“You are not a spy,” she told him firmly, dangling the watch out of reach as Napoleon curled in a wincing, fetal position on his Le Corbusier couch in his apartment. “You are a thief with the self-control of a child. Now give me back my ring.”
“What ring?” Napoleon asked innocently, even through the pain.
“How fond are you of your nose?” Gaby shot back blandly.
Napoleon grimaced. Illya had clearly been a bad influence. “It’s in the top drawer of the dresser.”
“That wasn’t hard, was it?”
“You do realize that the ring is a tracker?”
“Yes, I know. I think it’s sweet,” Gaby said, which, if anything, showed that Napoleon would never understand women. Sourly, he nursed his injury with a good scotch and showed up to work the next day, gloved up and as fresh-faced as painkillers could allow.
U.N.C.L.E. betrayed its MI6 roots quite clearly by having its New York office in the secret back room of a tailor shop, of all things, and, to Napoleon’s count, also had at least three secret entrances, of which Napoleon had been authorised to only know one. Thanks to his particular sense of curiosity when bored that had contributed to the heightening blood pressure of all of Napoleon’s previous handlers to date, Napoleon had within the second week of his new (?) employment figured out the second entrance, but not the third. Five weeks into the new engagement now and counting, the thought nagged at Napoleon as he stepped through the fake door in a changing room, arrived into a concrete corridor, and eventually ended up in a round white chamber with a circular table and three chairs.
Gaby smiled brightly at Napoleon when he walked into the chamber, dressed in bright red shift baby-doll dress: Pierre Cardin, perhaps, with a cream pillbox hat. Beside her, Illya looked militantly dowdy, sitting straight-backed in his chair before the round briefing table, with his ever-present cap and brown jacket, raising an eyebrow slightly as he glanced at Napoleon’s gloved hands. Napoleon offered him a sharp smile as he took a seat beside Gaby, slouching into the plastic chair.
“Having fun yet?” Napoleon asked Illya, and his frown deepened fractionally.
“You ask me that every morning.”
“Out of the spirit of our newfound friendship.”
“Yesterday I played hide and seek with my CIA tail across Central Park.” Illya said in a thickly accented monotone. “Everyone had good exercise.”
“Sounds like it was a good day.”
Illya scowled, and looked away from him. “I am wasting time here. Every day we must show ourselves in this room. Every day we do not see this Waverly and are told to go and come back tomorrow. I have work to do back home. We were meant to have gone to Istanbul. Why are we here?"
“So relax. See the sights. It’s New York.” Napoleon suggested.
“I am a KGB spy in enemy territory. I do not ‘relax’,” Illya said, suggesting very strongly that he was going to be stubbornly melodramatic about it all. Napoleon looked to Gaby for support, but she was ignoring them both, relaxed in her chair.
“The two of you could go to the theatre,” Napoleon tried to be encouraging. There had been something going on between Gaby and Illya, hadn’t there? Napoleon wasn’t entirely sure. He was not particularly good with people, unless they had to be stolen or smuggled somewhere.
Illya swung his glower back towards him. “You actually like this? Doing nothing?”
“I am thinking of it as a well-deserved holiday,” Napoleon admitted, because ever since being netted over by the CIA his life had been one unrelenting series of missions, many of which had been particularly dull and most of which had been unpleasant in some way or another, and he had rather enjoyed the last few weeks of not having Sanders breathing down his neck at every pass. Illya narrowed his eyes, but before he could comment, there was a faint click from the speaker box set in the centre of the table.
“I’m afraid that I have nothing for you all today,” came Waverly’s brisk voice. “Same time tomorrow.”
“Wait,” Illya snapped, but there was already the second click, of Waverly signing off. Gaby sighed, and got to her feet, nodding politely at them both before heading briskly to the door.
Illya’s jaw set, his hands curling slightly on the table, and Napoleon studied him curiously, all those sleek, tense lines, the anger that seemed forever coiled just skin deep, an ugly imperfection that marred Illya’s otherwise strikingly handsome features.
“Did you ever tell your handler what happened to that disk?” Napoleon asked.
Illya glanced at him, startled. “No. I made contact once, on the way to New York. I presume our orders were the same, since we are both here.”
“No mention of the disk, just an order to listen to Waverly for now but keep patching back? Easy.”
“It is easier for you,” Illya said sourly. “This is your country. While your CIA is not so comfortable with me being here.”
“I’m surprised that this is even happening at all.” At Illya’s slight frown, Napoleon added, “Never thought how strange it was that we didn’t just get shot by our respective agencies in short order? We technically committed treason.”
Illya shrugged. “I would have told my handler that his information was wrong. Had he asked.”
It wasn’t that easy for Illya, that Napoleon could see now: Illya was trying to sound casual, but there was a wary tension to him, his feet pressed flat on the ground, like a cornered animal, and Napoleon suddenly felt sorry for the KGB spy, or at least, sympathetic. Had this strange offer from Waverly never surfaced, Napoleon would have gone back to Sanders with a bland smile and a wink and would probably have just suffered through a few particularly bad assignments as a punishment. He was the best that the CIA had, and Sanders knew it: it would be a waste for them to shoot him. The KGB, on the other hand, were not in the least sentimental that way.
