Dog Day Afternoon
It was one of those crisp fall afternoons that reminded you summer was a memory and that winter was not far off. The sun had been bright that morning, but it did little to warm the air. By afternoon, a wind had come up, blowing leaves from trees in sudden red, gold, and orange storms.
Leon was trying to appreciate the leaves; he really was. He loved the shade the big maple trees provided in the summer, the vibrant green of their leaves in the spring, the skeletal fingers of their branches as they reached into the winter sky. But fall, he just wasn't crazy about them in the fall.
He glanced over to where Alex and Irina jumped in and out of a recently raked pile of leaves and tried to control his urge to scream in frustration. He pulled off his gloves and massaged the blisters on one hand.
"You're only young once. Pretty soon they will be all grown up and the leaves will still be here," his father murmured and Leon glanced over at Napoleon. Even though age had crinkled the corners of his eyes, there was still the devil playing in them. "You should just be glad the other two are being occupied. You can always count on Illya to run interference."
Illya was in the middle of the sandbox, patiently building sand castle after sand castle for Inessa to slam down into lumps of sand. Peter was driving a truck through the piles, grinning and hooting with delight.
Leon laughed and then paused. "What is he saying?"
Napoleon listened for a moment and shook his head. "I can't really tell, just nonsense stuff."
"Why do I have a feeling they are going to speak Russian before they can even really speak English?" Leon put his gloves back on and started to hurriedly rake again, as if speed was the answer to his task.
"I can ask him to stop." Napoleon, likewise, began to rake again. His strokes were even, sure and unhurried.
"No, I don't mind. Hell, I can't communicate with them now, them speaking Russian don't matter."
Napoleon grinned and shook his head. "Who taught you how to speak English?"
"Whacha mean, Dad?" Leon grinned back, so much of his father in his face. "I done speak good English." He dodged the handful of leaves Napoleon tossed in his direction.
The back door banged open and Genève walked out. She had been in and out of foster care for most of her life until Fate settled her here. Leon didn't want to think of having a day without her now. She'd settled into their family as if she was meant to be there.
"I don't see an awful lot of leaves being raked," she said, looking around the back lawn.
"It isn't for lack of trying. The leaves appear to have allies." Napoleon straightened and glanced over to where Alex was now chasing his sister, scattering leaves as they ran, and shouting, "The slugs are attacking!!!"
"I think maybe it's time for a walk before dinner. Lis says you have about forty five minutes."
"Who wants to go for a walk?" Leon shouted. When no one answered, he tried again. "I'm sorry, who wants to go for a walk and eat dinner tonight."
"Me, I guess." Alex dropped his handful of leaves and wiped his hands on his pants.
"Eww, heathen!" Irina muttered. To Genève, she added. "I don't know what it is, but I'm certain he's one."
"We'll look it up later, okay?" Even though the sun was dipping close to the horizon, the young albino was covered from head to toe. It wasn't as hard now in the cooler weather as it was during the summer.
Napoleon walked over to the sandbox and knelt down. "Что Вы делаете (what are you doing)?"
"Play..." Peter stopped and looked at his other grandfather.
"Игра(Playing)," Illya said slowly then repeated it again.
"Игра," Peter said and returned to his truck.
"Very good, Peter." Napoleon offered him a hand. "Would you like to go for a walk?"
"After the walk," Napoleon promised and the little boy nodded happily.
"Okay..." He stood up and began the task of traversing the sand dunes without losing his balance or his truck.
With a chuckle, Napoleon plucked him out and tickled him. The blond squealed and twisted until Napoleon set him down and Peter ran to hide behind Genève.
"Safe, safe," he proclaimed and then squealed again as Napoleon took a step towards him.
"Your brother and your grandfather are certifiable," Illya said to the little girl who was watching his every move.
" Бум(Boom)!" Inessa shouted, with a smile and a gesture towards the empty pail.
"Да, бум, Inessa (Yes, boom, Inessa)." Illya set the pail aside and brushed the sand from his hands. "But there is a time and place for everything and the booms have finished for today." He stood her up and brushed her pants clean. "Go see Genève."
For a moment, the bottom lip trembled, but at Illya's head shake, she sighed and climbed out of the sand box and raced to join her brothers and sister.
"You need a hand there, old man?" Napoleon walked back to the box as Illya was slowly getting to his feet.
Illya muttered something under his breath and Napoleon chuckled. Leon looked from one to the other. He didn't need to speak Russian to know whatever Illya had said was rude and probably not possible without straining a muscle or two.
"Were we ever that young?" Leon said and then stopped as both men started to laugh. After a moment, the younger children joined in.
"Genève, what are they laughing about?" Alex stared at the adults as if they'd lost their minds.
"Not a clue, kiddo."
"Up, up! Peter held his arms up to her and grinned.
"Le dire en Français, Peter—en haut," Genève prompted.
"Le Français est la langue d'amour (French is the language of love). He understands the language of Tonka." Leon grabbed his son and hefted him over one shoulder. "Oui?"
"Oui, Daddy." Irina giggled, she held out her hand to her little sister. "Come on, Inessa, let's skip."
"Do you need help with this mob?" Leon asked as they headed for the gate.
"No, we're just going around the block. Alex can watch Peter and Irina has Inessa. We'll be fine."
"I don't have to hold his hand, do I?" Alex looked balefully over at his younger brother as Leon set the toddler down on his feet and gave him a small push.
"Yes, and you'll get boy cooties!" Genève suddenly started to tickle Alex's side and the boy whooped and shouted as they left the yard.
