It had taken him a long time to figure out how to approach the situation. It was something that required stealth, patience, ingenuity, and a sense of silliness. Then, one rainy afternoon, it came to him, quite literally, on little bunny feet.
Napoleon dropped his suitcase by the front door and sighed. It was almost pointless to do anything more than dump out the dirty clothes, replace them with fresh shirts and underwear and return it to the hallway. It seemed that Waverly was sending Illya and him into the field more and more these days. At first he reveled in the international travel, but he'd gotten to the point now of not even knowing what day of the week it was. He snorted; hell, he wasn't even sure of the month any more. He did little but note the weather these days.
He stretched and set the bag containing his dinner onto the hall table and shrugged out of his jacket. The shoulder holster followed and then the tie. Lastly he flipped off his shoes - now, finally, he was home.
Napoleon decided that unpacking could wait. There was nothing less appetizing to him than cold curry. He grabbed a plate and some utensils, then walked to the sofa. Napoleon had one hard and fast rule. He worked hard and he surrounded himself with things that made him happy. That included a wonderfully comfortable sofa and a well stocked bar. He poured himself a double Scotch, just a splash of soda, and took it back to the couch as well. He sat, then remembered the food was still in the hallway.
Groaning, he climbed back to his feet and grabbed the bag, along with his mail, and resumed his spot.
At first it was all about the food, the alcohol, the quiet, but eventually Napoleon began to finger through the envelopes that were rubber banded together. The housekeeper who watched over his and other agents' apartments always went through the delivery, taking whatever seemed important to the office and leaving it for his secretary. Janice would sort through it, pay bills and leave anything she deemed personal alone. That meant most of the stuff that stayed at his apartment was of the junk mail variety. Still he enjoyed thumbing through the catalogues and his magazines.
An envelope caught his eye and he frowned. The postmark was England - an odd place to get a piece of junk mail from...
He frowned at the typo in his name. Who would spell Napoleon Napolean? Sighing, he tore the white business envelope open and took out the single sheet of paper. It was entirely blank except for the words, 'It's Coming' printed neatly upon it. That was... odd. He turned the paper over a few times in case he missed something, but he hadn't.
He walked in to HQ the next morning, trying his best to look jaunty and rested. Jet lag was starting to catch up with him and he suspected it was time to bargain for a couple of days off. Three trips to England and one to southeast Asia were taking their toll on him.
Napoleon wasn't surprised that Illya was already in. He'd long since given up trying to keep the man's hours. He sank into his desk chair with a groan. At least Illya had the decency to look as weary as he felt.
"So you say... although if I had any energy, I'd argue the claim." Illya had his head propped up with one hand while he scribbled notes with the other.
"Coffee?" Napoleon offered him a cup, but Illya slowly shook his head.
"I have any more and my stomach just might try to secede." Illya let the pencil fall from his fingers. "Do you realize in the last two weeks alone, we have crossed fourteen time zones?"
"When did you figure that out?"
"Last night while I was staring at my ceiling trying to sleep."
"Me too." Illya pulled off his glasses and dropped them onto the reports. "I am so weary my bones ache, Napoleon."
"I think, rather, that's probably a result of being tossed off that ski lift..." He spotted the envelope, sitting as if tossed there absentmindedly by a careless mail clerk. "What the hell...?"
"What?" Illya had returned to his report, yawning hugely.
This envelope bore a postmark from Egypt and the same misspelling of his name. He tore it open and pulled out the single sheet of paper. "It's closer than you think," he read out loud.
"No idea. I got one of these at home." He passed the sheet over to Illya, who turned the paper over and over. "Except that one was from England."
"Huh, take it down to the labs. Perhaps someone sent you a message in invisible ink."
The phone rang and Napoleon snatched it up with more energy than he thought he had left. "Solo." He listened to the inanely cheerful voice on the other end and a moment later, he hung up the phone and sighed. "Waverly's office...now." Wearily, he got back to his feet.
"What? We haven't even been de-briefed from this one." Illya stood reaching for his jacket, one hand massaging a temple.
"I feel as if we are regarded as the only competent agents he has and I know that's not the case."
What started as a walk of dread ended up a trip of relief. Mandatory two weeks off, Napoleon couldn't believe it. It was the first time in forever they'd both been given leave at the same time.
"So what are you going to do?" Napoleon sipped the now cold coffee, his mind on things other than reports.
"For the entire two weeks?"
"No, just the first two days, then perhaps I will visit my family. My father is not well."
Illya smiled and nodded. "As am I, but time has a way of making old men out of all of us. The fact that he has out-lived most of his compatriots is a credit to his tenacity."
"Guess he shares that with his son."
"What about you, my friend?"
"Not a clue..."
And that had been his downfall. The next thing he knew he was on a plane, again, and headed for the USSR. While it gave him a thrill to have access to a country that so many Americans would never be allowed to see, it wasn't exactly how he'd envisioned spending the time off. It had passed in a food and vodka-induced haze. He ate too much, drank way more than he should have and spent the rest of the time sleeping and pursuing one of his other favorite pastime - sex.
