TILL THE COWS COME HOME AFFAIR

PROLOGUE

Illya Kuryakin felt good, better than he should. He turned over and began a slow, easy backstroke, letting the water slide easily by him. This was a part of physical therapy he handled with a minimum of fuss. Water had always had a special attraction for him. Of course, it made sense - even his horoscope sign, Scorpio, was a water symbol. Swimming always reminded him of being back in Kiev, when his father would gather their extended family up for the annual outing to the Black Sea. It was always a time of laughter, closeness and water, lots and lots of water.

He flipped as he approached the wall and kicked off from it. When he surfaced, he heard a splash which drew his attention and he looked over to see that his partner had joined him in the pool. That struck him as odd for Solo wasn't overly fond of water. He loved sailing upon it, but didn't spend any more time in it than was absolutely necessary.

"Hello, Napoleon." Illya paused, treading water. "I didn't expect to see you here. I thought you had all that paperwork."

"I did," Solo responded, wiping water from his face. "But the more I thought about you down here, struggling through the agonies of PT, the more I felt my place was here helping you shoulder that burden. After all, if you hadn't come back in for me, you wouldn't have been injured."

"True, but since when has that meant anything?"

"Since I have a desk full of paperwork, it's a brilliant day outside and I felt the need for a little workout..."

"It won't be that until you head for the deep end, my friend," Illya interrupted. "Standing in water up to your hips doesn't actually constitute physical exertion."

"..the better it sounded," Solo continued. "So, I put the paperwork in your 'In' basket and here I am." At Kuryakin's glare, he laughed and began a slow easy breast stroke towards the far end of the pool. "Ah, the privileges of rank and of having a partner on inactive duty and confined to desk work for the next month."

"At least I won't have to worry about typos and misspellings," Illya muttered as he resumed swimming, pulling easily past his partner.

Frowning, Solo increased his stroke and with equal ease, Kuryakin matched it, keeping just ahead of his partner. By the time they reached the end of the pool, Solo was putting serious effort into his swimming, but that didn't prevent the Russian from reaching the wall first, flipping and starting his lap back to the other end. Solo however, stopped and grabbed the tiled edge of the pool. He could match his partner on a gym mat, on any court or across any terrain, but in the pool, he was beat.

"It's body mass, isn't it? It has to be body mass," he muttered, hanging onto the side.

"Actually, muscle mass weighs more and slows you down in the water, that and makes it really hard to float." Illya had no trouble hearing across the pool. The room acted like an amp

"Will Mr. Napoleon Solo please report to the front desk? Paging Napoleon Solo."

"Looks like they found out how well you delegate," Illya said, hoisting himself up onto the side of the pool.

"No rest for the weary..." Solo followed, reaching for a nearby towel.

"I thought that was 'wicked'."

"You would. I'll be right back."

Solo's 'right back' stretched into a half an hour. If it weren't for the fact that they were in an UNCLE facility, Illya would have become concerned. More likely than foul play was the chance that Solo had met up with a former, current or future conquest and was making plans for the evening.

Illya showered and was dressing when Solo, still with the towel draped around his neck, returned. Gone was the jaunty, casual mood, replaced by something heavier.

"What's wrong, Napoleon? Did she turn you down?" Illya smiled, knotting his tie. At the lack of response, he turned to the dark haired agent, studying him.

Solo had collapsed to a bench and was staring straight ahead, without the least indication that he'd even heard the Russian's question.

"Napoleon?" He reached out and placed a hand on the man's forearm. When the hazel eyes turned towards him, he tried again. "What's wrong? Who was on the phone?"

"Oh, it was my mom. Dad..." Solo stopped and took a deep breath. "Dad had a heart attack. He's in Intensive Care and the doctors don't know whether he'll make it or not."

"Napoleon, I am truly sorry." Illya's condolence was genuine. He liked Solo's folks. They were warm, affectionate people who took him on his own terms. "Is there something I can do to help?"

"No, I've made all the arrangements with the airlines and Mr. Waverly. I managed to get a flight out tonight."