"The silence is almost palpable, isn't it?" Napoleon asked his partner. Illya was sitting on a chaise lounge, shaking sand out of his sneaker.
"You'll have to speak up. We old men don't hear very well."
Napoleon sat beside him and turned his face up to the sky. "When I was a boy, I was always excited to see fall. It meant Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas—everything a young boy eagerly awaits."
"Unless the boy is a Soviet and then not as much."
"Are you okay, Illya?" Napoleon rested a hand on his arm, his thumb gently stroking the fabric of Illya's sweatshirt "You seem a little melancholy today."
"Just tired. It gets harder and harder to keep up with them. They should use our grandchildren to qualify agents and forget about Survival School. One afternoon with them should be enough for even the toughest agent."
Napoleon nodded. "Apparently they are, my friend. Why don't you stretch out and watch the clouds go by? I'm going to go get cleaned up and I'll call you for dinner."
"I should give Lisle a hand."
Napoleon looked past him to the kitchen window, where Leon had just stolen up behind his wife and was kissing her neck.
"I think Leon has it well in hand." He chuckled. "Apple doesn't fall far from the tree, you know." He patted Illya's arm. "Just relax. It's a gorgeous afternoon and after all their antics, the kids are going to drop like rocks. We'll have the night to ourselves."
Illya didn't mean to fall asleep. The truth was that he hadn't been sleeping that well. His hip was starting to bother him again, probably due to the cool weather and he was finding that his job was wearing on him. Burn out? At his age? It was possible, but as long as Napoleon sat in the big chair, Illya was determined to stay right beside him. He couldn't protect Napoleon the way he used to, but he could make damn sure someone was there who he trusted to keep the man safe.
His eyelids dropped as the sun warmed his skin. The air grew moist and took on an odd smell. Something he'd not smelled in years, not since he sprinted across a lawn with several Doberman Pinschers on his heels, all determined to rip him apart, their hot fetid breath burning his skin.
He opened his eyes and was staring, nose to nose, into the face of the biggest, hairiest dog he'd ever seen.
Illya didn't care for dogs, but he tolerated them well enough. It wasn't as if he dissolved into a heap of quivering flesh when they trotted by, tethered to their owners by lengths of leather. He didn't wail like a child if one strayed too close. But this one... was right here...
Woof The one bark was enough to make Illya scramble off the lounge, tripping and falling as he did. He was vaguely aware of something grinding in his hip, dirt and grass digging into the palms of his hands, as he stumbled over the scattered toys. He paid it no mind as the fight or flight instinct set in. He couldn't fight; he'd seen what those teeth could do to a man.
Unfortunately, the dog seemed to find his antics amusing and chased after him. Illya caught his toe on a root and went down. Immediately the dog was over him, big, black, and ominous. There was a pain in Illya's hip that brought tears to his eyes and rendered him motionless.
"Napoleon!" Illya managed to choke out before the dog lowered his head. Illya steeled himself for the tearing of his flesh, but instead felt warm saliva smear against his face as the dog happily licked him. He decided that was even worse than having your throat ripped out.
"Look, Poppy's playing with Waldo." The children ran into the yard and the dog left Illya for them, bounding over to them and woofing happily while Illya tried to rein in his emotions.
Napoleon's head bobbed up at the sound of his name and he frowned. He'd not heard Illya yell like that in a very long time—the last such incident had been when Illya had been frantically signaling him to get clear of the building — just before it fell, just before the longest night of his life... the longest six months as Illya struggled to requalify for field duty. All those feelings slammed to the surface and he responded as he'd been taught when his partner was in trouble.
Napoleon darted from the sliding glass door into the back yard. Illya was down on the ground with the largest, hairiest dog Napoleon had ever seen standing above him. He'd taken a couple of steps and then the grandchildren had arrived and the dog had raced over to them, barking and bounding. Instantly Alex and Irina were chasing him, laughing and calling.
"Gampy, Poppy go boom." Inessa pointed to Illya, who was still lying on the ground.
"Yes, my sweet, he did." Napoleon walked up to the prone man and knelt. "Illya?"
"Call Medical, Napoleon." Illya's voice was tight. "I can't move."
Napoleon sat quietly on the couch in the small apartment he shared with Illya. The evening had taken on a surreal aspect for him. The grandchildren didn't understand what had happened and he hadn't tried to explain. He moved quickly and efficiently just as he had for years.
The dog had been found on their walk and had followed them back. None of them knew about Illya's dislike for dogs and couldn't quite understand their grandfather's panicked flight when the dog surprised him.
There was a soft knock at their door. "Yes?"
Genève entered, holding onto the hands of the twins. Peter's face was red from crying and Inessa looked distressed because of it. Alex and Irina, followed each carrying a paper in their hands.
"Is it okay for us to come in, Grampy?" He smiled at Genève's question.
"Of course it is." He held open his arms and was surprised when Irina was suddenly there, sobbing. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"
"I don't want Poppy to die."
"What? He's not dying. Who told you...? Alex?"
The boy looked at the carpet and dragged the toe of his sneaker across the nap. "She was bugging me."
"Irina, stop. Poppy isn't dying. He just fell down, that's all."
"We made him a card." Alex held out the paper in his hands—four sheets, each one carefully lettered, then numbered on the back.
"The doctor is still with him. Once he says it's okay, we'll go in and give it to him." Peter was still sniffling. "And what's wrong with you, my little man?"
"Goggie gone." Peter's eyes started to fill again.
