Napoleon Solo crouched behind a stack of crates. They were draped with cargo netting and he was trying to saw through the rope with his increasingly-dull knife. It was business as usual and Napoleon hated it.
“Na… Napoleon?” Illya was barely conscious. He tried to move, but the netting constricted his movements.
“Hang in there, partner. I’m going to get you out of there.” And he would if he had to chew through the netting with his teeth
“Do you think we’re going to let you escape, Napoleon?” The woman’s voice bounced around the immense space of the warehouse and back to him and he paused. “Your time has come, lover.”
“Go, Napoleon, save yourself.” Blood bubbled from Illya’s mouth as he whispered. “I’m done. It’s over.”
“Never.” He resumed his task, but his knife was insanely blunt.
“Give it up, Napoleon. You are as good as ours now.” A different woman’s voice this time. He could see them, three in all, standing in front of the rolling doors. A blonde, a brunette and a stocky redhead blocked his only escape route. He’d think of something, he would have to in order to get Illya to a doctor.
He turned back and gasped. Illya was gone, replaced by someone who looked a lot like him. “Illya?”
“He’s beyond that. Now to finish what I started!” The doppelgänger was suddenly free of the netting and wielding a cattle prod. He rammed it into Napoleon’s midsection.
Napoleon’s eyes snapped open, but for just a second they were unseeing. He heard a log settle in the hearth and he started breathing. He was home, in their home, tucked into the Sierra Foothills. He was on the couch, a pair of cats watching him intently from their blanket nest safety of a recliner.
“Napoleon, are you okay?” Illya was bending over him, still wearing his chef coat. Wetness beaded up and glistened on the fabric, telling Napoleon that it was still raining out. He reached up, grabbed the lapels and pulled him down for a kiss.
It was long and soul seeking. Napoleon’s tongue charted every bit of Illya’s mouth for the taste of blood, but nothing. Aside from shifting his position slightly, Illya remained motionless, equally engaged in the kiss.
Finally Napoleon pulled back and Illya smiled warmly at him. “Don’t think that I ‘m complaining, but, again, are you okay?”
“Bad dream. Really bad dream.” Napoleon dry wiped his face with his hand, then he licked his lips. “What am I tasting?”
Illya kicked off his shoes and pulled free of the chef’s jacket, tossing it onto the back of the chair. “Probably the burgundy raspberry sauce that went with the rabbit tonight. I feel like I drank a gallon of it before I got it right. You said you had a bad dream?”
“From the old days… there were these women, blonde—“
“There were quite a few of those. You seemed to favor blonds.” Illya disappeared into the kitchen and emerged a moment later with a bottle of water.
“I wonder why. Were you busy tonight?”
“Busier than I expected. I thought the weather would keep people in.”
“Away from Taste? I doubt it.” Napoleon sat up and stretched. “I remember that snow storm, no power and they were still lined up outside your door. You have created a monster, my friend.”
“And you are avoiding the elephant in the room.” Illya settled down beside him. He opened the bottle and took a long swig from it. Tell me about your dream.”
“I don’t remember much. You were hurt and we were trapped in a warehouse, then suddenly you weren’t you, but some guy who looked like you, but he had a scar.” He pulled Illya close to him and closed his eyes, trying to recall more.
Illya’s hand went to his right cheek. “Nexor,” he murmured quietly.
“What’s a nexor?”
“It’s not a what, it was a man. He and I were practically twins. You never met him.” Illya looked over at the living room window as the rain pelted against it. “I bet we lose power tonight.”
Napoleon raised a hand to rub his temple. “That front is sure doing a number on my head.”
Illya began to massage Napoleon’s neck at the base. “It’ll be gone by tomorrow. Maybe we can do something. Has the new shipment come in from Fiddletown yet?”
“Yes, sadly, the merlots are weak this year.”
“You are just too overly fond of Sobon’s.”
“They are my benchmark.” Napoleon tipped his head back into the hand. “That feels nice.”
Illya kissed Napoleon’s temple. “I’m glad. Are you about ready for bed?”
Illya chuckled at that. “There was a time, but those days have flown.” He pushed Napoleon up and stood, then offered his hand. “This is the best I can do now. Come on, old man.”
“You are only a few months younger than me.”
“Forgive me, still-older-than-me man.”
“You young whippersnapper!” Napoleon took the hand and tugged Illya back down onto him. For several long minutes they sat, happy in their embrace.
“You’re not that old.” Illya kissed him and again stood up, adjusting his loose chef pants. He stretched, then walked back to the door to lock it and set the alarm.