"Would you like me to go with you?" Illya would have never made the offer to anyone else. "Sometimes, it helps to have a third party along with a little more objective viewpoint."

Solo's look was all the answer he needed. He nodded and reached down a hand to Napoleon. "C'mon, let's go pack."

CHAPTER ONE

There was something peaceful about the Vermont landscape. There was something about it that not even the view from a window in the Intensive Care waiting room could detract from its beauty. Illya studied it for a long time. It brought him a solace he wished he could share with Katherine Solo.

The woman sat, huddled, rocking back and forth slightly, and lost in her grief and concern for the man who lay unresponsive several feet away. One by one, the family was allowed to wander in and stay for a few moments by the unconscious man's bedside. He wasn't family, exactly, but somehow that didn't seem to matter that much to the hospital staff. Like his partner, he was allowed to wander in, his mind plagued upon by the beeping and dancing lights of the various bits of equipment scattered here and there. He'd stood by the man's bedside, staring down at the slack, unresponsive face and wished he could pray to a god who would listen, one who would understand and leave this man alone and at peace with his family.

Illya returned to his place beside Katherine, pulling a forgotten sweater up about her shoulders. She smiled shakily at him and he returned it, taking a cold, work worn hand in his own, warming it.

"Thank you for coming, Illya. It's means a lot to us that you're here."

"Where else would I be at a time like this? You and your husband have always extended a welcoming hand to me. It would be poor payment indeed to abandon you now."

"Still, Napoleon tells me that you're still having your own…challenges at the moment"

The Russian smiled at her choice of words. "You should have seen the other guy. Besides, I'm grateful for it; otherwise I would have not had the opportunity to join Napoleon."

The sound of approaching footsteps brought his head up and Illya watched Napoleon and his sister, accompanied by a younger man, head back towards the waiting room.

"Mom," Napoleon began, nearly as soon as he'd reached the doorway, "Dr. Marcus wants to talk to you."

"All right, then, I know decisions have to be made." She stood, the weight of her burden sagging her shoulders.

"Don't sound so tragic, Mrs. Solo. I figure your husband has a bit more time with us." The doctor placed a kind hand on her arm.

"How much time, Doctor?" her voice faltered and Illya sat forward, ready for the diagnosis.

"Oh, I'd say about fifteen or twenty."

"Days?"

The man smiled and shook his head. "Years, Mrs. Solo, fifteen to twenty years, at least, or that's my prognosis. With proper bed rest, your husband should be fine. He will, of course, have to modify his work habits and being to take life a bit easier, but he should make a full recovery.

Tears that had been held firmly reined in check began to flow freely now as she sagged with relief. Napoleon was there instantly, holding and supporting her as she sobbed into his shoulder. Napoleon held her and rocked back and forth, whispering soft words of endearment and support into her ear. His sister was immediately there on the other side, each sibling hugging the other.

Feeling a bit like an outsider, Illya returned his gaze to the window, thinking of the landscape, thinking of his own family back in Russia. It was times like this that he very much felt a stranger in this country, even though he now often thought of it as home. He knew he could never live in Russia again, at least not as a free man. He'd tasted too much freedom to be able to go back to the oppressive rule of his homeland. Yet, it would be nice to visit and walk down the familiar streets of his childhood..

"Thank you, Doctor Marcus, that's great news," Napoleon was saying to the doctor. The age of the man had initially surprised him, but it was just another reminder that no matter how young he felt, time was marching on.

"Don't thank me; you've got one tough old bird for a father. Still, I think he should be back into the flow of things in six weeks or so."

"But," Katherine's head came up. "Who's going to run the farm while he's here? I can't do it alone."

"Oh, don't worry, Mom. Illya and I will help."

Illya looked up from the pile of sawdust he'd been shoveling for the past hour. "'Oh, don't worry, Mom. Illya and I will help.' You're marvelous, you know that?" He sneezed as dust got up his nose and returned to his task. It hadn't seemed like much of a hardship when they'd started, but the heat, humidity and dust were taking their toll upon his good nature.