“I nearly shot you,” Napoleon admitted then. “I was thinking about it.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I didn’t want to. I was thinking about how stupid it all was. How pointless. Working together and then for what? Whomever of us made it back to our handler would just unleash another World War.”
Illya snorted. “You are a bad spy.”
“You didn’t shoot me either.”
“My hands were full,” Illya said shortly, and started to get tiredly to his feet. “See you tomorrow, Cowboy.”
“Wait.” Napoleon said impulsively, and when Illya stared at him, he added, “Aren’t you curious?”
“About this place. About Waverley, U.N.C.L.E., about why the KGB loaned you out here.”
“Curiosity is not a good trait for a spy.” Illya said pointedly, though he settled back into his seat. “Why do you ask?”
“We’ve only seen this room and the tailor shop. Surely there’s more.”
“You are looking for trouble. It is a bad habit.”
“Says the man who caused a miniature CIA meltdown yesterday on a whim.”
“So what do you suggest?” Illya inquired, his drawled tone strongly indicating that he did not expect to hear any good ideas at all, which was rather hurtful, in Napoleon’s opinion.
“I think this is all a test,” Napoleon said, shooting from the hip. “We’re the best agents from our agencies. It makes no sense to keep us in New York and just get us to report in every morning and do nothing else.”
“… Assuming that I agree with you,” Illya said thoughtfully, “What do you suggest?”
“There are three ways into these facilities. The tailor shop, the Masque Club, and one more. Stands to reason. The tailor shop entry only gets us this far.”
“You have tried the Masque Club?” Illya was leaning forward, perhaps a good sign.
“As a matter of fact, yes. It leads to a room exactly like this one.”
“And that made you think that there was another way in?” Illya rolled his eyes.
“Stands to reason, doesn’t it?”
“No, Cowboy,” Illya said, very dryly. “I think it is more likely that these two ‘entrances’ lead to two separate saferooms, of which this is one. Life is not always like movies. The world is not usually full of secret hideouts.”
“We had some plans to build a network of fallout shelters after the big war,” Napoleon retorted casually.
“Yes. I heard. Apparently your Congress did not allow it. But such a system is inefficient. Better to design your subways to be a shelter. Dual use. To do otherwise is a waste.” Illya shook his head. “Typically American.”
“It turns out that we did build a few,” Napoleon ignored him. “I found the plans from a visit to the FCDA.”
“‘Found’, you say.” Illya pointedly fingered his watch.
“The plans are an old version. But we do seem to be sitting on the two indicative entrances into one of the planned shelters. Coincidence?”
“That your CIA would be so incompetent as to allow an entirely independent spy organisation to build an operations network under its nose?” Illya paused, thinking this over. “… Eh. Possible.”
“I hear there is something similar in London.”
“Really? There’s more than one independent spy agency with borrowed CIA and KGB spies with its own agenda?” Somehow though, Napoleon wasn’t surprised.
“Probably. So. What do you want to do?”
“Well. You could go back to playing tag with the CIA, or you could help me break into a moving CIA black site that contains updated copies of all the US government architectural plans ever made. Any other entrances should be noted down there.”
Illya stared at him for a long time. “I thought you liked to work alone,” he said, at last.
“I might need someone to serve as a distraction.”
“I think,” Illya said very dryly, “That you are very bored, and you are looking for trouble.”
“Are you in, or not?”
“There is an easier way to do this. Gaby was recruited by Waverly. No doubt she knows him well. If this is a test, we could just ask her.”
“You have no soul,” Napoleon said sadly, and stole Illya’s watch again on his way out.
It took him half an hour today to lose his CIA tail, after which Illya found himself outside the Masque Club, to his personal annoyance. He’d let that irritating American thief get under his skin again. Scowling to himself, and now keenly missing his watch, Illya loitered at the rooftop of a shophouse block facing the Masque Club, out of view from the street, and jammed his hands into the pockets of his jacket.
There was an easier way to do this. He could have just talked to Gaby. She was still wearing her tracker, after all. She wouldn’t be difficult to find. They could have had a laugh over Solo’s childishness over tea and… and Illya would have gone back to being nervous and disoriented and out of sorts. At least this felt like he was back in the game.
Or maybe Solo’s childishness was more virulent than even Illya had suspected.
He stared sourly at the innocuous entrance to the Masque Club. It was a nightclub, which meant that at present in the early afternoon it was closed, windows shuttered. There was a back entrance that had been locked tight, and it had high windows that were locked tight - not a problem for Illya, but difficult to manage in the middle of the day without the general public noticing. Illya had settled out of habit for a vantage point that would keep both the back alley and the front entrance in sight, and now was feeling rather foolish about it all.
