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Past Lives, New Beginnings

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Past Lives, New Beginnings.

Kate closed the report and dropped it into her outbox to give to Gibbs when he came in. A quick glance at the desk across from her show DiNozzo sitting at his computer working on what she assumed was his report, though with Tony you never could tell unless you snuck up behind him to watch over his shoulder. Something that unfortunately only Gibbs seemed able to do.

She stretched her arms over her head in an attempt to feel more awake. The long days of working the Hanlan/Meat Puzzle case followed by several boring late-night stakeouts in an effort to catch a jealous wife attempting to slowly poison her cheating Petty Officer husband had left her exhausted and feeling sluggish. The continuing guilt over allowing the Hanlan's to take Ducky from his own house on her watch had prevented the few hours’ sleep she managed to snatch each day from being peaceful.

This morning Kate had finally given up on sleep and come into the office at the usual time even though Gibbs had given them all the morning off and told them to come in around lunchtime to finish the reports. Oddly DiNozzo had already been at his desk when she arrived and she didn't think he'd been having the same feelings of guilt that had stopped her own rest. He might, she supposed, been worried what Steven would have told her which in truth hadn't been anything at all but, she smirked to herself, Tony didn't need to know that.

Dropping her hands into her lap she thought about going down to the morgue to check on how Ducky's first day back was going then dismissed then idea as too obvious.

Rolling her head to loosen her neck muscles she mentally ran over the events of the day leading up to Ducky's disappearance, this time though she concentrated on when they had picked up the barrel containing the remains of Detective Cesaretti at the Mallard house.

Something Gibbs had said then bothered her.

*Flashback*

"You stick to him..." Gibbs started, fixing her with a stern gaze.

"...like glue." Kate pre-empted making the words a promise.

"...an ex-wife after an alimony cheque." Gibbs finished laughing slightly.

As Gibbs turned to leave the porch she took the opportunity to ask something she'd been wondering since the start of the case. "Gibbs, what did Ducky look like when he was younger?"

Gibbs paused for a moment giving the question some thought then after a minute looked back at her. "Illya Kuryakin." He said decisively.

She'd wanted to ask Gibbs to explain further when DiNozzo burst out of the house and Gibbs had turned his attention to him effectively dismissing her.

*End Flashback*

Illya Kuryakin. The way Gibbs had said the name made he clear he expected her to have caught the reference, but the name had meant nothing to her. She pondered the idea of running a search on the name herself but decided she wasn't sure enough of the spelling of either of the Russian sounding names. There was however one other option she could try first.

"Tony?"

"Yeah?" Came the distracted reply from the opposite desk.

"Who's Illya Kuryakin?"

DiNozzo blinked and turned away from the computer to face her frowning in confusion. "What?"

"It's just something Gibbs said to me yesterday. I was wondering who he was."

"Why would Gibbs mention…"

"I asked him what Ducky looked like when he was younger OK?" She snapped. "Look just forget about it."

"And Gibbs said Kuryakin?" Tony frowned in thought for a second. "Yeah I suppose he did. Remember when we were fooling about with the Identi-fit program and drew Ducky I thought there was something else bugging me about it."

"So, who was he?"

"Uh… He was a Russian killed in New York in 68. A bomb under his car went off just before Christmas on a busy Manhattan street it took out several shoppers along with Kuryakin and put plenty more in hospital. It turned into a big media circus because it was so public, but no-one is quite sure what happened, it occasionally gets mentioned in conspiracy things. The Russians blamed the American government, the Press blamed the KGB but it was never solved."

"What was a Russian doing in New York in the sixties?"

"Working for some international peace organisation or something along those lines supposedly."

"Supposedly?"

"There was never a lot of detail released about Kuryakin. If the bombing hadn't happened where it did it's likely no-one would ever have heard about it."

"Heard of what DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked as he came up behind them phone in one hand and the usual large paper coffee cup clutched in the other.

"Nothing Boss. Just talking." DiNozzo crossed the space between the two sets of desks and dropped a sheaf of paper beside Gibbs' computer. "Report's done."

"Mine too." Kate added and moved to drop hers on top of DiNozzo's.

"Good." Gibbs gave them both a slightly odd look as though surprised not to have to ask for the reports. "Grab your stuff we've got a call out, the body of a lieutenant was found in a motel just off the I-95."

"What about McGee?" Kate grabbed her purse and gun, aware of Tony digging for his own weapon across the way.

"He's gassing the truck."

Arriving at the run-down motel seemingly in the middle of nowhere the team where surprised to see multiple vehicles parked in the motel lot with groups of people milling about, jostling for position in front of the room that was taped off.