"Waldo's owner came and got him. They'd already gotten attached to him." Genève answered, patting his head. "Peter, Waldo's mommy and daddy said you could come and play with him any time you wanted to."
"What?" Genève asked.
"Not now, Peter. It's late and you should all be in bed."
"They wouldn't go to bed until they were sure that Poppy was okay." Lisle said as she and Leon walked in. She was carrying little Ginny, wrapped in a bright pink blanket, courtesy of Irina.
"He'll be fine." The doctor walked out of the bedroom and pulled on his jacket.
"Thanks for coming over, Vic." Napoleon released Irina and stood, offering his hand.
"And miss out on a chance to see how the other half lives? Not likely." Vic gestured to the apartment. "This is quite a place you all have here."
"It's home," Leon said. "Or an asylum, some days I'm not sure which."
"How is he, Vic?"
"Few days in bed and he'll be good. The paralysis was temporary. I'm guessing his last experience with dogs was an unpleasant one?"
"You remember Waverly?"
"His cousin was ripped to death by his Great Dane. Some madman was training dogs to attack their owners so he could collect their stock shares. When it came to light that Illya had a controlling share of those stocks, the guy sent a handful of Dobies after Illya. He wasn't fond of dogs before, but he had a healthy respect for them afterwards. It's not usually something that bothers him."
"I suspect it was the element of surprise and the fact that he wasn't able to defend himself." Vic took a pad of paper from his jacket pocket and scribbled something down. "I'm writing a prescription for some pain killers. I left you enough to get him through the night."
"He won't take them."
"I think he will at first and very willingly. When he starts refusing them, call me."
"Mr. Doctor, can we see Poppy?" Irina was very somber. "We didn't kiss him good night."
Vic patted her dark brown curls. "I think if you're fast about it, he might still be awake." He glanced up at Leon. "Don't let them jostle the bed too much."
"Gotcha, Doc. Come on, munchkins."
"But Dad is okay?" Lisle hugged her infant daughter to her chest.
"Absolutely. You have Doctor Vic's word."
He watched her walk with the children into the other room and turned back to Napoleon. "He could use more surgery. I suggested it."
"And I'm sure that went nowhere. He's been sliced into so much, Doc... well, I know how he feels." He walked to the bar and poured a shot of Scotch. He lifted the bottle to the doctor who nodded.
"Thanks." He sat on the couch and Napoleon carried the glass to him. "Cheers."
They both sat and sipped their drinks quietly and then the doctor cleared his throat. "You know what you have to do, Napoleon."
"I can't. I can't do that to him, Vic."
"If you don't, I'm going to have to and once I check that box, it's all over, no arguments, no reinstatement hearings, no options. Hell, I should have done it years ago. He's fifteen years past field work. The only reason he's still out there is because of you."
"Then be a man, Napoleon, God knows he's earned the rest."
"It will kill him... either way."
"Maybe not. You're a creative guy, Mr. Solo. And you're the boss. You make the rules, remember?" Vic finished his drink and set the glass down on a coaster. "Make a new position. Do what you need to, but do right by him. He's given you and the organization all that he has, you owe him this."
There was a noise as the parents and children exited the bedroom. The toddlers ran, stiff legged as only toddlers can and launched themselves at Napoleon.
"Night, Gampy," Peter mumbled around his fist.
"Good night, my little man, pleasant dreams." Each one lined up for a kiss, Genève blushing as Napoleon gave her cheek a fast peck.
"He's asking for you, Chief." Leon knelt so his oldest daughter could climb onto his back. Neighing, he pawed the ground and started to gallop from the room, Irina giggling each step of the way.
"Show me out?" Vic stood and glanced back over at the still-seated Napoleon. "Think about it, Napoleon."
"I will, Vic. Thanks."
"No problem, call me if you need to. You have a beautiful family," Vic shouted above the melee.
"I have what?" Lisle cupped a hand to her ear.
"A beautiful and loud family," he yelled even louder and then they were gone, leaving Napoleon with just his thoughts and the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Taking a breath, Napoleon walked into the bedroom. The room was as neat as four active children could leave it. Illya was to one side, papers spread over his blanket-covered stomach, his head lolled to one side.
At least they wouldn't have to have that conversation tonight. Napoleon thought as he approached the bed. He eased himself down onto the mattress carefully mindful of what the doctor had told the children. It wasn't enough and Illya's head tossed.
Instantly, Napoleon changed course, but Illya's voice caught him. "Where are you going?"
"I thought I'd let you sleep."
"Illya, you're in pain. I'm not going to keep you awake."
"All right." Napoleon resettled on the bed, watching Illya closely. "Do you need anything?"
"A new hip would be great."
"If I could get that for you I would in a minute."
"I know." There was a deep sigh, then softly. "It's okay, Napoleon, we'll work it out."
Napoleon glanced sharply over at his partner, but this time Illya really was gone. He should be so lucky.
A groan woke him and Napoleon sat up suddenly, not even aware that he'd fallen asleep. Illya was struggling and at first he thought Illya was having a nightmare. Then he realized the man was simply trying to get upright.
"Illya, what's wrong?"
"I have to go."
A quick check to the bedside clock told him they still had fifteen minutes before the alarm went off.
"No, it's not time. Beside the doctor said you couldn't."
"Excuse me? I don't care what he says, I'm going." Illya's eyes squinted shut in pain as he got one leg, his good one, out of the bed.
"You can't even stand."
"Then help me."
