It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. UNCLE had had both agents running full out and when Waverly told the pair that a vacation was in the works for them, Napoleon and Illya leapt at the opportunity.
"Hey, Napoleon, listen to this." Illya waited to make sure that he had Napoleon's attention before he began to read from the pamphlet he held. "Drakesbad Guest Ranch is a secluded getaway nestled within the boundaries of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The Park is located in one of the most scenic mountain valleys in Northern California. Our guests enjoy communing with nature in the fresh mountain air. They spend the days horseback riding, hiking, swimming, fishing, or just relaxing. Evenings ares the perfect time for a good book, fun games, or a quiet conversation around either our outdoor campfire or inside at the lodge fireplace. Rooms include three meals a day." Illya glanced up at Napoleon. "What do you think?"
"I was thinking more along the lines of some sundrenched beach with hot and cold running women."
"Waverly said we were supposed to be resting. Chasing women does not sound entirely restful to me."
"Ah, but that depends upon how hard you have to pursue." Napoleon returned to the brochures Travel had brought him. "It's not likely that I will need to break a sweat."
"This sounds peaceful."
"It sounds boring." Napoleon turned one of the brochures sideways to better study a scantily clad woman. "But to each to his own."
Illya stared up at the ceiling of his room and sighed. The bed was comfortable enough. There were plenty of pillows and blankets. He'd not had to fight Napoleon for either, but it didn't matter. Napoleon headed south, Illya headed west.
The trip had been long, first the flight, then the drive to the lodge. He'd gotten in after sunset and immediately taken to the dining hall. It was explained that he had a table assigned to him, a small two person table near the fireplace. Even though it was late summer, the warmth from the fire felt good.
"We were worried you weren't going to get here." The waitress, a redhead, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt carried a tray to him. "Dinner is a venison stew with biscuits and honey. Would you like to see our wine list?"
"You have a wine list?"
"Don't let the rustic nature of the lodge fool you. Our chef is one of the best and we are just a couple of hours away from California's premier wine region." Her fingers lingered on his for a moment.
"Do you have a full bar?"
"Yes, sir, we do. Would you prefer something else?" There was a subtext there that he wasn't even going to think about. Surely, single men weren't that rare up here.
"Stoli or Smirnoff's?"
Illya grinned at that. It was nice to have a choice. The woman walked away with his order, her backside swaying ever so invitingly and Illya's grin grew. Napoleon was wrong—this place was perfect.
Perfect, so why can't I sleep? Illya thought as he stared at the ceiling. It was too dark to see it or anything else in the room. The walls, ceiling and floor were all blond knotty pine as were the bed and bureau, but at that time of the night, they were all just black. With no electricity, he had the choice of lighting a kerosene lantern and trying to read or just lying there.
He'd gotten back from the dining room, unpacked, and climbed into bed. Outside he could hear the rush of the wind and the cool air was thick with the smell of pine. Everything here was so perfect, all arranged to encourage relaxation and restful pursuits... so why wasn't he relaxing?
Sleep took a long time to find him that night.
Illya sat straight up in bed, his hand reaching for a gun that wasn't there. At first he couldn't figure out what had woken him.
Then it came again, a tap to his door and the soft, "Sir? Hello?"
"Hello?" Illya croaked, his voice scratchy and thick with sleep.
"Maid service, sir, I'll come back later."
"Thank you." Illya plopped back in bed and brought a wrist close to his face, squinting at his watch. "Ten thirty? How is that possible?" he muttered. He didn't understand. His dreams had been relentless and beleaguering. In spite of having been asleep for ten hours, he felt as if he'd just come off a twenty-mile enforced hike.
He was too late for breakfast, but was offered fruit and coffee, both of which he accepted. He took it and sat on the porch of the lodge and watched some of the other guests playing badminton as he ate. Other guests were getting ready to take a horseback ride or head up to the small private pond to fish. Still, others were making plans to hike this trail or that. Everyone bustled around him, totally ignoring him.
"You look lost. First day?"
Illya's head turned at the voice. The ranger grinned at him and propped up a hip on the rough hewn log that served as a railing. She had raven black hair pulled back into a ponytail and Illya could just hear Napoleon's voice in his ear, warning him off, that he'd seen her first. That made Illya smile.
"Still a bit jet lagged, I fear." Illya set the coffee mug aside and offered her his hand. "Illya Kuryakin."
"Dana Blackwater." She shook the hand firmly and nodded. "You've picked the perfect spot to catch up on your sleep then. The glory about Drakesbad is that you can do as much or as little as you like. There's horseback riding, swimming, fishing, or hiking." She pointed to a small cabin. "There's a natural sauna in there and Luke gives the best massage this side of the Mississippi."
"All of which I am sure I will take advantage of... tomorrow."
"But not today?"
