Actions

Work Header

The Retribution Affair

Chapter Text

“Illya, I don’t see how it’s possible. My tailor would never forgive me.” Napoleon’s voice was rich with humor, his dark eyes twinkling. “Besides, you’re much better at these aspects of espionage than I am, so I leave it in your capable hands.” He leaned back in his chair, stretching long legs up to cross on the edge of his desk.
 
Illya slouched on the sofa and swore under his breath. He was in Napoleon’s office asking the senior agent why once again he’d been tapped to crawl through the sewer to place the bugs in the satrap they’d discovered. Still, his eyes held only warmth as he quipped, “Well, I would hate to think it was simply because you did not want to get your suit wet.”
 
His partner flashed him a wicked smile and a wink. “There’s that, too.”
 
The chirping of the intercom on Napoleon’s desk halted the partners’ banter as a filtered female voice floated in. “Mr. Waverly would like to see you and Mr. Kuryakin in his office ASAP, Napoleon.”
 
Solo gracefully took to his feet, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair as he answered, “We’re on the way, Dora.”
 
Illya could almost hear Dora smile as she replied, “See ya shortly, handsome.”
 
He gave a long-suffering sigh as he followed Napoleon out the door and down the hall. Neither speculated on the summons; they would find out soon enough.
 
They turned the corner and Napoleon opened the door to Waverly’s outer office. He gave a completely disarming smile to the striking blonde perched on the edge of the desk. “Ah, Dora, you look just lovely today.”
 
She flushed prettily in response. Flirting with Napoleon was one of the highlights of her day. “You are a terrible man, Napoleon Solo. Now in with the both of you.” She pushed the button on her desk and the wall slid open, revealing the inner sanctum.
 
Napoleon gave Illya a wounded look; “I do believe the lady wants me to leave.”
 
Illya pushed his partner towards the doorway as Dora’s sultry voice replied, “Don’t worry, Napoleon, I won’t say that to you tonight.”
 
With a last wink, Napoleon allowed himself to be dragged into Waverly’s office only to find the gentleman in question watching him in pseudo disgust. “Mr. Solo, must you seduce every female assistant I have?”
 
Solo cleared his throat as both he and Illya took seats opposite their superior. “Just my way of welcoming her to the office, sir.”
 
Illya snorted and Waverly merely raised an eyebrow and replied, “Indeed.”
 
The old man’s demeanor changed quickly as his bushy brows drew together in consternation. “Gentlemen, my reason for calling you here is twofold.” He pulled a recorder out and with a shaking hand placed a tape inside. “This tape is the first of those reasons as well as the second.”
 
The partners cast nervous glances at each other. Something was very wrong.
 
Sorrow etched Waverly’s stern features. “Mr. Solo, there is no way to ease this for you. I regret the unnecessary distress it will cause you.” 
 
Napoleon stiffened. Waverly never apologized. Never.
 
Waverly continued, “This tape was delivered to my office in the morning mail, addressed to me but with no return address. It has been cleared by security.” He took a deep breath and hit the play button.
 
The sound of rustling and several rough voices suddenly filled the office and in the midst of it was a woman’s voice, or rather a woman’s scream. A rough, accented voice rang out. Tell us where he is. Do not think you can withstand us. Tell us what we want to know and we will leave you.
 
The woman’s reply was sharp and impassioned. You think I would betray him? Bâtard dégoûtant! You are nothing to me where he is everything. I would see you rot in Hell before I would be the cause of you so much as touching mon Napoleon.
 
Solo was gripping the arms of the chair so tightly his knuckles were white. He couldn’t hold back the pained sound when he heard her impassioned voice. A voice he’d not heard in so long. The sound of skin connecting harshly with skin was heard and Napoleon felt the blow go straight to his chest, knocking the breath out of him as she cried out in pain.

The rough voice coaxed her again. There is no need for this to happen. Tell me where Solo is!
 
Solo scowled as he tried to match names and faces to the other voices on the tape.
 
Another voice called out. Roggio, get the doc. I’d rather do this the easy way and Solo’s had too much time to move again, even if the bastard is hurt as bad as Rich said.
 
We’ll just make it so you have to tell us. You won’t have a choice.
 
Illya was watching him intently but Napoleon was too caught up in her voice to notice.
 
The woman let out a cry of rage. Non! I will not let you use me to hurt him! Je ne ferai pas!
 
There was the sound of a struggle and a man gave a grunt of pain, followed by a rushing sound and then the sound of swiftly running feet, growing fainter before the man yelled. Dammit, stop her! If she jumps we’ll never find that damn bastard.
 
Solo was on his feet; grief etched his features as he touched the tape recorder.
 
Her voice rang out in the distance. Pour mon amour! Me pardonner, Napoleon!
 
Heavy breathing. Sorry Ray, she reached the balcony before we could get to her. She hit the terrace hard, man. Dan’s going to check on her.
 
Ray made a sound of disgust. I knew we shoulda taken her out of the damn house. Never give ‘em the home advantage.
 
A new voice joined in. She’s dead. Do you want us to dump her somewhere?
 
No, she died here; let her stay here and rot. Search the place though. Damn shame. Wonder if Solo knows what he had? Get the tape and let’s go.
 
A click and then all sound stopped but the sound of ringing in his ears. His legs threatened to fold on him as Solo reached out an unsteady hand and removed the tape from the recorder. He gripped it tightly as he felt hot tears sting the back of his eyes.
 
Waverly made no move to stop him as Solo placed the tape in his coat pocket.
 
Napoleon had to leave before he disgraced himself completely. He turned toward the door and it opened for him. He stumbled as his legs failed him and he grabbed the wall for support. Without turning back, he asked softly, “Is it true?”
 
Waverly shot Kuryakin a brief glance before he replied sadly, “Regretfully, it is, Mr. Solo. We didn’t know of the tape’s existence but we were … aware of the circumstances of her death.”
 
Napoleon laughed without humor. “You were aware. But I wasn’t.” He gave his boss a venomous look. “You had no right.” He turned on his heel and stormed out of the room.
 
Illya rose immediately to follow him but Waverly halted him. “Mr. Kuryakin, stay a moment.”
 
Kuryakin gave him an incensed look. “Sir, I think my partner needs me right now.”
 
“Yes, I think he does. More than you know.”
 
Something in Waverly’s tone pulled back Illya’s overwhelming need to find his partner. He searched the aging features and knew without a doubt that this would be his only opportunity to get answers. Answers he instinctively knew he would need. The inevitability he saw in Waverly’s posture confirmed his suspicions and pulled his inquisitive mind back to the tape. His brows drew together. “Who was she, sir?”
 
If possible Waverly looked ten years older. “She was his wife, Mr. Kuryakin.”
 
Illya sank back into his seat, stunned. “Bozhe moi.”
 
He brushed back blond locks from his forehead, before his hands fisted over the arms of his chair. His eyes narrowed as he regarded his Chief, unable to completely keep the question from being accusatory, his accent thickening as his anger swelled. “What did Napoleon mean when he said ‘you had no right’? No right to do what, sir?”
 
Waverly stiffened in response to the veiled accusation. “Mr. Kuryakin, I am not in a habit of explaining myself to subordinates.”
 
Even though Illya respected the man in front of him, he respected his partner more. He crossed his arms over his chest, showing his resolve.
 
“Stand down, Mr. Kuryakin. I will tell you what I know of this, as I have an assignment for you.” Illya began to interrupt but Waverly forestalled him with a raised hand. “You will follow orders, Mr. Kuryakin,” he stated gruffly.
 
Illya bristled but said nothing, waiting for the aforementioned explanation. He was finding it more and more difficult to concentrate as his thoughts kept turning to the pain he’d glimpsed in his partner’s eyes before Napoleon had reined in his emotions, leaving a bleak expression that tore at Illya’s heart. So engrossed in his thoughts was he that he didn’t realize Mr. Waverly had resumed speaking. Illya quickly schooled his mind to pay attention.
 
“Mr. Solo’s wife, Marguerite, died seven years ago. They were very young when they married. Mr. Solo had only been with us three years but showed remarkable promise and was given more difficult assignments. It was on one such mission in Marseilles that he met her. He was badly injured and apparently passed out in the back seat of her parked car.” Waverly let out a breath of disbelief.
 
Illya smirked and added, “Only Napoleon could manage to talk himself into her good graces after doing that.”
 
Waverly agreed, “Yes, well, Mr. Solo’s good fortune being what it is, she took him home with her and took care of him until he was strong enough to complete his mission.” Waverly paused, letting his agent grasp what he was being told. Waverly saw the flash of pain flicker across the Russian’s face and wondered, once again, what was hidden behind the cold mask.
 
With a raised eyebrow, he continued. “Well, needless to say, after his assignment was completed, our Mr. Solo returned to France as soon as he was able. The two were married and returned three weeks later to America.” Waverly turned penetrating eyes to hold Kuryakin’s. “You didn’t know, did you? He’s never mentioned her? Not once?”
 
Illya spat out the word. “Nyet.”
 
Waverly didn’t comment and resumed his narrative. “They were only married three years when a most unfortunate series of incidents occurred. The tape is only part of a much larger affair that began after Mr. Solo had gotten wind of a possible traitor in UNCLE. I was the only contact he had on this, as we had no way of knowing just how widespread this could be. Solo infiltrated a particularly high-level THRUSH satrap, knowing the records he needed to flush out the traitor, if any existed, would be there. He found what he needed – evidence that UNCLE had been infiltrated by a network spanning all departments and continents, headed by one high-level traitor. He was badly injured trying to escape and knew it was not safe for him to contact anyone inside UNCLE or he risked being captured. So he did the only thing he could. He called Marguerite.” His voice was heavy.
 
Illya nodded, understanding what was to come next. “She came for him.”
 
Waverly nodded. “She took him to a safe place. And the horrible irony is that he sent her back home, wanting to keep her from danger. He could not have imagined that THRUSH would attack her. There was no reason for it.”
 
Illya sat up stiffly, his expression bleak. “Not THRUSH. The traitor. That’s how.”
 
Alexander Waverly smiled at the intuitive pronouncement. “Yes, Mr. Kuryakin. The traitor knew Mr. Solo and knew the only person he completely trusted was Marguerite.” He sighed heavily. “The rest of the related incident you know.”
 
The Russian glanced sharply at his superior. “All but the answer to my question.”
 
Waverly scowled at his agent’s insubordinate tone but reined in his growing annoyance. “Mr. Solo was half dead when he managed to ferret out the traitor. He knew nothing yet of what had happened to Marguerite and had relied on his own external resources to draw the traitor to him once he was able to set his trap. He sprung it and caught the traitor but the act nearly cost him his life.”
 
Illya’s lips drew into a thin line; he knew what was coming next.
 
“He was in hospital for three weeks, unconscious. The psychology department believed Mr. Solo would not mentally recover if he were made aware of the exact nature of her death. That the guilt would destroy him. UNCLE could ill afford to lose such a valuable asset to grief and guilt, so a deviation from the actual events was required. Mr. Solo was told she was killed in an auto accident. As it was, he withdrew almost completely, blaming himself for not being there. That perhaps had he been there, she would have lived. I don’t think he’s ever fully recovered from her loss.”
 
Illya felt sick at the way his partner had been manipulated by this man. He scowled. “This traitor? What became of him? Could he be the one that sent the tape?”
 
“No, he could not be. He died in the affair. James Greerson, surely you’ve heard the name?” Waverly queried.
 
Illya nodded, awe in his voice. “I had no idea Napoleon was the one who ran him to ground. The reports did not mention the agent responsible.”
 
Waverly shook his head. “No, at the time they didn’t. Greerson’s network was widespread. We didn’t know the extent of those involved and Mr. Solo was our only agent on this and was still needed. So his participation in the affair was omitted from all reports. As most of his arrangements were made outside of UNCLE, it was easy to keep Solo working on destroying the network Greerson had built within UNCLE. It took him two years. It is now common knowledge since Mr. Solo became CEA directly after successfully destroying the traitor’s network. After we were certain he’d ferreted out all the duplicitous agents the records were changed to reflect his achievement. Quite a feather in his cap. But at a very high personal cost.”
 
Although he had dozens of questions running through his mind, Illya concentrated on the most important. “What do we do now? Whoever sent that tape to you intended for Napoleon to hear it. And I do not think it was for sentimental reasons.”
 
Waverly leaned back in his chair. “UNCLE takes care of its own. However, I don’t think Mr. Solo would appreciate having his personal history laid out before all of UNCLE.” He raised a hand, halting Kuryakin’s question before it formed and pulled a file out from under a stack of papers on the desk and pushed it towards Kuryakin. “In here you will find copies of all we have on Greerson and his known contacts, transcripts of the contents of the tape and Mr. Solo’s personnel file.”
 
Illya’s eyebrows crept up his forehead at the last bit of information as he took the proffered file.
 
“I do not think I need to tell you, Mr. Kuryakin, that discretion is called for. And do not let that personnel file out of your hands.”
 
Illya nodded absently, already leafing through the information.
 
Waverly continued, “I told you I had an assignment for you. Mr. Solo is your assignment. Take whatever steps are necessary to find out who is behind this and what they hope to gain from these actions. I feel this is only the beginning.”
 
Illya nodded as he took the file and rose quickly. “I think my first goal is to find my partner.”
 
Without waiting for a dismissal, Illya left the office, reading rapidly through the file as he quickly made his way down the hall, his thoughts never far from the man whose absence he felt keenly. Somehow, without conscious effort, Solo had ensconced himself firmly in Illya’s life and Illya was profoundly grateful for it. He knew he would never be able to go forward without his partner next to him; he needed him as he needed air to breathe.

                                            888

Napoleon eased the Jaguar up the long drive, its tires crunching in the gravel and snow. Halting the car’s progress for a moment, he reached into his pocket, pulled out the sleek silver pen and tossed it onto the back seat, not wanting the contamination of what it represented to touch this place again. He inched the car forward through the thick trees lining either side of the winding private drive. Finally, as the car rounded the last curve, the headlights suddenly brought to life the white columns and stately elegance of the obscenely large two-story French colonial. His breath caught as he stopped the car and shut off the ignition.
 
He hadn’t been here in a very long time. With a shaking hand, he opened the car door; a blast of cold air hit his heated face and he felt the gentle touch of snowflakes cascading down. He took a shaky breath as he walked up the path leading to the house. The large double oak doors loomed over him as he drew closer and closer to the only place that he’d ever truly called home.
 
He spared a curious thought once again as to why he’d never sold it and why somehow he knew he never would. He pulled out a key, fit it to the lock and turned it swiftly before he touched his hand to the cold metal surface of the latch. The heavy door groaned in protest as he slowly opened it wider to reveal the expansive foyer and the double wrought iron staircase that dominated the center of the space. His gaze traveled up each side of the moonlit staircase, remembering how foolish he felt with such extravagance when she insisted upon it.
 
One for you and one for me, bien-aimé. And just as we do, they join into one, mon cher celui.

 
Napoleon touched his lips; still able to feel the kiss she’d given him, a kiss that had led to an interesting experiment on that staircase.
 
He shook off the memory and walked slowly into the darkened room, not bothering to close the door. It was too much to bear. She was everywhere he looked and he sagged against the wall as more memories rushed him from all sides. He put a hand to his throbbing head and shook it, desperate to stop the influx. With determination, he eased away from the solid comfort of the wall and focused on the terrace doors that he knew were there but not yet visible in the darkness. He paid no heed to the rooms he walked slowly through, looking only straight ahead, feeling the cold seeping into him with each step. It seemed an eternity before he saw the outlines of four glass-paned French doors becoming clearly defined and larger as he strode nearer.
 
Without even realizing he’d opened one of the doors, Solo found himself standing in the middle of the terrace, shivering with cold as the snow fell all around him, blanketing the cobbles of the terrace and grounds. He took several stunned steps back until he felt the rough-hewn brick pressing into his back. He fixated on the powdery white cobbles before him and his strength left him as he slid down the wall, his jacket snagging on the bricks. Feeling the snow melting into the fabric of his trousers, he shivered, but not from the cold. Napoleon leaned over, placing both hands in the snow, touching the cobbles as a cry was torn from his throat. This was where she died. How could he have not known? His hands were numb when he finally pulled them from the cold and drew them close to his body.
 
The memories he’d pushed away for the last seven years returned with a vengeance and he was overwhelmed as he sat huddled in the snow, letting his past carry him completely away.

                                        

   888

Illya cursed in several languages as he slammed the car door and started the motor. Two hours spent searching for his recalcitrant partner and he was no closer to finding him than when he started. Not only was Napoleon not answering his communicator, he also seemed to have effectively vanished. The blond agent had been to the penthouse and all the other places he thought his partner would go, hoping someone had seen the brooding agent. No one had and Illya was back where he started.
 
Illya leaned back in his seat, clearing his mind. He pulled out the file and decided to try another angle. “Where would you go, tovarisch?” He spoke absently as he flipped through page after page of information. He was about to throw the file down in disgust when an address caught his discerning gaze. He dropped the file on the passenger seat as he quickly put the car in gear and headed out to Long Island.
 
Illya checked his watch as the sky grew darker; he had at least another twenty minutes, and the snow was getting heavier. Familiar with the roads, he allowed his mind to ponder the enigma that was Napoleon Solo. A selfish part of Illya was angry that his partner had kept such large secrets from him. He had thought them friends, capable of trusting each other with the difficulties of their pasts. Yet another part of him understood that it had nothing to do with trust or a lack of it. Memories could be painful when dredged up, especially when the wounds were still open.
 
He continued his musings until he was required to check the map. He drove slowly through the meandering streets until he found the turn and halted the car, puzzled. These were estates, each with a private drive and set acres back from the main road. He took one last look at the address in the folder to verify he was in the right place. Puzzled, he drove on until the headlights caught the opened wrought iron gates inscribed with the address he was seeking. The drive was lined with trees and it was some time before he saw a house looming in the distance. His breath caught when he saw it directly ahead of him. Impressive though it was, he spared only a glance for it once he noticed the gray Jaguar he’d been seeking parked in front.
 
Illya stopped his car and quickly made his way to Napoleon’s. He muttered foully when he found the door ajar. Proof of his partner’s distracted state. A search turned up the reason his partner was not responding to his communicator. He picked up the pen and placed it in his pocket before he closed and locked the door of the Jag. Illya felt a trickle of fear creep down his spine as he stepped up to the white columns and saw that one of the doors was open.
 
Napoleon was never this careless.
 
He drew his gun as he stealthily made his way past the open door into the darkened house. He let out a breath of amazement at the grandeur of the place Napoleon once called home. Illya slowly put his gun back in the holster, his senses telling him there was no outside danger here, only the ghosts of the past.
 
Illya walked through the foyer into the great room which was bathed in pale moonlight that spilled in from a large uncovered arched window. The beauty of the place awed the Russian. High ceilings, warm colors, cozy elegance. Dust covers over furniture and walls hinted at further hidden treasures. It was peaceful and he felt that he was intruding. It unnerved him and he self-consciously made his way to the darkened back of the house, knowing, somehow, that he would find his partner outside. He reached the opened French doors and saw the snow falling on the gentle night breeze. Something to his left caught his eye and he drew in a sharp breath as he saw Napoleon huddled on the stones, his head to his knees, arms clutched to him tightly.
 
“Bozhe moi,” he breathed and went quickly out to his partner. It was bitterly cold and Napoleon wore only the light wool suit he’d had on at the office. Illya gently touched his shoulder and felt the shivering body beneath his hand. His heart filled with concern and compassion. “Napoleon, it’s freezing, come inside, you can’t stay out here.” He was covered in a dusting of snow and as he lifted his head, a white cloud fell from him. Illya felt tears in his throat at the anguish in his friend’s eyes.
 
Napoleon’s voice was hoarse. “She died for me. Why? I never knew … I never … I was told …” He pulled away from Illya’s touch roughly. “That bastard had no right to keep this from me. None. She was my wife!” The sharp grief in his voice tore Illya’s heart.
 
He pulled hard on the older man, forcing him to his feet and he placed his hands on the frozen face. “She loved you. Do not belittle what she did. She felt you were worth it.” He continued fiercely, “And you are. Never forget that, Napoleon, you are worth many sacrifices.”
 
Solo stared at his partner, realizing he was no longer alone. “Illya?”
 
The Russian’s heart seize at the bewildered expression on the older man’s face. “Yes, Napoleon.” He pulled him back, wanting to get him out of the freezing cold, feeling the shoulders shivering beneath his hands. Napoleon allowed the contact until he became aware of the destination and he wrenched himself out of Illya’s grasp. “No, I can’t go in there again.”
 
Illya nodded, understanding, and fished Napoleon’s keys out of his pocket to lock the door. He pulled it shut and locked it before turning back to his partner. “We will go around, da?” Solo merely nodded and shivered more forcefully as he felt the cold seep into his bones.
 
Neither spoke as they rounded the side of the house and made their way to the cars parked in front. Napoleon stood there, looking so pained that Illya was overwhelmed with the desire to hold him. Trying to control his damning emotions Illya focused on what he needed to do and started the Jag, turned the heat on full before guiding his partner to the passenger side. Napoleon looked in askance and Illya swallowed hard at the lost look in those eyes. Emotion overtook him with a vengeance and he pulled Napoleon close, whispering softly, “You are in no condition to drive, Napasha.”
 
He only wanted to offer comfort, but as he breathed in Napoleon’s scent, he held him closer still, and pressed his lips to the other man’s temple; lost in having his heart’s desire in his arms if only briefly.
 
Illya didn’t know how long he stood there, holding, soothing, touching the man in his arms, didn’t care until he felt Napoleon’s hands on his chest. Reality crashed down as his partner struggled against his forceful embrace. Illya released him instantly, taking deep breaths to calm his frazzled nerves, mentally cursing his momentary weakness. He had to get Napoleon to safety, nothing else mattered now. Illya stared at his clenched hands, unable to keep the depth of his feelings from his voice as he repeated, “You are in no condition to drive. Get in and get warm. I need to lock the front door. I will only be a moment and then we can leave this place.” Before he could move away, a hand gripped his arm tightly, holding him in place and he looked up without conscious thought. Napoleon pierced him with a gaze that seemed to penetrate his very soul, reading every emotion Illya had kept buried so deep.
 
Napoleon’s eyes widened in shock only moments before he closed them tightly, wanting to deny what had happened, what he was seeing. Illya wasn’t even aware he’d stopped breathing until Napoleon’s eyes snapped open and Illya took a deep shaky breath and shrank back from the sharp look in those eyes. Suddenly, Napoleon released him and turned to climb into the car.
 
Illya was breathing hard as he stumbled to the door, somewhat surprised to find his hands shaking as he shut and locked the door. He pressed his forehead against the cold wood; aghast at his inability to contain emotions that he usually never even acknowledged, much less displayed. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what his partner must think of him now. Banishing that sequence of thought, he pushed away from the door and walked briskly back to the car, opened the door, and slid behind the wheel not daring to look at the recumbent form in the passenger seat.
 
He put the car in gear, navigating the winding roads quickly and picking up speed as he reached the main highway, heading toward the distant lights of Manhattan. The snow had cleared and the night sky shone with thousands of flickering stars. Illya was no longer able to contain his concerns and spared a glance to his partner only to find Napoleon’s eyes were closed and his face was drawn, haggard. Illya also noticed that an occasional shiver ran the length of the otherwise still form. He was reluctant to pull Solo from wherever his mind had retreated but he needed to be able to carry out his responsibilities and he couldn’t do that if he was worried about his partner no longer being able to trust him.
 
Illya took a deep steadying breath, not knowing how to ask without giving away more than he’d already done. So, as usual, he was blunt, although his voice thick with anxiety. “I need to know, Napoleon. Can you get beyond this?”
 
Napoleon instinctively knew Illya was referring to that moment in the snow and nothing else. He raised a hand to massage his throbbing head; wishing it would explode and spare him the necessity of having to deal with this now. He was emotionally and physically drained as it was and didn’t know if he could deal with anymore just now.
 
Illya was not a demonstrative person and Napoleon could count on one hand the times his partner had offered a comforting touch. But more than anything, it was being called ‘Napasha’ that had shaken him. Illya had never called him that. It told him more than his touch had. Rarely had the Russian allowed anyone, even Napoleon, to see what genuine emotions lay hidden beneath the cold facade. But see Napoleon did, just as surely as if he’d been reading it from the page of a book. Illya loved him. Was in love with him. The knowledge of it shook him to the core.
 
