Notes: the characters aren't mine, and the story is! This was largely inspired by the A-Team episode "The Say UNCLE Affair," what with the intended parallels between Napoleon and Illya versus Stockwell and Ivan. I ended up wanting to write a fic comparing the two pairs of partners (as well as write a fix-it for the episode); this is just the MFU half, with only Napoleon and Illya (though the Javelin mention is a reference to the A-Team episode). The full, unabridged version with the A-Team scenes between Stockwell and Ivan can be found on my tumblr or my AO3 account, as I wanted this FFN version to be just MFU. This ficlit is also a fix-it for the "Fifteen Years Later Affair" MFU movie, which I don't count as part of the timeline.
*The skies over the Atlantic Ocean, December, 1965-*
Illya Kuryakin was quieter than usual after their dealings with Robespierre. The Russian was refusing to meet his partner's eye on the flight back to New York as he sat there, still in his failed disguise—the white suit and glasses. Illya's face was deadpan as usual, but only Napoleon knew him well enough to see through his default expression and into the true emotions behind his eyes—and right now, Illya could feel his bottled-up guilt threatening to consume him and hoped that it didn't reflect too much in his eyes. Napoleon had only narrowly stopped Robespierre's plan and had succeeded in saving the vineyards, but Illya knew that if he had just destroyed that last, vital missile part when he'd had the chance to do so, they wouldn't have had to cut it so close—in more ways than one, Illya silently thought, massaging his neck as he suppressed a shudder.
"Illya?" Napoleon asked.
Startled, the Russian looked to the American; his heart gave a slight twinge to see the look of concern on his partner's face.
"I will be fine, Napoleon," Illya promised, but then he paused. There was hardly any conviction in his voice.
Napoleon's expression clearly showed that he wasn't buying it, and Illya knew that he would have to either come up with something convincing, or come clean.
"You know, Illya—" Napoleon began, but Illya cut him off.
"Napoleon, there is something you need to know as Chief Enforcement Agent," Illya confessed. "I had a chance to destroy that last part of the missile, but I did not; I threw the mission, Napoleon. He twisted my arm, metaphorically speaking, and I gave it back to him. Because of that, the vineyards were almost destroyed—they would have been if you had not managed to rectify my inexcusable blunder."
He looked away, unable to look his partner in the eye. He was determined not to reveal the reason why he had thrown the mission. Napoleon would be biased to go easy on him already as his partner; if he found out it had been to save his life, he would go even easier on him. Illya's intentions had been noble, but he had broken protocol; as field agents, he knew they were expendable, and the success of the mission came first. Furthermore, he had disobeyed a direct order from Waverly to return to headquarters.
"Napoleon, please… Do not show me any preferential treatment. Treat me as you would anyone else in Section II who had broken protocol."
"For anyone in Section II, I would go over their service record," Napoleon said. "Yours is exemplary. You always provide results, Illya, even if you sometimes deviate from protocol. And while it is true that you disobeyed orders and broke protocol, you did so to save the life of a fellow agent."
Illya froze and looked back to Napoleon.
"Le Mademoiselle Professor told me everything," Napoleon said, with a smirk. "And I'd called in to Mr. Waverly just before we got on the plane."
"Mr. Waverly has left me with the decision of what action to take."
"And I already know your service record very well, so there's no reason for me to look that up. Taking that into consideration, as well as your intent, I think an unofficial reprimand will be enough."
"I do not know whether to be relieved or exasperated," he said. "Napoleon, do you understand that I nearly allowed the vineyards to go up in flames!? So many people could have suffered…!"
"Making this call wasn't easy for me, Illya. Fortunately, I was able to cover for you and stop that from happening, so there was no lasting harm done. And of course, my self-preservation instinct can't exactly blame you for what you did. And making this decision would've been difficult even if it hadn't been my hide you'd saved." He sighed and glanced at his partner. "Thank you, by the way."
Illya looked him straight in the eyes now.
"What frightens me most is that I would do it again—without a moment's hesitation," he confessed.
"…So would I," Napoleon admitted.
Illya blinked in surprise, but nodded and then sighed again as the guilt continued to gnaw at him. Theirs was a complex and agonizing profession—one that would never get any easier.
*Cuba, November, 1975-*
Illya's heart was hammering in his chest as, for the third time, an ice-cold bucket of water soaked both him and Napoleon. And though a hiss escaped his own lips, the silence from his partner was horrifying.
"Napoleon…?" he asked. "Napoleon!?"
He was slapped by their interrogator, and then untied and thrown to the ground alongside Napoleon.
Illya was still trying to see past the stars that had erupted in front of him when he was suddenly aware of his interrogator being ordered to shoot Napoleon.
For an instant, he considered talking—selling out the Javelin network to save his partner's life, just as he had been willing to risk the French vineyards and their workers ten years ago to save him.
But one look at his partner's unconscious face told him that it would not be what Napoleon would have wanted. Napoleon Solo would not want twenty-seven innocent people to die for him.
Illya looked up just as their interrogator aimed a gun at Napoleon's heart.
The Russian decided to take a third option.
Summoning every last scrap of strength that remained in his beaten and battered body, Illya leaped to his feet and grabbed at the gun. He didn't have the strength to seize it from the interrogator's grip, but that hadn't been his intent; he just needed to move the man's arm—spoil his aim, and then twist the wrist to get him to drop it…
The searing pains in his abdomen and his leg told Illya that his plan had gone horribly right; he had saved Napoleon, but getting hit himself was not at all what he had intended. His brain went on autopilot; even as he fell, Illya twisted the interrogator's wrist. As the grip on the gun loosened, Illya snatched it, firing once at the interrogator and once at his superior before all three of them hit the ground one after the other.
Illya felt his vision begin to blur.
