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'Over The River And Through The Woods'

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*Amelia Needles - Nine Days Before Thanksgiving:

Dry leaves skittered against the window pane, intermixed with cold raindrops. Amelia pulled the light woolen paisley shawl closer around her shoulders and sighed at the signs of the winter to come. It was not her favorite season, by any means. It was always chilly in the old house, with not near enough natural light to do justice to her handiwork except for a few short hours during the middle of the day. Using candles and lamps was such a poor substitute.

Oh, she didn't allow herself to drift into shoddy work, by any means. It was just that it took so much longer to achieve the results she could picture in her mind using other than natural light.

Just as it took the finest of materials to achieve those results. She prided herself on the beauty and precision of her embroidery and tapestry projects, and for that she required good light and materials of the very highest quality. Clouthera's gold and silver needles deserved no less; that had been understood by each of the women in her long line of those who had embraced the fabric arts.

Those needles, a gift from the Old One known as The Lady of the Evening Star, in recognition of Clouthera's talents applied on her behalf, had been their family's most carefully guarded, if most used, secrets, since oh-so-long ago.

As the story went, Clouthera, an accomplished needlewoman, had heard of the Old One's recent loss of her beloved daughter, a victim of the anger and outrage of another two of her kind. The Lady of the Moon had been extremely annoyed at the young woman's Life Bonding with one of her sons, and The Lord of the Sun had been no more pleased at one of his own son's doing the same - the three Life Bonding each with the other in defiance of their parents' wishes.

In wandering the fields and forest, looking for that with which to make dyes for her thread, Clouthera had heard the Lady of the Evening Star wondering, bitterly, through her tears, whether the satisfaction of the other two parents in preventing that Blessed Bonding of Three outweighed any sorrow they might have felt at the subsequent loss of their OWN children, none of the three surviving that breaking of their Bond (the breaking of their hearts) in that particular Turn of the Wheel.

The story, the deep emotion in the Lady's voice and face, tugged at Clouthera's heart, and in sympathy, she had wrought the most beautiful embroidery, a memento mori of that lost child and her two loves, and laid it as an offering on the memorial stone that had been set in place in their honor by the Lady, in defiance of the other two parents and their continued annoyance.

As the story went, a knock on the door one evening was the only announcement, and Clouthera had knelt in wonder at who awaited her there. The Old One herself, The Lady of the Evening Star, had embraced her, thanked her for her kindness and compassion, and had brought her the needles - a fine linen packet each of gold and silver, of any size a needlewoman might find need of, from the finest of lace and linen work to the creating of tapestries and heavy rugs for the hearthside. Needles that let her talents soar to indescribable heights, her intuition as to subject and materials and technique to become far more even than what it had offered before.

And the results? The ability to create beauty such as few had ever seen or even dreamed of, such that she became known as Clouthera Needles, her former name, whatever it might have been, being erased by time.

Clouthera had been a wise woman, wise enough to HAVE her talents, USE them, certainly, for to do otherwise would have seemed ungrateful to those who had bestowed them upon her - her forebears as well as the Lady herself.

But she was also wise enough never to brag on her skills, never sought attention other than what came unbidden, always careful to turn aside praise modestly, tell others that her small talent was but a blessing bestowed on her by the grace of one of the Old Ones, not something she could ever take credit for. Well, the story of Arachne had not been unknown to her, and she had had no desire to spend eternity hanging around in a spider's-web out of hubris.

Those needles had been passed down, generation after generation, with Amelia being the latest to hold and use those treasures.

Thinking of that, thinking of the cold, dark months ahead, Amelia rose slowly from her rocking chair to survey the materials laid out on the shelves in her heavy oak cupboard. No, just as she'd thought, she was low on several essentials. There was not nearly enough to get her through the cold dreary months ahead. And it wasn't like she could call down to the local store and order up what she needed.

She gave just a hint of a lady-like huff of amusement at the very thought, imagining what she would have said.

