The Coming In From the Cold Affair
Illya rolled down the car window and rested his arm against the sill. He kept his eyes on the road, not wishing to miss his turn off. The smell of salt and sea had been noticeable even with the window up and the chance to enjoy the breeze against his face had been impossible to resist. He continued watching the line of trees and vegetation that hid the shore from his sight, looking for the break that would indicate he'd reached his destination. Another ten minutes passed before he thought he might have caught sight of it.
He pulled over to the side of the road and checked the map given him by the car rental agency. He'd tried to catch sight of the place from the air but the shore line had been dotted with houses, a string of tourist lures on this small South Pacific island, one indistinguishable from the other. Once he was sure he had the right place, he took the turn off from the highway and drove down the narrow road toward the beach and the small house that would be his and Napoleon's home for the next few days.
The dense tangle of palm and coconut trees, taro and scrub only went on a short distance before giving way to beach grass and sea rocket as the hard-packed soil was replaced with sand. He took his time—the road was little more than a shallow rut—not wishing to end up stuck if he happened to stray off the path. A short distance in and it looped back around so that he was heading in the direction he'd come. A little further and the road gave out completely, depositing him before a small two-story house.
Illya cut the engine. He reached over to retrieve his suitcase from the back seat and got out of the car. He looked around. There didn't seem to be anyone, or anything, around for miles. The house itself sat with its back to the trees, facing out to the surf that pounded a hundred or so feet away.
A breeze ruffled his hair and he smiled. It was a good place; one could almost believe they were on a vacation, rather than it being a mission which had brought them here. Of course, that was the whole idea. But the warmth of the place was a welcome break from the dreary New York winter and for the first time in a long time he didn't feel cold.
He locked up the vehicle and took the paved walkway up to the small porch that ran the length of the place. He unlocked the door with the key he'd been given and let himself in.
Dropping his bag, he leaned over to turn on a nearby lamp. Nothing. The power probably needed to be turned on. He made his way through the dimly lit kitchen to the fuse box mounted on the back wall. He opened it and pushed up the lever. In the living room, the lamp glowed to life. He nodded in satisfaction and began an exploration of the place. It was small; the downstairs consisting of a kitchen, living room and a tiny half bathroom tucked under the stairwell. Upstairs, two bedrooms split off from the narrow hall that ran the width of the house. At its end was another bathroom, its shower stall barely sufficient.
He returned downstairs. Given that he didn't know when Napoleon would be arriving, he decided he might as well make himself useful. He threw open the two windows that fronted the house and then proceeded to unload their supplies from the car.
"Make sure you bring enough to see us through at least a week because the place is quite a ways from anywhere. You don't need to get fancy—but make it edible at least, Illya."
His silence over the phone had promised nothing, but Illya was glad for the variety of foods he'd purchased in the small town near the airstrip. By the time he'd put everything away, the refrigerator and cupboards were well stocked.
That done, he'd hauled his bag upstairs, taking the room on the right, more out of habit than anything else, and after unloading his clothes decided on a shower. He only hoped the water tank had had enough time to heat.
It had—barely. But the upstairs was warm from the day's heat and the cool water felt good on his skin. He redressed, this time in a pair of old jeans and a worn t-shirt, and, barefoot, decided to throw something together to eat.
Later, sitting at the kitchen table, absently eating a sandwich while taking sips of his beer between bites, he contemplated his absent partner.
Napoleon had been gone six weeks, volunteered by Mr. Waverly to take charge in the opening of a new UNCLE office in Europe. The only contact between him and Illya had been a series of brief phone calls. Illya had wondered about them at first; Napoleon had never been the type to keep in touch that way whenever they'd been separated, but six weeks is a long time. And while he'd never admit it to him, Illya had missed Napoleon. A lot. That first call, setting his phone ringing at half past three in the morning two weeks after Napoleon's departure, had pulled Illya from a sound sleep—in addition to the rotten mood that had plagued him for days. It had been so good to hear his partner's voice.
Illya wondered what exactly had been going through Napoleon's mind when he'd placed that first call. He'd acted as if the call had been made out of boredom, casually mentioning that, for once, he'd been without female companionship and so had decided to give Illya a call. Yet, the next day, though at a more reasonable hour, Illya had received another call—and then another after that, so that, without either of them remarking on it, it had become a daily ritual. Except for those times when he was out of town, Illya had made sure to be home in time for his partner's call, and they quickly became the highlight of his day. Yes, the calls were short out of necessity, but they kept the connection they shared strong.
He remembered the obvious affection in Napoleon's voice as they'd traded the mundane—and not so mundane—aspects of their lives. Of course he meant a lot to his partner; Napoleon had made that abundantly clear over the years. Yet this need for constant contact between them was something new. And there had been something new in his tone, too, something Illya had never thought to hear from Napoleon: loneliness. Illya had recognized it immediately. He was, after all, more than acquainted with the feeling.
