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The Pendragon Affair - Act I
The Pendragon Affair
-a Man from UNCLE slash fanfic by Taylor Dancinghands
Pairing: Napoleon Solo/Illya Kuryakin
Characters: Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin, various O/Cs
Genre: slash, h/c, A/U: Sentinels and Guides, Sentinels are a known institution
Warnings: m/m romance, intimacy, period terminology for African Americans (but not the n- word), tropes and themes lifted freely from The Sentinel tv show, episode 1, season 4 (Sentinel Too, pt 2).
Rating: Mature/PG 17
Length: 19,351 words
Disclaimer: I'm old, but still not old enough to be any of the creators or owners of the Man from UNCLE intellectual property. I swear, my own twisted musings are not costing those people a dime, and I won't be making a penny myself.
Summary: Napoleon and Illya are called in when airport officials in San Francisco are threatened with a laser attack on northbound passenger planes and UNCLE thinks it looks like a Thrush operation. Chasing down the villain's probable base on Mt Tam, our heroes discover that this affair involves Sentinel business too, for Mt Tam hides its own secrets —a forgotten shrine, sacred to Sentinels, which is also imperiled.
Act I: "…not associated with the Boy Scouts."
Their hotel was only two blocks from the County Courthouse, so the commotion in front of it was evident as soon as Napoleon and Illya stepped out the front entrance. Napoleon counted four out of five of the sheriff's cruisers, both San Rafael city police cars and a couple of State Troopers, filling the courthouse parking lot and the street in front. Blue, green and khaki uniformed men milled around their cars and called back and forth on their radios. Once they reached the sheriff's office, it was some minutes before they managed to get Sheriff Richardson's attention.
"Sorry to preempt your mission, gentlemen," he said, honestly apologetic. "But we got a missing kid out there and naturally…"
"Of course," Napoleon replied hastily, seeing Illya nodding out of the corner of his eye. "Is there any way we can help? Any resources of UNCLE's you could use?"
"Well, you might as well join the search parties," Richardson said. "The kid wandered away from a campground on Mount Tam last night. Dot's giving a briefing to a couple of state troopers over there; why don't you go and join them."
"His name is Henry Forester," Napoleon could hear the sheriff's wife addressing the troopers out in the lobby and hastened to join them. "He's 12 years old, five foot 1 with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He would have been wearing pajamas when he left the camp but Mr Artos reports that he took some clothes with him, probably jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. Mr Artos also reports that Henry might have had a quarrel with one of the older boys, as a reason why he might have left."
"Do we know where he was going?" one of the troopers asked.
"We don't," Mrs Richardson replied. "He may simply have wanted to go home, but got lost making his way down the mountain during the night."
"Who's Mr Artos?" Napoleon asked, raising his hand.
"Oh, Mr Solo," Dot said with a smile. "I guess everybody around here knows him. He's led a sort of scouting group for boys for years. He takes them out camping on Mount Tam all the time. I don't think he's ever had anyone go missing like this before."
"Maybe that's because we didn't have a gang of Black Panther criminals from Oakland hiding out there before," another one of the troopers opined.
"Black Panthers?" Illya asked, glancing at Napoleon.
"I'll bet he's talking about those fugitives Richardson mentioned yesterday," Napoleon said. "There's been a lot going on with the Black Panther Party in Oakland lately; they've even turned up in our UNCLE briefings."
"Ah, yes," Illya nodded. "So these fugitives are negros?"
"Could be," Napoleon shrugged. "Or the locals are just seeing 'boogeymen' in the woods. I'm more curious about whether Pendragon's attacks and this missing boy are connected."
Illya nodded his concurrence, but Napoleon knew, even without his empathic abilities, that they were the only ones here thinking about the Pendragon attacks. UNCLE wouldn't begrudge them a day spent looking for a lost boy, and they'd still be up on the mountain, with Illya's senses seeking any trace of the lost child or Pendragon's operation.
