The Unhappy Hooker Affair
"Yeah, he's here now... you should come in the back way. Naw, don't worry about the girl. She's expendable. Do what you have to do."
Violet moved with the man, matching his speed and angling to give herself a little friction. She wasn't going to climax; she gave that up for Lent—five years ago. She counted the water stains on the ceiling and listened to her moans. Her companion, in turn, picked up even more speed and then arched his back.
That was her cue and she gasped and thrashed as if she was having the Mother of All Orgasms and kept mumbling, "You're so good, you're so good."
That was when the door to her small cubbyhole, laughingly referred to as a room, was kicked open and the body on top of her jerked and twitched. The shooter took one look at her and Violet, who'd once been voted 'Girl Most Likely to Appear in a Broadway Show' by her high school class, let her head loll and looked as dead as she could manage.
The shooter came in and pulled the man off her, dropping him to the floor. There was more than enough blood and gore smeared on her belly and chest to make it look as if the bullets had gone straight through and into the mattress. She held her breath as long as she could and just when Violet thought she would turn purple from oxygen deprivation, the shooter put two more bullets into her john's head and walked from the room.
Violet waited for a long moment, then feeling slightly light headed, she staggered to the closet and dressed, pulling her tube top and skirt on over the blood. She didn't bother with shoes, but she did have the presence of mind to walk over to the body and fish through the pockets until she found a billfold. She tucked it into the waistband of her skirt and stumbled out of the room and through the hallway and into the alley.
"I was sure it was around here... somewhere..." Napoleon glanced from the road to his surroundings and then back to the road. Traffic was particularly snarled tonight. Must be because of the full moon, he thought, braking sharply to keep from kissing the bumper in front of him.
The movement nearly sent Illya to the floor and he glared in his partner's direction. "Pull over."
"Pull over. I'm driving. If you insist upon looking for this mystery club of yours, you won't be doing it behind the wheel. There's a spot just over there."
Grumbling, Napoleon followed Illya's point and slowed the sedan to a stop. He climbed out and then paused. "Illya, what does that look like to you?"
Illya looked at the spot Napoleon indicated. "If we were in Bombay, I'd say it was a body..."
"But we're in New York..."
"I'd still say a body." Illya slid his P-38 out of its holster and slowly advanced, keeping his attention moving all the while.
Napoleon followed a few paces behind, mimicking Illya's caution. "Cover me," he murmured as he knelt beside the body. "It's a woman. Judging from the blood, I'd say she was shot, but she's still alive." Napoleon slowly started examining her clothing, pulling out a tiny flashlight to aid in his search as Illya called HQ for an ambulance. "Interestingly dressed, she must be a working girl."
"What would a secretary be doing down here in a dark alley?"
"Not a secretary, Illya, a 'working' girl, a prostitute. Surely they had those in the USSR."
Illya snorted. "Of course, they are universal." He risked a glance at the woman. "Even that being the case, we can't leave her here."
Napoleon pulled a slender wallet from the waistband of her skirt and flipped it open. "No, I'd say that would be a big mistake on our part. You needed to call HQ back. We have a major issue on our hands."
"Why do you say that?" Illya looked again and then gaped. "Amazing."
A gold UNCLE ID card caught the flashlight's beam and it glimmered back at him.
Violet rolled over in the bed and smiled, still more asleep than awake. The sheets were clean and smooth. She felt so comfortable; the mattress was free from lumps and didn't smell like urine or semen. She wanted to stay like this forever—safe and warm. It was so good to be back home.
Then her eyes flew open. She remembered the shooting, running out into the alley, hearing shouts behind her. She remembered running until she thought her lungs would burst from her chest and then she tripped, falling, too tired to take a step further.
She sat up and clutched the sheet to her chest. It looked like a hospital room, but hers was the only bed. A good looking dark haired man was standing at the door, talking to someone. She shifted and the movement caught his attention. He glanced over at her, smiling.
"Excuse me," he said to whoever he was talking to and crossed to her bedside.
"How are you feeling, Miss?
"Violet, Violet Starfire."
"Miss... Starfire, you gave us quite a scare."
"My partner and I found you unconscious in an alley." He held up the ID card. "Would you like to explain how this came to be in your possession?"
"I found it."
The door opened and a blond walked in. Good looking enough, but she preferred her men a bit more rugged, someone who looked like a man and not a... boy. Hell, who am I kidding? I'll roll anyone with an entrance fee, she thought as she leaned back against the pillows.