Napoleon Solo looked over at his friend, perhaps in a former sense, and sighed. "I didn't know what else to say. Anyhow, it's just for a couple of weeks, until the hired hand gets back from his vacation. Besides, I don't know what you're worried about. There can't be too much to this. I mean, Dad is nearly 60. If he can do this, we can. We're UNCLE agents, we can do anything." He cast a look at his watch and straightened painfully, setting his shovel aside. "And as much fun as this is, it's about time to start the milking."

"Milking? That has an ominous sound to it. Why am I getting such a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, old friend?"

"Yeah, the cows – they have to be milked twice a day. Mom should be bringing them in from the field anytime now. Come on and I'll show you how to put a milking machine together, providing I remember, but I suspect it's like falling off a bike. You never forget once you learn."

It didn't prove to be quite that easy, but after a fashion they got one together. By this time, the cows were in their stanchions and munching away on the grain and hay put down by Katherine and Josie.

"How's it coming, boys?" She stuck an anxious head into the milking parlor and nearly laughed. It was hard to see any trace of the refined, polished man about town in the harried, shirttail out man who struggled with hose and equipment. "Do you want me to do that, Son?"

"Ah, no, I think I've got it now." Napoleon triumphantly stuck an air hose onto the motor and stood. "How's that look?"

"You'll send the cows running for the hills. You'd best let me get them together for you." Katherine bent to the task, experience sending her hands rapidly about her task. "Thisring goes here and you need to seat the pump before you attach the hose, like this." She spoke softly, evenly, so much like her son in that respect, but her son was just watching her with a look of confusions and anxiety. She pushed the assembled machine towards Solo. "Napoleon, my love, you and Josie can start the milking. And don't forget to turn the pump on first. It needs to pressurize before you start pumping. Illya, if you'll watch, I think you'll get the hang of it faster."

It did prove an easier task when the person assembling knew what they were talking about and Illya hefted two machines into the main part of the barn. Large brown eyes watched him as he passed and a bevy of cats scattered when he ventured too close to their food dish.

"Josie, where do you want these?" Illya shouted at the woman. She pushed her kerchief back onto her head and pointed to between two animals.

"Over there, Napoleon will show you how to put one on."

Mindful of the swishing tails and potent kick hazard, Illya shoved his way between the two caramel brown bodies, set the machines down and waited. A moment later, his partner appeared giving one of the cows a slap on her rump to move her over.

"This part I remember way too well," he admitted, squatting and setting down a small bucket of brownish liquid. "Mom will set up you. First you wipe down the udder like this." He squeezed water out of the rag and proceeded to wash off the udder and teats of the cow. He glanced over at the Russian and started to chuckle. "Illya, you're blushing, old son."

"It just seems rather…intimate. I haven't been properly introduced or anything." Illya could feel his cheeks warming and he studied the cement floor.

"Okay, Cow 421, this will be your waiter this evening – better?" Napoleon grinned and continued. "Once you do that, this end of the hose goes up here and you turn the spigot, then you take these and attached one to each teat. Got it?"

"Yes."

"Takes about 15 minutes or so and then you carry the pail out and dump it into the center container there and start all over again." Napoleon rubbed his hand affectionately over the cow's flank and smiled. "It seems like a hundred years since I've done this."

"And it will be an equal amount of time before I let you forget this."

Illya slumped to a couch in the living room and shut his eyes. Every muscle in his body ached and he wondered that he'd ever nursed the crazy idea that he was in shape. He raised his head and looked over at his partner, sprawled out in an armchair.

"Napoleon, don't take this wrong, but if I could get up, I'd beat you to within an inch of your life."

"If I could get up, I'd help you. It gets better, Illya, maybe not tomorrow or the day after, but it will. After some dinner, a hot shower and some sleep, you'll see."

"Speaking of such, supper is ready," Katherine said, sticking her head into the living room.