"No." It was the hardest word he'd ever had to utter. At the silence that followed, he added. "You need to stay here. If I have to, I'll go so far as to stake Section three agents on you."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Illya shifted closer to the edge of the bed and reached for his cane. "I haven't wet the bed since I was three and I'm not going to start now."
"What?" Then abruptly Napoleon realized what Illya had meant. "Oh, sorry, apparent breakdown in communications." He was on his feet and to the other side of the bed. "I thought you meant you had to go to work."
"And as much as I'd love to argue the point with you, I think perhaps a delay in that discussion would be in my favor."
He got Illya settled back down in bed and ran a hand through his own sleep-mussed hair. "I need to get to work, Illya. I have a nine o'clock I can't miss."
"Go, just leave me my communicator."
"You're going to operate Section Three stuffed to the gills with pain meds. I have a feeling some very odd instructions will be delivered today."
"I'm going to tell Franz what needs to happen. He can take it from there." Illya sighed. "He's been taking it from there for months now."
"You sound... what? Bitter?"
"Resigned." Illya's head came up. "I mean it, Napoleon. Give me the form, I'll sign it."
"What form? You're talking in riddles."
"My resignation form."
Napoleon reached out and covered Illya's hand with his own. "Not on my watch, partner."
Illya shook his head slowly. "I'm tired and I'm all used up. It's time to let the old horse go out to pasture. And my gun, leave me my gun."
"NO!" Napoleon half shouted and jerked awake, suddenly aware that he was about to slip beneath the bath water. It sloshed with the force of his movement.
"Napoleon?" Illya's voice was distant, muffled by the partially closed door. "Are you okay?"
It wasn't like him to drift off like that. "Fine, I'm fine."
He came out toweling his hair. Illya was just hanging up the phone. "That was Philips. He and Reynolds will be by in half an hour to pick you up."
"Are you going to be okay alone up here?" He started to dress.
"I imagine a couple of pain pills and it won't make very much difference."
"It's just for a couple of days, Illya. You'll be back to rights in no time."
"I know... I just..."
The smile that answered him was gentle and a little sad. "Nothing, just be careful out there, partner. I won't be with you today."
"I'll be fine, Illya. Mr. Phillips has my back and he knows there will be hell to pay if he disappoints you." Napoleon saluted and walked hurriedly from the bedroom, his tie hanging loosely around his neck.
Napoleon walked up the front walk, knowing that Mr. Philips' eyes would never leave him until he was safely inside. He unlocked the door and crossed over the threshold. The weight of the world shifted as squeals of "Grampy's home!" assailed his ears. He knelt and embraced the two younger children who swooped into his arms, smiling and feeling, at least for the moment, relieved to be here.
The day had been dicey and he wished, more than once, that Illya had been there. He'd called him twice on the communicator but received no answer either time. Panic gave way to resignation. He was meant to do this on his own.
Irina ran up to him, holding something in front of her. "Look what we made today, Grampy. Cupcake turkeys! Aren't they beautiful?" She twirled with it, holding it above her head. Napoleon made the decision right then and there to take her to The Nutcracker this year. If anyone could appreciate the Sugarplum Fairy, it would be Irina.
"Wow!" He glanced over at Lisle. "Sounds ambitious."
"It was, but it was either that or fighting the traffic at the grocery." She petted the soft brunette curls. "Genève is good with them and it gave me a little time out. You don't know how liberating going to the grocery store alone can be."
"You can eat the whole thing, Grampy." Irina reluctantly handed it over to him.
"It's so... pink." His smile became a grimace at the fingerprints smudging the frosting. "Looks like someone else got here first."
"Peter... he is such a bother at times." Irina shook her head at her baby brother. "It's a girl turkey. You can tell by the bow in her hair."
"It looks yummy. I bet Poppy enjoyed his." Napoleon tried unsuccessfully to keep from grinning.
"He didn't want it. Peter ate it instead and got frosting all over himself..." She leaned close to Napoleon's ear and whispered. "But I saved another one for Poppy, just in case, but it's not pink. I hope that's okay."
"You're a good granddaughter." Napoleon grinned as Peter eagerly tracked the cupcake he held. "Looks like someone wants another one."
"Not until after dinner." Lisle said, shaking her head firmly.
"Dinner! Tookey, tookey, tookey!" Peter yelled and, grabbing Irina's hand, he dragged her to the kitchen. Napoleon took the opportunity to pass the cupcake back to Lisle and hang up his top coat.
"One thing you can say about him is that he's not fussy."
"That's true. I'm just hoping a twenty five pound turkey is going to be big enough."
"Woof." Inessa had crawled a few feet away from him and barked again.
"Wait, where's Inessa?" Napoleon looked around as Inessa giggled. "All I see is a puppy. A little blonde puppy." He scooped her up. "Where's that old puppy?" He blew a raspberry on her stomach and Inessa squealed.
"Grampy?" Irina had reappeared, tying a 'Mother's little helper' apron on over her pink overalls.
"Do you think we could ask Santa for a puppy for Christmas?"
Napoleon shot a look over at Lisle, who glanced upwards and shrugged. "I think it's going to depend upon what Poppy asks Santa for instead." They all walked back to the kitchen, with Inessa happily woofing atop Napoleon's shoulders.
"Poppy didn't like Waldo. Poppy doesn't like any dogs. Alex said so. Was he being a lying devil again? "
Napoleon chuckled. "No, not this time." He looked around. "Speaking of such, where is your brother?"
"He went up to read Poppy a bedtime story."
He set Inessa down and she toddled off to the corner of the room to play with her brother's cars and her blocks. "How are you, Genève?"
