of political elitism that threatened to block his entry, he bust through it with a new persona, and a crusade that appealed to the disenchanted public, the displaced and frustrated objectors, the drop outs, the hard working...all of them. He had something to say, knew how to say it, and they wanted to hear it.

He also had backing, big backing: a little group called Thrush.

Dugan's district was home to some of the most important industry in the country: Douglas Aircraft, Rockwell International, Zenith, Ford Aeroneutronics, McDonnell Douglas, theAerospace Corporation, and theU.S. Air Force. Addto that the location of the Seal Beach facility where they were building the Saturn rockets that would fire a trip to the moon._Thrush wanted this guy, and the influence he wielded. If they could get a president in their pocket, they really could rule the world.

Napoleon had decided to drop in on Congressman Dugan's local office. Since his own home was in Huntington Beach, the politician had decided to keep things close to his most devoted constituency. Straight inland, up Highway 39, or Beach Boulevard, his offices were located in a complex two miles from PCH, only slightly removed from the atmosphere of beach life. It was, after all, a business.

As he turned and headed inland, Napoleon was aware of the scent of the ocean behind him, the images of beach life fading as he climbed just slightly, passing some newly constructed houses and the beginnings of a booming community. He was enjoying the ride, the Mustang matching the image, somehow of the region; still slightly wild as men wrangled to tame it, and turn it into another densely populated area that would encroach on the natural beauty of this coastline.

When he arrived at the congressman's office complex, he noted that it was unremarkable in appearance. Stucco walls looked the same as the houses he'd passed, and a red tile roof mimicked the Spanish influences that rightly belonged here. There was an arch in front of the doorway that would be duplicated in thousands of other non-descript buildings in the area, and a modest sign that alerted visitors that this was the home of Congressman Mike Dugan, 34th Congressional District.

This district was newly formed, merging parts of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, in response to the increasing population and in consideration to balancing the political leanings of each county. Dugan had taken advantage of both, leaning to so-called right wing rhetoric while embracing much of what fed the daily concerns of his more liberal constituents; namely labor, economics and Vietnam.

He had found a way to be both liberal and conservative, without being middle of the road. He added in what he thought people wanted to hear about Vietnam, voicing concerns for the soldiers and hatred for the enemy, yet holding a line of protest to war as an answer.

It seemed the work of a true politician, and skirted across people's objections with number crunching brilliance. This man had a future, and nothing like a pesky sense of ethics to slow his attack. Thrush had been quick to sweep into his camp and dazzle him with the prize he so ardently coveted: the presidency.

Unfortunately, the dark haired agent from U.N.C.L.E. knew nothing of the money behind this burgeoning new political power. His assignment was to keep the man safe from an assassin's bullet, and the trigger finger he believed belonged to an East German agent. It hadn't occurred to him at this point that two opposing entities were involved, or that one of them held the title deed to the aspiring politician.

As Napoleon opened the door to this enterprise, he was greeted by a very lovely young woman at a reception desk, and he immediately turned on the Solo charm, flashed the famous smile and uttered something vaguely complimentary.

She didn't respond like so many others, however, and he wondered if he might be too sophisticated for the western frontiers. Her lack of appreciation was unsettling, but only momentarily. He sucked up his pride and for a fleeting moment realized that his blond partner would have been more enthusiastically received in this location. 'Something to consider...'

"I am here to see the congressman...Solo, Napoleon Solo'

He replied to her unspoken question.

"He's expecting me".

Mike Dugan rose from his desk, the picture of congeniality and cooperation. Napoleon would never have guessed that the man had a threat of death hanging over him, his demeanor was so completely at ease.

"Mr. Solo, it's a pleasure to have you here', he gestured to a chair.

"I hope you're enjoying Orange County. You're staying near the beach, I hope".

Napoleon eyed him with interest, his usual smile and pleasant disposition ready to charm and disarm this man. He suddenly felt as though it were necessary to do so.

"Yes, thank you congressman. I am staying very close to the Huntington Beach pier, actually...soaking up the scenery".

His chin jutted up just ever so slightly as he responded, his eyes never losing the spark that communicated how very interested he was in the politician and what he might say.

Illya had allowed himself the luxury of sleeping in this morning. The eastern exposure from the window that fronted the building was letting in a stream of unwelcome sunshine through flimsy white curtains. He turned his back on it and covered his head.

Earlier he had been awakened by noise from the alley beneath the other window, quickening his heartbeat and causing an instant reaction as he reached for his gun and slithered from the bed, intent on viewing the scene below.

It was surfers, utilizing the privacy of the cloistered alley, stripping down out of their street clothing and into wetsuits, ready to head for the early morning surf.

"Dedicated", he had muttered, and then climbed back into bed. Only now, hours later, was he waking up to the light and noises of this beach neighborhood.

Last night they hadn't gotten much farther than dinner and a glimmer of today's agenda, dining at a seafood shack that featured a fresh catch of the day. They had consumed all they could eat, which for him had been considerable. It was accompanied by cold beer and fresh ocean breezes, and Illya considered it to have been a good night, and had been content to sit and listen to the waves, avoiding conversation that might deter him from the first bit of peace he had felt in weeks.

The two friends had kept things light, the older man avoiding hurtful reminders of Illya's last trip to California. He was secretly amazed at the Russian's resilience now, how he appeared unaffected by the location and the reason he had come here. 'Always mysterious', he thought, and knew a great deal of self control was engaged.

They had returned to their apartment, aware and ready to check yet again for bugs or other devices. It was clean, and they had gone to their separate rooms where, for the most part, each had benefited from a good night's sleep. There was something restful about being near the ocean...

His partner had left a note, explaining the morning trip to Congressman Dugan's offices. He would be in touch later, and they could discuss each of their plans for the next several days.

Nothing had come from U.N.C.L.E. headquarters to alert them of anything new, so the first day would be exploratory. Napoleon was on the inland path, while he would canvass the beach across the street.

It was nearly eleven o'clock when Illya sprinted across PCH to the beach side, deciding to take a walk on the pier and initiate his beach persona. He was posing as a photographer, yet again, but without his partner's accompanying role as a journalist.

They had decided that Illya would make the most obvious target, if indeed the assassin for whom they searched were close by. His face was known, so being in the open, although hazardous, was also the quickest path to discovery. His hope was that cover for a sniper would not be easy to find here in this very open environment. There was not much in the way of hiding places, save for the area below the pier, which could prove to be very deadly if he were caught unaware.

For now, he was up on top, a 70mm lense attached to his Pentax camera. Surfers were allowed in this area, and there were a number of them, coming in on the waves, making his job more convincing for it.

He steadied his arms on the railings, waiting for the moment when a rider came in on the crest of a wave, catching the triumph and sometimes the dismount as a footing was lost on a spiraling board.

"Do you surf?" The question came from his right, a woman's voice cutting into his concentration.

"I'm sorry. Did I distract you? I just wondered if you surf as well as photograph those guys down there. It looks so dangerous".

He eyed her without suspicion, smiling and shaking his head.

"No, I don't. The camera provides all of the excitement I need. I take it you do not.." The question left hanging, waiting for her response.

She laughed, rolling her eyes, looking down at the water and the surfers retrieving their boards.

"Me either. I'm not even a very good swimmer. But, I love it here".

This was all very pleasant, but really, Illya didn't have time or enough interest to continue the conversation. He indicated with the camera that he'd better get back to work.

"It is nice here. I'm working on a book project with a deadline, so really, I guess I should get back to work. Nice chatting with you, though". There, that should do it. He was good as being done with things, and people. She was dismissed.

"Okay, well, nice chatting with you', she straightened a bit more and began to walk on past him.

"Good luck with your pictures"

"Good grief", he let it escape, and wondered what she had really wanted from him, shuddering slightly at the possibilities.

Farther down the pier, the woman's facial expression changed as she contemplated how easy it all was. Maybe too easy... perhaps she wasn't the only one hunting.

Chapter Six

The cover chosen by Napoleon was pretty straightforward: he was presenting himself as an investor in whatever Dugan was selling. From what he had gathered about the man, it would be the fastest way in, and the best route for gathering information. He noticed that one of the office workers was FBI, so obviously out of place in this environment. He wondered where the CIA was hiding, or if they had spotted him yet.

He was escorted to the office designated Congressman Mike Dugan, and walked into a very stylishly appointed space where he was greeted by the man himself.

Dugan was tall, about three or four inches taller than Napoleon, with dark hair and piercing green eyes. He looked like an athlete, tan and well built; no wonder he was doing well in politics. He had the look of a poster boy for the California lifestyle. 'It doesn't hurt that he's single, I bet'. Napoleon turned on his best schmoozy smile, held out his hand and got ready for the sales pitch.

The agent observed and listened as Congressman Dugan did his best to present himself as a man of the people, someone who had his pulse on the public's needs and wants. The agent's radar was picking up something else, and he felt uneasy as he sat and maintained the appearance of a believer in this vision being presented to him.

'Something isn't quite as it appears on the surface', he made a mental note, all the while smiling and nodding. 'This guy is a piece of work. It certainly wouldn't do for Illya to be here'.

"So, Congressman Dugan, I take it that you have plans to help expand the aerospace industry here in your district. It must be a great source of employment and an important aspect of your future in politics".

The man smiled a Cheshire smile and nodded his head, glad that his visitor could grasp the vision, confident that one more supporter was being created here.

"Yes, Mr. Solo, that is exactly correct. The future will take us skyward, and we must strive to engage the best minds, the most productive order to secure our future. Technology is propelling us towards the 21st century, mandating that we not get stuck here in a complacent attitude about what has already been achieved. I see myself leading the country into that future, with a little help from my supporters, of course". The last he added diplomatically, as he nodded to the dark haired man seated in front of him.

"Yes, well I can certainly see that you won't be stuck in the past or, even the present. You're shooting for a century that's still nearly 40 years you honestly think there's a need to look so far in advance?"

The politician turned his eyes downward momentarily, thoughtfully, then back to Napoleon, creating a sort of wistfulness in his affect.

"Yes, because in order to create a present that will satisfy this country and maintain our status internationally, we must look at what our future holds; we must create our future. I have the vision to do that, and the backing as well as the industry here for great success. That's why I consider myself the best candidate for the presidency, in either party. I believe I can win, and the team I take with me has the ability and...the initiative, to fly above the crowd".

As Napoleon pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the highway and towards the beach, he was thinking about the congressman's conversation. Napoleon's cover was intact, he was sure. He would attend the little soiree that was being held in the congressman's honor latter that evening, and then he would see if there were any familiar faces in the crowd.

"Open channel D, Napoleon, are you there?"

Illya was hungry, wondering if his partner were ready to grab some lunch and compare notes on the morning's activities.

"Yes, Illya. Where are we eating?" He smiled, knowing only too well that his friend's appetite had to be in full swing by now.

"I am at the same spot where we ate last night. It was good enough for a repeat, and there aren't too many other choices close by. How soon will you be here?"

Napoleon sat down across from the blond, the two of them looking like opposite ends of several spectrums of comparison. Illya was dressed very casually in faded jeans, and a short sleeved shirt that was unbuttoned nearly to his waist. He wore flip flops, the area's favored footwear, and sunglasses. Topped off, literally, by his blond hair and recently acquired tan, he fit in here, and judging by the girls' reactions as they passed by and turned to get second glances, he had chosen well.

Napoleon, on the other hand, was crisply attired in a beige suit that had a look of continental tailoring, with a white shirt and brown tie. He was at once out of place, and yet maintained the allure for which he was so well known. Instead of the brazen admiration that Illya attracted, the dark haired man inspired hidden glances and speculation.

