Illya’s day starts with a bang. Quite literally. His fingers have barely brushed his alarm clock to switch it off when there’s a loud pop which has him scrambling for his gun. A second later a shower of confetti is raining down on him, settling on his hair, the bed, the floor, every available surface in the bedroom.
His brain quickly assesses the situation and determines that this is not a Thrush attack. In fact this particular attack can only have come from the most devious source Illya has ever encountered.
He’s foolish to have thought today might have passed by his partner’s notice. Napoleon is highly skilled at making himself seem innocent while scheming and plotting. It’s one of the reasons they are both still alive. It’s been months since Illya divulged the date of his birth to Napoleon, and he assumed that with all the fuss of wrapping up the mission and being glad they hadn’t been killed that Napoleon had simply forgotten.
A foolish assumption.
Illya hasn’t celebrated his birthday since his first year in the orphanage as a child. Birthdays were a luxury that hadn’t been indulged and after a while it became just another day. It was just another day while he was in the orphanage, it was just another day during his time at military school where he focussed on learning all that there was to learn, and by the time he was sent to university it just hadn’t seemed important. Oh, he can understand why people to choose to celebrate, of course. Especially in their line of work where surviving another year is a feat worthy of being celebrated. But Illya has never been one for grand displays or big fusses. If he was going to do anything it would involve a quiet night at home with a nice drink and a good book.
It seems Napoleon has other ideas, however, and Illya is already regretting telling him even if he did imagine it was going to be their last ever conversation.
”You know it’s occurred to me I don’t know much about you,” Napoleon said as they were slowly being lowered towards a vat of acid. The latest ridiculous Thrush scheme to rid themselves of Napoleon and Illya. Unfortunately, ridiculous or not, it appeared that this particular plan was going to be successful. The ropes around their wrists were tight and thus far all attempts to reach any of their equipment had failed. Illya was starting to think this was the end.
“I mean I know the obvious,” Napoleon continued. “I know how you take your coffee, that you eat food like it’s your final meal and that you prefer the company of a good book to a good woman. But I don’t know anything personal about you.”
Illya twisted his hands in yet another futile attempt to free them from the rope. “Is now really the time, Napoleon?”
Napoleon grunted and twisted, attempting to free himself as well but having just as little success as Illya. “Well, I just figured if we’re going to die together we may as well get to know each other. We haven’t been partnered that long. Seems a shame to waste the opportunity.”
“I know as much about you as I care to.” Illya replied dryly. The air was getting thinner and his head was starting to swim. With any luck he’d lose consciousness before the acid started to dissolve his body.
Napoleon’s attempts to free himself had grown more frantic, as though he was aware Illya was starting to fade. “Humor me, okay?”
Illya sighed and instantly regretted it when he started to choke. “Perhaps it would be wiser to stop talking and preserve what little oxygen we have left.”
He could feel Napoleon tugging but couldn’t see if he was making any progress since Thrush had seen fit to tie them up back to back. A shame, really. Napoleon’s face would have been a nice last thing to see before he died.
“What’s your favourite colour?” Napoleon asked, apparently choosing to ignore Illya’s words about preserving their air. Maybe he’d resigned his fate too.
“Black,” Illya replied.
“Of course it is. Fine, when’s your birthday? You haven’t had one since you joined U.N.C.L.E.”
Illya laughed, or tried to at least, what came out was more of a weak huff. “Napoleon, I have worked for the U.N.C.L.E for two years. I assure you I have had a birthday during that period. More than one, in fact. I simply see little point in acknowledging it.”
“Well, that’s just unacceptable,” Napoleon replied. “You’re my partner and it’s my right, my duty in fact, to treat you on your birthday. I’ll make sure the next one is spectacular to make up for the ones I’ve missed. Deal?”
Ever the optimist.
Illya glanced down. Napoleon’s feet were about eighteen inches away from the acid now and being a little shorter Illya’s feet were further up. But he wasn’t a fool. They weren’t making it out of this. Not this time.
“I would really prefer it if you didn’t.”
