The Because I Miss You Affair
Originally written for Kuryakin Files 23
Napoleon Solo was whistling as he descended down the stairs to Del Floria’s Tailor Shop. Two weeks away from grey steel corridors had a way of rejuvenating a man. Winking as he tossed a salute to the man behind the counter and entered the dressing cubicle, turning the hanger that took him into UNCLE headquarters.
“How was your vacation, Napoleon?” The dark-haired beauty at the receptionist desk smiled as she leaned forward to ask conspiratorially.
“Absolutely wonderful, my dear,” the suave agent replied as he took her hand to bestow a kiss on it. Two weeks in the Bahamas had left the agent well rested and tan. Wine, women, beaches, women, restaurants, women - what more could a man ask for?
“Is Illya in yet?” Napoleon asked. One of the perks was being able to gloat about the fun he had while his partner had to work.
“Mr. Waverly asked to see you as soon as you got here,” she said as she took her hand back. She hoped he didn’t notice that she hadn’t answered his question.
“Can it possibly wait till I get a cup of coffee?” Napoleon asked with a frown as he leaning over for her to fasten his badge to his jacket.
“I’m afraid not,” she apologized, her hand lingering just a moment longer than was necessary on his lapel before handing him a stack of messages that had accumulated while he was gone.
Solo gave her a roguish smile before he entered the main corridor heading straight for the elevator that would take him to Mr. Waverly’s office. He absentmindedly read his messages. Jessica, Amanda, Monique, Susan. Putting them away in a pocket, he stopped at the door to straighten his tie before continuing into the office and headed for his usual chair. He assumed that his partner would already be waiting for him and he’d have a chance to regal him with how much he’d enjoyed his time away for the steel walled world they worked in.
He was somewhat surprised to find his partner not only not there, but another man seated in Illya’s usual chair. He glanced at the man, noting that he was tall and thin, and his hair cut in a crew cut so short you couldn’t tell what color it actually was in stark contrast to Illya’s own long blond locks.
Napoleon was halfway seated when Alexander Waverly announced with an absentminded wave of his hand toward the other man seated at the round table. “Mr. Solo, I would like you to meet your new partner, Jack Standish.” .
“New partner? What’s the matter with my old one?” Caught by surprised, Napoleon poised just above the seat of his chair.
“I’m sorry to say Mr. Kuryakin is no longer with us,” Waverly’s reply was blunt and he was avoiding eye contact.
“Ah, I’m sorry, sir. Perhaps I didn’t hear you correctly,” Napoleon was beginning to develop a sense of alarm “You can’t possibly mean…?”
“No, No nothing like that.” Waverly waved his pipe contritely, finally making eye contact. “Mr. Kuryakin was recalled by his government.”
“When?” Napoleon was feeling as if he’d been pole axed. Recalled? There was no sign of any such action taking place when he left. In point of fact they’d never actually discussed what would happen should his government recall Illya; indeed Napoleon had assumed after all this time that it would never happen. The two men had worked together a long time and to suddenly come back to find Illya gone was mind-boggling.
Waverly at least had the good grace to look uncomfortable. “Three days ago.”
“And you let him go?” Napoleon asked with a certain amount of outrage. After all, Illya wasn’t just any agent, he was one of the best UNCLE had. His knowledge of languages alone made him a valuable asset, not to mention his abilities in the lab and his remarkable talent with disguises. Plus he was a darn good pick-pocket.
“We had no choice,” Mr. Waverly stated firmly his tone leaving no doubt that the subject was closed. He had no intention of discussing this especially in front of another agent. The orders had arrived and stated in no uncertain terms that one Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin was to return to the Soviet Union without delay. “That will be enough about Mr. Kuryakin. You and Mr. Standish have an assignment.” He then proceeded to outline the assignment as Napoleon tried to reign in his emotions. However, he had difficulty concentrating on what his superior was saying. He was also having trouble understanding the reason why his partner and best friend had been recalled not to mention why nobody had thought enough to notify him of the fact. Wasn’t he Chief Enforcement Agent after all?