The local Sheriff was trying to keep the people as far away as possible by having a couple of cruisers parked between the crowd and the raise walkway at the front of the cabins. The Sheriff spotted the NCIS truck and waved them to pull into the space directly in front of the room created by one of his deputies moving one of the cruisers.

"Agent Gibbs?" The Sheriff approached the agents as they began to gather their equipment from the back of the truck.

"Yeah?"

"Sheriff Baxter. Sorry about the crowds I'm not sure how they found out about this."

"Just keep them out of our way. Our M.E. should be a few minutes behind us."

"I'll make sure they get through easily." Baxter unlocked the motel room door and stood back to let the NCIS team enter while he blocked the view of the onlookers with his body.

Once inside the scene was fairly easy to process. The body lay fully clothed on the bed an almost empty bottle of vodka lying by the right hand, an empty Jack Daniel's bottle sat on the bedside table closest to the body along with an empty Ziploc bag. The other bedside table, closest to the door held a leather wallet. The rest of the room appeared untouched. There was no sign of a struggle, nothing over turned or broken.

"DiNozzo, sketch and shoot. McGee bag and tag. Kate you talk to the staff and get their statements."

Various affirmative statements were given as the agents set about their assigned tasks.

Gibbs stepped closer to the bed and took a closer look at the body. It was dressed in full uniform, slightly untidily but not enough that it looked as though he'd been roughed up, more like someone sitting down loosening their belt, untucking their shirttails and undoing their collar in an effort to make themselves more comfortable.

Gibbs pulled his gloves on and picked up the wallet, aware of McGee entering the bathroom and DiNozzo moving about the room with the camera.

"You move the wallet?" Gibbs directed the question to Sheriff Baxter who was still blocking the doorway.

"No. It was sitting out there when we arrived. The girl that found him didn't even go into the room, just ran screaming for the front desk where the owner called 911. We got here just as the ambulance arrived, so the paramedics didn't do anything other than confirm he was dead."

"Shit." The whispered expletive from the other side of the room caught Gibbs' attention.

"What?" He snapped as DiNozzo moved backwards a step.

"I stepped on something." DiNozzo crouched down to poke at something on the floor where he'd previously been standing then pulled out a small flashlight and shone it around the area. After a moment of searching he leaned forward and picked something off the floor. "Uh Boss?"

Gibbs moved round the bed to peer over DiNozzo's shoulder. The younger man turned to look at him and held up a small white tablet between gloved thumb and forefinger.

"There's more of them knocked under the bed and the cabinet." DiNozzo dropped the pill into an evidence bag Gibbs held out for him.

"Wonderful." Gibbs muttered.

"Ah hell." Sheriff Baxter's voice sounded from the doorway.

"What?" Gibbs came to the door and looked over Baxter's shoulder.

"TV crew just pulled into the lot and so did your M.E."

"We're nearly finished in here. DiNozzo you finished?" Gibbs glanced back into the room to see DiNozzo putting the camera back into the bag while McGee moved towards the bedside table bagging the contents.

"Yeah boss." DiNozzo set the camera bag to one side and moved to help McGee pick up the scattered tablets.

Baxter moved out to speak to the news team that was setting up directly in front of the crime scene.

"What have we got Jethro?" Ducky stepped up onto the walkway in front of the motel.

"A body, lots of alcohol and lots of pills." Gibbs stepped aside to let Ducky and his assistant into the room.

"Oh, dear." The pathologist frowned slightly as got his first sight at the body. He set his bag on the bedside table.

"Yeah." Gibbs snorted.

"No-one's touched the body?" Ducky queried as he leaned over the body for a closer look.

"Nope. It seems he left his own wallet out for us." Gibbs confirmed.

"Makes for easy identification I suppose." Ducky glanced up from his examination.

Gibbs nodded then paused. "Makes it messier too. His father's a senator."

"And the press already knows that." Sheriff Baxter re-joined Gibbs just inside the room.

"How?"

"The motel owner's wife." Kate said resignedly as she entered the room and pushed the door shut behind her. "She's got a cousin that works for a local station and thought to make a little extra money. The daughter found him when she was doing her rounds this morning. They operate a rather loose establishment, you pay upfront when you arrive and you leave your key in the room when you leave."

Gibbs frowned for a minute and glanced out the window into the parking lot. "Where's his car? I assume he drove out here."

"No car. He got dropped off at the front desk in a cab."

Gibbs sighed. "Ducky?"

"Just about finished here." Ducky straightened from his position by the bed and stepped back letting Palmer finish bagging the body. "He died sometime early this morning. There's no obvious cause of death and nothing to indicate any use of force. I'll need to complete the autopsy of course but it looks like suicide."