"Illya, meet Miss Starfire."
The blond frowned and shook his head. "No, correction, meet Miss Mary Anne Brown. Originally from Wisconsin."
"How old are you?" the dark haired guy asked and she glared at him.
"Barely." Blondie again. "She just turned 21. Your mother's name is Isabelle, your father's is Henry. You have an older brother who is currently stationed in Germany. You graduated third in your class and were considered to have a promising career in the theatre. You headed for Broadway to discover...?"
"Thousands of other people just as promising and just as hungry." The brunet again. "New York chews kids like you up and spits them out again."
"That's not true. I got some roles... at first." Violet stopped, remembering her excitement that first opening... and closing night. How the roles degenerated into something else. That's when she found out there was money to be made on your back. She had a nice little nest egg set aside that Manny knew nothing about. In another few months, she'd have enough to blow this place and head home.
"There is nothing we don't know about you —" Brunet crossed his arms and tried to look threatening. She knew the look. Men loved to ply Lord and Conqueror with her
" — so you might as well come clean." Blondie just looked bored.
"If you know all there is to know, then you already have the answer. And why should I? I don't even know your names..." She crossed her arms over her chest and looked defiantly at them. It was a look she'd perfected during her career as a hooker. For a moment, Brunet hesitated and then nodded.
"Fair enough. I'm Napoleon Solo and this is my partner, Illya Kuryakin."
"I can see why you were in the alley with him. Guys like you can't exactly do it on the street."
"What?" Blondie... as she preferred to think of him looked over at Napoleon, frowning.
"Elle pense que nous sommes ensemble (She thinks we're together)."
"Amoureux (Lovers)." Napoleon waggled his eyebrows and Violet didn't need to know what they'd been saying to know she'd gotten her point across. She didn't have time for those kinds of guys, nor was she into those types of threesomes. She didn't do the kinky stuff—that was Veronica's bit, not hers.
The light came on for Blondie then and he rolled his eyes. "Oh, Waverly would love that."
"Oh, Waverly would love that." Napoleon watched his partner's face shift from confusion to annoyance, but in between there had been something else, a flash, but Illya was too good an agent to let things like that slip for long. Whatever it had been was gone before Napoleon even had a chance of identifying it.
Instead he smiled at the young woman and patted her hand, trying not to wince at the garishly painted nails.
"Instead, Miss —"
"Starfire," she interrupted with an 'I just dare you' look in her eye.
"Starfire, we need to know how you came to have this in your care." He held up the ID card again. "Especially since Mr. Adams has not reported in tonight."
"No idea." She crossed her arms and looked as defiant as someone her age could.
"We have a choice here, Violet." Napoleon let his voice drop to a purr. "You can voluntarily tell me what you know..." Illya picked up a hypo, a rather large hypo with an equally large bore needle, and squeezed a bit of fluid from it. "Or we will let Mr. Kuryakin do what he does so well."
"Which is?" Her eyes were wide as she stared at the needle.
"I take what we need, with or without your cooperation." Illya loved playing good cop/bad cop, although he much preferred the kindly role. Napoleon rarely let him play the good guy though, as it usually netted Napoleon a little female companionship further down the line. Illya would bluster for a moment and then fall silent. It always bothered Napoleon how Illya acquiesced to him so easy at times like that.
"He was my john."
"No, he was Clarence—" Illya interrupted.
"Client, you bozo," she snapped and Napoleon watched Illya's eyes narrow. "He was with me; paid for a full round. We were going at it and some guy kicked my door in and shot him. I played possum until he left."
"Where would this have been?" Napoleon scratched down the address and repeated it back to her waiting for her nod. Instantly, he pulled out his communicator and dispatched a recovery crew to the area.
"There won't be anyone there."
"What do you mean?"
"Manny, he'd have cleaned house by now. All you're going to find are some mattresses and used condoms."
Illya turned away from the girl and motioned to Napoleon. Obligingly, Napoleon followed his partner out into the corridor. "She's probably right, Napoleon."
"Do you think it was by accident? Adams was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"I don't know. The reality is that we need to find this Manny and have a little discussion with him." Illya slammed a fist into his other palm. "I have a sister her age and the thought that some УблюдокI does this to young women her age makes me sick to my stomach."
"They do far worse, my friend, and I agree, but I would wager that Manny, or whatever his name is, isn't going to be easy to find. Not from what she says."