Damn Solo and his flights of fancy. Illya let out a slow breath, and was about to head off the roof when the main door to the Club opened, and a blonde woman stepped out, in a cream pea coat, sunglasses and a brilliantly coloured headscarf, blithely out of place. Startled, Illya hastily fished out his binoculars from within his jacket, and focused his sights, even as the lady turned on her heel and melted into the crowd, her step brisk. Illya tucked his binoculars away and darted down the fire escape, and managed to catch sight of her pea coat as he turned the corner out of the alley, disappearing down a junction, and he followed her, keeping his head down and an eye out for his CIA tail, off several streets, until they were heading underground, into the subway.
The woman promptly let herself into a service door, closing it behind her, and now Illya hesitated, his instincts all afire. This was not his affair, and the KGB often frowned on personal initiative, particularly where it might compromise another asset’s mission.
But he was not now in the KGB, was he? Looking around carefully, Illya waited for a lull in the crowd before he too let himself through the service door - and found himself facing the barrel of a gun.
The blonde woman smiled, sharp and tight like a predator, and instantly, Illya now recognised his own kind. “KGB, I presume.” The woman had a British accent, crisp and polished, and she looked like she was in her late thirties, her curls brushing her shoulders, her aim unwavering. She had killed before.
“Not presently…?” If he died here, Illya quietly swore on his soul that he would come back as a vengeful ghost and haunt Napoleon Solo.
“Why are you following me?”
Illya actually didn’t have a good answer for that, and was calculating whether he should try and run for it or make a play for the gun when the service door opened abruptly behind him.
Solo stared at the both of them in seemingly genteel surprise. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Now we are both going to die,” Illya muttered, but the woman merely frowned at them both, as though finally noticing something that Illya could not see, and then she motioned curtly with her gun.
“Step outside and close the door, gentlemen. And if I see either of you again I’ll shoot first and ask questions later. Consider this your first and final warning. Understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” Solo said hastily, backing off, and soon they were back outside, in the rush of the crowd, breathing hard.
“What are you doing here?” Illya hissed, once he got his heart rate under control.
“Same reason you are. I saw her leave the club. She’s Victoria Winslow,” Solo added quietly, as the crowd lulled again. “In case you didn’t recognise her.”
“The first female double-0?” Illya blinked. “She is meant to be dead. There was some… problem, with a KGB agent.” It had caused quite the scandal at the time.
“She’s not the only presumed-dead asset I’ve seen coming out of the Marque Club or the tailor shop. I’ve seen ex-Mossad, the DST… even retired CIA.”
So this was not an elaborate MI6 prank to waste their time. Good to know. “I will talk to Gaby,” Illya said reluctantly.
“You do that.”
“What are you going to do, then?”
“Follow the service tunnel.”
“If that is truly Victoria Winslow, then you are going to die.” The KGB’s dossier on the double-0s and their exploits was fairly complete.
Solo smirked. “Perhaps. See you again tomorrow morning?”
“… Fine.” Illya scowled. Solo turned back towards the door, but hesitated when Illya caught his sleeve. “Wait.”
“Careful, Peril,” Solo raised his eyebrows; under his sleeve, all Illya could feel was solid muscle, tensing slightly under his touch. “I might think that you’re starting to care.”
“Give me back my watch. Again.”
“Force of habit,” Solo said, not in the least apologetic, though he palmed that out from within his suit. “Happy now?”
“Satisfied,” Illya corrected, strapping his watch back on his wrist, though he couldn’t help but tense up when Solo opened the door. The service tunnel was empty, and Solo’s step seemed overloud as he went through and closed the door behind him.
Illya waited, almost expecting to hear muffled gunfire at any second, then he breathed out instead, irritated, and turned on his heel, leaving the subway. He got as far as the top of the stairs before swearing under his breath and clattering back down, heading through to the service tunnel, keeping his steps light-footed as he circled around the first bend, then another, until he was finally confused and a little lost, at one point even opening a door out into a train tunnel, feeling the rush of wind on his face from an oncoming train for a second before he closed the door quickly.
Retracing his steps, he nearly walked right into Solo at an intersection, and Solo blinked at him in genuine surprise. “Illya? What are you doing here?”
Illya had no good answer for that, either, and Solo’s stare eventually turned into a smirk. “Aww. You do care.”
“Shut up,” Illya muttered, striding towards the way out. Solo had to jog to keep up.
“She lost me, but I think she must have headed out again into the main public corridors and gotten on a train.”
“You got in contact with Gaby surprisingly quickly,” Solo said, with mock innocence. “Whatever did she say? You know she’s lied to us both very successfully before, which resulted, might I add, in you getting chased by dogs and me getting an intimate introduction to an electric chair. Somehow I rather doubt that the beautiful Miss Teller would hesitate about spinning another Waverly story for us all over again if she had to.”
“… Fine,” Illya sighed. “Let us hear your grand plan to break into this CIA black site.”
Solo grinned broadly. “I knew you’d see things my way eventually.”
“You are going to get us both shot,” Illya said sourly. “But first. Give me back my wallet.”