Napoleon watched him for a moment before getting to his feet and climbing the stairs. There were some nights when they were more an obstacle than a means to getting to their bedroom. It wasn’t going to be long before they’d either have to sell and move to a one level or relocate their bedroom downstairs.
He thought about this as he stripped and stuffed dirty clothes into the hamper. He brushed his teeth, purposefully ignoring the old man watching him in the mirror, and then climbed into bed. Once was the time that a tented sheet would have greeted Illya, but Napoleon was finding those times fewer. It bothered him a little, even though he was willing to bet that they had twice as active a sex life of most men their ages.
Their ages. Napoleon turned that word over and over in his mind as he picked up his book. He squinted at the words, then sighed and reached for his reading glasses. When he was a young man, he never worried about the next day. He was a firm believer in Carpe Diem and he lived and loved life to its fullest. He wondered if he would have if he’d known what awaited him.
“Are you all right tonight?”
Illya’s voice startled him and that’s when Napoleon realized he’d dozed off, book on his lap, glasses on the end of his nose.
“Guess I’m just more tired than I realized.”
Illya sat down on his side of the bed and climbed under the covers quickly. Napoleon knew it wasn’t so much that Illya was cold, but rather to get settled before the rest of their little family joined them. Sure enough, Illya had had barely enough time to lie back on the pillows when three cats, Brunir, Roux, and Fremir hopped onto the bed and started looking for their own piece of real estate on Illya’s side of the bed.
“Why must you always sleep on this side?” Illya grumbled good-naturedly as he wiggled a toe and Fremir pounced upon it. He leaned over to turn off the alarm. “Aw, bliss.”
“Because they know that once you go to sleep, you never move.” Napoleon took off his glasses and set them aside. He slid a bit closer to Illya and nuzzled his hair. “Mmm, I smell mesquite.”
“Sorry. I was smoking some pork sausage. Do you want me to shower?”
“Not in the least. I love smelling the kitchen on you.”
Illya scoffed and grunted as Brunir, the largest of the siblings, climbed up onto his stomach. “You need to go on a diet, my friend.” He scratched the cat’s head and a loud booming purr started.
Napoleon closed his eyes, content for the moment.
Everything around him was exploding. He could hear shouting and knew it was Illya barking orders, although he couldn’t make out the words. A bullet chuffed into the wood of the crate he hid behind and Napoleon ducked down. He popped up, returned fire, then dropped back down, checking his clip.
Somewhere in all of this, a bird was chirping.
“Delta team, drop back!” He heard Illya shout. “Napoleon?!”
A moment later, Illya was beside him. Illya was so young, despite the grime smeared on his face. “Are you injured?”
“You didn’t answer.” He bobbed up, fired and came back down in one smooth motion. “What do you want to do?”
“Have we accomplished our mission?” Napoleon didn’t have a clue as to what it is.
“I’d hate to think THRUSH would be this angry if we hadn’t. Yes, the microdot is on its way to Waverly.”
“Which Waverly?” Illya looked at him strangely, so Napoleon added, “Waverly, West Virginia, Washington, Virginia, Tennessee, or South Dakota?”
Illya made a face at him. “New York. Are you sure you weren’t injured?”
That made Napoleon frown. He didn’t know of a Waverly, New York. “Is that up at the northern end of the state?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Illya turned to gesture at someone and then flew backwards, slamming into a crate.
“Illya!” Napoleon was to him in a second. He cradled the limp body in his arm. “Illya!” He wondered why all he could smell was onions and fennel.
“Should I even want to know why you are hiding behind the clothes hamper with an armful of my dirty clothes?”
Napoleon blinked and the vision faded. He was, indeed, kneeling behind the hamper, clutching Illya’s soiled chef’s jacket and apron to his chest. He looked up at Illya, confused. “I… I don’t know… There was a warehouse… and shooting.”
Illya offered him a hand up. “Sounds like another bad dream,” he said as he helped Napoleon to his feet. He reached out and touched the wetness on Napoleon’s cheek. “I’m sorry that happened.”
“Me, too.” Napoleon rubbed his temple. “Why tonight of all nights?”
Illya led him back to bed and then disappeared into the bathroom. He reappeared with a glass of water and some aspirin. “Take these.” He watched as Napoleon swallowed the tablets. “Did anything odd happen today?”
“Not that I… Illya, what is thrush?”
“The bird or the disease?”
“Something else. In my dream, you said “I’d hate to think THRUSH would be this angry if we hadn’t” and then you mentioned Waverly.”
Illya took Napoleon’s head between his hands and studied his face. “This isn’t good.”
“What isn’t? Illya, what the hell is going on?”