"Tookey, tookey, tookey!" Peter sang as he clung to her leg and hopped up to see what she was cooking.
"I'm very well, thank you, although getting a little tired of turkey and Thanksgiving is still three weeks away."
Peter took the carrot Lisle handed him and headed over to see what his twin was doing with his toys.
"How has he been today?" Napoleon asked, watching as Peter sat down with a plop and reached for the truck Inessa was driving. There was a brief power struggle and Peter reached for a car instead.
"Really quiet." Lisle slid the last of the cans onto a shelf and closed the cupboard door. "When I was with THRUSH, I'd see agents come in like this; shut down, isolating themselves. It's as if he knows something bad is coming and he's mentally preparing himself for it." She ran her hand along the chipped countertop. "You're going to pull him from the field, aren't you?"
"Yes. If I do it, he'll have the chance to reassign to another Section. If Medical does it, he's out of UNCLE for good. He's only just fifty six, that's too young to be put out to pasture to my way of thinking."
"What if that's what he wants?"
"It'll be his choice to make. I'd like to keep him on as an advisor myself. His mind is as sharp as it was the day he joined UNCLE; I'd hate to lose that." He smiled slightly. "I'd hate to lose him. Somehow, the place loses its charm when your dad isn't hanging around." Lisle suddenly embraced him and he held her tightly, hearing her sniffling. "What is this—tears?"
"It's so damn unfair."
"Mommy said a naughty." Irina said, her eyes wide, mouth in an 'o'.
Genève hushed her, settling a hand to the back of Irina's head. "Grownups are permitted a naughty once in awhile. Come help me stir this."
"It isn't fair, but he's an agent. Our whole lives have been one big unfair, until you and Leon came along." His kissed her forehead tenderly. "And if you think about all the times he came so close to dying, it's a miracle he's only got a bad hip to slow him down."
She rested her head on his shoulder. "I know..."
"I think we are going to have a night in, just the two of us. We have a lot to discuss." He let her go and smiled. "It'll be okay, Lis."
He started to leave, pausing as his oldest granddaughter called to him. "Grampy, wait!" She ran up carrying two lopsided, but lovingly decorated cupcakes. "Don't forget dessert." In a quiet voice she added. "They're delicious..."
"I'm sure they are, thank you."
He met Alex coming down the stairs as he was going up. "Good evening, Alex."
"Hi, Grampy, don't wake Poppy up."
"But if you do, let him know the dragon got out okay. He was worried."
"I'll be sure to tell him." He watched the boy head in the direction of his bedroom before continuing on.
Carefully locking the door behind him, as Inessa had already proven her worth at a lock picking, Napoleon took another deep breath. Now he was really home.
When they'd moved in with Leon and Lisle, this had been just an unfinished attic. Now it was a neat little apartment. It wasn't big, hell, two of the apartments could have easily fit into his old penthouse, but it was uniquely them. Two small bedrooms, a smaller kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom, but it was a place to call their own when the hustle and bustle from downstairs got more than the two old bachelors could handle. Not that there wasn't much they couldn't handle anymore, at least kid wise, but it was still nice to have a sanctuary.
He peeked into Illya's bedroom, making sure that everything was as it should be before heading to his bedroom and changing out of his suit and into a jogging outfit. He carefully locked his gun away and then headed to the kitchen.
They'd both picked up some culinary skills during their younger years, honed them as time went on. Napoleon wasn't an exceptionally imaginative cook, but he was competent. Meat, starch, vegetable... and cupcakes for dessert.
He grinned and rummaged through their freezer until he found some chicken breasts. He put them in a bowl and let water run into it, thawing them as he peeled potatoes. He always peeled more than he needed, knowing that Illya would use the leftovers to make potato pancakes.
By the time he got them into a pot of boiling water, the chicken was thawed. He dusted it with some flour, Italian seasonings, salt and pepper and pan fried it. While that cooked, he got some frozen peas out and set them to cooking as well. Once the chicken was done, he'd make a little pan gravy to go with everything.
He uncorked a bottle of Chablis and poured himself a glass of liquid courage. He was hesitant to have this discussion and yet, he knew they had to have it. They'd been making decisions like this for a long time and Napoleon refused to have Illya play the silent partner now.
Too soon everything was ready. He made up two plates, stuffed silverware and napkins into the pocket of his sweatpants and carried them to the bedroom. He set everything down and went back for the wine. Even though Illya shouldn't be drinking with the painkillers, Napoleon would let him make his own decisions.
Now he considered the best way to wake his partner. Usually just saying his name was enough, but Napoleon didn't know when or how much pain medication the man had in his system. Even now, surprising an agent wasn't a good thing.
"Is he gone?" Illya said, unmoving.
"Who?" Napoleon was only vaguely surprised.
"He has left the building, yes."
Illya opened his eyes and, gritting his teeth, eased up into a sitting position. "Thank you."
"So you slept from self defense?"
"Have you heard some of the stuff that the homeschooling program is assigning for reading? It's atrocious, it's insulting..."
"Alex wanted you to know that the dragon made it out okay."
"Albeit not always predictable."
"Feel like a little dinner?" Napoleon offered him a plate.
Illya looked down at the plate for a moment before taking it. "Remember when we were in Scotland, the highlands. We found that little shack just before that storm hit."
"You snared a rabbit and roasted it... with wild onions and wild thyme. I do. I don't know if it was the fact that we were still alive, or the climate or what, but I've never again had rabbit that tasted that good."