"Oh, yes, Seth, this is Amelia Needles. I need a few skeins of the usual thread for my needlework. Colors? I believe flax and gold, dark brown or black, red or something close. And cream linen for the base, several yards of each of the usual thread-counts. Good quality, mind you, now, all of it, the very best. Oh, and all the other related sundries; you know, my usual order - staples for the kitchen, oil for the lamps, plenty of candles. Have to get ready for winter, you know."

She had a pleasant voice, low-timbred with a warmth that matched the gentle expression on her face, the old-fashioned words and expressions she preferred to use. To all appearances, she was a simple woman, perhaps not in mind, but in aught else. She'd always found that amusing, how the inside and the outside could be so different. Well, she found many things amusing, often things few others would have found so.

"Now why did I say Seth?" she wondered to herself. "IS it Seth anymore? I seem to remember him passing on a goodly number of years ago. Who is it now, his son, George, or would it be his grandson, David? Or has the store changed hands entirely?"

To one as long-lived as she was, time DID become rather fluid.

She thought, and then frowned slightly.

"That's not like you, Almira," she scolded herself. "There was a time when you knew every living soul in this valley, and many of the non-living ones as well - those with or without souls. I think maybe you need to get out and about a bit more, re-establish contact with your neighbors. You've let your interest subside, it would appear."

Certainly it would take an effort on her part. Few ventured to this house unbidden, certainly not the residents of the small town nearby or those of the surrounding valley. And she could hardly blame them; she was an unaccomplished hostess, after all, able to offer only the simplest of hospitality. And truly, she had become somewhat weary of the mountains, but had no particular pull as to another place to settle.

Well, time enough for that on the morrow. For tonight, she had a job to take care of, winter supplies to inventory, a list of what to order up to prepare. She might not be able to just call down to the now-manager of the local store for the most important of those items, but there were ways, ways that had worked long before the store had ever been built. Ways that had worked even in the earliest of her family's history.

She pulled out the OTHER tools of her trade, tools left to her by her however-many-great-great grandmothers ago. Three-footed iron cauldron, long wooden spoon, set of iron weights and balances and such for measuring. The cauldron was good-sized, one of her larger ones, for she saw no need to waste energy calling up what she needed on a piece-meal basis, but even with the weight, she swung it onto the top of the heavy oak work table without pause, using only one hand.

Muttering to herself, she dropped the ingredients into the dull black cauldron, "now, let's see. Yes, this. And this, and these two as well. Now, where's the cider vinegar? Ah, there it is. Now, a pinch of this, a pinch of that. That should do nicely. Now for the last of the lot. What was it now? Can't be making any mistakes, not with this. Where is that book? I've often wondered why they didn't make things a bit more distinct, you know? One dash of cinnamon versus a dash of cardamum, one vowel spoken with the wrong intonation, and you end up with a minor demon rather than what you were really trying to summon! And in the dim light, or if you have a bit of a sore throat, that would be SO easy to do! Could take you quite unawares if you were not careful."

Still, she WAS careful, adding just the right things, in the right measurements; ever so carefully saying the words just right. She watched as the tiny glow in the center of the cauldron became a shimmering fire that covered the entire surface, then faded to nothingness.

"Yes, that should be just right."

And the lady of the house went about her business, confident that what she had just put into motion would soon bring her what she required for her winter's occupation. Hopefully in time for Thanksgiving; she HAD specified that in the 'invitation'. It would be nice to have company this year, even aside from her other motivations, but truly, the need for that which would allow her to continue her preferrred occupation, that was the most important thing.

Just as her grandmother had always cautioned her, it was best to have something to keep your hands busy so that you aren't tempted to get into mischief. Well, idle hands and all that. The path from boredom to darkness was a surprisingly short one, and one she had no interest in walking. Not many in her family line had taken that path, but the few who had? Well, the stories were discouraging enough, and she had taken heed. Myrtle Needles, aka 'The Turtle' hadn't started out in life wandering around on four legs, after all.


*The UNCLE Teams of Slate/Dancer, Solo/Kuryakin - Eight Days Before Thanksgiving:

Up the drive they came, slow and careful, not wanting that axle to give way entirely.

