New York City, U.N.C.L.E. HQ, Summer, 1966
"I hear Napoleon has tickets for a Broadway show this Saturday night," Sarah Johnson said as she poured a generous dollop of Italian dressing on her salad. Sarah worked in Intelligence and spent a lot of time on the top floor of the complex, in and around Waverly's office. She always seemed to know everything that was going on.
"Oh?" Wanda from Reception asked casually beside her. "Which show?"
Sarah eyed her friend slyly. "Does it matter?" she asked and they both broke up laughing because, indeed, when it came to a possible date with Napoleon Solo, where they went with him didn't matter, not at all.
It was a typical mid-summer Monday at U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters. That meant a good portion of the support staff had taken the day off, the corridors were a little less busy, long-term projects were put on hold, and there were more seats available in the commissary, which is where they were now. Only the field agents continued, unaffected, by the season. Neither Thrush, nor death, ever took a vacation. Nor did Alexander Waverly, come to think of it, but their boss functioned entirely beyond the bounds of normal human comprehension, and it never occurred to anyone that he might desire some time off.
"I don't understand," said Cecily, who had been paying less attention to the conversation than to the pattern of numbers that were streaming through her head from a code she was currently trying to break.
The other women around the table regarded her sympathetically. She was the new one in Cryptography, hired barely two months ago.
"A show will mean a nice, expensive dinner before and drinks afterward," Connie from Communications explained. Connie usually worked the night shift, but for the next two weeks, she was on days, filling in for vacationing staff members.
"And then there's after after," Wanda added, which prompted knowing titters around the table.
"What happens after after?" Cecily asked innocently. Sarah bent an elbow and leaned in close. "Oh, honey, that's entirely up to you."
There were more titters as Cecily looked up from her sandwich and glanced at the grinning women around the table. They all seemed to be sharing a secret she wasn't privy to. Cecily tried to smile in return, but the whole scene made her uncomfortable. Although these women had befriended her and taken her under their collective wing, working for U.N.C.L.E. was a lot like being back in high school. After so many years, she thought she'd left that sort of thing behind, but once again, she was the class nerd surrounded by the popular girls. Despite all her degrees, all these attractive, sophisticated women felt sorry for her. And though they didn't say so aloud, Cecily knew what they were thinking: She wore glasses. She had freckles. She was slightly plump. Her clothes weren't stylish; her hair was thin and straight. She wasn't ugly, but she wasn't pretty either. She knew exactly what she was. The word was plain.
"I'll bet he won't even be in town for the weekend," Mandy Stevenson said dismissively. Mandy was willowy, studious, and knew a slew of languages. Cecily liked her best.
There were nods all around.
"Oh, he'll be available," Mitzi, dark-eyed, but incorrigibly sunny, said. She would know; she was Solo's secretary. "They're only going down to Rio on Tuesday for a day or two. It's routine."
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Routine? Heard that one before. Remember last time? Four days in intensive care?"
"Yeah," Mandy sighed wistfully. "And I'd been so looking forward to seeing Nureyev dance."
Sarah turned to Mitzi. "So, is he taking the stewardess out?"
Mitzi shook her head as she ate. "That's been over for months."
"Is he thinking of taking you?"
Mitzi shook her head again. "Nope. I'll be away this weekend." She gestured expansively around the table. "He's all yours, girls."
"Okay, I'm in," Wanda said as she dug a dollar bill out of the side pocket of her skirt and tossed it on the table.
"Me, too," Connie said. Another dollar joined the first, followed by two more.
Cecily frowned. She couldn't help but ask. "What are you doing?"
"Starting the lottery," Sarah said as she gathered up the money. "You see, hon, it works this way. Napoleon will be looking for a date, and we all share him."
"All five of you?"
"No, actually, it's more like twenty-five of us," Wanda giggled.
"Over thirty sometimes, if you count the night shift," Sarah corrected her before continuing. "And we got tired of competing, so we created the lottery. Everybody throws in a dollar, and we'll draw a name tomorrow morning, and that woman will win. Then, when Napoleon starts asking around to see who's free, the rest of us will tell him we have plans and steer him toward the winner. The winner takes the money, buys herself a new outfit, and gets her hair done."