"Not yet…" he quietly instructed himself. "Not yet…"
Slowly, he used his arms to pull himself over to his partner's side, tearing at a seam in his partner's jacket, revealing a secret compartment with a smelling salts capsule that their captors had missed. With shaking hands, he cracked the capsule open under Napoleon's nose before he slipped into darkness himself.
He was already out before he had a chance to hear Napoleon's grunt of disgust.
"Oof…" he groaned. "Now I understand why they want us out of the field at age 40; I'm getting too old for this…" Napoleon trailed off as he saw his partner slumped against him, unresponsive and bleeding. "Illya!?"
A look around told Napoleon everything he needed to know; and he quickly weighed his options, knowing that he was too weak to carry Illya out himself. He risked a phone call from the phone on the table for backup before going back to his fallen partner, desperately trying to keep him alive until help arrived.
After hours that seemed like eternities, they were extracted. Illya's condition was touch-and-go for a long time; they nearly lost him once during the surgery to remove the bullets he had taken in Napoleon's place. But, finally, Illya awoke to the familiar sights and sounds of Medical—and Napoleon sitting in the chair beside him.
"Illya…!" Napoleon sighed in relief.
"Napoleon…!" the blond murmured. "I… You…" His eyes widened. "Javelin…! Did they-?"
"They're safe, Illya—all of them are safe," Napoleon assured him. "And so am I, thanks to you. You'll get a commendation for this; I know it." He squeezed Illya's hand. "But you've got to stop scaring me like this, you know?"
"I don't think I have much of a choice," Illya replied, dully.
"What do you mean?"
"You are only weeks away from your fortieth birthday, Napoleon, and then you'll be taken out of the field. My leg won't be fully functional until well after that, and it will be almost impossible to find me another partner—and pointless, since I will be 40 the following year." Illya sighed and stared up at the ceiling. "My career is over."
Napoleon gave Illya's shoulder a good-natured pat.
"Not as over as you might think," he said. "Even though we both seem to be a bit too old to be dealing with THRUSH, it would be a shame to let our skills go to waste, don't you think?"
Illya arched an eyebrow as he gave Napoleon a look.
"There's always a niche for private investigators," Napoleon said. "And since sitting around seems too dull for the both of us, we could always try that—once you fully heal, of course. Wouldn't be as strenuous as dealing with THRUSH—and nowhere near as dangerous, either."
"Just dangerous enough," Illya smirked.
"Don't act like you could easily slip into retirement and sit around with a pipe and slippers all day."
"I couldn't," Illya admitted. "No more than you could."
"Then it's settled," Napoleon said. "Put in your two weeks and leave with me. But, ah, I do have one condition."
"This…" Napoleon indicated Illya on the hospital bed. "This has got to stop."
Illya grinned in spite of himself—a grin that Napoleon returned. There was uncertainty ahead, and their lives were no longer going to be the same, but they would be okay.
*Hawaii, October, 1986-*
Illya took a moment to stare in amusement at the little, paper umbrella in his blue Hawaii cocktail before taking a sip of it, relishing the familiar taste of the vodka in it. He sighed in contentment and reclined back on the deck chair, staring out at the surf.
"Admit it," Napoleon said, reclining in a second chair beside him with a blue Hawaii cocktail of his own. "This private eye idea was the best idea I've had in a long time. Hawaii as our base of operations? The freedom to choose which cases we want to take? Still able to gallivant across the globe?"
"Well, I would have preferred somewhere cooler to set up as our base of operations."
"That aside, I have been enjoying our self-employment," Illya admitted. "And I am honored, of course, that you would choose me for this venture."
"As if I could have chosen anyone else!" Napoleon scoffed. "There's no one else I—"
The ringing of the phone on the small table beside them interrupted the former Section II head. Illya removed his sunglasses to stare at the phone.
"Another client?" he queried.
"Perhaps," Napoleon said, and he picked up the receiver. "Solo and Kuryakin Investigations; how can I help you?" His eyes suddenly widened. "April!?"
"What?" Illya asked, incredulously.
Napoleon silently waved Illya over to the receiver.
"Could you say that again, April?" he asked, as Illya leaned in to listen.
"U.N.C.L.E. just changed the policy on the mandatory retirement age for field agents!" she repeated, excitedly. "Mark and I are back, and we've been seeing so many familiar faces—we were hoping to see yours, too! …And we're not the only ones; the new director said that if you and Illya returned, you'd get your old positions back, too."
Napoleon let out a low whistle while Illya just stared, deadpan.
"Can we get back to you on that, April?" Napoleon asked, after a moment.
"Oh, certainly; talk it over between you. We keep hearing about how successful you two are as private investigators; no one would blame you if you stay with that. Hope to hear from you soon! Give my regards to Illya!"
"Right," Napoleon said, and he placed the handset of the phone back down. "Well…"
"Well," Illya echoed. "New York would be cooler than Hawaii."
"I know, Napoleon. I know. Ironic that we were only just discussing about how great our work is now, only to get called back by U.N.C.L.E. What do you want to do?"
"I don't know," Napoleon admitted. "But I can't shake this thought that they wouldn't be lifting the age restriction and calling back the old gang if it wasn't something very important. A THRUSH revival? Other old enemies? Should we even get involved with them again?"
Illya managed a small smile.
"Napoleon, I've been your partner in and out of U.N.C.L.E. for twenty-six years now; I know you. Your sense of duty is prodding at you, and you want to listen to it. And I have absolutely no intentions of letting you go once more unto the breach without me."
Napoleon looked back at Illya and grinned.
"Then let's start packing," he said, and he raised his blue Hawaii cocktail. "Here's to new beginnings?"
Illya's smile widened to a grin, as well, as he raised his glass to meet Napoleon's
"Da. To new beginnings."