"Don't have to call me twice." Solo struggled to his feet and held out a hand to Kuryakin. Illya looked at it and then at his partner's face. He reached for it and jerked down, catching Solo off guard. Together, they tumbled to the floor and wrestled for a minute before the heavier Solo prevailed. "C'mon, say it."

"To you? Never!" Illya twisted, attempting to hoist up against the pin. It was an old game they played, each one intent upon making the other cry UNCLE.

"Honestly!" The voice from behind them made them pause in their rough housing. "After all the work you did today, you still have the energy to fight? Napoleon, let Illya up – you hurt him and you have to do everything yourself."

His mother was the voice of reason and, obligingly, Solo stood and offered a cautious hand down to his partner. Illya regarded it for a moment and decided that Solo wouldn't try anything not with his mother in the same room.

He was wrong. He had barely gotten to his feet before Solo spun him, twisting the Russian's arm up behind his shoulder blades.

"Ah, Napoleon!" Illya let out an involuntary yell as his arm went up a fraction higher than it was designed to go and he stood on his tiptoes.

"Then say it! Say Uncle."

"You'll have to break my arm first."

Suddenly the pressure was relieved at the sound of a sharp crack. At first, Illya feared it was his arm, but at Solo's yelp of pain, he realized it was merely the sound of Katherine Solo's wooden spoon against flesh.

Napoleon rubbed a bruised thigh with an air of hurt dignity as his mother pointed to the kitchen.

"You may be bigger than me and stronger, Napoleon Solo, but I'm still your mother." She turned to Kuryakin and threateningly waved the spoon. "And you'll get one too."

Illya raised his hands in mock surrender. "I'm going! I'm going!"

CHAPTER TWO "On This Farm He Had a Cow."

Illya Kuryakin half turned in the tractor seat and watched the mowing machine behind him. He'd had to admit that Solo was right, as usual. The first few days had been bad, but soon they blended into a sense of rhythm. In fact, he was getting very used to his time here. No one was shooting at him, trying to tie him up or whack him over the head, unless you counted his partner, of course. True, he could still barely walk from the barn to the house at the end of the day, but he certainly was sleeping at night more soundly than he had in years.

A horn drew his attention and he saw a far off figure waving to him. Obviously, lunch had arrived along with welcome respite from the sun. He cut the tractor's motor and climbed down, pulling his tee shirt away from his sweating body. If he weren't prone to sunburn, the shirt would have been gone by now, but he just didn't want to have to face his days here with the added burden of a sunburn. He finger combed his hair into some send of order as he walked towards the road.

"How's it going, Illya dear?" Katherine looked up from her task of setting out sandwiches on a blanket. As he sank to the blanket, she poured out a glass of cold milk and held it out to him.

"Hot, it's very hot today. How's Mr. Solo?" He reached for the proffered glass, draining it in just a few swallows. He was never much of a milk drinker as a child and it was amazing how refreshing it tasted. Immediately, it was refilled.

"Fine, the doctors say he should be ready to come home in a few days." She pulled aluminum foil off a bowl of potato salad and handed it to him. "I can't say I won't be happy to have him home, but I'm going to miss you boys. I don't know what I would have done without you. Especially since Josie is so far away now. It makes me feel better just having you here."

Illya glanced up, slightly embarrassed by the praise. "You would have survived you're stronger than you think. Napoleon's the same way. Still, I have to admit I have a whole new respect for farmers."

"What about farmers?" Napoleon Solo plopped down beside his partner and leaned over to deposit a kiss on his mother's cheek before reaching for his own glass.

"Illya was saying he's got more respect for them." She handed him a plate and watched the two eat, not interrupting their small talk or playful arguing. It was not only the Russian who had learned more respect; she had as well. She'd watched her son take on some of the dirtiest, most thankless tasks the farm had to offer and never shirk for a moment. Instead he tackled them with good humor and energy. This was certainly not the same boy who would hide out in the hayloft to escape chores and spent hours in the bathroom combing his hair.

In fact, Napoleon had practically abandoned all attempts at his usually impeccable grooming, letting his hair fall into more natural lines, even acquiring a tan as he wore less and less. It certainly would impress some of the high class ladies he dated back in New York, if not the female populace around here.

