'There's only one thing worrying me slightly,' he muses, as our flight enters its final hour. 'Our thief, Rudolph's, assistance with disabling the vault alarms is critical. What if he doesn't take the bait? Lots of rich, easy pickings there on the island.'
I hesitate. 'There may be another way we can... embarrass him into co-operating,' I suggest.
'I've finished reading his file. He has certain... shall we say, preferences.'
I look down, embarrassed. 'In the bedroom. Such as would compromise his social access to rich widows, if circulated.'
'What do you mean?'
Is he really that obtuse? Or is he just trying to make me uncomfortable by spelling it out? That would be just like him.
'He, er... enjoys the company of young men, Napoleon.' I scrutinize his face for a reaction.
'Blond or brunet?' he asks, without missing a beat.
I chuckle, surprised—is he really volunteering? 'Our research is not quite that detailed,' I tell him.
He sweeps an appraising glance over my face. 'My money's on you,' he says.
'Yes, I thought it might be,' I say, lip curled.
'Okay,' he says, eyes narrowing in thought. 'So we have Plan A, and if he hasn't bitten by Day Two, we have Plan B.'
'So, let's get this straight, Napoleon. While you're enjoying yourself in the hotel casino in the company of gay young heiresses, I shall be crawling in a tunnel detecting mines, or letting middle-aged gentlemen paw me while wearing a wire.'
'You've got it,' he beams, raising his glass. 'Here's to teamwork.'
I emerge from the hotel bathroom, tuxedoed and glistening.
He's sitting at the table, fiddling with something. 'Come here,' he says, beckoning.
I approach and he holds out an arm, fist clenched downwards, towards me. I open my palm beneath his fist and he drops a pair of dice into it. 'Pick a number,' he says.
He twists something on his watch. 'Okay, roll 'em.'
I roll them onto the shiny dark surface of the table. Ten. He looks at me like a child that's just performed a magic trick.
'I haven't time for your frivolous games, Napoleon,' I intone loftily, striding towards the door. 'I have places to go... people to compromise.'
'Wait! Wait a minute!' he calls, hurrying out of his chair after me.
He takes me by the shoulders and spins me round to face him. Brushing a stray lock of hair back over my ear, he puts his index finger beneath my chin and tilts it upwards. He inclines his head either side of my face, scanning critically, then nods, satisfied.
'You'll do,' he says, giving my lapels a sharp tug.
He steps back and stretches an arm out, pointing at the door. 'Now go, and bring home the bacon.'
I click my heels together and bring my hand up swiftly to my brow in a naval salute.
Grinning, he salutes in response, then releases, and I pick up my case and depart, glowing inwardly.
Claiming the bar stool next to his, I loudly order a double bourbon. We don't look at each other but talk low beneath the bar buzz.
'Which is it?'
'Second table on the right, facing the bar, pink dress.'
I lazily swivel my head to see the target indicated. She's pretty, but her unworldliness is palpable in a room like this.
I flick him a scathing look over the top of my glasses. 'Isn't she a little... well-scrubbed for your taste?'
He purrs smoothly. 'She's alone, and as green as the first grass, which is just what I need.'
I decide to annoy him. 'This is not a seduction, Napoleon.'
He breaks protocol by glaring at me openly, nettled, before remembering himself.
'If this were... a seduction,' he enunciates delicately, like a cat stepping round wine glasses, 'I can assure you, it would be beneath me.'
I am delighted to have pricked his vanity.
'I have seen that on which you exercise your prowess, Napoleon,' I reply, witheringly, 'and evidently nothing is beneath you.'
His mouth opens on an indrawn breath, but I have already slithered, a study in elegant inebriation, from my bar stool and proceed to pounce on the unsuspecting young lady, paving the way for his rescue.
His voice comes over the communicator. 'What's happening, Illya?'
'No need for Plan B,' I tell him. 'The pigeon took the bait.'
'Well, that's a relief.'
'Yes, isn't it? How's the dove?'
'Cooing, so far. Then comes the dawn. But I think she'll fly.'
'And Plan C?'
'I'd have to move out into the open to plant the bill, but I don't think it'll come to that. Good work, by the way.'
'Thank you. You're actually sorry about Plan B, though, aren't you?'
'Not really. I wouldn't want to play cavalry twice in one evening.'
'What makes you think I'd require rescuing?'
Not you, him. You're the one with the black belt.'
'Good night, Napoleon.'
'Change of plan!' he gasps, running, once we clear the mine-marked tunnel. 'When I tripped the alarms, they'd have rumbled Susan as the distraction. We may have to shoot our way in.'
'And their security?'
'They think we're lying dead in the vault. They won't be expecting an attack from outside.'
'He comes with us.'
'Please, gentlemen!' begs Rudolph. 'Let me go! I'll tell no one—I give you my word!'
'Listen! My friend here saved your life, but he's a better man than I am, so don't push it! Now move!'
Ditching Rudolph, we race from the rear door of the casino and reach our black, unmarked van.
He hands her quickly into the cab. 'Susan, you're our getaway girl,' he says, kissing her cheek. 'Now, drive like one!'