From several tables over, one pair of eyes watched them both from behind sunglasses, taking care to remain passive in appearance, but missing nothing.

"So, tovarisch, anything interesting?"

Illya looked around, his eyes searching the little patio where they were seated, affecting something like boredom as he checked out each person who came near them, looking at the farthest tables and beyond, out onto the beach.

The Russian took in their surroundings. It was rustic, built to resemble the deck of a ship with weathered wood and portholes for windows. The outdoor patio was intersected with columns and fishing nets. Fishing poles and, surprisingly, spears, hung in the rafters as decoration, along with mounted sea creatures. The restaurant was situated near the street, about a half a block from the pier. The ocean breezes wafted through on cue, creating a perfect respite from the sun and the promise of a welcome meal to the hungry man.

"I got some good shots of some surfers. A few interested passersby, one of whom is sitting here on this patio". He said that without looking at her, wondering if it were coincidence or ... that shudder returned. There was something about her that was disturbing.

"So, CIA perhaps? They have women operatives', Napoleon didn't look, but was gesturing with his hands, as though commenting on the scenery.

"You think not?"

"I don't know. It hadn't occurred to me that they might send a woman, but she could be our assassin".

"Hmmm...possibly. What I can't understand is, why they want to take out Dugan. He doesn't seem like someone the East Germans would target, although I'm beginning to get a sense that he is involved with someone who's hiding in the shadows. The guy's a phony, and I don't buy his image. He's in it for the power, and his rhetoric doesn't follow his record".

The blond was listening, all the while keeping the woman in his peripheral sight. She seemed to never take her eyes off of them...or him. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing up, danger close by.

"I don't think they're after the congressman'

Napoleon stopped and looked at his friend, a question forming in the furrow of his brow.

"I think they're after me".

Napoleon laughed for effect, nodding as he did so.

"Okay, so it's a trap to get you back out here. I suppose they knew that U.N.C.L.E. would rise to the bait with a threat against the congressman'

Napoleon looked at his partner, concerned now that there were two threats for them to engage; an assassin after Illya, and Thrush in Dugan's camp. He was getting an impression of migrating birds close by.

"Do you have any ideas on this?"

Illya didn't. Not yet anyway, and he shook his head and smiled.

"I'm attending a reception for the congressman tonight. Since I haven't met any nice girls out here'

Illya had to smile again, thinking of how easy it would be for him to take an armful...

"Perhaps you should join me. You can bring your camera', he paused for effect, "and maybe your friend over there".

Illya rolled his eyes, but recognized the tactic as being in their favor. Better to know where your enemies are, he reasoned.

With that in mind, he got up and wandered over to the bar, asking for directions to the freeway like a tourist might do. On his way back to their table, he feigned surprise as he noticed the woman with whom he had spoken on the pier.

"Hello. We met earlier, did we not? I was a bit rude, I'm afraid. Deadlines do that to me, and I apologize'.

He was charming when necessary, and Napoleon watched with amusement as the woman was forced to confront her prey, obviously surprised but still able to look him over admiringly. She removed her sunglasses, as Illya had done earlier. That's when he saw it, in her eyes, and both men felt the chill go down their spines.

Icy blue eyes met their match as he continued...

"I don't think we were introduced. My name is Illya".

Chapter Seven

"Sandra Michaels", she coolly appraised him as he stood there, wondering what he intended, or if he knew...

He smiled back at her, determined to mask the revulsion that threatened to rise up and reveal itself. This was the person who had killed Angela, he was certain of it. He imagined grabbing one of the spears that hung overhead and running her through with it.

"Well, it's good to see you again, perhaps we'll meet later." It was too much for him to think about seeing her socially. He couldn't go through with it.

Her eyes had continued to meet his, almost a challenge as the pale blue of hers threatened to drain the deeper hues from Illya's, sucking life and pleasure from deep in the Russian's soul.

"Illya, are you going to introduce me to your lovely friend?"

Napoleon had seen the train wreck that his partner was heading into, and decided to intervene. This was more his territory, after all, and he had a fleeting memory of Angelique, another femme terrible.

Relieved to be able to turn this one over to arguably more capable hands, Illya introduced him to the woman, relief hidden behind the sunglasses that he had put back in place.

He excused himself, heading for the men's room, and hoping that the woman, Sandra, had not observed his discomfort; his loathing of her.

Moments later, having composed himself enough to at least share the patio with her, Illya rejoined his partner at their table. Sandra was gone, claiming a prior appointment when quizzed by Napoleon about having lunch the next day.

"She didn't exactly say yes, but I think she's intrigued by our approach', the brown eyes indicating the game was on.

"I'll let her consider her options before I pursue it again".

The blond was grateful for the rescue, and said so.

"I just can't get past the images. She did it, I'm sure of it now".

The eyes on that woman had created an uneasiness that was hard to shake, even now that they were gone. He would be glad to get on with the business at hand concerning Congressman Dugan.

"So, what's the plan for this evening?"

As it happened, the plan was a casual cocktail party at the congressman's home in a place called Huntington Harbor. Here was the spot where the money called home. It was a collection of custom homes of varying sizes and opulence, all clustered on a waterway that was lined with private docks and expensive boats. Dugan's was one of the smaller homes. Being a bachelor, the need for more room was negligible, location being the key. He didn't mind being identified with upward mobility, it was his message after all.

'Look at me, be like me and I'll reward you for your vote'.

All of it without much substance, but the scent of it was intoxicating to those who were looking for the American dream, all on the coattails of this bold patriot. On paper, he looked as though he couldn't lose.

His hostess for the evening was a stunning blonde whose face must have appeared in print ads or on television. Napoleon was certain he recognized her, although memory didn't tell him from where. Still, he was willing to pry it out of her...gently.

The plan also included both men looking as though they belonged in this crowd. Napoleon opted for tan slacks and shirt, and a navy blazer. He skipped the tie in favor of a more casual look, although he never truly looked casual. The man could make burlap look elegant.

Illya, on the other hand, was enjoying this beach attitude to the fullest. He wore linen this night...all white. Had this been a fairy tale, the Russian could have passed for Prince Charming or the white knight.

His partner couldn't help but notice how all the women, (and he didn't think there were any exceptions), watched the man as he moved catlike through the room, his hair nearly the color of his clothing, the tan body revealing itself in the open neck of his shirt and the rolled sleeves.

"Are you trying to make women swoon tonight?" The blue blazer asked the question of the white linen, smirking slightly at how the room parted for them as they entered. Apparently, they weren't going to make it as far as incognito tonight.

"I don't know what you mean, Napoleon. There's..."

He didn't get to finish, because he was approached by three women, all of them aiming to take him off into a corner someplace and interrogate him mercilessly, and privately. Since there were three, however, each of them had to settle for a more public conversation, and Illya relented from any thought of escape.

Several more joined the group, leaving Napoleon standing alone, captivated by what was happening and longing for New York. He suddenly wished to be there, on his turf among his type of woman.

"Good evening. Are you part of the campaign?"

The question caused him to turn his head, and when he did, New York slid from his mind. It was the blonde model who was tending to the hostess duties for Dugan. She really was quite beautiful, and Napoleon again felt himself suave and in control.

"No, actually. I'm new on this scene and the congressman was kind enough to invite me...and my blond friend over join all of his friends for this little party".

Better. Much better.

"Mr. Solo, why are you here?' The question was to the point, at least.

"We have been watching you, and so far there's nothing to indicate a reason for U.N.C.L.E. to be scouting out the congressman. And your friend over there is certainly not casting a vote any time soon, so...what's up?"


The eyebrows raised just enough to furrow his brow slightly as Napoleon posed the question. Maybe they weren't aware of Thrush being close by. Otherwise, she wouldn't have asked him that question.

"Yes. So, I ask again, why is U.N.C.L.E. here?"

What to do...

Just then, as though on cue, a shot rang out from the dock area. The sound of a motor roaring was unmistakable, and people began to shout and scream. Someone was down and all three agents were immediately in action. Illya broke away from the women with some effort, and Napoleon and his new friend raced out through the open French doors, too late to get off a shot at the departing boat.

On the ground, the congressman was seated, a crowd around him as a slow trickle of blood oozed from his shoulder. He looked calm and was reassuring everyone that he was fine, it was just a scratch. The CIA got to him first, kneeling down to look at the wound. It was superficial, really. A lot of screaming and near hysteria had surrounded the event, but considering the drama, it was nothing.

She helped him up, aided by Napoleon, with Illya looking on. His own staff looked horrified and one woman was weeping. Dugan's personal aide joined the two agents as they tried to walk the congressman to a bedroom, trying to convince him to call it a night. Dugan would have nothing of it. He turned and announced to all that they should continue the party, as he was going to put a bandaid on it and change his shirt.

"The party isn't over folks! Let's not let anyone say that they ruined a good time".

"Geez, he's good at this, isn't he". Nicole, that was the CIA's name, let that comment carry a bite of sarcasm as she huddled with the two U.N.C.L.E. agents.

None of them reckoned that this had been a serious assassination attempt. It reeked with production qualities similar to a melodrama.

"You asked me why we're here, Nicole. Now, more than ever, I think that Thrush is involved with the congressman. The threats are probably just to up the ante; it makes him look as though he's a threat to something or someone. I find it hard to believe it's real".

His eyes searched the CIA agent to find some agreement to his statement, and he was rewarded with a slight smile. She looked the two of them over carefully, deciding that they were on the level, and then huddled conspiratorially with them to find out what they knew about all of it.

The rest of the evening was a triumph for the congressman. He came back out with a pale blue shirt instead of the white one that had borne the damage from the bullet. His staff hovered around him as though they might have to take one for the team, Dugan's smile never faded as he played the part of the injured but not vanquished hero.

The three agents stayed the duration, and agreed they would meet afterwards. Nicole was expecting a replacement that would stay with the congressman overnight, but she was free as soon as he arrived.

Since Napoleon and Illya's apartment was less than ten minutes away, they decided to meet there. She got the directions and assured them she would be on the way as soon as details were handled at this location.

When the two U.N.C.L.E. agents returned to their beach home, Illya went to the kitchen and put on coffee, searching for something to snack on. Napoleon, on the other hand, uncorked a bottle of wine. No doubt they would end up drinking both beverages, and Nicole could have her choice.

"So, if Thrush is putting on a show for all of us, we can assume that the threats are phony and the plan as yet us anyway."

The two of them were nearly convinced that this was the case. The smallest doubt still remained, but it seemed that the presence of an assassin and the threats against the congressmen were only related in regard to proximity.

Illya was most likely the target of the woman Sandra. They both felt sure of it now, having met her and felt the chill she sent out. It was uncanny how that was so telling in some cases.

Thrush was behind the attempt on Dugan, and it had been staged. For most of the party guests, it had appeared real and very threatening. The papers would carry it in a headline tomorrow, and he would come off as a brave man, unwilling to bow to the pressure or even an attempt on his life. It was a great PR move.

"Do you suppose, Napoleon, that our little assassin knows what transpired tonight? It seems odd that, considering the ploy that got us here, she isn't more involved in all of this. The idea of a coincidence makes me uncomfortable. Thrush must be cooperating, somehow, with this other agenda. I'm having trouble sorting that part out".

Napoleon thought about it, then ventured a theory.

"You, my friend, are quite possibly the key to both of their agendas; Thrush and Sandra. We think she's working for East Germany, but so far it's not completely confirmed. Thrush would love to get you out of their hair, and possibly me as well. This takes care of both parties, and still sets Dugan up as a hero. The fact that you're Russian even raises the question of them making it look as though you're involved somehow. It's all very neat, if it works their way".

