Aunt Amy and the Night Marauder

by Spikesgirl58

There is something tremendously freeing about Middle Eastern women's garb. Don't misunderstand me. I am an American through and through, but the salway, the silk or cotton trousers worn beneath the thawb, that's the long flowing gown women in this part of the country wear, was liberating. Wearing such things without restricting girdles and silk stockings, it was just so liberating and, well, almost naughty.

I looked at myself in the mirror and suppressed a giggle. Not even my dear sweet nephew, Napoleon, would recognize me.

"Oh, my, Amy! You look so exotic." My traveling companion, Ester Myers, was sitting on the edge of one of the twin beds. She held out a length of dark material to me. "But you mustn't forget this." It was my hijāb and much care and time had gone into its selection.

"Thank you," I said taking it from her and putting it on. I drew one corner over the lower part of my face. "How do I look?"

"Wonderful!" She sighed heavily and looked towards the bathroom. The cuisine hadn't been agreeing with her and she had decided that a night in would be more beneficial than going to a local home for a cultural dinner. I love my friend dearly, but she has a more delicate constitution than most. "You better be careful or an Arab sheik will come and snatch you up for his harem."

This made me laugh. "Not likely. Are you sure you don't want to come?"

"No, I'm going back to my room and try to get some sleep." Her stomach gurgled and she rubbed it. "Or at least that's my plan."

"All right, sleep well and I'll check in with you in the morning." I watched her leave at a fast walk, anxious for the privacy of her own room. I'd splurged and taken a room of my own this time. I'm older and set in my ways. As much as I love Ester, she did have several peculiar quirks.

I will tell you one thing at this point. If I knew then what I know now, I'd at least have worn some closed toe shoes. The sand gets everywhere!

The night started out as I expected. Our group was placed upon a bus and we were driven to the home of our host, Jauhar al Allah, an Emir. The home was practically a palace, at least by my definition of a palace. It was huge and it struck me as odd that we would be taken here for a 'typical' dinner at an 'ordinary' home. They weren't fooling me. I'd seen the tiny huts that most families were crammed into. At times, I wonder just how stupid they think Americans are. At other times, not as much.

The palace, for it was one, was located on the outskirts of the city, away from the filth and squalor that so much of the population dwelled in. They were careful to show us only enough for us to be sympathetic and generous, but not overwhelmed or turned off by the experience.

The first thing I noticed about our host was that he had eyes that went right to your soul, just like Omar Sharif. He was cultured, well spoken, and for some reason, really seemed to be taken with me.

"You seem out of place with these others," he murmured softly. Well, Agnes was laughing and it sounded a bit like a braying donkey. Mr. and Mrs. Hadley were busy trying to outshine Miss Donald and her very aged traveling companion, Mr. Lawrence. Mrs. Turner had had a bit too much before leaving the hotel and I suspect she had a flask hidden somewhere in her robes. She was getting louder and more outspoken as the night wore on. Our guide was almost beside himself as she sat heavily upon a delicate Syrian folding chair and it creaked loudly.

"Too bad you can't afford American! Cheap bastard," she said and Mr. Abdul-Hadi paled.

I swept forward and pulled Mrs. Turner to her feet. "I need to get some air, Margaret. Come with me."

"It is good you travel in pairs. You wouldn't want to be swept away by the Night Marauder," Mr. Jauhar al Allah said, watching me in a way I wasn't all that comfortable with. Still I am a Solo and can take care of myself.

"I beg your pardon?" I spun too quickly for Margaret and she squealed as she nearly lost her balance.

"He is a demon who sweeps down from the dunes to snatch beautiful women away. They say he makes passionate love to them until they expire from sheer exhaustion."

Without meaning to, I giggled. It reminded me of my own dear nephew, although I don't think Napoleon had loved anyone to death... at least not quite yet.

