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A Kindness is Never Wasted Affair

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“Illya! What the hell are you doing? We’ve got to get out of here!” The two UNCLE agents had stopped briefly to catch their breath.

The slight man ignored his companion as he stepped closer to inspect a small strange lump in the snow. He narrowly missed stepping on it. He knelt down and with bare hands dug around the lump and lifted it to his face. The better to see it in the dark snow driven night.

“It’s a field mouse!” He whispered to no one in particular. Then more loudly, “Look, Napoleon, it is a mouse. He is incapsulated in this ice.”

Indeed it was a small mouse that had been caught out in the open during a ground blizzard. Now it was curled up in a tight ball and covered in a thin layer of ice and snow in its last effort to ward off the freezing temperatures and blowing snow.

“It’s dead, I’m sorry, now put it down and let’s get outta here before they catch up to us!” Napoleon grabbed at his partner’s elbow to get him moving.

Illya Kuryakin resisted his partner’s efforts. “No wait, Napoleon.” He held up the icy snowball that imprisoned the rodent. “It might still be alive. We need to help it.”

Napoleon Solo kept pulling hard at the Russian’s elbow urging him along. He worried about his partner’s physical and mental state. The last two days, or was it three, had been spent in a cell courtesy of THRUSH, where they both endured less than desirable treatment.

“Tovarisch, we need to get to the tree line. Between THRUSH and the weather we can’t survive out here in the open. We don’t have time. Now put it down and make for the tree line!” The CEA of the UNCLE NW looked over his shoulder. The blowing snow obscured anything more than 100 feet away. If their pursuers were close there was no way to know.

Desperate to get Illya moving, Napoleon grabbed his partner by the shoulders and turned him so they faced each other. “Go! Now! That’s an order!” He swiped at the Russian’s hands knocking the ice covered mouse to the ground.

The reaction was immediate and unexpected. Illya cried out, “No!” then slugged Solo before dropping to his knees and scooping up the mouse. Gently, he tucked it into one of the pockets of his suit jacket. He looked over to where his partner and friend lay momentarily stunned in the snow. “Oh, Napoleon! I am so sorry, my friend.” He reached out to give his partner a hand. Napoleon wiping a trickle of blood from his lip looked at him warily. “Please, Napoleon, forgive me. I do not know what came over me.” Again he reached out his hand. Solo smiled and grabbed it.

“No problem, Tovarisch.” Once on his feet, he asked. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Illya shook his head. “No, it is nothing,” but he wouldn’t meet his friend’s questioning gaze. “You are right, of course, we must get to the tree line. Let me lead for a while. It is my turn to break trail.” With that he turned and began moving upslope toward the trees or at least where the trees should be. Between the inky dark and blowing snow they were not visible.

Napoleon watched the lithe figure move ahead. Wearing nothing but their suits and thin soled shoes it wouldn’t be long before the two of them would succumb to the vagaries of Mother Nature’s temper. Usually, Illya was the one who could deal with wintry conditions far more competently than Napoleon. However, ever since their captors had returned Illya after a particularly long interrogation session and dumped the barely conscious agent onto the cold cement floor of their cell there had been a change in his friend’s demeanor.

When Illya had been dumped in the cell, Napoleon had tried to move closer to his friend in order to check his status, but the chain around his left ankle made it impossible to reach the Russian. “Illya! Illya are you okay? Illya can you hear me?” Solo yanked in frustration at the firmly embedded chain in the wall. He could get no closer. He watched as his partner pushed himself from his prone position and slowly, silently crawled over to the darkest corner of the cell. Illya laid there for several hours huddled in a near fetal position rocking slowly back and forth. In that whole time, he never uttered a sound.

Finally, Kuryakin came out of his corner and sat down next to Solo. He looked over and in response to the unspoken question he merely said in a flat voice, “I am fine.” Napoleon said nothing as he knew that when Illya was withdrawn it was better to leave him alone for the time being. “Napoleon,” Illya spoke through clenched teeth, “I think we have stayed here long enough. I have a plan.”

“Good, because I was really beginning to hate the idea of spending Christmas in this dump!”
Within the next two hours they found themselves running from the THRUSH satrapy and heading across open ground in a snow storm.

Napoleon gladly let Illya break trail for a while. The going was tough and the two men labored hard to make their way through the knee deep snow which raised the concern about hypothermia. Another quarter mile or so they could see an outline of dark against the snow and they knew the tree line was near. Illya came to an abrupt halt. His partner nearly ran into him as he had lowered his head against the blowing snow and didn’t see the blond stop.