"It is beginning to concern me, Napoleon, this ill luck we seem to be having with automobiles," Illya remarked glumly.

He was mud-streaked, from having crawled under the car to determine that, yes, the axle was cracked. He'd come out much faster than he'd slid under, not overly sure how long that piece of metal would stay in one piece, and not wanting to be underneath when it gave way. So far it was holding together, but obviously, at least from what he had seen, that would not be the case for long.

Mark was at the wheel, cautiously manoeuvring the leaf-covered lane, April beside him using a flashlight to try and read that map. Not that the map had done them much good. According to IT, they should be in downtown Little Rock. Another wary look out the window told her that certainly wasn't the case, unless tree-covered mountainsides were incorporated into the city planning of that location.

Napoleon Solo, still dapper and tidy (well, they couldn't expect HIM to go crawling under the car, not while he was wearing Luigi's latest masterpiece!), had to agree with his partner. First it was suposedly running out of gas on that detour Mr. Waverly had sent them on. Now, a cracked axle on what had seemed a perfectly-smooth thoroughfare, followed in quick succession by a torrential rain and windstorm, accompanied by a heavy fog that even those winds didn't seem to scatter.

"Well, look on the bright side. There's no 'mystical footbridge' on the horizon, and no swirling gray canyons, though I wouldn't mind a house with the lights on," he'd offered, scooting back a few inches further toward his side of the car, not wanting to get any of that mud and grime on him. There was something in the way his partner slowly, deliberately turned his head, obviously staring at him in the dim light, that made him think that just might happen, 'accidentally' of course.

Mark laughed, "seek and ye shall find; ask and it shall be given. Look, over there," pointing to the right.

Yes, a house, old but well-maintained, AND with lights shining in several windows, like a beacon in the dimming light.

"And nothing too ominous, it would seem," April murmured to herself, her charm bracelet being wonderfully quiet. {"Of course, it had been quiet before, when we approached Bert's house, too,"} she thought ruefully. Sometimes she would really appreciate a longer-range on that early-warning system. Realizing how that sounded, she hastened to add, silently a disclaimer.

{"Though I don't want to seem ungrateful; ANY warning is certainly better than the alternative. My pardon, Sweet Mother Erdu; I meant no offense."}.

Well, her mother had taught her to be polite, and her Cousin Caeide had told her enough of the Sweet Mother to emphasize that point. Considering the times April had gotten help from that direction, she had no inclination to show disrespect anyway; she truly WAS grateful, more than she could express.

The car actually made it to the front entrance, though none of them had truly expected it to, the way it was limping. That sudden dip, though, that told them they shouldn't be expecting the poor thing to go any farther, not without serious help.

They got out, hurried through the wind and rain to the front door, their knock answered by a pleasant-faced grey-haired lady in an old-fashioned dress who welcomed them in out of the wet night and into a warmth that was far more than they were expecting.


*UNCLE Agent Mark Slate - The Day Before Thanksgiving:

My hair has never grown so fast in my life as it's growing now. I've noticed the same of April, even to more of an extreme, not to mention Napoleon and Illya.

Brushing mine back out of my eyes and back behind my ears for yet the third time since I'd awakened, I just had to wonder. Was it something in the water around here? But surely if that was the case, my nails would be growing as well, and they aren't, no more than usual anyway.

We'd been stranded in this place for more than a week, what with the car being out of commission, and the fog and storms preventing a helicopter from retrieving us, even if we had been able to let anyone know where we were, which we hadn't, since the communicators seemed to be out of commission too. Our hostess said the surrounding mountains often caused telephone transmission difficulties, so perhaps that also affected the technology that powered the communicators. That black antique on the wall of the kitchen certainly displayed no signs of life, no matter how we jiggle that curved resting piece.

This unexpected stop has felt oddly like a family vacation for the four of us, none of us having done much in that line in recent years. But, it did. Especially after the old dear who lives here started talking about how nice it was to have company here for Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow, by the way.

