Apple of His Eye

by Charlie Kirby

Napoleon Solo stared at his foe and wished for just a moment that it would make the first move; give him the chance to eradicate it from the planet's surface. For its part, the stack of file folders sat there, unassuming and unaware of the distress it was causing to the head of Section One.

There was nothing Napoleon hated more than paperwork and Section One seemed to thrive upon the stuff. No matter how diligently he worked, there was always another stack to take the place of the ones he'd just finished. In the olden days, he'd simply have dropped the pile on his partner's desk and been done with it. Things weren't that easy these days.

His partner - even though they were no longer in Section Two together, Napoleon still thought of Illya Kuryakin as his partner. Back then, as young men, they'd saved the world a dozen times over, often against incredible odds and not always with Mr. Waverly's blessings.

No one had expected the Old Man to suddenly pass away from a heart attack in the middle of the night. Napoleon had always figured Waverly would go down fighting, at his desk or at least, at headquarters. To die quietly in your own bed just didn't seem a fitting end for the Old Man, at least not to Napoleon Solo's way of thinking.

Still a year of field work to go before the mandatory retirement at forty, Napoleon was pulled out of his position as head of Section Two and plunked down behind The Big Desk. Abruptly, he was the one giving the orders and calling the shots. Frantically he worked to keep his head above water in those first few weeks and just as frantically, tried to keep his partner safe as he was forced to send him into harm's way.

Illya assumed Napoleon's old position and worked it with aplomb, but he went out into field alone and that made his former partner crazy. Every time Napoleon heard of an agent being down, he feared the worst, but Illya always made a habit of defying the odds. Even without Napoleon at his back, he still managed to buck the trend and survive to his fortieth birthday.

After considerable discussion of where Illya would best serve the organization, the Russian ended up as the head of Section Three, probably a just fate considering how he and Napoleon had run roughshod over the Section Three agents on an on-going basis. It was payback, except Illya was much cleverer than the man he replaced. He knew exactly what he needed to do to keep the lines of communication open and the flow between them moving.

Napoleon made a face and flipped open the top folder, prepared for yet another section report or request for transfer, equipment, or some other bit of bureaucracy. He wasn't prepared for what he read... or what he saw.

"Illya Nichovetch Kuryakin, you crafty son of a bitch," Napoleon said out loud. He shook his head and reread the report again and studied the attached photo again. "I don't believe it."

No matter what else you could say about Illya, he was a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it. As did his old partner and Napoleon leaned forward to toggle on a speaker. "Ms. Nelson, have Mr. Kuryakin report to my office... now."

"Yes, sir." The secretary was highly efficient and no nonsense, nothing like the women Waverly had employed. But this was a different world now and Napoleon found himself paddling as furiously as a one-armed man rowing up stream some days. Rarely did he have free time to dally with the ladies, not any more.

Idly, Napoleon reached for a personnel folder and flipped it open. His son's photograph started back at him. Like most UNCLE dossiers, Leon's background check was extensive, unless you looked for information about his mother. Napoleon had been tight lipped with regards to his son's mother and likewise, so had the boy. At a mere twenty two, Napoleon didn't yet consider him a man. Strangely enough, Napoleon had been an agent for nearly a year at twenty two and he was very much a man then, world weary and wise.

This gap in information had made Illya crazy as his department was responsible for checking every new recruit's background until they knew the young people inside and out. He argued, threatened, and even resorted to typical espionage tactics to try and uncover this information, but he remained at a dead end. Had it been anyone else, Illya would have escalated from that point, but not with Napoleon. Instead, and totally contrary to his nature, Illya let the matter go. He wasn't happy about it, but he did it anyway, out of respect for what they'd shared in the past and what they shared now as two old warhorses.

Napoleon grinned, well, almost let it go. There were times when Illya still tried, when he thought Napoleon's defenses were down enough to possibly let loose with a name, but it never happened. Illya had tried to drink it out of him, cheat, and coerce it out of him, but to no avail.

He went to a side board and began to mix a drink. While he seldom drank during the day now, he felt like a martini. And Napoleon reckoned that he'd lived through a lot of hell and that allowed him a touch of paradise now and again.

He was just dropping a cocktail onion into his glass when the doors to his office opened and Illya entered. It was obviously one of those days for the Russian. His tie was gone as was his jacket, exposing his holster to the world. The top buttons on his shirt were open and his hair was mussed, as if he'd been running his hands through it in frustration. Napoleon suddenly felt guilty about calling him up here.

"Bad day?" Napoleon motioned him to the couch that ran along one wall. From it, you could see out the only window in the building.

"Yemen's insurgents just bombed the Swedish Embassy and killed fourteen people, including two Americans. North Korea and Iran are becoming far too chummy and even my old homeland is starting to get its nose out of joint about some business deals we had in the Middle East. On the local front, we had a mob hit in the West end, there's a suspected infiltration in one of the local offices down south and I lost three good men to a plane crash last night. The cause is still undetermined, but the FAA is saying pilot error. My pilots don't make errors." He paused and checked his watch as he collapsed wearily on the hard cushions. "And it's just a bit after noon. So how's your day going?"