Illya hadn't considered the possibility that a conspiracy might include making him the assassin. He had to admire his partner for coming to that conclusion, and it seemed reasonable that it might be the case. Not only might this get him killed, but it could set off a larger furor within the intelligence community. Not to mention, appealing to those who would love to see the Soviet Union take the fall. It was perfect for Dugan.

He was reflecting on the possibilities when the knock on the door brought him back.

Illya met Nicole at the door barefooted, and saw immediately that he had to look up at her eyes. She was wearing heels, and in those she bested his height by a couple of inches. No matter, she was Napoleon's. He already knew that. Besides, his memories of Angela were still fresh...

"Oh", the CIA agent was slightly startled when the door opened. Somehow she hadn't really looked at the blond during their conversation at the party Even if a bit shorter than she, he was, she thought...very attractive.

'Not my type, though. And, this is business girl'.

"Hi guys. What a night for a party, huh."

Her replacement had needed all of the details, which she gave him...mostly. She neglected to mention the U.N.C.L.E. agents, not sure yet that the information was necessary. She wanted to hear the entire story before she filled in the blanks for her associates.

If Thrush really were present, then there was more to worry about than some discontented protesters. And, no one knew that better than the two men she was meeting with, she was pretty certain of that.

She had no idea how true that was.

Chapter Eight

About midnight, Illya decided he wanted breakfast, so embarked on the task of preparing eggs and bacon, some pop up biscuits that he'd bought because they looked interesting, and another pot of coffee. The other two, Napoleon and Nicole, were seated on the blue sofa in the living room, deep in conversation.

"So, tell me again about this Sandra. You seriously think she's here to kill Illya?"

The idea seemed preposterous, and she didn't really get the connection between the two. The account of his earlier trip to California, Angela and her subsequent murder had, as yet, not been shared. Napoleon wasn't sure that he should open that up again, but, overhearing the question, the Russian chimed in, "It's okay, Napoleon. You can tell her the whole story...I'm fine". His friend wondered if that were true, but it seemed necessary for Nicole to understand what had transpired up until now. Perhaps the CIA could dig up something more on the shooter that U.N.C.L.E. researchers had missed.

Nicole listened attentively to the story as it progressed from a whirlwind romance to a tragedy befitting Shakespeare. She would glance at the blond in the kitchen, trying to catch something in his facial expression that betrayed...she wasn't sure what, but there had to be something beneath that controlled look. He didn't appear to be phased by it in the least, concentrating instead on his food preparations. He kept his hands busy, his eyes down and attentive to the task.

Towards the end of the narrative, however, he turned his back to them completely, leaning into the counter as though it might come up off of the floor without his efforts to hold it down. He looked out of the window, peering into nothing, silent.

"Illya, I'm so sorry for what you've been through..." Her voice trailed off, not knowing what to say, or if he had heard her.

"The eggs are ready", he announced it softly, and had a weak smile on his face, but his eyes were moist. Suddenly the mood of his impromptu breakfast was broken and he no longer had an appetite. Nicole couldn't stand it. Against Napoleon's efforts to stop her, she got up from the couch and approached Illya. He suddenly looked like a child, his eyes searching and innocent, and she was wrapping her arms around him, protecting him somehow.

He didn't protest, instead returned the physical embrace, finding it restful and redeeming. He wasn't ashamed to weep into her shoulder, and the tears he had held back cleansed him now, instead of chastising him for any imagined weakness.

Napoleon just stood with his mouth open. He had never witnessed anything quite like this, and for it to be a virtual stranger who broke the deadlock between Illya's grief and his expression of it was, he thought, incredible. Unbelievable.

Nicole let the tide wash over him, and she never let go of him until it was over. It was just her nature to facilitate this, always had been. People sought her out in times of emotional upheaval and, time and again, she just let it happen. Who knows why some are chosen for these things. Certainly not she.

Illya was exhausted and yet totally refreshed when it finally subsided. He didn't remember unloading that much emotion since he was a child, and in it's wake there was a relief. He couldn't explain it, and he knew he didn't have to. Nicole released him, stroking his hair, wiping the tears from his face with her hands.

"Better?" He nodded, then looked sheepishly at his friend and partner who still stood slackjawed and slightly dumbfounded.

"Well, I'm hungry.' A quick recovery, but Napoleon meant it. He was suddenly ravenous, and started dishing up the midnight meal.

"Are you going to eat?" He asked it of his friend, and was relieved to see the nod of the blond head, glad for the small smile he gave him.

"Okay then, so how do we get the bitch?" Nicole was back to being a CIA agent, and she intended to help these guys catch this woman. Sure, there was Thrush to contend with too, but that was mostly their thing. She'd let them lead the way. No matter what, these two were her two new best friends, she had no doubt.

Over the meal and coffee, the three compared notes on everything that was confronting them. Thrush was definitely in Dugan's camp. They had no doubts about that now. Enough intel had come through after their briefing on the nights' events for headquarters to agree on that. They suspected that the campaign manager was a Thrushie, and possibly several of the workers. Nicole confirmed that she had been unable to get into one room in particular that seemed to be important to both Dugan and Leon Traynor, the congressman's top aide.

"Tomorrow, I'll see if I can get through that door. They're both supposed to be out on the trail tomorrow, shaking hands and kissing babies, I guess. I'll stay behind and send Kurt with them. It shouldn't raise any red flags".

Napoleon had to express his concern, a protective instinct for the woman fully developed now.

"Just be very careful. Thrush is vicious, and if you're caught, they won't care that you're a woman". His concern was real, and he wondered how anyone who had just done what she had for his friend, could be a tough CIA agent. It seemed so contradictory. "Okay, and what about you guys? Are you really going to make a lunch date with Sandra the snake?"

It was the dark haired agent's idea to keep her close, and try to stay in step with her so that she didn't have opportunity to go after his partner.

"I'll be fine. I have some experience with this type of woman".

Illya rolled his eyes, knowing exactly who he meant. "And what am I doing tomorrow?" He didn't have a plan yet, and wondered how to best occupy his time. His camera was handy, and he suggested catching up with the candidate, being the photo journalist who could land the man on the cover of TIME.

"That seems a good course of action. That way one of us will be next to all of the people we're trying to keep track of".

It was around 2:00 AM by the time they wound down the conversation. Nicole was so sleepy, and the men both convinced her to spend the night. Illya gave her his bed and offered to sleep on the couch, allowing her some privacy. Napoleon headed for his bed, weary from this days events and the emotional upheaval that had reached even him. Illya wished them both a good night, and then, before she got away, he reached out and touched Nicole's arm.

"Thank you, I don't know how or why..."

"'s ok. My mother says I have a gift, sort of like an emotional leech. I just seem to draw out whatever it is that needs to be eliminated. I can't explain it either. I'm just glad if it helped you. You don't deserve to have that hanging over you'...she touched her hand to his face briefly, then headed for the bedroom door. Then, looking back over her shoulder, she added,

"You're a good man, Illya Kuryakin. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise".

Chapter Nine

When Nicole Kelly was a little girl, she hadn't dreamed of being with the Central Intelligence Agency. She had dreamed of being Miss America, wearing beautiful clothes and meeting handsome men. Somehow, in the midst of fulfilling her dream while still in college, anticipating her debut in the pageants for state and then national titles, the CIA had found her.

She was majoring in English with an eye to a teaching credential. She had considered that in earnest while planning her big answer to the question "If you are crowned Miss America, what will you do to help people?" Teach, of course. Always a noble plan.

Instead, she had been recruited by the agency that was leading the country in the cold war efforts of espionage and national security. That was a very heady come on, something she hadn't anticipated. After graduation she headed for Virginia and training for a job she could not have dreamed up in any sense of the word.

Currently she found herself in the office of a California congressman, posing as a security expert. Her partner on this one, Kurt Logan, was off with the big guns of the campaign at a rally down at the pier, hoping to stir up some youthful support. She had stayed behind with the intention of getting into that locked room, the one she had noticed being of particular interest to Dugan and Traynor, but available to few others.

The office staff was light today, just the receptionist Debby and one other man who handled correspondence for the congressman. He was in his own office, at the other end of the suite. She was confident she could pick the lock, since no one had a key, and get into the room to investigate it's purpose.

The lock released easily under a very deft hand, and Nicole was in. What she saw upon entering was enough to stall her, but she recovered and closed the door quietly. On the left was a bank of computers and monitors that were humming and blinking with activity. It was a twelve foot wall of hardware that looked as though it belonged at Langley. There was not any conceivable explanation for this level of technology in a congressman's office. Napoleon and Illya were correct, no doubt; this was Thrush. Dugan was a front for the organization. She wondered how a man in his position could sell out like that. Usually it was clerks or engineers, people who traveled beneath the radar. But a congressman involved with other world powers...she was at a loss to understand.

She was watching the screens, looking for clues as to what they were monitoring. There was a link to what appeared to be factories or...

"Oh no. The Saturn rocket plant"

"Hello. I was wondering if you could help me with something"

The young woman at the information table barely looked up, beginning to phrase her response when, slowly she let her eyes drift up from the tight fitting jeans on narrow hips, to a thin white shirt that was strategically unbuttoned, exposing a tan chest. He removed the sunglasses and as she locked on the blue eyes he smiled, sealing the deal and insuring her attention was all his.

"Ummm...yes. I'd love to help you. What can I do for you?"

The question implied more than giving directions or information. 'Where did you come from?' Her thoughts betrayed her in the look she gave the blond standing in front of her table. She was pretty sure she'd do just about anything he had in mind.

"My name is Illya Kuryakin, and I attended the party at Congressman Dugan's home last night. I wondered if I might be allowed to take some photographs here today? I'm working on an article for TIME, and my editor thinks the congressman will fit nicely into an upcoming issue" He said this with his most British accent.

"Well, I'm not sure, but I can certainly go and ask him'. Her smile held so many promises, if he were only willing... "Let me go and do that" Immediately she was heading the few steps to the congressman's aide, conveying the photographer's request.

The aide looked over at Illya, his eyes assessing the man. He recognized him with a nod, then nudged Dugan and pointed to the blond photographer who waited at the information table.

Illya had shown up here with the intention of getting inside the camp with his camera. He needed to get pictures of the people around Dugan, then send the film to the L.A. office, and let them try and identify anyone who might be Thrush. He needed to ingratiate himself here. If he had an opportunity to be invited back to the congressman's office so much the better. Depending on what Nicole was finding there, she might need his help.

"Mr. Traynor would like for you to go ahead and join him and Congressman Dugan". The woman had returned and was leading the agent towards the other two men.

"What is your name again? I'm afraid I didn't quite catch it". No doubt. "Illya Kuryakin. It's unusual for this part of the country, I'm sure". He smiled at her again, causing a flutter in her stomach.

Napoleon had invited Sandra to meet him for lunch in the same restaurant where they'd met. He wasn't positive she'd come, but then again, he was quite certain that she was at least tempted. He didn't flatter himself that it was a physical attraction that would bring her here, rather a tactical turn of events. He didn't have to wait long to find out, though. She was there within a few minutes of his own arrival, greeting him with a smile that couldn't warm up the frigid blue of her eyes. He thought he felt a slight shiver, but stood to pull out her chair, inviting her to sit.

"I'm so glad you made it. I've been looking forward to seeing you again", he lied as his eyes took in the woman.

She was pretty. Not remarkable, but still an attractive woman. Her hair was short, a shade of blonde with wisps of lighter blonde to highlight the cut. Her jewelry was simple, the clothing casual. She could fit in anywhere, suit any environment without standing out or looking out of place. Napoleon wondered how that was possible, when her eyes made such a statement. He would remember those.