"You find amusement in danger?" His voice took on an edge that was almost frightening. Well, it would be if I wasn't a Solo, but I am and we don't scare easily. Ask my nephew. "You are a beautiful woman and should take particular caution. Such fire would make any man reckless and helpless."

"Don't worry about me," I said, holding Margaret upright. I could smell the bourbon on her breath. "If anyone tries to snatch me up, I'll throw Margaret at him."

I got her out on to the balcony and settled her on a bench.

"Why did you pull me out of there, Amy? I was having fun."

"Margaret, you should be ashamed of yourself! You are drunk and this is a country that doesn't approve of alcohol, especially not for women."

"Then I don't approve of them!"

"Hush, there's no call for that. Remember, we are guests here." The night air was cool and I was glad for the many layers of material I wore. "I'm going to go in and see if I can find some coffee for you. We need to get you sobered up!"

"Don't bother with me." She started to fumble with something and I caught the flask as she raised it to her mouth.

"And I'll take this for safekeeping. Honestly, Margaret. You are what gives Americans a bad reputation abroad." I found one of the many pockets inside my salway, slipped it in and hurried off.

I didn't mean to get turned around, but those marble corridors all sort of look the same after a while and the place was huge. I had the feeling I'd been traveling downwards for quite some time. We'd been a story above the street when we'd entered. Usually I'm not so easily lost, but the fact that I wasn't finding any doors or windows was making me frustrated and just a bit nervous.

Turning a corner, I came to another dead end and heaved a sigh. I had no idea where I was and even less of a clue how to get back to where I'd been. I was entirely turned around. And I hadn't seen a door in what seemed like a hundred years.

There was a heavy and elegant tapestry hung on a wall. Why they hung rugs on the walls was beyond me. Rugs, even beautiful ones, belong on the floor, especially on floors that are slick and hard. There was this irresistible draw for me and I reached out to run my hand over the tightly knotted silk. That's when I realized there was a door behind it.

Of all things! No wonder I couldn't find my way out—these maniacs hid the doors behind rugs...

I tried the knob, this intricate iron thing, and the door opened. I stepped into the room and immediately stopped. The room was empty except for a chair and the man tied to it. His clothes were in tatters, obviously a beggar or something of the like. We'd seen thousands of them during our time here. I found their poverty depressing and yet knew there was little I could do to alleviate it. I could give them my entire fortune and it would have been as effective as a drop of water in the desert.

Yes, I should have turned around and just pretended I'd seen nothing. I should have just forgotten the slumped shoulders and the sack-covered head that turned in my direction. It was none of my business, but I couldn't turn my back. Whoever the Emir was, this wasn't right and I didn't care that I might be breaking a hundred laws. I partially closed the door, leaving it just the least bit ajar.

I hurried across the floor, my sandals so slick against the marble that I practically skated to him.

"Don't worry. I'm a friend. I won't hurt you," I whispered and untied the sack from around his neck and yanked it off. I gasped, not so much at the bruises, but at the fact that I knew this man.

"Hello, Amy." Illya Kuryakin looked back at me and his cracked lips tried to form a smile. "Surprise?" He turned his head and looked back towards the door. "Can you untie me?"

"Of course, dear." Easier said than done though. The ropes were all stiff and covered with something flaky... rust? No, not rust, blood. I took a deep breath to keep my lamb and couscous where it belonged and finally got the knots binding his wrists loose enough for him to pull free of them. "Can you stand?"

He took a deep breath and, squinting his eyes shut, he forced himself to his feet. Illya swayed there and I grabbed him, holding him to me, forgetting that I wasn't wearing any support garments beneath my robes. He didn't seem to notice. I snapped my fingers and dug out Margaret's flask.

"Have a bit of this, dear, but be careful." I held it out to him and tried not to notice how his hands were trembling. He sniffed and nodded, taking first one and then a second cautious sip.

The bourbon seemed to revive him and he handed it back to me. The color was coming back to his face and his eyes looked more alert.