No, that honor fell to the Russian, who lazed back against a tree, eyes closed, face relaxed. Katherine wondered if that man had the slightest realization as to the effect he was having on the small town of Chelsea or whether he cared. In fact, he seemed only to come alive when Solo was around. That didn't matter to her though. How Illya and her son spent their free time was their business, not hers. Still, she couldn't help looking at the tanned no, he was definitely bronzed blond and wishing she was a few years younger and single. Then she caught herself and laughed.

"What's the joke, Mom?" Solo looked up from the paper he read.

"I'm just so pleased that things are going so well."

Solo smiled and leaned over to kiss her again. "Me too, Mom. Soon, Dad will be home and things will be back to normal. He's going to have to take it easy though. I think you should consider selling out the farm soon. With Doug being transferred to Germany, there's no way he's going to be able to take it over and, while it's been fun, I'm just not cut out for the farming life."

"I understand, more than you think. We...talk about it now and then. I just don't know how your father would handle it. He's worked this place all his life, just like his father did. You don't think that you and Illya would like...I mean…after UNCLE, it wouldn't be very glamorous."

Napoleon grinned and shook his head, "Mom whatever you might have heard, Illya and I aren't joined at the hip. When he finishes his time with UNCLE, he'll have a decision to make, whether to stay here or go back to Russia. Somehow, I don't think settling down on a farm is going to play into that decision very much. As for myself, I am a child of the country, but a man of the world. I would never be happy here." Napoleon could see the disappointment in her eyes, but he knew he had to speak the truth to her. "Dad has worked hard his whole life. Both of you deserve to play for a while. You're still young. You can travel, go places and do things now. When he's gone, the memories will be better to have rather than the regrets."

"You and your silvered tongue. You should talk to your father. You could probably convince him to run for public office." She laughed and then began to gather things together. "I'd best get off. We're expecting a grain shipment this afternoon and Hank'll never be able to get in if I don't direct traffic. You and Illya rest a bit more."

"No, we'd better not. It looks like it could rain." He slapped a leg and Illya woke with a jerk. Solo pointed to the field and said briefly, "Back to the salt mines."

Illya nodded, grabbed another sandwich and trudged back towards the tractor, still partially asleep.

"Napoleon, what a taskmaster you've become." His mother clicked her tongue in disapproval. "He looks like he's about to drop."

"Only once, when we were first paired together did I make that mistake, Mom. Never underestimate the Russian." He stood and hefted the lunch basket for her and offered her an arm. "Madam, your limo awaits."

"Honestly."

Napoleon walked across the field towards his partner. The hoped for rain had washed out, the afternoon instead becoming oppressively hot and humid, almost unbearable. He'd held out as long as he possibly could against the trickle of sweat down his face and back. Finally, he threw in the towel and pulled his tractor into the equipment barn.

"Hey, Illya!" He shouted to make himself heard over the motor's roar and waved his arms. The Russian looked and Solo gestured him over. The noise stopped and the silence nearly deafened Napoleon.

"Is it that late? My watch must have stopped." The Russian glanced down at his wrist and shook it.

"No, it's only two, but I had a great idea."

The blue eyed glare was guarded. "What?"

"Let's go take a dip in the pond."

"I don't have any swimming trunks with me."

"For God sake, Illya, when did you become so modest?" Solo wanted to shake the man. "There's no one around for miles. Who's going to see besides me and I've already seen it all."

"Napoleon..." came the protest and Solo held up a hand.

"Illya, that's an order from a superior. You won't do me much good with sunstroke."

Kuryakin was really too hot to protest much and he had a blinding headache from the noise and heat. Maybe a swim would help and, it was true, it wasn't like Napoleon had never seen him naked before. And the town was a good five miles off.

"All right, I suppose there wouldn't be any harm in it." He climbed back onto the tractor, waiting for Solo to join him before starting up the engine.