“That will be all, gentlemen,” Mr. Waverly finished as he closed the folder, sending it around to stop in front of his chief enforcement agent. He watched with concern as Solo picked up the folder and both agents got up to leave. Damnable business this, he thought. He hoped the feelers he had sent out to find what was behind the recall would turn up something soon. He’d always felt that agents who worked as closely as those two did should not be friends. He shook his head with disapproval before turning back to other matters.
Jack Standish followed his new partner out of the room. He’d been watching Solo and was rather surprised that he had shown such concern about Kuryakin’s recall. He’d heard the Russian was good, but he was smugly confident that soon Solo would see the he was a far better partner than the Russian had ever been and forget all about Kuryakin. Standish looked to the senior agent and said with faked sympathy. “Sorry to hear about Kuryakin, Solo, but I’m sure you’ll find me an excellent replacement.”
With a look of thinly disguised disgust Napoleon headed for his office with the unfortunate Standish in tow. It was bad enough that Illya was gone, but this guy seemed to have a high opinion of himself. It didn’t help matters that he stood four inches taller than Solo and had the irritating misfortune to talk through his nose. Had he cared to check, Napoleon would have learned that Standish had just transferred in from the west coast and was highly experienced. Not that it would have mattered.
Solo kept walking as Standish started to enter Kuryakin’s office. He stopped surprised to find a work crew in the process of cleaning it out.
“Hold on here,” Solo ordered as he saw what was happening. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
The two workmen looked at each other before turning toward Standish to take their cue from him.
“Mr. Waverly ordered Kuryakin’s things removed. This is now my office,” Standish said matter-of-factly.
“I don’t give a damn what Waverly ordered,” Napoleon countered angrily. “Nobody clears this office but me.”
The workmen shrugged. It made no difference to them who cleared the space out just so long as it was cleared.
Napoleon hesitated before entering the room. He was still having difficulty accepting the fact Illya was gone, and once he entered it would make the fact final.
“Would you like some help?” Standish offered.
Napoleon looked at him in surprise, having already forgotten he was there. “No….no, I’d rather do this alone.” He waited for the men to leave before moving to the desk to empty it of any personal items that might have been left behind. As he sat down his eye caught sight of an envelope addressed to him in his partner’s familiar handwriting. He was hesitant to open it. Picking up a letter opener he slit the envelope and slowly removed the letter within.
I’m truly sorry not to have had a chance to say goodbye, but it is undoubtedly for the best.
You know that I’ve enjoyed our years working together and how much I value our friendship.
Farewell my friend,
Illya N. Kuryakin
Napoleon crumpled the letter in his hand more than a little angry with his partner. “Damn you, Illya,” he muttered. “How could you let them do this to you…to us.” He’d only been away for two weeks and look what happened; Illya obviously couldn’t be trusted on his own. Appreciation for the way the Russian agent’s devious mind worked made working with anyone else unacceptable.
Since they’d never discussed this possibility, somehow Napoleon had the idea that he’d never see his partner again, at least not alive. The suddenness of the summons would have been disquieting at anytime, but why now? He considered all the possible reasons that his partner might be recalled for, but nothing serious came to mind. For some reason this reminded him of the time his friend had been left to die on an island during The Concrete Overcoat Affair if not for a last minute rescue on his part and his chest tightened. A last minute rescue! It was minutes before he was aware of a knock at the door.
Mandy Stevenson paused outside the doorway before knocking. She looked in to see Napoleon sitting, looking so alone and lost that her heart went out to him. “Hi, Napoleon,” she said softly as she entered the room. “I’m really sorry about Illya.”
Napoleon cleared his throat. “Thanks, Mandy.” Geez, everyone knows but me. Great.
“I thought you might want to see this...” she continued sympathetically as she hesitantly passed him a folder containing a copy of Illya’s recall orders. Even though she worked in translations, she knew enough about their partnership to know that Napoleon would want whatever information there was on this. Besides hadn’t Napoleon gone out of his way to let her have her own little bit of adventure? He hadn’t had to do that.
Without saying a word Napoleon took it and just sat there staring at the folder. “If there is anything I can do?” she asked timidly before preparing to leave.