When Illya had been ordered on this mission, he'd mentally balked. It was an easy assignment; wait for the signal from a passing ship and then go out to meet it. Daniel Green, the captain and sole occupant, would verbally pass on any information he'd gleaned through his travels. Illya would then return to the house, report in and wait to be picked up.
Easy, except he'd known that Napoleon would be returning any day now. He'd picked up the folder, wondering if he'd ever see his partner again, when Mr. Waverly had informed him that Napoleon would be meeting him there, the explanation being that it would raise less suspicion for two friends to be on vacation, rather than a lone man.
They'd taken vacation together before; truth be told, they'd fallen into a habit of it very early in their partnership. They worked together, and often found themselves spending evenings together, those evening when Napoleon wasn't on a date Illya sourly reminded himself, relaxing with a drink or two, comfortable in each other's company. Somehow, it had seemed a natural progression to spend their vacation time together, too. Apparently, Mr. Waverly was aware of the situation and had had no qualms in using it for his own ends.
Of course, this time would be different. The first night would be theirs, since the signal was not expected until sometime between their second and fifth night. But after that, both would have to be continually alert and much of their time would be apart, as one watched and one slept, their lives overlapping only part of the day. Still, he'd be spending what time they had with his friend alone, the closest woman miles away.
Popping the last bit of sandwich into his mouth, he stood and carried his plate and bottle over to the sink. He used the dregs of his beer to wash his meal down before throwing the bottle away and grabbing two more out of the refrigerator. He walked outside and took a seat on the wicker settee that was part of a grouping on one side of the porch. Propping his feet up on the accompanying table, his arms resting on his up drawn knees, he gazed out onto the Pacific. He hoped Napoleon managed to arrive today, though a glance at the horizon told him the chances of that happening were quickly fading. His partner had been unsure of his flight home, the weather overseas in full winter mode.
Still, it was pleasant here, even by himself. Peaceful. The soft sounds of the surf played in harmony with the last twittering of the birds nestled within the underbrush as they made ready for sleep. Imperceptibly, his surroundings darkened, slowly giving way to night; he watched the sun make its way down to the horizon and then slip beneath the water line.
With sunset, the air cooled. The breeze, carrying the scent of the sea, was a welcome relief from the day's heat. He sat there a long time, watching, waiting. Finally, he picked up the two empty bottles and returned indoors. He closed up, making sure the place was secure before going upstairs.
He undressed down to his underwear, his clothes an inelegant heap on the floor as he crossed the room to open the window. The wind tickled his body, bringing a surge of longing. Tomorrow, he thought, Napoleon would be here tomorrow.
He turned to the bed, placing his gun under his pillow before climbing in and pulling up the covers, the sheet an inadequate shield against the night. Eventually, he slept.
He heard the slam of a car door, and then the murmur of conversation. He quickly rose, grabbing his jeans on his way to the window. He hopped on one foot as he maneuvered his pant leg on, at the same time trying to see outside without being seen.
He didn't recognize his partner at first. Dressed in a dark blue polo shirt and light chinos, it took a moment for Illya to square this man with the jacket-and-tie attired professional he was used to. He could count on one hand the times he'd seen Napoleon in anything else. He looked good.
Napoleon must have already paid the driver because the man popped the trunk, handed him his luggage, and then got back into the cab and drove away without a second look. Illya waited until the man was well on his way before calling down.
"Does this mean you're expecting a ride back, or have you decided to take up long-distance running?" he asked as he leaned against the window sill.
Napoleon looked up and smiled. "Tell you what, you agree to drive me back and I'll make brunch."
"You've got a deal. I'll be right down."
Grabbing a t-shirt on his way out, Illya hurried down the stairs and opened the front door just as Napoleon reached the other side.
"Two bags, Napoleon? What did you think you would have to dress for?" he asked as he took one of the two valises from his partner's hand and started back up the stairs.
"I didn't want to take any chances. Besides," Napoleon added, bringing up the rear, "the weather around here can change on a dime."
"I didn't realize a jacket took up an entire bag," Illya shot back before reaching the landing at the top of the stairs and entering the room on the left.
Napoleon followed him in, giving the room a nod of acceptance before starting to unpack.
Illya dropped the second bag next to his friend and sat cross-legged on the bed.
"Watch the feet. That's my bed you've got them on."
"They're clean. I just got up."
Napoleon stopped what he was doing, the stack of shirts halfway into the dresser drawer. "It's almost eleven."
Illya shrugged. "I was up rather late. Besides, there was no reason to get up early, as I was all alone here," he added, pointedly.
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that. We got socked in and I had to take a later flight. I didn't get out of New York until almost midnight. I caught the earliest flight I could out of Singapore to get here."
"I assume this means the new headquarters is up and running."
"Finally." Napoleon hung the last of his clothes in the small closet in the corner and placed his two bags on the floor. He closed the door and turned to Illya. "And done here, too. Ready for that meal I promised you?"
Illya grinned and got off the bed. He didn't need to be asked twice.