They caught a lift up with the state troopers and got a little background on the Black Panther business. They were indeed seeking a fugitive thought to have been involved in a bank robbery in Oakland, a couple of weeks ago, in which a bank guard had been shot. The Black Panthers had been implicated in the robbery, and the fugitive had reportedly been spotted in Mill Valley, a little hamlet near the foot of Mount Tam, a few days after the robbery.
"I get the impression you don't often see many black folks in Marin County," Napoleon noted when the trooper mentioned the sighting in Mill Valley.
"You're right about that," replied the trooper. "Now Mexicans, we see a lot of those. Farm workers mostly. But not negros, no."
There was no point suggesting to the troopers that any black man spotted in these parts was likely to be taken for a criminal. These men would make the same assumption themselves—Napoleon could sense it from them as plain as day. Illya understood American racism from the perspective of newscasts and UNCLE briefings, but the day-to-day banality of it was probably new to him, as his raised eyebrow glance suggested.
Leaving town, they drove up into foothills forested with the same stately sequoia trees which made the nearby Muir Woods so famous. Here and there they also passed vineyards, country clubs and private estates, but as they climbed higher, the land around them was more and more parkland and wildlife preserves. The drove past two lakes, sparkling crystal blue in the sun, then climbed higher still, up narrow switch back roads lined on both sides with sentinel sequoias.
The two troopers in the front paid little attention to the passing scenery, but were more focused on the radio chatter. Someone was insisting that they call for a K-9 unit, but others voices pointed out that their sheriff, with his Sentinel senses, would do better than any dogs, once he actually got to the site. Unfortunately, he was still tied up back in town.
"Hey, we got a Sentinel here in our car," the trooper sitting in the front passenger seat pointed out. "And we're almost at the trailhead."
"Send him up to the campsite as soon as you get there, will you?" the dispatcher said. "The dad is here breathing down my neck to get his kid found."
So much for taking our own approach, Napoleon thought ruefully. Well, there were some cases where it was better to just go with the flow. He could hardly fault the parents for being anxious.
They pulled into a gravel parking lot a few minutes later, and were immediately ushered up the trail, in the company of the two troopers who'd driven them and one of the sheriff's men, the Deputy Kendall, who'd been mentioned as an expert on the area.
"What can you tell us about this Mr Artos and his organization?" Illya asked, once introductions had been made and UNCLE's presence explained.
"He's been established here in San Rafael for a while," Kendall answered. "He's got a nice big place on the edge of town, set up some kind of charitable foundation a while back, and runs this boys' camping and survival skills group in his spare time."
"And he's not associated with the Boy Scouts in any way?" Napoleon asked.
"Not… really," the deputy said. "Artos is a bit of an eccentric in some ways. He thinks the Boy and Girl Scouts are part of some sort of worldwide conspiracy… Don't ask me to explain it, but every parent who's let him take their kids camping has met him personally. He's got some odd ideas, but he's great with the kids."
Napoleon shrugged, not willing to waste his breath on words while they were climbing a fairly steep section of trail. He could feel his Sentinel relaxing in the natural surroundings, however. Here he could stretch his senses out, getting a read on the natural environment, the birds and other creatures invisible to the untrained eye and ear, but living their lives all around them. He caught the first sounds and scents of the campsite as they approached before anyone else, but it became clearly visible a moment later when they topped a rise.
The open meadow below was dotted with tents, with a fire pit at the center and a large RV with a trailer hitched to it at the periphery. The campers could be seen busying themselves with various tasks, and Napoleon picked out the one adult easily—a balding man wearing camo trousers and a jacket over a t-shirt, standing by the trailer where he was handing a bucket to a pair of boys. The group of law enforcement men and UNCLE agents skirted the encampment, but the sight of uniformed adults still drew nearly every eye by the time they reached the camp leader.
"Howdy Gabe," he called out to Deputy Kendall as they approached.
"Leroy," Kendall replied with a nod. "These fellows are here to start the search from this end. Troopers Greyson and Archer I think you know…" The two troopers each shook the man's hand.
"And these gentlemen?" Artos asked. Leroy Artos was a tall, imposing man, who didn't mind using his height to intimidate. That much Napoleon read from him clearly, along with his immediate distrust of authority figures he didn't know. There was something else, however—something occluded even from Napoleon's astute empathy that left him unsettled.