Napoleon twisted and something must have come loose because he slipped a little.
“Come on, Illya, I thought we were friends.”
It was a low blow but Illya didn’t have the energy to argue at this point. He closed his eyes and found he didn’t have the energy to open them again.
“July 17th. But no party, Napoleon. Promise?”
He faded away before he could hear Napoleon’s reply.
When he woke up, which was more than a little surprising, he found himself lying in the floor with his head resting in Napoleon’s lap. He could hear his partner’s voice but couldn’t make out the words. All he was aware of was that he was alive, and that Napoleon’s hand was currently gently stroking his hair. Conversations about birthdays just hadn’t seemed important after that.
Illya considers just staying in bed. After the explosive start to the day he can only imagine things are going to get worse from here. Napoleon is resourceful, resourceful enough to break into Illya’s apartment and tamper with his alarm clock without being detected. Who knows what else is planned for the day.
Unfortunately, knowing Napoleon as he does, Illya is quite sure that if he calls in sick Napoleon will just turn up here and force some sort of birthday celebration on him. At least if he goes into the office he can distract himself with work.
He brushes the confetti out of his hair and heads for the bathroom. The sooner this day is over with the better
He’s been in the building for five minutes and he already wants to leave. As soon as he was through the door the receptionist had flashed him a dazzling smile and wished him a happy birthday. In the few minutes it had taken him to walk to his lab several people, including some he’s fairly sure he doesn’t even know had stopped him to offer their best wishes.
He should have stayed at home in bed. When Napoleon eventually shows his face Illya is going to use the slowest and most painful method he knows to murder his partner.
He scowls when he sees someone (Napoleon) has tied a gaudy red bow around his best microscope and has to force a polite smile on his face when Denise pokes her head around the door to wish him a happy birthday.
Murder may be too good for Napoleon.
Mid-morning some files he’s requested arrive wrapped in bright paper and finished off with some ribbon. The secretary wishes him a happy birthday and doesn’t seem even remotely ashamed of the ridiculous gesture she has become part of. Well, Napoleon can be very persuasive, especially where women are concerned.
While Illya is still staring at the files she hands him a smaller envelope.
“Mr Solo asked me to give you this.”
Illya hesitates for a moment before accepting the envelope, seeing his name written in Napoleon’s distinctive script on the front.
“Do you know where Mr Solo happens to be now?” He hopes his tone comes across as light and not murderous.
“Oh, I think he stepped out for a while. An errand or something. I’m sure he’ll be back soon. Happy Birthday again, Mr Kuryakin.”
Illya waits until she’s out of earshot before huffing and turning his attention back to the ‘gifts’ he’s just received. He’s half-tempted to just throw the envelope from Napoleon away in case it showers him with something but even as the thought crosses his mind his fingers are working at the flap.
Inside is a birthday card ‘to a swell guy’ and a drawing of a man who looks suspiciously like Napoleon.
Inside the hand-written message is brief.
Happy Birthday, tovarishch
I know you consider work to be a gift so please enjoy
He puts the card back into its envelope and sets it to one side. He’s far from the sentimental type but he just can’t bring himself to throw away the only birthday card he’s ever received.
Damn Napoleon and his meddlesome ways.
He makes quick work of unwrapping the files and forces down the smile that’s threatening to break out on his lips.
The rest of the morning passes without incident and Illya, foolishly perhaps, thinks that maybe that’s the end of it. But Napoleon doesn’t arrive for their usual lunch and immediately he’s on edge again as he heads to the cafeteria alone. He endures further birthday greetings but the final humiliation comes when he’s presented with a small cake with a candle in it when he orders his sandwich.
He glances around the room, half looking for Napoleon who is bound to be close by watching the results of his efforts, and half looking for even a hint that anyone is about to start singing Happy Birthday To You. He is not above fleeing if the situation calls for it.
Luckily for all concerned no one sings and he is able to retreat to the safety of his office to eat his lunch in peace.
The cake is his favourite kind and is delicious but he keeps that to himself.