They both sat and exchanged the standard pleasantries, and then she ventured a bit farther.

"So, Mr. Solo", he stopped her.

"Napoleon, please". His eyes were warm, his smile ingratiating.

"All right, Napoleon...what brings you here to this little beach town? Business or pleasure".

"Oh, a little of both, actually. I am scouting investments in the area. The location lends itself to also spending some time appreciating the scenery". He said that and communicated his admiration of the surrounding view, settling on her. She took that in and returned the smile.

"You are quite the flatterer, aren't you Napoleon. But, thank you. Flattery remains a welcome addition to a woman's day".

The blue eyes allowed a degree of warmth as she considered that this man might also end up dead.

Chapter Ten Nicole stood staring at the feed coming in from the Saturn rocket plant. Southern California was at the center of the next Apollo mission; America was going to the moon, and the fire beneath it's ascent was the Saturn rocket. It was composed of three parts, or stages. North American Aviation in Seal Beach was building the second stage, and the astronauts' command module; Douglas Aircraft in Huntington Beach was responsible for the third stage. All of it was within Dugan's congressional district. No wonder Thrush had picked him. He was a vain and ambitious character who had been an easy target for the megalomaniacs at Thrush.

A dilemma struck her as she contemplated the different agencies that had shown up. Central Intelligence had it's place, and she needed to follow through with an immediate notification to her people. The FBI definitely needed to know as well, although she always hated dealing with them. She hadn't run into one, as yet, that she could relate to. They were a droll bunch...she'd let her people contact their people, although she was certain they wouldn't do lunch.

Now, she had her U.N.C.L.E. buddies to consider. They were multi-national in their concerns and she paused to consider how to fit them in and not engender the ire of the CIA. She already knew they were suspicious of Kuryakin, even after all of these years. They had a bone of contention that had gotten stuck between their gnarly teeth. She had no doubt, however, that the U.N.C.L.E. agents were the best qualified to deal with Thrush.

All of this flashed through her mind as she was cautiously exiting the room. There was nothing she could do here, no intel she could collect in that space. The scenario provided one thing of importance: Thrush was after something involving the space program.

Napoleon Solo had a fairly long list of things that gave him great pleasure. Perhaps nothing could top his enjoyment of a beautiful woman and the time he could spend with her. The possibilities were endless there, and rarely did he encounter a female who didn't somehow possess a spark that he could ignite into a flame. That gave him great pleasure. The woman he was lunching with was another species. Sandra, or whatever her name really was, seemed to be completely lacking any spark. She was, in fact, the coldest person he had ever encountered. Even Angelique had something to warm him, never mind the excitement of surviving the night with her. At least she emanated something that he could grasp as feminine and real. This woman had none of that, and try as he might, he knew there was nothing like a chink in her armor for him to manipulate. It was not hard to imagine that she was a killer for hire. Nothing in her demeanor indicated that she possessed passion for anything, let alone a cause. If she had been hired to take out his partner, it wasn't going to be personal for her. For the moment, Napoleon was stumped, and the thought of not having a plan forming in his normally agile brain was frightening. Illya needed for him to have something more than the frustration that was building within him now.

"...and then I moved here, to California. I decided a career that included living near the beach was worthwhile, so I've stayed with the company and, mostly, enjoy my work". Her narrative had gone on just long enough to hint at her loyalties. He believed she was referring to her real job, although she'd never admit what it entailed.

"So, you consider yourself a career woman. It's a brave new world. I suppose you run into men who think they can do the job better". He was goading her, hoping her pride would begin to reveal something. She definitely lived in a man's world, and there had to be some resistance and resentment about that.

"Oh, yes. Many men are intimidated by a woman who can perform the same job, with the same amount of skill. I don't suppose you've ever worked alongside a woman, both doing the same job". Okay, now he was being challenged.

"Actually, I have. And I appreciate and support the women who hold lateral positions to my own'... He thought of April Dancer, a top enforcement agent and one of just a handful of women at U.N.C.L.E. He'd trust her to have his back any day.

"No doubt there are jobs, however, that might rob a woman of some sense of her femininity. I suppose self-confidence is the key, ultimately".

She eyed him quizzically, the pale blue eyes scanning him for a hint of something... nothing there. He held his own, the dark eyes impenetrable.

"Lunch has been stimulating', she let some emphasis fall on the last word. " Thank you, Napoleon. Unfortunately, it's getting late, and I have an appointment that won't wait for me. Perhaps another time". What appointment, he wondered. 'Is she that bold that she'll stand here and announce that she's going looking for Illya?' The thought scared him just a little. He needed to get out of here as well, and he would call his friend...make sure...

"You are most welcome. And, I understand. I have something pressing as well, and several calls to make. Here, let me walk you out". With that they both got up from their seats and exited the restaurant, arriving at the street, bidding farewells as though they might meet again. "Not on your life". The agent let that escape, and then he realized the life he needed to concentrate on was his friend's.

The beach rally was a success, if numbers and noise were any indication. The congressman's people had hired a band to play, and there was a light and easy manner among the workers. All of this was geared to the newer voters, the just turned 21 and over group whose lives played out daily on the sand. He needed that vote, and whatever it took to get them, he could deliver a message to make them believe.

As Mike Dugan finished his speech he began the descent from the small podium area, greeting the crowd and shaking hands when offered. He felt good about this; presidential, actually. He couldn't imagine a scenario now that would preclude him winning the office, and with Thrush behind him, power beyond anything yet experienced. He had nothing against world domination, and thought it actually suited him. The world hadn't seen the real Mike Dugan, not yet. In the oval office with the right organization, he saw a future full of potential. He could taste it.

He looked around and finally glimpsed that photographer, Kuryakin. Not a real photographer, of course. He was with U.N.C.L.E., according to Traynor, who had recognized the agent immediately. What to do about it...well, he didn't really need to know, of course. Let the hired help do their jobs. He had an election to win, and it wouldn't do for him to have things muddied up with those types of details.

Illya had been busily taking shots of all the usual suspects. He rather wished that he'd at least had his sleep darts and used those instead of a camera. There was something familiar about these people, and the déj^ vu of it was making him uneasy. He was not unaware of the eyes watching him, and they weren't those of the admiring females. He was in need of making his way out of this crowd, and the only recourse for that was to blend in, convincingly.

He had worn swim trunks beneath his jeans, always in anticipation of what might go wrong. As he moved to the outer edge of the crowd he began to strip down to his "disguise". He let the camera drop, shimmied out of the too tight jeans, catching the trunks before he lost those as well. The shirt came off and with it the persona of the photographer. A large trashcan, one of several that were strung along the edge of the sand that met sidewalk, became possessor of all of his clothing, sandals and the camera. Perhaps he could retrieve it later, but for now he needed to be one of the youth on the beach. He infiltrated a group of girls as they headed for the water, glancing over his shoulder to see if he had been found out. Nothing. The girls were only too happy to receive him into their romp, and he dove into the waves and disappeared just long enough to confound the Thrushies who were now combing the area for the missing agent. Perplexed and frustrated, they returned to the podium to confer, relinquishing their search in favor of packing up and heading back to the congressman's office. They knew who they were looking for, and he wouldn't escape again.

Illya had managed to migrate down the beach, careful to stay within sight of the party. He didn't have anything to show for the time he'd spent with them, unless you counted the fact that he had been identified. 'That was fast', but the thought offered no consolation. If they had spotted him, he wondered if Napoleon was also at risk. And, what about Nicole? He knew there was an FBI agent in the camp, but that wasn't much of a consolation either. He'd almost rather deal with Thrush than the FBI, considering how they felt about him. Well, the CIA wasn't much better. Nicole was the exception with that crowd.

He finally made it about a mile down from the pier, heading north. Not wanting to lead them to the apartment, he thought it best to head away from it first, then make his way back down before heading home. He might have to liberate a pair of sandals though. The thought of walking across the hot concrete and asphalt did nothing to encourage a better mood. He'd stick to the wet sand for now.

Passing by some lifeguard towers, he was watching the crowd, still looking for the enemy. It appeared that had all gone with the show, back to the congressman's office. People were spread out on colorful towels, their bodies oiled up for the requisite tanning and burning that would punctuate their day at the beach. Transistor radios were blaring out a variety of tunes as people chose favorite radio stations. There were a few umbrellas, mostly the ones with small children in tow. It was a beautiful day, and the water had felt really good to him. He only briefly let his mind go back to a previous day on the beach, one he had spent with Angela.

That seemed like a lifetime ago. He didn't want her memory to fade, but he knew that, like all things in his life, he was letting it go. Soon it would be one of the closeted images that clung so tightly to the interior spaces only he could access; none of these things could withstand prying inquiries. He closed himself off from the questions and intolerable curiosity in order to survive what life had dealt him. There was a myriad of disappointments and hurt, losses from which he never quite regained the equilibrium necessary to be emotionally whole. The experience with Nicole had stunned him, but in some ways had set him free, if only a little. Something in him had wanted to include his friend and partner, and he wasn't unaware of the stunned expression on Napoleon's face as the emotional dam had broken open. 'Someday, maybe'.

A smile started to form, and just for a split second, something stirred again within Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin. Just the slightest hint of life and the prospect of contentment.

The moment was interrupted by a rough grip on his left arm, and then he was aware of someone on his right as well. He looked from side to side, cursing himself for having let his concentration lapse for even a few minutes. He didn't need to ask who these two were, they had on suits...FBI

Chapter Eleven

Illya needed something quick and diversionary in order to get away from these goons. His advantage was that he looked as though he belonged here, and they quite obviously did not. He spied some surfers riding in, and the lifeguard station was close enough that he could easily get the eye of the resident of that post.

Without warning, he started yelling at the top of his lungs and lunging in an obvious attempt to get free of the agents who held him. It was almost too easy, as the boys coming in from the waves heard and then saw the commotion being raised by one of their own; a blond guy who was being hassled by a couple of dudes in suits. No question in their minds as to whose side they were on, the three youths dropped their boards and started running to where the struggle was going on. In the meantime, the lifeguard also saw this, and, not liking the appearance of the two old guys in suits trying to beat up the small guy in the middle, he climbed and then jumped down from his perch and also ran after them.

The FBI guys tried to reach into their pockets in order to retrieve their ID, but that only prompted Illya to yell "guns", at which the three surfers and the lifeguard pounced onto them without remorse or care for their own safety, confident that they could overpower the intruders to their sandy turf.

In a split second Illya was off and running. The FBI agents were down, their suits now filled with sand and salt water from the surfers' wet bodies. The lifeguard was pinning one of them down, yelling for someone to call the police. They tried to talk to the four attackers, sputtering sand in between their words..."Federal Bureau of...pthhh...Investigation". It took a few minutes for it to sink in, but eventually the beach boys relinquished their grip, allowing the younger looking agent to withdraw identification, letting it have its effect as the big lifeguard slowly got up.

"So, do you recognize that guy who got away?" The question was dripping with innuendo, as did most FBI questions. Regardless of their official sanctions on all things, it was doubtful the two government men would get much cooperation from these guys. Kuryakin looked too much like them, and their lack of care for most things outside of the surf and sand was obvious. Unity among brothers. Once again, the Russian was a slippery foe, always managing to slip into an identity that served him well. Typical of the KGB training he had received. Not to be trusted...ever.