"So, what do we do?"
"You forget—we have bait. She's his meal ticket and he'll be missing the income."
"Her?" Illya looked back at the door. "It's hard to think of her as... merchandise."
"Never-the-less, that's what she is to him. We tag and follow her; he should find her." Napoleon hated to use innocent victims, but he didn't know exactly what hand she had in all of this yet. Until he did, she was fair game in his eyes.
"Or he'll just shoot her from a distance and be done with it. Or he might not even come looking for her. She is presumed dead."
"With no body, that would be presuming a lot. What do we have to lose, Illya?"
"Besides that young woman?"
"If someone is targeting UNCLE agents—"
"Who are sleeping with hookers —"
"Be a little charitable, Illya. It's not like all of us have the ability to pick and chose. Haven't you ever been at loose ends, partner?"
"Not that loose." There was something in Illya's eyes that Napoleon couldn't identity. Twice in one day, he'd left Napoleon puzzled and that was odd. "However, I agree with you in that it's our best option." He sighed. "I'll go make the arrangements; you talk to Mr. Waverly."
He watched Illya walk away and began working on his argument for Waverly. There was something he was picking up lately from Illya. When they'd first been partnered, the Russian had been reserved, as was the way with his people. Once he got to know Napoleon a bit more, he'd opened up. They'd gone out to dinner a few times, hit some shows and sporting events. However, in the last couple of months, Illya had started retreating again and Napoleon was at a loss. The last time he'd taken Illya's arm, other than in the heat of battle, Illya had reacted as if he'd been burned. Napoleon had always been a touchy-feely sort of guy, but now he was tempering it. Whether it was real or imagined, Illya was keeping his distance.
It had taken a bit of song and dance on his part, but in the end, Waverly reluctantly agreed. Napoleon walked from the office as Violet and Illya were coming out of a room. She was wearing a new outfit and looked like a young girl fresh off the bus. Dressed like this, she looked about twelve and Napoleon felt a flare of rage in him. Who would treat young women like this, as cattle? At the same time, he looked at Violet and wondered why she'd allowed herself to get into such a situation. She was obviously smart and talented, according to the information that Illya had dug up. She could have easily gone into an office or one of the multitudes of restaurants instead of... this.
"All set to go?"
Violet looked at herself in the mirror. It seemed like a hundred years since she'd dressed like this. Her dress was plain, yet fashionable, and she was a little amused at how well Illya — now that she'd gotten her tongue around the name, it did suit him better than Blondie—had been able to put an outfit together. His plain black outfit had led her to believe he had no clothing sense, but she decided that it wasn't that he didn't have any; he just chose to ignore it.
"You should dress like this more often." He handed her a purse and gloves.
"Right because my clients want to sleep with their mother or their sister... well, maybe a few —"
"Let's change the topic, shall we?" Illya finished combing out her hair.
"You a hairdresser in your day job?"
Illya gave her a small smile. "Jack of all trades... In this line of work, you learn quickly to be adaptable."
"Mine too." She laughed at her reflection. "Manny will never recognize me."
"The hope is that he will and that he will think this is an attempt on your part to break from his company. You are to resist, but not too much. Do you understand?"
"Uh huh." She stopped then and frowned. "What if he tries to hurt me? I mean one guy's already dead..."
"I will never be more than a breath away from you." Illya smiled at her again and she suddenly felt a little bubble of warmth explode in her stomach. It had been a long time since a man had seen her for something other than a vagina with legs. He offered her his arm and led her out of the room.
"All set to go?" Napoleon's voice made her brighten even more and she was struck at how sad his eyes were as they shifted from her to Illya and back.
A young man around her age approached them, handed Illya a note and then looked to Napoleon.
"Mr. Silvers, would you take Miss Brown and escort her out?" Napoleon smiled at her. "Don't worry, we'll be keeping an eye on you."
"I know. Illya promised." She hesitated, then gave Illya's cheek a peck, exchanged arms and left.
Napoleon chuckled as she walked away and he flicked a look over at his partner. "And another one bites the dust. You must explain to me this mad power you have over women."
"I treat them like human beings," Illya snapped and headed in the opposite direction.
Napoleon closed his eyes and prayed to God to give him patience. Illya was more prickly than usual these days. He caught up with his partner and they walked together. "So what was that note?"
"Our friends in Metro were just letting us know that they fished Adams out of the river. Two shots to the head, a couple more rounds to the torso."