"We need to move," he whispered, taking a step; he nearly collapsed and I caught him. "Not the way you came." He was looking into the shadows at the back of the room. "They come that way."

"Who, dear?"

"My host and his buddies." I helped him half limp towards the shadows and that's when I saw the door.

"Stay here, let me look," I ordered, figuring I could move faster than he could. The door yielded easily to me, I am guessing they didn't think Illya was much worry in his current state. I looked back at him and he was moving better and was more alert. The amazing recuperative power of young men... it always surprised me.

Everything then seemed to happen in slow motion and then ridiculously sped up, like in a Keystone Kops movie. One minute we were creeping along the cool stone corridors, hiding in the shadows, behind furniture and columns.

The next minute, it seemed we were racing through the streets of Cairo in a stolen vehicle and me holding on for dear life as Illya wove the car in and out of traffic, heading for the desert. Only after the lights of the city faded behind us did I start to breathe normally again. After what seemed like hours, Illya pulled over to the side of what passed for roads out here and looked around. He apparently liked what he saw and shut off the engine.

"We have to go by foot now."

"Sweetheart, you haven't any shoes." All I could see were outcropping of rocks against an inky black sky and the wide desert stretching out to it.

"Believe me, I know." He sat and tore strips from the shirt that hung from him, wrapping his feet. He popped the clutch on the car, got behind it and pushed it until it gathered speed and rolled down an embankment. "With any luck, no one will spot that until morning." Then he pointed. "We go up."

He offered me his hand and we started climbing. I'm not in bad shape for a woman my age, but I am a woman my age. Illya, on the other hand, seemed part monkey, scaling rock faces that appeared devoid of any means by which to ascend. He seemed to know where he was going and I could do nothing else but follow him, my sandals slipping. Oh, for a pair of sneakers!

Eventually, we toppled into a small depression in the rocks and stopped. I made no pretense of not needing to catch my breath and rested as Illya moved among the boulders. A moment later, he pulled something out and held it up. A canteen! The water was warm and stale, but nothing had ever tasted so good to me or my parched throat. I was careful to just take a couple of sips and then passed the canteen back to Illya.

You wouldn't think it gets cold out in the desert, but at night, it does. The temperatures drop at an alarming rate and the night air touched the sweat covering me and made me shiver.

Then I felt arms around me. "Are you frightened?" Illya asked, his voice so gentle and calming. "I won't let anything happen to you, Amy; I swear this to you on my life."

"No, I'm just cold." Now I could see why Napoleon was always cuddling up with his partner, well, apart from the fact that he's smitten with the young man. Illya radiated heat as efficiently as a wood-burning stove.

He readjusted my thawb so that the voluminous robe surrounded both of us. "Try to get a little sleep. We'll stay here until morning and then try to make our rendezvous."

It had been a long time since I'd slept in the arms of a man and by rights, I shouldn't be sleepy now, but I found my eyes growing heavy. I settled against him and let his calm and regular breathing seduce me to sleep.

A gun blast isn't the most pleasant of sounds to wake to. In fact, I wouldn't recommend it at all. I jumped and looked around, a bit frantically, I suppose. Illya was standing and aiming. He fired off a shot and dropped back down.

"Sorry, they followed us."

"Who?" I was stupid enough to hazard a look. I pressed myself back into the recesses of the rocks as much as possible and wished Illya would do the same.

"The bad guys." He fired again and I winced. The noise was deafening. "Ten of them, one of me. Not the best of odds. Amy, can you handle a rifle?"

"Of course I can." My dear, sweet Albert and I used to go deer hunting, but it had been years.

Illya passed over his rifle and reached for a smaller hand gun. "I'm going to try to set up a cross fire. Cover me."

I opened my mouth to protest, but he was already moving and it was either protect this young man or watch him die. Not surprisingly I chose the former. The recoil of the rifle nearly knocked me on my.... um, salway. It did seem to confuse the men though.