"Unless he doesn't make it," Wanda added. "You never know with field agents. If he's delayed on a mission and has to break the date, the pot carries over to the next lottery."
"Or if he's hospitalized," Mandy said, her voice growing soft, "then we use the money to buy flowers for him and Illya."
Cecily shook her head, amazed. "How long has this been going on?"
Sarah shrugged. "About a year or two."
"Does he know?"
The women exchanged glances, then directed their attention to Mitzi, as if she were the obvious one who might have an answer. "Don't think so," she said. "He's never mentioned it." She shrugged. "Why should he care? He always gets a date."
"C'mon, Cecily," Mandy coaxed her good naturedly, "throw a dollar in."
"But if you win," Connie cautioned, "don't expect him to fall in love with you. Field agents can't marry. They don't even go steady."
"Especially Napoleon," Mitzi added.
"Gee, I dunno." The whole arrangement sounded too weird, though Cecily didn't want to say so aloud and offend them. Despite what she sensed was their unspoken pity, they'd been nice to her. "I don't even know who he is."
"You don't know who Napoleon Solo is?" Sarah asked dryly as she sat back in her chair. "Chief of Enforcement? The Heir Apparent? Waverly's Golden Boy?"
"His partner is Illya Kuryakin, that cute Russian guy," Connie prompted. "You know, blue eyes, all that blond hair? Oooh, momma!" She shivered comically. "We'd have a lottery for him, too, if he wasn't Mr. Greta Garbo, 'I vant to be alone.' Haven't either one of them been down to Cryptography lately?"
Cecily shook her head, still at a loss. "I don't think so."
"Well, turn around then," Wanda said, lowering her voice. "Because there he is now."
As discreetly as she could, Cecily angled in her chair to steal a glance over her shoulder. On the other side of the commissary, a thirtyish man in an impeccably cut business suit was hefting a tray and mulling over the day's selections scribbled on the mounted chalkboard.
"Where's Illya?" Connie asked, scanning the lunchtime crowd. Uncharacteristically, the Russian agent was nowhere in sight. "They're usually joined at the hip."
"Probably working through lunch," Mitzi said. "He called the office from the lab earlier."
Even at this distance, Cecily could see that Solo stood out from the rest of the regular Headquarters staff, as handsome as a matinee idol and as sleek as a hood ornament. Occasionally, he turned to laugh and to exchange pleasantries with folks around him, but Cecily wasn't fooled. Like the other Enforcement agents she'd encountered, he had that same air about him, like he was entitled, like he owned the place — only more so.
Like Stevie Rubinek, the student council president in her senior year, who always snubbed her in the halls. It was high school all over again.
"I don't think so," Cecily said uncertainly as she retreated back to her lunch. Even if he turned out to be nicer than Stevie, this Napoleon Solo was way out of her league. "I don't think I'm his type."
"Honey, every woman is his type," Sarah informed her sagely.
Mandy patted Cecily's shoulder. "Oh, c'mon, it'll be fun. And just the other day, you said you hadn't been out with guy in a while, right?"
Grudgingly, Cecily nodded. She knew Mandy was trying to be nice, but she wanted to keep her pathetic love life to herself.
"Who knows? Maybe you'll get lucky. What do you have to lose?"
Because they were all looking at her, because she really didn't want to alienate her newfound friends, and because she knew that they actually meant well, against her better judgment Cecily tossed a dollar into the pot. Then, she returned to her sandwich and the code problem that was troubling her, and never gave their silly lottery a second thought.
Sarah made the announcement the next day in the ground floor ladies room to a circle of shocked faces and incredulous gasps.
"You can't be serious!" Wanda exclaimed, but Sarah nodded soberly to indicate that, yes, indeed she was. Wanda still couldn't believe it. "Our little Cecily on a date with Napoleon Solo? Now, there's an image!"
"He'll eat her alive," Connie said.
"If she's lucky," Mandy joked sotto voce, her eyes dancing mischievously. And even though she'd kept her voice low, Connie heard her and gave her a punitive slap on the arm. "Ooooh, I heard that."
Wanda was not amused either. "He doesn't even know her. And it wouldn't occur to him to ask her out even if he did."