"Napoleon Solo," Napoleon stepped forward to offer his hand, forcing Artos to take his or look rude. "Agent of the U.N.C.L.E, on loan to the local authorities while they're looking for your boy."
The moment Napoleon mentioned UNCLE, Artos dropped his hand like a hot potato. Napoleon ignored it.
"And this is my partner, Agent Illya Kuryakin," he carried on cordially. Illya offered his hand as Napoleon had done and won a perfunctory shake from the camp leader.
"What's UNCLE doing here?" he asked Kendall, the disapproval in his voice scarcely veiled.
"We happened to be conferring with the local sheriff on another, unrelated matter when we heard about your missing boy," Napoleon stepped in before Kendal could give away too much.
"Our concerns were not so urgent," Illya put in. "The welfare of this young man is."
"Of course it is," Artos snapped. "But don't think you're going to recruit him for any of your internationalist scouting groups. My boys have all been trained to be master of their own destinies."
"A laudable goal," Illya said. "But can you tell us what might have led young mister Forester to seek his destiny on his own last night?"
"Or where he might have been headed?" Kendall put in.
"I have no idea where he thought he was going," Artos said. "You're a Sentinel; you're supposed to find out." He glowered at Illya.
"We were told that he'd had some sort of dispute with another boy?" Napoleon prompted. At this, Artos seemed genuinely perplexed.
"Frankie's a good kid," he said. "He's been with me as a senior for a couple of years now, and he's never had any trouble with any of the younger boys until Henry, but the two of them seemed to rub each other the wrong way from the start. I made sure to put them in different Units, but I guess it wasn't enough."
"I'd like to have a word with Frankie, if that's possible," Napoleon said. Artos frowned, but Kendall lent his support.
"He's a Guide, Leroy," the deputy said. "Maybe he can figure out what got between them."
"Maybe," Artos conceded, then called out to one of the boys he'd just given the bucket to. "Joe, can you show these gentlemen to where Frankie is working?"
"I'll go with him," Deputy Kendall said. "If you could show Sentinel Kuryakin where Henry's tent is?"
Napoleon noted the direction Artos and Illya were headed, so he'd be able to meet up with his partner when he was done with Frankie. As he crossed the campground, he saw that the boys were gathered into various groups with an older boy in each one, showing the younger ones skills such as knot tying, fire building or setting up a tent. Frankie was leading his group in studying different animal tracks.
"Hey, Frankie!" Kendall called out as they approached. "Mind if we have a word with you for a minute?"
Frankie, a lanky youth with curly brown hair, looked up from the chart he was showing his charges, then stood.
"Hey Deputy Kendall," he said, then turned to the group. "You guys quiz each other for a few minutes. I'll be right back." He stepped over to join Napoleon and Kendall, and the three of them walked away from the group to the shade of a nearby oak tree.
"Frankie, this is Guide Napoleon Solo, on loan from the U.N.C.L.E. to help us find Henry," Kendall introduced them. "He'd like to ask you a few questions."
Frankie shrugged, then turned to shake Napoleon's hand. He felt nothing devious or underhanded from the lad, but rather a profound sense of dedication and loyalty to Mr Artos, that was almost proprietary.
"I swear, I don't know what made Henry take off like that," he began. "I didn't say nothing to him to make him run, if that's what you want to know."
There was the lie, first thing, Napoleon sighed inwardly. He had definitely said something to Henry, possibly threatened him, but why?
"A lot of people, including Mr Artos, said you two had some kind of problem with each other, from the beginning," Napoleon offered. "Can you tell me what that was about?"