I fired again, then heard a different sort of gunshot and figured that must be Illya.

We were doing okay and then there was a shot and I heard Illya cry out. My heart spun in my chest and I tried to draw the men's attention back towards me, but my ammunition was gone. They seemed to sense this and headed to where Illya was hiding. And I couldn't do a thing about it!

Dawn was coming and a chorus of mynah birds was kicking up a ruckus. With a sudden explosion, the birds took to the sky, startling both me and the men I'd been aiming at. At the crest of the hill, I saw why the birds had flown. There was a dark figure, flanked on either side by equally darkly clothed men, mounted on a horse as black as the night. My throat tightened. It wasn't a story after all; the Night Marauder existed! With a cry, they moved down from the hill, those funny curved swords of theirs waving. The rider followed, his robes blowing in the wind.

If it wasn't for the fact that I was about to meet my end, I would have found it all very exotic and fascinating.

The bad men fled and the men on foot followed, shouting and wailing. I took that moment to break cover and rush to where Illya was.

He was sitting up and holding a bit of rag to the trickle of blood running down the side of his face. A shadow fell across us and I gasped, involuntarily pressing back against Illya. Then I rallied. I was a Solo and no Solo ever showed fear.

"Leave us!" I commanded, pointing and that's when I heard Illya chuckling.

"If nothing, he knows how to make an entrance."

The rider dismounted and approached us, studying me cautiously. Of course, I was still hidden within the voluminous folds of my native garb. He didn't know I was an old woman; perhaps I could buy Illya some time.

"And who have we here? Some fair maiden, partner mine?"

I gasped and pulled off my hijāb. Then the Dark Marauder pulled the mask from his face and I was looking into the lovely hazel eyes of my favorite nephew. Napoleon's mouth dropped open and I giggled, partially out of amusement, but also from sheer emotional overload. A lesser woman would probably have swooned, but I am not the swooning type.

"Amy?" Napoleon was completely dumbfounded. "How...?"

"She rescued me. At least one Solo got the timetable right." Illya resumed dabbing at his forehead.

"Are you okay?"

"Grazed, nothing major." Illya looked out over the rocks. "You travel with quite the herd."

"You know how it is, once a leader..."

"Always a marauder."

"Would someone please just tell me what's going on?" I snapped and both men looked at me. I was tired and dirty, hungry, thirsty, and just not at my best. A little information seemed the least they could share with me.

"How about we get you back to Cairo and clean up a bit?"

"I wouldn't hate that," Illya muttered. "I haven't had a decent meal in days."

I watched as Illya walked into my room from the bathroom. He was all brown and white, suntanned and wearing a loose white shirt and matching pants. He was striking, if you overlooked the bruising that decorated his eyes and mouth.

Napoleon was in the shower and I could hear his out-of-tune singing over the rush of the water. There was a knock on the door and Illya was instantly back in the bathroom. Napoleon and the shower fell silent.

"Oh, good morning, ma'am, we were worried about you, ma'am." Mr. Abdul-Hadi stood there, wringing his hands. "What happened to you last night, ma'am?"

Was that only last night? It seemed like a year ago. One thing Solos are good at is story telling. "I went to look for some coffee for Margaret and got all turned around. I ended up outside and just came back to the hotel. It seemed safer."

"You shouldn't wander around Cairo by yourself, ma'am." My lie seemed to fool him, although he was looking past me to the bathroom and my breath caught. Was there something amiss? "Will you be joining us for the trip out to the Great Pyramids this morning, ma'am?"

"No, I have a bit of headache from last night. I think I will stay in."

"There can be no refund, ma'am."

"That's all right, Mr. Abdul-Hadi. I understand." I started to close the door and for a moment it looked as if he might try and stop me. Then he nodded and hurried off. I waited for a ten count and opened the door again just to be sure he was gone. He was.

I walked to the bathroom and tapped on the closed door. "It's okay."