The others looked at her, frowning, but Wanda was undeterred. "I'm sorry; I know it sounds cruel, but it's true. She doesn't wear make-up; she's always in flats. I mean, she's nice enough, but she doesn't stand out. She doesn't send out signals. C'mon girls, you know Napoleon. She won't register on his radar. He won't even notice her."
The others nodded, conceding the truth even if they didn't like it.
"So what are we going to do?"
Sarah, who'd been considering the problem, shrugged her shoulders heavily. "There's nothing we can do. Rules are rules. The integrity of the lottery is at stake. If word gets out that we've rigged it, it'll be back to every woman for herself, and we don't want that, right?"
The murmurs echoing through the tiled room said that they didn't.
"Then we'll just sit tight. It's only Tuesday, and he's gone anyway. Maybe he'll find himself a date from the outside."
"Or he'll be too tired," Mandy said hopefully.
"Or delayed," said Connie.
"Or injured," said Mitzi.
"Or dead," said Sarah. When the others groaned aloud, she held up her hands, defensively. "Well, we all know, it's always a possibility."
"A lottery to go out with a guy who won't fall in love with anyone and can't even get life insurance." Connie shook her head, disgusted. "Are you going to read the fine print to Cecily when you tell her she won?"
"I guess," Sarah sighed, "although she's bound to find out about it all soon enough."
Late Friday afternoon, Napoleon Solo appeared in the Section Four office, roaming among the desks and consoles and nodding to the few staffers who were still on duty. Sarah saw him coming from the corner of her eye. Solo's presence in the lower sections wasn't unusual. He rarely called support staff up to his office, preferring to visit them on their own turf when he had a need or a problem, either because it made them more comfortable for him to do so, or because he was too restless around headquarters to sit behind a desk for too long.
"Hi, Na — Mr. Solo," Sarah greeted him, catching herself. This visit looked official. Obviously, there was something on his mind.
"Ah — Miss Johnson," he said, tipping his chin to her. "Could I, ah, see you for a moment? In private?"
"Sure." As she rose from her desk, she thought: Uh-oh. There was something in the tone of his voice that sounded like trouble.
He led her out of the office, down the corridor, and into a nearby conference room that was, at the moment, unoccupied. As the door swished shut behind them, insuring their privacy, Solo leaned back against the edge of the conference table and folded his arms.
"All right," he said. "Tell me who I'm supposed to be taking out tomorrow night."
Sarah blanched. "You know about —?"
Solo rolled his eyes. "Look: every time I need a date around here, one woman accepts — just one, mind you — while everyone else is mysteriously and conveniently otherwise engaged. There's obviously a conspiracy of some sort going on, and I suspect you're the one I should see about it.
"Now, I've been asking around all day, and everyone's been acting pretty evasive, and frankly, I don't have a lot of time or patience for it. It's Friday afternoon and I have a mission report to complete, not to mention a pile of new weapons acquisitions for Section Two to approve. So could you or someone — anyone — please tell me: who the hell am I taking out Saturday night?"
He looked at her, his eyes communicating both a demand and a plea for pity.
Sarah shifted nervously and chewed her lower lip, not wanting to give him an answer.
"Sa-rah —" Despite his general affability, Solo could be intimidating when he wanted to be. Like now.
There was no avoiding it. Sarah swallowed hard and said, "Cecily Sobeleski."
Solo straightened, narrowed his eyes, and leaned into her. "Who?"
"The new girl in Cryptography. Well, she's not that new. I mean, she's been here two months and — "
Solo was looking at her as if she were speaking to him in some obscure Tibetan dialect. Then, after a moment, it dawned on him. "Glasses? Freckles? Straight brown hair? Works a lot of overtime?"
Sarah exhaled a deep breath. "That's her. You're not angry, are you?"
He wasn't angry, more like confused and exasperated. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing back the unruly lock that usually hung over his forehead. "How the hell do you girls arrive at these decisions, anyway? Cut cards? Draw straws? Play rock-scissors-paper?"
"Ah, c'mon, Napoleon. She hasn't had a date since she came here."
"I don't doubt it." He held up a hand. "Sorry. I didn't mean that. It hasn't been a good week. I'm sure she's a nice kid."
He considered for a moment and finally surrendered to the inevitable. "I don't think we've ever been introduced properly. Does she even know who I am?"