"She was telling the truth."
"Or at least her version of it. I look forward to hearing Mr. Manny's version as well."
"She's all wired?"
"From the bobby pins in her hair down to the stays in her panty girdle." Illya reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his communicator. Twisting it on, he held it and smiled slightly at the steady 'beep.'
"Keep an eye on her, old friend," Napoleon said, resisting the urge to pat Illya on the shoulder. "I have a feeling this will end badly for her if we don't."
Barring any real instructions, Violet headed home. The tiny studio wasn't much, but she did the best she could with it. She had a couple of plants that, like her, were survivors. She'd rescued them from a garbage can and nursed them back to full bloom. The place was small, but as clean as she could scrub it. Most importantly, it was hers, lumpy mattress and all.
She took off the gloves and set them carefully aside. She'd not worn gloves since her church-going days and she wanted to save them.
Violet fixed herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and turned on a small radio. One day, perhaps she'd have enough to buy a TV, but for now, this would do. Settling onto her bed, she ate her sandwich and listened to a rock and roll station for awhile, then switched to a classical one. She remembered going to band concerts back home and listening to the music, letting it paint delicious pictures in her head.
Violet didn't remember falling asleep, but a loud pounding on her door woke her, a flailing arm sending the radio crashing to the floor. Swearing, she climbed off the bed and went to the door.
"It's fucking Prince Charming. Who the hell do you think is here?" Manny's voice sounded angry, even through the wood. "Open up this frigging door or I'll break it down."
She almost laughed at that. Manny had the body strength of a child. He talked a good story though.
"All right, keep your shorts on." She got the door unlatched and he burst in, red faced and raging.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? It's all over the fucking street? You think you're leaving me? I own you!" He slapped her and she stumbled back a step. He'd never raised a hand to her before. Verbal threats were more his style, but she'd never seen him this angry. "Think you're going to step out on me?" He grabbed her arm. "And what the hell is this? What right do you have to dress like this? You're a whore!" He pulled back a hand to slap her again and gasped.
Violet nearly screamed as Illya appeared behind Manny and clamped down on his wrist. Napoleon wasn't far behind.
"We shall have none of that, sir," Napoleon said, his face iron. "Now, apologize to the lady."
"Like hell I will." Manny let out a groan and fell to his knees.
"The man said apologize," Illya said, sweetly
"Okay," Napoleon answered and patted Illya on the shoulder. "Illya, break his wrist. Show him we mean business."
"With profound pleasure," Illya purred and Violet felt a chill run through her. This had been the man who fixed her hair and helped her dress. "And then his thumbs. After that, I will hand you your testicles, although I may ask Miss Brown to leave the room first. It's a messy business."
Manny paled and began to struggle. "No, no, no..."
"Oh believe me, I wouldn't mind at all." Violet wiped a bit of blood from her bottom lip. "I might just hold him down for you."
Napoleon smiled, a feral, almost evil smile. "And as lovely as these surroundings are, I think I know some place even better." He nodded to Illya. He brought a hand up to Manny's neck and squeezed. Manny dropped like a rock.
"Is he dead?"
"Alas, no, just unconscious." Illya dusted his hands off as if trying to wipe the feel of Manny from them.
Violet walked over to Manny and kicked him. "Bastard!" She held a hand to her jaw and winced. "That's what you get for hitting a girl!" She kicked him again. "And me too!" That settled, she looked at her two rescuers and smiled carefully. "Now what?"
"This is never going to work." Napoleon frowned at his reflection and adjusted his tie. "I look like a bad dream..."
Violet entered the room and started laughing, clamping her hand over her mouth to suppress the giggles. "Napoleon, you look like my father."
"Your father dresses like this?" Napoleon pulled the brilliant blue lapels away from his body as if they were causing him physical pain. "I'm so sorry for you. No wonder you left home."
"Well, maybe not my father, maybe my rather flamboyant uncle that we don't talk about at Thanksgiving. However, you definitely don't look like my pimp."
"I have to confess, Research was a little stymied this time around."
From behind a dressing screen, Illya chimed in. "I agree, Napoleon, but you also have the best reference guide standing beside you. Violet, what should he look like?"
"First, you need to lose the jacket, tie and vest." She waited until Napoleon hurriedly shrugged off the jacket, undid the tie and was unbuttoning the vest. "Your shirt needs to be opened more and you need some jewelry..."
"Necklaces, gold. And your pants..."