"Who was it?" Illya peeked out.

"Our local guide. He's very... "

"Attentive?" Napoleon suggested, still inside the bathroom.

"Concerned?" Illya's gaze went back to the closed door.

"Odd," I said. "And he tends to hover over us, like he's afraid we'll get into some sort of mischief without him around. I never get into mischief... on purpose." Both men laughed and I was interrupted by yet another tap and sighed. "It's like Grand Central Station today." The bathroom door closed again and I went to greet my guest.

This time it was a young boy and he carried a large arrangement of flowers.

"What's this?"

"My master, he wishes for me to convey that he regrets your hasty departure last night and would like to see you again."

I tipped him and he scurried off. I was just about to call to my guests when a hand slipped over my mouth and Napoleon whispered into my ear. "We're not here."

I pulled his hand away and scowled. "I wonder why that lovely man sent me flowers. That was such a thoughtful gesture. I know, I'll set them on the table and take a photo of them."

With a triumphant look, I carried them to the balcony and set them on table there. The noise from the city was an ever present roar and I quickly stepped into my room and closed the glass doors behind me.

"Napoleon Solo, what's gotten into you?" I glared at my nephew, who looked rather childlike in the oversized white Turkish robe the hotel provided.

"That nice man, Jauhar al Allah? Not so nice. He's an international jewel smuggler. The best we can figure is that he meets up with a nice lady and somehow gets her to carry the jewels into the US."

"And it looks as if he's set his sights on your aunt." Illya touched a finger to his lips and slipped out of the room and onto the balcony. He bent over the bouquet, but I couldn't see what he was doing.

"I'm gilding the lily, Napoleon. I found him even more disturbing than our guide." I stopped then and frowned. "Do you think they might be in cahoots?"

"Not until just now." He seemed pleased that I'd come to the same conclusion as he had.

Illya came back in and my nephew was immediately focused upon him.

"They're clean, which is something I can't say for the balcony." His white shirt was streaked with black, residue from all the pollution. Before visiting here, I'd thought Cairo wildly exotic. I wasn't prepared for how polluted and dirty it was. "Now what?" He sat down on an uncomfortable stool and sighed.

"Somehow we have to get inside and try to figure out how he's moving his merchandise. And we need to be ready to intercept before THRUSH can. They pick up this load and there will be hell to pay." Then Napoleon looked over at me and grinned.

"THRUSH?" I asked. "They are the bad guys?"


"And you?"

The two men exchanged a glance and Napoleon said, "UNCLE—the good guys."

I smiled and nodded. "All righty then, if you say so." The phone rang and I hurried over to it. "Hello? Oh, Emir Jauhar al Allah, yes, the flowers are lovely. You didn't need to... tonight? Dinner with you? Tonight?" I looked over at Napoleon, but he'd locked eyes with his partner. Illya cocked his head and then shrugged his shoulders. Napoleon then looked back at me and nodded slowly. "I would be honored. At what time?" I reached for a piece of paper and Napoleon held it still for me. "All right, I will expect your driver at seven. Thank you."

"Do you think it's safe?" Illya said the moment I hung up the phone.

"He has no reason to connect her with your disappearance and for all he knows you're dead. If he's picked her as his mule this time, this might be the way he operates."

"I'm still not..."

"She's my aunt; I'd not risk it if I thought there would be any danger to her. Aunt Amy, do you have a luncheon this afternoon?"

"Yes, we have a gentleman coming to speak to us about Egyptian artifacts before we go to the museum tomorrow. It's our last stop before we fly out."

"Tell everyone where you are going tonight. Be excited, enthusiastic..."

"Giddy?" I offered and laughed.

"If you can manage."

"What about you two?" They exchanged a look and sly smiles.

"Oh, we'll think of something."