"No, not today."
She gestured to a ring of stones. "Maybe you'll at least consider joining us tonight for our nightly talk. It's about the myths and lore of the region. I think you'd find it... fascinating." The eyes fluttered gently. "Some of the guests frequently need an escort back to their rooms afterwards."
She wants you, partner, he could hear Napoleon in his head. She is a ripe peach just waiting for you to pluck her. Illya grinned at her and saw a gentle blush come to her cheeks. "Perhaps." So why don't I want her?
Lunch came none too soon for him and he ate heartily. That had been a mistake for it made him feel sleepy and the last thing he wanted to do was take a nap. If Napoleon had been there, it would have been easy to convince him to play a little badminton or toss some horseshoes.
Instead, he ended up sprawled out on the bed most of the afternoon, dozing on and off. The sun made the room the perfect temperature and the air was only occasionally broken by conversation or laughter drifting through the open window.
By the time the dinner bell rang, he was dopey from inactivity. The meal was equally hardy, but he took little pleasure in it, having neither the appetite nor the interest in any part of it outside of the double vodka.
Hmm, the cumin is fighting the cilantro he'd heard Napoleon say at one of their recent meals
Why would they do that? Isn't the plate big enough for both of them?
For someone who eats as much as you do, I would think you would appreciate the nuances of a dish.
As long as there's a lot of it, I'll appreciate anything.
He ordered a second drink and then a white wine that didn't really go with the poultry. Eventually he left the two to their own pursuits. Dessert was bread pudding and he washed that down with another double shot of vodka. The restaurant staff watched him carefully, apparently not convinced that he could handle his alcohol. If they only knew, Illya thought. He'd drunk more than that when he was a child, but there was a gentle sway to the room that made him exercise caution as he walked from the table.
He walked out of the dining hall and started back along the path to the lodge. The moon was full and low in the sky, turning the field white with its light. Up ahead, something moved and Illya froze. Then a deer cautiously emerged from the underbrush and then another, followed by two fawns.
"Napoleon, look," he said and then sighed. He'd been doing that all day long. Idiot, he's not here. By now, he's probably up to his armpits in lovely women. He turned and walked back to the lodge via another path, leaving the trail to the deer. Everyone, it seemed, had someone else to be with, everyone except him.
Illya climbed the stairs to his room slowly. He could hear a group of friends playing some board game in front of the fireplace, laughing and joking. Out a window, he could see the campfire silhouetting figures against the black of the night. Huddling close to each other as the ranger spun one tale after another, he imagined.
His room was dark and it took him a minute to find the matches and light the lantern. He adjusted the flame and sat on the edge of the bed. He'd slept too much that afternoon to be ready to turn in. Yet, he didn't feeling like subjecting his eyes to trying to read by lantern light and there was precious little else to do here except that. Worse than that was the band of tension in his head and running down his spine. It tightened as the moments ticked by. How was he supposed to relax like this? What was he doing wrong?
There was a tap on his door and he sighed. The last thing he wanted was to be pursued by some female.
"What do you want?" he snapped, yanking the door open and then his mouth dropped open.
"Surprise," Napoleon said and walked into the room as Illya stepped aside. He glanced around the room. "Rustic and very knotty." He grinned at his bad pun. "Just my sort of place."
"But Napoleon... what are you...? You were bound for Antigua... how did...?"
Napoleon chuckled. "Why Mr. Kuryakin, I do believe you are flabbergasted." He set his suitcase down and stretched. "At the time, Antigua seemed like a good idea. This, however, seemed a better one."
"And you decided this?" Illya closed the door and felt the tension lessen in his shoulders.
"Well, Mr. Waverly decided this might be a bit more restful than my choice."
"He found out about that health spa last time around?"
"And since UNCLE was paying for this, he suggested I join you here. By the way, this is the last room. I told the desk clerk you didn't mind sharing." He looked around at the dimly lit room. "No lights?"
"No hot water either. You have to go to the pool house for that." He pointed. "Bathroom is in there."
"More good news. Still, who was that enchanting creature I saw telling tales by the campfire."
"Dana Blackwater. And, sorry, she likes blonds."
"That's because she hasn't met me yet." Illya watched Napoleon move around the room, and, by that very action, make it his. Typical, Illya thought with a smirk.
It was also the word that came to mind when he woke up, shivering in the cool night air. Napoleon had somehow managed to abscond with all the blankets and most of the pillows, rolling himself up into a cozy cocoon and leaving his partner exposed to the... elements.
Either he could get up and grab another blanket from the closet or... Illya fought for a corner of a blanket, finally using his butt to shove Napoleon back over onto his side of the bed. After a moment of struggle, they settled down, Napoleon's back resting comfortably and familiarly against his. And Illya smiled at the dark. A very good idea indeed...