No, it's not MY holiday, but I've become accustomed to it while working with the Americans, and it's a pleasant enough thing, if you avoid thinking about all the questionable history and cultural issues and all that.

Well, I'm British; I have plenty of experience with that manner of deliberate avoidance. I rather doubt there are too many so-called holidays that don't have their dark sides. Some, more than a few, as I remember that little series of events in South America last year.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, in desperate need of a hair cut. Waverly was going to have fits when he saw me, saw the others.

Well, not so much my partner; the Old Man will probably swallow his pipe when he sees her. He still has a bit of a crush on her, I believe, which is a nicer way of wording it than I sometimes find myself doing, at least to myself. We'd just got him settled down, (well, between Napoleon and Mrs. Waverly, anyway), enough I wasn't looking over my shoulder quite so much anymore, and I'd be more than pleased to keep it that way. Didn't want to set him off again, and one look at my partner now, well, I could see that happening right enough, no matter how good his intentions might be.

You see, April, she was looking a right treat, those auburn strands now reaching almost to her waist, promising to go a lot farther, becoming a mass of waves and curls in the process. 'Venus Arising From The Sea' had nothing on her, I promise you!

I told her this morning she was looking a bit like an earth goddess, more than a little like that charm on her bracelet, and the look she gave me! It was the most adorable mixture of gratification, embarrassment, shock and apprehension I've ever seen on her, and I couldn't resist laughing and giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.

She blushed, which I don't know that I've ever seen her do before, not from any attention from ME, anyway. Why have I never noticed her skin is like the finest-textured silk, soft, creamy with a peach underglow? At least I had the sense not to say any of that out loud, the last part anyway; that would have REALLY embarrassed her, more than likely.

Still, April has never been the easily embarrassed sort, not that I've noticed. Maybe this little 'family vacation' is having an effect on her as well. Of course, that little bit of poesy wasn't much like me, either, so maybe I'm feeling the effects as well.

{"Partners, Mark old boy, you're PARTNERS. Remember that, you idiot!"}


*UNCLE Agent, Illya Kuryakin - The Day Before Thanksgiving:

"Napoleon, will you stop fussing about your hair!" I'd had to scold him when we awoke that morning after he, once again, started moaning and fretting about his hair.

Of course, it was only to be expected, I suppose. When we were in New York, his barber knew to expect him every two weeks, on the dot. He had been due for an appointment when we'd left unexpectedly for that last assignment, and we had been in Bolivia for three weeks and more. Of course, he was unwilling to risk his hair to any barber there. We'd gotten back and headed right back out on the most recent job, and he'd been peevish every time he caught a glimpse in the mirror, every time he ran his hands through his hair.

He is so vain, that partner of mine! He has reason, I will admit, he's a handsome devil, but still . . .

Now, it had been nearly seven weeks since his last hair cut, and even before we arrived here, he was getting quite shaggy. HE called it a few other choice words, but our weary and slightly-impatient suggestion that we stop in one or another of the small towns we passed through to search out a barber shop to make him stop his complaining got an indignant reply. No, it was Michael or Devon who cut his hair; there was just no other possibility for my partner, the debonnaire Napoleon Solo.

And do not begin to think either of those two individuals worked in the UNCLE barber shop in our building, the shop where you could get a perfectly adequate cut at a very economical cost (though I'd had to curtail their enthusiasm for their scissors most firmly in the beginning).

'Bite your tongue', as I believe the expression goes, was his response when I would tease him about using one of the barbers on premises; the look of sheer horror on his face would have done justice to someone having served him a plate of raw fish eyes or something similar when he was expecting a perfectly-prepared filet mignon.

No, those two 'tressorial artistes', as they deemed themselves, (not that I had any confidence there actually WAS such a word OR profession!) were located in a small, extremely expensive, highly exclusive enclave that included Luigi, the tailor Napoleon frequented, the accessories shop where he purchased his hats, ties, socks and other 'hard to find elsewhere' items (!), the specialty cigar store he also frequented (with the equally exclusive cigar club located on the second floor), the wine store where the clerk would have removed you bodily if you mentioned you were looking for a California or Oregon wine (after, of course, he recovered from his faint) and a few other such elite establishments.