“Mandy,” he called to her causing her to turn back. “Does anyone have any idea what’s behind this?” He went through the folder as he spoke.
Mandy shook her head. “It came as a complete surprise. I don’t think even Illya was expecting it. One minute he was here.” She waved her hand around the office. “Then poof he was gone.”
“Why didn’t anyone get in touch with me?” Napoleon asked angrily.
Mandy bit her lip before replying, “Illya asked us not to. He said he didn’t want to spoil your vacation.”
Napoleon leaned back in astonishment. Not spoil his vacation? He was the chief enforcement agent. Hadn’t Illya even realized what coming back to this could possibly….no of course not? Shaking his head, he gave Mandy a rueful smile. “Thanks,” he said.
He was sitting there reading its contents when Standish returned. “Might I have my desk now?” the agent asked peevishly as he stood in front of the desk.
Napoleon pulled himself together and got out of the chair. “Sure. It’s all yours.” He left the room holding two folders in one hand and the crumpled letter in the other.
“Solo, don’t you think we should discuss the mission?” Standish called after him.
Stopping and turning to face the man who could never replace Illya, he snapped, “Not now.” And finished with thinking, not ever. When he made it to his own office he took a deep breath and again opened the folder with Illya’s orders in it. Coming to terms with this was harder than he expected. He glanced down at the crumbled piece of paper he still held and carefully flattened it.
He stared at the folder for several minutes before putting the letter carefully away in his desk drawer. He opened the second folder that held the briefing that he should have been listening to while in Waverly’s office. As he read the contents, his attitude took a turn for the better, and a slow smile passed over his face. He reopened the folder with Illya’s travel orders in it and couldn’t help but notice that his new assignment would take him fairly close to the location where Illya had been ordered to when recalled.
Standish arrived at Solo’s office twenty minutes later, having picked up their plane tickets. “We leave in two hours, are you ready?”
Napoleon gave him a huge smile as he got up from behind his desk. “I’ll be right with you; I just have a few little things to take care of.” Had Standish any sense he would have been scared.
Napoleon pulled up the collar of his dark trench coat as he stepped off the train at Vilnius in Lithuania. Turning right he headed through the Old Town, painfully aware of its dilapidated condition. Burned out windows, crumbling shutters, and cracked plaster cried out for millions of dollars’ worth of restoration. Mandy had been as good as her word and he had no trouble at all in finding the building where Illya was presently located. He had ducked through archways and into courtyards before finally making his way to the former KGB prison. He wasn’t sure what he had expected, but this wasn’t it. The fact that it was now a museum was slightly ironic, as well as the fact that Illya was now in charge of it.
Upon entering the building he went to the receptionist, a rather mousy young woman, and asked in halting Russian, “Vi gavaritye pa angliski?” He had never bothered to learn more than rudimentary Russian, seeing as when he had Illya for a partner he hadn’t needed to.
“Da. How may I help you?” she asked in stilted English.
Before he could answer that, a blond-haired man dressed in a rather stiff uniform stepped out of the office behind her. He wasn’t paying any attention as he dropped the folder he was carrying on her desk and turned away.
Napoleon stood there rocking back and forth on his heels and toes. “Hi there.”
Illya stopped dead in his tracks and turned around at the sound of the familiar voice, his face split into a grin. “Napoleon! Come in, come in,” he said as he ushered Napoleon into his office.
Napoleon looked around, taking in the bare walls and the 40-watt light bulb that hung down from the ceiling. He appeared completely fascinated by the light and turned to cast a questioning eye at the slight blond.
Illya looked at him with amusement. Being under scrutiny was a way of life here. “You get used to it after a while,” he said with a shrug. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Not nearly as surprised as I was when I got back from vacation and found you were gone,” Solo replied, his voice held some of the bitterness he was feeling. “You realize of course that I’d been thinking the worst and here I find you some sort of desk jockey.”
“You didn’t know?” Illya waved him toward a chair.
Napoleon took off his jacket and sat down in an uncomfortable chair before continuing sarcastically, “Evidently no one felt it was important enough to inform me. I found out when I was introduced to my new partner.”
Illya cocked an eyebrow at him. “So soon?” he murmured. “Where is he, or is it a she?”