Illya spoke his name sharply and Napoleon groaned. “I heard you the first time. I … it’s just not something … one disturbing revelation a day is my limit. Yours was second and you know how I like to keep things in order.”
 
Illya stiffened at the flip tone but quickly realized it was Napoleon’s way of telling him that at least for now, it was okay.
 
Napoleon’s voice broke as the cumulative emotional hits overtook him again. “One emotional crisis at a time.” He never opened his eyes, but continued to try to ease the incessant hammering in his skull.
 
Illya drew his lips together tightly and nodded curtly in response even though Napoleon had yet to look at him. Illya knew his friend was in pain and didn’t want to push the issue but was desperate to know he’d not alienated his partner. He clenched the wheel, forcing a mental shift back to enforcement.
 
The rest of the drive into and through Manhattan was made in silence and all too soon, Illya was pulling into the private carpark of Napoleon’s building. As soon as the car stopped, the motionless figure next to him came to life and exited the car quickly, leaving Illya to follow in his wake. He caught up to him at the private elevator that would take them to the penthouse. Illya crossed his arms across his chest when Napoleon blocked his entrance to the lift knowing what he was trying to do and he resolutely refused to allow it. “Nyet. I am not about to let you go up there and drink yourself into a stupor alone.”  
 
Napoleon bowed to the inevitable with a sigh of resignation and stepped aside. A wry grin formed as he punched the button that would take him home. “Thanks. Misery loves company, IK. I can stand me if you can.”
 
Illya rolled his eyes in response but felt a weight lift from his chest. Everything would be all right. Napoleon had a received an awful blow but he was bouncing back, slowly. He knew his partner was still angry at the deception played on him by people he’d trusted. A deception that could cause more than just emotional scars. Illya couldn’t tell just how much more damage would result from the injudicious control of others who wanted only to keep a functional agent at the expense of the man. But Illya would be there every step of the way.
 
Napoleon reclaimed his keys and opened the door to the penthouse, quickly re-set the alarms and turned on the lights. He was bone tired and sank into the overstuffed chair, propping his feet up on the coffee table as he loosened the knot of his tie. Stabs of pain were again shooting from one temple to the other and he was only vaguely aware of Illya moving around before he heard the sounds of ice tinkling in glasses. His hand was lifted and a cool glass was placed in his grasp. He brought it slowly to his lips and relished the taste of the smooth, aged scotch as it warmed him slowly. “Ah, Illya, you read my mind. God, I needed this.”
 
Before Illya could sit down with his vodka, the phone rang. Napoleon completely ignored it, instead placing the cold glass to his forehead.
 
“No, I’ll get it. Do not strain yourself,” Illya mumbled sarcastically as he reluctantly went to the phone. He snapped out a barely civil “hello.”
 
A slightly confused female responded. “Illya? Is that you? Where’s Napoleon? He was supposed to pick me up thirty minutes ago.”
 
Illya froze. “Ah, Dora? I – that is – Napoleon is – well, he …” he trailed off hoping Napoleon would come to his rescue and explain for himself. Napoleon, however, merely shrugged and sipped his drink, content to let him deal with it.
 
Illya nearly threw the phone at his partner out of frustration. Calming irate women was Napoleon’s talent, not his.
 
“Napoleon is what, Illya?” He could hear the anger growing in her voice and cursed under his breath, as he tried to think up a plausible excuse.
 
Suddenly, his blue eyes twinkled in relief and he lied smoothly. “Napoleon was injured on a mission.” At her startled cry, Illya quickly amended; noticing he now had his partner’s curious attention as well. “Nothing serious, Dora, but it will effectively keep him rather … unable to … socialize for at least three weeks, or so the doctors say.” Illya could hear her trying to guess just what and where said injury was and he bit his lip to keep from laughing. Instead, she simply muttered a frustrated good-bye and hung up loudly. Illya winced at the sound, replaced the phone, and shrugged his shoulders. Well, he’d tried.
 
Napoleon shook his head in amused disgust. “Did you have to do that? She’ll tell every female on the staff now.” His voice was indignant as he continued, “And three weeks? Jesus, Illya, kick a man while he’s down.”
 
Illya sank into the couch opposite the older man, sipped his vodka and replied bluntly, “Next time answer your own phone or I shall make it six weeks and be much more forthcoming about said injury.”
 
“You’re a heartless man, Illya.”
 
Illya snorted in response, but his retort died when his partner’s face twisted in pain.
 
He sat up straight, concerned. “Napoleon?”
 
The senior agent smiled tightly, “If the only way to make my head stop feeling like I’m being stabbed through it is for you to shoot me, please, do it now.”
 
Illya scowled and was on his feet heading to the bathroom. “Foolish American, why did you not say something earlier?”
 
He received an indignant grunt in response.
 
Napoleon felt some of his tension ease at the familiar and comforting banter. It made him feel almost normal again, as if the day’s events were somehow not quite real. However, when his hand traced the rectangular shape in his coat pocket, he knew it was real. He pulled off his coat quickly, throwing it across the back of the chair, needing to let it go for now. All he wanted to do was sleep for a week. Never had he felt so drained, not even on the most strenuous of missions. Solo knew why. Rarely had he ever been so at the mercy of his emotions, so completely out of control. The thought that it had happened publicly added to his distress.
 
Solo was startled out of his thoughts when his partner took his now-empty glass away and replaced it with a glass of water and four aspirin. He quickly swallowed the bitter pills, washing them down with the water. “And once again, thanks.” He shot his friend a warm look. “That’s twice in one day that I’ve said that to you.”
 
Illya sat on the coffee table facing him and smirked. “Then I shall have to mark the day for it will never happen again.”
 
The dark eyes shone with amusement for a moment before glazing over with weariness.
 
Illya leaned over and reached out a hand but stopped just short of touching. “You’ve had a busy day. I think you should get some sleep. And in the morning we talk, da?”
 
Napoleon nodded slowly, dreading the necessity of reliving the events on that tape again, but knowing there was no way to avoid it.
 
Illya stood, squaring his shoulders, not wanting to keep the information he had from his partner any longer than necessary. “You should know Waverly gave me the case file on this. Up to and including your personnel file. I will be most careful with that, my friend.”
 
If Solo was surprised, he hid it well. “I know you will, tovarisch.”
 
Illya visibly relaxed.
 
Napoleon felt as ease now, his equilibrium regained, and it was owed to the presence of the man across from him. All he wanted to do now was sleep. Napoleon smiled warmly. “Go home, Illya and get some rest.”
 
Illya started to protest but Napoleon shook his head. “No, really, I’m fine now. Just need some sleep.”
 
Illya looked skeptical. “I agree that you need sleep. I’ve slept in one of your guestrooms before. I would not mind doing so again.”
 
He gave Illya a warm smile. “I know. But I don’t need a nursemaid.” He sobered, adding, “I just need some space now.” Illya nodded, understanding, as Napoleon knew he would. “Thanks for staying. It … it meant a lot that you did.” Heartfelt words to the partner he was so indebted to.
 
Illya smiled softly in reply, not able to find adequate words.
 
Napoleon understood and squeezed his arm affectionately. “Now, go home and I’ll see you in the morning.” Napoleon walked him to the door, wincing as the movement brought on a fresh round of hammering.
 
Seeing the pain flash across Napoleon’s face, Illya’s brows drew together in concern. “Napoleon?”
 
The CEA shrugged. “The headache lingers.”
 
Illya nodded in understanding. “You will contact me if you need anything.” This was stated, with no room for discussion.
 
Napoleon grinned. “Yes, mother.” He ignored Illya’s scowl as he added, “Now go home.”
 
Just as Illya was walking to the door, wondering if he should stay regardless, he stopped suddenly, letting out a frustrated sigh. Before Napoleon had time to wonder as to the cause, his partner faced him with a deeply chagrined look. “May I have the keys to your car? I seem to have left a certain file on the front seat of mine and I really must retrieve it.”
 
Napoleon smirked. “Well, I’m relieved that you’re being so careful with it.” He picked up the keys and tossed them to Illya.
 
The Russian glared as he snatched the keys. “Do not gloat or I shall be forced to kill you.”
 
Napoleon gave him an amused look. “That would be a rather extreme measure, my friend.”
 
Illya snatched the keys from his hand. “And one I will take if you repeat this to anyone.”
 
Solo’s expression warmed as he held the Russian’s gaze. “Your secret is safe with me.”
 
Illya swallowed hard, knowing just which secret the older agent was referring to. He was filled with gratitude. “I trust you, Napoleon, with that as with all things.”
 
Napoleon smiled and before long, his smile became mischievous. “Now, you’d better go get that file that wasn’t supposed to be out of your custody or I’ll be forced to report you to your superior. And since I’m both reporter and reportee, that won’t take long.”
 
Illya shot him a disgusted look before turning and offering a goodbye wave over his shoulder.
 
Napoleon closed the door, set the alarm and fell heavily against the door. His head still throbbed but at a more respectable level. He reluctantly pushed away from the solid support of the door and reached for the light switch, bathing the room in pale moonlight. He was too tired even to put the glasses in the sink. Trudging to his bedroom, he fell across the bed, welcoming the oblivion of sleep.

Chapter Text

He was running as if his life depended on it. And it did. He simply had to reach her. But each time he could almost reach out and touch her, she ran faster, pulling too far ahead. He cried out in frustration as he saw she had reached the balcony. He cried out, "Marguerite! No!” He watched, horrified, as she dove off the balcony wall.
 
Solo shot up off the bed, his mind still trapped in the nightmare although he was now shockingly awake. He was shaking and his rumpled shirt clung to his sweat-coated skin. "Marguerite," he whispered. His heart pounded as he kept seeing her fall over and over in his mind. The pattern of thought shattered when the phone next to his bed rang loudly and he nearly jumped out of his skin. God, he needed to pull himself together before he became nothing more than a liability. He angrily snatched the phone. "Solo."
 
"Napoleon?” Illya's concerned voice conveyed just how not together Solo was.
 
Solo ran a hand across his damp face, choosing to ignore the implied question. "What is it, Illya?"
 
"I am sorry to call so early, Napoleon, but it seems I, ah, that is, I have your communicator and Mr. Waverly was trying to contact you. He was most put out with me when I explained the situation."
 
Napoleon sighed deeply. "Yes, I can imagine that he was. And why do you have–?" He shook his head, not really sure he was up to hearing the answer to that question yet. "Give me thirty minutes and I'll be on my way."
 
Before he could hang up, Illya reluctantly reminded him. "Ah, Napoleon, I have your car as well. Perhaps I should pick you up instead?"
 
Solo swore under his breath and asked caustically. "Anything else of interest I might be missing or is that all?"
 
He heard Illya's sharp intake of breath before a snide voice responded. "I will be there in thirty minutes.”
 
As the phone slammed down in his ear, Napoleon sank down on the bed and replaced the receiver in its cradle. "Well, this is starting to be another promising day.” With that thought, he stood and went quickly to the bathroom, needing to shower, shave and get out of the clothes that he'd somehow managed to sleep in.
 

888

 
Illya ran a nervous hand through his thick blond hair before turning into the carpark. He shut off the engine but sat for a moment, marshaling his thoughts, knowing that if their earlier conversation was any indication, Napoleon would sorely test his restraint today. When he felt ready, he made his way to the private elevator, and punched in the security code. The doors opened and all too soon, he was deposited in the entryway to the penthouse. Normally, when expected, Illya would simply use the key his partner had given him, but something stayed him from that and he rang the bell instead.
 
After a few minutes, the door opened to reveal a sophisticatedly dressed but rather confused looking Solo. "Don't tell me. Now you've worked your way up from losing files to losing keys?” His tone was light as he opened the door wider and walked back into the living room.
 
Illya shot a quelling look at the retreating form but didn't respond. Instead, he dropped Solo's communicator and car keys on the coffee table. Solo turned at the sound, his expression suddenly guarded, and Illya saw the toll yesterday had taken on his friend. Although freshly shaved, he looked worn out, his eyes were bruised with too little sleep and he looked hollow, as if made of glass.
 
Illya's expression softened and he realized suddenly that the teasing question was an apology and Napoleon was waiting to see if it was accepted. He replied blithely, "Not at all. Despite your inability to keep track of something as large as a car, I am perfectly capable of keeping track of something as small as a key."
 
Illya smiled as he saw his partner relax at his comment.
 
Solo grinned wickedly as he reached over and picked up his communicator and keys, shoving both in the pocket of his jacket. "Keys, yes. Personnel files, no.” Before Kuryakin could reply to the barb, Solo was walking back into the bedroom. He returned with a necktie, which he deftly put on and proceeded to straighten his jacket and fasten his onyx cufflinks.
 
Illya scoffed, "If you are done preening, we should leave.”
 
Napoleon nonchalantly replied, "Well, not all of us care to be a representative of bad–" His voice died away as he sighted the ragged jacket draped haphazardly across the back of the chair. He picked it up slowly, mindful of his partner watching him, and reached into the inside pocket and pulled out the tape. He stared at it for several moments before placing it in the inside pocket of the jacket he now wore.
 
Illya watched as the previous day's events played across the other man's face. He hated that he could only watch, that he could not make this easier for him. Yet, he had to try. "You don't have to."
 
Solo's piercing gaze held Illya frozen in place. "Yes, I do and I can.” His eyes crinkled as he smiled warmly. "And do you know why I can? Because you're my partner. Not only are you willing to walk through fire with me, but you put up with my foulest of moods while doing it. That's a damned hard thing to do."
 
Illya pulled his eyes away, not wanting his emotions to overwhelm either of them. Instead, he walked to the small closet by the entry and retrieved Napoleon's overcoat, and held it out for him. "You are not going out without one of these today. I hate the way your teeth chatter when you are cold.”
 
Napoleon smirked but took the coat and slipped into it. "We better go before Uncle Alex sends a search party."
 
Illya relaxed somewhat and nodded. He was relieved to know he was not the cause of Napoleon's ire this morning but he couldn't help wondering what had put him in such a state. Especially when Illya could see the memory of it still etched into the elegant features. He made no comment; merely followed his partner out of the apartment and locked the door behind them.
 

888

 
Illya sat stiffly in the conference room, a sense of unease settling over him. Napoleon was taking much longer than he should be. Waverly had wanted to see Napoleon alone, so Illya found himself waiting in the large oval room where Napoleon was scheduled to hold a departmental meeting. He kept watching the door opposite him, willing his partner to appear.
 
A tap on his shoulder roused him from his thoughts. He turned around and was surprised to see Claire Pendegast smiling down at him. They had worked together occasionally but not enough to prevent his surprise at seeing her unexpectedly.
 
Before he could wonder about it she asked, "Where's Mr. Solo?"
 
Illya pointed in the general direction of Waverly's office. "Mr. Waverly called him. But he should be here shortly."
 
She glanced at her watch before tapping the sealed folder in her hand. "Will you see that he gets this? His assistant wasn't at her desk and I couldn't just leave it."
 
Illya took the file, amused. "Yet, you can just leave it with me?"
 
Claire wrinkled her nose, amused. "Well, seeing as you're his partner and do most of his paperwork anyway – I think its safe."
 
He grinned in response and she laughed. "This isn't top clearance stuff. Tell him we just decoded a message from his team in Kansas, nothing new, but we need him to sign off on it."
 
Illya replied, "I'll let him know."
 
Claire winked at him and strode out of the room.
 
Illya turned back around and set the file on the table. His attention once again focused on the far doors. He almost jumped when the door opened but he sank back as two enforcement agents entered.
 
"Kuryakin, where's the boss? I thought the meeting was scheduled for nine a.m.?” Agent James asked as he and his partner sat across from Illya.
 
"It is," Kuryakin replied, "but he was waylaid by Mr. Waverly."
 
James groaned. "Man, we could be waiting for hours."
 
More agents trickled in over the next several minutes and Illya gave and received various acknowledgments all the while keeping a watchful eye peeled towards the other door for his partner.
 
"So, Illya, anything new happen while we were away playing in the frozen wilds of Greenland?"
 
Illya gave a genuine smile as he turned to see April Dancer standing behind him her arms draped across the back of his chair. Directly behind her was her partner Mark Slate.
 
The Russian arched a blond brow. "Now don't tell me you didn't enjoy your … what did Napoleon call it? Ah, yes, your assignment in one of nature's last unspoiled realms.” Illya couldn't help but smirk at the scowl on Mark's face, matched only by the one on his partner's.
 
April replied mischievously, "Our CEA is a very, very bad man, Illya. And we will make it up to him … somehow.”
 
Illya's eyes widened in mock horror. "Leave me out of your plans. I have nothing to do with issuing assignments if I can avoid it. I beg you to remember that."
 
April grinned saucily and winked at him as she and Mark took seats next to him. The room was full and various conversations could be heard all around the table.
 
Illya checked his watch; it was nine-thirty and still no Napoleon.
 
An agent called out to him. "Kuryakin, where's Solo? And when is he getting here?"
 
Illya just sighed and shrugged. That was the question. Where was Napoleon?

888

Napoleon checked his watch impatiently. His own staff meeting began in less than twenty minutes and Waverly still had him sitting in the outer office waiting. Just as he was about to take his chances and leave, the door slid open. Solo couldn't help but wonder if the man deliberately pushed him just to goad him into a reaction. The thought made him bristle a bit and he schooled his features into a neutral expression. He was still livid over the episode yesterday and the part played in it by a man he had so respected. Still, he was a professional and he put all that away behind a controlled facade and walked casually into the inner chamber.
 
His manner was aloof as he took a seat opposite the older man. "I hope this won't take to long, sir. I have a staff briefing in less than ten minutes."
 
Alex Waverly lit his pipe and leaned back in his chair. He smiled at the manner of the man before him. The best defense was a good offense. Apparently, one of Waverly's lessons had been learned by his second in command. He knew after yesterday that he'd have to tread carefully. Solo could be antagonistic under normal circumstances but yesterday had created an untenable situation. One he was about to make even more so. "That is unfortunate, Mr. Solo, as a situation has come up. One which has me quite puzzled."
 
Solo raised an eyebrow, curious in spite of himself. "I assume it has nothing to do with yesterday's events?"
 
Waverly clenched his pipe in his hand, looking quite disturbed. "I am rather afraid it has everything to do with it."
 
If possible, Solo was more intrigued. "Well, you have my attention. But shouldn't Illya be here for this? I understand that I am his latest assignment," he gave his boss a quelling look, "without my consent or consultation. It was not necessary. I am capable of looking after myself, sir."
 
The older man regarded him sternly. "I don't believe I need your consent to mete out assignments that I deem necessary."
 
Solo didn't comment, didn't dare, lest he say things he could not retract.
 
Waverly continued, "This is highly classified information. As for your partner, relay what you deem necessary. And as I said, a most unusual situation.” He pulled a file off the desk and handed it to the agent. "We have a mess in the New Delhi office."
 
Solo flipped through the file as Waverly began the briefing. "Mr. Amhet Gabal, your counterpart, has been murdered. A car bomb."
 
The CEA looked up at that. "Amhet? When? And who is claiming responsibility?"
 
Waverly smiled grimly. "Ah, yes. You knew him well, didn't you?"
 
Solo nodded. "I worked with him on several cases; most of them were out of the New Delhi office, when I was a junior agent. He was a good man."
 
Waverly pointed his pipe towards the file in Solo's hands. "His body was discovered six hours ago. Death occurred shortly before that. As for responsibility, ah, that's the rub. THRUSH has adamantly denied any involvement. Although that's not unusual, the organization seems to be much more vocal and rather vehement in its denials."
 
Solo laid the file down, his expression intent. "Protesting too much? Perhaps if not involved directly, THRUSH may have assisted with such necessities as protection?"
 
Waverly nodded. "My thoughts exactly. But why would THRUSH protect an outsider? What is there to gain? The investigation in New Delhi turned up very little, but effectively ruled out THRUSH involvement."
 
The CEA looked perplexed. "As important as this information is, why am I being briefed on it, unless I'm taking over the investigation?”
 
Waverly couldn't help but smile knowingly at the hopeful tone in Solo's voice. The man did love a challenge. "That is exactly what has been requested by Gabhail Samoy. Mr. Gabal was, after all, his second. And it seems the other bureau chiefs are in complete agreement."
 
Solo stared, dumbfounded. Such a thing was unprecedented. He grinned. "My ego just shot up several unnecessary points.”
 
Waverly raised an eyebrow. "I don't know that we have room for that.”
 
Solo chuckled. "My reputation, although above average, doesn't rate that sort of recognition. Any idea as to why?"
 
"It seems a rather low level technician pulled in a witness. Odd though that was, it becomes stranger still. It seems this witness is a Turkish diplomat. He has complete immunity and is not even legally bound to answer questions or remain in UNCLE custody. Yet, not only has he agreed to stay in the UNCLE offices, the mystery witness will tell all he knows – but he will only tell it to one Napoleon Solo."
 
Solo was immediately on alert. "That's rather coincidental isn't it? Amhet is murdered, THRUSH has nothing directly to do with it and a star witness is found that requests me by name and the continental chiefs cave right in and are willing to put the whole thing in my eager hands? That's one too many for comfort."
 
Waverly assented, "I couldn't agree more. And the timing makes it even more coincidental.” He gave Solo a significant look and the agent swore under his breath.
 
"Illya would be required to be here if I went there. And I can't send him, since I've been specifically requested.” He glanced at Waverly questioningly. "Is it possible to delay the UN conference here? As head of the security detail, do I have that authority?"
 
Waverly shook his head. "The government officials have rather busy schedules and six of the thirty-two attendees are unable to make changes. We did ask as soon as this was brought to my desk. I won't lie to you, Mr. Solo; this has the distinct smell of a trap, especially coming on the heels of yesterday's incident. I cannot help but think there is a connection, although I cannot yet link them. But regardless, it is one I see no loopholes for. We must know what happened to Mr. Gabal. And security for the UN council must be seen to. If you cannot see to it, Mr. Kuryakin must."
 
Solo mulled over his options. He didn't like being anyone's pawn and the more he heard the more he knew he was walking into something he could not easily walk back out of. "I'll go, of course.”
 
Waverly nodded, "Of course. However," he qualified sternly, "you will not go alone."
 
Before Solo could protest, Waverly continued, "No argument, Mr. Solo. The tape from yesterday concerns me greatly. It was only a prelude. And I very much fear New Delhi is the culmination. THRUSH has their hand in this somehow. How much they know and how deep the involvement, I don't know. But you have been a prime target for them for some time now."
 
Solo's hand clenched over the tape buried in his pocket but didn't comment.
 
Waverly reached into the desk drawer and removed a piece of crumpled packaging paper. "When the tape arrived, security was, of course, required to open and inspect it for incendiaries and other such hazards. It was only this morning that the outer packaging was inspected, in light of the tape's content."
 
Napoleon took the paper, already knowing what he would see. The extravagant script of the postmark was familiar, as was the city of origin, Ahmedabad, India. He felt an angry guilt creeping down his spine.
 
The older man eyed him knowingly. "If Mr. Gabal's murder is for the sole purpose of putting you in harm's way, as it appears to be, I will not have you walk into it without protection or back-up. I have conferred with my counterparts and while this witness business is a tenuous situation at best, it needs to be dealt with. I do not relish the idea of sending you but there is no other alternative. This has all been planned much too carefully.” He indicated the paper Solo was setting back on the desk. "Someone has cast a net over you, Mr. Solo. I would see it cut."
 
Solo pursed his lips, considering. "Why not have the witness brought here instead?"
 
Waverly leaned back in his chair, his frown deepening. "That was already suggested. He completely refuses to leave New Delhi. Unless we resort to kidnapping government officials, that venue is closed.”
 
Solo appreciated the quality of the trap laid out for him. If only he could snatch the cheese before it was sprung. Waverly's gruff voice cut into his musings.

"Choose a team or I will."
 
Solo was hesitant to name anyone. If this were a trap, he would be knowingly putting agents at risk solely for his protection. As it was, a good man had already been murdered, possibly for the sole purpose of bait. That thought left a bitter taste. A taste as bitter as the thought of leaving Illya behind. Not to mention the fury this would put his partner in when Napoleon told him about it. Seeing no other way out, he chose. "Dancer and Slate. I trust them to watch my back almost as much as I trust my partner."
 
With a curt nod, Waverly approved the choice and Solo stood, picked up the file and turned to leave, only to be stopped by the gruff voice. "You may think what you like about why we did it, Mr. Solo. UNCLE's interests are my priority."
 