“What’s wrong Illya? The trees are just ahead.”

Illya gently pulled the mouse from his pocket where it had warmed up. It sat in the man’s large hands blinking it’s eyes and holding quite still. Illya slowly bent down and put the mouse on the snow covered ground at the base of a bush. “Go and live, little one.” The mouse must have figured that it wasn’t about to be eaten and scampered off.

“Well, I’ll be! Look at that!” Napoleon muttered. “You were right, Tovarisch, I thought it was a goner for sure. He watched for a second. “Okay, let’s get going. I’ll take point.” He started to move forward when his partner grabbed his arm.

“Napoleon, wait!”

The Russian pointed to a wide ribbon of a strangely flat section of the meadow. “That’s a small river. If you listen carefully you can hear the water rushing below the ice. Napoleon, I’m not sure the ice will hold us and we have to cross it to get to the trees.”

“I don’t see as how we have much choice, Illya. Those guys can’t be far behind.” The two stood in silence as they contemplated the best way to proceed. “Okay, you’re lighter. You cross first and then I’ll follow. With the weight of only one person at a time, perhaps the ice will hold. What do you think?”

The decision was made for them when during a lull in the wind they both heard voices calling to each other in the direction from whence they came.

The agents looked at each other and the American whispered, “Go!”

Illya took a couple of tentative steps onto the snow covered surface. The slick soles of his loafers skidded across a couple of feet, yet the ice seemed to hold. He moved cautiously but picked up his speed. When he reached the middle of the river there was a loud ominous crack as the ice protested against his weight. He froze trying to decide whether to keep moving forward or go back to where Napoleon was standing on the bank. To go back didn’t guarantee he wouldn’t fall through and their captors were closing in on them. If they were caught again there was no doubt that they would likely be killed. He dropped to his stomach and belly crawled the rest of the way across the ice hoping that dispersing his weight by crawling would keep him from falling through. He breathed a sigh of relief as he made it to the opposite bank.

Napoleon held his breath when he heard the ice crack as Illya reached midway. He watched as his partner dropped down and crawled the rest of the way. He would have to do the same. As he stepped onto the ice he heard the men behind them. Judging from the sound they were closing in fast. Napoleon needed to hurry so he took a chance and half ran, half skidded across the ice. As he reached the middle of the crossing he heard Illya yell, “Crawl, Napoleon!” Simultaneously, his right foot went through a thin spot and he pitched forward.

As he hit, large cracks could be heard running both upstream and down the ice. Napoleon froze praying that the ice would hold. When the cracks settled down he released the breath he held and finished the passage on his stomach. When he reached the shore Illya helped him up. They looked at each other realizing how close they were to a disaster. Illya looked down.

“Napoleon, where is your shoe?”

The American looked down and saw that his right shoe was missing. “Shit! It must have come off when my foot went through the ice.”

Illya ripped the left sleeve of his suit jacket off and after removing Napoleon’s wet sock wrapped his foot in the sleeve. “This will have to do until we find a place to take shelter. And that better be soon. We cannot stay out in this weather dressed as we are.”

Napoleon nodded in agreement. Illya spoke, “ I’ll continue to take point. With your shoe gone, you don’t need to be trying to break trail.” Reluctantly, Napoleon concurred. They turned to move into the tree line.

Just as the two agents reached the trees Napoleon grabbed his left leg and fell to the ground. Immediately, the sharp report of a THRUSH carbine echoed through the hills.

Kuryakin dropped to the ground and covered his friend. “Napoleon! Where are you hit?” There was no answer. Fearing the worst, Illya looked for the wound. Even in the dark, he could see the snow beneath Napoleon’s leg turning black from the blood that flowed freely from the wound. Quickly ripping his other sleeve from his suit jacket, Illya bound the thigh wound tightly hoping that the bullet missed the femoral artery. Then he pulled him behind a nearby boulder.

“Okay, come out with your hands up. You have no way of escaping. We know that one of you is hit!” The voice that echoed below them belonged to the captor that had done the most damage during the interrogations.

Illya looked down at his unconscious friend. To surrender was to die, but the way events had been happening they were going to die anyway.