"Thanks Duck." Gibbs scrubbed a hand across his eyes. "DiNozzo?"

"Almost done boss." The two younger agents had finished collecting the tablets from the floor and were packing the evidence for transportation.

"Ah, excuse us Jethro." Ducky and Palmer had the body bag loaded onto the gurney ready for transport.

Kate opened the door for them and Gibbs and Baxter stepped out onto the boardwalk to let them take the body to the truck. As soon as they were clear from the door the reporters started calling out to them demanding information.

"Agent Gibbs? Can you tell us anything about the Lieutenant?" A blond woman backed by a full TV news crew called out trying to get their attention.

Gibbs glared at the blond woman calling to him, he didn't recognise her but then that was hardly surprising considering how little television he actually watched. Still he decided to speak to her before she could disclose any other details at full volume across the busy lot. Walking up to her he saw a flicker of surprise cross her face before her expression settled into a polite and attentive mask.

"Agent Gibbs." The reporter smiled up at him sweetly. "What can you tell us about the death of Lieutenant Tyler?"

"We can't say anything at this time, you know that." Gibbs gave her a faintly patronising smile.

"But you think he was murdered?" She pressed leaning closer to Gibbs.

"I can't say anything until the body has been examined by our M.E. and we have all the details. Speculation at this time by anyone" He placed slight stress on the word. "could be considered libel." Gibbs turned on his heel, effectively dismissing the reporter and walked back to the motel room leaving the woman staring open mouthed after him in indignation.

"We done?" He met the others coming out of the room as he reached the boardwalk again.

"Yeah boss." DiNozzo looked over his boss's shoulder at the TV crews who were beginning to pack up and smirked at the glare a small blond woman was aiming at Gibbs' back. "Been making new friends’ boss?"

Gibbs and the other two followed his gaze back to where Baxter was trying to hurry the crew into packing up faster. Gibbs snorted and headed towards the truck leaving his three amused agents to follow.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, running down leads on the Lieutenant's movements. Ducky performing the autopsy and waiting for the toxicology results. They called it a day in the early evening when they were notified of a delay in the lab tests due to equipment failure.

*

That night in an opulent New York penthouse a television mutely displayed multiple scenes of various news stories. The inhabitant of the apartment sat relaxing in a luxurious leather armchair a dry martini in a crystal glass held loosely in one hand, the other hand turning the pages of a book that rested in his lap. Finishing the chapter, he drained his glass and reached to set both glass and book on the coffee table in front of him then picked up the remote and pointed it at the TV. He paused with his finger on the "Off" button distracted by a change in news story. He hit the sound button instead to turn the volume back on.

"Senator Tyler's son Lieutenant Christopher Tyler was found this afternoon in this motel. So far there has been no word on the cause of death, but the local authorities have called in NCIS." The perky young reporter said, but the viewer ignored her focusing instead on one of the men in the background moving the bagged body out of the motel room.

"Agent Gibbs? Can you tell us anything about the Lieutenant?" The blond woman called towards the men.

A grey-haired man shot the reporter a hard look and turned away to speak to the other two briefly before approaching the reporter.

"Agent Gibbs. What can you tell us about Lieutenant Tyler?" The reporter smiled sweetly.

"We can't say anything at this time you know that." The agent smiled back slightly.

"But you think he was murdered?"

"Can't say anything until the body has been examined by our M.E. and we have all the details. Speculation at this time by anyone" He placed slight stress on the word. "could be considered libel." With that the agent turned away and moved back inside the motel.

The reporter hurriedly hid a flicker of annoyance as she turned back to the camera shifting slightly to give the camera a better view of the body being loaded into one of the NCIS trucks by a young man while his older companion gave some instructions.

"In recap, a body reputed to be that of Senator Collin Tyler's son was found this afternoon in this motel room. There has so far been no confirmation of the cause of death. This has been Kara Wilde reporting."

The scene changed back to that of the news desk and the anchor man introduced the weather.

The viewer hit the "Off" button and dropping the remote to the floor sagged back in his chair.

"Oh my God." He whispered to the silent room.

*

The ringing of a phone broke the silence of the mortuary.

"Get that will you Mr. Palmer?" Ducky called to his assistant from where he was working near the bank of freezers in the back wall.

"Morgue." Palmer listened for a moment before turning to look at Ducky. "Uh, Doctor? It's the front desk there is someone asking if they can see you."

Ducky frowned slightly. "I don't remember having any appointments this morning."