“It seems like your deprogramming is slipping. THRUSH was our common enemy back in our younger days and our boss was—“
“Alexander Waverly. I remember now.” Then he paused. “But why… why do you remember so much more than me?”
Illya kissed him and returned to his own side of the bed. “Well, I’m a little foggy on things, but I seem to recall that there were five different levels of deprogramming, depending upon where you were in the food chain. The lower or less important, the lesser the deprogramming. I had a level three, according to the UNCLE doctors. You had a one.”
“But we worked together. Why the difference?”
“You were the head of Section Two and in line to the throne. Waverly had named you his successor. When you left, you were still an active agent.”
“So were you.” Napoleon got into bed, his mind still whirling with thoughts and images just remembered.
“But I wasn’t deprogrammed until years after I left. Everything I knew was old and outdated. I wasn’t a security concern anymore.” Illya snaked his way into bed between the cats.
“I remember when you left, though. The Old Man was frantic to find you.” Napoleon stopped and frowned. “Why didn’t I remember that until now?”
“Because UNCLE didn’t want you to.” He plumped his pillow and leaned back. “Now you are going to have to decide what to do about it.”
“Can you live with it, live with the knowledge that you purposefully killed people and that you helped engineer the fall of governments and countries?”
“How do you do it?” Napoleon’s voice was muffled by the pillows.
“By remembering that life as we know it is here because of us and because of people like us. The world never really knew of our sacrifices and the price we paid for them and I was okay with it.”
“But we were the good guys?”
Illya rolled over and kissed him again. “And you were the best of the best.”
“Well, I suppose I can live with that.” Napoleon closed his eyes, not intending to sleep.
When he opened them, watery sunlight was struggling past the bedroom curtains. He propped himself up on his elbows and yawned. Illya was still asleep, his face boyish. The cats were positioned around him, each one taking up as much space as possible.
Napoleon got out of bed, unconcerned about waking Illya. He knew from experience that on his day off, Illya could sleep through just about anything. He cleaned up a bit, took his medicine and headed downstairs. Miraculously, all three cats appeared just as he was about to walk into the kitchen. How they knew was always a mystery.
He got the coffee going and fed the cats while he waited. When it finished, he poured out a cupful and took it to the back porch. It was still chilly in the morning this time of the year, but there was still a peace and calm to this place that healed his soul. He thought he would miss the hustle of the big city, but in truth, he really didn’t. At least not anymore.
He sipped his coffee and watched as the world around him woke, stretched, and decided what to do with the day. He replenished his coffee and collected the paper from the front porch.
Napoleon was halfway through the business section when he heard the door open. Illya flopped down in the chair beside him and blinked, still bleary eyed.
“You look like you could use a bit more sleep.” Napoleon offered him his coffee cup.
Illya drained it and sat back, sighing. “I don’t want to sleep my day off away.”
“I think you should give yourself a rest. With Matt and Rocky on vacation, you’ve been pulling double duty.”
“They’ll be home soon and I can rest then.” He held the cup out to Napoleon, who smiled and took it back into the kitchen to refill it. “Maybe we can find someplace off the beaten path with the ocean for you and room service for me. Just sleep and relaxing--”
“So what do you have to do today that you can’t do tomorrow?” Napoleon handed over the cup and returned to his paper.
“Inventory. I need to do it today for a Wednesday delivery.”
“Why don’t you get cleaned up and I’ll help you, then we can take it easy this afternoon.”
“What did I do to deserve you?”
“No idea, but I am rather great, aren’t I?”
“And humble, don’t leave that out.”
Napoleon checked the clipboard again and then the shelf. According to the paper, he should have six cans of evaporated milk and eight cans of condensed milk, but all he could find was seven cans of evaporated milk and five cans of condensed. He turned labels around and then smelled something. Honey… killer bees loose in headquarters. Illya the traitor…
There was a noise, a shuffle and Napoleon reacted without even knowing it. He lashed out catching his assailant and took him to the ground, his foot on the man’s throat.
“Who sent you?”
“Napoleon?” Illya came around the corner, but it wasn’t Illya… he was older and wearing sweat pants and a tee shirt. “Napoleon!”
He felt himself pushed back and hit the shelves hard. The pain kaleidoscoped through his shoulders and back and he dropped to his knees. He blinked hard and looked up to lock eyes with a terrified Matt.
“Matty, are you hurt?” Illya was holding him as Rocky came in.
“What’s all the noise…? My God, Matt?”
“It’s all right.” Matt turned his face away from Napoleon and to Rocky. Illya passed him over and went to kneel beside Napoleon.
“How about you?” He brushed the hair off Napoleon’s forehead and studied him. “I didn’t mean to hit you so hard.”
