Napoleon Solo was exhausted, right down to his cells. This despite having spent the last three
hours in bed, during which time very little sleeping of any sort was done. He had an ache in his lower back, but his
libido was happily curled up in a corner, alternately purring and sighing. He needed to remember to send Summer flowers
once he got back to New York.
If I ever make it back
to New York. He looked up at the
reader board again and sighed. His plane
to New York via London had already been delayed once because of weather and it
looked now as if a layover in London was going to be inevitable.
And all he wanted right now was to get home and crawl into
his own bed and sleep for about a week.
This past affair, with all its bells and whistles, had been
exhausting. This was the last time he
was going undercover as a shoe salesman; he swore this to himself.
His hand drifted to his communicator and he ached to find a
quiet corner and call his partner. It
had been nearly three weeks since he'd talked to the Russian and Napoleon found
himself missing Illya. He missed Illya's
snide comments; he missed Illya's matter-of-fact intelligence. Hell, he even missed Illya's stealing of food
off his plate. These solo assignments,
once the stuff dreams were made of for him, now just seemed long and
He stretched again and smiled as the stewardess opened the
door to the runway.
Finally, he thought. Once he was on the plane, he could tuck
himself into a quiet corner and sleep his way to London. He got to his feet and joined the people queuing
Napoleon's first mistake was smiling at the attractive young
lady as he slipped past her to his window seat. It was a rare treat to get the
window, as Illya usually claimed it.
Napoleon's second mistake was asking the attractive young
lady how she was. Four hours later and
she was still talking. She hadn't
stopped, or seemingly even paused to breathe.
She just talked and talked, about everything and nothing. Napoleon had to occasionally check to see
that both ears were still attached and the thought of hiding out in the toilet
was appealing to him more and more when the Fasten Seat Belt sign came on. At last they would be landing and he would be
free of her.
It took him less than five minutes to lose her in Heathrow
and less than that to find a taxi once he made it through Customs and out of
the terminal. He'd check in with HQ and
then either crash in the small apartment UNCLE maintained for its 'guests'
there or get a room nearby. At this point Napoleon wasn't fussy, a bed
was a bed...
He paid the taxi and watched it trolley off into the London
traffic. He considered waving, but instead
headed into UNCLE HQ, via the front entrance.
Napoleon had only just begun his standard flirting with the
receptionist when Rod Erickson burst into the room.
"Hell, yes, they said you were here, but I didn't believe
it." Rod was the London's CEA and not a
bad guy, if you liked the loud, boisterous type. "My good fortune!"
"Just got in, Rod."
"Well, thank God, you did."
Rod grabbed his elbow and pushed him out into the corridor. "We are having big trouble down in
"When do we leave?"
"We don't. We have
agents in place, a couple of yours and a few of mine. The instructions are to
stay in contact with them and advise."
"Does that exclude a shower and a nap?"
"Afraid so, although I can arrange some
"That will do."
Napoleon repressed a sigh. Some
days the job demanded more of you than others.
Wearily, Napoleon climbed back onto a plane the next
afternoon, trying to avoid the dull ache that had settled into his head. He was so frigging tired. He'd managed a couple of cat naps during
their little governmental meltdown, but nothing substantial.
He settled down into his seat and closed his eyes. Napoleon Solo was determined he was going to
sleep all the way to New York, no matter what.
That's when he heard them - wailing babies. This was not going to make for a pleasant
trip. Then they got closer and closer
and he opened his eyes as the frazzled young mother, bearing twin screaming
bundles sat down beside him.
No, no, no, his
mind screamed. This can't be happening. God,
what have I done wrong that you would smite me so?
His headache had developed into a full-scale migraine by the
time they touched down in New York. The
poor mother had done everything she could, but the babies never relented. Either one or the other or both let the world
know they were not happy with this turn of events.
And, honestly speaking neither was Napoleon. He begged God and whoever else might be
listening that he'd see a familiar blond head sitting and waiting for him as he
deplaned. Prayed his partner would be
there to whisk him home to some well deserved rest. Lacking that, Napoleon would grab a cab. Hell, he'd walk if he had to...
He wasn't even going to head for HQ, not until he saw April
walking rapidly towards him, panic in her eyes.
The moment she got close enough she hugged him, hard.
"April, what's wrong?"
Napoleon pushed her away and studied her face.
"You want the bad news or the really bad news?" April stepped back, eyes searching his face.
"Your choice." Napoleon started walking quickly now towards
the front of the terminal. He knew a car
was there waiting for them.
"Waverly's down and Illya's missing."
sleep-deprived mind refused to do any more than merely register the words. "How?"
"You've been gone for awhile, haven't you?"
"A few weeks."
"We are being devastated by the flu. Agents are dropping like flies. Waverly passed out during a business
summit. Medical has him now and he's
resting comfortably... well, as comfortably as you can with a raging fever and a
chronic cough. At his age, we were worried. He's responding but it will be a few days
before he can command back over."