She squeals with delight and revs the engine as we jump in the back and both begin stripping off our wet clothes. We change into tourist garb as she steps on the gas, then he joins her upfront.
'Oh, Napoleon!' she shrieks, 'We did it, we did it, we did it!'
'We sure did, my little daredevil!'
He gets her to pull over at our pre-arranged spot and we abandon the van, switching to the dark green Chevrolet. I take the driver's seat as they scramble into the back.
The road sweeps by in my headlights to the sounds of kissing and jubilation. Joyously, she pours forth her delirious tale and he exclaims admiringly as we speed towards a hotel on the other side of the island.
We have to let her talk out her excitement in her room. He insists on mixing her scotch and colas from the minibar and she rolls on the bed, screaming with laughter and kicking her heels in the air.
Even I have to smile. Innocent child.
Finally, our hotel room door closes behind us. 2.34am. Blessed silence.
He lets out a long sigh. The mission clock has finally stopped.
'That went well,' I say.
He looks at me with an unreadable expression.
'You... were late getting into the vault—' he begins.
I flush. 'I know—and I'm sorry, Napoleon. It was the equipment—I... I swear I checked it several times before starting. But the salt water must have affected it somehow and -'
'No, no—that's not what I'm—'
'- I know I jeopardised the mission, Napoleon—'
'Wait—you don't understand—'
'- and that you almost suffocated—'
'- and I realise you'll probably have to include it in your report but—'
'Look—will you just shut up for a second!'
His voice is irritated but his eyes are shining.
Suddenly, he pulls me into a massive bear hug, squeezing my ribs like bellows, and my entire body goes rigid in shock. Seconds pass. This is mortifying.
Surprised and rebuffed, he lets me go, looking sheepish.
'I... I'm sorry,' he says, sounding faint. 'I didn't mean to... ah... '
I look anxiously into his troubled eyes, blood returning to my brain. 'What is it, Napoleon?'
'Nothing. It's just... there was a moment back there when I thought... ' He shakes his head with a ghostly smile. 'Nothing.'
'Tell me, please...'
'No, it's nothing.' He laughs, forcedly, and punches the top of my arm.
'Mission nerves—' he heads for the bathroom.
'- please Napoleon—' I beg him.
'- I just need a good night's sleep,' he says, disappearing.
... show me some magic.' I whisper sadly, as the door closes behind him.
He emerges from the bathroom, wearing a hotel robe over his pyjamas. I'm lying propped on one of the beds, fully clothed, arms folded.
'You didn't disarm the mines,' I say, 'at 12:02.' I gaze steadily at his face. 'Did you?'
He stands stock still, returning my look for several seconds, before answering quietly. 'No.'
I get up slowly and walk across to him. Tentatively, I encircle him with my arms. It is his turn to petrify like a statue, to cease breathing. Letting go, I step back, looking gently into his eyes.
He forces it out in a rush, throat tight. 'There was a quarantine cell lock—seven minutes. I tried to call you but the walls were lead-lined—'
I touch a fingertip briefly to his lips, shaking my head, silencing him. 'You did it,' I say. 'I am here. We are here.'
Something is working the facial muscle in his left cheek. 'Yes,' he says hoarsely, trying to convince himself. 'Yes.'
Our eyes are locked, emotions warring beneath the surface. There is no sound save for our breathing. The tension between us builds inexorably, freezing, burning, tightening unbearably until it finally erupts.
He clutches my shoulders, exploding with laughter. Almost simultaneously, so do I. Within seconds, we are helpless, staggering, holding onto first one another then the furniture, rocked by punishing spasms, tears streaming down our faces. When either of us looks up or tries to speak, we are engulfed in fresh waves of riotous howling, sometimes fading into silent, shaking contortions, until our eyes smart and our stomachs ache.
We stumble apart, he to the sofa and I to the bed, and collapse, prone, gasping for air and wiping our faces. It is minutes more before we can control the rolling convulsions enough to force out any words.
'Did you... did you see... the look on that... Thrush's face?' he finally squeezes out, high-voiced and breathless.
'Fifty-five... million... dollars!' I groan in imitation anguish.
'And Rudolph?' he creases up again. 'I... I think we might have scared him off a life of crime for good!'
'And turned Susan onto one!' I wheeze in reply.
He roars again, an arm across his eyes. 'If Mr Waverly had seen that fiasco—'
'—we'd be transferred to U.N.C.L.E Iceland—' I conclude, gasping up at the ceiling, '—until our retirement!'
We lie there, panting and giggling, until our ragged breathing subsides to almost normal. Then he lets out a long, low moan, full of euphoria and relief, and I smile to hear it.
'Luck must truly be a woman, Napoleon,' I tell him. 'She is always on your side. And on mine too, when I am with you.'
I hear him stir and turn my head to see him propped on his elbow, hair wild, eyes gleaming.
'There's no way I can sleep now,' he says, swiping his hair back. 'Do you want to get out of here and find a bar?'
I nod eagerly, and he grins and hurries away to throw on some clothes.
And soon, we're off, back out into the night, because as long as we don't let it end, we are together.
DISCLAIMER: Not for profit. All characters are the property of their rightful owners.