I stared at the suitcase and shook my head slowly. It was beautifully crafted crocodile hide and hand tooled from the looks of it. It must have been very expensive—too expensive a gesture I thought, but my beloved nephew disagreed. His eyes sparkled when the suitcase was delivered.

"You must have made quite the impression upon Jauhar al Allah last night, Aunt Amy. You were a good girl, weren't you?"

"Napoleon Solo! You aren't so old that I can't take you over my knee."

"I'd pay money to see that happen." Illya was busy, rummaging around in his suitcase. They'd moved in with me lock, stock and barrel last night. It looked a bit ludicrous to see them sharing the narrow twin bed, but they did it with such a practiced ease that I guessed it wasn't a first for either of them. What the maid thought about two shaving kits joining my toiletries in the bathroom, well, she shouldn't be a nosy Nellie.

Napoleon laughed and rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Doctor Kuryakin, are you ready?"

"Doctor?" I looked over at Illya. "You're a doctor?" He unrolled a square of cloth from his own suitcase. Inside the fabric was a set of what looked to be surgical instruments.

"Of quantum physics, but, extrapolated, that would be neither here nor there." Illya pulled on a pair of glasses and looked up at me from over the top of the rims. "Now, if the sight of leather makes you faint, you should look away." He selected a long thin scalpel and opened the suitcase.

I realized he was making a joke and laughed, still confused.

"So you had a good evening, dear?" Napoleon asked and I looked over at him, then back at Illya. After a few moments, he settled on a spot and began to cut through the lining, very slowly and very carefully. Looking over his shoulder, it was then I realized the lining had been previously cut. It had been repaired so skillfully, I would have never noticed. But Illya had.

When the slit was about two inches long, he pulled out a gizmo that looked like a fountain pen. He clicked one end and the opposite end lit up. He then picked up a long tube and slipped it and the light into the slit and peered down the tube and softly whistled.

"Whew, sparkly," he murmured. "Napoleon, would you care for a look at what a prince's ransom in jewels looks like?"

"Emir, you mean." Napoleon changed places with his partner. "How do you plan to get them all out without making the hole larger?" He sat back and watched Illya assemble something else. I'll be hanged if a minute later I wasn't looking at a small vacuum cleaner and a very large Illya Kuryakin grin.

"I believe I shall hoover." By the time he finished, the little vacuum bag was stuffed and the suitcase was empty. He loosened the bag and, tying it tightly shut, tossed it to my nephew. Napoleon gauged the weight of the bag and nodded.

"And now." Napoleon removed a small bag from his suitcase and tossed it to Illya. "What UNCLE taketh, it giveth back."

Illya opened the bag and dumped out what I assumed were paste jewels into his hand. "I can't wait to see THRUSH's face..." Illya began to feed them down the tube. He continued until he'd apparently replaced the same weight in artificial jewels.

My nephew held up a small jewel, a diamond from the looks of it. "And now la gloire supreme."

Illya smiled back. "But of course."

"Pardon my ignorance, but..."

"A tiny tracking device that will permit us to follow them back to their lair," Napoleon said as Illya dropped the faux jewel through the small slit.

"Now if my lovely assistant would hand me a needle and thread, I will remove all evidence that we were here."

The trip back from Egypt was long and exhausting. Even Ester's good-natural babbling grated upon my nerves after a bit and I feigned sleep to escape her. I longed to be back in the tourist class with my nephew and his partner. It seemed somehow more exciting back there than in the stuffy trappings of first class.

By the time we touched down, I was weary to my bones. I'd sent my other luggage with my clothes and souvenirs on ahead of me to be delivered to my penthouse. Napoleon had insisted that I make a great show of proudly carrying my small case on board and setting it carefully under my seat. All my traveling companions oh'ed and ah'ed over it, well, except for Margaret, who thought it was pompous and that I should have given it to her, since she was the reason the Emir invited me back for dinner. Can you imagine the gall of some people?