"I dunno," Frankie said, shrugging his shoulders again. Once again Napoleon felt a flare of proprietary feeling towards Mr Artos, and a sense that his relationship with the leader had been threatened. "It's just… I can't stand kids who are always sucking up to the teacher… or whoever. You gotta work hard to be in the Seniors' Circle, like me, but Henry was always trying to be like a teacher's pet, always wanting to be Mr Artos' helper instead of letting other kids have a chance… It just bugs me, so I guess I might have told him to tone it down a little, and maybe he took it the wrong way…"
Jealousy, there it was, plain as the nose on his face. Napoleon could tell from Kendall's frown as he listened that he had come to the same conclusion, even without Guide senses. What only Napoleon had drawn from Frankie's non-confession was that his jealousy was based on more than just hero-worship, but something more profound. Frankie was a nascent Guide, and his attachment to Artos was something that might frequently develop between a young, nascent Guide and a mature Sentinel. But Artos wasn't a Sentinel, of that Napoleon was sure.
Normally, a Sentinel who finds him or herself the object of such an attachment would take the young Guide aside, often with their parents, and explain the reason for their feelings. More often than not the young person would have had no idea that they were a Guide, and once enrolled in some kind of Guide counselling or training program, would learn how to recognize and handle their Guide instincts. Artos probably had no idea he was the reason for Frankie and Henry's rivalry, and Frankie's parents probably had no idea their son was a Guide.
"Okay, I guess that's all the questions I have," Napoleon finished. "Thanks for your help."
At a nod from Kendall, Frankie trotted back to his charges, and he and Napoleon started back across the campground to where Illya had been headed.
"You suppose Frankie did threaten him?" Kendall said as they walked.
"I'm sure of it," Napoleon replied, "just as I am sure that young Frankie is a Guide, who seems to have formed a… slightly inexplicable attachment to Mr Artos. I can't explain why, as Artos is no Sentinel, but someone needs to talk to Frankie's parents about Guide training for him, and he probably needs to leave Artos' group."
"I'll let Nathan know," Kendall said. "He and his wife are the ones that have the talk with parents when kids turn up with Sentinel or Guide traits. Usually it's a school teacher that spots 'em."
"Teachers are trained, in most states, to recognise the signs," Napoleon said. "So are most Scoutmasters, in both the Boy and Girl Scouts. Mr Artos has clearly never had that training."
"I take your point," Kendall said. "And I'll mention it to the sheriff. I dunno what we can change, but we'll be better prepared, anyhow."
They spotted Illya easily enough and joined him outside Henry's tent a few moments later. He had one of the boy's socks in his hand.
"What have you found, partner?" Napoleon asked.
"Well, he didn't take his sleeping bag, for one," Illya replied. "Which suggests that he expected to be home by tonight. I'll be able to track him easily enough, in any case." He tossed the sock back into the tent; having gotten the scent once, he would remember it flawlessly. "What about young Frankie?"
"Young Frankie is a pre-emergent Guide," Napoleon said, "who seems to have formed the kind of attachment to Mr Artos that one occasionally sees between young Guids and adult Sentinels. It looks like he took young Henry to be a rival, possibly because he is also a Guide, or maybe he really is a bit of a teacher's pet. In any case, words were said last night that probably involved some kind of physical threat and Henry took off as a matter of self preservation. I just can't figure why Frankie would have formed such an attachment to a man who isn't a Sentinel."
"Ah," said Illya, "but he is, in a way. Leroy Artos is what we used to call in Russia, a 'bent' Sentinel. There was a small division in KGB, whose only mission was to find such persons and either turn them into the most depraved and expendable assassins, or to exterminate them. If it was the former, we would force them to endure a series of 'treatments' that would force their Sentinel gifts to surface as well as conditioning them to be little more than killer robots. It was not uncommon that these 'treatments' would result in creatures so broken that they had to be 'put down'."
"Good God!" exclaimed Kendall. Napoleon just grimaced. He already knew the kinds of backwards and destructive training Soviet Sentinels were subject to.
"So what is it you sensed about Artos that makes him one of these, 'bent' Sentinels?" Napoleon said.
"Normal Sentinels have a sort of moral core," Illya explained, "to protect the tribe, above all else. If, for whatever reason, that moral core is missing, or non-functional, in a person with potential Sentinel gifts, those gifts tend not to emerge."
"And your saying that Leroy Artos is one of those… people who would be a Sentinel but is lacking this 'moral core'?" Kendall asked.
"I'm nearly sure of it," Illya replied. "We were trained to detect such people, in KGB, and to report them to that special division. It took me a few minutes to recognize it in Artos, but I'm quite sure of it now, and young Frankie's attachment is further proof."