Palmer listened for a minute more. "He says he's an old friend who used to work with you for your Uncle Alexander." Palmer shrugged then frowned as Ducky paled slightly and sat on the nearest lab stool.

"Tell them…" He trailed off staring blankly across the room. "Tell them to let him come down."

Palmer repeated the message and hung up. "Are you alright?"

"Hmm?" Ducky finally focused on his assistant. "Oh yes. Yes, I'm fine. There's nothing much to do here at the moment so can you take these up to Abby and see if there is anything you can do to help her while you're there. I'll call if anything requires your assistance down here." He held out a clipboard and several vials for the younger man to take.

"You sure you are ok?"

"Yes, Mr Palmer I'm fine. Now, go on." Ducky waited until the door slid shut behind his young assistant then got to his feet and looked bout the laboratory that had been his life for the past couple of decades.

The message had made him uneasy; it had a clear connection to a part of his past that no one at NCIS knew about. Glancing at the large wall clock he realised it would be only a matter of minutes until his visitor arrived. He moved through to the desk at the top of the lab by the main door, he had an office down further the corridor which he usually eschewed it in favour of working in the main autopsy room for a moment he considered relocating to it but decided against it. It was well known he rarely used it and the main desk would have told his visitor he was in the lab.

Sitting at his desk he reached down and opened a locked strong box that was hidden at the back of his bottom desk drawer, lifting out the small hand gun it contained he placed it on the desk within easy reach then scooted the chair round the side of the desk, so he could face the door and dropped an open file over it hiding it from view.

He leaned forward where he could rest his right hand on the desktop, with his index finger resting on the grip of the concealed weapon then began scanning down the report the file contained while not actually seeing the words. Appearing to be engrossed by one thing while actually focusing on something else entirely was a skill that had become second nature to him many years before.

After a couple of minutes of only hearing the ticking of the wall clock he heard the doors of the elevator open with a faint ding then shut again after a few seconds. There was the faint sound of footsteps moving across the corridor towards the lab.

Wrapping his fingers more securely round the grip of the gun, pulling it slightly closer to him he tracked the sound of the footsteps as they came closer. The lab door slid open with its customary hiss.

"Doctor Mallard?" A smooth voice queried from just inside the lab.

Moving his thumb on to the safety catch Ducky looked up to greet his visitor and stared.

What he saw as his visitor stepped further into the lab was the last thing he expected. Heavier, dark hair gone steel grey turning white at the temples and parted to the other side but he was still easily recognisable as the man Ducky had last seen in 1968.

"Chyort!" Ducky whispered, feeling like he's been sucker punched he slumped in his chair pulling the small handgun into his lap but never taking his eyes off the man standing in the open doorway.

"Well, I guess that answers that. Hello Illya." The man smiled stepping inside to let the doors shut.

"But.. but.. you died. They… THRUSH…"

Napoleon Solo sat down on the corner of the desk nearest the door, noting the gun sill held firmly and pointing in his direction. He smiled at his former partner.

"Our delightful feathered friends decided they wanted to keep me a while longer but didn't want to risk a rescue, so the head of the local Mexican satrapy offloaded me to a friend at a nearby jail who stuck me in the high security wing. Took a while to get myself out. By the time I got back to New York Waverly was dead and so apparently where you."

"Waverly had died?" Even knowing that by now his former boss had to be long gone didn't stop the twinge of grief at the passing of a man he had respected.

"I guess no-one told you." Sympathy flickered in Napoleon's dark eyes.

"Waverly was the one who arranged my “temporary disappearance” and as far as I know was the only person in HQ to know I was still alive."

"The car bomb?"

"No." Illya shook his head relaxing his grip on the gun and resting in on his leg. "I don't know who planted that. Waverly had received a directive that I was to be returned home, I didn't want to go, we still didn't know what had happened to you. It as assumed you had been executed but…" He trailed off for a moment then shook his head to clear the memories. "Waverly tried stalling for a few days then when my car was blown up he took the opportunity it presented and decided it would be safer for me to disappear for a while until he could try and find a solution. What happened?"

"A massive stroke less than a month after your supposed death and two months before I got back." Napoleon trailed off and the pair sat in silence for a moment each watching the other unsure of what else to say or how to possibly begin.

The slight tension was broken by the doors sliding open again.

"Ducky?" Gibbs came to an abrupt stop when he saw the strange man perched on the corner of Ducky's desk. Ducky took advantage of the agent's distraction to slip his gun unseen into the pocket of his lab coat.

"Ah Jethro, what can I do for you?"

Gibbs glanced briefly at his friend before continuing to study the stranger. "Get Palmer out of Abby's lab so she can get on with her work for one."