Solo stiffened but didn't turn, only tightened his grip on the file in his hand.
 
"And right now those interests are best served by keeping my chief enforcement officer in one piece.” Waverly looked directly at his CEA as he emphasized, "Fully brief Agents Dancer and Slate, Mr. Solo. I want a briefing with you and Mr. Kuryakin afterwards."
 
The CEA looked back over his shoulder at the unexpected concern and nodded. The door slid open and he walked out the private entrance and down the corridor to his office. He pulled out his briefcase and put the file inside and, after a slight hesitation, pulled the tape out of his pocket and placed it on top of the file, closing and locking the case. A quick look at his watch told him he was now twenty minutes late for his staff briefing.

888

Not relishing what he was about to do, he steeled himself and walked smoothly into the noisy conference room. He immediately sought out his partner, only to find his steady blue eyes already watching him. He looked away quickly, leaned back against the wall and called for attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, sorry to keep you waiting. Especially as I now have to leave rather abruptly.”

Various sounds of frustration were voiced at that and he could feel his partner's growing anger, even from across the room.
 
"Everyone not involved in the UN security detail is free to go, just make certain to leave anything that needs my signature or whatever with my assistant before you go. And Dancer and Slate? If you could stay a moment as well.”
 
Several agents grumbled about having wasted time but left, leaving about fifteen sitting at the table watching him curiously.
 
Solo pushed himself from the door and circled the table slowly. "Mr. Waverly has something for me to do that can't be delayed. So I'm turning over the UN assignment to Kuryakin."
 
Illya's expression went completely flat.
 
Napoleon noted the curious glances but no one seemed concerned about the abrupt change in leadership. "Although Illya is fully briefed on this, I do have several items that I need to go over with him before he can in turn brief you. So, you're free to go but re-convene here tomorrow at the same time.” He shot a questioning look to his partner, who nodded his assent to the arrangements.

Before everyone left he called out, "Dancer and Slate. We're getting away from all the cold and snow for a few days. So pack your bags. You've been assigned to me for the duration. I'll see you in my office at one."
 
April cast a concerned glance to Kuryakin but waved her acknowledgment and left with her partner.
 
Napoleon watched as the agents left, closing the door behind them, leaving him and Illya in a sudden vacuum of sound. Illya had yet to speak, much less move, and Napoleon was not looking forward to what he'd have to say. He pulled a chair out and sat across from his partner. "It's not what you're thinking, Illya."
 
The Russian snorted derisively, "Then explain it to me, Napoleon. Tell me when you stopped trusting me to watch your back? Yesterday? Or was it only today?"
 
Napoleon bit back his angry retort, knowing it would only make matters worse. Instead, he proceeded to repeat his conversation with Waverly.
 
Illya's expression changed from anger to shock as he listened, his apprehension growing with each development. By the end of the narrative, his incredulity was deep-rooted. "You are mad if you think I will let you go there without me."
 
Solo sank back in his chair, tired. "Illya, you have to oversee the UN assignment. You're second in command. It's not optional. You know that."
 
Illya scowled. "This is most unwise, Napoleon. Even if the UN conference goes smoothly, it will still be a full seven days before I can meet you in New Delhi."
 
Napoleon cocked an amused eyebrow. "Believe it or not, I have been away from home before and managed to take care of myself."
 
Kuryakin gave him a scathing look. "I am in no mood for your humor. Why must you never take such things seriously?"
 
The dark eyes narrowed in reply. "The same reason you never do. And this is not up for debate."
 
"Then why did Waverly bother to give me this assignment? How can I protect you from halfway across the globe?” His eyes narrowed suspiciously, "Or has he now given that task to April and Mark?"
 
Napoleon loosened his tie, finding it suddenly very restricting. "One, I can take care of myself and I'm getting damned tired of feeling as though everyone seems to think I need to be baby-sat all of a sudden. Two, this only came up today and he was no more pleased about the change than you are."
 
Illya sighed and all his anger transformed to concern. "Napoleon, it is not a question of that. Of course, you can take care of yourself. I do not doubt this. But this is different. Someone has made this a personal attack on you. And that makes me nervous. It is a most elaborate trap. Already one life has been taken for it. And you need no incentive to act rashly. As it is you are too reckless with your own life and take too many chances.” He leaned forward across the table in his earnestness. "This tape has affected you. How could it not? But what comes next? You are not up to this now, tovarisch. You know it and I know it."
 
Solo took no offense, knowing Illya was right. "What do you want me to say? That I need you with me? I do. That I trust you? Always.” He sighed. "You would have liked her, Illya. She was an astonishing woman."
 
Illya smiled, completely unfazed by the sudden shift of conversation. "She must have been if she was able to succeed where others have tried and failed."
 
The dark-haired man smirked. "Yes, she did. Caught me completely. But it was a wonderful incarceration.” He folded his hands on the table, toying with his pinky ring. "When Aunt Amy died, she left me her estate, which left me comfortable. When I … lost Marguerite, I found out she had significant resources, which she left to me. There is literally nothing material I couldn't have.” His smile turned wistful as Illya digested this new information. "And still I'd give it all away to have her back. I shouldn't have involved her but," he trailed off, not able to finish as his guilt claimed him wholly.
 
Compassion filled the blond agent and he was on his feet, moving towards his partner. He pulled out a chair, sat next to him and placed a comforting hand over the clenched ones on the table. "No. Do not do this. She would not want this. Not the woman I heard. She was strong and loved you deeply. She gave her life willingly to keep you safe. To keep you alive. If for no other reason than that, live. Do not give in to guilt or you disparage the meaning of her death."
 
Solo's voice was low, anguished. "For a long time, I couldn't bear to … to think about what had happened. After that, it was too difficult. And now, knowing the true circumstances, I don't know what I feel anymore. Anger for the most part.” He looked at the pale hand covering his own. "It was never about trust. I trust you, tovarisch, as I have trusted no other, except her. I never meant for you to feel excluded from anything in my life. This brings with it … things I'm not able to deal with yet."
 
Illya nodded, understanding completely. "I told you earlier, you owe me no explanations. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you. If talking it out eases it somewhat for you, I am here to listen. If not, I am still here."
 
Napoleon warmed at that. "As soon as I figure out which way works for me, you'll be the first to know."
 
Napoleon froze when Illya reached out and lightly brushed the backs of his fingers along his jaw. Apprehension curled around inside him but he forced himself to remain still at the unfamiliar, yet not entirely unwelcome touch. Even so, he couldn't hide his anxiety, and Illya removed his hand immediately.
 
The Russian jumped out of his chair only to pace the room, certain that he must be losing his mind. "Forgive me, Napoleon, I do not understand why I cannot keep from causing you additional distress."
 
Though still somewhat taken aback by what had just happened, Solo laughed easily, needing to reassure Illya. "I'm irresistible. Everyone tells me so."
 
Illya shot him a scathing look, though his pacing became less frantic as he fought his sudden urge to laugh at being in such a ridiculous situation.
 
Napoleon had reached his limit and on Illya's next pass, he shot out a hand and snagged his partner, pulling him back to the chair he'd abruptly vacated. "Stop this, Illya. You can't go to pieces on me now. It's still my turn."
 
Illya laughed, gratitude lighting his blue eyes. "Very well, Napoleon, but I expect you to remember that I am allowed a longer turn next time as I am giving up this one."
 
Napoleon clasped his partner's hand. "Deal."
 
Remembering the visit from Claire, Illya slid the file in front of Napoleon and answered the question before it was asked. "Decoded messages. Nothing new, but security needs you to sign off on them."
 
Napoleon nodded as he took the file.
 
A discreet chirping filled the room and both men reached for their respective communicators. Illya shrugged and Napoleon grinned, as his was the one demanding attention. "Solo."
 
"Jenkins with the travel department, sir. I have your tickets and accommodations prepared and will have the packet delivered to your office within the hour. And your flight leaves tomorrow at three p.m."
 
"Thanks, Jenkins. Solo out."
 
The Russian's demeanor changed quickly at the concrete proof that this really was about to happen. "I did not know you were leaving quite so soon."
 
The dark head tilted slightly. "Actually, I expected it to be sooner but I have briefings all day today. One of which is with you and Waverly. He wants an update from you and is graciously allowing me to be there."
 
Illya nodded. "I have not had much time to go over the material but I have a line of inquiry I wish to follow. I will see if he would be willing to postpone until tomorrow morning."
 
Napoleon cast a quizzical glance to his partner but knew the Russian wouldn't share until he was ready. "Obviously you aren't going to let me in on whatever it is, just let me know when the briefing will end up being. Now I'd better go get Dancer and Slate briefed on New Delhi."
 
Before he could move, a strong hand gripped his shoulder. Illya was watching him with a hard look. "I do not like this. Nothing you have said has changed that.” He held up a hand to prevent the American from interrupting. "Nyet. I will do what I have to do. I will see to the UN security but do not think for one second that I will not be on the first plane to New Delhi the instant it is over."
 
Napoleon grinned wickedly. "I fear for the life of anyone who tries to stop you. I've seen the bodily damage you can inflict when you don't get your way. And I really don't want to have to pry you out of Section Six's disciplinary clutches again."
 
Kuryakin blithely ignored the dig and instead turned his attention back to the main topic. "Will you do as Mr. Waverly requests and explain all to Dancer and Slate?” 
 
At his partner's hesitant look, Illya added sternly, "Because if you do not, then I most definitely shall."
 
Solo scowled, "It seems to be the general consensus of opinion for me to do so."
 
Illya watched him knowingly. "And do not think that I will not ask them. It is too important."
 
The senior agent stiffened. "I don't need you to follow up my briefings."
 
Kuryakin didn't flinch at the coldness in his partner's voice and replied firmly. "This is my assignment if you will remember and I shall do what I feel necessary to insure your safety. Even if I have to treat you as the two year old your childish behavior indicates to you be."
 
Napoleon barked out a laugh and raised both his hands in exasperation. "All right, all right. I concede.” A smile touched his lips as he stood and motioned for Illya to precede him to the door. "And don't call me childish. A CEA is never childish. Stubborn, yes, childish, never."
 
As Napoleon closed the door behind them, Illya scoffed, "Well, leave it to you to be the first one.” And with that parting shot, Illya waved his partner farewell as each went off to their respective offices.

 

888

He'd been going over the UN assignment for two hours now and had every detail committed to memory as well as several contingency plans to utilize in case things went awry. This was a part of his job he did not relish. He preferred to leave such things to his partner and spend his time in the labs concocting the things needed to carry out his partner's sometimes-outlandish schemes. He closed the UN file, setting it back in his case next to Solo's personnel file. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he tapped the file absently before he reached for his communicator and opened the channel. "Kuryakin, here. I need central records."
 
He drummed impatient fingers as he waited for his request to be carried out.
 
Moments later, a female voice crackled through. "Records. Damson here. What can I do for you, Mr. Kuryakin?"
 
"I need all information we have on a Marguerite," he paused then cursed softly. What was her maiden name? He pulled the file out of his case and quickly searched the material. Yes, there it was.
 
"Mr. Kuryakin?"
 
"Yes, sorry. Marguerite DeChamps, married name, Marguerite Solo. Mr. Waverly should have cleared me for access, as this is related to senior personnel. And I need everything. Relatives, friends, living and dead."
 
"I'll see what I can do, Mr. Kuryakin. Mr. Waverly did inform us we were to give you any information you requested. I'll have something for you within the hour. Damson out."
 
Illya laid his communicator on his desk and pulled out Solo's personnel file. He knew the connection was here. He just had to find it.
 
----------
 
An hour later found Illya still in his office. He'd been on his way to lunch when Records had delivered his information package and had instead opted to spend his time studying the material. He took a sip of his coffee as he flipped through the mass of information. His expression darkened as he realized Napoleon was right. There truly was nothing obvious in her history that would point to a suspect.
 
Both of Marguerite's parents had died when she was still very young. She and her younger brother, Julian, had been cared for by a maiden aunt, Marie DeChamps, in much the same way Napoleon had. According to the files, both the aunt and the brother were now deceased. The aunt had died at the age of fifty-nine, only days after her niece's marriage.
 
Illya frowned as he read the coroner's report. Death had been attributed to a heart attack. He pursed his lips as he pulled out Marie's medical records, scanning them. That was odd, he thought. Up until the day she unexpectedly died, she'd been the picture of health. Her last medical visit, only a week prior, showed a strong heart, no ailments, not even high blood pressure.
 
He re-read the coroner's report. Most of the report was blank, which was suspicious in itself, but Illya felt his skin prickle at the addendum which was attached to the back of the report. No reason could be ascribed to the unexpected occurrence. Frustrated by the lack of information, he made a note of the coroner's name, as well as Ms. DeChamps' personal physician and a list of questions, intending to have an agent in the French field office follow up on them.
 
He took another sip of coffee and pulled the file on the brother. Julian was three years younger than Marguerite and according to the report had died over six years ago. He did mental calculations which put it shortly after the final year of Napoleon and Marguerite's marriage. He skimmed further and noted that Julian had never married and had no offspring, none claimed at any rate. Illya made another note, wanting to check the possibility of illegitimate children.
 
He pulled the coroner's report for cause of death and was even more perplexed than before. Julian DeChamps had died of a heart attack at the age of twenty-one. Such occurrences were basically unheard of and he couldn't help but wonder if the deaths were linked. And if so, would Marguerite have been the next target if she had not taken her fate into her own hands? He wondered if his partner had ever had the chance to investigate the deaths but discarded the thought as quickly as it formed. Julian's death would have come during Napoleon's investigation into the Greerson network. And he strongly doubted his partner would have even given it thought later, considering the loss he'd suffered.
 
Illya scowled. He needed answers. Answers he couldn't get here. A quick glance at the time told him it would be six p.m. in Paris. If communications could get the message out quickly, he still might get what he needed before he went home today. He grabbed the sheet of paper as he strode purposefully out of his office.
 

888

 
Solo drummed his fingers on his desk and scowled. No matter what line of thought he pursued, he always found a dead end. After all this time. It made no sense. Why now? Why was this happening now? Why not when she had died?
 
He snarled and shot out of the chair, overwhelmed with the need to break something or someone. His open palm connected hard with the wall. When he found who was responsible, nothing would keep him from his vengeance.
 
He paced the floor, feeling more and more like an animal trapped in a cage. He intensely disliked having no control over what was happening. Better to go and face things head on then sit here, wondering what the hell was coming next. He was anxious to get going, to do something other than wait. Anger flashed through him. Gabal deserved no less. He only hoped Illya would understand.
 
Napoleon stopped pacing, his chiseled features softening at the thought of his partner. He knew Illya was worried about him and he regretted causing his partner pain. He was more than a little worried himself about going without Illya but felt conflicted about it. As desperately as he wanted Illya with him, watching his back, he was just as relieved that Kuryakin would be forced to remain behind.
 
Whoever was behind this knew him and his history very well. And in Napoleon's mind, that made Illya a target. The idea that something could happen to Illya because of him made his blood freeze. He wanted Illya as far away as possible. He knew without a doubt that his stubborn partner would protect him at all costs, even with his life – and that was just not a chance Solo was willing to take. He honestly didn't know what he would do were something to happen to the man who had become his only family.
 
The chirp of his intercom brought him out of his reverie. He walked over to his desk and acknowledged the signal with a sharp flip of a switch. "Yes, Nancy."
 
His assistant's melodic voice filtered into the room. "Agents Dancer and Slate are here for their scheduled briefing, Napoleon."
 
Solo smiled. "Well, I supposed you'll have to let them in then won't you?"
 
He took a deep, shaky breath, sat down behind his desk, and waited for Dancer and Slate, assuming an unruffled pose, completely hiding the anger that was rapidly consuming him.
 

888

 
The communicator lying on his desk chirped and Illya picked it up without leaving off the file he was engrossed in. He opened the channel. "Kuryakin."
 
"Mr. Kuryakin, this is Kelley in the motor pool. I just wanted to let you know we retrieved your car and it's in its assigned spot. The keys will be in my office whenever you can stop by for them."
 
Illya let out a relieved sigh; well, that was one thing he'd managed to accomplish today. "Thanks, Kelley. I'll be by sometime this afternoon. Kuryakin out."
 
At least Napoleon wouldn't be able to torment him about forgetting where his car was. His partner never missed an opportunity to point out these aberrations to Illya's deeply entrenched sense of order.
 
He was just about to check on said partner when his communicator sounded and he pulled it out with a click, and opened the channel.
"Kuryakin.”
 
"Illya, its April.” Illya was on his feet reaching for his jacket at the anxiety in her voice.
 
"What's happened? Where's Napoleon?” He was out the door, walking quickly down the corridor.
 
"Napoleon's gone, Illya. He had just finished up with the briefing when security contacted him, telling him they were holding a package of questionable, not dangerous, just questionable, content for him. Well, of course, he just had to go see. It was a small box and he looked sick when he saw whatever was in it. Security wouldn't tell us. He took it and just left the office without a word. Shocked the hell out of us."
 
Illya stopped walking and swore, wondering where to start looking, when April continued. "Mark trailed him. That was about the only way we could keep security from tearing after him. Besides, after what he told us, there was no way we were letting him go off alone. Mark contacted me right before I called you. Napoleon's in the park and don't worry, Mark won't leave until you get there."
 

Illya felt relief wash over him. "Thank you, April."
 
"Hey, all part of the job. And we care about him too, Illya."
 
Illya smiled. "I know. Kuryakin out.” He put the communicator away and changed direction, heading now to the front exit of Del Floria's and the park directly across from it.

Chapter Text

Illya did not relax until he saw the familiar profile sitting on the bench, staring into the distance. He scanned the trees and he saw his partner's silent guard. He waved to Mark and the agent tipped his hat and left as quietly as he'd approached. Illya sat down next to his partner and waited. He didn't have to wait long.
 
"Did Mark leave yet?"
 
Illya winced, as he had hoped his partner hadn't known he was being followed. "Yes. It seems they trust me to keep you from further foolish acts, such as this."
 
For the first time, Illya looked at his partner. What he saw shocked him. He looked gray, drained. He was trembling. Even so, a corner of his mouth twitched in response to the rebuke.
 
Angered by his partner's continued lack of self-preservation, Illya snapped. "This is becoming a most unnerving habit, Napoleon, and I wish you would break it before I have a heart attack. And for once will you please remember to bring your coat with you on these excursions?"
 
Napoleon winced, hearing the fear and concern, knowing he had needlessly worried his partner. He hadn't meant to alarm anyone; he'd simply had to be alone, even for just a few moments. He reached inside his jacket, pulled out a small opened box, and with an unsteady hand, gave it to Illya.
 
Illya scowled, curious as to what had provoked such a reaction, yet at the same time, positive he did not want to know. He took the box and pushed aside the paper and his breath caught as he saw the gleam of gold nestled within. It was a wedding ring, a woman's wedding ring. One side of it was completely discolored with what Illya knew was blood. His heart pounded as he touched its cold surface, knowing instantly that it was her ring. His mind raced as he tried to comprehend how or when someone could have retrieved this. Could it be a copy? Before he could give voice to the thought, Napoleon answered softly, sadly.
 
"It was my grandmother's ring. My grandfather created it himself, just for her. The engraving, on the inside, was unique. When I married, Aunt Amy gave it to me … to give to her."
 
Illya felt a cold ball of anger growing within him. Napoleon was his family and someone was systematically tearing him apart from the inside out. Illya knew that when he found them, he would repay every pain brought to his partner tenfold.
 
He placed the ring carefully back in the box and that's when he saw the crumpled note. He smoothed it out and saw the deliberately generic script.
 
Cet aurait dû vous être
Seulement une chose peut laver ce sang nettoie
Châtiment
 
It was written in French and although Illya was proficient in many languages including this one, it still took him a few moments to do mental translations as his mind kept doing somersaults in time with his heart. He forced himself to concentrate and when he finally put it all together, what he read filled him with dread.
 
It should have been you
Only one thing can wash this blood clean
Retribution
 
Illya's hand shook as he hastily shoved the note back into the box. "Napoleon?"
 
The American gave a frustrated cry. "I don't know, Illya. I … she's no family left, no one to call for 'retribution'.” He clenched his hands and bolted up, wrapping his arms around himself. "Don't they know?” His voice was raw with pain and regret. "What is there left for me to give? My life? If I had known, I would have. Don't they know that? God, I would have … I would have."
 
Now more than ever, Illya realized the depth of guilt and regret Napoleon felt. It sickened him that someone was using that to try to destroy his partner. "Giving in to this will only allow your enemy power over you. They have taken enough from you already, do not give them–" Illya broke off as he felt a chill go up the back of his spine. They were being watched. Every instinct he had was screaming at him and he placed a ready hand on his gun as he scanned the tree line, seeing no one. He had to get his partner somewhere safe and soon. He'd let him stay out too long as it was. Kuryakin was on his feet, and pulled Napoleon to face him. "We are being watched, we must go. It is not safe here."
 
Solo started, quickly coming back to himself, scanning the trees as Illya all but dragged him quickly back to the relative safety of Del Floria's.

888

Napoleon stood, staring out the window, oblivious to the heated argument going on around him. He toyed with the ring that everyone from Illya to Waverly had tried to take from his possession without success. Never would he let it go again.
 
He reached around to the clasp of the chain he always wore around his neck, threaded it through the ring, and secured the clasp again, tucking the ring inside his clothes. The metal was cold against his skin, a tragic reminder of his failure to protect the one person who'd trusted that he would keep her safe.
 
The sky grew dark and Napoleon was tired. He'd never been so tired. He shook his head derisively as he remembered how he'd thought that yesterday. He'd thought that the worst. Well, that would teach him that another day could always surprise you by being worse than you can even imagine. He morbidly wondered what tomorrow could do to surpass today.
 
Illya's angry voice cut through his thoughts and his chest constricted. He knew this was as hard on his partner as it was on him. If their positions were reversed, there was no way in hell that he would let Illya go without him. Protocol and UNCLE be damned. He felt disloyal for having been the one forced to tell Illya he had to stay behind. But he also felt relieved that Illya would be out of harm's way.
 
Without turning around, he listened to Waverly attempt to calm his partner, to reassure him that Mark and April would be sufficient protection. Napoleon stiffened as Mark broke into the argument and reminded dear Uncle Alex that today's incident was a perfect example of just how difficult Solo was to deal with and he and April weren't as confident in their abilities. Mark also pointed out that he had no doubt that if Solo hadn't wanted to be found, Mark never would have found him.
 
Napoleon groaned at that. It was true. Mark and April were good, no mistake, but he could easily have left Mark to wander the park for hours if he'd chosen to. Only the thought of facing Illya's wrath had kept him from doing just that.
 
Still, Napoleon said nothing. The only thing he could add to the heated debate would infuriate his partner and he'd already done that enough for one day. Yes, enough of everything for one day. He turned and ended the debate. "I hate to interrupt but it's late and I, as well as Dancer and Slate, have packing to do. So, I'll see you all in the morning."
 
Mr. Waverly halted him at the door. "In my office, eight a.m.” He cast a quick look at a very irate Kuryakin. "Same for you. This was not what I had in mind when I called for a briefing.”
 
Kuryakin nodded as Solo went quickly out the door. The senior agent was halfway down the hall when his arm was grabbed and he was pulled through an opened door. The only thing that surprised him was that it took Illya that long to catch up to him. Illya slammed the door behind them. "I just want to go home, Illya. I promise that's all. I'm tired and I still have to pack."
 
The Russian snapped, "Did you hear nothing? Why must you insist on doing this? It is madness, Napoleon."
 
The American's eyes narrowed as he regarded his partner. "Illya, I am just this side of angry and if you call me mad or childish again, I won't be responsible for what happens."
 
Illya took a step back. He knew he was on dangerous ground and chose his words with more care, doing his best to keep his voice level.
 
"Why must you insist on being so," he paused, "determined in doing this alone? Why will you not let me help you?"
 
Napoleon said nothing, turning away from his partner and opened the door. Before he could exit, Illya's hand reached past him and slammed it shut again. "I want an answer, Napoleon."
 
Solo clenched his hands, trying to control the anger that was growing with every second. His voice was low and dangerous. "Remove your hand or I'll do it for you."
 
Heedlessly, Illya moved in front of his partner, blocking his path to the door. He had to stay calm. His anger would only fuel Napoleon's. "Why will you not let me help you?”
 