Napoleon shook his head. “No, my friend, I am far from it. Illya, I need help.”
“I’ll make the call.”
Napoleon retreated back to the house and into his favorite chair. He ran the scene over and over again in his head. What had caused him to react so violently? The door opened and Illya came in with Rocky.
“Is Matt okay? I didn’t mean to hurt him, Rocky. You have to believe that.”
The waiter managed a smile. “I do, but I won’t lie and say that I’m not worried.”
Illya tossed his keys into a bowl by the front door and walked to the couch. “It’s not the first time. When we first met, I had to warn Matt not to surprise me or come up behind me unawares. Even now he still is very careful about how he approaches me.” He sat down between cats. “He will need to do that with you now, at least for a while.”
“A couple of weeks. We’ll drive into San Francisco for the weekend. They’ll take care of it then.”
“What do I do in the meantime?”
“Be careful and I would talk to your staff.”
“And tell them what? I’m a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.”
“I think you are being overly dramatic, Napoleon. I wasn’t detrained for decades and managed not to kill anyone.”
“This is real, isn’t it?” Both men looked over at Rocky. He looked as if he was lost and looking for a familiar face.
“It is, my friend. We were both agents for an international enforcement agency. In fact, Napoleon was my boss.”
Napoleon managed a laugh at that. “Whatever I was, I was never your boss.”
“We would travel the world, putting out fires, helping the troubled, and toppling a government or two in our spare time.”
“I remember hearing about UNCLE, but I thought it was more diplomatic than anything else.”
“Perhaps now, but not back then. We were the last resort. We were the ones the CIA, FBI, MI6 or whatever other alphabet agency you want to add, called when they were against the wall.”
“Wow…” Rocky studied both men. “I never… well, that’s a lie, I knew there was something about you two. Something more… the way you care for and help the underdog.”
“Once an UNCLE agent, always an UNCLE agent or so it would seem. For now, Rocky, it would be better if you didn’t discuss this with anyone else.”
“Not even Matt?”
“Matt has always known.”
“And he never said anything to me? That worm.”
“Is a good and trustworthy friend. I am counting on you being the same sort of friend.” Illya held out his hand and Rocky took it.
“Realistically, who would I tell?” Rocky shook the hand firmly. Then he turned to Napoleon and shook his. “No worries, Mr. S. We look out for family.”
“And family shakes hands?” A minute later Napoleon was in a bear hug. “That’s better. Don’t worry, Rocky, I won’t hurt you or Matt.”
“Promise?” Matt’s voice came from the doorway. Napoleon held out a hand and drew him in.
Napoleon paused outside the Lexus dealership and looked up. “You have got to be kidding. All we had was a broken down tailor shop.”
“With an equally broken down tailor, unless you caught him on a good day.” Illya led the way into the main showroom.
A woman approached and smiled. “Welcome to the dealership. What are you gentlemen interested in?”
“Something with some mileage on it,” Illya said seriously, just in case this wasn’t his contact.
“Right this way. Nicole, I’ll be off the floor for a moment.”
The other woman waved and left her desk to wander about the display cars, looking for customers. They followed the woman to a back room and she gestured them in.
“We’ve been expecting you, agents.” She waited for them to precede her, entered, and then closed the door behind her. “You are right on time.
“Were we that obvious?” Napoleon asked, with a sad smile.
“Let’s just say, you both had that look about you.” She held up a file with two photos on the cover. “Plus, we have photos.”
“I feel better now,” Napoleon said to Illya.
“This way.” She walked to a file cabinet and unlocked it. It swung open, revealing a bright room. She escorted them in and then walked up to the front desk. The man behind it looked slightly bored.
“Morning, Harry. These are Agents Solo and Kuryakin.”
The man was around the desk in a moment, shaking their hands. “This is really an honor. We still study your strategies in class, Mr. Solo. And Mr. Kuryakin, I never thought I’d meet you in person. You are a legend. They still talk about you two in Survival School.”
Napoleon and Illya exchanged a look, neither of them buying the line they were being handed.
“Thank you,” Napoleon said, gracious if unbelieving. “I think you have an appointment for us?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I’ll leave you two here, then.” Jessica turned to walk away and then paused and smiled. “Welcome home.”
“Well, if only for a brief stay. Thank you.” Illya took the ID badge he was handed smirking slightly at the No. 11 on it. Napoleon looked at his and grinned.
“You got us backwards.”
Harry looked slightly embarrassed. “Sorry. I could never figure out that crazy numbering system they had back then. You can swap if you want.”
A door opened and young woman appeared. “Mr. Solo?”