Illya sat with his legs wrapped around the legs of the chair, his elbows propped on the small dinner table placed in the middle of the room. He watched as Napoleon expertly flipped the pancakes while making sure the bacon didn't burn. In a second pan, several eggs bubbled happily in a sea of butter—just the way Illya liked them.
"Have you read the file on our contact?" Napoleon asked without turning around.
"I assume from your question that you haven't."
Napoleon did turn around then to throw Illya a quick grin. "I did manage to scan through the stuff on my flight here. Let's see, Daniel Green, age forty-five, blue eyes, dark blond hair, height six two." Napoleon's eyebrows rose dramatically. "Born in Boston, Massachusetts to a prominent family. Wounded twice during the War, graduated from the college of William and Mary with a degree in marine biology. Considering his interests, it's strange that he picked UNCLE to work for."
"He must have found academia just as boring as I did. In any event, for most of the time that he's worked for us it's been in the limited capacity of informant."
"I wonder why," Napoleon mused as he filled Illya's plate then handed it over to him. "With his credentials, he could have had his pick of assignments as an agent."
"Perhaps he has no desire to be shot at. With the arrangement he has now, he gathers whatever information comes his way and passes it on."
"That can be a dangerous game, too," Napoleon responded as he brought his own plate over and took a seat. "Informers aren't particularly liked—by either side."
"I got the impression that this man is much more than a mere informer. He's helped break up several crime rings, not to mention a couple of THRUSH installations."
"Exactly. So why take the risk, and then not put yourself under UNCLE's protection?"
Illya thought about it between bites. It did seem odd. Finally, he shrugged. "It makes no sense to me, either. Perhaps you could ask him when we see him," he added, giving Napoleon a wry look.
"I just might. And speaking of which, what hours do you want to be on watch? I figure one of us can stay up and be spelled around one. The other can sack out until then and then take the watch until sunrise."
"Since I had a full night's sleep, I'll take the first watch. I don't think I'd be able to fall asleep early, anyway."
"And I'll let you," Napoleon took a swig of coffee to wash down his food before continuing, "because I didn't get more than a few hours. I'll be lucky to last until evening, so if we're going to do anything but sit here and stare at each other we better get to it soon."
"Are you sure one of us shouldn't take a watch before dark?"
"Mr. Waverly told me that Green never makes an appearance before nightfall—and never after dawn."
It made sense, Illya thought as he finished his meal. There was less of a chance of being spotted. And he and Napoleon would have to be alert for the signal because it wouldn't last long. Once received, they'd only have thirty minutes to get to the boat. If they didn't make it in time, Green would just leave. The man apparently took nothing to chance. Perhaps that was why he had lasted as long as he had.
"It must be a lonely life."
Illya looked up from his plate. "Green's?"
"Don't you think? Always alone, sailing from port to port but never staying in one place very long."
"We don't know that he's always alone."
"According to the records he is. Not once, in the over fifteen years that he's been doing this, has there ever been anyone else aboard. Even odder, he's met up with our agents dozens of times, often in different locations, and each time he's insisted that it be someone new. Neither of us has ever seen him before and won't ever see him again."
"I suppose it makes some sort of sense not to get close to any one agent, but surely he must have contacts on shore, people he meets with on a regular basis. How else could he get the information that he does?"
Napoleon had pushed his plate to the side and leaned forward. His elbows rested on the table and he cradled his coffee cup in his hands. "Contacts, sure. But what kind of emotional connection could he possibly make with them? He stays only long enough to find out if they have any information worth collecting, then moves on." He shrugged. "It just doesn't seem like much of a life."
"His life is not so different from ours. Perhaps a degree more isolating, but, still, very much as ours are."
Napoleon chuckled derisively. "Exactly."
Illya gave his partner an uneasy look. It wasn't like Napoleon to be so reflective. Normally, he seemed to give little thought to the darker side of their lives and what they, and all who worked in their field, had given up in order to do so. Their job was their life; until now, Illya had believed Napoleon gladly paid the price.
Napoleon must have seen something in his face, because his smile turned to one of amusement. "Don't worry, Illya. I knew what I was getting into when I joined UNCLE, and nothing has changed that would make me think I'd made the wrong choice. It's just a mood. I'll be fine."
"It's because you have been away from your many admirers at headquarters. Not a day passed that I didn't have some lovelorn woman come up and ask me when you would be returning."
"What makes you think I didn't have admirers where I was?" Napoleon asked.
Illya rolled his eyes.
Napoleon laughed and then stood to begin gathering their plates. "Let's clean up here and then take a walk on the beach. We need to look for a place where we'll have a clear view for tonight."
Illya stood at the doorway, his weight resting against the jamb. His gaze was focused on the figure on the bed, the dim light of the room making it hard to distinguish individual features.
As if Illya didn't know Napoleon's features by heart.
He could imagine the distinctive profile nestled against the pillow, Napoleon's olive complexion in stark contrast to the whiteness of the linen, the blanket over his partner's bare chest, the muscles firm and taut, rising and falling with each breath. He didn't dare imagine more.