Some of Napoleon's anger melted at the plaintive request but his stance remained stiff. "Illya –" Whatever he meant to say was silenced when Illya pulled him close, his warm lips touching Napoleon's in a passionate kiss.
 
Napoleon's mind shut down and he opened his mouth to protest only to feel a warm, wet tongue sweeping through his mouth. His brain almost seized up.
 
Before he had time to react, Illya was pushing him back, his hands cradling Napoleon's face. "Now do you understand?” His voice was raspy with desire.
 
Napoleon couldn't comprehend what had just happened. He wasn't able to discern any recognizable emotion and thought he was in imminent danger of having his heart explode, it was beating so fast.
 
Illya studied his partner's face, desperate to know what he was thinking but all he could see was the stunned look in those normally expressive eyes.
 
After only minutes, thought it felt like hours, Napoleon reached up and took both of Illya's hands in his, moving them to rest at Illya's sides before releasing them and stepping back, needing space.
 
His voice was shaky, thready. "I think you made your position very clear."
 
Illya sagged back against the door at the loss of contact. He fumbled behind him for the doorknob and wrenched it open, leaving Napoleon alone.
 
----------
 
Illya tore into his office and sank in his chair, burying his face in his hands. He took a deep breath and realized he could still smell Napoleon, still taste him. The blond head shook as he felt his need growing again, just at the thought of it.
 
This had to stop; he would be less than useless if he couldn't shut out what he was feeling. And at that instant, he knew. It wasn't that Napoleon felt nothing; it was that he felt too much. Napoleon wasn't shutting him out; he was simply trying to keep himself together. Illya swore under his breath. What a fool he had been. Of course, Napoleon was eager to be on his way. He abhorred being dictated to. The sooner Napoleon took control of the situation, the sooner he could finish it. His friend couldn't afford to dwell on what he was feeling. Napoleon was simply trying to keep himself from flying to pieces. His partner needed him now more than ever and Illya had all but run away from him.
 
Illya was furious with himself for not seeing it before. He'd let his own emotions blind him and that was something he could not afford to let happen again. Illya absently chewed on the inside of his cheek, dozens of options running through his mind. He simply would not let Napoleon go alone, no matter the consequences. His decision made, he pulled his communicator out and set his plan in motion. "Open Channel D. Kuryakin for Mr. Waverly."
 
----------
 
Solo could feel his hands shaking as he sank into a chair. He folded his arms over his chest tightly, needing to stop the uncontrolled movement. He couldn't remember being this angry and if Illya had stayed, Napoleon knew he would have knocked his Russian partner on his ass. He was furious that Illya had put him in such an uncomfortable situation after agreeing to wait. He'd said he understood. So why? Why had Illya forced this? And now of all times.
 
Napoleon knew Illya was hurt by Napoleon's unwillingness to share more information about his past, especially now, but it wasn't as though he was doing it deliberately. He simply couldn't deal with the emotions of the situation and still function, so he'd closed that part of himself off. He'd had to. Too many memories, too many old feelings. And if he were honest, too damn many new ones that he couldn't even understand, much less express.
 
He growled in frustration.
 
Solo hated leaving things this way with Illya, but what could he say? Never had he even considered the possibility of a sexual relationship with any man, much less his partner. Even thinking it seemed strange. Just as strange as thinking that Illya was so inclined. He'd literally had no idea his partner preferred men. That thought stopped him and he pondered it briefly; did Illya prefer men, or was he Illya's first male attraction? He shook his head, bewildered.
 
That he cared for his partner, that he loved him, was never in doubt. Part of him couldn't help but wonder how long Illya had been in love with him. He closed his eyes tightly. It sounded so impossible. Napoleon had always known Illya cared for him, just as he cared for Illya. But to consider that he'd been working side by side with Illya and not ever, even once, noticed a change in his partner's feelings for him, shocked him.
 
He swore as he realized what he was doing. He checked his watch. It was almost six. Napoleon sighed and stood up. Illya would have to wait. He could not afford the distraction of contemplation now. There were too many things to do, including packing for his flight. He opened the door and swore under his breath when he saw Mark and April leaning against the opposite wall. "Don't you two have anything better to do?"
 
April smiled brightly, "Why, no, Napoleon, we don't. And it just so happens, we're going your way."
 
Solo shot her a withering look which she completely ignored. "Well, I happen to be going home. I'll see you both in the morning.”
 
Before he took more than two steps, April looped her arm through his. "What a coincidence."
 
Mark took position on Solo's opposite side and gave an exaggerated response. "Isn't it though? We just happen to be going there as well. So, why don't we all go together?"
 
Napoleon stopped in his tracks, stunned. "You can't be serious."
 
The look Mark gave him left no room for doubt. "So, is your couch comfortable, mate? 'Cause no matter how often I ask, April refuses to let me sleep in the same bed with her. I tell her it would lower our expenses but she won't do it."
 
April reached around Napoleon to slap her partner. "That's right. But no couch, Mark, Napoleon place has a few extra bedrooms.” She pulled on Napoleon's arm to get him walking again as she winked conspiratorially. "Besides, Mark snores. The most awful sound."
 
Solo took a deep breath, promising someone was going to pay for this. And pay dearly. "Can I possibly bribe you into going away?"
 
Mark laughed and April just shook her head.
 
Solo sighed, frustrated. "Fine. But I'm warning you, your next assignment will make Greenland look like an island paradise.” He pulled away from April and strode purposefully towards the elevator.
 
Mark glanced at his partner. "Methinks he doth protest too much."
 
April replied softly as they caught up with their CEA. "I know. I'm afraid for him, Mark."
 
She barely heard Mark's soft, "Me too," only moments before they entered the elevator with a very unhappy Napoleon Solo.
 
----------
 
Alexander Waverly had long ago learned that a man with his back against a wall is never as cornered as one might think. He knew he would be hard pressed to control the irascible Russian with Solo in harm's way.
 
Kuryakin's voice broke his musings. "Sir. Any of these would be sufficient. Though in my opinion option three has the best possibility for successfully covering all contingencies including the UN conference."
 
Waverly sighed, well aware that Kuryakin would not let this end, no matter his response. "Mr. Kuryakin, I understand your distress in this situation. I will consider what you have said. But you have duties to UNCLE that precede any that you have to any individual.” Seeing the young agent was about to protest, he halted it before it began. In a tone that brooked no argument he stated, "That will be all, Mr. Kuryakin."
 
Illya nodded curtly and without comment left the office. By the time he'd made it back to his office he was in a complete fury. He had barely sat down when his communicator chirped. Illya pulled the offending object out of his pocket and opened the channel, snapping,”Kuryakin."
 
The voice on the other end sounded hesitant. "Ah, Mr. Kuryakin? This is Ms. Reyes in Communications. We have a communiqué for you from the Paris field office. You requested immediate notification of its arrival, sir."
 
Illya was already on his way out of the office. "I'm on my way. Kuryakin out.” Now maybe he would at least have some answers.

                                                       888

As much as he wanted to be home, relaxing, the banter of the agents trailing behind him was a constant reminder that home would be no consolation tonight. He coded the alarm and shrugged out of his coat, leaving the door open as Mark and April were in a playful argument in the hall. He laughed silently as he watched them for a moment before he headed back inside and turned on the lights.
 
His keys, coat and case fell to the floor and his heart lodged in his throat. He stumbled back against the wall, shaking. Hundreds of photos covered every surface. Hundreds of copies of one photo. One he'd never seen before and hoped like hell never to see again.
 
The woman in the photo looked alarmingly real. Her dull green eyes stared blindly, trapped in fear. Dark red stains trailed from her right temple as well as from between her ruby lips. Long, black streaks of hair, which partially hid her aristocratic face, were matted with dirt and blood. Her left hand was in the image as well, having fallen across her throat. The gold wedding band gleamed red where the sun had glinted off the blood stained metal. The stones, on which she'd fallen and ended her life in a blinding instant, filled out the image.
 
He wasn't even aware of Mark and April walking in, of April snatching out her communicator and calling in or of Mark pulling his gun and checking the rest of the penthouse. All he could see was the face in the photo. Marguerite. Her sightless eyes stared at him, accused him. Her spilt blood seeped into his soul. His hand clasped the ring around his neck, as he saw its image, lying across her throat in photo after photo.
 
He couldn't breathe. Anguish filled his chest as he fixated on one picture, larger than the others, on the floor in front of him.
 
He took two stumbling steps and sank down on the floor, reverently picking it up with unsteady hands.
 
April had put away her communicator and was now kneeling down in front of him. He could hear the concern in her voice as she called his name over and over again but for some reason, he couldn't speak, couldn't move. He didn't see the fearful glance she gave her partner. All he could see was the picture in his hands. He never even felt the hot tears fall nor did he see the corresponding ones from the woman kneeling in front of him.
 
----------
 
If possible, Illya was even more confused than before. The communiqué from Paris had only served to create more questions. Agent Armand Melancon had been thorough – quick, but thorough. It seems that Ms. DeChamps' physician had managed to get himself killed in an auto accident two weeks ago. Illya shook his head. Too many coincidences, too many deaths.
 
Melancon had managed to contact everyone else on Illya's list. Some were helpful, but provided very little new information. He flipped the page to an interview with Michele LeSange. She had been engaged to Julian for six months but had ended the relationship about a month before Julian's death. He read another paragraph or so before he drew in a sharp breath tinged with excitement.
 
He pulled out his case, searching out his background files. He muttered under his breath as he pulled out the UN file instead and shoved it back in hastily. Before he had a chance to search further, there was a discreet knock on his door only moments before it opened. Illya looked up, surprised to see an unknown female agent standing in his office doorway, looking decidedly nervous. He cocked a curious eyebrow. "Can I help you?"
 
She cleared her throat. "Um, Mr. Kuryakin, I'm Stella Reynolds, from Section Six. I'm sorry to interrupt but April didn't want you to hear over the comm and as she's my friend, she asked me to tell you in person."
 
Illya felt his heart drop to his feet and he gripped the edge of his desk to keep his hands steady. His mind screamed in denial as he waited for the worst. His eyes must have betrayed what he was thinking as she rushed on.
 
"No, no, not that. But there is a … situation. She said to tell you that Mr. Solo's gotten another – present. She said you should go to the penthouse now and that it's already called in and an evidence team will be on the way as well."
 
Illya let out the breath he didn't even know he was holding and haphazardly pulled together all the files on his desk. He threw them in his briefcase, grabbed his jacket and coat and bolted past the stunned woman without a word.                    
 
----------
 
It took all of Illya's restraint not to run when the elevator doors finally opened and deposited him in the penthouse entry. He was finding it hard to keep himself together, having no idea what to expect as he walked through the open door. But nothing could have prepared him for the sight that awaited him. The place was filled with photos he knew instantly to be Napoleon's wife. He stared in shock at the photo closest to him. It must have been taken as she lay bleeding on the terrace after her flight from her captors. Revulsion gripped him as he saw the ring on her hand.
 
Illya took a sharp breath as he saw Napoleon on his knees on the floor, his back to Illya, with April sitting in front him. Mark was near the balcony. He took it all in with a glance before focusing on Napoleon. Illya slowly walked around and his throat closed at the vacant expression on his friend's face.
 
Solo was clenching one of the photos in his hands. Illya sank down next to him, questioning April and Mark with his eyes.
 
April just shook her head. Mark walked closer and spoke softly, as if to avoid disturbing the apparently catatonic man. "This was waiting for him when he got here. April and I came in right after him and checked out the rest of the place. No forced entry, no breakage. I spoke to the building manager and no service personnel had requested entrance. The security tape of the elevator shows no one entering or exiting and there's been no tampering that we know of yet. Our people will need to see about that."
 
Illya was furious but kept his voice low to keep from startling Napoleon. "Why was he the first to enter? Where were the two of you? His safety was your responsibility. He should not have walked into this.” His voice was deadly quiet. "How did you plan to protect him in New Delhi if you can't even secure a room properly?” He ignored April's shocked look and concentrated on his still partner which only fueled his anger.
 
Mark bristled, upset with himself as it was. "You can rip us later, mate. Right now we have to do something. He didn't say anything, Illya. We tried but nothing we do seems to reach him. Agents are going to be swarming all over this place any minute now and I know he wouldn't want anyone, even us, to see him this way. You've got to do something."
 
Illya scowled but he knew Mark was right. He glanced around quickly. "Is any room clean? Or are they all similarly decorated?” His features hardened and his voice was still underscored with anger.
 
April finally spoke, although somewhat shakily. "Um, the guest rooms. My guess is because it wouldn't be personal. Not rooms Napoleon uses."
 
Illya nodded agreement. "Can you keep them away while I get to one?"
 
Mark and April exchanged questioning glances before Mark confirmed, "Don't worry, Illya. Somehow, we'll keep 'em out.” Mark gave the Russian a concerned look. "Wouldn't a doctor be a good idea though?"
 
Kuryakin shot him a dark look. "Nyet."
 
Mark's eyes narrowed but he bit back his response, not wanting to infuriate the Russian any further.
 
Illya relented somewhat. "If, by morning, there is no change, then I will send for one myself."
 
Mark sighed in relief as he pulled April with him into the hall. "We'll give you time, Illya. If you need help just yell. We'll hold them off 'til you get him safely away."
 
Illya's expression softened as Dancer and Slate left and he shrugged out of his coat before giving his full attention to Napoleon. He reached out and tenderly touched Solo's shoulder. "Napoleon? Can you hear me?"
 
Napoleon heard the warm voice penetrate the fog he was in. He felt as if he were trying to move through molasses. What surprised him most was that he felt … nothing. Shouldn't he feel something? Anything? But he didn't, at least not until that warm voice spoke to him. Illya. Illya was here. It was safe now. He would be safe now.
 
Illya wasn't really expecting a response and was startled when he heard the soft reply.
 
"Yes."
 
Illya's brows rose up in shock and relief flooded him. He caressed his partner's wearied face, and then pressed a soft kiss to the troubled brow. "Come, other agents will be here soon to collect all of this and check for evidence. You do not want to be in here for that.” Illya got to his feet, holding his hands out for Solo, who had yet to let go of the photo.
 
Napoleon placed the photo carefully back where it had lain. He didn't need it. The image was burned into his brain. He knew he'd never forget it no matter how desperately he wanted to. Every time he closed his eyes, he'd see it. He tried to shake it off but found it so hard to move. Even the hand he reached up to grasp Illya's outstretched one felt heavy.
 
Illya seemed to understand and reached down to pull Napoleon up, one arm around his waist, supporting him as they slowly made their way through the sea of photos. Too many minutes later to suit Illya, he had his partner through the door to the nearest guestroom and had shut it firmly behind them as he turned on the light.
 
He let out a small sigh of relief upon finding the room in the same meticulous state of order it was always in. He eased Napoleon down into the large overstuffed chair by the window, pulled out his communicator and opened the connection. "Kuryakin here. Connect me to Agent Slate."
 
"Yes, sir," came the quick reply and within moments Slate's voice filtered into the room.
 
"Slate here."
 
Illya was still unbelievably angry with the two agents and couldn't keep the sharp tone from his voice. "Kuryakin. Has Mr. Waverly conferred with you about this yet?"
 
"No. We have to report to him after the evidence team leaves. We've told them the room you're in is clean. They aren't happy but they'll stay out of it."
 
Illya replied cuttingly. "You've managed to do something right. Inform Mr. Waverly that I shall contact him later tonight. And after you speak with him, I think you, Dancer and I need to have a long conversation."
 
Slate's voice was stiff. "We'll contact you when we're done. Slate out."
 
Kuryakin clicked off his communicator and threw the pen on the bedside table.
 
He turned around only to find Napoleon staring at him with cold eyes. Blond brows drew together, concerned as he walked toward Solo and knelt down in front of him. "Napoleon? What is it?"
 
Solo laughed but it was a hollow sound. His two-day roller coaster ride was careening out of control. "What is it? What isn't it is more like it.” His mouth felt like ashes as he spoke and his voice sounded thready to his ears.
 
Illya grasped his hand, holding it between his pale ones.
 
Napoleon pulled his hand away and stood, facing the window. Illya slowly rose but didn't move, not knowing what his partner needed from him right now.
 
A crash from the living room caused Napoleon to groan as muffled voices rose and fell. He leaned into the wall, his strength failing him. He didn't know what to do. Here he was, hiding in his own home, wishing for all the world that he could just crawl away and hide forever.
 
He was angry with himself, Illya, and everyone who'd been hovering. Every time he got his feet back under him, something seemed ready to knock him on his ass and it was fraying his control. He'd used up his reserves tonight; it had taken everything he had not to completely break down in front of April and Mark. He would have been horrified if he had. The effort had left him bereft, empty. Even so, he remembered how Illya's presence had given him the strength he'd needed to pull himself together.
 
Illya. He shivered as he recalled Illya's lips touching his skin. He shook off the memory, not liking where his thoughts were going. It was all crashing down on him. Only minutes ago, he was feeling nothing, now he was feeling everything, overwhelmed with the intensity of it.
 
"Illya, I-I … dammit. Why can't I pull together one damn sentence?” He punched the wall in frustration.
 
Illya quickly grabbed his wrist as Solo balled up his fist for a second blind punch. "Napoleon, no. This is not the way."
 
Solo whirled on him, furious. "Then what is the way? Should I just cower here? Hide? That's what you want, isn't it?” He shoved Illya roughly away from him but his legs buckled before he took more than one step and he went crashing to his knees on the floor. He took large gasps of air, trying to keep from going to pieces.
 
It was tearing Illya up inside as he watched the person he loved struggle alone with his inner demons when he was so desperate to help him. He knew that if he tried right now, Napoleon might very well do him bodily harm. Something both would regret. So he simply sank down on the bed, watching and waiting.
 
It was several minutes before Napoleon could take a normal breath. He sat back on his haunches feeling somewhat shaky and more than a little foolish. He gave his right hand a quick glance and saw the abrasions to the knuckles. He flexed the fingers, relieved to know he hadn't broken anything. He was furious with himself and that anger cleared his mind and gave him control. Napoleon knew he could not afford another incident like this one.
 
However, even as he thought it, his eyes closed in pain as he again saw the image of his dead wife. No, he couldn't do this. It was too personal. He had to step back and concentrate on the evidence and not the emotion. His expression hardened as he slowly but surely forced himself into the box of UNCLE agent and nothing else.
 
Several minutes later, he took one last deep calming breath before turning his attention to his partner. Completely devoid of any emotion he asked, "Should we go see what, if anything, forensics has turned up?” Ignoring the stunned look on the Russian's face, Napoleon stood gracefully, walked to the door, opened it and went out in to the flurry of activity, ignoring the pain on his partner's face.
 
Illya couldn't move. He felt as though he'd just watched his friend die.

Chapter Text

 


Napoleon moved through the devastation that was once his living room, without noticing it and walked directly up to agent Emerson, who was chief of the security division for Section Five. "David, have your teams found anything? Other than the obvious, that is.”
 
Emerson looked at Solo, somewhat stunned. "Napoleon, I was given to understand that you weren't part of this investigation, for rather obvious reasons."
 
Solo lifted an eyebrow, replying archly, "Well, considering the obvious I would think it would be hard for me not to be part of the investigation. Don't you agree?"
 
Emerson nodded slowly, knowing suddenly that Solo was not in a mood for debates or conversation. "My orders come directly from Mr. Waverly. I report to Kuryakin or Waverly. No one else.” As the dangerous glint in Napoleon's eyes grew, Emerson added, somewhat nervously, "I'm sorry Napoleon, I just can't."
 
Before Solo had a chance to fire off a reply, Illya broke the stalemate, snapping out, "Then report to me now. Tell me what you've found and Napoleon, you can listen. Does that satisfy both of you?”
 
Napoleon jolted, not having heard Illya's approach. He looked at his partner and saw the anger and pain Illya couldn't completely mask anymore. It saddened him more than he could say as Napoleon knew he was the cause of both emotions. Still, he managed to nod his agreement as Emerson let out a large sigh of relief.
 
"No fingerprints found on any of the photos. Several have been found throughout the rooms but it will take time to sort out which belong to Napoleon, you, and various other 'safe' persons. It could be some time before we have any information from that."
 
He walked over to the balcony and gestured for Solo and Kuryakin to follow as he continued, "At first glance, there appears to be no forced entry. But if you look closely at the locking mechanism, you can see scratches.” He pointed to the outside lock on one of the French balcony doors.
 
At this point, Solo interrupted. "If it was forced, how did someone get up here? This is the fortieth floor," he paused as he mentally answered his own question seconds before speaking it. "Of course, the roof.”
 
Emerson nodded, pleased. "Yes, we found marks from a grappling hook."
 
Solo shook his head. "That doesn't explain the alarm. This," he paused, gesturing to the chaos in the room, "took time to do. How was that by-passed?"
 
Illya moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with his partner, as this had been his main concern as well.
 
The agent shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you about that. We traced all activity on it. It was coded. How someone could override it, I don't know. But that has security in a tizzy. No one, but no one, should have been able to do that."
 
Illya was furious. "And what is security planning to do to make certain it never happens again? I don't want another breach here, or they will answer to me."
 
Emerson bit his lip knowing the threat was heartfelt. "Our security chief is good, Illya. You know that. Richard is just as steamed about this as you are. I spoke with him and he has personnel on the way to rip out the existing system and replace it with the same security system used in the office. It's the best there is. And he's already assigned security details to all entry and exit points in the building."
 
Illya gave a grudging nod of satisfaction as Napoleon listened, somewhat stunned at the extreme measures being taken. He was somewhat humbled that he was the cause of all this activity. Humbled and more than a little embarrassed, which, of course, made him angry.
 
He pinned the nervous agent with a scathing gaze. "Am I understanding you correctly? All you know is that someone, as of yet unknown, accessed the penthouse by the roof? All of this equipment and personnel tearing up my home and all you can tell me is something I could have discovered without your specialized assistance?"
 
Illya spoke sharply, "That is enough, Napoleon."
 
Solo bit back an angry retort, turned on his heel, and headed out into the hall. Illya felt a moment of panic before he saw Dancer and Slate launch off the sofa in pursuit. He turned to Emerson. "I will expect a full report on my desk first thing in the morning. I need that information."
 
Emerson gave a short nod and went over to confer with his agents and Illya flew out of the room, only to find his partner leaning against the wall just outside the door arguing with Mark and April. He leaned against the doorjamb, listening.
 
The anger in Solo's voice was rising. "I am through discussing this. It is not up for debate. We leave tomorrow as planned, unless Uncle Alex makes other arrangements.” He held up a hand, forestalling the argument on April's lips. "Not another word. Consider it an order, which it is. Am I being clear?"
 
Mark looked furious, as did April, but both nodded in reluctant agreement, knowing Solo had reached his limit.
 
Sensing his partner's presence without having seen him, Napoleon continued smoothly. "Now, both of you run along and pack. Illya, it seems, can't even let me leave a room without following me, so I think I'm amply protected."
 
Illya merely raised an eyebrow at the sarcastic tone, choosing not to rise to the bait and instead addressed Dancer and Slate. "Napoleon is right. I won't be leaving.” The anger he felt earlier flared again. "But we have much to discuss tomorrow. Do not think I will leave things as they are."
 
Mark raised a hand in compliance before he and April left quickly, eager to be away, even for just a short time.
 
Napoleon pushed off from the wall, cutting off Illya before he could start. "No. Whatever it is, no. Now, I'm gonna throw Emerson and his ilk out of my home."
 
Again, Illya bit back his reply and stood stiffly as Napoleon brushed past him, and started barking out orders to the agents on the scene.
 
He took a deep breath, pulled out his communicator and opened the channel.
"Kuryakin, here. I need Mr. Waverly, secure channel.”
 
While the operator pushed his request through, Illya peeked back inside the open door and winced. The agents were pulling all the photos into bags along with any other evidence, occasionally casting nervous glances at the scowling CEA standing in the center of the room, assuring the continued haste.
 
Kuryakin shook his head just as Waverly's voice echoed through the hallway.
"Waverly. We have a secure channel, Mr. Kuryakin. Report."
 
Illya walked slightly down the entry hall, not wanting to be overheard.
"Sir, I do not have much to report. Have you spoken with security yet?"
 
The older man grunted his displeasure. "Yes, I have indeed. I am deeply concerned that this … person was able to so easily override our security systems. I've made this a top priority in all relevant departments. Such breaches cannot happen again. This person must be found."
 