"Where the hell has the time gone, Napoleon?"
"Not a clue."
"A gypsy once told me that I wouldn't live to see my fortieth year, that I'd never know real love or have anyone that I could trust in my life."
"What did you say to annoy her so much that she would tell you that?" Napoleon cut into his chicken and swirled it in his potatoes and gravy.
"One of my fellow officers put her up to it. She found me later and confessed, but it didn't matter. When you're just nineteen, forty seems a long way off."
"Does now too." Napoleon chewed slowly, his eyes still on Illya. "But from the other direction."
"Franz is a good man, he'll make a good Number One." Illya continued to stare at his plate.
"Illya... you don't need to think about this right now."
"I do. It's time, Napoleon. I knew it last night watching Vic's face. One way or the other, he intends to sideline me. Honestly, I'd rather have you do it. And the organization deserves someone in that position who can do the job without worrying about whether or not he's going to be able to get out of bed in the morning." He at last began to eat, methodically and quickly, as if he expected at any moment to be called into action—an old habit neither of them had ever quite conquered.
"Move Leon into the Number Two slot and give Philips his spot as Number Three. You couldn't do much better." Illya's voice became matter-of-fact as if he was issuing just one more order. Only Napoleon could detect the slight change in timbre.
"And what do you want to do?"
Illya handed him back the empty plate and smiled slightly. "Nothing, quite probably for the rest of my life."
"Napoleon, I acknowledge the reality; it doesn't mean I have to like it." He started to ease his way from the bed, holding up a hand as Napoleon started to move. "I'm fine, Napoleon."
"No, you're not. You're angry, you're hurt and you feel betrayed."
"That's how I would feel."
"We've been partners for a long time, Napoleon, but I am not you. I'm... tired, that's all. Please allow me that." Illya got to his feet and rested his weight on one leg and a cane. "Excuse me." He slowly moved towards the bathroom and Napoleon struggled to keep seated, keep from rushing to offer help. The fact was he did know Illya and did know he was angry and feeling betrayed.
Napoleon resisted the urge to slam his empty plate against the wall. Two days ago, the world was fine; things couldn't have been better and now, just days before what promised to be an announcement that would set the world on its ear, his sole purpose for undertaking the task to begin with could barely walk unaided. Lisle was right; it wasn't fair.
There was a soft tap on the apartment door and he angrily wiped his eyes before opening it. Lisle was standing there and she took one look at his face and sighed.
"You told him."
"No, he told me."
She took his hand. "I have five little people downstairs who would love to make you feel better."
"Illya —" he began, looking back over his shoulder.
"—could probably use a little time to get his head around things. You know how private he can be. Let him have his dignity with this."
"You really are too clever for your own good."
"So Leon constantly tells me and who am I to disagree?"
In spite of himself, Napoleon allowed himself to be led downstairs to the waiting arms of his family.
Illya listened to the muffled exchange between his daughter and Napoleon and then the sound of the door opening and closing.
He let his head fall back and clunk against the wall and breathed deeply to regulate his emotions. He wasn't sure which had hurt more—admitting his job was now more than he could handle, a first for him, or Napoleon agreeing with him.
Illya shut his eyes against the seemingly ever present throb in his hip, the pain that lanced up and down his side and leg. He knew it was time to let a younger man take over, it was just so damn hard to step back and let go or even admit that someone might just be more competent and capable. And he wondered if this was how quitting was supposed to feel. He'd not had a lot of experience with it.
He'd willingly followed Napoleon out of Section Two, content to settle in Section Three, but he couldn't change the man he was, over achieving, overly involved or overly demanding. The only thing that had really changed in his life had been the location of his office. He was working just as hard, just as physically as he had in Section Two and now the body was shot.
Illya shifted and hissed. How long had it been since he'd been pain free—twenty, thirty years? It was a constant in his life now and he envied Napoleon. Certainly the man had his aches and pains, but not like this. Each operation promised to make it better and only succeeded in making it different. No less, well, perhaps less for awhile, but then it was back.
It would be so nice to just stop, then Illya smiled. As if he could. He wasn't wired that way. With a groan he got to his feet and just moved.
When he returned to the apartment, Napoleon wasn't surprised to find that the dishes has been washed and put away. Probably took Illya a double dose to get that accomplished and Napoleon made a mental note to check the dishes in the morning... just in case. Pain medication made a man do strange things.
He checked on Illya and wasn't surprised to find him totally unresponsive to verbal prompts. Out of habit, he checked the prescription and counted the pills. Not that he'd expect Illya to try something as stupid as an overdose, but after a while time played tricks on you and it got hard to remember when you'd taken the medication last.
Napoleon settled into his own bed, his mind still far too busy with thoughts to rest. And accordingly he didn't sleep well that night. His dreams were scattered, hop-scotching from one adventure to another. Around dawn, they finally left him and he sank into a dreamless sleep, only to be jarred awake by his alarm clock.
It actually took him a minute to remember where he was. He thought he was back in his old penthouse, fresh from a transcontinental adventure. He rolled onto his back and stared at his hand and at the barely visible scars that crisscrossed it. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
Napoleon climbed out of bed and pulled on his robe. He could smell coffee and that heartened him. Sure enough Illya was puttering in the kitchen.
"What are you doing up?"
"Unless there's a real reason for me to stay down, I'd rather be at least moving."
"Still, Vic said..."
"I know what he said, Napoleon, and I know what my body says. I'll be less stiff moving around than I will be flat on my back."
"You shouldn't overdo."