“Would you be good enough to follow me?”
Napoleon turned in her direction and Illya followed suit. “I’m sorry, are there two deprogrammings scheduled?” She consulted her clipboard. “We only have one.”
“No, we just usually come as a matched set,” Napoleon said and placed a hand on Illya’s shoulder. “I’ll be okay, Illya.”
“I don’t like it,” Illya murmured.
“Not to worry. This is UNCLE, remember?”
“I do and that’s why I’m worried.”
Napoleon smiled and squeezed, then turned back to the woman. “After you.”
He followed the young woman down a corridor, doors leading off to it. People passed them and didn’t look twice at the pair.
“This way, please.” She paused before a door and it slid open.
“Some things never change,” Napoleon said as they entered the conference room. “This is exactly how they looked back when I was an agent.”
“We try to not reinvent the wheel.” She gestured to the table. “Please take a seat and relax. It will be just a few minutes.”
Napoleon did as she requested and picked a chair facing the door. He took time to study the room from the smooth metal walls to the woodgrain of the table. Just when he thought he had been forgotten, the door slid back and two lab-coated men entered.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Solo. We had… an incident.”
Napoleon’s stomach lurched and he suddenly wished Illya was sitting beside him. “Is the agent okay?”
“He will be with a little rest,” the leader said. “I’m Dr. Hamilton and I’m told you are having issues with your deprogramming.” The tech started to set up something that looked like a shortwave radio.
“Yes, things are coming back to me in flashes and I’m starting to have trouble discerning now from then.”
“Has it troubled you since you’ve been in the building?”
The question sort of took Napoleon by surprise. “As a matter of fact, no.”
“What does it seem to be focused upon?”
“Past missions. Old enemies.”
“Violence. There is shooting and explosions… some torture.”
Dr. Hamilton nodded and scratched something down on his pad. “Close your eyes for me, Mr. Solo.”
Napoleon did as he was asked.
“What was your partner’s name?”
“What’s your wife’s name?”
“How did you know I’m married? Are you psychic?”
That earned him a chuckle. “You’re wearing a wedding ring. Your wife’s name?”
“Illya Kuryakin, but he would argue the point.”
“Ah, duly noted.”
“What day is it?”
“Tuesday and before you ask, we live in Jackson and we took Highway 4 to I-80 before hitting the exchange. I know my home address, how much money I have in my checking account and the best wine to serve with beef, venison or buffalo.”
“Remind me to talk with you after this, then. My wife is entertaining this weekend.”
“What is she serving?” Napoleon asked, without even pausing.
“Go with sake, not wine. You want something fruity for anything light and something a bit heavier for the entrée. Avoid plum wine unless you like cough medicine.”
“Open your eyes, Mr. Solo.”
Napoleon did and blinked. He was in a bed in Medical.
“How did I get here?”
Illya glanced up from the book he was reading. “You’re asking me?”
“Illya?” Napoleon sat up and looked around. “I was in a conference room, talking to Dr. Hamilton a minute ago.”
“You’ve been asleep for nearly eight hours, Napoleon. And for the record, the food in their canteen is much better than ours was.”
“What the hell?” He frowned and ran a hand through his hair.
“Think for a minute, Napoleon. Who is Mr. Waverly?”
“Illya, what a question. How can you not remember Mr. Waverly?”
Napoleon stopped and studied his partner. “Are you messing with me, partner?”
“You didn’t know who they were two days ago, but now apparently you do.”
“Methods have improved since the last time you went through the process.” Dr. Hamilton was standing in the doorway. “We were able to actually target certain portions of your memories and restore select pieces. You will remember the organization, but not the violence. It was deemed that it was that that was bothering you the most.” He entered the room fully and held out his hand to Illya. “You must be the wife.”
“Not the wife,” Illya snapped, but shook the hand. “Napoleon, what have you been telling them?”
“I warned him.” Napoleon swung his legs over the side of the bed and stretched. “I haven’t slept that well in months.”
“You should not have any more nightmares. If you do, let us know.” He offered his card to Illya. “Anything we can help you with?”
“Can you make me twenty again?”
“Would you really want to be twenty again, Illya?” Napoleon stood and rolled his shoulders.
“I’d like to have my twenty-year-old back and feet again.” Illya
“You and me, both.” Napoleon held out his hand to the doctor. “I don’t know how to thank you, Doctor.”
“I do. Do you have any names for that sake you were talking about?”
Napoleon looked over at Illya and laughed, “Why don’t we get your wife on the phone and I’ll find out what she’s serving.”
It was business as usual for Napoleon Solo and he couldn’t be happier.