Kuryakin scowled. "I agree. Security breaches aside, my partner is in jeopardy. And for me, that cannot happen again.” Before Waverly could comment, Illya rushed on. "This has changed things somewhat, sir. How can one person be in two separate places? Gabal was murdered last night, and yet somehow this – person has managed to come halfway across the globe to set a most intricate stage today. Add to that the fact that Napoleon was being watched in the park earlier today as well. I know that was connected with this. This nemesis has an accomplice, possibly two. It is the only logical answer."
 
Waverly's voice filtered through the comm. "I am inclined to agree with you, Mr. Kuryakin. Have you turned up any useful information that might shed some light on the situation?"
 
Illya's reply was guarded. "It is too soon for me to say for certain. Better to say that I have found a thread to follow. But, sir, I strongly advise against Napoleon going to New Delhi. Let this would-be assassin come to us, where we can set our own trap.” Before Waverly could reply, Illya rushed on angrily. "And Napoleon will not have to rely on obviously inadequate back-up."
 
Waverly's voice was resigned. "That is not possible. Mr. Solo is critical to finding any resolution to the affair in New Delhi. Mr. Solo understands what awaits him and that gives him an edge. And I am certain I don't have to remind you of the importance of the UN conference. It is essential that its security not be contravened. If you feel Agents Slate and Dancer are inadequate, select an alternate team or teams."
 
Illya took a deep calming breath, knowing already how this was going to end but a small part of him hoped against hope that he was wrong. He steeled himself. "Have you given any consideration to what we discussed earlier, sir?"
 
"Yes, I have indeed. That is something we will discuss tomorrow."
 
"I will be going or Napoleon will not.” Illya's tone left no doubt as to the seriousness of this demand.
 
Waverly responded in kind. "Do not presume to tell me what is and is not to happen. You and Mr. Solo will do as ordered. Do I make myself clear, Mr. Kuryakin?"
 
Illya swore under his breath and gripped the silver pen tightly. He had only one option left and he took it without hesitation. "I understand, sir. And I cannot comply. Therefore, you have my resignation, effective immediately."
 
He closed the channel quickly and let out a shaky breath. The communicator shrilled instantly and his eyes closed, pained, as he silenced it once and for all, snapping the delicate instrument in two and calmly placing the pieces in his pocket.
 
Perhaps when this was over, he could make peace with Waverly, but nothing on earth would keep him from protecting his partner. He made a mental note to call April at home before the night was over. He still needed Emerson's report and April would have to get it. At least he had had the forethought to bring all of the pertinent information with him and would not be forced to ask her to break into his office.
 
He gave a frustrated sigh as he checked his watch, surprised to find it was only nine-thirty. It felt as though he'd already lived this day for a week now.
 
Illya winced as a loud commotion came from the penthouse followed by an angry roar from his partner. He counted to ten in Russian, French and English, and once more in German, before walking back to the opened door. He gave a passing thought to the good fortune of the penthouse taking the entire floor, as all this ruckus would have given the neighbors too much information and too much gossip.
 
He almost laughed at the scene inside the living room. The agents were scrambling now, gathering the remainder of scattered photos, throwing them and any other items of relevance into evidence bags under the scowling gaze of Napoleon Solo. Illya leaned casually against the doorjamb, and watched the frantic chaos, nodding as each agent left as quickly as possible, until only Emerson was left. After the agent was certain all evidence had been gathered from all rooms, he nodded briefly to Napoleon before making his way to the door. He gave Illya a consoling glance. "He will be absolute hell for you to handle tonight," he whispered before adding, more loudly, "I wish you fairer weather than I had.” He gave an oblivious Solo a reproachful gaze before heading out to the elevator.
 
Illya raised an eyebrow before closing the door and coding the alarm. He squared his shoulders and turned to face his partner, only to find him gone. Illya stalked down the hall to the bedroom and found Napoleon pulling out his suitcase. Without breaking stride, Illya walked over and pulled the suitcase out of Solo's hands and pointed to the bed. "Sit. Now.” His tone left no room for argument.
 
Solo cocked his head, regarded the Russian for a moment, contemplating just how angry Illya really was. "Illya, I–" He was cut off abruptly by Illya's sharp enjoinder of "Nyet" and the Russian's strong grip on his arm, pulling him to the bed, and shoving him down.
 
Before Solo could voice his indignation, Illya sat next to him and placed a restraining hand over his mouth. "This time you will listen to me.” Emotion shook him as he spoke and Napoleon merely nodded, too stunned by his partner's action to formulate words.
 
Illya slowly, regretfully, pulled his hand away, his appearance softening. "I understand why you do this. It makes sense to me now.” He glanced briefly down at his hands. "I have been almost as unreasonable as you.” The corner of his mouth curled up as he added, "Not quite, but almost.” Napoleon rewarded him with a small, somewhat sad smile. "I am meant to be helping you, not making things more difficult. Yet, that is what I have been doing. When this began, I told you I would be here for you, no matter what.” Illya quickly turned serious, locking gazes. "Do you believe New Delhi to be a trap?"
 
Solo didn't back down from the penetrating look, instead he drew strength from it, allowing him to scrutinize his partner just as completely. "Yes."
 
Illya let out a slow breath. "Kharasho. At least you still have that much sense."
 
Napoleon shot him a quelling look but made no reply.
 
Illya also remained silent, debating whether or not it was too soon to tell Napoleon of his findings.
 
As if he could read his thoughts, Solo gave him a searching look. "You've found something.” It was not a question.
 
The Russian growled in disgust. "Contrary to your assumptions, you cannot in fact read my mind."
 
Solo rolled his eyes. "A minor and arguable point that we can quibble over later. Spill, IK."
 
Illya sighed, resigned. "Very well. I sent inquiries to France. Inquiries into Marguerite's family as well as her aunt's physician."
 
Solo's expression was unreadable as he nodded for Kuryakin to continue.
 
"It was the logical place to start, Napoleon. And I did not wish to put you through an interrogation unless I had no other alternative."
 
The American's expression didn't change and his voice was devoid of any emotion. "What did you find, Illya.” Again, it was not a question.
 
"An agent from the field office in Paris was able to follow up several of the leads I'd requested. It seems Dr. Molyneux, Ms. DeChamps' physician, met his untimely demise in an auto accident two weeks ago."
 
Surprise flickered across his features and Illya was vaguely relieved to see emotion finally color those gaunt features.
 
"I also found that to be a very timely coincidence. But the most interesting piece to the puzzle was the interview with Julian's former wife, Michele LeSange.” Illya quizzed. "You knew her, did you not?"
 
Solo's expression was again inscrutable. "Yes, I knew her."
 
Illya's panic level was on the rise as he was completely unable to ascertain what thoughts were going around in his partner's mind. "I will let you read the transcripts of the conversations but she painted a most surprising portrait of Julian DeChamps. She said he was constantly trying to get money from the aunt and was most put out when she left it all to Marguerite. Do you know why she did this, Napoleon? Why she did not divide it equally between them?"
 
Without emotion, Solo replied, "Julian was rather a scoundrel, for want of a better word. Not really bad, but inclined in that direction. Any money he had went quickly through his fingers. Marguerite agreed with Marie. She would retain control of the estate until Julian proved he was ready for the responsibility. He never had the chance. He died shortly after."
 
Illya's brows drew together. "Michele said he was most bitter about it. Claims he told her more than once that he would get what was his."
 
Solo's expression was becoming more and more guarded with each word and Illya intently watched him while delivering this last piece of information. "Napoleon, she spoke of men that Julian had fallen in with. Rough men, men with connections. She knew the names of three of them. She called them 'le trois'. Richard, Roy and Roggio."
 
Solo's eyes went flat. "No. Goddammit, no!” He bolted off the bed, enraged.
 
Illya followed him. "Yes. Listen to me. He owed debts everywhere. He needed money. How he met these men, I do not know, yet. But he could not have foreseen that Marguerite would leave the wealth he so coveted to you. THRUSH wanted you, yes. But these men had a dual purpose that day. Don't you see? They would have killed her no matter what."
 
Napoleon was shaking, struggling to comprehend what Illya was telling him. He simply couldn't believe it. He leaned heavily against the wall, needing the solid support. His hands clenched tightly and his eyes closed as if that would block out the pain. He felt a warm hand hesitantly touch his shoulder and he stiffened. The hand withdrew quickly and Solo took several shaky breaths before he was able to turn around to face his partner's concerned gaze.
 
"What does this have to do with what's happening now? The bastard is dead. Beyond my reach and he sure as hell wouldn't call for revenge at her death if he were responsible for it.” Napoleon shook his head, confused. "No. It – there – he couldn't have."
 
Illya nodded warily. "I know this is hard for you to accept. I find it another inexplicable coincidence. It also supports my theory that this is the work of more than just one person. You must guard yourself every second in New Delhi, Napoleon."
 
Illya watched the play of emotions across his friend's face, wishing he could siphon some of the emotional torment that seemed to continue to batter the older man. He needed time to pull back and Illya, without hesitating, offered him the way. "What precautions will you take?"
 
Napoleon paused, not certain how to take the apparent reversal in his partner's thought process, let alone the sudden shift of topic. His brows drew together in confusion. "What's going on, Illya? One minute you're screaming at me for going and now you want to talk about what I should do when I'm there?"
 
Inwardly, Illya cursed. Apparently his partner was more together than he was. Nonchalantly, Illya shrugged and stood, pulling the abandoned suitcase on the bed, opening it, needing to do something to keep his hands from shaking. "You will go. Nothing I say can change this.” He turned, intending to go to the bureau and retrieve shirts to put in the case, but his partner's hand grasped his wrist tightly, pulling him back to stumble against the bed.
 
Napoleon's voice was harsh. "Not good enough, Illya. What game are you playing?"
 
Illya frowned, "I am playing no games, Napoleon. This is no game to me."
 
Solo cocked his head to the side. "Why do I get the feeling we're suddenly having two different conversations?"
 
Illya shrugged.
 
For the first time, concern colored Napoleon's voice. "Illya?"
 
The Russian crossed the room, moving toward the door. He spoke without turning to face his partner. "I will do what I have to do to keep you alive. Nothing and no one will prevent it. I will not allow it." Committed to what he'd begun, Illya turned and reached out his hand. He asked softly, "Do you trust me?"
 
Napoleon didn't move. Couldn't. Illya's absolute devotion to him took his breath. He looked to the hand held out to him and felt the confusion inside of him growing, cascading over each nerve, and threatening to break the constraints he'd placed on his emotions. Then he heard those last words so softly spoken and the constraints were obliterated.
 
His breath caught in his throat. "Always, Illya, always."
 
Napoleon almost lost himself in the heat Illya exuded. He could feel the love and passion, and he wanted so much to reach out and just touch that fire, knowing Illya would never burn him. He drew in a sharp breath, startled by his thoughts. Where had that come from? He shook his head, clearing his mind. Napoleon looked back again to find Illya studying him, as though able to read exactly what he was thinking. Without even knowing he'd done it, Napoleon crossed the room and reached out for Illya's hand, his eyes never leaving those of his partner.

888

Illya swore at the interruption and Napoleon shook his head as if dazed, and he started to make his way out of the bedroom to answer the door.
 
Illya had other ideas. "Nyet. Stay; pack. I will deal with it."
 
Solo raised a caustic eyebrow and quipped, "Are you planning to lock me in the room or will I be allowed out once your overworked protective nature is satisfied?"
 
Illya simply glared in return before turning on his heel to answer the door.
 
He muttered all the way down the hall as the bell rang. Illya looked through the peephole to find April Dancer, looking none too happy. He dropped his forehead to the door for a moment before unlocking and opening it. As she stepped over the threshold, he pulled her back out into the hall.
 
April was stunned. "Illya!”
 
He looked back into the room but still no sign of Napoleon. He sighed in relief before turning his attention back to the startled agent. "I am sorry, April. Napoleon has no idea. And if you are here from Waverly," he added questioningly.
 
She nodded, her expression hardening again. "Well, that's what Mr. Waverly thought. So instead of contacting Solo about his ass of a partner, I get dragged back out here. Are you insane? Quitting, Illya? Quitting? Did you even give a thought to what you were doing?” She shook her head and pulled out a slim silver pen and placed it in his hand before continuing. "Since you weren't answering yours, Uncle Alex thought maybe you would be in need of a new one in case something went wrong tonight. You broke it, didn't you?”
 
Illya didn't deign to answer.
 
April smiled knowingly. "Yeah, thought so. Now, Waverly has to meet with you and Solo at eight in the morning, so he strongly suggests you be there early, say seven."
 
Illya started to hand the communicator back to her with accompanying comments but she stopped him before he started. "No, Illya. You need to see him. In addition to calling you several colorful names I'd no idea he knew, he said to tell you 'option three has possibilities', whatever the hell that means.”
 
Illya was hard pressed to contain the thrill that went through him at her message. Yet he said nothing, his mind already running through several scenarios. He missed all April said until he heard her say his name in complete exasperation.
 
"Have you heard a word I've said?"
 
Illya merely raised an indignant brow in response.
 
She snorted in disgust and turned to leave only to turn back a second later, her expression serious. "You aren't the only one who cares what happens to him, Illya. Let the rest of us do our part. Leaving will not help.”
 
The Russian made no comment and for some reason she had to see him smile, had to know he was all right. "Besides, how the hell are you gonna yell at me and Mark tomorrow if you can't get in the building?"
 
Illya barked a laugh. "I would hate to lose such an opportunity."
 
April gave him a quick hug. "We'll see both of you in the morning."
 
Illya returned the hug. "Thank you. We'll be there."
 
April gave a wave over her head as she quickly left.
 
The Russian gripped the pen, not certain how to feel about it. His brows drew together as he placed the sleek instrument in the same pocket as the broken one.
 
He was still mulling over the conversation with April as he turned around to find Napoleon lounging against the wall and his heart nearly stopped. His partner looked furious. A look he seemed to be wearing too often the past two days. 
 
Napoleon's tone spoke volumes for that anger as he pinned his partner with a withering gaze. "Leaving?"
 
Illya squared his shoulders, knowing he was in for a tongue-lashing. "Can you bellow at me inside? I feel the need for vodka and a chair."
 
The older agent pushed away from the wall and walked inside leaving Illya to follow.
 
Napoleon was already at the bar. He handed Illya a glass of chilled vodka and a bourbon on ice for himself, needing something sustaining as well. Illya perched on the arm of the sofa, toying with his drink while Napoleon seemed content to merely lean against the bar.
 
"You have to stop this, Illya. Stop … sheltering me. It's only been two days and I swear you've done everything but try to wrap me cotton.” Napoleon knew he had to control his anger. But what made him most angry were the secrets. "I am tired of it. Tired of the secrets. From Waverly, April, Mark, but mostly from you."
 
The Russian started, surprised at the source of the American's anger.
"Napoleon, I – “
 
Solo cut him off quickly. "No, dammit. For two damn days my life has been turned inside out and everything dragged out for all to see. And if that isn't enough, I find out that my partner doesn't seem to trust me or my judgment anymore."
 
Illya drew in a sharp breath of denial. "Nyet! That is not so. I trust you in all things."
 
Solo's right eyebrow climbed in disbelief as he took a deep swallow of the strong liquid. "Is that so?"
 
Illya could tell Napoleon was speaking of something specific but until he knew what, he stayed silent. He couldn't keep the pained expression from his face, however, and his partner saw it.
 
Still, Napoleon chose to let it pass. He shrugged, waving off the unasked questions. His expression hardened. "So, Illya, you were leaving UNCLE because you wanted more free time? Or did you plan on doing some traveling?” He raised a hand to prevent the hasty answers and pulled his communicator out of his jacket pocket, eyeing it curiously. "Strange, don't you think? Mine works. Though it seems yours doesn't and Waverly sends April to give you a message … when I'm in the next room. Even a phone call was too dangerous. What would she do if I'd answered? Damn good thing I wasn't allowed to open my own front door isn't it? Tell me what part of this should not make me angry, Illya. I don't like being played for a fool."
 
Illya swallowed, gripping his glass tightly. Napoleon's voice was smooth and hard, laced with a dangerous edge that warned Illya that he'd best tread lightly. He flushed angrily as he realized Napoleon was right. He had been treating him as though he was incapable of taking care of himself. Napoleon wasn't foolish. He took risks, yes, too many, Illya felt, but never without cause. He toyed with his glass, the liquid inside untouched. "I do trust you. It was never my intention to … belittle your abilities, Napoleon. I do not doubt for an instant your capabilities. Nor does Waverly or the others. This I promise you.”
 
Napoleon gave nothing away, still closed off and silent.
 
An anguished groan tore free from Illya's throat and his fear found voice before he could stop it. "Don't you see? If something happens and I'm not there … Napoleon, I-I would not survive it! It is not about you. I have to be there! Just thinking about it—to have it happen …” Illya clenched his glass so tightly he was amazed it didn't crack and took several deep breaths in an attempt to pull himself together.
 
Napoleon saw the look of absolute fear on his partner's face and his heart lodged in his throat. Shock replaced anger and his strength almost left him as he listened to the wrenching admission from his normally stoic partner. Napoleon didn't know what was worse, Illya's confession or the fact that he couldn't – wouldn't – admit to the same. Illya's bravery showed up in the oddest ways sometimes and it never ceased to amazed Napoleon how much Illya trusted him with moments such as this. Napoleon drank down the amber liquid and let the warmth of it wash over him before he was able to focus on his partner. His expression softened and he was filled with concern at the sight of his friend in such pain. Without realizing how, he managed to walk over to him.
 
Illya felt warm hands cover his, pulling the glass from him and setting it down. He clenched his hands tightly, not looking up. Napoleon's hands reached for his again, uncurling them, holding them tightly. He gasped at the sensation and looked up to find warm, gentle eyes watching him. Napoleon pulled one hand to his chest, holding it gently. "Ah, Illya, what am I going to do with you?"
 
Illya's heart skipped several beats as he felt the strong heart beating under his palm and he seemed suddenly incapable of speech. Fortunately, Napoleon seemed to understand and pulled Illya to his feet. "It's late. We both have an early day tomorrow and it has been a rather harrowing day for both of us. So I think it's time for all little Uncles to go to bed. I think you still have some of your things in the guest room from last time you stayed, yes?"
 
Illya only nodded, relishing the feel of those strong hands still holding his.
 
Not knowing why he did it, but not questioning it, Napoleon pressed a small kiss to the palm of Illya's pale hand. Illya's breathing hitched as Napoleon gently released both of his hands. The dark eyes filled with confusion at his own actions and he pulled away abruptly.
 
"Ah, goodnight, Illya."
 
He turned and retreated to the master bedroom and shut the door leaving Illya standing stunned in the middle of the room. He raised his hand to his lips and ran his tongue over the spot Napoleon kissed. He drew in a shuddering breath as his desire grew strong enough to have visible effects. No one and nothing had ever had such an effect on him. He wrapped his arms around himself and shakily made his way to the guest room, wondering what those intimate gestures meant to Napoleon, for they had meant the world to him. He pushed open the door and closed it slowly before falling across the bed, letting his memory replay the last few minutes over and over and over.

----------------

No matter how hard Napoleon tried to concentrate on what was being said his mind continued to replay the events of last night. He still could not comprehend why he had done that. He had kissed Illya. Granted, it was only his hand, but he, Napoleon had initiated contact. He was dumbfounded. Never in his life had he even considered a man as a possible sexual partner.
 
He shook his head. Is that what he considered Illya? He never had before. But from the moment he'd realized his partner had romantic feelings for him, he couldn't stop seeing him from a completely different perspective. The real problem was he wasn't sure he liked that perspective. Napoleon couldn't deal with it now. Too many revelations and too many emotions. He couldn't sort out which were his, except for one. His hand wandered down his shirt and felt the outline of the ring resting against his heart. All he knew for certain was that the anger belonged solely to him.
 
Mr. Waverly's dry voice called for his attention. "Mr. Solo? Is our conversation boring you?"
 
Solo shifted guiltily in his chair, before looking across to see his partner watching him quizzically. He sighed and turned his attention back to the man on the other side of the large desk. "Not at all. Illya had already informed me of his findings last night."
 
Waverly regarded him from underneath bushy brows. "Well, as you were the one who insisted on accompanying Mr. Kuryakin to this early briefing, I would assume you could manage to keep your mind in the here and now, Mr. Solo."
 
Solo replied blithely, "I think that could be arranged."
 
Kuryakin could not prevent a snort of laughter and cleared his throat in an attempt to cover the sound.
 
Alex Waverly leaned back in his chair. He gave a long-suffering sigh and directed, "Can we get back to the business at hand?"
 
Both agents merely nodded in reply.
 
"Good.” Waverly directed his next comments to his CEA. "I've spoken with Mr. Samoy and briefed him on what has occurred here. He was most distressed at the turn of events and is displeased with what's been happening here. More and more it appears that Mr. Gabal's murder is part of a premeditated scheme directed towards you, Mr. Solo."
 
Solo's eyes flashed angrily. "It doesn't thrill me much, either. He was a good man."
 
Waverly remained unruffled. "At ease, Mr. Solo. No one is accusing you. Unfortunately, Mr. Samoy did attempt to talk to the witness and asked him what part he played in setting the trap that had killed Mr. Gabal. It seems he also questioned him about his knowledge of what has been happening to Mr. Solo no doubt in an effort to provoke a response. It was not successful."
 
Illya sat up, shocked. "He gave information to a possible accomplice?"
 
Solo merely shook his head as Waverly replied somewhat sharply. "Yes. And he is well aware that he may have caused a security breach. He told me immediately afterwards but the damage, if any, will already have been done. Still, the gentleman in question, whose name we finally know, Mr. Risvan Sarikaya, has had no outside contact. He denies any knowledge of participation. But again, reiterated that he would say no more, unless it was to our Mr. Solo here.” Waverly gave Solo a searching glance. "Does the name bring anything to mind?"
 
Solo's brows drew together as he searched his memory for several moments before shaking his head slowly. "Do we have any information on his family? Contacts?"
 
Waverly held out a file for Solo which the CEA immediately began scanning. "All the information we have on the Sarikaya family is in here," he tapped the file, "as of yet, no connection has been made to you, Mr. Solo.” He turned his attention to Kuryakin as Solo continued to peruse the file.
 
"Mr. Kuryakin, what news from Mr. Emerson?"
 
Illya scowled. "Nothing of any use. His team worked through the night but found nothing useful. The copy paper was common issue. No unusual chemicals used in the replication of the … photos. A team did come and change Napoleon's security system and the technicians are still checking all activity on the old one to see if the codes used could be traced back to any specific person or location. The only point of interest was that these were older codes. Still active but rarely used. Emerson is having those codes purged as well as updating all access codes so that only current codes remain active. If anyone were to attempt this again, the system would not acknowledge the code."
 
Waverly harrumphed. "Very well.” He gave Kuryakin a hard look. "Now, I believe we have a discussion to finish."
 
Solo cocked his head to the side, wanting to see his partner's reaction. He wasn't disappointed.
 
Illya flushed. "Yes, sir."
 
Napoleon grinned. "Yes, Illya. I believe you said something about leaving?"
 
Illya shot Napoleon a caustic look. "Don't you have someplace you have to be?"
 
Solo gave him a wicked smile. "Not at present."
 
Kuryakin glared but didn't deign to reply. Waverly did. "Much as I enjoy listening to the two of you," he said dryly, "I have other things to do. I think we've covered everything you need, Mr. Solo. I'll be in contact with you throughout the day but for now, leave."
 
Solo's eyes danced with amusement. "I can tell when I'm not wanted.” He grinned at his boss. "Time for me to go.”
 
He gave Illya a conspiratorial wink as he gathered his files. Before he got to the door, he turned back, addressing his partner. "Come to my office afterwards, Illya. I need to go over some things with you before I leave."
 
Illya shook his head. "I have to meet with the UN detail, Napoleon, but I'll see you after that.” Napoleon nodded and waved his farewell to both men and the door slid closed behind him.
 
Before Illya could utter a word, Waverly pinned him with a stern look. "I will not tolerate such insubordination from you again."
 
Kuryakin bristled. "Sir—"
 
Waverly held out a hand. "Don't even bother. Your resignation is not acceptable at this time.” He relented slightly. "I do understand your motives. And were I in your position, I can't say that I wouldn't react the same. But I am not. Mr. Solo is not. There is no argument that can supersede duty.”
 
The Russian gripped the arms of his chair as he said the one thing, the one reason he couldn't just walk away. "He is my partner."
 