Napoleon smirked slightly which caused Gibbs to switch from a stare to a glare.

"Ah." Ducky said trying to refocus Gibbs' attention. "I thought he could be useful up there as is isn't anything for him to do here at the moment. Anything else?"

"Have you finished the report on the Lieutenant yet?" Gibbs snapped still glaring at Napoleon who simply gazed back completely unfazed.

"Yes. I was about to send it up to you when my friend here arrived." Ducky pushed himself to his feet and started looking through the files on his desk.

"I'll let you get on with your work and go find somewhere to stay." Napoleon pushed himself to his feet. "Maybe we could meet up later? For dinner?" He asked sounded suddenly unsure.

"I'd like that." Ducky gave him a slow smile.

"Call me when you're finished." Napoleon held out a business card.

Taking it Ducky gave it a cursory glance then gave it a second closer look before giving Napoleon a quizzical look. Napoleon just grinned at him then nodded a goodbye before leaving autopsy.

Ducky watched him through the door until he entered the lift.

"Ducky? The report?"

Gibbs' voice pulled his attention back to the agent's request. "Hmm? Oh yes. Now where did I put it. Ah of course." He pulled it from his "out tray" and held it out to Gibbs. "The cause of death was an overdose of Flurazepam, the ah, pills found on the floor, washed down by rather a lot of whiskey and vodka. There is no forensic evidence that there was any coercion in his ingestion of them. No defensive wounds."

"Suicide then?" Gibbs clarified.

"Looks like." Ducky gave the business card one last look, slipped it into his breast pocket and began to restack the files he'd disturbed.

"Thanks Duck." Gibbs made to leave then paused and looked at his M.E. "You alright?"

"Hmmm? Oh yes Jethro I'm alright." Ducky gave him a quick smile then returned to distractedly tidying his desk.

"Palmer said you seemed a bit strange, something to do with a phone call about a visitor?" Gibbs prompted.

"So, you thought you'd come down and check on me?" He favoured his friend with a half-smile. "I'm fine Jethro. It was just rather a shock to see my old friend. I'd heard he'd died some years ago, it seems I had been misinformed."

"I can see how that would be a surprise." Gibbs waved the file in farewell and left the lab leaving Ducky lost in his thoughts.

The afternoon continued in much the same way as the morning, quietly, which Ducky mused was normally a good sign that he and the rest of the team would be called out of bed at some ungodly hour but perhaps not. Morrow had objected to him returning to work so quickly and seemed to be giving them some slack time to get Gibbs and the others to catch up on overdue paperwork.

For himself Ducky took the time to process the mornings events. Seeing Napoleon again had come as more of a shock that he'd let Gibbs believe.

Napoleon belonged in another lifetime one where he had been another person. He'd not even allowed himself to think of himself as Illya in years. Being Illya had hurt too much. To know that he's had to failed to save the life of the person he cared the most and then being unable to even find and bring home his body.

Even the complete dismantling of the THRUSH satrapy and the capture of several very high-ranking council members had held little satisfaction for the grieving man. It had almost been a relief to accept Waverly's offer to hide him away for a time. The constant reminders of Napoleon had been everywhere, their shared office, in fact anywhere in HQ and at home, in his small apartment. The few possessions of Napoleon’s he had removed from the larger apartment they had, for a year and a half, unofficially shared before a team from U.N.C.L.E. had packed the contents away and left it awaiting a new tenant were a silent source of regret.

He'd run from the pain and embraced his new life willingly, throwing himself into the role of slightly polite if slightly eccentric British physician in a futile attempt to forget. His one regret about leaving had been that he'd never get the chance to see the man he loved laid to rest. Over the years he had slowly allowed "Donald Mallard" to compartmentalise Illya and push him to the back of his mind creating a new life free of the pain of his past.

Now though, more than 30 years of his life had been over turned in less than five minutes of a morning. Napoleon was alive which caused the complicated mass of emotions he'd suppressed to flood back.

Ducky or Illya?

Did he have to choose between them? Could he choose between them? Did he want to or was there a way they could exist together? Was there even a choice to be made? He knew nothing of Napoleon's life the past 35 years. This might be nothing more than a sudden whim to see that he was alive and then he'd go back to his own life and perhaps a family?

That thought cause Illya to swallow against a stab of hurt. Why shouldn't Napoleon have moved on and have a family of his own? After all Ducky had hardly been chaste and had several longish relationships, he'd just never been able to forget Napoleon completely enough to take the last step. He'd always reasoned it off as someone might recognise him as Illya and that would put any family he might have had in danger rather than admit to himself he could never commit to someone because he was still committed to his long dead lover.