The blond managed to slide easily among beachgoers as he made his way, once again, towards the apartment. He ran across the street and stayed in the alleys and behind commercial buildings that dotted the PCH. He was close enough to head directly to the apartment, but maneuvered among the buildings, not taking a direct path. His feet were scorched from the hot pavement, but there was nothing to do about it. He hadn't had time to grab sandals or shoes, and getting away had been his only objective. Now what was he supposed to do? His cover was blown, the FBI were after him. The only thing left was to wait for a bullet to chase him down from his female assassin. This was getting to be exceedingly annoying, and he wondered if Napoleon would have anything to report that would ease the anxiety he was feeling.

When at last he made it through the his self-constructed maze, he was careful to get up the stairs quickly, looking for any spying eyes that might conceivably had found him. It was doubtful that those two government men had located their living quarters. He supposed that the FBI agent who was entrenched in Dugan's office had informed them of Napoleon's visit there, and the likelihood that his partner was close by had come to them easily. This whole affair was blowing apart, piece by piece. All he had to show for his efforts was how visible he appeared to be to all concerned. 'So much for being undercover'.

Illya knocked on the door, realizing that he didn't have a key, or anything else for that matter. Fortunately, his partner was already inside and, answering the door took a minute to look his blond friend over from tousled hair to dirty feet, with only the swim trunks in between.

" seem to have lost something". Smug, as usual. Kuryakin snorted disapprovingly and brusquely shoved him aside.

"I've been blown. Thrush knows and the FBI is after me...again. Two of them accosted me on the beach and nearly hauled me away. If it hadn't been for some cooperative surfers and a very muscular lifeguard, I would be sitting in an office, under interrogation". He spit out the words, not trying to hide his contempt for that agency. No matter how long he worked for U.N.C.L.E., regardless of the risk to his own life on countless occasions, the thread of suspicion still hung over him and his Soviet background. He sat, beleaguered and dirty, and put his head in his hands trying to gain some sense of what might come next.

Napoleon sat as well, facing his partner. It was unconscionable that the Americans wouldn't let U.N.C.L.E. handle things. But, the CIA and FBI each held negligible approval for his organization. They still didn't accept the idea that a multi-national group could not hold the interests of the USA above other countries' needs. There was a continual abrasion that kept the thin skinned government agencies raw with suspicion and contempt for his Russian partner, hounding him and sometimes, apparently like now, jeopardizing his life by their interference in an assignment.

"I had lunch with Sandra today". That was a reminder of the next bad thing on the agenda. Someone wanted him really dead, not just deported or hindered in some way. Perhaps a bullet was easier to dodge than an FBI agent.

"Oh...did she give away her plans?" More to the point, did Napoleon charm her and weaken her grip on the target?

"No, I'm sorry to say she has nothing in her personality that allowed me to ... well, gain a foothold, so to speak. The woman is an iceberg, and I seem to be lacking the necessary tools to chip it down to a manageable ice float".

"Perhaps she is a man in disguise. I find it difficult to believe that she can resist you'. That was accompanied by a slight smirk, the satisfaction of his friend's failure a small respite from the anxiety of being a hunted man. He then thought of the other woman they were dealing with.

"Have you heard from Nicole today?" Illya had confidence in her, but still he worried that she might also have been discovered. Apparently the stakes were very high from Thrush's point of view. They seemed to be very tight this time. That was a bit worrisome.

"I expect we'll be hearing something from her. She is, we must remember, CIA. Her duty is to them, not us; although, she is an ally. Maybe our only one".

"Yes, well, be that as it may, Nicole may be the only one right now who has access and a cover. If Thrush knows about me, then they will be expecting you as well. We're pretty much dead in the water on this affair'. He needed to clear his head, try to rid himself of the returning gloom.

"I'm going to shower and get dressed. Since we're blown anyway, perhaps a little nighttime reconnaissance is more than they'd expect from us. What do you think?"

"Yes, I think so. We should have heard something from Nicole by then, so we'll have a better idea of what to expect".

As Illya stood, a shot rang and the window exploded. The bullet found its mark and he went down with an exclamation, grabbing his shoulder and falling into the shattered glass. Napoleon rolled onto the floor, unholstering his Walther .38, but it was too late. He got off one shot, felling a Thrush, but it was too little. A vapor began to fill the room, lessened only slightly by the gaping window. He lost consciousness, looking at his fallen partner, wondering if he were dead...

Wings of Angels Part II Prayers of Saints Nicole was certain that her search of the computer room had been unobserved. She hadn't left any sign of having been in there, and the rest of the day she'd spent going over the previous day's events, her observations and growing dislike of the main participants in this campaign. She hadn't trusted Dugan from almost the moment she had met him. The man was too good to be true, and his circular rhetoric didn't ring of anything sincere. He was gaining momentum without presenting anything of substance. Hate this one, love this idea and ultimately, I'm your man. That's about all he had.

If she added in what information she'd gained from her U.N.C.L.E. friends, the picture made more sense. She was a good judge of character and utilized her instincts in large quantities. There were good guys, and there were bad guys. She generally knew the difference, and very few fell in between the extremes in this business. Dugan and Traynor were the bad guys. She and Kurt, and Napoleon and Illya...good guys.

The entourage from the rally had returned, triumphant and full of reports regarding the welcome they had received, and the good feelings about their candidate. With so much enthusiasm about the guy, she only wished that she could expose him now and warn the volunteers of the devious nature of their guy. Most of them didn't have a clue what Thrush was, or how the congressman was involved with a very disturbing agenda. All she could foresee was trouble, and not much support to help stop them.

The FBI agent in the office was well concealed. He was a volunteer who managed to be on hand for most events, keeping his eyes busy and his ears open. David Landers was a nice enough guy, or so he seemed. He always had a contagious laugh, spreading himself around easily to all of the others in the office, mingling with his fellow volunteers. His job was strictly one of observation, looking for the assassin among the crowds both in and outside of the inner circle.

The fact that he had spotted the Russian at Dugan's party the night before did not bode well for Nicole's new friend. She understood the attitude that plagued him among these federal agents. She was one of only a handful who didn't share that disdain for his presence in the intelligence community. She thought of him, last night as he let her hold him, the depth of his sadness permeating her own psyche in that moment. Even now, her stomach roiled at the remembrance of how that had felt; utterly hopeless and alone. She had to wonder if he always felt that way, even in the obviously close relationship he shared with Napoleon. Did he never have a sense of being safe or comforted?

She pulled herself away from that, willing instead a steady application of her skills in this most hostile of environments. Kurt had returned along with the others, and they were each aware of the need to get away, to compare notes and strike up a plan for what their security detail might entail next. She smiled easily and made her way through the exuberant crowd, acknowledging the congressman as he headed into his office, trailed closely by Traynor. She really didn't like that guy, and had the certainty of instinct that he was Thrush, and probably the head of this entire operation. If only Dugan realized how expendable he was in the long run. The man was a fool. Dangerous, and foolish.

When Napoleon Solo began to regain consciousness, he retained a practiced discipline to not appear to be conscious. He listened first, trying to ascertain if there were others in the room. It felt humid, but that only confirmed that they were still near the beach. It also smelled lightly mildewed, more evidence of their nearness to the ocean. As he cracked one eye open, he saw that the room was empty except for him and...Illya. Where was he? He eased himself up, his head aching from the knock out gas, his eyes searching the nearly empty room. There he lay, his chest covered in blood, still clothed only in the swim trunks he had on when everything was blown apart.

He crawled over to his friend on hands and knees, vaguely aware of fading sunlight coming through a small window. The floor was tile, cool to the touch but dirty. He was trying to remember if this place felt familiar, but his hand was reaching out to his partner.

"Illya...can you hear me? Illya..." The wound was untreated, blood underneath his body indicating the bullet had managed somehow to go through muscle and flesh, exiting completely. That was good, better than having it lodged inside. But he needed medical aid. It wouldn't take long in this place for infection to start invading his body, bacteria latching onto the gaping hole in his shoulder. Thrush wasn't known for paying attention to the needs of the wounded, particularly U.N.C.L.E. agents. He'd known often enough how lax they were in their hospitality. He needed something, and quickly. It would take only a few hours for signs of infection to appear. Escape was the best option, so he began the process of formulating a plan. If only he knew how many guards there were, or where they were, for that matter. He didn't think they were in Dugan's office complex. Then again, Thrush usually made at least one mistake that created his opportunities. It was comforting to know that, in some respects, they were dependable.

Nicole managed to get Kurt's attention and motioned to the door leading out of the office. She made her rounds, saying goodbye for the day, offering smiles and congratulations at all of the happy reports. They knew her as a security representative, mostly unobtrusive except for her singular good looks. Why a woman would choose a profession like that...many wondered although few of them actually said anything. Kurt was close on her heels as she exited, both of them heading for their individual cars, indicating that they would meet at the coffee shop adjacent to their hotel. Home away from home, but not much there to comfort her. Nicole didn't like these types of assignments, and seriously wondered if she wouldn't have been better off staying in pursuit of a pageant crown. Adventure and mystery... glamour and security. 'Hmmm...I guess I haven't made up my mind yet'.

She and Kurt made it to the meeting place in tandem, pulling into the parking lot within seconds of each other. She didn't think she'd been compromised by her search of the computer room, but she needed to fill Kurt in on what she'd found. She wanted to contact Napoleon and Illya, but without a phone number, her only recourse was to actually go to the apartment. That would have to wait. For now, her obligation was to work with her own partner, notify her superiors and get some plan of action from them.

As Kurt sat down beside her inside the coffee shop, he rolled his eyes and indicated some weariness with the day. Hot sun, loud speakers and too many enthusiastic supporters. All of it had given him a headache, and instead of coffee, what he really wanted was bourbon...neat. Nicole liked the guy, and their support of one another had been genuine and easy. Neither one of them had counted on uncovering a plot by Thrush, however, and when she began to tell him the story of last night's discussions with the two U.N.C.L.E. agents, Kurt gave her a look that mirrored their own agency's dislike of that organization.

"Listen, Kurt, I know what we've heard and I understand the grey areas that hinder good will. Thrush is in this, though. That computer room is hooked up to a feed from North American Aviation and Douglas. They're in those locations, and the Saturn rocket is the target. I don't know what they intend to do with that, but they can't be left to sabotage or, worse, subvert it to their own use. U.N.C.L.E. has the most experience with those people, and Solo and Kuryakin are their top men. We need to be able to cooperate with them and utilize their knowledge and skills to stop them. Congressman Dugan is someone else's concern. Let the FBI have him. We just need to stop Thrush, and we need U.N.C.L.E. help to do it, I'm convinced of that".

She was very convincing, and Kurt's resistance was visibly shaken. He admired his partner, not just for her brains and beauty, but her overwhelming sincerity in these circumstances. He trusted her and her judgement, so if she was okay with the U.N.C.L.E. agents, then he would have to be. They made a good team, even if they weren't the hardened, always in peril agents most people thought of as being CIA. But, they had done some good work together, and this was looking to be more important than anything else they'd encountered.

"Okay, so what do we do next?"

The two U.N.C.L.E. agents were tucked away in a safe room, far from the action in the congressman's office. The volunteers and staff were gone now, leaving only the Thrush agents whose days and nights were spent monitoring the feed from the sites where the Saturn rocket was being assembled. Leon Traynor felt satisfied with the day's events. A successful snow job on the blathering crowds at the beach, the politician who would be king was more firmly in their grasp, and two U.N.C.L.E. agents were locked up in a holding room. The only difference between Dugan and the agents was timing; the U.N.C.L.E. men would die soon, and most probably after some serious bruising, while Dugan would last long enough to make his contribution worthwhile. Maybe a year, give or take a few months, but he wasn't long for the world, and he definitely wouldn't make it to Washington as the conquering hero.