Of course, his shoes came directly from Italy; nothing else would do except those hand-made, hand-stitched works of art, the creator of which he'd never deigned to confide to any of us.

However, I had no complaints about his hair. And, to be quite honest? Those dark locks of hair he now had to keep brushing back? That now reached beyond his shoulders, though showing no sign of stopping there? They made him look like a flirtatiously-adorable boy from one of the Old Masters' paintings in the daylight when he was up and moving around. Last night, in the moonlight, they made him look like an erotic dream come true.

Of course, for me, that isn't such a stretch; to my mind, he usually DOES look like an erotic dream come true. Unfortunately, women in general also seem to feel that way, which I find more than a little annoying, but less so now that he seems to have stopped feeling as if he has to behave like a buck rabbit in heat with each and every one of those women. It appears I no longer even have to be overly concerned should the spider, Angelique, make an appearance. I truly never thought I would see that day!

When he finally got out of the bathroom this morning, my breath caught in my throat. He had finally gotten desperate enough to use that dark hair pomade Amelia had offered, and Napoleon looked like the leading character in an early 40's romantic movie - similar to Cornel Wilde in one of his more exotic roles, only carried to an even greater extreme.

I had the most interesting urge to run my fingers through that sleeked-back perfection, turning it into a mass of waves and curls, turning it into a picture more suited, perhaps, to one of The Three Musketeers. Or, have you by chance seen the Girodet painting 'The Sleep of Endymion'? Then you know exactly what I mean.

Of course, that would have gotten my hands covered in that slick, heady herb-and-jasmine scented hair-dressing. Ummmmm, that brought to mind a few other interesting ideas. Interesting enough we were both very late to breakfast, having to offer our blushing apologies to Amelia. She was most gracious about it, offering us a second breakfast casserole she had kept warm in the oven, along with the amused and knowing smile she'd offered us.

I believe I will see if she has an extra container of that pomade; the scent, herb and floral combined, utterly seductive, was most alluring, the texture remarkable in its own right. Yes, I shall make a note of that.


*UNCLE Agent April Dancer - The Day Before Thanksgiving

I haven't felt this relaxed in a very long time, and have become quite reconciled to missing our planned Thanksgiving Day potluck. Amelia is a wonderful hostess and has gone out of her way to make us feel comfortable. She has assured us that she is quite looking forward to having us as her guests on Thanksgiving Day, and stressed how much she has enjoyed our company during the past week and more.

Considering the odd places we have ended up, the 'interesting' individuals we have encountered, I made a point of paying particular attention to my charm bracelet when we first made her acquaintance. Other than a rather pleasant warmth and a tinge of what almost seemed amusement, nothing out of the ordinary. The bracelet seems to like her, no matter how odd that statement might appear to someone who hasn't had experience with the bronze wonder on my wrist.

Well, far better it 'liked' her than otherwise. We'd had far too many of THOSE experiences recently for my taste, and I rather thought my companions felt the same.

Each of my companions seemed to be feeling quite relaxed as well. Well, relaxed and perhaps a few other things.

Illya and Napoleon have been giving each other the most appreciatively warm looks, the most promising smiles, enough Mark and I hesitate to even tap on the door of the room the other two agents are sharing, even to suggest a bedtime drink, if that door is already closed. Which it is, with amazing regularity. How they can be in the room talking with us, then suddenly, they're gone, I'm just never quite sure.

Mark had grinned and laughed, told me quite frankly, "think they're already 'sharing', so to speak, and don't need anything alcoholic to make them any more intoxicated than they already are. At least they are certainly acting like they've shared a full bottle of champagne, don't you think?"

I don't know that Mark has any room to talk. He made the most disconcerting comments yesterday about my hair, and I don't think I've ever seen such warmth in his eyes before. Oh, he's always been complimentary, appreciative and supportive in ever so many ways. But this, this was something different.