Napoleon was cautiously sipping a cup of hot tea while engaging in his favorite activity, people watching. And when Illya's family was involved, there were plenty of people to watch. Mykyta, the youngest of the Kuryakin sons, and Larysa, the youngest sister, both still young enough to be classified as children themselves in Napoleon's book, were busy playing 'Catch the Bear' with the kids on the expansive yard in front of the dacha. They ran and shouted, encouraging first one 'bear' then another. Napoleon wished he had that sort of energy again and he wondered if Illya had ever run and played like that. Somehow he doubted it.
Vyetka was bouncing his youngest daughter on his knee and the girl was squealing that particular high pitched squeal that all young children possess. Svitlana was sitting, totally enraptured with her new husband, Ruslan; their world, for the moment, had room for no one else in it.
Yet it was his partner that most fascinated Napoleon. Illya sat, cross legged, cuddling Taisia's newborn, crooning soft words in the boy's ear as he held a bottle in the other hand, while Taisia hovered nervously at his side. Napoleon didn't get to see the soft side of his partner very often and this was a rare treat. Even with his family, Illya kept the barriers in place, UNCLE, his life depended upon it.
"He's so good with children," Yuliya said, pulling Napoleon's attention away from his partner and to her. She offered him a plate of paczki doughnuts, sweet, drenched in orange juice and whiskey, they were too much for Napoleon to resist. "He should marry." She set the tray close to him and moved to adjust the shawl around her husband's shoulders. She caressed a slack cheek and then settled into a chair beside Napoleon.
"Taisia doesn't think so."
"I suspect it is because she remembers Illya dragging her around by her legs as a child. He was very helpful, if not particularly knowledgeable." She picked up a cup of tea and sipped it delicately. "Thank you for bringing him home. It means the world to his father."
"Afraid it's the other way around. I was going to the Bahamas, but he sweet talked me into this instead." Napoleon kissed her cheek gently. "I can't say I argued too much, but I always have had a weakness for Kuryakins, especially the beautiful ones."
She blushed and then her face changed. "I almost forgot. The strangest thing happened to me today in the village. A stranger came up to me and asked if I was Illya's mother. When I said yes, he handed me an envelope and asked if I'd give it to you."
"With a peculiar accent." She reached in a pocket of her apron and pulled out a plain white envelope. "It is also peculiar that they spelled your name wrong."
He walked into his apartment and sighed. It felt good to be home, it felt good to be some place quiet. One thing to be said about Illya's family, they were never quiet. Laughing, singing, everyone trying to outtalk the other, it was insanity, almost hysteria at times. Napoleon was always startled to see how different his partner was when he was in the bosom of his family.
And the truth be told, Napoleon was going to miss Yuliya's cooking. Illya's mother knew her way around a kitchen, that much was certain. He rubbed a hand over his stomach, knowing that it was going to take a few days of regular gym sessions to work off the extra pounds he'd packed on.
That's when he glanced over at the table and sighed. There, in a neat orderly stack was a pile of envelopes. He thumbed through them and groaned. Each one was identical, down to the misspelling of his first name... and every postmark was different.
He shook his head and tore open the first, even as he was reaching for his communicator. "Open Channel F, please. Illya, are you there?"
"Have you grown so accustomed to me that you cannot be without my dulcet tones for a few moments, Napoleon?"
"I'm having a bit of an issue, old man."
"I warned you about that girl at the bar. She was bad news, even I could see that."
"Not that, Pooseycat, something else... when you get a minute, could you stop by?"
There was a long pause... "Of course."
When Illya arrived, it was bearing Chinese food, greasy, hot, and spicy, just the way Napoleon liked it. He popped open a couple of beers and descended into MSG happiness.
It wasn't until the Kung Pao chicken was a memory and Illya had proven quite the challenge for the last eggroll that Napoleon remembered why he'd summoned his partner. He sucked the sweet and sour sauce off his fingers and grunted his way to his feet. Stopping by the kitchen to rinse off his hands and grab a couple more beers, he collected the letters and dropped them into Illya's lap.
Illya was busy corralling a last bit of chow mien off his plate and looked up, surprised by Napoleon's delivery.
"What is this?"
"You tell me." Napoleon popped a can top and handed him a beer. "There's twelve of them there, each one from a different country, each one with exactly the same spelling error."
"And you're showing me this because...?"
"I'm dead out of ideas. Each one suggests that something is coming, just as vague as the one before and the one after it. I'm at my wit's end."
"Sounds uncomfortable." Illya wiped his fingers clean and carefully picked up the top one. "I could take them in and run the usual tests, if you'd like."
"Consider it done and done... do you want that last pot sticker?"
Napoleon gestured him to take it, considering it a small price to pay for peace of mind. If anyone could get to the bottom of this, it would be Illya. Once his partner got his teeth into something like this, he'd be sure to unravel it.
"What do you mean - nothing?"