Realising he would never reach a satisfactory decision on his own at the minute he looked up at the wall clock surprised to see it was already five, his mind had been running in circles for hours. Lifting his cell phone, he called his "mother" to let her know he wouldn't be home in time for dinner but that he was completely fine then he pulled the business card out of his pocket. He spent another minute or two looking at the plain crisp white card with its simple black type before picking up his cell again and dialling the cell phone number embossed on it.

The first ring hadn't finished before the call was answered with an anxious "Hello?". Illya smiled and allowed a small spark of hope to flare. "You said something about us getting dinner?"

*

Napoleon paced around his room in the Melrose Hotel it had been half an hour since Illya had hung up saying he was on his way. He had spent the afternoon wandering around the various memorials and nearby sights playing tourist in an attempt to distract himself from the growing nerves. He'd hoped to be able to talk to him that morning spend some time finding out about what had happened since they had been captured in 1968. He had resisted the urge to call in a few favours and do some background checks on Dr Mallard knowing that if the Doctor really was his friend he would resent the intrusion, now he was doubly glad he had.

The bomber that had blown up Illya's car had never been caught and theories abounded had it both in U.N.C.L.E. and in the public domain but there had never been any conclusive evidence to point the finger at any one organisation. There had been an ugly rumour working its way round U.N.C.L.E. when he got back that it might have been an U.N.C.L.E. employee annoyed that a Russian was going to be head of Section 2. Contacting any of his old connections about Mallard could have meant that others would have realised the same thing he had and that might have place Illya in danger. Something he would never willingly do.

The more time passed since he had left the NCIS headquarters in the Navy Yard the more he thought Illya wouldn't call after all the man had had 35 years to move on with his life and he clearly had, he was the senior M.E. within a Federal organisation and very well respected if the young lady he spoke to on reception was to be believed.

Why would he want a reminder of the life he left behind? A life filled with danger and intrigue. If any of the agents he worked with got suspicious that something was not as it seemed it could lead to a lot of problems for both of them. Would Illya risk his new life for the battered remnants of his old one? Should he have risked it?

Tired of the memorials he had caught a cab back to his hotel where he tried to sort out his thoughts. Half of him lining up arguments he could use if Illya said he didn't want to see him again the other half arguing that the life they had had together was too long gone and he should just walk away before he endangered his partner. His partner who had moved on, something he'd never quite managed to do himself.

The clock on the wall of the elegantly appointed suite chimed five o'clock as he made a decision. He sat down at the writing desk placing his cell phone beside him and pulled a pen from his jacket pocket. Holding the pen nib over a sheet of heavy hotel stationary he'd paused. He couldn't address a letter to Illya but he couldn't get the name Donald Mallard to sit quite right with him either. Thankfully his phone had rang before he managed to put pen to paper.

The ensuing brief conversation rekindled some hope but did nothing to disperse the nerves hence the pacing around the room. They had decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, the Landmark Restaurant would provide more privacy than most restaurants and it and the Library Bar would provide neutral ground for them to talk hopefully without interruption.

Deciding he couldn't stay in the suite any longer Napoleon shrugged into his jacket and opened the door to find Illya on the other side hand raised to knock.

*

"Nicholas Singleton?"

Napoleon shrugged and stared into his half empty wine glass, the conversation so far had been bland and circuitous, neither of them yet willing to directly confront the past.

"When I left in ’76 U.N.C.L.E. was giving all former employees new identities to try and prevent any old enemies trying to track us down. They were determined to keep the changes as simple as possible, no-one got much choice in our new names though I did pick the Nicholas bit."

"Why?" Illya pushed his cutlery together and rested his arms on the table tapping his fingers.

"Useless sentimentalism." Napoleon risked a quick glance at his companion who simply quirked an eyebrow in return. He sighed. "It was something of yours I could keep."

Illya glanced away torn between being uncomfortable or flattered with the emotional significance attached to the name, the Americanised version of his patronymic, then looked Napoleon in the eye.

"What happened? You said they put you in jail?"

"Yes. There was a change in prison governors several months after my incarceration, the new governor found something didn't quite add up with my paperwork and investigated. I had previously tried to escape multiple times but ultimately ended up in the hospital each time. The new governor contacted the field office in Mexico City, after speaking to me, and they arranged for me to be returned to New York."

"They just took you back?"

"No. I spent several weeks in Medical with only medical staff for company to verify I was who I said I was. No-one would tell me anything about you or let me speak to Mr Waverly. It was only after they finally decided I was me that Sir John came to see me and informed me of your and Waverly's deaths."

"Sir John?"

