His garden is a ruin. Weeds sprout from overgrown bushes, stray leaves carpet the ground, and the grass is long enough to inhabit the kind of creatures Napoleon would rather remain unfamiliar with. He really should do something about it, after all, he does have appearances to keep up, and the wilderness that is his backyard is more ‘reclusive derelict’ than ‘suave international super spy’.
Yes, he decides as he closes the French doors leading out to the garden of his quaint but arguably extravagant Cheshire home, he’ll have to take care of it. He doubts Margaret, the little (and relatively ancient) housekeeper who looks after the house when he’s away for weeks, or often months, would be much of a gardener. In fact, he’s not entirely sure she’d even survive out there; it’s that much of a jungle. Although, he hadn’t anticipated that she’d still be alive and kicking at this point in time. He might underestimate her.
He sits down at the desk in his study (an antique, priceless, but Napoleon is an expert at driving a sale), and pulls towards him a pen and a piece of paper. He scratches his chin thoughtfully, and then begins to write in his elegant script.
In search of gardener.
Must be strong, able-bodied and willing to work hard.
Must be willing to respect privacy of resident.
Weekly permanent position.
Contact resident for further details.
Napoleon leaves his contact details and folds the paper in half. He reaches for an envelope and addresses it to the newspaper, and encloses a few notes. He tucks it into his jacket pocket and instructs himself not to forget to post it as he walks out the front door.
A few days is all he gets before he’s called back to HQ to be briefed on the next mission. It’s an extraction likely to involve a fair amount of surveillance and at least one interrogation. It seems he won’t be home as soon as he had hoped. He tries to repress his disappointment. The weather is beginning to heat up and he’d thoroughly enjoyed the past few days lounging around in the sun. Hopefully there will be time for that in Florence. He doubts it.
As much as Napoleon will complain about being torn from his quiet retreat, he is glad to be getting back to it. Napoleon would never be able to live the quiet life; he needs a certain level of excitement. That much would be obvious from his past career choices, and his current, although how much of that is choice he doesn’t like to dwell upon.
Gaby is already waiting for him that afternoon as he boards the plane. She has an eye mask on but she senses it’s him when he sits down.
“Solo,” she greets.
“My dear Gaby, how was your break?”
She hums, “nice, quiet. How about you?”
“Very relaxing,” he says wistfully, “I feel considerably refreshed.”
“You were bored weren’t you?”
He isn’t going to dignify that with an answer.
“Margaret has been taking good care of the house, except the garden needs a bit of tidying." He drums his fingers on the back of her seat. "I’m hiring a gardener.”
Gaby finally takes off her eye mask to look at him. “Are you now?”
“Yes, I’ve put an ad in the paper.”
“Why didn’t you just do it yourself?”
“Gaby,” he sighs theatrically, “do I look like I have the time for weeding?” Sometimes his partner says things that make him question whether she really understands him.
Gaby rolls her eyes before placing her eye mask back on. “Frankly, Napoleon. A bit of weeding might do you some good. God knows you’ve never done an honest days work.”
“Is saving the world not an honest days work, then?” Napoleon is suitably aghast.
“Napoleon darling, you’ve never been honest in your life.”
Napoleon opens his mouth to rebut, and then closes it. He isn’t going to argue with that.
Napoleon wakes up to bright light shining in his face. He groans and slumps over into his pillow. He’s never been a morning person.
He peers open one bleary eye to look at his alarm clock. 11am. Well, he did only get in at 6 in the morning. The mission took a month. An entire month. He’s elated to be back home, however brief it may be.
Napoleon crawls out of bed slowly and pulls on his robe. He makes his way to the kitchen and pours some coffee into his favourite mug. On missions, his body is always alert, even seconds after waking. But in his time off, he doesn’t truly wake up until he’s at least halfway through a coffee, and he’s exhausted this morning.