Illya had early on come to deal with his feelings for Napoleon. He'd carried lust in his heart for his good-looking partner from practically their first meeting. He'd have been hard-pressed not to, the man's movie-star looks and overpowering charm a heady mixture. But Illya had had years of practice of hiding those responses. Especially from men like his partner who would never have welcomed them. So when a deep and abiding loneliness had crept into his soul, he'd been at first perplexed, then astonished. Watching the man sleep, Illya could only wonder at his own self-delusion.
No one was as important to him as his partner. No one had ever become so much a part of his life. When they'd first met, he'd wondered how they would get along, this self-assured man, who seemed to like everyone and who everyone seemed to like, and himself, reserved, not needing, and rarely wanting, the company of others. Somehow, they had clicked. And as the days and months and years had passed, Illya's feeling had quietly grown, surprising him with their intensity once acknowledged.
He shook his head in disgust. He'd been well nigh infuriated with himself at the time. Lust he could deal with. But when that lust had somehow transmuted into love, Illya had known he was in trouble.
When Napoleon stirred and rolled on his back, Illya straightened and walked away, not wishing to take the chance of Napoleon waking. It would be an awkward situation, indeed, trying to explain why he had been standing there staring at his friend. He went downstairs and headed toward the kitchen. He still had about half an hour before he needed to take his position; a good use of his time would be to fix something to eat while brewing a pot of coffee.
During their walk, they'd found a stand of rocks about a hundred yards from the house; the large outcropping was a perfect break against the winds that rose intermittently and it afforded cover from anyone who might take it into their heads to be on the beach at those hours. At some point in the ancient past, the ocean had even carved out a seat of sorts into the rock.
Busy preparing his food, Illya thought back on the day and the pleasure he'd experienced at spending the time with his partner. They'd walked along the beach until they'd come to what passed for a town on the island. The restaurant, one side accessible from the sea, was already open for business, so they'd ordered a drink and enjoyed the ambiance of the place. Once back, they brought each other up to date on what had been going on in their respective lives, speaking of events that they had not been able to discuss over the phone. He'd discovered that Napoleon had disliked just about everything about the small, European country he'd been sent to: the food, the weather, the lack of entertainment. It had lifted his spirits even more when Napoleon had compared staying there with being banished to the Gulag, because the thought that his friend would be put in charge of the place had never been far from Illya's mind.
What had surprised him was how open Napoleon had been about how much he had missed Illya. Neither man was one to express deep feelings or sentiments easily, yet the idea that something had been missing from both their lives was an ever-present thread in their conversation. Never spoken of openly, but acknowledged, nevertheless. It wasn't everything Illya desired, but it was a gift he would treasure, always.
But the hours had taken their toll on his friend, and too soon Napoleon had risen and proclaimed that he couldn't go another minute without some sleep. He'd said goodnight and gone upstairs, leaving Illya to pass the time as best he could. He'd gone outside to read and had completed almost half of one of the books he'd brought before the lowering sun had forced him inside. He'd gone upstairs to change and had been inexplicably drawn to his friend's room.
Illya snorted. He couldn't get enough of Napoleon. Wasn't that explanation enough?
He finished wrapping the two sandwiches, filled the thermos with coffee, and then cut himself a couple of thick slices from the cake he'd bought, one for now and one for later. He placed everything in a holdall and carried it into the living room. He donned a light jacket to cover his gun and let himself out. Locking the door securely, he gave the place one more look before following the path away from the house.
"Two ships, but neither signaled." Illya turned to hand the binoculars to his approaching partner. "I do think I may have spotted a pod of dolphins."
"Oh, you're not going to give me the genus?" Napoleon quipped as he sat next to Illya on the rock.
"Contrary to popular belief, I can't see in the dark." He tilted his head. "But they may have been bottle-nosed."
"I'm sure they were." Napoleon reached around him and picked up the thermos. "Any left?"
"About half. It's probably cold."
"I don't care. It'll help keep me awake."
"You'll certainly need it." Illya looked back out to sea. "It's really quite peaceful here."
"Too much so." Napoleon handed the thermos to Illya before lifting the binoculars strap over his head and then scanning the water. "I hope Green shows up soon. I hate sitting around, doing nothing but watching."
Illya uncapped the thermos and poured his partner a cup of coffee. Napoleon took the cup without looking down. He took a swallow and grimaced.
"You're right, it is cold."
"If you like, I can make more coffee and refill the thermos."
"Aren't you going to bed?"
"I'm not sleepy. Besides, it isn't as if I can't sleep in."
"That's true. But, no, this is fine," Napoleon added before downing what was left and then handing the cup back to Illya. "I meant to ask, did the Old Man tell you how they plan on getting us off this rock?"
"Once we get the information from Green, we're to report in. At that time he'll set up to have a helicopter sent out. But he warned me that it could take a day or two."