"Sir John Raleigh, Waverly's replacement. I was assigned to a desk position in section 1, it was officially decided that having me return as a field agent would only undermine the new number 1 section 2 and unofficially it was felt I could no longer be trusted in the field. I stuck it out there for a few years then left with my newly sanctioned identity, tried a few business interests including a computer company which did quite well until it got bought over in the early 90's. After that I retired."

They were silent for the few moments while their waiter cleared away the remains of their meal and suggested they take their drinks and move through into the bar which would be more comfortable.

"Well that about covers me." Napoleon sank into a seat at a table beside one of the bookcases that was slightly apart from the other tables. "What have you been up to since Mexico? And how is a 70-year-old still working for the Federal government?"

Illya got comfortable in his own chair and decided to answer the easier question first. "Simple, I'm not a 70-year-old."

"Illya," Napoleon pointed a warning finger across the table. "I know you are less than 2 years younger than me and I'm 72."

"Ah but Donald Mallard is only 61 officially." Illya shot him a smug grin enjoying Napoleons rather thunderstruck look.

"61?"

"At best guess," Illya gave a sight shrug. "The records of his birth got a bit muddled in the London blitz."

Napoleon sat back in his chair with his wine and studied his friend. Illya had always looked young for his age and looking at him across the table Napoleon had to admit he still didn't look his true age. It would be easy to continue with the light conversation and allow Illya to avoid an issue he clearly found painful, but he needed some answers.

Illya fidgeted, uncomfortable with the close scrutiny, knowing what was coming.

"So, what happened in Mexico?"

All amusement faded from Illya eyes and he seemed to age a few years.

"I failed."

The two words where barely loud enough for the older man to hear. Napoleon leaned forward again over the table putting his glass down careful not to knock it.

"Illya?"

Illya closed his eyes so he didn't have to look at the other man. "I couldn't find where they had taken you for 4 days. Then when I found the compound and completed the mission with backup from the Mexican office we couldn't find you. And all we could get out of the people captured was that you had "been dealt with". No amount of searching or interrogation revealed further details. I failed." There was a note of finality in his voice.

"You completed the objective." Napoleon reasoned knowing that wasn't what bothered Illya but unable to deal with the true cause until the other man let him in.

The comment had the desired reaction Illya's eyes snapped open and he leaned across the table until their faces where inches apart.

"I failed you!" He hissed then blinked as though shocked at his statement. "I failed you." He repeated almost to himself.

"No, you didn't." Napoleon countered in a hushed tone reaching forward and grabbing Illya's hand to prevent the smaller man from pulling back.

Illya shook his head and closed his eyes again. "It was bad enough I thought I left your body behind but I left you there alive."

"I have been over the files from the Affair and there is nothing more you could have done. You had no way of finding me without Thomas and he left when his friend was bundling me off to the prison. There was nothing you could have done. Nothing." Napoleon tightened his grip forcing Illya to look at him again. "Don't you think the same thoughts had occurred to me?" He felt more than saw the flinch go through Illya. "Not that you failed me but that I failed you. I should have been able to get out and get back then maybe the bomb wouldn't have happened. Hell, I shouldn't have been caught in the first place. I was supposed to wait for you to get back before I went snooping, remember? Remember?"

At Illya's reluctant nod he eased his grip and relaxed back in his chair reaching for his glass again. He saw Illya take a hasty gulp of his wine draining the glass then rub his wrist slightly.

"Is everything all right here sir?"

He looked up to see the bar manager approaching their table. No-one had been close enough to hear them even if they had been speaking at normal levels but apparently their conversation had attracted some attention, several patrons at the other side of the bar were being obvious in trying to ignore them while the bartender openly regarded them with concern.

"Yes thank-you." Napoleon smiled at the man, squelching the urge to tell him to get lost.

"Sir?" The concierge focused on Illya who stopped rubbing his wrist immediately.

"Yes, we're fine." Illya paused then. "Actually, could we have a couple of whisky's please?"

"Of course." The young man eyed them for another moment before turning back to the bar and relaying the order which was delivered by a waitress promptly but with thinly disguised suspicion.

They spent a few minutes discussing various news items to give themselves some time to regain their equilibrium while the other bar occupants lost interest and went back to their own business.

"Aren't you going to ask about Donald Mallard?" Illya asked when he finished his drink.

"I wasn't sure if I should push anymore." Napoleon scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I'm finding this hard and I had an extra half day to come to terms with the idea that for the past 35 years I've been labouring under the erroneous assumption that you were dead and until I actually walked into the morgue this morning I had no idea what to expect."