I got the feeling it wasn't so much a NEW appreciation, but one he'd never let himself express before. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, so I'm trying my best to ignore it. Hopefully I have better success at than I'm having in ignoring just how adorable he looks with his hair at that length, and that utterly relaxed air about him.


*UNCLE Agent, Napoleon Solo - The Day Before Thanksgiving:

Personally, I think I look a fright, my hair now far longer than April normally wore hers. I'd just say longer than April's, except her hair was now around her waist; hopefully I can get back to a decent barber before that happens to me!

Still, Illya doesn't agree with my estimation. In fact, he seems to find the sight positively lust-inspiring, and I must admit, I've reaped the benefits of that odd and unexpected reaction.

Well, his own blond mop has turned into quite a sight as well, not quite matching Mark's in length, but certainly coming close. And, yes, I'll admit, I found the sight more than a little intriguing on my partner. With the right stylist, he wouldn't have to affect a wig to replicate that Jean Harlow look he'd managed for April's Halloween party. With the amount of crimping required for that look, it would have been just right with the length it is now.

I had briefly considered teasing him, letting him think I found Mark's new look a little intriguing as well, but I'd learned my lesson about that. Neither Illya OR April appreciated my prior hints in that direction, and both had given me a few sharp words of warning, words I had a feeling I'd better heed. Mark, on his part, had only looked amused. I wasn't quite sure how to take that - I'm not used to being so quickly dismissed, no matter WHO I favor with an appreciative glance.

At least Illya hasn't had need of that pomade Amelia so kindly offered to me, and just as well. For one thing, it was a dark pomade and probably would have looked quite out of place against Illya's light hair. And second, I had a feeling we were going to use every speck of that jar, and not just for my hair. I won't go into any indiscreet details, but will say it has the most interesting texture, slick without being distasteful, warming without being hot, and has a fragrance that seemed to call forth depths . . . Well, enough said.


*Thanksgiving Day:

The four UNCLE agents laughed and shared some amusing stories with each other and with their hostess while downing the light breakfast and strong coffee they'd been offered when they'd come down the stairs that morning.

"A light breakfast," Amelia had told them with a warm smile, "because I have our main meal planned for noon, or perhaps a bit earlier, depending on how quickly that turkey finishes roasting. I never plan on an evening meal, but there will be plenty to eat, of course; I always plan for lots of left-overs, and start a hearty soup to simmer from the carcass just as soon as the meal is cleared. Sometimes I think that is the best part, you know."

All four volunteered to help, she accepted and so they did, each putting their best efforts toward whatever task their hostess asked of them. Peeling vegetables, crumbling cornbread and slightly-stale homemade loaf bread for a aromatic sage dressing, rolling out piecrust, shelling nuts - they all shared in the preparation.

And when they sat down to the glory that was Amelia Needles' Thanksgiving Day dinner, they basked in the glow of knowing they'd each contributed. Somehow, that just made it all taste even better than it would have normally.

Finally, sitting back, refraining from the groans of contentment they each felt, April offered her thanks and her apologies, bemoaned the fact that they truly hadn't contributed much of anything, "not even a real hostess gift".

Amelia had smiled mysteriously, suggested she show them her workroom.

"If, after I show you, after I explain, you wish to offer a 'hostess gift' as you describe it, I would be most grateful. I take nothing without permission, but as a free-offering? Yes, you EACH have that which would be most suitable, would provide me with fond memories and much enjoyment over the cold months to come."

April felt just a hint of apprehension at those words, but the gentle and encouraging warmth from her bracelet caused her to set that aside.

And so the four friends toured Amelia's workroom, which took up the entire top floor of the dwelling, pausing and wondering at the exquisite embroideries, the tapestries depicting strange and wonderful scenes. And they heard of her need, listened as she explained what would be most welcome, should they decide to share.