Solo had been right. The water was wonderful, non chlorinated, cool and clean. He swam with long easy strokes, letting the water cradle his body. "When did your folks put this in?"

"About ten years ago. They come up here on the weekends sometimes or loan the trailer out to people. There's not too many places to swim around here, except for the river and that's really too cold even in the middle of July for much swimming. In the spring, Dad stocks it with fish so there's fishing as well. In fact, I'm surprised we haven't seen..." Solo trailed off at the sound of feminine laughter.

"Napoleon, prepare to meet your Waterloo..." came the threatening voice of his partner, but Solo waved him quiet.

"Oh, look, Sylvie, we're not the first." The girls were sixteen at most and Solo felt himself sink lower in the water.

"Hi!" Sylvie waved to them. "Mind if we join you?"

"Yes," muttered Kuryakin.

"Shh," Solo cut him off. "Hello, ladies, how are you today?"

"Hot! They say we've broken all the records today."

"Not yet you haven't," Illya corrected, putting a little more distance between them and him.

"Never saw you before." Sylvie pulled off a clingy top and Illya immediately averted his eyes. "I'm Sylvie and this is my bestest friend in the world, Heather.

"Napoleon Solo." To his relief, the girl was wearing a bikini top of sorts, but he would make book that his handkerchief had more material than the two little bits of cloth that clung to her breasts. "This is my partner, Illya."

"Oh," squealed the girl at the first bite of cold water. "You must be the two everyone in town is talking about. Are you really as built as they say you are?"

"I don't know about that." Solo was modest.

"Not you. Him." She turned her undivided attention to the Russian.

And so it went for a half an hour, the girls' questions growing more and more pointed as they tried to get closer and closer to them and UNCLE agents more and more exasperated from trying to verbally and physically keeping their distance from the pair.

"You four having fun?" Katherine asked, from the shore where she'd been watching for the last few minutes. She had reckoned the men had had enough from the relieved look on their faces. "You girls better head on home now. Your folks are waiting down by the gate."

A chorus of "Thanks, Mrs. Solo" greeted her and the girls scrambled from the pond, clutching towels about them as they gathered up their clothes.

"Well, what are you two waiting for? The cows will be getting frantic. They were crossing their legs and hopping up and down the last I saw them"

Napoleon looked over at Illya and smiled weakly. "Mom, would you mind waiting down in the car for us?"

"What on earth for?"

"We're sort of swimming au natural here."

"Napoleon, I've seen you naked before. I used to change your diapers." Then she remembered Illya. "Oh, but I didn't change yours. All right, but don't be long about it. Next thing you know, Gail will have the telephoto lens on her camera."

CHAPTER THREE "With a Moo Moo Here and a Moo Moo There."

Napoleon Solo held his breath and bent to his task. At least, nothing else could happen that could be worse than what had already passed. And, he had to admit; at least it wasn't his briefs that had been swiped by the souvenir hunting girls at the pond. Of course, that hadn't made the Russian any easier to live with after that. Well, he'd see the humor in the whole incident sooner or later.

"He'll have to one way or the other," he said to a disinterested hog that wallowed in one corner of the pigpen. She rolled over onto her side and Napoleon hefted another shovelful of muck over the side of the pen.

"Excuse me." A strangely familiar voice broke through his reverie. "Could you help me find...Mr. Solo?"

The entire world stopped for a moment as he recognized the voice of his superior and he turned to face Alexander Waverly.

"Good Lord, man, what have you been up to?"

Solo became uncomfortably aware of his lack of a proper shirt, the mud oozing over the tops of his boots, the muck that covered the majority of his person.

"Sir," he acknowledged weakly. "What are you doing here?"

"I was on my way to the Quebec conference and decided to stop off and see how you were doing. Now that I see, I'm still not sure I know. Is Mr. Kuryakin with you?"

"Up in the barn, feeding the calves." Napoleon planted the shovel in a pile of soiled bedding outside the pen and hefted himself over the side. He reached for a rag and wiped both his face and hands upon it.

"That certainly sounds more dignified than what you were doing."