Fortunately once lunchtime is over things seems to settle down and Illya is able to work quietly. He can’t shake the feeling that it isn’t over though. He hasn’t seen Napoleon once all day, which only ever happens when one of them is on assignment without the other. It’s unnerving, and every time the door opens he expects Napoleon to burst in, full of himself and expecting thanks or congratulations on his perfectly executed plan.
But there has been nothing. His door hasn’t opened once since he retreated to his office. It’s unnerving.
Perhaps Napoleon is waiting for Illya to come to him and while Illya is reluctant to give him the satisfaction the alternative is sitting on edge in his office waiting for the next ‘surprise’.
Napoleon’s secretary Janet flashes him a bright smile when he arrives.
“Illya! It’s so good to see you! Are you looking for Napoleon? I’m afraid he’s left for the day.”
Illya glances down at his watch. It’s barely 3pm.
“Oh, I know it’s early but he said he had some personal business to attend to.”
Of course he does.
“Thank you, Janet. I’m sure I’ll catch up with him later.”
Fine. If it’s acceptable for Napoleon to head home then enough is enough. Illya is going too before anything else happens.
“Oh! Happy birthday, Illya!” Janet calls when he’s almost out of earshot.
Today really can’t end soon enough.
It’s not entirely surprising when Illya opens his front door, sheds his jacket, clicks on the light and finds Napoleon sat there waiting for him.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” Illya says and heads to the cabinet to pour himself a drink. The finest Russian vodka. It’s a special occasion after all. He pours one for Napoleon without asking.
“Me?” Napoleon asks innocently, standing and accepting the drink with a coy smile. “Not at all. I just happen to be a very busy man.”
Illya snorts. “That line may work on your lady friends, Napoleon but not with me.”
Napoleon grins and presses a kiss to Illya’s cheek.
“Happy birthday,” he whispers, his warm breath tickling Illya’s ear. It takes all Illya’s resolve to remind himself that he’s supposed to be angry with his partner.
“Yes, well,” he says, pulling away and collapsing into his favorite armchair. “It’s better now that I don’t have to endure empty congratulations from people I barely know.”
Napoleon takes a seat on the couch. “Was it really so terrible?”
Illya thinks for a second and sighs. “No, not terrible I suppose. Just exhausting. I’m not used to having people fuss over me like that. Well, people who aren’t you I mean.”
Napoleon grins. “Well, that’s precisely why I did it. You’re well thought of, Illya. I didn’t coerce anyone into being nice to you on your birthday. I simply let the fact slip.”
He looks so earnest, so open, that Illya’s last shred of annoyance melts away.
“I appreciate the gesture, Napoleon, I do. Just...perhaps a little warning next time?”
Illya smiles and moves over to the couch where he curls against Napoleon’s side. “You know you really are most meddlesome.”
“It’s one of my finer qualities,” Napoleon replies, draping his arm over Illya’s shoulder and pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “I thought I might cook dinner.”
Illya’s head shoots up at that. “Cook? You? Do you even know how?”
“I happen to be a very good cook, my friend. I just prefer to save my skills for very special occasions.”
In all the time they’ve known each other Illya can’t recall Napoleon ever cooking. Not for him, not for anyone.
“Well, I’m honoured.”
A smirk drifts across Napoleon’s face as he rises to his feet and tugs Illya with him. “I could cook now, or I could let you open your gift first.”
Illya snorts. “What? The files you had sent to the lab weren’t enough of a gift? Such an interesting read, Napoleon. If only you had been there.”
“The gift I have for you is something of a more personal nature.” Illya finds his fingers being guided to the buttons of Napoleon’s shirt. “Would you like to open it here or in the bedroom.”
Illya swallows, his throat suddenly dry. “The bedroom, I think.”
Napoleon grins. “Then follow me.”
They enter the bedroom, the confetti from the morning’s explosion still all over everything.
“I have to ask,” Illya says as Napoleon chuckles at the mess. “How did you…?”
“Every spy has their secrets, Illya. Now, how about you open your present. Happy birthday.”
“Thank you, Napoleon.”