“Hey UNCLE man, come on out and we’ll take you back down and let you warm up. You’ve gotta be close to freezing to death. You don’t want to die out here do ya? We promise we won’t hurt ya. Come on down!”

“In a pig’s eye,” Illya muttered. He knew their true intentions. Regardless, he yelled out. “Okay, we surrender.”

Napoleon had come to his senses enough to hear and realize what Illya said. “No, Illya!” he whispered.

“Sshhh, my friend. Trust me.” He patted Napoleon’s shoulder before yelling out, “You’ll have to come get us. My friend is dying! I can’t bring him down by myself!”

He watched as all three men cautiously began to cross the ice. For his plan to work he would have to encourage them to cross with less care. Knowing that it would be risky, Illya jumped out from behind the boulder and yelled, “He’s dead, you killed him you sons of bitches.” He ran further into the tree line.

As he predicted, his pursuers, who were now mid-river, began to charge recklessly across the remaining expanse of ice. One stopped to fire at him and managed to knick the agent’s arm causing a painful flesh wound that bled profusely. As he grabbed his arm, Illya watched as all three men crashed through a thin spot of ice over the deepest part of the river. Their cries of surprise and pleas for help diminished quickly as each sank below the surface.

“Good riddance!” Quickly retracing his steps, Illya immediately went to Napoleon’s side. One look at his friend’s skin color told him that Napoleon was going into shock. He had to get them both to shelter. Napoleon would die from shock and exposure and, Illya thought ruefully, so would he…well at least from exposure.

He felt a tug on his shirt sleeve. “Are they gone?” Napoleon’s raspy voice asked.

“Very. Now let us get you to some shelter. Napoleon, I do not know what is ahead of us, but we do know that if we go back to the satrapy there may be more THRUSHies, but there is also warmth. Neither of us can last much longer. The choice is yours, my friend.”

“I don’t think we can chance going back, Illya. I think…” he cried out in pain before passing out.

“I believe you’ve just made the choice for us,” Illya murmured. To proceed further would mean certain death for both of them. Blowing on his cold fingers and stomping his feet to urge circulation, he made his decision. Pulling Napoleon up and over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry he slowly headed down hill to the river. If they managed to get across without going through the ice they would have to place their fate in the hands of THRUSH.

He moved upstream from where they had originally crossed the river and found a spot where the ice appeared to be thicker. Not wanting to press their luck, Illya laid Napoleon down and proceeded to crawl across the ice pulling his partner behind him. Again the sound of ice protesting against their weight reverberated as cracks formed and popped with explosive force, but it held and they made it across. Solo’s luck! the Russian exclaimed.

Moving slowly Illya shuffled his frozen feet through the snow. He could feel his energy waning. The going was hard enough, but the added burden of carrying his partner made it more arduous. Nearly at the point of collapsing he found a boulder large enough to provide a wind break. It rested against the trunk of a lodge pole pine. None too gently, he set Napoleon on the ground. He sat against the boulder and pulled his partner up close to him so they could share what body heat they had left. The abrupt movement jarred the American to consciousness.

“Illya? Where are we?” He looked his partner over and saw blood covering his sleeve. Weakly pointing to his arm, “Illya, you’re bleeding.”

The Russian smirked, “Very good, my friend. With your powers of observation you will someday make a good spy. How are you doing?”

“Leg hurts. Cold, can barely feel my feet and hands. Just like you, I suspect.”

Illya merely nodded. He tried not to think about their condition as he watched dull gray streaks of light announce the arrival of dawn.

“I’m sorry, Napoleon. I should never have stopped for that mouse. If we had just kept going we would have been out of range of those goons. I sacrificed our well being for a rodent.” He stopped as he watched the horizon.

Napoleon recognized that his friend was slipping into one of his broody, melancholy moods. “Hey, partner. It’s okay.”

“No! It is not okay. I may very well have cost us our lives.” His voice cracked as he raged against himself.

“Illya, look at me. Something happened to you down there. What did they do to you, my friend?” But Kuryakin just looked away while pulling his friend closer. Napoleon knew he had to keep his partner talking. It would help to keep both of them awake. “Come on,” he gently chided. “What happened, Illya?”

“They broke me, Napoleon.” Seeing the reaction on his partner’s face, he quickly added, “No, not that way. I did not give them any information, but they found my achilles’ heel.” Napoleon didn’t say a thing. He let the story develop at Illya’s pace.