“He is back at the hotel in Helsinki suffering from a severe hangover,” Napoleon replied rather smugly. “He evidently hasn’t had experience drinking Vodka. So how is life treating you, Tovarish?”
“Not bad,” Illya said shortly. “Why have you come here, Napoleon?”
“Well, I happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I’d buy you lunch.”
Once they were outside in the cold air, both men pulled their coats tighter around them as they set off down the road. “Where are we going?” Napoleon asked.
Illya gave the American a sideways glance. “I thought we might go up to Castle Hill. There is a tower with a magnificent view of beautiful Vilnius.”
Napoleon snickered. “Just what I always wanted to see.”
Illya’s eyes crinkled with amusement as the two men continued their walk and, as they arrived at the top of the tower, Illya inquired somewhat hesitantly, “Should I ask again why you are here?”
“Probably not. In all truthfulness I’m not quite sure myself.” Napoleon stared intently at the blond Russian. “How are you….really?”
“Bored,” Illya said with a shrug as he turned away to take in the view below.
“Okay, who did you piss off to get sent here?” Napoleon asked wryly as he wondered how Illya could be so acceptant of this. There were many things he’d missed about his partner; his caustic wit, his strange sense of humor, his intelligence…his wallet. He even missed the bantering and the bickering, and the feeling of being able to count on him in a pinch.
“I wish I knew,” Illya replied with a brittle laugh. “Will you be able to stay long?”
Napoleon shook his head. “No, I need to head back soon and collect what’s-his-name.”
“What’s-his-name? Hardly professional of you not to remember,” Illya stated as he let out a chuckle.
“He’s not very memorable though he seems to think he is.”
Despite the coldness of the weather, the two men walked slowly back down toward the train station. They stopped at a tavern to eat and talked for quite a while of inconsequential matters before going their separate ways - Illya back to his boring office job and Napoleon to catch a train.
One month later Solo had managed to through three more partners. No one seemed able to live up to Solo’s standard of excellence. Waverly had finally given in and now Napoleon was truly a solo agent. But, that was no reason to cut his senior agent any slack.
“It’s absolutely imperative that we get those plans back, Mr. Solo,” Alexander Waverly ordered in his usual brusque way.
Napoleon leaned forward in his chair and considered his options before playing his ace. “I’ll need Illya.” He’d gone over all the information they had and found several instances where Illya’s expertise could prove invaluable.
The old man sighed heavily. They’d had this conversation before. “You know perfectly well, Mr. Solo, that Mr. Kuryakin is unavailable.”
“Yes.” Solo nodded his agreement. “However, I can’t do this without him.” This was not strictly true, it wasn’t that he couldn’t do this alone, but why bother. Working with the Russian he’d gotten used to not having to second-guess him. Illya knew exactly how he thought and acted accordingly, no explanations were ever necessary. Their mission successes were a testimony to that.
Waverly had never liked being cornered and he scowled as he said abruptly, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Solo, with great difficulty, kept the smile of victory off of his face.
Twenty-four hours later Napoleon Solo was standing by watching as passengers disembarked at Kennedy airport. He relaxed visibly when he spotted a certain blond-haired Russian dressed in black walking toward him. As Illya stopped in front of him, Napoleon said matter-of-factly, “It took you long enough.”
“It’s good to see you too. Now can someone please tell me why I am here?” Illya demanded sternly, though the corners of his mouth threatened to curl up in a smile.
“Not now. We have another plane to catch and I have everything we’ll need right here,” Napoleon responded as he tapped the inside pocket of his jacket. “Shall we?”
“Shouldn’t I be debriefed? I can’t see my returning as if nothing’s happened.”
“Sorry, there’s no time. Waverly said this was imperative, and you know what that means.”
“He wants it done yesterday.” Ever the pragmatist Illya simply shrugged and again picked up his suitcase to follow his partner. His eyebrows went up as he noted their destination. However, Napoleon still refused to fill him in. Every time Illya would go to broach the subject, Napoleon would bring a finger to his lips as he smiled and shook his head.