Napoleon handed him a glass of vodka neat and lifted his to it. "It all seemed so much easier in the old days."

"Same wars, different names, that's all." Illya drank half of his glassful in two gulps. "But that's not why you called me here."

"No, we need to talk."

"Will I not see you tonight?" Napoleon knew Illya was mentally running through Napoleon's appointment calendar. They saw each other frequently now, even more so than in the old days when assignments would frequently take them to opposite corners of the globe.

"This is work related and I feel more comfortable discussing it here." He again reached for the toggle. "See that I'm not disturbed, Ms. Nelson." Then he gathered up a folder and sat down beside his partner.

"That will make tongues wag."

"As you are fond of saying, if they have nothing else to talk about, theirs is an empty and dull life." Napoleon pushed the folder towards him. "It's been a long time, but there always been only one secret between us. I think it's time to lay it to rest."

Illya didn't bother to open the folder before him. He knew what was in it. "It's not necessary, Napoleon. I've closed this file."

"I haven't. I've never lied or kept anything else from you, old friend, and my conscience is starting to weigh on me. We're not young men any more, Illya, and I don't want this coming between us."

"There is nothing that could compromise our friendship, Napoleon, surely you know that."

"Please, it's time you knew the truth about Leon's mother."

"Not if you're going to tell me it was Angelique." Illya set his glass down with more force than was necessary and Napoleon looked sharply at him. "If that's your great truth, I don't want to hear it."

"It isn't."

"Serena then?" Napoleon didn't answer for a long time and Illya nodded. "Not perfect, but better. At least she had brains and some integrity. What happened?"

"What usually happens, I was careless, she was unconcerned until it was apparently too late. She was Catholic, so an abortion was out of the question and I couldn't very well tell the Old Man I'd been sleeping with and impregnating the enemy."

"But she kept him from you all those years."

"For his own good, or so she probably thought. If THRUSH had found out she had my son, it would have ended badly for one of us. Telling us that the other was dead was her way of keeping him out of harm's way. One thing you can say for her, Serena wasn't stupid." Napoleon paused to sip his martini. "She kept him at boarding schools under an assumed name. How could she have known that he'd continue in the family business?"

"With two spies as his parents, what real option did he have?" Illya picked up and drained his glass. "Does the Director know?"

"Only inasmuch as his parents were both in the spy game, but weren't fighting on the same side. He didn't ask, I didn't tell."

"At least the military got that part right." Illya stood and walked to the bar and pour himself another generous portion of vodka and downed it. "So, why the secrecy now? Why did you feel the need to bury this one so deep?"

"Absolutely no reason whatsoever. Maybe I was a little ashamed and saw it as a chink in my armor or something. For a long time, I thought it was over. Leon was dead and then so was Serena, it just seemed wrong to open closed wounds. Then when I found out he was still alive, it was like having to relive it all over again."

"He's your son, Napoleon, why would you be ashamed of that? He's got all the makings of a fine agent, carrying the best of both of you. The fact we got to him first is all that much better for all parties involved."

"Don't you have anything that you've hidden from the light of day? Something that you'd rather no one knew about?"

"No. Certainly I have done things I am not proud of, but I would admit to them, reluctantly if not readily. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, just curious." Napoleon got up and joined him at the bar, pouring the rest of the shaker into his glass and adding another couple of onions to it. He took the opportunity to top off Illya's drink as well and the Russian frowned. "I just think you're going to need it after you open that folder."

Finally intrigued, Illya walked to the table and, grinning, flipped back the cover. He scanned the first page, frowned slightly and read it again more slowly. Then he took out his glasses, sat down, and read it a third time.

"I don't understand... what is this? What are you accusing me of?"

"Playing your cards a little closer to your chest than was originally thought perhaps." Napoleon sipped his drink and smiled just a little. "You want to offer an explanation?"

"I have none to offer. This occurred without my knowledge or cooperation."

"Nice try, Kuryakin, now pull the other one. This couldn't have been without your direct cooperation. It just doesn't work that way... at least not to my knowledge."

"I swear, Napoleon, on my friendship and loyalty to you, I knew about none of this." Illya downed the vodka without pause.

"So you expect me to believe while we were busy recruiting my son for UNCLE, you were completely unaware that THRUSH was busy recruiting your daughter for themselves?" Illya merely looked at him, the confusion and surprise in his face raw and naked. "That's what I thought. She has just a touch of Angelique in her eyes, don't you think?" Napoleon sipped his drink again. "The file says her name is Pomme. That's French for apple, isn't it? As in forbidden fruit?"

Illya truly looked as if he was about to become ill. "One night, it was once one night... and come to think of it, that was entirely of your making... partner."

"That's all it takes, take my word for it. I dared you to take her on a date, not have sex with her." Napoleon raised his glass to Illya. "Welcome to the 'hood, my friend."

"The hood?"

"Parenthood. Cheers."

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