Again April sent just a touch of a question in the direction of the warm bronze at her wrist. After all, such things as Amelia was suggesting had a power of their own. At receiving the barely-perceptable nod from the small charm, she'd smiled, though, and with an approving nod to each of her fellow agents, she'd said, "I'd be honored, Amelia, and I think I speak for my friends as well, to be a small part of creating such beauty," and the three men followed suit, offering their quick assurances.

After a late afternoon snack of turkey-and-dressing sandwiches on thick slices of homemade bread, each laced with a generous dollup of raw cranberry/orange relish, encouraged by the promise of turkey soup with dumplings being available later that evening, Amelia brought out the scissors and combs and brushes, along with an odd over-the-shoulder scooped contraption to catch the loose hair as it was snipped lose.

"Only with your permission," she confirmed once again. "It's not acceptable otherwise; I take nothing that is not freely offered."

The four looked at each other, running their fingers ruefully through what could now truly be called their 'crowning glory'. Illya was going to miss those long dark strands gracing his partner's shoulders, but knowing he was being sent off with a jar of that rich pomade made up for the idea somewhat. After all, as they'd learned quite well, it didn't HAVE to be used as a hairdressing.

Illya spoke for them all, by agreement.

"Yes, you have our permission. Only, please, not TOO short? At least for me," garnering a laugh from his compatriots.

Mark agreed ruefully.

"I do like mine a bit longer, as well, even though Waverly gets in a twist about it, mine AND Illya's. Course, Napoleon has his trimmed more often than most trim their nails, but then he's a known dandy. April can more easily get away with however long she wants, but in our line of work, it could make her a bit noticeable the way she looks now. I mean, even more than she is usually," giving his partner a wry and somewhat regretful smile. He WAS going to miss those curls and billowing waves.

Napoleon was looking more than a little apprehensive at the sight of those scissors.

"You might want to leave mine just a trifle long too, Amelia," he said uneasily. {"Well, I can get it cut properly when I get back, if she doesn't totally butcher it."}

April shook her head in mock reproof at the three of them, and reassured their amused hostess.

"You do as you think best, Amelia, don't mind them. I am sure Amelia will do an excellent job for each of us, boys."

And although the three men were obviously nervous of the outcome, they sat through the dampening and brushing and combing and scissoring with a great deal of courage, while April sat enjoying the looks on their faces.

As far as SHE could tell, Amelia could have made a fortune in New York if she ever decided to set herself up in one of the more exclusive salons. If she got the chance, April was going to suggest that to their hostess, offer to put her in touch with someone who might ease the way for that to happen.

She was only MORE determined on that score when she surveyed the job Amelia had done on those long auburn locks of hers. Yes, much shorter, much closer to the length she usually wore it, just a hint of the former magnificence, but more than there had been before; and that sweet-smelling herbal rinse she had used? April had never known her hair to have that depth of richness, that sheen, that level of softness!

Napoleon had to admit, if only to himself, it was an outstanding job, better than either of his regular 'tressorial artistes' had ever delivered.

Mark and Illya were well pleased with their looks as well, although April obviously regretting losing those lush long locks. Mark agreed, it was rather a shame but "take a bit to take care of, luv, especially on the go like we are more than not, and you already stand out more than a little, you know. Don't want to make it even easier for the bad guys to pinpoint you."

{"No matter how it's best you don't get the Old Man all excited again; don't want to lose my partner because of him getting any odd ideas. Not that's the all of it, either."}.

No, Mark didn't want to put any more ideas in Waverly's head; sometimes he still felt he was walking a rather dangerous tightrope as it was, and sometimes he thought he could catch a glimpse of the Old Man standing at the end of that taut support, sharp knife in his hand and an even sharper, calculating look in those faded blue eyes. April was sure Mrs. Waverly had dealt with that, and the danger was pretty well past, but Mark knew quite well the temptation his partner presented. Well, he'd have gone to pretty extreme lengths himself . . .

{"Partners, Slate old boy! Partners! Keep that foremost in your idiotic mind!"}

The next morning the fog and rain and heavy weather cleared, and the telephone once again gave a satisfying chatter when the receiver was lifted. The nearby village turned out to have a repair shop that, wonder of wonders, DID have a replacement axle, and it wasn't long before a tow truck pulled up with a cheerful wave from the driver.