Waverly gave no outward reaction but studied the irascible man across from him. Finally, he sighed. "Had you not been so rash last evening, this conversation would have begun on a more agreeable note."
 
Illya took the rebuke without a single regret, knowing he would do it again without a second thought.
 
The older man puffed his pipe and continued. "As it happens, I think you are correct on this issue."
 
Illya leaned forward, his expression guarded. Before he could ask whether or not he'd heard his boss correctly, Waverly added, "And your doppelganger is in fact here and fully briefed."
 
Kuryakin rested his forearms on his thighs as he contemplated this unexpected occurrence. Although he couldn't deny the growing curiosity Illya remained wary as he asked, "Who?"


Chapter Text

Solo propped his feet up on his desk to keep them still. He had managed to clear off his desk, since he hated coming back from an assignment to a backlog. He grinned wickedly as he thought - that's why he had a partner. He was overwhelmed with curiosity about Illya and Uncle Alex's conversation. It would be interesting to see just how Waverly would get around his partner's mother instincts. Solo laughed out loud. His intercom claimed his attention and he clicked it open. "Yes, Nancy?"
 
"Napoleon, records just brought down the files on New Delhi personnel as well as a sealed file. Do you want me to put them in the kit for the flight or do you want to hand carry?"
 
Solo lifted a dark brow in interest. "Best bring them in, Nancy. If I want them in the kit, I'll get them back to you in time. Solo out."
 
Within a few minutes, Nancy knocked on his door before walking in with the files. She smiled as she walked over to his desk and handed him the files. "Here you are, boss. I'm off to lunch, so anything that comes in while I'm gone will be routed through communications."
 
He nodded his acknowledgment and gave her a jaunty wink. "I still say you should leave Tom. The things we could do together," he added with a sigh.
 
She laughed. "You are truly hopeless.” As she walked back to the door, a wicked gleam flashed in her eyes. She quipped, "It's a good thing I happen to love you dearly and can overlook your more hormonal moments."
 
Napoleon chuckled. "You wound me. Truly. The things I put up with from you."
 
She blew him a kiss and closed the door behind her.
 
Solo was still grinning as he broke the seal on the file. His amusement quickly faded when he realized the note attached to the file was written in French. Before reading it, he scanned the file, finding it also written in that language. With a sick feeling in his gut, he quickly did mental translations. The sick feeling was replaced with a morbid curiosity and he pulled out his communicator and opened the channel. "Solo, here. I need Kuryakin."
 
The operator acknowledged and shortly he heard the familiar voice filter in.
 
"Kuryakin."
 
"Illya. You available yet?"
 
"Yes. I was, in fact, on my way to your office.” Napoleon could hear the question in the statement and smiled.
 
"Well, don't let me stop you. I've something of," he hesitated briefly, "interest here. See you in a few. Solo out."
 
While he waited, he read through the file and was more puzzled as he read. Again, he pulled out his communicator and activated the channel.
 
"Solo here. I need central records."
 
He drummed his fingers on the desk as he waited and was interrupted by his empty stomach reminding him it was past lunchtime and that skipping breakfast had not been such a good choice. He smiled ruefully as he realized his next meal would probably be in New Delhi.
 
Napoleon's office door opened and his partner walked in, as usual not bothering to knock. Before he had a chance to make a sarcastic comment about that, he was patched through to central records.
 
"Central records. Reeves, here."
 
Illya cast a quizzical glance to his partner as he sat down. Napoleon pointed to the file on his desk as he responded. "Solo, here. I need to know who pulled a file for me. It was sealed and arrived with the New Delhi packet. I also need to know just where it came from and I need it an hour ago. And a response of 'I don't know' will not qualify. I need that information.” Solo's tone left no room for doubt that he meant what he said.
 
"Ah, yes, sir. I'll have it for you within- that is, I'll find out for you now, Mr. Solo."
 
Illya grinned at the nervous reply. His partner certainly was making a habit of intimidating people these days.
 
Solo shook his head and with, "Solo out," he closed the communicator.
 
Illya pointed at the file in question. "Is that the reason you are terrorizing the clerical staff?"
 
Napoleon gave Illya a wicked smile. "I do not terrorize. I simply motivate others to rapid action under extreme duress when necessary. It's in the fine print of my job description."
 
Illya snorted and felt some of his tension ease at his partner's barbed reply. He sat back and waited; he didn't have to wait long.
 
Solo let out a frustrated sigh. "This thing is getting stranger by the hour.” He cocked his head to the side, a thoughtful expression on his face as he focused on the Russian across from him.
 
"More questions.” He dropped the file on his desk but Illya made no move to retrieve it, letting the older agent tell it his own way.
 
"Questions, Napoleon?"
 
"Yes, my dear Russian, questions. This file is a complete dossier on Julian, including a rather extensive list of known associates. Now, I'll admit that UNCLE must have files on all the DeChampses. But I thought they were in your greedy little hands right now."
 
Illya sat up, blond brows drawing together in consternation. "As they were when last I checked."
 
Solo held up a hand, halting him from checking that fact. "I think they still are. This one is entirely in French. And came with a note, also in French."
 
He handed the note over to Illya as he continued. "I don't know what to make of it. It doesn't have the same tone as the other – gifts."
 
Illya read the note aloud, translating as he went: 
"Gabal was not as he seemed. Read between the lines.
If all else fails – remember this:
"And well do vanished frowns enhance,
The charms of every brightened glance,
And dearer seems each dawning smile;
And happier now for all her sights
For having lost its light a while;
And on his arm her head reposes
She whispers him with longing eyes
"Remember, love, the feast of roses."
 
Illya arched a disbelieving eyebrow. "Poetry? I must say, Napoleon, the dossiers you receive are much more entertaining than the ones I am handed."
 
Solo wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. "I must be living right."
 
Kuryakin made a sound of disgust. "Somehow I find that difficult to believe.” He became quickly serious as he re-read the note. "I do not recognize the passage. It is poetry, da?"
 
Napoleon nodded. "I don't remember the name of it but it's by Thomas Moore, I think. It was written about a seventeenth century Emperor, Jehangir making up with his queen after a nasty quarrel. The reconciliation happened in the Shalimar Bagh. Though I can't guess at the relevance of that to this."
 
Kuryakin regarded his partner with an emotion between wonder and shock. "Sometimes you amaze me, my friend."
 
Solo winked in reply. "Well, contrary to popular opinion, I am neither ignorant nor illiterate."
 
Illya's eyes flashed quicksilver. "I never thought any such thing."
 
Napoleon gave him a small smile. "I never said you did.” Before Illya could inquire further, Napoleon turned his attention back to the file. "What do you make of it, Illya?"
 
The Russian wrinkled his nose in distaste. "I think you are correct. This is not from the same source as the other items. But, Napoleon, what is this place you mentioned?"
 
The American shrugged and shook his head, searching his memory. "Shalimar Bagh. It's something of an architectural wonder. It's been called 'the Gardens of the Great Mughals'. The gardens are on the outskirts of Old Delhi. It's been years since I've seen them and they were in an advanced state of decay then. Even so, they are still an amazing sight.”
 
Illya pursed his lips, turning the note over in his hands. "I have heard of them. Though never have I read the prose before.” He gave a knowing look to the dark-haired man. "This is also someone who knows you. Else how could they know you could make such an obscure connection?"
 
Solo agreed. "So it would appear.” He sighed. "Though I find it a bit unsettling that they do."
 
The Russian cocked his head and chewed on his bottom lip. "I am wondering, though. How could this person know this? I did not know this. How could they be so certain that this passage would be one you would know?"
 
Napoleon laced his fingers behind his head and propped his feet up on the desk. "I spent a great deal of time in India several years ago. Gabal and I worked together on several affairs. Nothing even remotely connected to this. But, well, the gardens were a favored spot to bring lovely ladies. After the first time there, I became interested in the history of them. I was pretty open about my interest in anything concerning the gardens. Anyone from that time would probably remember."
 
Illya felt a surge of jealousy at the warm look on Napoleon's face at the mention of his lovely ladies but he quickly squelched it. "Well, that just leaves over half the population of India to question. I am relieved you make things so simple as always."
 
Solo grinned, "I try."
 
Illya snorted. "Had you tried with fewer this might be easier."
 
Solo laughed aloud. "Think of it as a challenge."
 
Illya rolled his eyes in response.
 
Napoleon checked his watch. "Well, until we hear from records," he paused spearing his partner with the mischievous glance, "care to fill me in on what Uncle Alex had to say after kicking me out of his office?” He grinned wickedly.
 
Kuryakin scowled. "You are enjoying this far too much."
 
Unrepentant, Solo replied, "True. Very true."
 
Illya simply continued to scowl replying, "I am sorry to disappoint you but I was in no way sanctioned nor was I reprimanded. Not really."
 
Before Solo could ask another question, his communicator chirped. "Now we find out about our mystery, I hope," he said as he pulled out his communicator.
 
"Solo."
 
"Reeves, here, sir.”
 
There was a pause and Solo knew what he was about to hear and he swore. "Dammit, how does a file get put in a packet without being put there by someone?"
 
Illya could almost hear the poor man cringe and felt a moment's pity, having himself been on the receiving end of the CEA's temper.
 
"Sir, Deborah Sands pulled the file on New Delhi personnel. Nothing in the material she pulled was sealed. She handed the packet to a courier and he says he really didn't pay attention to the contents. He had a stack of things to deliver and this was simply one of them. Anyone could have added it to his cart when he was dropping off to the offices. Sir, do you want me to contact security about it?"
 
Napoleon dropped his head to his desk and shook it, disbelievingly.
 
Had the situation not been a serious one, Illya would have laughed at his friend's frustration. As it was, the corners of his mouth curved. He pulled the communicator from Solo's unresisting hand. "Kuryakin, here. Yes, do contact security. Give it to Emerson and have him contact Waverly with it."
 
The relief from Reeves was palpable. "Yes, sir. Gladly, sir. Reeves, out."
 
Illya set Solo's communicator on his desk. "You do generate a great deal of work for UNCLE these days, Napoleon."
 
The dark head lifted, disgust still firmly coloring the features. "Well, at least it gives them job security," he quipped.
 
The Russian grinned and glanced at his watch and swore, "Govno, I am late.” He stood quickly making his way to the door. "I am sorry, Napoleon but I really must go."
 
Solo let out an exasperated sound and called out, "Late for what? Illya?"
 
Kuryakin was already half out the door. "I will be back here by one-thirty.” He called out, "Da svidaniya," as he closed the door behind him, heedless of the effect on his partner.
 
Solo watched the door close in disbelief and muttered to himself, "Goddamn Russian brat. Can he just once even pretend that I'm his boss?” He growled in irritation before shaking his head as amusement surpassed frustration. At least his partner was never dull. With that thought, he picked up the personnel files for the New Delhi office and two lines from the note flickered through his mind. 'Gabal was not as he seemed. Read between the lines.’ He gave his full concentration to the information in front of him. "Between the lines, eh? Well, I'll just have to do that."
 
----------
 
Illya made it to his office just in time to see Dancer and Slate round the corner. He waved them into the office and closed the door behind them.
Without preamble he said, "There has been another development."
 
Dancer and Slate exchanged glances as they sat across from Kuryakin. April spoke up first. "What happened, Illya?"
 
"A note. A warning. Neither Napoleon nor I think it is from the same source as the other items. Whether or not that is good or bad, remains to be seen. Emerson has been called in to check on the source. The file was delivered with other information for the New Delhi kit."
 
Before either agent could offer a response, the Russian got straight to the reason he'd called for the meeting. "There cannot be a repeat of what happened last night. Not only did you place the person in your protection in danger, it was unprofessional. And as the person in question is my partner, I take great exception to your gross lack of judgment.” His spoke with restrained anger. "I want assurances it will not happen again or I will see to it that you both get assignments in Siberia for the next year."
 
Both agents squirmed under the scrutiny. Mark patted his partner's arm before giving a reply. "We botched it, mate. We know that. We weren't expecting anything yet.” He met the cold expression directly. "It won't happen again. You have my word. We don't like what happened any more than you."
 
Illya studied the pair in front of him, deciding whether or not he could trust them with the life that was more precious to him than his own.
 
April seemed to sense this and spoke up, tentatively. "Illya, trust us. No one, no one can watch your partner's back the way you can. That's what partners do. But right now, until you can get there, Napoleon simply has two extra partners."
 
Kuryakin nodded but he was not satisfied. Nothing would satisfy him until he could oversee Solo's safety himself. 
 
Slate pulled Illya out of his musings. "Any idea how long 'til you join us in India?"
 
For the first time, Illya smiled – a very mysterious smile which made the two agents opposite him very nervous.
 
Mark cocked an eyebrow, curiosity winning out over the more dire implications. "Illya?"
 
He sank back in his chair. "As a matter of fact, yes. I do.” He leaned forward. "Let me tell you of my conversation with Uncle Alex."

                                          888

No matter how many times he read it, nothing connected for him. No name, place, date or face. Two things made him uneasy. The man was young, not yet thirty. Very young to have already reached full diplomatic honors. And the fact that the Turkish government seemed perfectly willing to let him stay in protective custody, for an unknown length of time. Nothing connected. There were too many puzzle pieces but few fit together.

No matter how many ways he looked at it, he still couldn't find the link he knew was there. And Gabal. Napoleon pursed his lips in consternation. He had an uneasy feeling about it. 'Gabal was not as he seemed'. The line repeated over and over in his brain. Something about that resonated but he couldn't reach it. He slammed his hand on his desk in frustration and stood rapidly, needing to pace. After two circuits, the dark corners of his mind were lit with a blinding light and he ran back to his desk, throwing papers aside until he found what he was looking for. He scanned the report on Gabal's death and sank slowly in his chair as he saw it. 'Identification was confirmed by dental records as the body was too badly burned to be recognizable'.

Solo swallowed thickly. Gabal was not as he seemed. If there was one thing Napoleon trusted, it was his instincts. Gabal was alive. Solo could feel it in his bones. And if that were true, he was either a prisoner or an accomplice. Neither option sat well with him.

Before he could delve further, the door to his office opened and his partner strolled in, closed the door behind him and dropped tiredly onto the sofa. He closed his eyes, commenting wearily, "I hope this is over soon or I will request permanent assignment to the labs. I do not like doing your job." Not able to resist needling his partner, he added, "Even though I do it better."

He heard his partner snort derisively in reply but no other comment. He opened inquiring eyes and leaned forward, troubled by the worried look on Solo's face. "Napoleon?"

Solo rose wearily, file in hand and sat next to Illya. He leaned back and handed the file to Illya who took it and read it, more puzzled than before. "Ah, Napoleon, I've read the report on Gabal's murder."

Napoleon turned his head, locking gazes with his partner. "Gabal was not as he seemed. That's what the note said. He's alive, Illya."

Illya had learned long ago to trust his partner's unerringly accurate instincts and this was no exception. "That would mean …"

Napoleon nodded. "Let's keep that between us for now, though. At least until we have something more substantial than my gut instincts and a variety of new possibilities."

Illya shook his head and dropped the file on the floor. "Which hypothesis are you leaning toward?"

Solo shook his head. "I've known Amhet for years. I've worked with him and trusted him to watch my back in some sticky situations and he never once let me down." He heaved a deep regretful sigh and continued. "So why do I have this unshakable feeling that he's not an innocent bystander in this? What could be his motive? It makes no sense. I would never have thought him capable of what I'm sitting here accusing him of with absolutely no evidence to support it." He ran a frustrated hand through his hair.

Illya snorted. "My friend, I'll take your instincts over most people's facts any day."

As he had hoped, the comment lightened the mood and Napoleon flashed him a quick grin. "Thanks, partner. Nice to know you don't think I'm nuts. Either that or you're just as crazy as I am."

Illya snorted disdainfully. "Neither of those options speak well of me. And I never said I thought you sane."

Solo laughed out loud and gripped Illya's shoulder. "You do know how to make a person feel loved."

Illya laughed, reached up and wrapped his fingers around the hand resting on his shoulder. The strong fingers returned the gesture, strengthening the touch, sending a vibration through Illya's entire body.

He turned his head and sucked in a sharp breath when he found Napoleon watching him intently. Illya was awe-struck as he watched his partner's features shift from amusement to something he couldn't recognize. But there was no denying Illya's reaction to it. It took his breath and inflamed him. Without conscious thought, Illya leaned in closer, losing himself in his partner's attractions.

He could feel Napoleon's warm breath on his cheek and leaned closer still. Napoleon's grip on his hand was painful but he hadn't moved or pulled away. His heart filled, knowing what it was taking for Napoleon to let him do this, to take this chance. And take it Illya would. His eyes glazed and a breathy moan escaped him as his lips touched Napoleon's.

A jolt went through Napoleon's body when Illya's lips touched his. He'd never felt this before and still didn't really understand what 'it' was. But he trusted Illya. And cared for him deeply, too deeply perhaps. So he let Illya kiss him, trusting his partner to keep him from falling.

Illya's free hand slowly traced the contours of his face, sending shivers down Napoleon's spine. He had to fight not to pull away; this was so foreign to him and yet, as Illya moved closer to him Napoleon felt loved. So much so that when Illya's tongue licked at his lips, he hardly hesitated before parting his lips and for the first time, kissed Illya back, letting that warm wet tongue tantalize the recesses of his mouth.

Illya's head was spinning. He never knew anything could feel so good, could taste so good. He was lost the moment Napoleon opened to him, molding his lips to Illya's in a breathless kiss. Illya's tongue mingled with Napoleon's and Illya rose up on his knees, pulling Napoleon with him, needing to feel the other man's body against him.

Napoleon gasped into Illya's mouth when he felt Illya's arousal pressed against his thigh. He hadn't thought about that part of it and the reality of what he was doing crashed down on him.

He pulled away so quickly he and Illya both tumbled to the floor. Napoleon got to his feet, breathing hard, overwhelmed by how much he was feeling. But what had shocked him into motion was the fact that he had been aroused by it. By Illya.

Illya was panting; his gaze following Napoleon's back as he walked around his desk, facing the window. He stood slowly, willing his body back under control but it was hard to do. He had felt it. Felt Napoleon's reaction hard against him. Illya smiled as he walked slowly around to stand next to his partner.

Napoleon's arms were crossed tightly over his chest and it looked to Illya as though he was trying to keep everything he was feeling trapped inside him.

Before Illya could ask, Solo's communicator sounded, causing both men to jump. Solo reached inside his jacket, pulled out the suddenly offensive object and snapped it open. He barked. "Solo."

"Am I interrupting you, Mr. Solo?" came Waverly's dry voice.

Napoleon swore under his breath and gave Illya a quick glance before answering more calmly. "No sir. Just discussing some – issues with Mr. Kuryakin."

Illya's eyes narrowed and he leaned back against the wall, still unsure as to what was going on in his partner's head.

"Is everything ready, Mr. Solo? You depart in ninety minutes."

Solo looked hard at his partner. "Yes, sir. Dancer and Slate are seeing about the equipment and checking out the plane with a fine tooth comb, I believe."

Waverly's voice was clipped. "Precautions, Mr. Solo. Necessary precautions. I want regular contact once you land. Any deviation from schedule will find you dealing with Section Six."

Illya smirked at the look of disbelief on his partner's face. "Ah, yes, sir. Regular contact."

Waverly seemed satisfied. "Very good, Mr. Solo. Oh, and Mr. Kuryakin, see that he does not miss his flight."

Illya leaned over when Napoleon held up the pen and answered, "Yes, sir."

"Waverly out."

Solo slowly recapped the instrument, his look pensive. Illya could see his mind whirling and waited. Again, he wasn't disappointed.

Napoleon leaned against the wall, facing his partner. "Okay. All day I've had the feeling something's going on that I don't know about. And now I know it. What have you and Uncle Alex been concocting?"

Illya grinned. "Russians do not concoct, Napoleon. I cannot imagine what you mean."

The CEA pushed off the wall and slowly advanced on his partner, who was starting to slowly back away. "Illya …"

The Russian backed away in mock terror. "Now, Napoleon, if you kill me how will I see to it that you do not miss your flight?"

Napoleon sighed in resignation. "Brat."

Illya held out his right hand. "I am a trained spy. I will not break under such extreme pressure, not even if you pull out my fingernails."

Solo slapped the hand down, exasperated. His demeanor changed suddenly, concern coloring his features. "Illya, just promise me it's not something that puts you at risk. I need to know that." Need filled each word, turning a calm request into a declaration.

Illya's eyes softened, hearing the absolute truth in those simple words. Ah, Napoleon, he thought, you don't even realize it yet do you? How much you love me. I hope you see it soon, dushka. Aloud he answered honestly. "No more than usual."

Napoleon scrutinized his partner's face and after several moments, his expression went flat. "You're going to New Delhi."

Illya's expression didn't change but he inwardly cursed those unerring instincts of his partner's that only minutes ago he had been praising.

Solo turned away from him but Illya could feel the anger growing. "Napoleon?"

The CEA waved him off without turning. "No." Illya drew back at the sharp and bitter tone in that one word. "Dancer and Slate must know as well. That's where you rushed off to earlier." Napoleon quickly turned to his desk and gathered up all the files before walking past the confused Russian to retrieve the file Illya had put on the floor. He never once looked at his partner. He couldn't.

Everything was out of control. And now it seemed even Waverly thought him so unable to manage things that he was allowing Illya to blow off the UN assignment. Solo was absolutely humiliated. All of this revolved around him and he was the only one who didn't know what the hell was going on. His hand clenched around the folders and he turned back to the desk to retrieve his briefcase.

Illya watched him in confused silence. He literally didn't know what to do. The past few days the American's moods were random and extreme. The Russian never knew which one he would be faced with at any given time. It was starting to wear on him. Still, he held his tongue, knowing that anything he said would only make things worse. So he waited, keeping in mind the emotional ordeal his partner was going through. And suddenly, he knew.

He reached out and snagged his partner's arm, forcing Napoleon to face him. "Nyet. No. Why do you suddenly doubt yourself so much?"

Solo's expression didn't change but he didn't pull away.

Illya shook him in exasperation. "Why? Can you not see that – that just because your life is valuable to me – to us – does not mean you are not capable?" Illya reached up, tilting Napoleon's head, needing to see his eyes. "No one, not Waverly, not Dancer or Slate and certainly not I believe this. Why must you see the worst?"

Napoleon scowled but made no comment.

Illya growled in frustration and slammed his palm against the wall. His entire body shook with anger. "Answer me. I grow very tired of being your emotional punching bag."

That got a reaction, more than he expected. The American's hand lashed out, gripped his arm, dragged him to the sofa and shoved him down. Illya sat there, stunned and watched as Napoleon stood over him, smoldering with rage.

Napoleon found it hard to speak, managing no more than a hoarse whisper. "What do you expect? Three days, Illya, three days." He sank down next to his partner, forearms resting on thighs, his head bowed, hiding his anguished expression. "I haven't – felt – in a long time. And now … I'm feeling too much. She died for me, Illya. Whether the motives were as you suspect or not, in her mind, it was to save me." He leaned back, suddenly drained of everything. "I'm tired, Illya. And I just don't know what to think anymore."

Illya grasped the other man's hand, offering support and warmth from the emotional storm he could feel brewing. "Tell me, Napoleon. It will be better if you let it go."

Solo turned an intense gaze on him. "Will it, Illya?" He spared a glance at their joined hands before returning to the blue depths that reflected such openness and absolute trust that Napoleon thought he might cry with the beauty of it. "Don't you understand? I can't go through it again." Pain filled his voice as he whispered, "I can't, Illya."

Illya wanted so much to wrap his friend in a protective embrace and never let go. He was willing to do anything to take that pain from him forever, if only Napoleon would let him. If only. So Illya did the only thing he could. He raised their joined hands and pressed a gentle kiss to Napoleon's fingers ignoring his startled gasp. Illya put everything he was into four simple words. "I love you, Napoleon."

Napoleon felt his heart clench at the strength of those words. He didn't flinch from it or back away. He closed his eyes and let it wash over him, allowing himself to feel it. And when he did, his world spun out of control. Visions swam before him, blinding him with bright flashes. Visions of his wife. Her smile, her laugh, her touch. The very essence of her. The absolute devotion and passion she had for him. She had anchored him, grounded him in a way he'd never known before. Only he'd never realized just how he'd drifted without her.

His mind flashed again, sending a shock through his body. He wasn't drifting anymore. And hadn't been since Illya came into his life.