It’s a beautiful day outside. He peers out the French doors into his bright and sunny garden. He inhales the wonderful smell of coffee and takes a big gulp, only to splutter it all out onto the front of his robe and back into the mug.
There is a giant in his garden.
He blinks his eyes a few times and crouches a little to sneak closer to the door. It’s pulling weeds out of the bushes. Incredible. He squints in disbelief. Who breaks into another person’s house to de-weed their garden?
Has his identity been compromised? It can’t be, or he wouldn’t be alive to consider it.
He watches for a few minutes as the man-turned-cyclops continues to yank the weeds out and toss them behind him. He stops to wipe the sweat from his brow, and then resumes.
Napoleon is aware his mouth has fallen open and he closes it, tightens his robe more securely and opens the doors, stepping out onto the deck. The man doesn’t even turn around or acknowledge his presence. Bizarre.
Napoleon approaches him cautiously until he’s only a couple of metres away and then he clears his throat.
The man throws the next bunch of weeds over his shoulder and then turns to face Napoleon. He’s wearing gloves, Napoleon notes, gardening gloves. It isn’t the only thing Napoleon notes. The man is a particularly fine specimen. He’s all broad shoulders and powerful muscles, with full lips and spectacularly piercing blue eyes. His right eye has a prominent scar next to it.
“Good morning,” Napoleon starts. He’s not entirely sure how to go about this situation but he’s nothing if not polite.
The man just inclines his head in Napoleon’s direction. Well, a good start.
“I’ve just woken up to a beautiful day, you see, although I got in early this morning so I’m a little tired.” The man is looking at Napoleon like he’s mad, which is quite unfair really, seeing as Napoleon is not the mad one in this situation. “Hence, I ask that you bear with me as I find my grounding, so to speak. I am, very curious, as to why you are... tending to my garden on this fine morning.”
The man continues to look at him as if he’s lost his head. Napoleon blinks at him innocuously.
“You are Mr Solo, no?” The man says slowly in a heavy Russian accent.
“That would be me, yes.”
“You put ad in the paper for gardener.”
Napoleon shuts his mouth abruptly. Right, yes. He had forgotten about that. He must be more exhausted than he originally thought.
“Of course I did, but I hadn’t interviewed any applicants yet. I’ve been away.”
“I spoke to the resident,” the man says in his low, succinct speech.
Napoleon frowns. “I’m afraid you didn’t. I am the resident, and I never received such a phone call.”
The man just furrows his brow, scowls a little. “The person I spoke to was woman, she offered me the job.”
Napoleon knows exactly whom he’s referring to. He sighs, runs a hand through his uncombed hair. “Yes, yes. This has all just been a misunderstanding, you’ve already started doing a great job here so I’ll just…leave you to it.”
The man nods and immediately resumes his work, and Napoleon watches him for a couple of seconds before retreating inside. He catches a glimpse of grey hair disappearing around the corner and calls out before she can pretend not to have heard him.
The small woman reappears holding a duster and wearing a decidedly innocent expression.
“Yes Mr Solo?”
“The behemoth in the yard…” Her expression doesn’t change. “That was your doing?”
“Yes Mr Solo. You advertised for a gardener. There were people calling the telephone every day. I took care of it for you.”
He gives her a considering look. “And did you ensure that the applicant picked was the most suitable given my requirements?”
“Of course, Mr Solo. I made sure to pick the best person for the job. Mr Kuryakin will work hard.”
“And will he adhere to the need for discretion?”
“He says that he will.”
Napoleon glances out the window dubiously. The man has finished with the weeds and has moved onto trimming the rosebushes.
He looks back to Margaret who is watching him closely. “You said Mr Kuryakin?”
She nods. “Illya. He is Russian.”
Yes, he knew that. Margaret takes her dismissal and Napoleon watches the gardener take on the wilderness of his yard.
Illya Kuryakin. Napoleon will have to have a background check done, and he’ll consider this probation. But, he thinks as he resumes his now lukewarm coffee, he certainly makes a nice view.