"So what you're telling me, Mr. Solo," Waverly said, giving him an appraising glance, "Is that you were unable to reach the top of the tower by scaling the wall, and thus could not dispatch the sniper."
Solo tried not to fidget. "Ah, no, sir, I couldn't. I mean, that is, yes, sir, that is true."
Waverly harrumphed in annoyance.
"The mission was concluded successfully, however, sir," Illya offered--a little too cheerfully, "As I was able to pick off the sniper from cover."
Napoleon shot him a withering look.
"Well, that is fortunate, Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly's sour expression did not change. "I should hate to think a mission was lost because Mr. Solo's expanding waistline made it impossible for him to scale a wall."
Napoleon's mouth dropped open.
"I'll help him shrink it," Illya said brightly.
Napoleon's mouth snapped shut.
"Excellent, Mr., ah, Kuryakin." Waverly briskly closed the mission report. "Commence immediately."
"Sir—" Napoleon began, but Illya interrupted.
"Yes, sir, immediately."
"That is all, gentlemen." They were dismissed with a wave.
As the gunmetal gray door whooshed closed behind them, Napoleon whirled on his partner. "'I picked off the sniper?' 'I'll shrink him?' Gee, thanks a lot!"
"I was only trying to help." The innocent look on Kuryakin's face would have been more convincing were his eyes not twinkling with ill-suppressed glee.
"Next time don't try so hard." Napoleon looked at him narrowly. "I thought you were supposed to cover my back."
"I always cover your back," Illya said sweetly. "Evidently it's your stomach that's too big to cover."
"I am not fat!" Napoleon protested. "I'm all muscle!"
"From the neck up, perhaps. But as for your middle. . ."
Illya raised his hands in protest. "All right, Napoleon, you're hardly fat, but you have been expanding your, er, horizons lately. It's perfectly easy to determine that your tailor has let out your waistband. Surely you won't deny it."
"Only a couple of centimeters," Napoleon said defensively. "I'm calling Del Floria. I think he shrunk my trousers."
"You don't believe me? My own partner doesn't believe me." Napoleon shook his head. "You're setting back East-West relations, you know. Possibly irreparably."
Illya rolled his eyes. "For heaven's sake, Napoleon, pull yourself together. The problem is easily remedied. You just need to exercise more. Then you may continue to indulge yourself without doing harm to UNCLE's reputation."
"You don't think we get enough exercise dodging bullets?"
"As I recall," Kuryakin said dryly, "I do most of the dodging. You, on the other hand, sit around on your massive—" he looked pointedly at Napoleon's derriere "—charm, eating caviar and seducing the innocents." He smiled wickedly. "To the detriment of your formerly sylph-like physique."
The worst part of the day so far, Napoleon thought, was how easily Illya outran him.
"Is this rep necessary?"
"Once more around, Napoleon."
"Must we?" It was appalling how hard he panted as he charged after his partner. They'd rounded the corner on the interior track for what seemed to Napoleon the hundredth circuit, and the goddamn Russian wasn't even breathing hard. He, on the other hand, felt like an old sock: limp, sweaty, and ready to be tossed in a heap. How depressing! He really was out of shape.
"Come now, stop complaining. Look; we'll race to the ladder. If you win, we'll stop. Is it a bargain?"
"What are you, Satan?" Solo gasped through clenched teeth.
"Belyj dy'yavol Kiyeva."
"What the hell is—"
"The White Devil of Kiev. It's what my grandmother called me. Ready? Go!"
The White Devil of Kiev took off like a shot, leaving the Panting Emperor of UNCLE far behind.
"Remind me, ungh—"
"—why I, ungghh—"
"Ninety-seven. To save the world, Napoleon."
"Can't--ooofff--someone else do it?"
"Ninety-eight. Two more."
"Ninety-nine. I should think you'd find them easy, with that chin of yours."
"—nnnnggggg--and I hate you, too!"
"One hundred. Take a break."
"Oh, thank you! What are you, a THRUSH mole?"
"You certainly do complain a great deal. What happened to your celebrated stoicism?"
"I left it in the weights room."
"Ah. All right, break's over. One hundred more."
"I hate you, Kuryakin! Do you hear me? And I know forty-seven ways to kill a man!"
"Fine. After you do one hundred more. Ready? Begin!"
"It's freezing out here," Napoleon pulled his scarf more tightly around his neck and checked the gap between sleeve and glove. "This was a stupid idea. What if we hit an iceberg?"
Seemingly impervious to the cold, Illya pushed up the sleeves of his sweatshirt. "An iceberg? In Central Park?" His breath formed steam in the chilly air. "Really, my friend, you have an active imagination."
"Well, you never know, Illya, THRUSH could have invented an iceberg-making thingamajingie, and they could be trying it out on us. Right now. I wouldn't put it past them. In fact, isn't that Angelique over—"
Illya leaned in close enough for Napoleon to see frost among the fine golden hairs. His eyes glittered like chips of glacial ice. "Quit stalling, Napoleon, "And row. Row! Row! One, two! One, two! Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke—"
"You won't be happy," Napoleon groaned, "Until I have a stroke!"