"I'm not certain I would agree with that. In fact, we flipped coins and he lost." Napoleon led the way back to the main barn and entered, smiling at the coolness of the air inside.

"This is certainly some operation, Mr. Solo. Have you and Mr. Kuryakin been affording all the labor yourselves?"

"We had help from the village, but they have their own farms to run. We've been doing our best to just keep an even keel."

Illya Kuryakin hung onto the pail with all his might and tried to keep another calf away from the tattered remains of his back pocket. It was already sopping from a previous assault that had sent him sprawling in the manure and hay. It would appear that one little bull was already feeling his blood.

"Hold on," he complained to the calf behind him. "You'll be next. I don't know how you get so hungry. It seems like all I do is feed you." A jerk from the feeding animal sent a cascade of milk and formula over his boots and he groaned. At least, Napoleon only had to worry about shoveling. A wet nose and raspy tongue caught the inside of a thigh and he jumped as if goosed. It was too rapid a movement and the calves darted away, including the one feeding. It yanked its head out of the bucket, catching Kuryakin's finger as it did and pulling him off balance. Illya managed to save himself from a face full of...hay, but only by the slightest of margins. The throbbing of a knee meant he'd probably scraped it...again. Nothing else worse could possibly happen.

He climbed to his feet, retrieved the fallen pail and turned to leave the pen, only to stop dead in his tracks when he saw Mr. Waverly standing there, a look of utter disbelief on his face.

"Good morning, sir." He attempted to act casual, but considering that all he was wearing was a manure smeared tee shirt, something that had been jeans in a former life and his boots, he knew that casual was more than he could hope for. "Finally some one has come to save me from all of this. Take me away, sir, and I promise I'll never complain about desk work again."

"Nice try, Kuryakin." Solo appeared from behind the older man. "He's on his way to Canada to a peace conference."

"Do you need some help, sir?" Illya was hopeful, but negligent of the calves. They had immediately lost their fear of the strangers and saw only the feeding bucket in Kuryakin's hand and a provocatively dangling back pocket. One of the braver calves made a grab for the cloth.

At Kuryakin's yell, Waverly stepped back, glancing about him at the foreign environment. Illya spun to glare at the bawling calf, the pocket and a good portion of his jeans now lying on the floor of the pen.

"Napoleon, I think you'd better take Mr. Waverly up to meet your mother. Unless, of course, he wants to be witness to murder, then he's more than welcome to stay."

"My thoughts exactly, but, Illya, that little girl is worth over $5,000. Be gentle with her."

EPILOGUE

Julius Solo sat on the porch in the late afternoon sun and relaxed, partially dozing. Katherine sat, a grey sweater about her shoulders, watching Mr. Waverly, her son and her other 'son' all in turn. Mr. Waverly puffed contentedly on a pipe.

Alexander Waverly proved to be quite a gentleman of the world and she was flattered to think her son was important enough that his boss would look in on him. She was also glad to be able to meet and talk with the man and, in fact, had already accepted an invitation to come down to New York to visit with him and his wife. It would be the first time they'd been away from the farm in years and, while it would be a few months yet, she was already mentally packing for it. With any luck, Napoleon would have some time to sightsee with them.

She watched the younger men tossing a baseball back and forth across the long yard. Things had gotten easier for them since Julius had gotten home and taken on additional hired hands. Still, even without the need, both took an active role on the farm; Napoleon kept mucking out the pigs and Illya struggled with the calves. She had the feeling both men had learned a little about themselves over the past few weeks and, if possible, had grown even closer.

Illya watched her from the corner of his eye and wondered what the woman was smiling about. He caught the ball easily and tossed it back to Solo. He was sincerely going to miss this place, even more than he had after his other visits. Perhaps Napoleon was right, farming was in his blood. It seemed a more honest way of making a living than he currently was pursuing.

A month and a half ago, he'd have laughed at the idea of running a farm. Now, he felt comfortable with it. It was good to know he had an out when and if he needed one. And Illya Kuryakin felt good, better than he had a right to.

T.H.E. E.N.D.