"Why wasn't I notified?"
"You were already airborne and the decision was made to
contact you once you landed. Hence me."
"He's missed his last two check-ins. Last we heard from him, he was in Estonia."
"Estonia? What the
hell is doing there? He was supposed to
be a sled dog trainer in Juneau."
"No idea." She
touched his arm and he stopped. "I'm
"So am I." With
Waverly down, Napoleon's first responsibility was to UNCLE, not to finding his
snatched partner. The
weight of the world and Illya too.
Shit, if he'd just been able to sleep on the plane he'd be able to think
more clearly. "April..."
"Mark and I are standing by for your orders." It didn't surprise Napoleon that the Brit had
silently fallen into step with them.
"We will, mate." Mark
patted him on the back and he and his partner walked
away as Napoleon climbed into the car.
Napoleon looked at his empty coffee cup with a sense of
relief and revulsion. It felt like the
only thing he'd put into his body in the last three days had come from this
cup. He was over exhausted, over
caffeinated and slightly nauseous.
He stared at the paper in his hands, trying to read the
jiggling words. It was the paperwork
handing the reins back over to Waverly.
The Old Man was still in bed, but if he couldn't get to the office, it
would have to go to him.
The intercom sounded and he was tempted to ignore it. The last thing he needed was one more
crisis. How Waverly did this was
"Napoleon!" Mark's voice was
riddled with static and there was the unmistakable sound of gunfire in the
background. "We have him. Down, April!"
The sound of return gunfire and something else... someone moaning, a voice
"Then get out of there and come home, Mark."
"Might be easier said than done, mate. There are complications." The communicator went dead and Napoleon's
hand slapped a button.
"Communications, get him back!"
"Trying sir, there's a huge storm moving into the area."
Napoleon's first impulse was to shout at her that he didn't
want excuses, he wanted results. But he caught himself just in time. Threatening his fellow employees wouldn't do
- that wasn't Napoleon Solo.
"Do the best you can, Stacy.
It's really important."
"Yes, sir, we will."
Napoleon shaved and
showered, then took to pacing the corridors.
When he had Waverly's responsibilities, there was always something to
focus on, anything other than what might be happening, what might be being
inflicted upon Illya. He felt like a
He stopped and looked at the door beside him. As with so many, it was unmarked except for a
number, but Napoleon knew what it was, where he was. He didn't know how he got here, but it didn't
matter. Nothing mattered right now
except for the safe return of his agents.
He entered the room and glanced around. Instantly you would know you were in a place
of worship. It was carefully
non-denominational. It was for everyone
and anyone who needed a bit of soul comfort.
Napoleon quietly moved to a pew and sank down onto the hard
wood. There were three other people in
the room, all here for similar reasons, Napoleon decided. Here for a little extra help, a bit of
guidance, a bit of comfort.
He closed his eyes. "Please,
God, just get them home safe."
He hadn't expected God to sound British, but what the hell,
he was open minded.
"It can't be; it's too
soon. There's so much more to do."
"There's always more
to do; the trick is knowing when to let go, when to
"Not now, please."
"Napoleon, wake up!"
The whisper was soft, but insistent.
Napoleon sat upright and looked to his left. April was kneeling there, one arm in a sling. Mark was standing behind her.
"We have been looking all over the place for you." She glanced around and smiled. "Didn't really expect to find
you here though."
"What happened? Were
"My not-so-brilliant partner shut my fingers in the car
door." She shot a look over her shoulder
and Mark hunched his in return.
"I did say sorry about a million time."
"Illya?" Napoleon sat up, rubbing
"Medical is checking him out now."
"Is he... April, is he okay?"
"Aside from nursing the mother of all hangovers, I think
he's probably okay."
"The THRUSH holding him decided to try a new way to get him
"By getting him drunk? That can't have ended well." He had a crick in his neck and a pounding in
his head. Just when he thought he
couldn't feel any worse... he did.
"So they discovered."
April stood up as did Napoleon.
He looked back towards the altar.
Different people were there now, but the desperation in their eyes was
the same. He was lucky. His partner was back. He made a mental note to come back when his
brain was functioning again to see if he could help his fellow agents.
Napoleon walked from the elevator into the all too familiar
reception area of Medical. A quick glance
to his right and the nurse's station brought a smile to his lips.
"Nellie, my sweet, my harbinger of good news, where is he?"
"Mr. Solo, you look terrible. Why don't you come and sit down for a few
"I just need to see him, Nellie, then
I promise. Right to
"To be honest, I don't think you have that long. I'm serious, Napoleon, how long since you've
had any real sleep?"
"About a week, maybe less, the days blur after the first
couple." He ran a hand over his hair,
patting it in place absently. "Nellie... please. I
just need to make sure he's okay."
"Napoleon, he's so okay, we sent him home half an hour ago."
"You are joking. Tell
me you are joking."