"Why? There isn't much left that could happen."
"You could fall and break your other hip."
"I should punch you for that."
"First, you'd have to catch me." And Napoleon took a step closer.
There was a sharp knock to the door. "You've got about ten minutes, Chief."
Napoleon sighed and Illya handed him a cup of coffee. "Your public awaits."
"Hold that thought and don't go anywhere." He gave Illya's shoulder a squeeze.
"Don't worry. If the world wants something, it will have to come to me."
It wasn't until later that afternoon that Napoleon actually had a chance to stop and catch his breath for a minute. When Waverly had been behind the desk, Napoleon had envied him the freedom. No one knew that Waverly had less than any of them. No wonder he would make a mad dash for the field whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Yet, Napoleon found himself more and more willing to stay behind the desk these days, less driven to take on the world himself. The meetings, the conferences, they could be boring at times, but they were also unpredictable and at times, life altering. He could do more with a few well chosen words than all the bullets in the world. So why couldn't he find the words for what he needed to do now?
He sat forward and reached for the intercom. "Mr. Gilbert, will you join me please?" He didn't wait for an answer. When you were Section One, Number One, no one said no to you.
Napoleon's head turned at the tap on his office door and a moment later Hiram Gilbert entered. He glanced around, obviously surprised at not seeing Solo behind his desk. Napoleon instead stood at the bar, mixing martinis.
"Thanks for coming, Hi."
"Not like I was doing anything important. My partner's in Istanbul and I'm tired of trying to keep the paperwork from breeding."
"I always hated that part of the job. Thankfully, Illya was good at it and my philosophy was never do what you could browbeat your partner into doing for you."
"Like you or anyone else could browbeat Illya into anything he didn't want to do." He glanced at his watch. "He's on his way then?"
"Illya. Figured something big was coming down and you wanted both Section Two and Three involved."
"Nope, just you, Hi." Napoleon poured the liquor into a glass, added an olive, and passed it over to him.
"Uh... okay, I'm getting worried now. Not only am I in a private meeting with my boss, but he's offering me something to drink. I'm on major alert now."
"Cheers." Napoleon raised his glass and sipped, really just touching his lips to the glass. "Who, in your opinion would be a good replacement for the head of Section Three?"
Hi chuckled and took a large swallow. "Go pull the other one, Napoleon. Illya is... oh, my God... he's not dead?"
"What? No, he's fine... well, sort of fine. His hip is acting up again." This time, Napoleon did drink and drained the glass. "Vic is recommending we pull him from field work."
"He'll never do it."
"It's already been done. We discussed it last night. I don't keep anything from him. I just wondered who you would be championing for the position. He was thinking Franz."
"I agree. Joe Franz is the Number Two guy and he picked up the slack when Illya was out on Medical this past year. He can do the work okay, although I don't think he has Illya's sense of caution. He tends to react first and then apologize."
"Give him a six month trial?" Napoleon split the rest of the shaker's contents between their glasses.
"That would be fair." Hi drank again. "Speaking of fair, where does Illya go from here?"
"No idea. He's been out of the science field too long to work down in the labs. He could always teach, I suppose. I'll let him decide."
"This was a helluva trick to play on him. After all his years... doesn't seem fair."
Napoleon stood and looked out the window. He'd always wondered why Waverly had a window, but now he understood. It helped to remind him that outside this building, the world went on. "No, it isn't... and it's not right, but it's... necessary." He set the glass down. "I won't bury him for some fool notion that he's still twenty." It was easy to sound so sure of himself while still within these walls.
The days crawled by and Napoleon was getting more and more worried about Illya. He was recuperating; he'd even managed a trip downstairs. It had taken Napoleon and Leon to get him back up, but Napoleon didn't care. It had been the first time Illya seemed really interested in anything lately. He didn't talk about coming back to work, even though Napoleon knew that Vic would have cleared him for light duty. Instead Illya sat and watched TV, something basically unheard of. Or he read; that made Napoleon a bit more comfortable. Or he interacted with the children, helping them with their lessons.
All looked fine on the surface and even Lisle had commented upon how well Illya was coping. Napoleon knew differently for he saw Illya's face as he left for work. He saw Illya's lack of interest upon his return. The fact that his blood and guts partner was spending the day cutting out paper turkeys and debating the role of the pilgrims in the first Thanksgiving made Napoleon's heart ache.
Mostly, it was Illya's opinion that Napoleon wanted to seek, but he was under 'need to know' and as long as Illya stayed home, he didn't need to know. Napoleon knew he couldn't discuss work with him. Even Leon, in his newly elevated spot as Number Two, wasn't privy to the sorts of things that Illya had been. Certainly, Napoleon had his fellow Section One, Number Ones, but he didn't trust them the way he trusted Illya.
He was climbing the stairs to their apartment when he'd heard Irina's record player going and recognized "Puff the Magic Dragon."
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave, so Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.
Without meaning to, without wanting to, Napoleon felt tears beginning to well. He sank down onto the step and let them trickle down his cheeks. Halfway up, he was nearly invisible from view below and he felt as if Illya had stopped seeing him as well. Something had to change... and soon or he too would be losing his lifelong friend and fading from view.
"Napoleon, wake up you have to see this."
"Whaa?" At first, he wasn't half sure it wasn't a dream that had roused him. He was taking a day off from work and had planned to sleep most of the morning. He'd been in more meetings in the last forty- eight hours than it seemed he'd had during the past five years. Eating, sleeping, everything got pushed aside. When he'd finally managed to get home, he'd quietly let himself into a sleeping household.