They arrived at their destination and checked into their room. Once the bellhop left, the two men worked with their usual efficiency checking out the room for listening devices and any other surprises that might be in store for them. This is what Napoleon had been missing, someone who knew how he thought, someone dependable that he could trust to watch his back.
“Some things never change,” Illya remarked as he unpacked his suitcase upon one of the two double beds in the room.
“The budget, my dear Kuryakin, you must always remember the budget,” Napoleon said sardonically as he went over to the bar to fix them each a drink.
“Ah,” Kuryakin nodded with understanding. “Can I now know why I was sent for?” Illya asked as he took his drink.
“All in good time, my friend. All in good time. How much were you told?” Napoleon asked as he settled in the one comfortable chair in the room and put his feet up on the nearby table.
Illya went over to the window and looked down to the beach below. The view was enticing and he couldn’t help but wish that they were here for something other than an assignment. “Merely that some important plans are missing. Ah, the beautiful Cayman Islands,” he muttered wistfully as he paused before continuing. “This would seem to be an unusual place to find them.”
Napoleon cleared his throat. “I suppose it would be…if they were actually missing.”
Illya narrowed his eyes and turned his scathing gaze on him. “And just what does that mean?”
“It means, my friend,” Napoleon said as he finished his drink. “That we will enjoy ourselves for…oh say, seventy-two hours, before we produce the plans, saving the world yet again,” he finished as he got up to refresh his drink.
Illya turned his head, following Napoleon with his gaze. “Do we know where the plans are?”
Napoleon saluted Illya with his glass. “Actually, we do.”
Illya pondered that before asking. “We do? How do we know this?
“We know because I’ve already found them.”
“You what! You can’t be serious,” Illya said in shocked surprise. Then as he thought about it further. “Then why did you need me?”
Staring down into his drink, Napoleon considered his reply. “I didn’t ‘need’ you. It was just the only way I could think of to get you back. I figured we could enjoy ourselves and then after a few days I’ll return them.”
Illya shook his head with annoyance. “Then what? They’ll only send me back, you know.”
“Well, I have a couple of other operations in the works that will definitely require your special skills,” Napoleon said serenely as he sipped his drink.
Illya looked at him with disbelief. “For what purpose? Besides…someone will surely catch on and then where will you be?”
“I guess I’ll just cross that bridge when I get to it.” Napoleon shrugged, then leaned back in his chair, his feet propped up on the coffee table looking unconcerned. “By then it will have accomplished its purpose.”
“To buy you time.”
“To do what?”
Napoleon dropped the bombshell. “To become an American, British, or Canadian citizen. Whichever you prefer.”
There was shocked silence for a time. Illya looked at his partner as if he was crazy. He would in all probability never be allowed to enter Russia again. “Do you realize what you are asking?”
Napoleon looked at his friend before saying softly, “I think I do. But it’s the only way. It wouldn’t change who you are. Nothing could do that.”
“I might never be allowed to go back,” Illya said. There was always the possibility they might shoot him on sight. Defectors were discouraged rather harshly.
“No…at least not legally,” Napoleon couldn’t resist adding with a slight smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. “Can you honestly say you want to go back…to a desk?”
Illya’s shoulders slumped in defeat. He should have known better than to argue with Napoleon. Freedom, freedom to go where he wanted, to do what he wanted, to work once again with his partner. He glanced at the dark-haired American before quietly replying. “No.” Taking the time to think this over and get used to the idea he brought up, “This could take years.”
“Not if we get Mr. Waverly to pull strings.” Napoleon appeared to have it all planned out.
“And why would he do that?” Illya wanted to know.
“Illya, I’m surprised. You’re a very important agent; a lot of effort on my part has gone into training you. Thanks to me you are now the best, after me of course.” Napoleon positively radiated confidence.
“Napoleon, you know perfectly well I was already trained when you got me,” Illya stated letting the humor of the situation show in his eyes.
The smile on Napoleon’s face said that it would all be worth it. Illya looked intently into his partner’s eyes. “Tell me, Napoleon. Why did you go to all this trouble?”
Looking back into the questioning blue eyes Napoleon said with complete sincerity. “Because I missed you.”