“They used chemical and psychological warfare on me. They induced me with a type of chemical hypnosis. It was a drug I never before experienced. Then they took me back to my childhood forcing to the surface long buried memories that should have stayed buried.” He stopped to draw a shuddering breath. Napoleon knew it wasn’t just from the cold.

“Napoleon, they reminded me of a time during the beginning of the Nazi occupation. My father and mother had been killed and I was living with my grandmother. I had no friends. They had either died or left the area as refugees. The only thing close to friends were a couple of chickens and a small kitten.

“One day, four soldiers came to the house ransacking the place as they looked for food and young women to rape. When my grandmother heard the soldiers coming she gave me my grandfather’s old Nagant 7 shot service revolver and hid me in a small crawl space above the ceiling of our main room. ‘Don’t say a word, Illushya. Don’t make a sound. You must be a brave little soldier. Do not use this gun unless you are in danger. Do not worry about me.’ Apparently, the soldiers saw her trying to hide something although what, they were not sure.

“Two of the soldiers grabbed grandma and held her while calling, ‘Come out or we will shoot her!’ The other two men started poking their bayonetted rifles into corners, bedding, half empty sacks of grain or anything they could find. I could see them through a knothole. My grandma screamed, ‘He’s only a little boy, leave him alone.’

“‘Only a little boy you say? Well, little boys grow up to be soldiers.’ The soldier yelled loudly for me to come out of my hiding place or he would kill my grandmother. I stayed hidden afraid to make a sound. As I watched through the knothole the soldier raised his weapon and shot her! Then the bastards found my small kitten. They picked her up and played with her, all the while urging me to come out of hiding. When I did not reveal myself they took my kitten and twisted her neck, laughing the whole time. Those sons of bitches killed my grandmother and then my only friend.”

Napoleon waited for Illya to continue knowing his friend needed a moment to compose himself. “The Nazi’s figured that if killing my grandmother or my kitten did not bring me out into the open then perhaps I was not hiding in the house after all so they left. I waited for nearly an hour before I climbed out the attic, Napoleon, then I followed their trail through the snow. I heard them in a neighbor’s house so I made my way to them and hid in the bushes. When they came out I shot each and everyone of them. They were right about one thing, my friend,” Illya’s voice was bitter, “little boys do grow up to be soldiers for the cause.”

“Illya, I am so sorry, tovarisch. I can’t possibly imagine what it must’ve been like for you. No child should have to experience what you did.”

“As I was reliving those memories our birdbrained friends spent the whole time trying to convince me that those Nazi’s were actually UNCLE agents killing my grandmother and kitten.

“So you see, Napoleon. When I found the helpless mouse all I could think of was the need to free it from the ice so that it would live.That an innocent creature should not have to die. When you knocked it out of my hands in an effort to get me moving the image of the soldiers being UNCLE agents brought all of those pent up emotions back and I saw you as the enemy. I am thankful that we are not armed or I may have killed you.”

“Think nothing of it, partner. But it does explain the way you were acting when you were brought back to the cell.”

Illya looked towards the eastern horizon. The sun was obscured by a thick layer of clouds but there was enough light to encourage the wildlife to come out of their shelters and move about. A dollop of snow fell on his head as pine marten moved on a branch above their location. He sighed. It was time for the two of them to head down the hill. Truthfully, he did not think they would make it, but he had to try.

“It is time for us to get moving, my friend.” He stood up and reached down to pull Napoleon into a fireman’s carry once again.

The brunet swatted his hand away. “No, Illya. You go. Leave me here. When you find help, come back and get me.” Napoleon’s voice was weakening. He knew that he was going to die. At least Illya had a chance.

Illya growled out, “Either we both go, or we both stay. I will not leave you. So shut up and let me carry you.” His friend didn’t have the strength to refuse. Illya reached down and pulled Napoleon across his shoulders.

As he began to make his way down hill, a lynx crossed his path and wouldn’t let him pass. Fine, I’ll just move off to the left. As he changed course, the lynx once again blocked his way. Illya turned 180 degrees and headed to the right. This time the lynx did not interfere. When he felt that he was well away from the wild cat, Illya once again turned down hill only to be blocked by a large elk. The Russian was beginning to despair. No matter what he tried, it appeared that he could only head to the right laterally to the fall line of the hill. At this pace it would be impossible for him to reach the satrapy before they froze to death.
More determined then ever, he once more headed down hill. This time a pair of bickering magpies dive-bombed the two men until Illya turned right. About done in, Illya paused to catch his breath. He figured the satrapy must be between three and five miles away. They would never make it. He began to put Napoleon down when he heard the raucous cries of ravens in the gully below him. Four of them were playing a game of King of the Mountain on a pile of stacked wood. Each carried a small stick. When one of them reach the top, the others flew up and squabbled with it using the sticks to push the “king” off.