Thump, thump, thump, whooosh. "My point." Thump, thump, thump, whooosh. "And mine again." Thump, thump, thump—"Napoleon, you're not even trying!"
"Yes I am! Give me that—"
Whooosh. "Hah! My point!"
"You fouled me, Napoleon!"
"Did not. Ball's mine."
"It is not!"
"Obman! Vy obmanyvali!"
"I am not cheating, Illya!"
"Oh, forget it. Take the damn ball."
"Stop sulking. For heaven's sake, Napoleon. I thought all Americans enjoyed basketball." Thump, thump, thump, whooosh. "My point again."
"Yeah, well we do when we're winning," Napoleon muttered. He wiped a hand across his sweaty brow. Goddamn it. He had several inches over his partner, and still Illya was wiping the floor with him. In an American game! "Fine. I quit. You win. Happy, comrade?"
Illya sighed in disgust. "That's it, Napoleon. I've tried everything: calisthenics, weights, sports, running--You don't want risk your face boxing, swimming dries out your hair, jumping jacks are hard on your knees, yoga gives you a cramp, wrestling pinches your neck--all you do is complain, complain, complain!" He threw the ball angrily down the court. "Isn't there any form of exercise you like?"
Napoleon slowly lifted his face from the towel and turned a beatific smile towards his partner. "Well, Illya, now that you mention it. . ."
"Harder? Illya, I don't think it can get any harder. Uuunnghh!"
"That's not what I meant, Nap-Nap--Napooo...oh, oh. Yes, yes, do that, da, da, da!"
"God, Illya. Lift up so I can--uunngghh. That's it, I'm all the--Oh, yeah. That's, mmm, I—"
"You want faster, partner mine? Okay, here I go. . .yeah! Hold it right-right--right--there, I-God--Illyaaaaah!"
Somewhat later Saturday
"Ohh, yeah! Ooooooh, yeah! Illya, yeah, give it to me, baby, yeah! Yeah! Oh! Oh!"
"How's. . .this?"
"Aahhhh! Perfect! You see--uhh, the advantage--uhh, of doing this-unnnhh, standing up--uurrhh! is that it burns--uhhh! More! Calories! MMMMMMMMHH!!"
Later still, Saturday
And yet again, Saturday
"Come on, just once more."
"I am dead, Napoleon. You've killed me."
"What's wrong, my little White Devil? You're going to let the expanding American outlast you?"
"You arrogant--all right then, once more! But if I really do die, you have to tell Waverly."
"Fine. Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm."
"Oh. Oh! That does feel nice, Napoleon. Don't stop."
"Oh, Na--po--oh! Yes! Yes!"
"Mmm--wait. . .Illya?"
"Do! Not! Stop! I'm about to—"
"Hold on. Is this stuff fattening?"
Beep boop beep boop beep boop
"Mr. Solo, I have a mission for you and Mr. Kuryakin. Do you know where he is?"
"I, uhh, have an idea. Do you want us at headquarters?"
"No. I want you both in Cleveland by noon. Waverly out."
"Wake up, I.K., we've got to go to work."
"Dead people don't have to work, Napoleon."
"Come on, wakey-wakey! Rise and shine! Up and at 'em!"
"Spare me your loathsome cheerfulness, you maniac."
"You flatter me, Illya! Say. . .once more before we go?"
"Well, Mr. Solo," Waverly remarked as they entered his office. "My compliments to you on a job well done. And, on a personal note, may I say you are looking well. Quite fit, in fact."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Waverly." Napoleon jauntily crossed to the circular table and seated himself. "It's all due to clean living and plenty of exercise."
Waverly's wrinkles relaxed into a smile. "I'm glad to hear it. No doubt that is why you were able to crawl through that tunnel so swiftly to catch THRUSH off-guard."
"No doubt, sir."
Illya ambled towards the table to plop heavily into a seat. Waverly's lips tightened. "You, on the other hand, Mr. Kuryakin, look dreadful. Quite exhausted, may I say. The mission report said nothing of you being captured or injured during the mission, so I must assume that either you've been overindulging or staying up far too late. Really, Mr. Kuryakin. Hardly what I expect from you, letting yourself go like this."
"But sir, I—"
"I think what Mr. Kuryakin needs," Napoleon put in smoothly, his face brimming with sincerity, "Is a regular regimen of intense exercise. I'll be happy to make sure he does it. After all, a burden shared is a burden lightened."
Illya's glare would have stripped paint. Napoleon smiled at him sweetly.
"Very good, Mr. Solo. And most kind of you to offer. See that you do so."
"Oh, yes," Napoleon said. "I'll make him do it over and over until we're both satisfied with the results."
"Excellent. Well then, Mr. Solo," Waverly nodded to his Chief Enforcement Agent. "Keep it up."
"Oh, yes," Napoleon said brightly, "I'll certainly try to."