"She knows. We told her."
He leveled his gaze at Sarah. "You mean warned her. I can just imagine. And she still wants to go out with me?"
Sarah's mouth puckered in an impish grin. "Why don't you ask her yourself?"
Solo shook his head and made a sound deep in his throat, but there was no doubt that he would do exactly that. He motioned to Sarah carelessly, granting her leave to go, but as the door swished open, Solo's voice came from behind her: "So how much is in the kitty?"
Sarah suppressed a smile. There was no trying to keep a secret from a secret agent. "Thirty-four dollars."
"Well, that should buy a pretty nice dress."
"Did you have a good time?" Solo asked.
It was Saturday, and he'd taken her everywhere Connie had predicted. And now it was late, nearly midnight, and they were walking the two blocks from where he'd parked his car to her apartment building. It was a beautiful summer evening — warm but not too hot, and clear, with a soft breeze — the kind that shows up so rarely in the city that it begs for a stroll.
"Yeah, I did, actually," Cecily replied.
Solo cocked an eyebrow. "You sound surprised."
"I suppose I am. I didn't think someone like you would want to take out someone like me."
"Then you underestimate us both." He gently took her arm and threaded it through his.
"You're probably right. You're not what I expected."
And he wasn't, Cecily reflected. Not like snotty Stevie Rubenik at all. Nor any of the students she'd dated in grad school. Not like anyone she'd ever met, actually. He held open doors, pulled out chairs, helped her on with her shawl, anticipated her moves and needs before she knew them herself, and always had an interesting or funny thing to say. He could read a wine list without guessing, knew maitre'ds and theater ushers personally, could turn on the charm like a light bulb. He was almost too good to be true. Being with him was weird — like being in a romantic movie.
"Should I take that as a compliment?" he asked, unruffled. Nothing seemed to faze him. If it wasn't for the gun in the shoulder holster that every once in a while peeked out from under the edge of his suit jacket, reminding her of a darker, underlying reality, he would have been the perfect fantasy.
What was that board game? Dream Date? Yeah, that's what this was like, Cecily decided.
"Truth is, I wasn't sure I wanted to go out with you either," she confessed. "You kind of scare me."
"Oh, you mean the gun."
"Yeah," she lied.
"Sorry. It's required. I'm always on duty." He squeezed her arm, pulling her close. "So: was it worth the risk?"
"Oh, sure," she laughed. "But even if it turned out to be a disaster, I figured that if I went out with you, it might break the ice and get me other dates." Her eyes shifted sideways. "I mean, around U.N.C.L.E., aren't you, like, the gold standard or something?"
Now, it was Solo's turn to be amused. "That's quite savvy of you," he complimented her.
"I may not be pretty, but I'm not dumb."
"Don't say that." His arm left hers and wrapped itself around her shoulder, and she allowed it, though when she tucked in close, she felt the lump of steel that rode his rib cage. She also noticed that he always kept her on his left side, leaving his right hand free to draw, if necessary. Fortunately, it hadn't been necessary, though Sarah had warned her about that, among other things.
"In fact, you look very pretty tonight," he said, and although he had a penchant for flattery, she knew he wasn't lying. She'd spent all morning at Macy's looking for the perfect dress, shoes, and jewelry, then all afternoon getting her hair swept up at the local beauty salon. Thirty-four dollars could go a long way.
"I guess I don't often make the effort."
"You have different priorities." He shrugged. "Some of my best friends are like that, too."
"So, you like the dress?" she asked. Heck, if he was in the mood to flatter her, why not milk it?
"Hmmm." Solo halted, took a step back, and canted his head as he considered the question. Cecily was sorry she'd asked it. His scrutiny, however playful, made her nervous. Unconsciously, she pulled her shawl closer around her and hugged her arms.
"It's definitely you," he agreed, as he returned his arm to her shoulder. "But maybe next time, if you don't mind me saying so, a little lower neckline, to show off more cleavage. A woman should exploit her assets."
"Then it wouldn't be me," Cecily said, ignoring the fact that he'd just complimented her bosom, which she knew was decently shaped as bosoms went, though no one had ever told her so, before.
"You have a point," Solo conceded. He tilted his head back, squinting at the stars, which were barely discernable beyond the glow of the street lamps.