Traynor was on his way to visit the two captured agents as he considered all of the day's successes. He was feeling confident that his ascent into the hierarchy of Thrush was a fete accompli. The privilege of gaining whatever information the U.N.C.L.E. brats might have to give him was simply another step for him to take to that goal. He had a method, of course. On his way to the impromptu holding cell, he summoned a man whose talents he would need for the task of interrogating them. There were some people who took pleasure in inflicting pain on others. It was a particularly intriguing phenomenon to Traynor, although not one of his particular giftings. Still, it wouldn't bother him to oversee it, as long as it didn't soil his clothing or ruin his appetite. It's business, not personal...well, not much.

Illya had come to at his partner's continued urgings. The familiar voice called him back from darkness, wouldn't let him rest for long enough. His body hurt, from the hole in his shoulder and something else. He was cut, all over, from shards of glass...the shattered window. He had a memory of not being clothed adequately. That's why he was so cut up probably. What was Napoleon talking about? He looked around, trying to locate his friend in the dimness of the room. He should probably listen to him; he wasn't quite sure why, though.

"Illya, do you hear me? Hey, tovarisch...wake up".

"I hear you Napoleon. Where are we? Are you alright?" He thought he should ask, but it didn't seem as though things were as they should be. He had a sense of dread about it all. If Napoleon didn't have a plan and an inclination to carry him out of here, he didn't have much hope of them ever leaving. Gun shot wounds had that effect on a man, leaving you sort of disheartened. He thought perhaps he might try to cheer up a bit, for his friend's sake. 'That will take considerable energy, though...'

"Can you stand up? If I help you, do you think you can walk out of here, because at some point someone will come through that door, and we need to be ready to go. Now, do you think you can do it? Illya!"

"I'll try, if I can just sit up..." The blond fell back down, the pain in his shoulder causing sparks to ignite behind his eyes. He knew that he'd lost too much blood, shock was setting in.

"You need to go without me. I won't make it, but you can bring help". Just talking was exhausting. He had nothing to work with, and he could see Napoleon grimacing at the thought of leaving him, but there wasn't any other choice.

The senior agent looked around the room. Tile floors, standard drywall construction, solid wood door and that one small window. He knew he couldn't fit through. Illya might have been able on a good day, which this one wasn't. Still, he wondered what was on the other side. He went to the window and stretched his neck to look out at a field, obviously behind the building since they weren't in a front room. There was nothing out there. And, now that he was looking at it, the window swung open on a hinge. Geez, these Thrush guys were stupid sometimes.

"Too bad this window's not a little bit wider..."

Before he could finish his thought, the door swung open and Traynor entered, another man close behind. The Thrushman looked over the room, then from Napoleon to Illya, who was slumped against a wall, straining to stay alert. Traynor motioned for his associate to pick up the wounded agent, which he did with little care for the damaged shoulder, causing Illya to emit an involuntary yelp. Napoleon started to take a step, but a gun aimed at his chest halted the advance.

"No, Mr. Solo, you need to stay put. We have some questions for your partner; questions that he or you will answer for us. I suppose it's up to you how long we will need to interrogate him, and I daresay, he doesn't look as though he'll be able to take very much of it.

The other man had been securing Illya's wrists in a leather restraint that he was attaching to a hook in the ceiling.

Why hadn't he seen that before? It was the same color, so that had camouflaged it's presence. It seemed to descend, lowering enough to accommodate the shorter man's height while still stretching him considerably beyond any semblance of comfort.

Napoleon had no choice but to watch as the process began. The brute who had accompanied Traynor into the room started by slapping Illya, letting his head fly from side to side. Then the intensity of the assault increased, splitting his lip and drawing blood. Illya shot him a blurred glance, the blue of his eyes darker, grim from pain and a hint of fear.

"Mr. Kuryakin, won't you tell us a little about your visit today. You were taking photographs, and we'd very much like that film. Where is it, Mr. Kuryakin?" He repeated the name, aware that consciousness wouldn't last, trying to arrest his attention quickly.

A fist slammed into his abdomen, once and then a second time. No response, just the limp body and bowed head. Traynor held his chin in his hand then let it drop. The henchman administered a left hook that probably rattled a few teeth, then closer to his nose. Blood smeared Illya's face and his partner wondered that he had enough blood left for the steady stream.

"Really, it's only a few pictures. You need to tell us where you put the film".

This time he came from behind and the fist landed on the bullet riddled shoulder, and Illya was lost to them. He willed himself to pass out.

Nicole and Kurt agreed it was time for some real spy work. Her find of the computer room was all they needed to bust Dugan's camp, but they wanted more information regarding Thrush's plans for the space program. The sheer audacity of a bunch of hoodlums to strike at the heart of America's future stirred up an anger in the two CIA agents that came from their genuine devotion to and love of country. The fact that it was coming from a criminal organization and not the Soviets served to sober Kurt's anti-Kuryakin stance just long enough to want to join forces with him and stop what was going on in the congressman's offices.

They each returned to their rooms and changed into clothing more conducive to a nighttime reconnaissance and met back at Kurt's car. Nicole had seen the U.N.C.L.E. communicator pens and was wishful for one right now; The agency definitely needed to work on something like that.

On the drive back to Dugan's headquarters, each agent was aware of the consequences should they be discovered. Stealth and quick thinking would be required, and they each worked on settling into a state of mind and body that would help ensure both.

There was a back door that never required watching. It probably had an alarm of some sort, but Kurt was adept at electronics thanks to his degree in advanced engineering from MIT. While Nicole had been majoring in couture and charm to compliment a teaching degree, Kurt had become an electronics geek who might have even been an asset to building all of those computers they were hoping to shut down.

The highway was still heavily traveled, even at this time of the evening. It was going on midnight by the time they were heading to the office, but cars indicated beachgoers still in transit to and from. Curfews were not effective, and she knew there would be rogue surf parties out on the water, even at this time of night.

Traynor had finally accepted the dark haired agent's explanation about the film, camera and clothing being dumped in a trashcan in Illya's flight from his own men and then from the FBI. It cost nothing to give him that, and it had stopped the beating for the time being. As a bonus, he had added in that there was a real assassin after Dugan; a woman named Sandra had been sent to kill Thrush's man, and had a reputation to recommend her. He described her, where she might be expected to turn up and even where she lived. He had followed her to a small apartment near the congressman's gated community after eluding her own attempt to track him, earlier in the day. Traynor was interested in this bit of information, and wondered why the U.N.C.L.E. agent would be willing to share.

"It means nothing to me either way. If she kills Dugan, so what. If you kill her, the same. I have no interest in her save to keep my partner and me safe for a while longer". That was to the point, and the Thrush agent believed him.

"I think you've earned yourself another few hours, Mr. Solo. We will certainly begin a search for this woman. If she is what you say, then perhaps you won't".

"What about Illya? He needs medical attention, blood probably. He will die if there's no help for". Traynor just shrugged. He motioned for his bully to let the unconscious agent down, but made no promise of help. "He isn't dead yet, and that's the best I can do for you. We're not a hospital, and I'm certainly not going to send him to one. I'll see if there's something here to help clean him up. All of that blood...". He affected a small shiver and turned to leave, the other man close behind. The door closed and Napoleon knelt down to his friend's side, then lowered his head to Illya's chest to listen to the shallow breathing. Illya's face was ashen except for the bruises and cuts that provided the only color. He pulled back an eyelid to check for concussion, but the pupils were fine, although the normally blue cornea was dull and grey.

They remained there, aided by a small light near the door. It was dark outside, but Napoleon had no idea the hour. It was probably quite late. The promised supplies hadn't yet been rounded up or else had been falsely promised. His friend's body was crusted with dried blood...too much. He noticed that a tremor was running across him, the beginning of chills and possibly seizures as the loss of blood finally led to a dangerously low body temperature, fractured heart rhythms, shock and eventually...

He didn't want to finish that thought. Too many times they'd been in this situation, with one or the other of them, sometimes both, stripped bare and nearly dead. But then, something always happened to resurrect what looked hopeless. He was counting on that, but he didn't have a clue right now what it might be. The place seemed to be empty. There were no footsteps, no chatter among guards; He'd never been in a satrapy like this one, if that's what this was. He wasn't even sure where they were, but the fact that they'd been visited by the head man seemed to indicate that it was at least close to Dugan's offices. Perhaps it was the same building, just not in the busy section that he'd seen up front.

Now that he considered all of it, the complex of offices had backed up to an empty field. They must be in the same complex, just not in the main set of offices. At least he could now visualize the location. He figured they would be next door as he remembered that there was an empty unit adjacent to the congressman's.

Napoleon removed his tie and, with hope and a bit of confidence in the Solo luck, he hung it from the small window that was open to the exterior. It wasn't much, but it wasn't an opportunity he could afford to waste.

Kurt turned on a street two blocks from Dugan's offices. He didn't intend to drive directly there. They would park about a block from the building, trying to avoid any noise that a car might carry. They knew the back of the building was unattended, so his first inclination was to consider the possibility of a security camera on that area. He took out binoculars and, from a distance of about thirty yards, he zoomed in on the building, looking for any signs of electronics. He had made a preliminary check of security as part of his cover. Unless they had added something today, the building should be easy to approach. He and Nicole usually did the grunt work, like the "security" detail they'd been on. Still, even though this wasn't in the normal purview of activity for them, they were trained for it.

"See anything?" His partner was eager as he was, slightly jittery from the possibilities.

"No, nothing...hey, look at this'. He gave her the glasses and pointed them towards an open window where a tie was swinging in the late night breeze.

"What do you make of that?" Kurt figured it wasn't supposed to be there, but as to why it was there, a clue wasn't evident.

Nicole tensed slightly, then instinct guided her reply...

"Kurt, we need to go see who's in there. I have a bad feeling about this".

He nodded, not completely understanding. He had learned over time that Nicole had good instincts, and he trusted her. They had two different roles in things, but together they clicked. Right now, he needed her intuition to guide them.

"That's not even a part of Dugan's office. Do you think they've got someone in there?"

Nicole could imagine her two friends, and felt certain that's exactly who was responsible for the tie hanging from the small window.

"Yeah, Napoleon and Illya are in there. They would do something exactly like this to try and get attention. Let's go see".

With that, they both gingerly moved from their position, still acutely aware that prying eyes might be trained on this area, looking for intruders. They had to utilize the cover of some bushes that sprang up across the empty lot, glad for a waning moon and the lack of street lights. They moved steadily but slowly, cautious and with eyes and ears wide open for anything suspicious. Within a few minutes they were at the north east corner of the building, flattened against the wall and easing themselves along, low to the ground. About twenty feet of that and they were directly under the window. Nicole was taller than Kurt, so he gave her a hand up to the opening, making up the additional foot of space from the outside. As she peered into the dimly lit room, she didn't see anything at first. Then, suddenly, a hand reached up and grabbed her. She subdued her own scream as she looked into Napoleon's brown eyes, reassured at least that he was alive, and that she had been correct in her actions.

"Nicole, there isn't much time. Illya's been shot, and he's in bad shape right now. I think I can get him out of this window, but he needs to get to a hospital. I can handle things here..."

"Hold on, we'll get both of you out. Kurt and I know our way around just a little, and we can handle the guards. They don't seem to have much security on this end, though. Just hold tight". With that she jumped down and headed around the building to the front door. No use wasting time. Kurt was behind her, still trusting that she knew what to do. The front of the building had a small parking area, but it was empty. She didn't think they used a lot of manpower on this site, and even though there were probably some men with the computers, this end of the building looked completely vacant. No lights, no cameras...within seconds she was in as the lock yielded easily to the pick she always carried. They knew exactly where the U.N.C.L.E. agents were, since this had the exact configuration of the occupied offices next door. They picked another lock and opened the door to see Napoleon hovering protectively over his injured partner. The sight of Illya covered in blood and small cuts, the gaping hole in his shoulder... How was he not dead?