"Have it back to you by morning," they were promised, and so they were able to assure the irrascible Alexander Waverly that, no, they hadn't dropped off the edge of the world, and would be on their way back to New York by noon the next day, once the repair shop delivered their car.

The Old Man had hrummphed in annoyance.

"Yes, well as to that. You aren't coming back to New York, not yet. You will be met at the Atlanta Municipal Airport by Agent Reeves. He will brief you of your new assignment. I would suggest you obtain a supply of insect repellent, each of you."

Staring at the communicator, now silent, that final click telling them that Waverly had just gone on to the next order of business, they exchanged a resigned look.

"Insect repellant. Where do you think that means?" Mark asked uneasily, taking another spoonful of that excellent turkey and dressing soup, wondering a bit how Amelia managed to keep the dressing in those lovely little rounds, rather than having them dissolving to mush in the steaming broth.

"I imagine we will find out sooner than we like," Napoleon admitted.

Still, running his hand through his newly-barbered hair, he knew, wherever it was, he'd go looking his best. In the meantime, there was still another slathering or two or three of pomade sitting in that jar on the bedside table in his and Illya's room, and tomorrow noon was a goodly twenty-four hours away. And it wouldn't be polite to rush off before having lunch, and maybe an after-lunch nap. That is, IF that pomade held out. He wondered if perhaps Amelia might have another jar or two of that stashed away that she might be willing to let him have; perhaps she might even be willing to send him a supply on a regular basis, if he asked nicely.


The next afternoon, as they pulled away in their rental car, they each cast a rather wistful eye back at the old house, at the lady waving goodbye to them from the door.

April sighed and leaned back against the seat. "You know, I think that was the nicest Thanksgiving I ever HAVE had," and she certainly got no arguments from the other three.


*Amelia Needles - Monday Following Thanksgiving Day

"What shall I start next?" she asked herself pensively, gazing with satisfaction at the oval frame holding the project she'd been working on since mid-summer and just added the finishing touches to.

Glancing over the new supply of thread she'd been gifted with the previous Thursday, she reached out one finger and gently stroked the deep auburn and the light gold. It had been a gamble, of course, doing the casting. Not all who answered had the generosity to bring a gift freely-offered. She had cast well, though, and the four who answered the call had been generous of heart and spirit. Here was enough high-quality thread to last her til springtime.

Now, how best to get started?

"Yes, I believe so," she murmured, picking up her pad to make a preliminary sketch before she started the work on linen.

Slowly the picture formed. A man with blond hair and twinkling blue eyes, engaging smile on his face, looking lovingly at the young woman with the mass of vibrant auburn hair standing so close beside him, one of his arms around her shoulders.

Amelia frowned, puzzling over what was missing in that portrait. Again she reached out with one finger, stroking the deep auburn, the light gold skeins. Then she smiled and nodded.

"Ah, yes, of course."

A few quick strokes of her charcoal pencil and it was complete.

"Now, what shall I call it?" Amelia pondered, closing her eyes for just a moment. Then, quicker than a thought, she sketched the words that would form a semi-circle at the bottom - the curved title of that portrait - 'Phoenix Arising'

What that might mean, she had no clue, but she knew it was RIGHT, somehow. And someday, she might discover what the words meant.

After all, she was giving serious consideration to that little proposition April had made; she rather LIKED the idea of a small salon of her own, where she would have materials enough she'd not have to go conjuring up a resource like she had so recently. She had the assurances of the four who'd just left that she would certainly have THEIR custom if she did so.

But she had a feeling she shouldn't delay too long. There were changes coming, big changes, and she would need to be established before that happened. It wouldn't be next month, probably not even next year, but soon, still. And her eyes drifted back over to the words she'd written as the title for her next work.

"Yes, soon the Phoenix will perish in flames and thunder, only to be reborn from the ashes. Well, hasn't it always been so?"