"As for not being dumb, let's see: Ph.D. University of Chicago, 1966. Your work was in number theory, wasn't it? Post-graduate work at M.I.T. Three articles published in the Journal of Applied Mathematics."
"Which means you did all the work and the principal researcher took most of the credit."
"You read my articles?" she asked, amazed that he'd even bothered to find out this much about her. She wondered how much else he knew.
"I looked them up. Couldn't understand a single word."
His honesty made her laugh.
"But I know someone who can. Give me a couple of days, and I'll introduce you." She noticed he was studying her again. "Do you play piano?"
"Violin, lessons for twelve years."
"Even better. Like baseball?"
"Spent my childhood at Ebbets Field."
"Speak any languages?"
What is this, a debriefing? she almost said, but instead, she played along.
"German, a little French. But my grandmother who lives in my building speaks Polish and Russian."
"Is she a good cook?"
Solo smiled. "Perfect," he said. "I have just the guy for you."
"Another Enforcement agent?"
Solo nodded. "My partner. I think he'll like you."
"Sarah said you guys can't fall in love."
"We can't marry," he corrected her. "At least, not while we're working in the field." He stopped. They'd arrived at her doorstep. "And Mr. Waverly would prefer that we not get too attached. To anyone. Is that a problem?"
Cecily chewed her lip thoughtfully. "No, it's okay," she decided. "I've known lots of researchers who are married to their work as well. I think I can handle it."
"Good." Solo took her hands in his. "Well, I guess this is good night, then. I want to thank you for a lovely evening."
"I enjoyed it, too," she agreed, rather surprised that she could say so.
"Mind if I give you a kiss?" he asked, still being playful.
"I was looking forward to it."
He leaned down and touched his lips to hers, planting a firm, light kiss. As he drew back, she asked somewhat ruefully, "Do you kiss all the other girls at the office that way?"
"Just the new ones."
"I'm not so new any more," she told him. "Haven't I passed my initiation test yet?"
Solo's eyebrows climbed. She was daring him, and as apparently intuitive as he was, he obviously hadn't expected that. He took the dare.
"If you want something better," he said, "you'll have to take off your glasses."
She almost didn't. She almost stopped it right there, told him thanks, but no thanks, and sent him on his charming way. Who was she kidding anyway? She had never even landed a date to her high school prom.
Now, she was wading into deeper waters here, and she knew it. Sarah had warned her; they'd all warned her. Be careful with him. Napoleon might look harmless, but don't let all that polish and civility fool you. Remember who he is, and where he's been, and what he does, and what he's prepared to do. He's not Chief of Enforcement for nothing. Remember that he's dangerous in more ways than one. Make sure you know what you want, honey, and how far you want to go, because you'll be playing with fire, and, if you're not careful, you could get burned.
As Cecily recalled Sarah's little pep talk, she almost laughed. Well, they didn't know her very well, did they? She took off her glasses, folded them and stuffed them into her purse.
"There," she said, almost primly. "I'm ready."
She saw his eyes travel her face and take her measure, as if signaling his approach. And in the next moment, before she could take another breath, he was dragging her into his arms, pulling her close, surrounding her, engulfing her in a strong, bone-withering embrace. It was like being sucked into the vortex of a tornado: there was no choice but to go with it.
And she did, closing her eyes as his mouth found hers. He kissed her hard and deep, his lips nudging hers apart, his tongue gliding past her teeth.
Holy Mackerel! she told herself. She'd been kissed before, but never like this.
Because he wasn't just kissing her. He was absorbing her, inhaling her, taking possession of her body as well as her mouth, suffusing her senses and firing up every nerve ending she had. The kiss pierced right through her, racing through her body like a sudden bolt of electric current that chased a shiver straight up her spine and down again.
When he broke off, Cecily found herself still in his arms.
Eyes hooded, he murmured, "How old are you?"
"Twenty-six," she managed, still dizzy and gasping for air. "But what you really want to know is if I'm a virgin. The answer's no. I shared an apartment with a theoretical physicist for one semester, and you know how intense those physicists can be."
Solo chuckled low. "As a matter of fact, I do." Finally, with the mood tempered, if not quite broken, he released her. She staggered back a step and almost dropped her purse.