"That… doesn't sound like the kind of person who should be leading kids, does it?" Kendall asked, troubled.
"No," Illya responded. "I would strongly advise against it."
"Dammit all to hell, what am I going to tell the sheriff?" said the distressed deputy.
"This is Sentinel business," Napoleon said. "We'll take care of it, and we'll make sure the situation is resolved before we leave. You can count on it."
"We protect the tribe," Illya said, "especially the young."
Kendall was visibly relieved not to be responsible for this thorny issue, and agreed to leave Napoleon and Illya on their own to set out after the missing boy's scent trail while he went to organize the other searchers. Illy easily followed Henry's course at first, as it skirted the edge of the woods away from the campground, but when it approached the main hiking trail it veered into the woods, then got confused with the miriad scents of the various passing hikers.
"Guide," Illya called, coming to a halt in the midst of a stand of ferns.
"Time to adjust your levels, Sentinel," Napoleon said, coming to stand close beside his partner, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Tone down the hearing, the touch, they'll just distract you here. Dial your scent all the way up, and let it seek the one and only person you're following. That's the only scent that matters. Let your sight focus in on where he walked. If he was avoiding the trail he'll leave all kids of broken branches and trampled ground. Let your eyes seek those things alone. Focus on your goal; let me cover everything else."
Illya reached up to briefly squeeze Napoleon's hand where it lay on his shoulder, drawing a deep, centering breath. They stood in utter silence for a long moment, then Illya raised his head, directing them towards the downhill slope.
"He crossed the trail here," he said, and started forward once more. Once clear of the hiking trail, the marks of young Henry's passing became quite clear once again.
"He must have been trying to make his way straight down the mountain," Napoleon commented, glancing down the steep slope where the scuffs and broken fern fronds were impossible to miss. "Damn… I hope he didn't fall down some cliff in the dark."
Illya paused, looking out over the mountainside. "There are a number of steep slopes on this side of the mountain," he said, "But no sheer drops, I think. He could possibly have fallen and injured himself or fallen unconscious somewhere hard to find. His scent should still lead me to him, in that case."
Napoleon nodded, touching his Sentinel briefly as they got going again. They fell into a familiar concentrated silence as they progressed, Illya keeping his senses focused on the trail they were following, Napoleon watching their footing on the uneven ground, eyes and ears open to the surroundings. It was slow going and before they knew it the day had all but passed, their shadows growing as long as those of the surrounding sequoias, and the sun was lowering over the horizon to the west.
A chill breeze swept through the trees as the sun slipped behind the hills and Napoleon frowned. "Hope it doesn't get too cold tonight," he murmured.
"We're not so far behind now," Illya said. "We'll find him before too long."
"Here's hoping," Napoleon said, 'knocking wood' on a passing sequoia for good measure. He was encouraged by Illya's certainty. It meant that his Sentinel was still following a clear scent trail, and able to discern enough that he could tell how old it was. Napoleon was having a rather harder time keeping track of their surroundings in the encroaching dusk. He had no idea precisely where they were, and his own well trained, but altogether mundane senses told him nothing of what might be coming up ahead.
He was mainly focusing on not losing track of Illya in the shadowy forest when he felt something grab at him from out of the dark, and before he could even give warning he was caught up in a powerful grip, with the unmistakable cold press of a knife at his throat.
"Freeze, G-man!" the sharp command was uttered into his ear.
He complied with professional courtesy, muttering, "Not a G-man," as he raised his hands. He heard nothing from Illya and did not expect to. Still, his captor did.
"Whoever you are," he called out into the shadows. "I've got a knife to your partner's throat."
There was a long moment of silence, and then Illya all but materialized out of the shadows in front of Napoleon.
"That's. My. Guide." The tone of the words was flat, devoid of any inflection, but the threat in them was chillingly palpable.
"He's another Sentinel, James," came a woman's voice from behind him. "They're here looking for the kid, not for us."
The knife came away from Napoleon's throat then, much to his relief, and another figure stepped out of the shadows.