He traced the outline of the gilt-lettered calligraphy absent-mindedly with his finger, his bruised nail contrasting against the ivory vellum. He was cordially invited to his high school sweetheart's wedding in Westchester this coming August. The idea of her marriage seemed as foreign and distant as the Indonesian jungle from which he had just returned.
Napoleon's mind drifted back to a sufficiently credible excuse as to why he would have to respectfully decline the invitation, as tempted as he was to see how she had moved on with her life. It was easy enough to spin a tale for the innocents who were less concerned about consistency in his tall tales and more open to being entertained by his glamorous trappings, but resurrecting the fiction of his old self was another story.
For the old timers, Napoleon preferred to prevaricate his excuses rather than fabricate an alternate reality of his current existence for them. The days when he was known by his boyhood nickname of Leon might as well have belonged to someone else. He bore new letters now, discreetly stated on his gold UNCLE identification card, that branded his character more than the varsity letters on his track and field jacket did.
Illya instinctively looked up from the crossword he had been working on in last week's Sunday Times, hoping to beat his old record of 47 minutes and 28 seconds. He adjusted the endearingly ugly glasses perched on his nose, peering at the decidedly feminine-looking document in Napoleon's hand.
"John Clayton? Isn't that the name of Thrush's new arms supplier to San Monique?" Illya quirked an eyebrow. "I didn't realize you were pen pals."
Despite his sanguine reputation, Napoleon believed only in luck, not coincidence. Miranda had been particularly spiteful about the breakup when he had met the woman who briefly became his wife, but he had hoped that time would cool the heat behind her threats of vengeance. Now he had to deal with the fact that Thrush now knew his unlisted home address; damn his mother for having a soft spot for his ex and always hoping that they'd reconnect "as friends." Maybe it'd be better for him to stay over at Illya's until the section 8 guys had a chance to install that new security system prototype they had been wanting to test out.
"His fiancée felt like writing me a poison pen letter," Napoleon responded with carefully effortful casualness. Suddenly hoping that there wasn't some chemical in the ink that was going to land him in medical in the next few hours, Napoleon walked over to the kitchen sink to wash his hands as a preventative measure.
As he massaged a generous dollop of soap onto his hands under the tap, Napoleon looked over his shoulder at his partner, whose face hovered over the crossword puzzle again. Napoleon secretly marveled at how Illya could so easily shrug off the regrets he rarely expressed. His partner's strategy was to channel his excess energy into future-oriented endeavors, whether it be spending an extra hour at the shooting range, brushing up on the English horn just before moonlighting at his favorite jazz club or staying late in the labs to finish rewiring a new communicator prototype. Napoleon was gratified that he could always count on Illya to keep him from being perpetually penned in Thrush satraps as well as by the self-indulgent nostalgia of a life that was no longer his.
"6 across: they might be giants; 9 letters," Illya muttered aloud. Lately he had been more unconsciously vocal with his idle thoughts, but Napoleon had a fairly sympatico sense of his partner's internal monologue for some time now.
"Windmills," Napoleon responded, not quite knowing why it came so readily to mind. Illya looked up at Napoleon and gave one of his rare, sunny smiles.
It was only in recent years that Napoleon could understand what Don Quixote saw in Dulcinea, a person in whom he saw all the ideals that inspired him to keep fighting. Funny, people were surprised by how readily he had taken to Illya when they were first teamed together. His partner's fictional father, T.E. Lawrence, had once said that nothing is written. It was his and Illya's every intention to uphold that legacy and make sure that they would be filling out those boxes together as long as they had world enough and time.