                                            888

His eyes shot open to find Illya watching him, protecting him, waiting for him. His vision blurred and he was forced to look away as images overwhelmed him. Only this time, images of Illya. His fierceness, his devotion, his passion. Illya had grounded him just as surely as Marguerite had. Only differently. He could feel Illya's touch, so caring, so gentle, and yet firm at the same time. Illya managed to touch that part of him that he'd thought lost with his wife. No one had made him feel worthy of being loved in a very long time. All he had to do was be strong enough to reach out and accept it.
 
His grip on Illya's hand tightened as he pulled back. He laced their fingers together and smiled a sad smile, reluctant to break the spellbinding silence of discovery. "Illya - I don't - ah, hell."
 
Butterflies took flight in Illya's stomach as Napoleon laced their fingers together, studying their joined hands. "This is difficult for me, Illya."
 
Illya smiled. "I know, dushka. I do not expect anything. Not yet," the Russian qualified, softly.
 
Napoleon cocked an eyebrow, slightly amused. "I'm relieved to hear it."
 
Illya felt the butterflies float up to lodge in his throat at the droll comment. He swallowed around them. "Will you trust us? We have a plan in place. It is risky but it could work. But it is imperative that I am still believed to be in New York.” His expression darkened as he added, "Though I am deeply disturbed that you will still have to make yourself a target."
 
Solo shrugged his shoulders. "Better me than you."
 
Illya's eyes narrowed shrewdly. "Is that what this is about? You are concerned for me?"
 
Napoleon's hand tightened around Illya's and emotion colored his words. "Once was enough. I don't want someone else that I care for dying for me.” He pulled Illya closer. "I couldn't go through it again, Illya.” He pleaded. "I couldn't."
 
Illya was too overcome to speak and he felt tears threatening as he pulled Napoleon into a fierce embrace.
 
They held each other for several minutes before Illya spoke thickly, his breath warm on Solo's throat. "Do you think it is any easier for me?"
 
Napoleon pulled out of the embrace and stood slowly, his back to Illya. "I didn't know. I really didn't.” He turned and held out a hand; Illya slipped his into it. "How soon will you arrive?"
 
Illya caressed the hand holding his and sighed. "The same time you do.” He stood. "I will be traveling with you, April and Mark.” He bowed quickly. "Meet the co-pilot for your flight, sir."
 
Solo groaned. "I thought you were trying to keep me alive, not kill me yourself."
 
Kuryakin shot him a dark look. "Co-pilot only and I can fly a plane. As for wanting to kill you," Illya stepped right up to Napoleon and pulled the startled man into full body contact and whispered, "I can think of better uses for you alive.” He stepped back quickly, breaking contact; a smirk on his face at the stunned look on his partner's normally refined features.
 
Napoleon recovered quickly and grinned. "Touché. That'll teach me to remember your bite really is worse than your bark."
 
Illya scowled but made no comment; inwardly thrilled that Napoleon had taken the comment and the touch as a new facet to their ever-evolving relationship.
 
The CEA felt a strong need to reassert his authority and walked around his desk. He leaned against it as he asked, "The UN assignment. Who's in charge?” He raised a hand to forestall Illya's attempts at subterfuge. "No. If you don't tell me, I go straight to Waverly. I've worked for weeks on security for that as you know. I will not have that compromised because you want to be my hero."
 
Kuryakin knew this was coming. Napoleon could no more stop being who he was than he could stop breathing. Illya smiled. Strangely enough, he found that comforting just now.
 
"Do you remember Nicholas Amsted?"
 
Solo's eyebrows rose. "How on earth did Waverly get him? He resigned, what, three years ago?"
 
Kuryakin grinned. "Yes, and coincidentally enough, he bears a striking resemblance to me. And for the duration, will be me. Seems he remembers that little favor you did him in Geneva and was quite happy to get back in the game to assist."
 
Solo snorted as he sat behind his desk. "He was an excellent CEA. I don't know why the Nairobi office let him leave and join the Wall Street crowd. What a dramatic change of pace that must be.” Napoleon grinned and continued, "Anyway, their Chief is getting on and Nick was the perfect choice to replace him. Now they're having to do some serious reorganization to find someone anywhere near his level of qualification.” The CEA grinned wickedly. "And yes, he does owe me for Geneva.” He leaned back in his chair. "And not for taking a bullet for him but for keeping quiet about just how easily a certain woman caught him. Talk about thinking with the wrong head.”
 
Illya laughed out loud as he moved to lean over Napoleon's desk. "That is something you know about yourself, Napoleon."
 
Solo shot him a scathing look before checking the time. "It's time to go. So, finish this up. Nick is coming in. What's next?"
 
Illya hitched his right hip on the desk and folded his arms. "No, he is here already. I met with him and Uncle Alex, after you were ejected from Waverly's office. He is fully briefed and although doing decoy work, he will be overseeing the UN detail. His clearance level with UNCLE was on par with yours, so he's simply been brought back in at the same level. That way he has the access he needs to security options. Three agents are in the loop on this.” Kuryakin pursed his lips. "Besides, it is well known that I operate behind the scenes more than in the open. No one will question it. And he will be seen."
 
Solo nodded.
 
"Napoleon, I would rather not tell you of my movements. Just know that I will not be far and can be with you at a moment's notice. We know you will be watched from the moment you arrive. And although I know you can carry off any part you play," he smiled, "I know you would do something foolish if you thought I was doing something foolish."
 
Solo regarded him with concern. "Are you planning on doing something foolish?”
 
Illya opened his mouth but closed it again, thinking silence the better choice.
 
Napoleon sighed. "I see your point. You're in New York. I'll behave myself.”
 
Illya nodded and checked his watch. He spoke solemnly. "It's time."
 
Napoleon gave a quick nod. "So it is.” He grabbed his briefcase as he stood and made his way to the door, Illya right behind him. Solo stopped, his hand on the doorknob. "Illya, I-that is-we will talk about this. I promise you."
 
A warm hand gripped his shoulder. "I know, Napoleon. I know you need time and other things take precedence now. Contact me when you reach New Delhi HQ. I also want regular contact. All signals will be routed to me, wherever I am."
 
Solo gave a quick squeeze to the hand resting on his shoulder. "I will.” His eyes lit with excitement. "Now, shall we go? I believe I, or rather we, have a plane to catch."
 
Illya couldn't help but wonder at the multifaceted aspects of the man before him. He was continually amazed by his partner's ability to act under any conditions. And moreover, look forward to the dangers. Though Illya felt a twinge of adrenaline at the thought himself, he found it tempered with apprehension. Napoleon, albeit briefly, would still be facing part of this alone. That thought kept Illya firmly grounded on the side of caution. "Be careful, my friend."
 
"I will, Illya.” He opened the door and pulled Illya out into the outer office. "Come on, partner. Seems there's a plane waiting breathlessly for my arrival."
 
Illya scoffed. "Are you carrying your ego with you or checking it as a completely separate piece of luggage?"
 
Solo laughed and dragged his grumbling partner down the hall.

Chapter Text

Solo rubbed bleary eyes. An eighteen-hour flight coupled with a nine and a half-hour time difference made for a very weary and seriously jet-lagged CEA. He stifled a yawn as Mr. Samoy perused the files Solo had brought. As he did so, Napoleon gave a quick glance to the agents behind him and almost laughed out loud. April's head had dropped to Mark's shoulder and Mark was trying very hard to move it and wake her without drawing attention to either of them. He caught Solo's amused look, smirked back and shrugged in defeat, letting his partner sleep.
 
Mr. Samoy's lilting but condescending voice pulled Solo back. "Mr. Solo, might I trouble you to keep your attention this way?"
 
Solo bit his tongue hard to keep from replying in kind. He couldn't help but think that the man was not only weaseled in appearance but in attitude as well. Instead, he brought forth the charm for which he was well known. "Not at all, sir," he replied smoothly. "I was hoping for a couple of hours to rest before seeing the witness. As you know, we came here directly from the airport. I would like to at least shower and change."
 
Samoy regarded Solo intently. He deeply disliked the man but there was no denying he got results. Samoy felt he lacked discipline and that Waverly gave him too much authority. He couldn't deny the validity of the request but in no way would he grant it. His voice was righteous and condescending as he replied to the request. "You are not the only one to have lost sleep lately, Mr. Solo. This office has bent all its efforts to finding those responsible for Mr. Gabal's needless murder. You, unfortunately, are needed to bring those culprits to our attention."
 
Samoy set the file down and lifted an eyebrow. "You seem to be the recipient of a most unfortunate situation. At least you are still alive to be disturbed by it. Mr. Gabal is not."
 
Solo clenched his jaw as his anger flared. "I understand your position, Mr. Samoy. I want this over just as much as you do.” He had to take a breath to keep from snapping further at the man in front of him. Even so, he couldn't keep his distaste from coloring his voice. "If you have no questions and I seem to not be going anywhere, I'd like to see the witness, now, if you have no objections."
 
Samoy pressed a button and a deep voice filtered in. "Yes, Mr. Samoy?"
 
Samoy's eyes never left Solo's. "Is our guest available for Mr. Solo?"
 
"Yes, sir. Sir, Mr. Haskara is here. Should I have him wait for you?"
 
Without altering his gaze Samoy replied, "No. I will see him. Send him to the conference room. I will be there momentarily. And send agent Risha to collect Mr. Solo.” He clicked the intercom off and stood. "If you will excuse me, I must see this gentleman. No doubt you are already aware I want a full report of your conversation with Mr. Sarikaya. He has been informed of your imminent arrival and was quite plain in the fact that he will speak with you alone without recording devices or he will not speak at all."
 
Napoleon shifted uncomfortably in his chair, not liking the sound of this at all.
 
Samoy noticed his discomfiture and smiled thinly. "I do not like it either. Yet I see no other way.” He gave Solo a hard look. "I expect that report, Mr. Solo and none of your evasions."
 
Solo merely gave him the same look in return.
 
Samoy let it pass. "Now, agents, if you will excuse me.” And with that, he left the agents alone in the office.
 
April, now awake, whistled in disbelief. Mark found his voice first as Solo turned around to face them. "Cor, mate. What the bloody hell did you do to him?"
 
Napoleon snorted as he stood, needing to stretch tired cramped muscles. "I was assigned here for three years when I first became an agent. Samoy and I just never saw eye to eye. He's strictly procedure – and, well, I'm not."
 
April laughed out loud at that, causing Napoleon to shoot her a glare. Mark put a hand over her mouth. "Go on, mate, just ignore the little woman here."
 
Napoleon snorted as April bit Mark's finger hard enough to cause the man to hiss and draw his hand away fast. "Little woman, my ass," she grumbled.
 
She returned her attention to Solo. "So? What happened?"
 
Solo shrugged as he answered. "Nothing really. We just had several run-ins over the way I did things. The only disciplinary actions in my file are from him. But even he couldn't deny that all my cases were solved. He just hated the way I did it. I don't think that's changed, it seems."
 
April tsked. "You do make the most interesting enemies, Napoleon. I would think with all that charm of yours, you'd manage to not do that so often."
 
Napoleon answered airily, "It's a gift."
 
Any reply she might have made was halted as the door opened to reveal a small woman with long black hair and exotic features. The woman fawned as she looked at Solo, completely dismissing the other two agents. "Mr. Solo, I am Agent Risha. Would you follow me, please?"
 
Solo gave April a wink and replied. "I would follow you anywhere.” Risha blushed and escorted Solo out the door, leaving Dancer and Slate to trade glances as they followed in their wake. Mark sighed as he watched Risha and Solo flirt outrageously. "I think he took your comment about his charming people as a challenge.”
 
Dancer linked her arm through his. "So it seems. Too bad he chose such a vacuous target," she muttered. Slate laughed and pulled her along after the receding pair.

888

She dropped her bag for the third time. Her hands were sweaty and her heart was beating so fast she couldn't quite catch her breath. This was more than she'd bargained for. She raised her hand to knock on the office door but pulled back again with an angry curse. A passing agent gave her a curious glance and she smiled quickly and walked down the corridor in the opposite direction, only to stop and return to the office door.
 
Claire squared her shoulders. She couldn't be a party to murder. It wasn't supposed to have gone this far. How did she let it get this far? She thought the warning she'd sent would have been enough to make them realize it was a trap and she could fade away into obscurity, her hands clean. Julian had told her of Solo's obsession with Shalimar Bagh and his long acquaintance with Gabal.
 
Claire sank into the wall. She loved Julian so much, would do anything for him and had. It wasn't supposed to have gone this far. Julian would kill him; she knew it, and she wanted no part of murder. That was the one line she couldn't cross, not even for Julian. She nervously toyed with her UNCLE security badge, knowing she would be lucky if got out of this with her life. If UNCLE didn't kill her, THRUSH certainly would. She liked the odds with UNCLE better.
 
This time there was no hesitation as she knocked on the door and without waiting for a response opened it.
 
"Mr. Kuryakin, I'm sorry but I have to talk to you. It's about Mr. Solo.” Only the man that greeted her was not who she was expecting. Comprehension hit her but she realized her mistake too late. Before she could even get the door open again, she was held firm.
 
"Now, I can't have you running off so soon. As Illya isn't here to talk to you personally, we'll just have to let Mr. Waverly stand in for him, shall we?"
 
Claire fought hard against the hands that held her, to no avail. "Please, I didn't know what would happen. I didn't! Let me go, please, let me go."
 
The man shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry. I can't do that.” He pulled her over to the chair in front of the desk and forced her down before securing the door and pulling out his communicator. "Open Channel E."
 
In an instant Waverly's voice filled the room. "Mr. – Kuryakin, I had not expected use of this channel quite so soon.” The disapproval was clear.
 
Nick smiled grimly. "Yeah, well, it was a surprise to me, too. Illya has a visitor. Someone I think you really need to speak to, sir."
 
Waverly was silent for so long Amsted thought he'd closed the channel. Finally, the man replied. "Very well. I will come to you, as it would not do to have you traipsing through the corridors. Waverly out."
 
Nick put the communicator away and leaned casually against the door. "Get comfy, doll, you're not going anywhere."
 
His only response was a look filled with anger and fear.
 
----------
 
Solo groaned inwardly as he laughed at the ridiculously obvious woman walking next to him. At this rate, he'd fall asleep standing up. Part of him wondered if she was Samoy's revenge. He was grateful when she stopped at a door and informed him that Risvan Sarikaya was waiting within.
 
"I thank you for your incomparable escort services."
 
Risha blushed and replied sensually, "I would be more than happy to offer you my services anytime, Mr. Solo."
 
Solo bowed slightly and turned to Dancer and Slate, both of whom wore equally shocked yet amused expressions. He ignored them, focusing on the subject at hand. He indicated the door. "Mr. Sarikaya is in there. And you heard Samoy. You'll both have to wait out here."
 
The agents sobered immediately. "Napoleon, I don't like this. It's too risky.” April commented adding; "Can't we go in with you? If he tells us to leave, we'll leave. At least one of us. And I look so much less threatening than Mark."
 
Mark nodded his agreement. "At least try it."
 
Solo acquiesced and opened the door for April before following her in.
 
What he expected, he didn't know. But it surely was not the small thin terrified man standing in the corner. His black eyes were slightly wild as he watch them enter the room, closing the door behind them. Even so, the CEA recognized an innate elegance and poise about the man that bespoke a true diplomat. This man was not easily intimidated. The juxtaposition was not lost on him.
 
He pushed away from the wall, in recognition. "You are Napoleon Solo are you not?"
 
Napoleon's eyes narrowed in thought. "Yes, I am. But you have me at a disadvantage. How is it that you know me, when I've no idea who you are?"
 
Sarikaya opened his mouth only to clamp it shut again as his focus shifted to April. "I said alone."
 
Solo sighed and pulled a chair out from the table for Sarikaya. "Please, sit down before you fall down.” He did so, hesitantly. Napoleon nodded in satisfaction as he pulled another chair out for April and sat down tiredly himself. "This is April Dancer. She's an agent from my own office and has no connection to the New Delhi office.” The man nodded, seeking more explanation. "My office is concerned about your vehemence in speaking only with me.” He smiled his most disarming smile. "As you can imagine, they are rather concerned for me. But if her presence concerns you, she will leave."
 
Sarikaya seemed to give the matter serious consideration before responding. "Ms. Dancer may stay. As long as I have your word she is not here to harm me."
 
Solo's brows drew together, in confusion. His instincts told him that this man was as much a pawn in this as he was himself. That thought for some reason gave him less comfort, not more. Pushing back his growing unease and wishing rather strongly that Illya was next to him, he replied, "She isn't."
 
Sarikaya sank back in his chair, seeming to take Solo's word without question, causing both agents no small amount of alarm. Solo affected a casual air, resting his elbows on the table, covering one hand with the other, and resting his chin against them. He smiled tiredly, "Mr. Sarikaya, I've literally traveled half-way across the world, at your request, I might add. Care to explain it all to me?"
 
The man in question licked his lips nervously. "I am sorry; Mr. Solo, but I had no other choice. If I hadn't – I did not wish to be part of this. I have no wish to see anyone die. Not even y—" Sarikaya stopped abruptly, shocked but Solo only leaned back and laughed.
 
"I'm touched by your thoughtfulness for my safety," Solo said amusedly.
 
April shot him a scathing glance. "Must you make silly jokes about everything? This is not funny, Napoleon."
 
Solo didn't deign to comment and returned his attention to the very nervous man across from him. "Please, continue."
 
The diplomat's eyes filled with sudden saddness, surprising both agents. "You look at me now and see the shell of a man.” He smiled humorlessly. "As I am certain you know, I am a diplomat. I make it my duty to understand the measure of the man I must deal with. I have learned to trust my instincts. Those instincts tell me I was right about you, Mr. Solo. You, I can trust, and because of this I took your word about Ms. Dancer.”
 
Solo nodded slowly, not quite knowing where this was leading but willing to go along, for now.
 
"I was only to deliver you a message. Nothing more. Amhet- Mr. Gabal - has been an acquaintance for some time and when he asked this of me, I agreed."
 
Dancer's sharp intake of breath was heard before Solo spoke softly, albeit sadly. "You've no idea how much I wish you hadn't said that."
 
Sarikaya snorted. "Yes, a friend you were to him. This I know."
 
Solo's expression clouded with anger. "Get to the point and tell me what in the hell is going on."
 
The other man's eyes narrowed in response. "Never tell a friend your weaknesses, Mr. Solo. He will always find a way to use it against you. Such has happened to me. That is how I find myself in this position. I never wanted this. Please believe that if there were any other way … but there is not.” Something was suddenly in Sarikaya's hand and before either agent could react, the weapon fired twice. Solo launched to his feet, trying to push Dancer out of the line of fire but he was too late. He felt the sting of the dart in his chest as he watched her slide down the wall. His limbs were heavy and he fell to the ground, Sarikaya looming over him. "Mr. Solo, Julian says 'hello'.” Napoleon's breath hitched in surprise and as unconsciousness claimed him, all he could think was how much trouble he was going to be in with Illya if he died.
 
----------
 
Illya paced the limited confines of the small office, trying to control his growing anger and apprehension. He had yet to hear from Napoleon or Nick. Or April and Mark for that matter. All he had to do was cross the street and he'd be in the New Delhi UNCLE offices and it was taking all his willpower to avoid doing it. His communicator went off and he grabbed it, wanting only to hear Napoleon's voice. "Kuryakin."
 
"Mr. Kuryakin, where are you?” Waverly's voice was sharp, warning the agent that something had happened.
 
The Russian swallowed thickly. "I am in the office building directly across from our New Delhi headquarters, on the fifth floor. It is undergoing a remodel and is quite uninhabited. Any word from Napoleon?"
 
"He arrived and is, as we speak, in discussion with Mr. Sarikaya.” Illya's relief at Napoleon safely ensconced at headquarters was palpable. "I've information to pass to you. We've found the accomplice."
 
Illya smiled grimly as he clutched the communicator. "My only regret is that I am not there to perform a personal interrogation.” The threatening tone did not go unnoticed by Waverly.
 
"Yes, be that as it may, we did muddle through without you," he commented dryly, before getting to the business at hand. "It's one of our own."
 
----------
 
The first thing Napoleon noticed was the smell of flowers, followed immediately by his body protesting his attempt to move. He felt like he'd been dragged behind a bus. His eyes blurred as he forced them open, only to see blurred surroundings. I don't know what knockout drug they used, thought Napoleon, but it packs one helluva punch. After several attempts, he managed to sit up only partially, as it seemed both wrists were chained to a single metal bracket in the floor. His voice was raspy as he muttered, "Just perfect.”
 
As his memories flooded back, he glanced around sharply, ignoring the vertigo the action caused. "April? April, are you here?” His saw only blurred stone and what appeared to be vines of flowers and a clear night sky. Napoleon swallowed thickly. Shalimar Bagh. He was in Shalimar Bagh. "Hell, Illya really will kill me," he groaned.
 
Napoleon saw a shadow move and a voice cut through the night. "We can't have that, Napoleon. No one gets to kill you but me, mon ami."
 
He saw the shadow get closer and slowly shift into the living form of Julian DeChamps. He grinned down at Napoleon, toying with a long thick object in his hand. "Châtiment, Napoleon. Retribution will be mine.” He moved swiftly, swinging the pipe at Solo's chest, relishing the resounding crack of ribs and grunt of pain from Solo. Julian looked at the pipe in his hand. "Let's do that again, shall we?” He lifted the pipe and swung.
 
----------
 
April Dancer tried to move but every time she did, the room tilted and her stomach lurched. Even so, she forced her head to move and she scanned to room. Napoleon was nowhere to be found and Sarikaya was slumped, dead she assumed, in the corner. She had to reach the door; she had to let them know. She tried again, dragging herself another few feet before her vision swam and threatened to send her back to the realm of unconsciousness. She stilled, cursing her body's sluggishness and queasiness.
 
 A careful look in front of her and she saw the locked door only a few feet away. She couldn't believe she felt this way. Her blurred watch told her she'd only been out for forty minutes. No wonder no one was worried yet. She and Solo hadn't even been in the room for an hour. She spared an admiring thought at the planning that went into this before cursing at being so easily disposed of. Her voice cracked as she commented, "She really isn't a threat.” She laughed only to have it turn to a cough. "Aw, dammit to hell, where is your brain?” She fell flat to the floor and reached for her communicator. Her throat was so scratchy she wasn't sure her voice would be recognized. She opened the channel. "Dancer, here … patch me through … to Slate."
 
She heard a click and within moments, she heard her partner's voice. "Slate here."
 
She almost cried in relief. "Mark … they got him.” April waited but no response. "Mark?"
 
The next thing she heard were several loud cracks against the door before it broke open revealing Mark Slate, rubbing a very sore shoulder, followed by four other agents, weapons drawn. If the situation weren't so serious, she would have laughed out loud.
 
Mark took in the room with a quick methodical eye. Chairs were overturned, a trapdoor in the floor was flung open, a man was slumped motionless in the corner and his partner was watching him with bleary eyes. Napoleon was nowhere to be seen. He quickly checked the man, finding him dead before turning his attention fully to his partner. He lifted her gently, as more agents rushed to see what had happened.
 
April groaned and Mark spoke softly to her. "It's all right, luv, I've got you. Let's get you to medical.” He asked the nearest agent for directions and was grateful to receive a concerned guide instead. Mark shook his head worriedly, hoping Napoleon was still okay. As he lay his partner down on a gurney he pulled his communicator, not relishing having to report this.

888

The Russian shook his head in disgust as Waverly continued. "Claire Pendegast."

Illya snarled. "Claire?” Illya was livid, feeling the betrayal deeply, recalling her friendly manner the last time he'd spoken with her.
 
Waverly sighed. "Yes. The reasons can wait for now. It seems you were correct in your assumptions. Julian DeChamps is very much alive and very much involved in this – plot."
 
Illya's breath caught and he mentally cried his partner's name. "Have you informed Dancer and Slate?"
 
"Hold a moment, Mr. Kuryakin.”
 
Illya heard muffled conversation and began to get a nervous tickle in the pit of his stomach. A tickle that became full-blown panic at Waverly's next words. "Communications patched through a call from Mr. Slate. It's already happened."
 
Illya didn't wait to hear more, he slammed the communicator in a pocket and tore down the stairs muttering to himself that Napoleon had better manage to stay alive long enough for Illya to kill him. 
 