"What's wrong with them?"
"They need to be longer and cut tighter at the waist..." At that moment, Illya stepped from behind the screen. "You, on the other hand, get them much tighter and we'll be able to count your pubic hairs."
"I would agree with you." Illya ran a finger under the waistband. "And breathing would be nice."
"Your underwear is all bunched up in front... you'd be more comfortable without it."
"I'm not wearing any."
Violet turned a very healthy pink and, stammering, backed from the room.
"Illya, old man, I do believe you just embarrassed our hooker."
"Must you call her that?" Illya snapped, wiggling uncomfortably.
"That's what she is, Illya." Napoleon turned and held wide his arms. "What do you think?"
"You need chest hair."
"Not all of us are naturally..." Without meaning to, Napoleon's eyes dipped to Illya's crotch and he smirked. He could see why Violet had left so abruptly. "Hirsute. You need a larger size."
"I agree. Bending over is not a possibility in these and if I'm going in as your strong arm, it would be nice if I could actually flex it." He pulled the shirt over his head and discarded it. He chose another shirt before disappearing behind the screen again. Napoleon looked away quick, determined not to let anything slip, not let anything betray him. The sight of Illya shirtless and in those pants would make even the most staid person contemplate the dexterity of the Russian in bed. Napoleon had heard tales, but only that.
The door slid open, rescuing him from venturing down a path of lust, and two female Section Eight agents entered carrying additional outfits and followed by Violet.
"Napoleon, try these on instead." She held out a pair of folded black pants. "Where's Illya?"
"Changing." Illya said, his voice slightly muffled by the screen. He stepped out a second time and Napoleon nodded.
"Now you look like a 50's punk. Just the look I want for my strong arm... much better."
The chinos Illya had on were tight, but looser than the others to permit movement. The tee shirt was tight, just enough to hint at what might be hidden beneath it without giving anything away. Add the boots and all Illya needed was a pack of cigarette to roll up in one sleeve, a DA, and a black leather jacket to complete the look.
The Section Eight woman, Jessica, if Napoleon remembered correctly, approached Illya and fingered the fly clasp, slipping her fingers between cloth and skin. "The tracking device is here, so as long as you don't lose your pants, you will be fine." She slid the zipper down halfway. "You'll need to unzip and twist the slider to the left to turn this particular device on. You dress to the right, so there's shouldn't be a problem." Illya watched her dispassionately as she explained.
"Just don't forget that when using the facilities or Communications will get an earful." Napoleon couldn't bear watching any longer. He walked towards the changing screen. The other Section Eight, Maribelle, a Southern charmer, handed him a lumpy package and a pair of boots as he passed by her.
A moment later he stepped out and Violet nodded. "Now you look like a pimp." The pants were cut tight at the top so that they hugged Napoleon's assets and then flared at the bottom. The boots gave him about two more inches. The shirt opened to reveal a thatch of dark brown chest hair and a tangle of necklaces.
"You need to let Illya do your hair now."
"What?" Illya glanced over and made a face. "Just a moment, Napoleon, do not move..."
Napoleon froze. "What's wrong?"
"Apparently there is some sort of animal attacking your chest. I'll shoot it off..." Illya started to reach for his weapon and Violet shrieked.
"What the hell are you doing?" She ran to stand in front of Napoleon, glaring back at him as he started to chuckle.
"Looks that bad, does it?" Napoleon pulled the appliance off and handed it back to Maribelle. "I should pass on the press on hair?"
"I will stand and take live fire for you; I will jump with you off a cliff, but please, my friend, I beg you... no chest toupees."
Napoleon laughed as he pulled off some chains, replacing them with others. Still Illya's words struck him. I will stand and take live fire for you. He would, too. Napoleon knew that Illya watched his back at all time, even when it wasn't necessarily in danger. He hesitated then and frowned. Illya was always watching, apart, never taking the light from him. Illya wasn't afraid of the limelight, he just deferred it to Napoleon.
"Napoleon?" Jessica's voice filtered through to him.
"Are you putting that one on or taking it off?"
Napoleon realized he'd stopped and shook his head. "No idea."
"How you agents get to work in the morning is beyond me." Maribelle took the chain from him and handed him another one. "All of these will have tracers in them. We should be able to keep a steady signal on you as long as you wear them."
"This should be a piece of cake," he said to Illya with a confident grin.
"Some piece of cake," Illya mumbled, holding a cloth to his mouth.