"Really?" That brought Napoleon's gaze away from the sea. "He's actually going to give us a couple of days off?"
"I don't think it's intentional."
"Oh, come on. Mr. Waverly could probably get Air Force One out here if he felt like it."
"The airport runway is not long enough."
Napoleon gave him a sour look and then returned to scanning the ocean.
"Perhaps he feels we need a vacation. Neither of us have had more than a day or two off for months."
"I certainly could use the time. After this last assignment—"
"Yes, I know, the place was terrible, the food horrendous, the company inadequate. Did I miss anything?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. Being the boss..." Napoleon shrugged.
"What, not exactly thrilled at playing Number One?"
"Not really. It's funny, a lot of people have always assumed that I'd take over Mr. Waverly's spot when the time came; I think I did, too."
"But no more?"
"I certainly have my doubts. It's—lonely."
"Is that why all the calls?"
In all the time they'd been exchanging calls, it had never come up as to why, once Napoleon had taken it into his head to contact Illya, he'd made it a routine. Now seemed as good a time as any to find out.
"Can't a man miss his partner?"
Illya gave him a searching look. "Yes, but that's not what I'm asking."
Napoleon appeared to gather his thoughts before responding. "Whoever holds that position is automatically set apart. You're responsible for everyone around you, so you can't afford to get too close to any of them. There were people around me all the time, but I was essentially alone."
"But it wouldn't be that way if you were in New York. You already know everyone. And I'd be there."
"Would you?" Napoleon looked back at him for a moment. "You'd be out in the field and I'd be stuck behind a desk. I don't know if I could deal with that."
Illya didn't know what to say. He'd wondered what he would do if Napoleon had ever taken the number one position, yet it had never occurred to him that Napoleon would wonder, too.
They were quiet after that, as if the words had cast a pall over them. Illya stayed for another hour or so, the silence between them feeling more as of a shared grief rather than an awkward self-consciousness.
As he left, he placed his hand on Napoleon's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. His friend's hand came up to cover his, returning the gesture. They remained that way for long seconds before Illya finally pulled his hand away and began his walk back to the house.
It seemed to Illya that he had only just put his head down when he heard the front door open, yet he opened his eyes to the muted light of early dawn. He held onto his gun until he heard Napoleon's whispered 'it's only me' as he came up the stairs. With that, he relaxed and fell back to sleep.
The next time he woke, it was to the sound of rain. He squinted at the clock. Almost noon. He got up and grabbing a clean set of clothes, headed for the shower. By the time he came out he could hear Napoleon rustling about in his own room. He stuck his head in the doorway. Napoleon was sitting on the edge of the bed, his eyes barely open. "It's all yours."
Napoleon waved him away, so Illya went downstairs.
After breakfast, he grabbed one of the books he'd brought along, Gamow's Biography of Physics. It was almost a year old, which showed just how far Illya was falling behind in his reading. He was up to Archimedes when he heard a cough.
He looked up. Napoleon stood in front of him wearing a pair of very short trunks. They were perhaps the shortest pair of trunks Illya had ever had the pleasure of seeing. That it was Napoleon wearing them only made it that much more pleasurable. Not only were they short, but they left little to the imagination. He was finally able to pull his gaze away and noticed that his friend was also wearing a wind breaker.
"I thought I'd go for a run," Napoleon said. "Do you want to join me?"
It was tempting. Perhaps, too much so. "I think I'll stay in and finish this." He held up the book for Napoleon's inspection.
His friend grimaced. "Sounds exciting. Do you think you'll be finished in time for an early dinner?"
"I don't know." He glanced at the book that was once again cradled in his lap. "Why do you ask?"
"I was hoping we could go back to that restaurant we visited yesterday."
"Something catch your eye, Napoleon?" Illya asked. He was unable to completely hide his displeasure.
"No," Napoleon shot back defensively, "I just thought I'd like to try out their food, if that's all right with you."
Illya took a breath. "I'm sorry. I suppose I just assumed—"
"That I was on the prowl." Napoleon grimaced. "I suppose I can't blame you. It's been my usual practice up until now."
"It's gotten old." Napoleon shrugged, embarrassed. "Or I have. I don't know," he rubbed his chin. "Bedding a different person all the time has begun to lose its attraction."
Illya had never understood its attraction to begin with. He was glad to hear that his friend had finally come to the same conclusion. Yet this change held its own danger. "You wish for permanency with someone?"
"Maybe." Napoleon looked at Illya. "Is that what you're looking for? Why you don't appear to..." he stumbled over his words.
"Have very many bed partners?" Illya finished for him.
"Something like that. Not that it's a bad thing. I envy you sometimes. You don't seem to need anyone."
"That doesn't mean I don't want someone, Napoleon. It just means I'm more willing to wait for that right someone to come along."
"Well, maybe so am I. Now."
"What if the right person never does?"
"I can't believe that. I won't believe it, not until...not until I have to."
"Do not worry, Napoleon, I'm sure there is someone out there for you. All you have to do is find her."