"Do you want to come up for coffee?" she asked, listening to her words as if they weren't her own. Did she really want to do this?
"I'd love coffee."
They both knew what that meant, but just to be clear, she asked anyway: "And afterward?"
Solo smiled seductively. "That's entirely up to you."
"That's what they said back at the office." She pulled her shawl tighter, even though the night felt a lot warmer than it had ten minutes ago. Getting control of herself, she straightened and risked drawing nearer to him. He just watched her expectantly, but even motionless, she could almost hear his body running on a low hum. It was a siren song, and it called to her. She felt a little drunk even though her last drink had been at least an hour ago.
"This isn't going to be some kind of charity thing, is it? Take the little brainy girl to bed and give her a thrill?" she asked.
He was still smiling, still amused. "Do I look like a social worker to you?"
She scanned him up and down, and as she did, she could still feel that kiss vibrating inside her from her lips right down to the tips of her toes. If he could kiss like that, what else could he do? Suddenly, all the wicked laughter around the commissary table made sense.
I may never get another chance like this, she thought.
No, he didn't look like a social worker and she said so. She reached for his hand. "Come on inside. If we stay out here much longer, my neighbors are going to call the vice squad."
Solo laughed and wrapped his arm around her again.
I hope I don't regret this, Cecily told herself as she dug into her purse, searching for her keys.
As it turned out, she didn't, not in the least.
Two weeks later.
"Napoleon's back in town this weekend," Sarah announced from the head of the commissary table. It was a Wednesday. There were at ten at the table today. "Right, Mitzi?"
Two seats down the row, Mitzi nodded. "Rosemary Clooney at the Rainbow Room."
"Ooh, that means satin and pearls at least," Wanda observed.
"Okay. Who's in?"
Once more dollar bills flew like snow flurries into a pile at the center of the table. Counting out the bills, Sarah noticed that one of their number was ignoring all the activity and calculating equations on her notepad instead.
"Hey, Cecily! Are you in?"
Cecily looked up from her figures. "Oh. Sorry. No, thanks. I'll pass."
As Sarah and Wanda exchanged glances, the former asked sympathetically, "What's the matter, hon? Didn't it work out with Napoleon?"
"Ummm... what?" Cecily was still concentrating. "Oh. No. I mean, yes. It went fine. Everything was fine."
Actually, more than fine. He'd stayed the night and half of the next day as well, and then took her out for a late Sunday brunch of mimosas and omelets. As she discovered to her delight, he didn't make love like a grad student. In fact, he didn't make love like anyone she'd ever met or imagined. Rather, he made love like he ate dinner: like someone whose days were numbered, and this was his last meal and he wanted to savor every last morsel. She'd never realized that sex could be like that. So free, so exhilarating, so purely pleasurable, and so much fun. Cecily felt giddy just thinking about it. And for days afterward, the scent of him permeated her bed like a lingering memory, enfolding her at night and greeting her in the morning. She didn't change the sheets for a week.
No wonder they had a lottery.
Then, just the other day, he'd introduced her to his partner, and life promised to get even better.
"And did you break the Sigma code for me yet?"
Startled, Cecily snapped her head up to find Solo leaning close to her, one hand braced against the back of her chair.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, dropping her pen.
He bent to the floor and retrieved it. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sneak up on you like that."
Cecily smiled, accepting her pen back. "You didn't. I was just preoccupied."
"And what about my key to that code?"
"All done. It's upstairs on your desk, waiting for you."
"Good girl," Solo said, then leaned close again and planted a kiss on her forehead. He turned to the others at the table. "You just have to love that great little brain of hers."
"And how about the rest of me?" Cecily asked, caught up in the banter. Even if it was a small one, the kiss in public made her feel bold.
"Oh, that's quite all right, too," he teased her. Turning serious, he held up a finger. "Now remember: the Rainbow Room means dancing. I want to see heels. High heels."
"Okay," she agreed, laughing.
Solo turned to Cecily's companions and tipped his chin at them. "Ladies, you all have a pleasant afternoon." Then he took his leave, fading back into the lunchtime crowd.
Cecily snuffled to herself and shook her head. Heels. That probably meant another hair setting appointment, too.