He'd just managed to get up to the apartment and collapsed on his bed, too tired to even undress. He'd done all that he could do.
Napoleon propped himself up on his elbow and watched Illya limp back towards the living room. He'd started watching the local news during the past week. That told Napoleon that Illya was still hungry to know what was going on, but knew UNCLE could not be the open source it had been. Instead the Russian had had to fall back on the media. Napoleon rolled off the bed. He took a moment to at least take off his jacket, tie and holster before joining Illya in the living room.
Illya was wearing just a tee shirt and jogging pants, his hair still crazed from a restless sleep. He looked at Napoleon with wide, completely astonished eyes. "It's all over the news. I don't believe what I'm seeing. I never thought I'd live to see this."
The reports were coming live from Berlin and Illya looked from the images of a wall coming down to Napoleon's face and back again.
"Finally!" Napoleon stretched and scratched his chest. "I thought he'd see reason."
"You knew?" Illya had returned to the screen, watching the people of East and West Berlin freely meet for the first time in decades.
"Only a handful of us did. It was strictly hush hush in case it fell through. Reagan has been pressuring him for months to make a grand gesture." Napoleon bent down to kiss Illya's head. "You may not know this, but you unwittingly had a hand in this."
"I don't understand." Illya passed his coffee cup to Napoleon.
"Gorbachev. The only reason he started negotiating with UNCLE was because we had a Soviet agent at a time when the US and USSR were sworn enemies. He talked with me because not only did I speak the language, I was your partner. He thought I had a unique view of both sides of the issue."
There was a loud pounding on their door. "Dad, Illya, are you seeing this?" Leon shouted through the door. "I'm calling the office."
"We're seeing it, Leon," Napoleon called back. To Illya he said, "Not only that, Gorby's taking steps to disband the Communist party. This is why UNCLE still need you Illya. This is why I still need you. It's the beginning of a whole new era, not just for us, but for the whole world and I can't do it without you."
"You haven't needed me for a long time, Napoleon."
"That's where you're wrong, partner. That is where you are very wrong." Napoleon settled down on the couch beside Illya and slipped an arm around his waist. "Work is just... well, work, when you're not there. It's easy to forget why and what we are doing. You remind me that good people make a difference and you make me good people. You don't have to give me an answer, but please just think about coming back to UNCLE."
"I... can't." Their private line rang and Illya snatched it up. "Kuryakin." He laughed then. "Vyetka, Вы услышали, Вы видели (have you heard, did you see)?"
Napoleon realized Illya was speaking with his younger brother and Napoleon felt sad, sad that he'd practically worked this deal for Illya and it hadn't had the result he'd hoped for.
Talking hurriedly, too fast for Napoleon to follow, Illya's voice carried the excitement and hope as he spoke with various members of his family.
Suddenly Illya stopped and held out the receiver to him. "Mama wants to talk to you."
Napoleon smiled and took the phone. It seemed odd to hear Illya use that word. "Yuliya, доброе утро... или скорее добрый вечер (good morning.... or rather good evening... )?"
"Napoleon, Иллюша говорит мне, что Вы сделали это( Illyusha tells me you did this)."
"I... helped." he admitted slowly in English.
"Thank you." Her English was heavily accented, but he could understand her well enough. "I thank you as a nation."
"Возможно теперь Вы приедете и посетите ваших правнуков (Perhaps now you will come and visit your great grandchildren)," Illya said, leaning close to the mouthpiece and Napoleon smiled, kissing his cheek. Even If he wasn't the one able to make Illya happy anymore, at least his partner was showing some sense of life.
Napoleon left them to talk and headed for the shower. It felt good to just stand there and let the water beat down on him. He knew the minute he left the small cubical, his day would be a blur of work related activities.
So much for a day off. The bathroom door opened and he turned his back to the room to give Illya some privacy. It was to his credit that he didn't jump when the shower door opened and a pair of arms snaked around his waist.
"You're lucky I'm unarmed." He tilted his head back and rested it on Illya's shoulder
"You may not have a pistol in here, but you are never unarmed." Illya did nothing more than stand there and hold him; yet it was enough for Napoleon. He would happily have stayed like that forever. It was easy to close his eyes, pretend they were in Paris or Rome or a dozen other cities, fresh from the fight and anxious to burn off some adrenaline. Like this, it was easy to forget.
"Thank you," Illya murmured.
"You are most welcome. I'm not sure if the Soviet Union will know what to do with democracy, but they will at least be given a chance to find out. Hell of a man, that Gorbachev."
"That's not what I mean."
Napoleon turned off the shower and Illya offered him a towel. He accepted it and stepped carefully from the tub. "Illya, you're still young; it isn't right that you hide away here when there are so many people who could benefit from your experience and knowledge."
"I can't, Napoleon."
"I'm going in for more surgery; the day after Thanksgiving. Vic says it should be much easier than the last one and I will probably be able to return to active duty by the first of the year."
Napoleon shut his eyes again and ducked his head beneath the stream of water to hide his tears. He murmured something and Illya kissed the back of Napoleon's neck.
"What did you say?"
Napoleon pulled the towel back and smiled. "I said the song was wrong.
"Puff... he's not alone... not yet."
"I don't understand."
Napoleon suddenly embraced him. He felt Illya stiffen automatically, a conditioned response, then relax, knowing it was only his partner. "Neither do I. Nor hopefully will I have to for a very long time." Yet Napoleon knew exactly what he was going to be thankful for this year.