"Nothing," Illya said, dropping the bundle down onto Napoleon's desk. "I ran every test I could think of on them and they came back completely normal. The paper is twenty four pound weight. You can get it in any dime store. The ink is standard India ink, black, not blue. I ran some tests on it, but found nothing conclusive. I tested the paper to check for chemicals, just in case, but again, nothing. In short, it is plain paper. Same with the envelopes. The only difference between them appears to be the post mark. Who do you know in Isle de Negro?"
"No one, never even been there."
"Cambodia? Rarotonga? Boca De Valeria?"
"I've never even heard of the last two..." Napoleon pushed the envelopes away from him, as if that would make them more acceptable and less confusing. "What the hell is going on?"
"Perhaps you have a stalker? The messages can be construed as slightly threatening, I suppose."
"You don't find them threatening?"
"Almost Here, Any Day Now, Be Prepared... they sound more like cautionary notes a mother would write to her child."
"Thanks, partner." The office door opened and Napoleon sat back sharply at the sight of the mail boy.
"Morning, Mr. S. Mr. Kuryakin. Nothing for you, but Mr. S, you got a few letters... funny that they should spell your name wrong though..."
Napoleon sighed as he walked into Reception through Del Floria's. The wild bout of traveling had come to an end, but now these envelopes were making him nothing short of crazy. He was about ready to move to escape them.
He walked into the office he shared with Illya and looked around. It was odd that he made it in before Illya, then he saw the note on his desk. 'Emergency meeting, come to 5 when you arrive. You're late!'
Only Illya could chastise him in advance. Napoleon sighed, dropped his briefcase and checked the rest of his messages. Nothing that couldn't wait and he had another two hours before the weekly staff meeting.
"I wonder if I can convince Illya to take that staff meeting for me," Napoleon murmured.
He looked up sharply at Janice. "Talking to myself," he explained. "Did Illya say what this emergency meeting was about?"
"No, but it must have been important, I saw April and Mr. Slate heading there a few minutes ago."
"Guess the only way to find out is to find out."
He grabbed a pad and pen, just in case Illya decided it was his turn to take notes, and headed for Conference Room Five. The door was shut, but he didn't think much about that. It slid open at his approach and he stepped in, blinking in the darkness. He paused and then winced as the lights flew on and a dozen or so voices shouted out to him.
Instinct sent him for his weapon, then he spotted Illya, grinning like a maniac.
"What's going on?"
"Happy unbirthday, Napolean," April giggled as she kissed his cheek. "I heard the misspelling of your name made you crazy - that was my contribution."
Mark was there, shaking his hand. "And it was up to me and the lads to get those letters mailed. Tokanui was the hardest!" Other agents crowded around Napoleon slapping his back, shaking his hand.
"What?" This one was a little louder.
"I have to commend Mr. Kuryakin upon both the conception and completion of this assignment." Waverly gave him an affection pat on the shoulder.
"What?" This one was louder still and Waverly smiled.
"Perhaps you'd better explain, Mr. Kuryakin, before we all need earplugs."
"Yes, partner, perhaps you'd better." Napoleon glared at the Russian as Illya pulled a piece of paper out of his breast pocket and held it at arm's length to avoid putting on his glasses. He cleared his throat and read:
"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Illya Zone." He paused, grinning. "And with any luck, Mr. Serling won't hunt me down and shoot me for lifting his opening."
"The Illya Zone?" Napoleon's expression was softening now as he thought. "This isn't about the..."
"Exactly, remember I told you to expect it when you least expected it."
"That was almost three years ago, Illya."
Napoleon shook his head, studying the room for the first time. Banners were hung, doctored to read: Happy Unbirthday. "What's an unbirthday?"
"The inspiration behind all of this actually." Illya led him to the head of the table where a cake was positioned. "I was reading Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter was explaining to the White Rabbit and the March Hare that, while everyone had one birthday, they had 364 unbirthdays. Since I didn't know exactly when we would all be in one spot to stage this, I couldn't make the hints more specific."
"This was making me crazy!"
"Just as a car full of lollipops, an office full of teddy bears, and an apartment full of paper bags did for me."
"But that was different."
"That was funny. This was maddening."
"One man's insanity; another man's pleasure." Illya guided him to a chair. "And now, in the true form of an unbirthday party, an unbirthday gift." He handed Napoleon a brightly wrapped package.
"Illya. You shouldn't have!" Napoleon was delighted until he opened it and pulled out a disc of plastic that looked uncomfortably like vomit. "You really shouldn't have... what is it?"
"I'm told it's all the rage down at the gag store. Janice picked it out for me. Gag gift for a gag party."
"Well. I'm gagging, no doubt about that..." He tucked it back away out of sight. "I'm sure that will come in handy someday..."
And so it went as each gift became more and more bizarre, an anti THRUSH whoopee cushion from April and Mark, a box of exploding cigars from Mr. Waverly, the sheer insanity of the situation just became too much for Napoleon and he found himself joining in. Laughing, joking, then he happened to glance over at his partner.
Illya was watching him with a self satisfied smirk and he winked. Napoleon held up a cup of Earl Grey tea to him and grinned. He had no idea how he was going to top this, but top it he would... why, his very honor was now at stake... and if there was one thing a Napolean never did, it was admit defeat...