----------
 
Julian threw the pipe down and signaled to the men waiting in the shadows. He never took his eyes from the unconscious form of Napoleon Solo. He had played for over an hour now and his former brother-in-law was bruised and bleeding from several deep gashes along his torso and legs. And, he noted with satisfaction, a broken left arm and hand. Julian was not completely satisfied though. The game had ended too soon when he had slammed Solo's head rather hard into the stone floor. The right side of his face was covered in dirt and blood and a deep long gash from his right temple to his ear. Yes, satisfying indeed. Even so, it had not been nearly enough. He reached down and yanked hard on the chain around Napoleon's neck. He held the ring up briefly before pocketing it. "How soon will they be here, Amhet?"
 
The former agent looked on in something akin to horror at the battered, bloodied form of Napoleon Solo. He swallowed hard as he answered. "About three hours.”
 
Julian nodded and squatted in front of Napoleon grabbing his head roughly before releasing it to fall against the hard concrete.
 
"They want him alive, Julian," Amhet warned, wondering for the hundredth time if this was worth thirty pieces of silver.
 
Julian shrugged. "That is not my concern, mon ami. I do not dance to Thrush's tune. That was a means to an end.” He stood and toed the still form. He snorted in disgust. "Wake him up," he ordered, before turning and walking away.
 
----------
 
Illya burst into the medical area oblivious to the startled agents he'd left in his wake. He scanned the room and quickly found his target in a corner of the room with a group of agents. The Russian wasted no effort in clearing the agents, instead he grabbed Slate by the shirt and propelled him backward out of the room and away from prying eyes and shoved him against the wall.
 
Slate broke out of Illya's painful grasp. "Dammit, Illya. Will you calm down?"
 
Illya snarled unable to contain his wrath. "Soochnei seen!” And he slammed Slate back against the wall. "Pochemoo voee smoglee proeskhodeet? Chass!”
 
The apprehension in Slate's expression gave way to wary confusion. "Ah, Illya, maybe you could try that again in English. I never did get around to learning Russian."
 
Illya froze. It was a rare thing when he forgot himself so completely as to completely revert to his native tongue. That it happened now, only fueled his anger. "How could you let this happen? An hour! A single hour!"
 
Mark felt a flicker of fear as he again pulled out of the irate man's grasp. Illya was never one to trifle with at the best of times and Mark had never seen the Russian this angry.
 
A small crowd had gathered and Mark waved them away before motioning Illya into an empty office. Illya stood still as stone. "Illya. You don't want an audience," he whispered angrily.
 
Illya shot a gaze to the group of onlookers that was lethal enough to cause several of them to step back. He shook his head in disgust before storming into the empty room, Mark trailing behind him, closing the door.
 
"Before you begin, it wasn't us. They wouldn't let me in the room. You know how Napoleon can get. This Sarikaya bloke would only chat with Napoleon alone."
 
Illya advanced a few menacing steps. "How considerate of you to accommodate him."
 
Slate took a deep breath, knowing he couldn't let his anger get the better of him or he'd never get Illya calmed down. "We didn't. Mr. Samoy did."
 
Illya stopped short at that. "What?"
 
Mark pulled up two empty chairs and sat in one while Illya preferred to pace. "Illya, April went in with him. It was a set-up from the start. Sarikaya had sleep darts and the interrogation room had a trap door in the floor."
 
The Russian shook his head, wanting to deny what he was hearing. His heart sank further and further into despair.
 
"It's one of the emergency escape routes, so that means someone from the inside was in on this. Four agents followed the tunnel about thirty metres. But it was rigged with explosives and collapsed in front of them. They got back about ten minutes ago. Someone really had this planned out, Illya."
 
Kuryakin laughed hollowly and pressed his face into the wall. "April. Is she all right?"
 
"Yeah, mate. She's just a bit woozy from the dart. She'll be good as new in a day or so."
 
Slate's communicator chirped and he fished it out and clicked it open. "Slate here."
 
Gabhail Samoy's unpleasant voice filled the room. "Mr. Slate. Be in my office in no less than ten minutes and bring that ill-mannered Russian with you. Samoy out."
 
Illya's head snapped round and his anger flared again at the insult.
 
Slate waved off the Russian's reaction. "The man is a git, Illya. You should have heard him and Napoleon. A bad case of mutual and intense dislike.” He grinned. "So at least you're in good company.”
 
Illya raised an eyebrow in amusement but his expression quickly clouded as his thoughts turned to Napoleon.
 
Sensing what he was feeling Mark said softly, "We'll find him. And you can get your jollies killing the bloke that did it. Just keep the faith; he needs us to do that right now."
 
The Russian nodded shortly. "You had best escort the 'ill-mannered Russian' to the 'git'."
 
Mark laughed as he and Illya walked out of the office but stopped suddenly, remembering. He cocked an eyebrow at Illya. "What did you call me? A soochnei what? That was a swear word if ever I heard one, mate."
 
Illya merely shook his head and walked down the hall.
 
Mark trailed after him. "Oh, come on, Illya. What does it mean?"
  
----------
 
Napoleon was vaguely aware of someone speaking to him, but somehow the words were all garbled. He felt something wet trickling down his cheek and along his lips. Tentatively he inched out his tongue to taste. Blood. And from the way he felt, he was pretty damned sure it was his. He managed to open his eyes but his attempt to shift positions was met with jagged pain shooting through his body. For a minute it was all he could do to simply keep breathing. Quite unexpectedly, his head was gently lifted and a cup placed against his lips. Not caring, he drank deeply, grateful to find water filling his parched throat.
 
Gabal pulled the empty cup away and sat back on his haunches. "It's been a long time, Napoleon. Would that it was under better circumstances."
 
Napoleon's attempt at a reply was cut off by a fit of coughing, causing his damaged ribs to protest. After several labored breaths he tried again. "Not-not ones I would have picked either.” He looked blearily at his former friend. "Why?” He rasped out.
 
Amhet shrugged. "Money. THRUSH pays much better than UNCLE.” His brow darkened. "Julian had his own game, Napoleon. I-I did not know he was after you. I knew of his other plans but not this. For many years he has been vocal about wanting you dead. In his mind, you stole all that was rightfully his. He has wanted his revenge for a long time but THRUSH does not fund personal vendettas, not without profit at any rate. He is supposed to turn you over to THRUSH but I am afraid he never had any intention of doing so.” He paused before adding softly, "I would not have been a part of this had I known that."
 
Napoleon struggled to keep his eyes open. He was so tired. "I'm touched b-by your concern for my welfare.” He took several painful breaths. "Julian. How-how did –" Napoleon stopped. The effort to talk took more energy than he had now. Amhet lifted his head again and once more he tasted the deliciously cool water.
 
"He is a cruel man, Napoleon. And his hatred of you has grown stronger through the years. I've been told he's planned this for years. Only waiting for his best chance. Meanwhile, he continued his association with THRUSH, who thought him a valuable asset. He developed the drug that killed his aunt. THRUSH has used it most successfully many times. He stood slowly, and gazed at the black pavilion looming in the distance. "I was there. I took the pictures of her.” He swallowed thickly.
 
Napoleon strained hard against his bonds, fury overriding the physical pain, as he tried in vain to seize Gabal.
 
The former agent took a step back at the fury in Solo's eyes. "He wanted you to know. Wanted you to know but – you went to ground.” He shook his head. "And still you managed to pull it down around his ears."
 
Solo was breathing hard, his brain screaming in agony. "Julian … Greerson? He – you – that far back?"
 
Amhet sank down to the cold stones. "Yes. THRUSH had spent years building the network.” He grimaced. "I was the last agent brought in so no ties were found to connect me.” He shook his finger at Napoleon. "It's your own fault, Napoleon. You called Marguerite that day, and she called Julian to let him know she would be gone. He knew without question that she was going to you and we met her when she came back home.” The pain on Solo's face was more than Amhet could stand. Though it surprised him to find his conscience at this late date. He added softly, "If it helps any, she was already dead. Julian had already decided it. So, you see, you couldn't have stopped it."
 
Anguish and pain overwhelmed Napoleon and a wave a nausea rushed through him. He bowed his head, touching his forehead to the cool stone desperate to quell his lurching stomach. He couldn't die here, he couldn't. He swallowed hard. "Where is the bastard?"
 
Gabal grinned. Solo was nothing if not resilient. "He and some of his men are awaiting the THRUSH transport team."
 
Napoleon frowned. "Thought you said he wasn't turning me over to them?"
 
The other man shook his head. "He isn't. They will be dead the moment they arrive.
 
Comprehension lit Napoleon's eyes and Amhet nodded. "Yes. Seems you tried to escape, and you as well as the three escorts were killed."
 
The CEA coughed painfully. "Bad manners on my part.” He took a few more ragged breaths. "Not to mention convenient."
 
Amhet checked his watch. "Julian and the others will be back in less than two hours. I cannot take you out of here, Napoleon. He has the keys to the chains and many guards. We would never make it."
 
Napoleon grimaced. "Too little, too late, Amhet.” He gave him a cold look. "I will see you dead for your part in this."
 
Gabal smiled without humor and locked eyes with Solo. "I've no doubt of that, Napoleon.” In fact, he was looking forward to it.

888

Illya glowered at the man sitting across from him. Even the man's voice was grating, as he expressed his outrage to Waverly at not being informed of the Russian agent's presence in New Delhi.

"Had I been informed of what you were planning, Alex, perhaps things would have progressed to a different conclusion."

Alex Waverly's stern voice filtered through the desk speaker. "This is no time for territorial pontificating, Gabal. I have one agent down, one missing and one in a holding cell. I am in no mood to exchange barbs with you."

Illya glanced at Mark and saw the same pleased reaction he knew was on his own face. A complete contrast to the apoplectic look Samoy was wearing. Before Illya could cut in to ask if anything more had been learned from Claire, Waverly continued. "Our primary concern now has to be finding Mr. Solo and Mr. DeChamps. Can anyone shed light on this? Ms. Pendegast has ceased any and all attempts at communication. Apparently finding Mr. Amsted instead of Mr. Kuryakin changed her willingness to co-operate."

"Did we at least find out her connection to him?" Mark asked.

"Yes, we did. It seems she met him six years ago when she was assigned to the New Delhi office." Waverly paused briefly. "Apparently it was love at first sight. She admits to giving him sensitive information and relaying messages between he and Mr. Gabal but claims to have had no knowledge of his former relation to Mr. Solo."

Samoy huffed. "And you believe this?"

Illya tuned out the conversation. He kept running over the information in his head. Napoleon's thoughts on Gabal, Michele's comments about Julian, and her poetic name for his friends. Poetic. Poetry. Illya's brow furrowed. What was it about poetry? Poetry and things not as they seem? What things? Gabal. Gabal was not as he seemed. Realization flooded him and he shot out of his chair. "I know where Napoleon is."

----------

Napoleon opened scratchy eyes, not remembering having closed them. God, but he hurt everywhere. Every breath shot pain to each nerve and muscle. He looked around as much as his position would allow, but as far as he could tell, he was alone. A quick glance at his watch told him nothing, as it had evidently been broken during Julian's exercises with the pipe. He strained to hear anything other than the whispers of insects, trills of night birds and the rustle of the wind through the vines, but there was nothing.

He gathered what strength he had and gripped the metal ring with his right hand, giving it a firm pull. Nothing. He collapsed, breathing hard from that small exertion. He was too weak; he'd lost too much blood. He knew he couldn't pass out again or he just might not wake up. Even as he thought it, his eyes drifted closed and he snapped them back open. "No sleeping, Solo," he reprimanded himself aloud. "Have to stay alive long enough for Illya to kill you." The thought of his partner made his heart hurt in ways he was only beginning to understand. A smile ghosted his lips. He'd give anything to see the fury Illya must be in right now.
The report of a gun shattered the night and Napoleon jerked back, looking in the general direction the sound originated from. Another shot, and another. Then nothing. His breathing quickened at the sudden silence and what it implied. He had run out of time.

The silence was deafening as he waited for Julian's return. Sweat dripped into his eyes and he wiped it away on his torn jacket sleeve. He was going to die this time. He was going to die and the only thing he felt was sadness. Marguerite's image floated behind his eyes and she smiled at him. Her green eyes filled with love for him and her soft voice echoed in his head. 'Do not let go, Napoleon, he comes for you, mon ami. He loves you as I do.' He tried to say her name but couldn't speak. His wife's voice called to him: 'Napoleon'. Over and over his name reverberated as he faded in and out of consciousness. Her voice deepened, became more urgent, pleading with him to wake up. Her form morphed into another; dark hair turned light, blue eyes replaced green. The bluest he'd ever seen. He longed to touch them, to lose himself in them, to be worthy of the love in them. He heard his name again and again, but the lilting French accent became harsher, deeper, edged with fear, masculine. He knew that voice as well as he knew his own.

"Napoleon, wake up! You must wake up!"

Strong hands were touching him, pulling him, holding him. He forced his eyes open and Illya filled his vision. "Ill-ya?"

Relief flooded Illya as he held Napoleon close. "Da, Napasha, da."

Napoleon smiled and whispered, "You're late," and oblivion claimed him as Illya shouted for emergency evac.

----------

Mark sank down in a chair, grateful to be off his feet. The past few hours had been hell. He cast a quick look to the Russian pacing the length of the waiting room. A touch on his shoulder turned his attention to his partner and a genuine smile crossed his face. "Hey, doll. When'd they let you out?

She sat down next to him. "Not too long after all of you left." She tilted her head in Illya's direction. "Any word on Napoleon?"

Mark nodded. "Broken arm, hand, some pretty bad cuts and gashes. Lost a lot of blood. The worst were a couple of broken ribs, one of which punctured a lung. That's what he's in surgery for now. He's been in there about two hours already."

April laced her fingers through his. "He won't die. Neither heaven nor hell could handle the competition."

Mark laughed out loud and gave her a peck on the cheek.

Her grip on his hand tightened. "Mark, what'll happen to Illya?"

The Brit sighed. "I don't know, luv. Suspension certainly and if Samoy has his way, he'll be shipped back to Russia."

April snorted. "That won't happen. Illya has to answer to Waverly, not Samoy, and no one will blame him for what he did."

Mark watched as Illya's pacing quickened. "I don't know. He didn't have to shoot. We had them. He executed them, April. Didn't even give them a chance to say anything. Just shot them both in the head."

Dancer's brows drew together. "If it was my partner, if it was you, I'd have done the same thing. And I wouldn't regret it for one moment."

She kissed his cheek and before he could say anything, she was up and making her way to Illya. He didn't even acknowledge her. She pulled his arm gently and guided him over to a chair. "Sit, Illya. You're exhausted."
Much to her surprise, Illya did. He looked so tired, so worn. "When was the last time you slept?"

He shook his head but remained silent, his eyes fixed on the doors to the surgical ward.

April seemed to understand and simply sat next to him, offering quiet support for which Illya was grateful. He kept seeing his partner bloodied and unconscious and he wished Julian were still alive so he could kill him again. He didn't regret it. He'd do it again without hesitation. Had Julian been left alive, he would still be a threat to Napoleon. To Illya, that was unacceptable. Julian and Gabal paid with their lives for what they'd done.

A fair exchange as far as Illya was concerned.

His thoughts were broken as the door swung open and a man in bloody scrubs walked through. Illya stood shakily and felt April's hand close around his arm.

"Mr. Kuryakin?"

Illya nodded, incapable of speech.

The doctor nodded to April before returning his attention to Illya. "Your partner is in recovery and should be fine."

Tears stung the back of Illya's eyes and he heard April's sigh of relief.

The doctor continued. "I've already contacted Mr. Waverly and Mr. Samoy. And before you ask, yes, you can see him. But only for a few minutes. Once he's transferred to a room, you can take up residence if you like. And that should be sometime tomorrow morning."

The Russian gave April a smile and nodded at Mark who had now joined them. "I will see you both later," he said as he quickly followed the doctor. They passed a few doors before the doctor stopped in front of one.

"He needs to remain quiet. The nurse will be by to let you know when it's time for you to go."

Illya nodded. "Thank you." The doctor shrugged. "I know how partners are. It's more than my health is worth to keep you from knowing he's out of danger." He pushed open the door and walked down the hall, leaving Illya standing in the darkened doorway.

He took two steps in and softly closed the door behind him. Napoleon was sleeping peacefully as Illya took a seat next to the bed. He took hold of Napoleon's hand gently, careful of the tubes leading to various bottles and machines. His head lowered and he touched Napoleon's fingers to his cheek. Napoleon was safe. Illya had made certain of it. His body shook with the force of emotion he was feeling. Napoleon was safe.

888

Alexander Waverly struck a match and lit his pipe as he perused the file on his desk before shifting his attention to the man in front of him. Illya Kuryakin sat stiffly in his chair, his expression giving nothing away.

Waverly sat back. "How is our Mr. Solo adapting to his enforced medical leave?"

A ghost of a smile touched Illya's lips. "Not very well, sir." That was the ultimate in understatement. Napoleon had been cleared by medical within two weeks for the flight home and was promptly set upon by the medical staff in New York upon arrival. Much to his dismay, the doctor ordered another two weeks' leave and then only light duty for the month following that. Illya grinned as he recalled his partner's horrified expression.

"Mr. Kuryakin?"

Illya's eyes shot up, embarrassed. He cleared his throat. "Sorry, sir, I was –"

Waverly waved off explanations and puffed his pipe. "To the business at hand. Mr. Samoy is demanding, rather vocally, that you be turned out of UNCLE."

“ I did what was necessary. No more, no less," Illya stated.

A bushy brow rose in response. "So it seems."

The younger agent froze. "Sir?"

Waverly pulled a sheath of paper out of the folder and handed it to the agent. "These are the signed statements from all seven agents who were part of the mission. All agree that your actions, which resulted in Mr. DeChamps and Mr. Gabal's deaths, were completely justified."

Illya was stunned. He took the papers from his Chief and read them over and over again until Waverly interrupted him.

"So it appears that the only thing I can do is commend you on your actions, Mr. Kuryakin."

At that, Illya found his voice. "Sir, I – "

Once again, Waverly stopped him. “ The book on this is closed. Mr. Samoy cannot impugn all seven agents. Six of which were his own. He has a mess in his office, he knows it and he's trying to keep the other Chiefs from demanding his resignation. He made a muck of things. To make matters worse, Mr. Amsted has been wooed back to UNCLE and is a prime candidate to replace him. Two of the Chiefs are insisting on it after his participation in this as well as his superb handling of the UN conference." He fixed Illya with a penetrating stare. "I'm no fool, Mr. Kuryakin. I know what happened out there. However, I choose to accept the statements of seven agents."

Illya swallowed. "Thank you, sir."

Waverly's eyes twinkled. "Now, as your partner is incapacitated, you can either remain on administrative duty and work in the labs, or you can continue your assignment."

The Russian wondered when he'd stepped through the looking glass and repeated dumbly. "My assignment?"

“ Yes. Mr. Solo is your assignment as I recall."

Illya lifted the corner of his lips in amused comprehension. "I seem to recall that, sir. I'd prefer to continue my assignment."

Waverly nodded. "I thought you might. I don't want to see either one of you here until our CEA is released for duty by medical."

“ Yes, sir." Illya was at the door before he turned to ask. "Sir, what will happen to Claire?"

The older man's face grew shadowed. "She will receive her due. She is no innocent. She was the contact between Mr. Gabal and Mr. DeChamps and she did pass classified information into the hands of the enemy."

Illya nodded.

"And surely you must be aware that it was she who littered Mr. Solo's home with the profusion of photos as well as keeping Mr. DeChamps constantly aware of Mr. Solo's movements."

Illya's eyes hardened. "Thank you for telling me."

“ No less than fifteen years' incarceration."

The Russian nodded curtly and made his way out of the office and back to Napoleon. Illya only made one stop on the way to his partner's penthouse. And that's what had him standing in the penthouse entry holding a small box and uncertain about whether he should go through with it. Losing his nerve, he shoved the box in his jacket pocket before unlocking the door and walking into the darkened room. He coded the alarm quickly and made his way back to the bedroom.

Napoleon was curled up on his bed sleeping. Illya smiled warmly at the picture and sat down on the edge of the bed and shook him gently. "Napoleon."

The man in question woke groggily and turned to face his partner. "Illya? What time is it?"

Illya ran his hand absently through the dark hair. "Just after one in the afternoon."

Solo sank back on the bed. "What is in these pills?"

The blond shook his head. "Do not even try it, Napoleon. You are taking all of them."

Napoleon shot him a dark look. "I wouldn't do this to you."

Illya arched a brow in response. "Yes, you would. You have, as I recall."

Solo snorted in amusement but after a moment, his expression altered. "You met with Waverly, didn't you? What happened?"

Kuryakin flopped back on the bed. "I was given the choice of staying in the labs until you return or continuing my assignment." Illya waited.

Solo rolled to his side, and propped up on his elbow to see his partner. "What assignment?"

Illya toyed with the fastenings on Napoleon's hand brace nervously. "You."

Napoleon arrested Illya's hand, trapping it beneath his cast. "Stop that and tell me what happened."

The younger agent watched his partner intently as he related the conversation with Waverly. The CEA smiled broadly. "Nick will make a fine Chief. I hope that comes to pass."

Illya nodded his agreement. "I don't know what to think of Claire. She caused you a great deal of unnecessary pain with her photocopier. But she did give us the clue we needed to find you." Illya's voice dropped as he added, "And for that I will always be grateful."

His partner sighed. "I'm rather glad about that part myself. Who would have thought to check there for a base of operations? Julian was always a clever bastard. Still, Waverly couldn't let her go. Fifteen years is a long time to spend in contemplation behind bars." He rolled over and off the bed, picking up the cane on the way with a scowl. He was heartily sick of needing its support. He sat down on the chaise longue nestled under the bay window and watched the snow dance across the skyline. "Thank you, Illya."

The Russian was now standing behind him; he could feel it even before Illya's hand came to rest on his shoulder. He grasped it in his, pulling Illya closer, until he could lean back into Illya's chest. "I feel guilty saying it but I can't regret that he's dead. Either of them. You risked a lot to give me peace of mind, Illya. I will never forget that."

Illya sank down behind Napoleon, resting his chin on the other man's shoulder. "You are worth any risk," he replied, thick with emotion.

A beautiful warmth spread through Napoleon at those words. He thought he would never again know that feeling and knew he had to find some way to tell Illya that. His voice was a pained whisper. "I thought I was going to die, Illya."

Illya's breath caught and he wrapped Napoleon in a close embrace. "You didn't. You couldn't."

Solo smiled. "No I couldn't. Neither of you would let me."

Not quite understanding or knowing what to say, Illya opted for silence. He knew his partner was working up to something and he would let him say it in his own way.

"I saw her, Illya. I was dying and I saw her."

Illya drew in a sharp breath, but didn't speak.

Napoleon's voice was soft, sad, as he spoke, almost to himself. "She was lovely as ever. She-she told me I had to live." He shifted so he could see those same blue eyes that had called out to him. "She said you were coming. That you loved me as much as she did."

Illya swallowed hard, nodding slowly as he stretching his legs to either side of Napoleon, cradling him with his body. "She was right," he finally whispered, almost to overcome to speak. He pulled the box out of his pocket and handed it to Napoleon knowing he had to do this. "Julian still had this on him. I thought you might want it back."

Napoleon was speechless as he opened the velvet box and saw the ring nestled inside. He'd thought it lost for good. His heart clenched knowing how hard it had to be for Illya to give it back to him. He sighed deeply and sank back into Illya's comforting warmth. "I do love you, Illya," he said softly.

Illya felt his breath leave him. He kissed the dark head reverently. "And I you."

Napoleon turned in his arms and did what he would have sworn he would never do. He handed Illya back the box.

Illya took it, confused.

Softly, Napoleon asked, "Keep it safe for me?" At his partner's stunned look he smiled warmly. "I thought I'd only ever give this to one person, but sometimes, you get second chances."

Illya felt moisture prickle the backs of his eyes and he blinked them away furiously.

Napoleon put his hand behind Illya's head and pulled him down until he could feel his breath on his cheek. "I love you, Illya. I never meant to cause you so much pain. It's been difficult -"

Illya put a hand to the other man's lips. "No. It doesn't matter. You're here with me now. And that is more than I ever dreamed possible."

Napoleon kissed him then. A deep wet kiss, filled with passion and need. Illya held tightly to him, lost in the taste and touch of him. And for the first time, Illya could see his future filled with everything he ever wanted. His Napoleon.

The End