"Yes," Napoleon agreed rather distractedly, "that's all I have to do." He seemed to shake himself mentally and then threw Illya a brittle smile. "But right now I'm going for my run. You sure you don't want to join me?"
"I'm sure. For one thing, it's raining."
"It's not raining that hard and we wouldn't be gone that long. An hour tops."
"I'll have a towel waiting. Go on, Napoleon, but don't expect me to nursemaid you if you end up catching a cold."
Napoleon only grinned and then left for his run.
From where he sat Illya could watch his friend as he started down the beach. Their conversation left Illya feeling melancholy but, being Russian, it was an emotion he had had his share of experience with. He brushed it off, realizing that at least he had his friend back. It would have to be enough. And it was, truly, or so Illya told himself.
He returned to his book and tried to lose himself in the scientific strides of the Renaissance. By the time Napoleon returned from his run, he had somehow managed to reach the age of electricity, no mean feat when you considered how often his mind had strayed back to their earlier conversation.
Napoleon, on the other hand, seemed to have gotten past his introspective mood and had once again become the suave, seemingly carefree man Illya had come to know and love.
After awhile, after the clouds had broken up and the sun had decided to make an appearance, Napoleon managed to talk him into putting his book aside and taking another walk on the beach. They returned to the restaurant from the day before, where Napoleon did seem more interested in the food than in any of the other patrons. On their return to the house, they inspected their boat and made a check of the perimeter. Napoleon turned in soon after.
"Napoleon," Illya whispered into the darkened room.
Napoleon sounded wide awake; he had probably been awake as soon as Illya had entered the house.
"He is here."
Illya heard the rustle of bedding and then the dark shape of his friend as he pulled on his clothes.
"How far out does he seem?"
"Not more than a couple of miles. It shouldn't take us long to get to the rendezvous point."
Illya's watch had almost been over when he had seen the prearranged signal. The light had flickered off and on six times and then gone permanently dark. They would have to find the ship by sensor alone.
They hurried out of the house and onto the beach. Their boat sat just out of the water, so once they'd removed the protective tarp, it was a swift and easy job to pull it out into the ocean and push off. The rowed out about a hundred feet before starting the small outboard motor and turning on the boat's lights. They hadn't spotted any trouble, but it was best to error on the side of caution.
While Napoleon guided their course, Illya turned on the small device that would pick up the signal coming from Green's boat.
"Have you got it?" Napoleon asked without turning around.
"Not yet...wait, there it is. Change course a couple of degrees to the right. He'll be straight ahead."
They moved forward at a steady pace, though Napoleon had throttled back from their first burst of speed. They didn't wish to come up on Green's boat too suddenly; even if they didn't crash into it, there was no telling what Green's reaction would be to another boat coming at him at full speed.
"I think I see it," Napoleon said. "Yes, it's around a hundred yards ahead." He throttled back even more and slowly approached the waiting vessel.
It looked like an old commercial fishing boat, or would have if they could have seen any sign of fishing equipment. It was probably one of the hundreds of decommissioned boats that had lost its usefulness as the fishing industry was taken over by the large factory trawlers.
Indeed, Illya thought, as Green made his appearance on the side of the boat, its captain could have stepped off the deck of a 19th century schooner. Even with the limited light, it was easy to tell that this man had spent a great deal of his time out on the water. His beard and mustache did little to hide his weathered complexion.
"Permission to come aboard, Captain," Napoleon called out, the words the first part of the code to let Green know who they were.
"And who asks my permission?" Green responded.
"Your two favorite nephews," Napoleon answered back.
The man nodded and then threw out a line. They quickly hauled their boat over and, with Green's help, secured it to the side of the larger vessel.
"Are you sure that will be okay?" Napoleon asked dubiously as he eyed their boat below.
"I know what I'm doing, young man. It's not as if I haven't been at it long enough."
Napoleon gave a friendly smile. "Just asking."
Illya watched the two men. On the surface, they seemed as different as night to day, his cultured partner and this rugged man of the sea. Yet one need only look a bit deeper to see that both were men of strength and strong conviction. He'd known that about Napoleon almost from the beginning and had picked up hints of it from Green's dossier. Meeting the man had just confirmed it.
"Come into the cabin. I've not much to report, not formally, anyway, but we'll be more comfortable in there."
They followed Green inside and sat at the small booth that took up the back wall of the cabin. Above them, Green's bunk was neatly made. The man pulled out a bottle of whiskey and poured them all a shot. He sat down, taking a sip of the beverage before speaking.
"The only information I have is that there appears to be a new THRUSH installation being built on one of the Solomon Islands."
"There are almost a thousand islands; can't you be a little more specific?" Illya asked.
Green reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He opened it up on the table, pressing out the folds with his hands. "It's on one of the more easterly ones." He pointed to one closest to the New Hebrides. "I don't know its name. Hell, it may not even have one. But THRUSH is doing its best to disrupt the government there."