"It's not my fault you have a glass jaw." Napoleon leaned over a table, focusing upon the far wall as a nurse dressed the knife wound on his back.
"I don't have a glass jaw," Illya protested then winced as the doctor turned his head. "Ow!"
"Perhaps not, but you will probably want to eat soft foods for the next couple of days. We re-cemented your loose teeth and you should apply ice for fifteen minutes every..."
"Sadly, I am very familiar with the routine, Doctor, thank you."
"Then you know what I'm going to say next. Go home and get some rest. Take the pain medication—it's why we give it to you—and sleep. I will see you back here in three days." He stopped as Illya showed no sign of moving. "Something you wanted to ask me?"
"Just waiting for you to finish with Napoleon."
"Go home, Illya," Napoleon ordered. "I'm fine, in the soft and lovely hands of the medical profession." He looked over his shoulder at the nurse, who blushed prettily.
Wearily, Illya nodded. He looked profoundly unhappy and Napoleon couldn't help but wonder if there was something else bothering his partner. The nurse finished, Napoleon listened to the doctor's lecture with feigned rapt attention, something he'd learned from way too many staff meetings and he, too, took his leave.
Walking carefully, he made his way through the corridors to the agent's exit and walked out into the cool New York air. He half expected Illya to be waiting for him, but apparently Illya had, for once, listened to the doctor and his partner and gone home.
An UNCLE taxi pulled up and Napoleon got in, dropping his paper sack of medication on the seat beside him. He didn't bother to even give the driver directions. These guys knew the addresses to the agents' apartments better than the agents themselves. It's a wonder THRUSH never thought of grabbing these guys.
Napoleon watched the buildings drift by, thinking back on the last couple of days. It has been disturbing to go into this situation. They caught the bad guys—they always seemed to catch the bad guys, but it had been close. They'd expected THRUSH to be behind it and it was, but Napoleon hadn't anticipated an attack from a rival pimp. Manny, it would seem, had a few unpaid debts that Napoleon had unwittingly assumed when he'd taken over Manny's stable of working women.
The pimp's strong arms attacked Napoleon after the affair had been closed and he was heading back to HQ, jumped him in an alley. There had been a tussle and he caught a knife before realizing he wasn't alone. Men were being yanked off him and thrown aside. A flash of blond and Napoleon knew the cavalry had arrived in the form of his partner.
Still even Illya wasn't a match for five men armed with crowbars and bats. It had been Violet's arrival with Napoleon's Walther that had saved the day. At least she was willing to act—the other hookers had just stood and watched, shouting encouragements to whoever had the upper hand.
They didn't see Napoleon as he was, but rather as their pimp and were eager to see the man responsible for their entrapment be beaten or even killed. No matter that they would become the property of the winner and forced to continue on. Their vision was short sighted; thankfully Violet's was not.
Napoleon had never really thought about prostitutes before and what they represented. It saddened and sickened him to see how society had pounded these women into a situation of no escape. They were used until they were old and dried up and then tossed aside as if they were trash.
Many of the women working for Manny had once been pretty, but they'd all once been young and full of dreams. Now they were bitter, angry at the men they serviced, angry at themselves for a variety of reasons.
At least, Napoleon had had the chance to save Violet... no, Mary Anne now. Violet was dead and gone. UNCLE would make sure of that. She was young and deserved a chance to escape the bitterness if that was her choice. She seemed to be one of the rare individuals who saw things, really saw things.
Napoleon abruptly remembered a conversation he'd accidently overheard. Her room had been bugged and Illya had gone to make sure everything was set.
"Are you all right?" Illya asked.
"I'm okay. How about you?"
"What? Yes, I am fine."
"You know, Illya, I've been with a lot of men and I think I know them pretty well. You should say something."
A snort, so typically Illya. "Yes, that would solve everything, wouldn't it?"
"If you gave it a chance, it might. Tell him how you feel. Really feel."
"Don't you see? That's the problem. I do... every day. I could sing it from the rooftops and he'd still never hear me."
"Then maybe you need to sing louder."
"Perhaps you should stop worrying about me and concentrate upon your own safety. Do you remember the safe word?"
The talk had shifted back to business then and Napoleon just pretended he'd heard none of it when Illya returned.
Napoleon reminisced his last few dates and realized with a bit of surprise that he couldn't even remember their names. The last one... Marie? She'd been petite and pretty. She could hold up her end of a conversation as long as the topic didn't stray from pop culture or herself. She'd danced well enough and the sex had been adequate.