Forgetting himself for the briefest of moments, Illya laughed at the antics of the birds before turning down hill. The ravens heard him and as he turned to leave they all flew towards him noisily calling to each other. One by one the birds swooped down on the two men. Every
time Illya tried to head in his own direction they took turns whacking him on the head with their wings effectively driving him towards the wood pile.

Wood pile! Why would there be a stack of cut wood out here in the woods? Unless…of course, a cabin must be nearby. Illya headed toward the gully with renewed energy. The ravens backed off and cawed to each other as if in approval. As he slipped down the small slope, an outline of an old ranger’s log cabin appeared. He clambered onto the rickety wooden porch and gave the door a mighty kick. Well, it would have been a mighty kick if he wasn’t so weakened by his ordeal.

He let Napoleon down onto the cold planks of the porch. “Sorry, my friend, but this will not take but a second…I hope.” Then using his good arm he pushed hard against the door and forced his way in. Turning back he grabbed his partner and pulled him inside. Enough daylight came through the window allowing Illya to take inventory. An old bed piled high with at least eight quilts claimed the east wall. A wood stove, blackened from years of use, along with a small stack of wood sat along the north wall. To the left of the stove were shelves lined with cans of various foods. Some of the labels were well faded. Most importantly, there were several boxes of matches stored in glass jars. In no time, Illya had a fire going and a pot of snow melting on the stove. He pulled the metal framed bed close to the stove and carefully placed Napoleon on the mattress. He pulled his friend’s stiff frozen clothes off before washing the leg wound as best he could with warm water. He then redressed the wound with a torn piece of blanket as a bandage. He covered Napoleon with several of the quilts before pulling off his own clothes and wrapping in the remaining quilts.

After perhaps a half hour, Illya noticed that both he and Napoleon had stopped shivering. They were both warming up. Unfortunately, as their extremities warmed both men were in extreme pain. Even with the pain, Illya continued to tend to his partner. When Napoleon woke up, Illya fed him some luke warm water. Slowly he gave him increasingly warmer liquids, finishing with salty chicken broth.

As he rummaged around the shelves and drawers in the cabin, the Russian found an old walkie talkie. He inspected it carefully and found the batteries to be in impossibly good shape. Willing his fingers to cooperate, he pried open the housing and realigned the crystals and wiring to the local UNCLE frequency giving a silent prayer that the receivers at the satrapy wouldn’t pick up the signal.

He thumbed the button ignoring the shooting pain in his fingers. “Open channel D, intracontinental relay. Agent Kuryakin calling. Open channel D.”

Illya Kuryakin, the Ice Prince of UNCLE, the Russian Bear, Mr. No Emotion nearly cried out with joy at the responding call.

“Channel D open. Come in Mr. Kuryakin.”

“Two agents down. Both have probable frost bite. One has a gun shot wound to the leg, the other a flesh wound to the arm. Possible severe hypothermia. We need an airlift as soon as possible. Stand by for general coordinates.”

They weren’t true coordinates but he was able to give them detailed enough directions. “We’re holed up in an old ranger cabin. We have enough food and water but we need medical attention ASAP.”

“Roger, sir. Uh sir, we’re looking at the most recent maps. There is no indication of a cabin.”

“I can well assure you we are in a cabin and will remain here until you can send someone. The helicopter can land in the clearing nearby. I’ll mark it for you with an X made of tree branches. What is your ETA?”

"We can be there in six to eight hours. Can you hang in there that long?”

“We’ll make do, but please hurry. Oh and watch out for the THRUSH satrapy. I do not think they have any antiaircraft defenses but be careful nonetheless. Kuryakin out.”

Dreading putting his cold soggy loafers on again, Illya stuffed his toes into the shoes, wrapped himself with several quilts and headed out to the meadow. Grabbing a couple of large branches he dragged them out into the middle and formed an X.