"He's dehydrated, complaining of a headache and a queasy
stomach. We're stretched to the limit
here, so we discharged him. One of the
Section Threes drove him."
"Then April waited, knowing I'd come down here... and you'd
start your pitch. You guys, you really
are witches... or devils... I'm not sure which."
"Why, Agent Solo, just for that we'll see how long you have
to wait for your next sponge bath."
Nellie tried to look offended, but broke towards the end. "Go home, Napoleon and get some sleep. Heaven knows you've earned it."
She led him to a chair and lifted a phone receiver. "Could we have a driver report to Medical,
Napoleon argued with the driver, threatened him, pleaded
with him and still ended up at his own apartment. He really would have rested better if he'd
been able to see Illya first, but at least he knew Illya was well and sleeping
And home never seemed so good before. A month, he'd been gone a month; there would
be nothing to eat in the refrigerator and the place would smell stale, but he
didn't care. He was home...
Then he stopped and groaned.
A weaker man would have fallen to his knees, screaming at the injustice
in the world. Napoleon knew about
injustice. He spent a large part of most
days battling it. A weaker man would
have shouted that God was out to get him.
Napoleon knew this was indeed the fact. A weaker man would have stopped there,
admitted defeat and curled up in a ball.
Napoleon merely stared at the plastic blocking his apartment door, at the
sign warning that fumigation was in process, a fancy UNCLE term for the
updating of his security devices, then he turned on
his heel and continued walking.
Napoleon quietly let himself into Illya's apartment, then
closed and locked the door behind him. He
was only going to stay a minute, but old habits die hard. You always lock the door behind you.
"Illya?" He kept his voice low, just in case the man
"You're lucky I didn't shoot you."
Napoleon grinned in relief at the sarcasm in his partner's
voice. It sounded tired, but
strong. Napoleon walked to the bedroom
and looked in. Illya was propped up on
pillows, his glasses perched on the end of his nose. The fact that he was actually in bed resting
told Napoleon he was feeling worse that he let on. "I didn't want to wake you."
Napoleon, I'm not the one who should be sleeping. Do you have any idea how bad you look?"
"And I missed you as well, my friend." He approached the bed and Illya sat up, very
carefully. Hints of gauze peeked out
from the cuffs of his pajama top. "Looks like they took you on a run for your money."
Illya shrugged and moved two of the books from the bed to
the floor. "Do me a favor and sit down.
Looking up is a bit of a challenge at the moment."
Napoleon looked down at the bed, rumpled but so, so
inviting. "I'm afraid if I do, it may
well be game over."
"Why are you here, Napoleon?
From what April and Mark told me, you should be home."
"UNCLE security is updating my alarm system."
"You're being fumigated then?"
"Yes. Anyhow, I was
heading to a hotel and thought I'd check on you first."
"There's no need for that.
My accommodations aren't exactly on par with the Ritz, but you are more
than welcome to stay here. And this
place is more secure than a hotel room."
"Oh, thank God."
Napoleon's shoulders sagged.
Within a minute he was stripped down to his underwear and lying beside
Illya. "I don't think I could have
walked a step further."
"Why the charade? You know you are always welcome to whatever I
have." Illya gestured widely. "Such as it is."
"I didn't know how you were feeling and didn't want to
"You're my partner, impose away.
"This beats the Ritz by a mile." Illya snorted and Napoleon laughed happily,
plumping up the pillow. The past few
days were just a memory now. He was no
longer haunted by the hours spent hovering over the intercom begging it to
herald good news. Of standing by the
door, a surgical mask over his mouth, wishing he could
comfort his superior and mentor. Of
screaming babies, chattering girls, and strangling responsibilities. Now, Waverly was on the mend and his partner
was close at hand.
He rested his head on the pillow, content and relaxed. He closed his eyes and let the lassitude
finally claim him as a victim... or tried to.
"Napoleon, what's wrong?"
"I can't sleep." He
turned on his side and studied Illya for a moment. The agent had resumed his reading. "Illya, I hate to ask you this..."
Illya closed the book, set it
aside and clicked off the light. After a
moment, he began to speak softly, "Somewhere, I cannot tell you exactly where,
but certainly in vast Russia, there lived a peasant with his wife and they had
twins – a son and daughter. One day the wife died and the husband mourned over
her very sincerely for a long time. One year passed, and two years, and even
longer. But there is no order in a house without a woman, and a day came when
the man thought, "If I marry again possibly it would turn out all right."
And so he did, and had children by his second wife.
"The stepmother was envious of
the stepson and daughter and began to use them badly. She scolded them without
any reason, sent them away from home as often as she could, and gave them
scarcely enough to eat. Finally she wanted to get rid of them altogether. Do
you know what it means to allow a wicked thought to enter one's heart...?"
If there was any more to the
tale, Napoleon didn't hear it... he was happily, and finally, asleep.
* Folk Tales From the Russian, by Verra Xenophontovna Kalamatiano de