"Is adequate all there is?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Solo?" The driver's voice broke him from his thoughts.
"You asked if adequate was all there is? In what context, sir?"
"In love, Mr. Elliot. Is adequate enough?"
"If we're lucky, it's more, but sadly, it's about all most of us agents can hope for."
Napoleon thought back of all the times Illya had drawn fire for him, covered for him with the old man, stayed late to do Napoleon's work while he played. How many times had Illya held his head in some dirty, vermin infested cell and kept him from choking on his own vomit? Bandaged his wounds, shared his food and water...? Showed Napoleon he cared a hundred times over and never asked for anything in return, not even a thank you?
"No, adequate is only that and only if you permit it to be is it enough. Take me to Mr. Kuryakin's apartment instead."
"You're the boss, boss."
Napoleon grimaced at the person who answered the door. Illya's face had blossomed into an explosion of blue and purple. One eye was almost swollen shut, his lips were thick, his hair hung lank and Napoleon thought he'd never seen a sight more attractive.
"What's wrong? Work?" Illya mumbled as if his mouth was full of marbles.
"Nothing. May I come in?"
Illya stepped aside to let him enter. The studio apartment was small and easily taken in with one sweeping glance. He'd been there a dozen times, but now Napoleon looked at it as ii it was all new. It was like the man, straightforward, without pretense, no trappings, just what was necessary. An old beat up couch sat by a floor lamp and a small table. There was a bowl of ice and some towels sitting on the table, along with a bottle of vodka and glass. If Illya was actually following a doctor's instructions, he must be in bad shape.
"I thought you'd have a date by now." Illya started to limp past him and Napoleon closed his eyes and took a step off that cliff.
Opening his eyes, he reached out and caught one of Illya's hands. Raising it to his lips, he kissed the bruised and split knuckles gently. "I do."
Violet walked into her apartment and shut the door firmly behind her. She'd been job hunting all day and her feet were killing her. The money UNCLE had given her was nice, but she'd immediately socked it away for emergencies... like feeding her herself and making the rent next month. She's been given a chance to leave her old line of work and was determined to make good her opportunity.
There was a gentle knock at the door and for an instant, she froze. That was silly. Manny was gone for good now. She didn't have to worry about him anymore and none of the other pimps would bother her, now that she'd aligned herself with the good guys.
Still... "Who is it?" she asked through the closed door.
It took her a minute to recognize both the voice and her old name. "Napoleon!"
She opened the door and fell into his arms happily. "How are you? You look better than the last time I saw you. How's Illya? Is he okay?"
"We're both fine, Mary Anne. May I come in before the neighbors start talking?"
"What? Oh sure, like they need something to talk about." She ushered him in. "I wasn't expecting to see you again."
"Are you doing all right?"
"UNCLE was very generous to me. I've been job hunting all week."
"Not really, I'm almost ready..." She broke off to laugh."I almost said that I was ready to head back home." A plane ticket suddenly appeared in front of her nose and she went a little cross eyed to read it.
"How about now?"
"A ticket? Home?"
"It seemed an appropriate thank you." Napoleon smiled, warm and generous. She could feel it all the way down to her toes.
"I can't take this. UNCLE's done enough already."
"That's not from UNCLE, it's from me."
"Why? What for?"
"For making me realize what was right in front of me. For making me realize that adequate wasn't enough..."
She smiled at that and sighed. "Illya finally told you?"
"No, I told him."
"You'll have to drop me a card and tell me how it all works out. At least you got the hardest part out of the way."
"You're friends; you have common interests outside of the physical and you genuinely like each other. It doesn't take long being a hooker to know that a lot of couples lack that last part most of all. Love is great and wonderful, but it's waking up with someone day in and day out and still being happy you're there that makes all the difference." She kissed his cheek and smiled. "I wish you many mornings of waking up together." Then she pulled back his shirt collar and her smile grew even bigger at the hickey she saw. "I'm guessing Illya's mouth is better?"
"Illya's mouth is getting better by the day. Now you better hurry, your plane leaves in two hours."
She laughed, walked over to her dresser and pulled out an envelope of money. Tucking it into her purse she turned. "I'm ready now."
"I like a woman who knows how to pack. Then may I do the honors, Miss Brown?" Napoleon offered her his arm.
"You may, Mr. Solo." And laughing, she, too, stepped into a whole new life.