"How long have you been here? C'mon, let's get him up...Kurt...yeah, here take his legs". Nicole was issuing orders like a drill sergeant, the two men lifting Illya up and out through the door. They lost no time getting to the front door, looking and half expecting a hoard of Thrush grunts to come rushing from the office at the other end. But, no one came out. The break was clean and they were around the building, heading once again across the empty field towards the waiting car.

"The tie on the window, Napoleon...that was a stroke of genius". They thought alike, these two. She wondered what a mission with the dark eyed agent would be like.

"It was more like desperation. I had nothing else, and even if I could have gotten Illya out the window, he didn't have enough strength to go anyplace for help. I'm just very glad that you recognized my tie". He smiled now, relief exuded from the more relaxed posture.

Illya groaned from the physical exertion of having been moved. "Did you push me out of the window?" The voice was raspy and thin, his breathing barely accommodating speech.

"We're heading for a hospital. Hold on..." Nicole winced at the emotion she knew Napoleon was keeping at bay. His concern for his battered partner evident in the tenderness of his speech. 'How do these guys do this?' And then, she was grateful to have been able to help them get away, to hopefully still save Illya's life.

Kurt was driving faster than he knew was legal. There was a small hospital about two miles from their location, on the main highway. Some things he had researched, not really thinking they'd need to utilize it. As he rounded the corner into the emergency entrance, Nicole was preparing her ID, ready to ramrod the doctors into immediate action with no questions asked. At least her being in the CIA would net Illya some benefit tonight. The irony was not lost on her.

Napoleon and Kurt carried their injured companion into the emergency room while Nicole started issuing orders as though she were head of the unit. Nature of the wound, blood type, length of time since the shooting...all of it gleaned from her dark haired friend on the ride there, most of it routine due to so many other encounters with bullets and Thrush. Too many. Once again he was wondering if his partner would make it, willing him to survive yet again.

The CIA identification that Nicole brandished garnered quite a bit of respect and the appropriate amount of efficiency. Illya was wheeled into an available room, curtains were drawn and, as doctors and nurses began the work of repairing and saving the bludgeoned body of their patient, the remaining three agents endured the tedium of waiting.

Napoleon had given Traynor false information that pointed to Sandra as an assassin who really was after Dugan. He neglected to mention that her actual target was the man the Thrush chief had been brutalizing. 'If Thrush is willing to eliminate the woman, so much the better'. He had no desire to confront her, dreading everything to do with the threat of danger to both him and Illya. The big issue ahead was the computer room at Dugan's headquarters.

Within minutes of their arrival at the hospital, Napoleon had called New York and alerted them to the nights' events. Both his and Illya's communicators had been left at the apartment, but the nurse's station willingly lent phone privileges to the agents. He was thorough in explaining Nicole's discovery, and headquarters had been busy researching all available information regarding the Saturn rocket assembly plants, gathering names of employees and designers on the project. No one was immune to the invasion of privacy, the stakes too high to be discreet.

In less than thirty minutes, two people had been readily identified from among those rosters as having Thrush associations. Both of them were in the Seal Beach plant belonging to North American Aviation. One of the men was identified as working in one of the office areas, responsible for little more than filing invoices, according to early reports. The other one reported directly to one of the lead engineers. His job specifics weren't known yet, but there was little doubt that he was in a position to have circumvented the security cameras to feed into the Thrush satrapy, and possibly able to copy important documents related to design. All of this would be forthcoming, but the accumulation of information was unknown, and the possibility that the damage was already done was a worrisome blemish on what had been assumed was a secure environment.

The North American CEA of the U.N.C.L.E. had also been promised that there was a contingent of U.N.C.L.E. agents heading down from Los Angeles to help implement whatever plan Napoleon was forming, ready to facilitate a quick resolution. The CIA was sending in troops, the presence of U.N.C.L.E. agents notwithstanding. This was an assault on American soil against a high profile project. Kurt had phoned in all of the available information, updating the information that Nicole had filed only hours before.

Kurt came in from the lobby after his report to his superiors. Genuinely concerned and affected by what he had witnessed, he asked about the Russian, regretting his previous remarks and opinions about the man. Obviously, the agent was willing to give as much as the rest of them. Ironically, he was the only one near death.

Napoleon was having trouble concentrating, his attention torn between the need to get back to their target and secure it, and concern over his partner's condition. Illya's breathing had been ragged, and he was badly in need of a transfusion...had to be. His blood type was a very difficult

BNegative, and without the supply always on hand for him at U.N.C.L.E. New York, he wondered how that was going to progress.

Nicole was aware of the toll this was taking on the senior agent, and the physical condition of the man as well. Napoleon had also been roughed up some, and had endured the gas at the apartment. She was concerned about him in addition to her fears regarding his partner. Illya had looked grim, covered in cuts and bruises as well as that bullet hole in his shoulder; no real spark of life apparent. She hated this business. She wasn't cut out for the desolation she was feeling. Still, action was preferable to sitting and feeling powerless. Kurt informed her of the reinforcements that were coming from their agency, and listened as Napoleon added that his own people would be arriving within the hour. None of them felt as though they could afford to simply sit and wait, though. It was probably discovered by now that the two agents were gone, and with that the operation would necessarily be in danger. Traynor was too smart to just sit and wait.

"Okay guys, there is a nest of bad birds back at the treehouse and they have some very damaging toys. What are we going to do about it?"

Nicole's question shifted the attention back to the need for a plan of action.

"What are the chances of there being a crowd back at Dugan's headquarters?' Napoleon asked it, but he knew it was probable. Thrush wasn't likely to waste time dismantling that location. They were compromised and now they had no use for the man without the bounty of those rocket assembly locations. Dugan was truly at risk, meaning he would need protection. Regardless of his crimes, he was still a member of the United States Congress. Not for long, but until then...

"I think we need to get back there and make sure we take possession of whatever it is they've been collecting and monitoring. It would be too easy for them to grab what they have and head for a freeway. Worse yet, a helicopter could be a way out in a hurry".

"Who stays with Illya?" Kurt was asking it, aware of the need to protect him, even here. Sandra was still out there, as was the FBI. They wouldn't hesitate to swoop down on him and take custody with some flimsy complaint. For the moment, he was safe from CIA hassles.

"Would you do it, Kurt? I don't mean to underestimate your capabilities, but I think that Nicole and I can handle this". The U.N.C.L.E. agent needed someone who would stay tough, no matter who else showed up. He felt confident that Kurt would protect his partner.

"Yeah, I'll stay Napoleon. And, actually, I consider it a privilege. Your boy in there seems worth the effort". Nicole and Napoleon both felt relief and, upon consideration of their next moves, a sudden surge of adrenalin. They needed to get back and be on site when their teams showed up. Hopefully they would circumvent any early departures by the Thrush contingency.

"Okay then. Nicole, you ready?" She nodded. Her heart was in her throat, but she could do this".

"Let's hit it".

Congressman Mike Dugan had been entertaining a friend, a lovely friend whom he had met earlier while dining at Nic's, a swanky restaurant in Newport Beach. She had looked interesting and unattached as she sat at the bar, seemingly waiting for her table to be readied. The sapphire blue dress she had been wearing then was a perfect accompaniment to the haunting blue eyes he had looked into when he asked if she were alone. Her reply was measured and cool, the pale eyes taking him in and recognizing the cagey politician whose picture was attached to her memory as though in a scrapbook, the features matching exactly the images she conjured up when practicing the kill in her meditations.

Now he lay sprawled out on his expensive leather sofa, a neat hold drilled into his forehead from the .38 caliber bullet she had put there. No traces of her having been there remained, no suggestion of his having returned home with a strange woman. When questioned later, witnesses at the restaurant would remember him leaving with an attractive redhead, but no one had seen their arrival in this gated community. All she needed to do was to walk out the door and disappear.

The local office for the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been notified of the situation regarding the congressman and a criminal organization called Thrush, the infiltration of the Saturn V project locations, as well as the participation in the investigation by the CIA and U.N.C.L.E. Very generously, the two other intelligence agencies had willingly passed on the responsibility for Dugan to their brothers at the FBI, not wishing to exclude them entirely from this operation. It fell easily into their domain of enforcement and was latched onto greedily. It also served as a very tantalizing distraction from a vulnerable Russian agent who lay dangerously close to death in a hospital a few miles away.

What the FBI found when they arrived at the congressman's home was his very dead body, and nothing else. It would be hours before the activity diminished even slightly, and then journalists would be on the scene. It had all of the makings of a front page event. The show was on and the FBI willingly stepped into the spotlight.

Napoleon and Nicole reached the Thrush location that had masqueraded as a congressional office in a matter of minutes. There was only the crescent moon overhead, obscured by clouds that now held a threat of a summer storm; a rare occurrence in Southern California. Nicole turned off the lights and coasted into the parking lot. There was one vehicle on the premises, and she recognized it as belonging to Leon Traynor. He had obviously returned, alerted to the escape of the U.N.C.L.E. agents, and perplexed no doubt as to how it had happened. What the two agents now considered was the probability of there being more people inside, all hostile and in the throes of disassembling their operation. Already the Thrush agents inside of North American and Douglas had been apprehended, were being questioned and, hopefully, were divulging the names of even more of their people hidden in those locations. That job belonged to the CIA, and would no doubt later involve FBI. For now, the only barrier between the two dark figures and the activity inside were questions.

"We need Traynor alive, but he won't go down without a fight. Thrush never does, and I doubt he's an exception'. Napoleon anticipated strong resistance to losing this location before they had finished collecting all of their information. He knew the computers were busy printing out what people inside had hoped to keep stored for many more days. By now they understood that the presence in the two plants had been eliminated, so that any residue of intelligence that had been gathered must be safely transported to another Thrush location.

Inside, Traynor also understood that his promotion was in great danger of disappearing. He had been able to contact the woman Sandra, even felt confident that she had carried out the business concerning the congressman. She was a mercenary, not caring for whom she worked, only that it paid well. At least Dugan wouldn't be a lose end when this came crashing down around him.

It was while in the midst of these considerations that the door to the computer room exploded behind him. He felt the weight of it as the door crashed into his body, slamming him down onto the concrete floor and rendering him unconscious. Two other men drew guns only to be met with piercing darts, their bodies slumping to the floor as guns fell beneath them.

Nicole and Napoleon surveyed the room, satisfied that no other Thrush would be coming. The building had been empty save for these three, the minimum number of people handling the clean up in a now defunct operation. Napoleon reached under the shattered remains of the door to check on Traynor, feeling for a pulse. It was there; the man would live to tell more than he would want them to know...more than Thrush wanted them to find out.

A helicopter could be heard outside, and within minutes agents from the L.A. office were inside with them. The building was checked again, including the empty spaces where just hours before, Illya and Napoleon had been held. It was eerie now, just the blinking of computers and the empty monitors. The feed had been cut off, so they looked back at the room full of agents, blank and without purpose.

Nicole went out and greeted her people, motioning them inside, giving them details and background. They didn't mingle with the U.N.C.L.E. agents, each group staying clear while assigning itself specific duties in the clean up effort.

One of her men came over to the female agent, giving her some information that caused her eyes to widen imperceptibly as she maintained a calm demeanor, nodding her head and looking back to try and locate the man she had arrived with. When she spotted Napoleon, she motioned him over and relayed the most recent discovery.

"Dugan is dead...shot in his home. The FBI is there now, but there's nothing to indicate who or why...' she looked quizzically and then drew in her breath.