"That isn't surprising," Illya said. "The Islands are known for their weak political parties and highly unstable parliamentary coalitions."
"And since they tend to live in isolated villages along different islands, there's no shared language or culture, a prime situation for THRUSH to take advantage of," Napoleon added.
"Exactly," Green noted. "Their main source of funds seems to come from the clear cutting of their forests which, of course, the people see little of. Anyone offering a more, shall we say, equitable deal would be warmly welcomed."
"We'll let Mr. Waverly know. I'm sure he'll contact the Australian office and inform them of your observations." Napoleon hesitated a moment. "You said you had little to formally report. I take it that means there's something you want to report informally."
Green nodded and appeared to grow pensive. "I'm afraid I've had enough of this life. This is my last run."
Napoleon and Illya shared a look of surprise.
"Mr. Waverly will be sorry to hear that," Napoleon said. "He's always relied on your work."
"I know, and I'm sorry to let him down, but," Green faltered a moment. "I'm tired of being alone all the time. I've a wife and family; I'd like to spend some time with them."
"You're married?" Illya asked.
"Aye, have been for over ten years." Green smiled. "Carolyn's been most understanding, but recently, well, I've gotten the impression that her patience is beginning to wear thin. I've given almost twenty years to UNCLE. That should be enough, shouldn't it? The rest of my life belongs to me."
"What will you do?" A life after UNCLE awaited all of them, but it was a life Illya had purposely never given any thought.
"Does it matter?" Green shrugged. "Whatever it is, I don't plan on doing it alone."
Napoleon finished off his drink and stood up, moving to the side to allow Illya room to slide out of the booth. "I suppose there's no talking you out of it?"
"No, my mind's made up."
Napoleon nodded. "Then I suppose we should be on our way."
Green led them out of the cabin and back to their boat. He stood by the railing, ready to cast them off as soon as they had settled into the vessel. Napoleon signaled his readiness with a wave as he started the motor.
"Good luck." Illya couldn't help but call out as they left the boat behind.
The trip back to shore took only minutes and soon they were entering the house.
"Do you want to call Mr. Waverly or should I?" Illya asked as he locked the door behind them.
"I'll do it." Napoleon grimaced. "He's not going to be pleased with this development."
"The man has a right to his own life, Napoleon."
"I know, but I doubt Mr. Waverly is going to see it that way."
They went upstairs and while Illya got ready for bed, Napoleon put in the call. As Napoleon had suspected, Waverly wasn't pleased. Illya could hear their boss's gruff response to Napoleon's report even from across the hall. When he heard Napoleon sign off, he walked over to his room. He found his friend sitting on the bed, removing his shoes and socks.
"He didn't sound too happy."
"That's putting it mildly."
"What did he say about picking us up?"
Napoleon stood and started unbuckling his belt. "Day after tomorrow. It seems he's wasting no time in getting agents out to the Solomon's. One of them will pick us up on the way home."
"You will not be too bored? As you said yourself, there is very little to do here."
Napoleon stepped out of his pants and started on his shirt buttons. He fought a yawn. "I'm sure we'll think of something. Until then," he removed his shirt and climbed into bed, "I'm going to try to get back to sleep. Catch the lights on your way out, will you?"
Illya walked over to the door. "I'll see you in the morning, then. Goodnight, Napoleon."
He heard a mumbled reply from his friend as he partially closed the door and returned to his own room.
Illya woke to the sense of someone in the room. The slide of his hand beneath his pillow as he reached for his gun was interrupted by the sound of his partner's voice.
"I need to say something."
He came up on one elbow. Napoleon stood next to the bedroom's window. Moon light streamed in through the parted curtains, but he stood just outside its illumination, hidden in darkness.
"Right now?" Illya looked at the clock next to the bed. It was three forty-five.
"If I don't say it now, I may never have the courage to."
Illya was unable to hide his surprise. He sat up, tucking the covers up around his waist and studied his friend. "What is it, Napoleon?"
Napoleon pulled out of the shadows and approached the bed. Illya could now see that Napoleon had thrown on a robe, but it was untied and his briefs shone white against his skin.
He hesitated a moment before sitting at its foot. "Ten years is a long time to wait, isn't it?"
"I don't—" Illya closed his mouth against his automatic rejoinder. Instead he tried to think what it was that could be troubling his friend. Wherever this was going, he'd play along for now. "Yes, it is."
"She must love him very much."
"I suppose she does."
Napoleon looked away. "It didn't bother me at first."
Illya wondered at the non sequitur.
"I'd worked alone before. But then, as the weeks went by, I realized that what I was feeling was more than loneliness."
Illya could only surmise, could only hope, that Napoleon was speaking of their recent time apart. "What was it?"
Napoleon moved closer, until he sat only inches away from him.
"Loss, as if I'd loss the best part of myself." He shrugged, and gave a slightly mocking smile. "That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?"
"Not to me. I know what it is to be alone, to wish for that which is out of reach."