When he returned to the cabin, he toed off his shoes. He threw a couple more logs onto the fire before moving to the only bed in the cabin. Napoleon took up the whole bed, which was only a single. “Napoleon, shift it. I am lying down as well and I will NOT sleep on the floor.” He gently shoved the American over. In order to fit better on the bed he placed his head near Napoleon’s feet and his feet near his friend’s head before falling deeply asleep.

Napoleon hurt. His feet, hands, and particularly his left leg hurt like hell, but he noticed that he was no longer freezing. Well thank God for small and big favors, he thought. Willing himself to open his eyes he cast a glance about the room. He was alone. “Illya? Illya!”

A nurse entered the room. “Hello, Mr. Solo. You are at the St. Francis hospital in Missoula, Montana. How are you feeling?”

“Where’s my partner? Where’s Mr. Kuryakin?” his voice nearly cracked in his panic. Did Illya make it?

“Easy, Mr. Solo. Your friend is just down the hallway. He’s under observation.”

“Why? Was he hurt?” He then remembered the flesh wound. “He was shot, I remember that.”

“Well, the wound wasn’t so much the problem, but his arms suffered some skin injury from the bitter cold. It was pretty strange but his suit jacket didn’t have any sleeves. He’ll be alright. The doctors want to keep an eye out for infection especially considering the state in which the rescuers found you both. Oh there is a gentleman, a Mr. Waverley here to see you. Should I let him in?”

“By all means, yes.” It must be pretty serious if Mr. Waverly traveled here from New York.

As the nurse stepped out she made way for Alexander Waverly, head of UNCLE NW to enter the room.
With hat and overcoat in hand his boss stepped up to the bed and sat in cracked red vinyl chair.

“Good evening, Mr. Solo. I hear you and Mr. Kuryakin will be just fine after a few more days of rest.”

“Yes, Sir. A few more, Sir? How long have we been here in the hospital?”

“The helicopter picked you up about two days ago. Which brings to mind, Mr. Solo. How were you able to find that old run down cabin? And more to the point, and please don’t misunderstand the intent of this question, how did you survive in such a run down heap? And how did Mr. Kuryakin find a way to contact us?”

Napoleon scowled. He wasn’t awake for much of the time, but the cabin he remembered was in very good conditioned and well stocked. “I’m not sure what you mean, Sir. I don’t remember much, but Illya found the place which had plenty of food and blankets. As for Illya contacting you, well you know how resourceful he is. When he found that walkie talkie he was able to make it work.”

“No, son. When the pilot and medical personnel arrived they found you both lying on an old metal cot. The roof was caved in, the walls mostly dilapidated, and the flooring virtually nonexistent. There was an old walkie talkie in the rubble, but it had burned beyond repair at some point. The two of you should have died of exposure before anyone got there.

“Oh, one more thing. Quite an oddity if I do say so myself. When our people found you, you both were covered with animals! Live animals! Predators and prey together quietly lying on top of the two of you. When our men approached all of the animals, save one, slowly climbed off and went on their way. They weren’t frightened. It was if they felt their job was done and they were no longer needed. Your rescuers believe their body heat kept you both alive.”

“Ah, Mr. Waverly, that one remaining animal wouldn’t have been a mouse would it?”

“Why, yes. Yes, it was. They had a devil of the time trying to shoo it away. It kept climbing under Mr. Kuryakin’s chin or into his hands. They finally left it alone while the two of you were made ready for the flight. Once Mr. Kuryakin was in the helicopter the little devil came out and jumped out of the aircraft.”

Napoleon yawned and smiled. “Not a devil, sir. An angel, a guardian angel.”

“Oh really, Mr. Solo!” Mr. Waverly scoffed.

“Sir, have you heard the expression ‘no good deed goes unpunished’?”

“Yes. Yes, of course.”

“Don’t believe it, Sir. I prefer to believe the quote from Aesop’s fables, ‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted’.” On that note, Napoleon Solo feigned falling asleep. When he was sure that Mr. Waverly was gone, he got in his wheelchair and made his way down the hall. He found Illya’s room a few doors down. Silently, he opened the door and looked in. His partner, arms wrapped in bandages, was sound asleep. Napoleon wheeled his chair over to the bed and watched his friend breathing evenly, sleeping the sleep of the utterly exhausted.

He laid his hand on Illya’s.

“Any time you want to save a defenseless field mouse, or any other animal, you old Russian Bear, go right ahead. Each saving a life. The exchange of deeds between you was quite equitable. Merry Christmas, tovarisch.”