"You think it was Sandra? Traynor got to her, didn't he?" It was more of a statement but the question hung in the air.

"I don't know, it was fast negotiating if he did contact her. They don't have any clues about the shooter, or witnesses anywhere?"

Napoleon didn't care if Dugan was dead. He was corrupt, not worthy of his political office. But, if it was Sandra, and she was still out there, that meant Illya was still in danger.

"I need to get back to the hospital. She's clever, and Traynor may have known about our escape when he spoke with her. Everything seems to be locked up here, I'm going to go..."

"I'm going too then. You might need back up, and we don't know if Kurt will see her coming. He's not expecting her".

That was it then. They checked in with each of their teams and headed out of the parking lot with a vengeance. They had been at the Thrush site just over an hour and a half, which means that Sandra would have had time to do her job on Dugan and still have time to head for the hospital. Napoleon had to assume that she knew where the Russian was located. He felt certain that she did, his instincts driving him to shorten the distance between where he was now and the hospital.

Nicole wished more than ever that they had communicators. Something in her gut told her that Illya and Kurt were both in danger right now. She knew it, hoped against hope that they weren't going to be too late.

Sandra entered the hospital from the front entrance, checking at the desk to see if a patient had been admitted with a gunshot wound. Nothing was noted, but the helpful woman in the information booth suggested she check in the ER, that would most likely be where she would find him. Taking a corridor and two subsequent left turns through large double doors, she finally arrived. Florescent lighting hung overhead, and the nondescript beige walls belied the truth that life and death played a game of cat and mouse behind the doors and curtains in the emergency room. The blue eyes looked around, spotting a door marked Employees Only, and she let herself in discreetly, looking for a uniform that might get her in closer to the patient she sought. She emerged in scrubs, easily removed from a shelf that held numerous combinations of pants and tops intended for the staff. How easy it was to slip into character and become someone that no one really noticed, blending in with the alacrity of one who had done it so many times before.

She looked behind curtains, up and down the corridor until, finally, she found him. An IV was attached to his right arm, bandages covered his shoulder and ribs while a monitor attached to a finger on his left hand sounded a steady blip, indicating his heart rate was even and strong. He looked ravaged; his features stood out from a complexion that was pale and gaunt. Still, she had a sudden tinge of regret at the thought of snuffing out this one's life. 'He really is very pretty, this one. No wonder the other woman had wanted him. Now they can console each other for eternity'. The thought amused her, as though she actually believed in an after life. It wouldn't do for her to contend with that possibility.

She held a syringe, another trophy from the supply room. She held it up and pulled back on the plunger, letting it absorb nothing but air. She removed the line that fed into the IV and, with her eyes unwavering, began to insert her deadly tool. In that moment, Kurt walked in with the innocence of one expecting to see helpful nurses and orderlies nearby. In an instant, he knew she was neither, and remembered Napoleon's description of the strange eyes possessed by the assassin. Sandra dropped the syringe on the bed and coolly removed her gun and shot him in one smooth motion. His sudden jerk backwards saved his life, but he was down amid a clutter of metal trays and the dull thud of a body hitting the floor. Undaunted she continued with the syringe. Quickly, she needed to move quickly...

Napoleon tore into the hospital parking lot and under the emergency canopy, not caring that he was blocking the entry to other vehicles. He and Nicole were out of the car and running through the doors when they sensed the assassin's presence. It was noisy as talked and explained their various miseries, waiting for their turns as doctors and nurses continued to see and treat the sick and injured. Kurt was nowhere in sight; he could have been with Illya, but they didn't know whether or not he might have been moved by now, time to figure it out. Where had they put the injured man? A clanging noise came from down the corridor of curtained rooms. Someone fell hard to the floor, causing heads to turn and several nurses to change direction.

"Here, this side Napoleon!' Nicole was shouting above the pages and beeping of monitors and phones. She tore back the curtain to the space where an unconscious blond man was hovered over by another blonde, a woman with a syringe in her hands. She started to draw her gun but Napoleon cut her down, his dead aim shooting her between the eyes before she could inject the air bubbles into the IV stream. Kurt lay on the floor, wounded but alive as medical personnel began to surround them, lifting up the wounded man and yelling for support.

Sandra had dropped into the corner, her disturbingly pale blue eyes still open, staring out at the clambering scene. Napoleon turned to his partner, satisfied that no damage had been done, certain now that he wasn't leaving his side until they were well clear of this place and safely entrenched at U.N.C.L.E. medical.

Nicole was with Kurt, commending him for his bravery, tears in her eyes as she realized how close he had come to death and not wanting to feel all of the dread that was overwhelming her now. 'Everyone is safe, that should be enough'. But she knew that it wasn't enough. It was all too close.

Through it all, Illya lay in a type of quiet repose, unaware of the chaos and death surrounding him and because of him. Even unconscious, the man attracted trouble. Somehow, his partner took consolation in that.

Nicole and Kurt were preparing to leave, the injured man having suffered only a through and through wound to his right arm. He was bandaged and medicated against the pain, and the two CIA agents were heading back to L.A. to make their reports on the night's events. The FBI had been notified that the congressman's killer was also dead. The fact that she had been taken down by an U.N.C.L.E. agent did little to console them, especially when it was learned that her target at the time was the Russian agent they so vehemently disliked. They failed to grasp the implications of the circumstances, and continued on with business as usual.

The computers had been secured by the raid on Dugan's offices, and the information would be months in coming as technicians sorted through the files and encrypted messages. U.N.C.L.E. would relinquish the task to Central Intelligence. The only concern was that it had been stopped before the real damage could be done...they hoped.

Traynor, likewise, would be handed over to the Agency. It was an American concern now, and Mr. Waverly had no compunction about territory on this situation. Whatever served the peace would be the path of choice. Another time and it would be U.N.C.L.E.'s turn to own the outcome.

A helicopter was sent to pick up Napoleon and Illya, to take them to the L.A. headquarters and the medical unit there. As they prepared the blond agent for the ride north, his partner was toying with the notion that dinner and dancing and...whatever might follow...would be an acceptable diversion while clearing up the rubble left from this affair. He suggested as much to the lovely Nicole, hoping that she would have time for him during the next few days. Her response both saddened and surprised him.

"I'm sorry Napoleon. I hope I didn't mislead you...I'm...involved. There's someone back home, in D.C. We're engaged, more or less." Boy, that took the wind out of his sails. It had somehow never occurred to him that Nicole wasn't...available. She was so present, so tactile in her relationships with both him and Illya. He had really messed up here...

"No, I'm sorry. I apologize, for the presumption. I hope you can forgive me'. He was sincere. He never overstepped another man's territory if he could help it.

"Maybe we'll run into each other another time, another mission, perhaps..." He hoped so. Regardless of romantic prospects, he really liked this woman.

"Actually, I think not. It's always been a stretch for me, being in this business. I've mostly lived on the perimeter of it, not very involved with the hard core aspect of what you spy guys do. I'm not cut out for it. This is my last venture into these waters". Her eyes met his, and he knew she was firmly anchored in this decision.

"What are your plans? Marriage?" That hurt a little. The really worthwhile women seemed to need the security of marriage. He couldn't offer that, and knew he would continue to lose out on the relationships that might have offered him the most comfort.

"Napoleon, you witnessed what happened with Illya at your apartment the other night. My giftings, as it were, my intuitions, they all smack of a different kind of intrigue. I guess it just took seeing how deeply hurt a person can be, emotionally and physically and perhaps spiritually ''. She said that last in the knowledge of how little credence so many of these men gave to what they couldn't readily understand.

"I don't think intelligence work is going to be the most productive venue for what I have to offer. My fiancé is a seminary student, so most of the secret information I gather in the future will probably be heard at the altar. It's where I belong...where I want to be".

He saw the wisdom in that, and perhaps it was a type of destiny for her. Maybe even divine in it's origin. He might be persuaded to believe in it.

In the early morning hours, a blond man awoke to the whirring and beeping of monitors, felt the IV once again in it's all too familiar discomfort. He opened his eyes gradually, letting the dim light in the room work gradually to reveal his surroundings. His body ached, his shoulder reminding him of the shot that had shattered the window and begun another nightmare of beatings and pain. He turned his head to see if his partner was close by, the expected companion in the vigil they both knew too well. It was good to be alive, and he took comfort in that. It was especially good to see Napoleon sleeping in the chair by his bed, also alive and not too worse for wear it seemed. He tried to move onto his right side, but the motion triggered a pain in his ribs causing him to groan involuntarily. Napoleon stirred then, immediately alert, and he reached over to touch his partner's arm, observing the room and making sure they were both safe.

"Hey, tovarisch...are you alright?" The question was repeated in the brown eyes as they narrowed in a cursory examination of his friend.

"I seem to be alive, and that is quite good. Is it...over?" He remembered why they had come here and wondered what he had missed.

"Yes, it's over. The good guys have done it again'. He contemplated telling the story now, deciding that there would plenty of opportunity for that later. He also remembered what Nicole had said, that she had seen, maybe even felt, how deeply hurt his partner had been the other night; was he still hurting like that? Was there a deep and lonely place where Illya retreated to, only to be relieved momentarily or, had Nicole's ministrations somehow alleviated it? He didn't have a clue as he looked at the man now, climbing again out of the abyss of death that lay too many times in their paths.

"Illya..." He was asleep again. The bruises on his face had taken on a garish green in the florescent lighting, the gauntness of his features made more pronounced by the dark circles under his eyes. 'Too close. They almost killed you twice'.

Napoleon was thankful to have escaped with so little damage, just some bruises and a few cuts. He wondered if Nicole had prayed for them, and decided that she had. He didn't know if he believed that it had helped, but he took comfort in the knowledge that she believed it. That gave it weight in his estimation, and, because of that, in the hour before dawn, Napoleon Solo pulled out something from his childhood and said a prayer for the first time in many years: Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen

Apollo 1 (official designation Apollo/Saturn-204) was planned to be the first manned mission of the Apollo manned lunar landing program to launch in February 1967. Its flight was precluded by a fatal fire on January 27, which killed all three crew members (Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee), and destroyed the Command Module cabin. This occurred during a pre-launch test of the spacecraft on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral The Apollo Command Module was much bigger and far more complex than any previously implemented spacecraft design. It was built by North American Aviation, which had originally suggested the hatch open outward and carry explosive bolts in case of emergency. NASA didn't agree, arguing the hatch could accidentally open, as it had on Liberty Bell 7. Before the fire, astronauts successfully lobbied for an outward-opening hatch on future command modules, but NASA subsequently claimed the astronauts were thinking about ease of exit and entry for spacewalks (along with getting out of the CM after splashdown) rather than safety North American Aviation had suggested the cabin atmosphere be an oxygen/nitrogen mixture as on the Earth's surface. NASA objected, citing heightened risks such as catastrophic decompression sickness and mismanagement of nitrogen levels, which could cause the astronauts to pass out and die. NASA officials asserted a pure oxygen atmosphere had been used without incident in the Mercury and Gemini programs (which was incorrect: fire and inability to open a door during the fire had been a problem), demonstrating that pure oxygen could be safely employed on Apollo. Also, a pure oxygen design saved weight. CM-012 was delivered to NASA with 113 significant incomplete planned engineering changes. An additional 623 Engineering Orders were generated subsequent to delivery.[4] The crew expressed serious concerns about fire hazards and other problems. Apollo I information courtesy of Wikepedia Lyrics of Wings of Angels from: Wings of Angels_Words and Music by Judy Collins, Universal Music Corp. (ASCAP)/ The Wildflowers Company (ASCAP)_(Administered by Universal Music Corp

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