Napoleon finally looked up and Illya could see the beginnings of understanding in his expression.
"I don't think I could have handled much more. Six weeks was more than enough. The thought of doing that for years..." He reached up and touched Illya's face. "I could maybe stand being apart for a little while if I knew you were there, waiting for me."
Illya didn't hesitate. Realizing what his partner was offering, he reached out and, taking Napoleon by the arms, gently pulled him into an embrace. "I will always wait for you, Napoleon. Haven't I so far?"
"All that time I was away, I was always afraid you wouldn't."
"What would I do? Ask for another partner? That has long since stopped being an option for me, my friend."
Napoleon drew back far enough so that they were face to face. He managed to look both awed and contrite at the same time. "Have I made you wait so very long?"
"Long enough. Now, no more words."
With that, Illya kissed him, a long, slow kiss that said more than any words could have as to just how long he had waited. He felt Napoleon's hands go around his waist, pulling them closer as he maneuvered himself down until he was lying at Illya's side. Unlike his friend, Illya had nothing on and he moaned in delight as Napoleon slid his hands lower and grabbed hold of his ass.
At some point Napoleon must have removed his robe, but his briefs were still in the way. Illya tugged at the slip of material, and somehow managed to remove them without breaking their kiss. When their bodies touched, Napoleon's cock, as big and thick as Illya had always imagined it, settled next to his.
This time, it was Napoleon whose moan reverberated between them as they began to move, their groins sliding against each other at each thrust of their hips. Illya finally broke their kiss, his need for air only just greater than his need for this man. He rolled onto his back and brought his legs up to wrap them around Napoleon's waist while his arms circled his neck. He threw his head back and gave into the growing frenzy of their coupling.
Their bodies grew wet from the warmth generated between them and Napoleon's hands moved and settled on Illya's hips, holding him in place as he rocked against him. Illya clung to the slick body in his arms, pushing back, giving as good as he got.
Their sounds of pleasure being only a little less loud than the bed's protest, Illya felt more than heard the low groan torn from Napoleon's throat as with one last thrust he came, spilling himself onto Illya's belly. It was his undoing. Illya's eyes clenched shut and he shuddered in release, their seed mingling between their pressed bodies.
They stayed as they were until, no matter how good it felt to be so close to him, Illya could no longer bear Napoleon's weight.
"You can get off now."
Napoleon chuckled as he rolled to the side. "I thought I already had."
"If you want to again you will have to keep from crushing me with your weight."
Propped up on one elbow, Napoleon nodded compliantly. "Whatever you want."
"What, no list of conditions?"
"Nope, not a one."
Illya gave him a penetrating look. "Anything?"
"Well, not anything. But the way I feel right now, there's not much I wouldn't do for you."
Illya softly brushed the back of his hand over Napoleon's chest, and tried to keep his voice light. "'Right now'? And later?"
Napoleon caught his hand and brought it to his lips. He placed a kiss in its palm.
The look he gave him told Illya everything he needed to know.
They made love off and on through the night, and then slept the day away. By the time they finally left the bed, the sun was beginning to set.
Both ravenous, they threw together a meal of cold cuts, bread and fruit, washed down with a bottle of wine. Afterwards, they grabbed a blanket, another bottle of wine and a couple of glasses and made their way down to the beach.
The particularly cool night drove them to start a fire using the driftwood they collected. Napoleon spread the blanket near the flames and taking a seat, motioned Illya to join him. Illya had thought to sit at his side, but as he lowered himself, Napoleon caught him in his arms.
Their hushed voices mingled with the sound of the waves, the wine relaxing them into laughter.
"I hope it all works out for Green. I'd hate to think that his wife wasn't there waiting for him," Napoleon said.
"I think she will."
Napoleon leaned his head around and looked at Illya. "That surprises me. You're usually not one to look on the bright side of things."
Illya smiled. "Perhaps I've changed."
"Don't change too much, partner mine, I love you just as you are."
At those words, everything changed. For several minutes the only sound was the waves washing against the shore. It was Napoleon who finally broke the silence.
"I do, you know. Love you. Very much." Napoleon's arms tightened around him. "But you don't have to say it back."
"You would accept such a situation?"
"I wouldn't like it, but, yes, I would. I'll take you anyway I can have you."
No, this would never do. Illya turned swiftly and glared at him. "What kind of relationship would that be? Of course I love you, Napoleon. How could you think otherwise?"
"I thought you did, but I didn't want to take anything for granted. I never want to take anything about us for granted." He gave Illya a questioning look. "Friends again?"
Illya let him stew a couple of seconds but then nodded his head and resettled in Napoleon's arms. He didn't want to argue. He didn't want to do anything to destroy what they had right now. He knew that it would have to be nurtured and protected; it could be taken from them so easily. But he wouldn't think about that right now. Right now, he would revel in its being and all that it encompassed. The fire that crackled before them, the firm chest he leaned against, the arms that enfolded him, brought a myriad of feelings—contentment, love. Warmth.