Illya favoured him with a wry smile. "When the bomb exploded Waverly had been speaking to me on the communicator so when the first reports made it back to U.N.C.L.E. HQ he was the only person to realise I couldn't have been the driver killed. He had me return to HQ and met me outside before taking me in via his private entrance. Once in his office he explained why he had called me back and gave me two options. Option one would be to walk out of his office prove to everyone I was still alive and then probably be shipped back to Moscow either living or dead within a few weeks or option two was take a temporary assignment until Waverly could a) find out who was behind the assassination attempt and b) get Moscow to reconsider the decision to recall me."

"I assume you took the assignment." Napoleon commented.

Illya nodded. "The widow of a THRUSH scientist, who had been developing an antidote to the U.N.C.L.E. amnesia drug when he died, had been forced to try and recreate it from her own sketchy memories of seeing him at work. U.N.C.L.E headquarters learned of the drug and attempted to prevent its completion. However, during the assault on the lab an incident occurred resulting in all those exposed to losing their memories to various degrees. Mrs Tyler was amongst those affected. The members of THRUSH were imprisoned and the U.N.C.L.E. agents taken care of. They took a while deciding what to do with Mrs Tyler before deciding that despite the memory loss THRUSH might try to learn the formula from her again. So, it was decided to protect her.

"As she was originally American she was sent to Mr Waverly to hide. She had lost 5 years of her life which included all of her time married to Dr Tyler back to just after the death of her first husband, Donald Mallard but before the death of her son also Donald Mallard. After reading the file on her Waverly came up with a simple plan. Apparently, Donald Mallard jr. and myself had a slight resemblance. When I agreed to go and disappear Donald Mallard was brought back from the dead and we were sent to England where I took up what I could of Donald's life going to medical school, owning a private practice and so on."

"How'd you get from a private practice in England to an M.E. in D.C.?"

"You may remember that I had a slight tendency to be distrusting with strangers and on occasions be rather reticent?"

He choose to ignore Napoleon's muttered "not to mention downright hostile at times."

"It tends not to encourage good patient/doctor relationships. The practice dried up after several years and I decided to become an M.E. less patients object to the doctor’s manners or lack of them." Illya smirked.

"And Mrs Mallard?"

"Mother is still living with me. Unfortunately, the memory loss continued and it presented itself as premature senile dementia. Which, at least now, isn't so noticeable, 96-year-old women are allowed the odd lapse in memory."

"No-one else?" Napoleon tried to keep his tone casual but from Illya's sudden tensing and sharp look he obviously failed.

"I haven't exactly been a monk all these years Napoleon but no there is no-one else as you put it." He glanced down at his watch an expressionless mask sliding over his features. "I should be going."

"Illya wait." Napoleon reach out across the table.

Illya shook his head, deliberately not looking at the other man. "Mother will be wondering where I am."

He stood and walked away from the table and for a moment Napoleon watched him go before a flash of panic swept through him and he hurried after his retreating friend.

Illya had made it across the foyer and almost to the door before Napoleon was able to catch his arm.

"Wait, please?" He kept a light hold on the smaller man and felt the tension thrumming though the slight frame, he also felt when Illya capitulated and some of the tension leached away. "I didn't ask to hurt you Tovarisch. I just wanted to know."

"Why?" The cool mask was still in place and the bright blue eyes gave nothing away.

"I've missed you." Napoleon used his gentle grip to steer Illya to one side out of the way of the door and over to an overstuffed couch in a shadowed corner. "I've missed you and I don't think I can let you go again."

Illya sighed and let his eyes drift shut. "Napoleon we can't just pick up where we left 35 years ago." "But how about a new start? There has been nothing keeping me in New York except memories and I'd rather have the real thing." Napoleon tightened his grip on the captured arm slightly, wanting Illya to look at him.

"And there is no-one in New York waiting for you?" Illya refused the unspoken request and kept his eyes closed but question was asked in a brittle tone giving Napoleon a glimpse as to what was going on in his head.

"As you said I haven't been a monk over the years, but it was never what I wanted. Who I wanted." He released his grip on Illya's arm and used his forefinger to brush a lock of dark blonde hair back off the high forehead.

Illya shuddered slightly and slowly collapsed forward to rest his head on Napoleon's shoulder.

"I want to try." The words where barely audible but heartfelt and Illya brought his hands up to grip the lapels of Napoleons jacket.

"I want to try." He repeated slightly louder as he felt Napoleon's arms close around his back.

"So do I Illya, so do I." Napoleon tucked his face down against Illya's hair closing his eyes so just for a moment the world consisted of just the two of them, promising a new beginning.

End

March 2005 - June 2005