Returning to her notepad, she happened to glance up. Despite the din of the commissary in the background, her table was absolutely silent. All the women around it were staring at her, totally speechless. Wanda's mouth had actually dropped open.
Finally, Sarah spoke up. "You're going to the Rainbow Room with Napoleon? Why didn't you say so before?"
"Oh. Yeah, I'm going. But no, not with Napoleon. I'm going with Illya."
"Illya?" Connie squealed. Obviously, she wasn't pleased by the news.
"Ummm... yeah. It's a double date." Cecily shifted uneasily in her seat. "So it's okay. I mean, Napoleon definitely needs someone. Go ahead: you can still run the lottery."
"Well, gee, thanks," Wanda said. She didn't seem to want it to come out as sarcastic as it did.
Feeling distinctly uncomfortable, Cecily decided it would be better if she were somewhere else. "I gotta run," she told the others. "There's a lot of work waiting for me at my desk."
She slipped from her chair, but as she rounded the table, she halted next to Sarah and asked, "Does this mean everyone's going to be mad at me?"
Sarah smirked, then her face melted into a more genuine smile. "Hey, hon, we've all been there. Field agents have the attention span of a gerbil."
"And the life span, too," Wanda added scornfully.
"You just go along for the ride, and enjoy it while it lasts." She motioned to the other women seated around the table. "And we'll all still be here when you get back." They all nodded. "Just remember: agents come and go, but the headquarters' sisterhood is forever."
"Thanks," Cecily said. She felt a little better now.
She left the commissary and continued back down the ground level corridor against the general flow of traffic, her nose buried in the notepad, oblivious to the bodies that passed her. It was only a matter of time before she ran into one of those bodies, and she did, right before the elevator, colliding hard enough to knock her back a step.
"Are you all right?" asked a voice she recognized.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Cecily said, knowing immediately it was her fault. She looked up. It was Illya. He was wearing his glasses just like she was, and reading as he walked, just like she was, and she had to admit the image pleased her.
"Hi," she said.
They didn't know each other very well yet, and things were still at that awkward stage. Cecily didn't expect it to take too long to improve, however.
"Solve the Sigma code?" he asked casually, motioning to her notepad.
She nodded. "Yep. All done. But this Delta is still giving me trouble."
"Did you try using a sieve to generate prime factors for your algorithm, the way we talked about?"
"Not yet. I'm going to give it another try this afternoon."
Being with Solo had been an exciting but somewhat alien experience. Meeting Illya, just shaking his hand, she'd immediately felt a kinship. On the outside, he was like all the young professors and graduate students she'd lived and worked with for years. But on the inside, he carried the same spark that fired up his partner and that, she decided, should make an interesting combination.
"Going to lunch?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Already been. I saw Napoleon."
Illya offered her a vague, conspiratorial smile. "Does he have a date yet?"
She chuckled. She liked his smile. "They're still working on it."
"And he still has his heart set on the Rainbow Room?" Illya didn't sound happy. She patted his arm.
"Oh, c'mon. It's an excuse to dress up."
"I hate to dress up."
That almost prompted her to laugh out loud. "Rosemary Clooney, a live orchestra, dinner? What's not to like? It'll be fun."
"All right," he conceded, still sounding unconvinced. "But if it's not, we find an excuse to duck out early."
"Okay." And that would be fine, too. Despite his outward demeanor, she doubted that he made love like a graduate student, either.
"I have to go," he said. He sounded apologetic. "I have a meeting with Waverly at one."
"Remember to give that sieve a try," Kuryakin reminded her as he returned to his own reading.
"Yeah," she murmured, watching him drift away, a serene, solitary figure in the sea of U.N.C.L.E. personnel that streamed around him.
No, it wasn't going to take too long to get to know him. She knew his kind already.
Still, she wasn't going to fool herself. He was also a field agent and she was only beginning to learn what that meant. Sarah and the others were probably right.
Nevertheless, as she made her way to the elevator, Cecily couldn't quite repress a shiver of anticipation. Short though it may be, it was going to be one heck of a ride. And in the future, if and when it was over, she didn't think she'd be entering the lottery any more, or any lotteries for that matter. Lightning never struck twice in the same place, and she'd already hit the jackpot.