I got off the plane and looked around to get my bearings. The boys told me they would meet me in the baggage area, so that was the direction I headed in. The great mass of people rushed past me, anxious, I supposed, to get to baggage claim and customs. I'd traveled enough to make this part of the journey just this side of dull and unexciting.

Still, I carried my little case carefully. Turning a corner, I suddenly was faced with four men, all with hard looks about them. I was instantly on alert.

"There you are," one of them said, pointedly staring at my case. "I hope you had a good journey."

"I did. Thank you."

"I wasn't talking to you, old woman," he snapped and I frowned. "I was talking to your guests."


"That hand case belongs to me." He reached for it and I retreated a step.

"I beg your pardon? The Emir, Jauhar al Allah, gave this to me as his personal gift."

"Exactly! Now hand it over!"

"Why would she do that?" I heard my beloved nephew's voice behind me.

"Not your business, Solo." Why wasn't I surprised that this stranger knew Napoleon?

"Then it's none of mine either." Illya had joined us.

"Hand it over, or I shoot her."

Napoleon had told me the whole point was for them to think they were stealing the suitcase from me, but that didn't mean I had to go down without a fight. After all, I am a Solo.

I swung the suitcase, catching his weapon hand and slamming it upward. The gun discharged and caught the sprinkler head. Water poured down upon us and I struggled with the leader while Napoleon and Illya went fist de cuffs with the others. Then the case was wrestled from my grip and I was unceremoniously shoved backwards. I fell into the boys and knocked them to the floor. The other four scurried away just as airport security arrived.

Sobbing real tears of exhaustion and fear, I explained how these ruffians attacked me and stole my gift from Emir Jauhar al Allah and how these two nice men tried to stop them. The giddy feeling I had started to trickle away, leaving me twice as tired as before.

Suddenly, I felt arms, Napoleon's arms, around me, guiding me. I let the world blur by me at that point, permitting him to lead me through the airport and into the very cool May night air.

"Are you all right?" he murmured to me as I started to shiver.

"Yes, just a little cold."

A car pulled up before us and Illya leaned over and talked to the driver through the open window. The next thing I knew we were bundled inside and barreling our way through New York traffic. I must admit, traveling with my nephew is much more efficient than without.

Soon I was in my own home, wrapped in my favorite robe and sitting in front of a roaring fire. One thing Illya really knew how to do was lay a fire.

"So what of those men now?" Napoleon's hair had dried in a mass of waves and he looked like a boy rather than a very capable man.

"Now we let others take over. Our mission is done." Illya's voice was muffled by the towel he was using to dry his hair. He sat on a small settee close to the heat of the fireplace and after a squeeze to my shoulders, Napoleon went and joined him.

"And await the fireworks when THRUSH realizes they've been duped." Napoleon partially stifled a yawn. "Sweetheart, could I impose upon you for some coffee?"

"Oh, gracious, my manners!" Immediately I was on my feet and walking to the kitchen. The weariness I'd felt in the airport vanished as the familiarity of my home revitalized me. I made some coffee and found the babka my housekeeper had bought. My mouth watered as I cut thick slices and arranged them prettily on a plate. Putting it, the coffee, cream, sugar, and everything else on a tray, I carried it back to the living room and then realized just how long I'd been.

Setting it down on the coffee table, I smiled over at the slumbering men. Propped up against each other, their faces relaxed in sleep, they looked so... well, not exactly innocent, but at least not as dangerous as they had an hour earlier..

I still have many questions to ask them and I am determined to have suitable answers. There was a double life that my nephew and his friend led. I'd had a taste of it and while I didn't want more, I wouldn't mind an explanation or two.

Until then I would have to be content with my own ponderings. Napoleon moved in his sleep, nestling closer to Illya, and I smiled. Many of these memories I would later share with friends, but there was one, of sleeping in the comforting embrace of a much younger man, I think that one I'd keep to warm myself in the cold nights to come. After all, I'm old, but I'm far from dead.

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