The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
You Don't Have to Lay Your Life Down
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is a story largely based on a dream I had last week. I was going to write it anyway, but the sadness of the weekend prompted some different twists in the conversation. It is now intended as a tribute to Robert Vaughn and the character he brought to life in this series, Napoleon Solo. Mr. Ecks is from season 1's The Odd Man Affair. Illya stabs him in the episode, but I let him live and he plays in most of my U.N.C.L.E. stories.
It was always unpleasant to be cornered by THRUSH agents. Many was the time he had been able to fight his way out of such a predicament, but there had also been occasions when the only solution was a tactical retreat.
He had opted for the latter this time, and as he ran through the back door of the THRUSH-owned beauty parlor and into the rain-soaked alley, he wondered if he had made the right choice.
He wondered it all the more when the familiar sound of a gun's safety clicking off echoed through the Manhattan night. "This alley is taken, Solo."
The voice was familiar too. "Can't you make an exception? It looks to me as though there's room for two . . . Mr. Ecks."
A pause. Then a shadow rose from around the side of a metal garbage can. "Oh, there's room," the British ex-spy answered, "if you want to meet your demise that much faster."
Napoleon gave a calm nod. "I see. And are you going to pull the trigger?"
"THRUSH is going to pull the trigger on both of us," Ecks retorted. "They've had me pinned down for an hour."
Napoleon looked from one end of the alley to the other. "I don't see any sign of them."
"Go to the end," Ecks encouraged.
Napoleon quirked an eyebrow, as though silently asking whether the cheeky fellow was going to suddenly plug him in the back. But then, deciding to give him the benefit of a doubt, he slowly stepped toward the end of the alley to his right.
Nothing happened until he was almost at the head. Then bullets rained from the roofs, peppering the street in front of him. He jumped back, his gun clutched in his hand. "Yes. I see." He turned back to Ecks, who was standing with folded arms as he observed. "And I suppose the other end is the same."
"And every door." Ecks nodded at the buildings surrounding them. "This is a THRUSH-owned block."
"Lovely." Napoleon slowly made a 360-degree turn, examining everything on every side of him. "And might I ask how you got yourself into this mess in the first place?"
"The usual way," Ecks answered. "We were hired."
"Of course," Napoleon nodded. "That's perfectly logical for two ex-spies-turned-illegal-private-investigators. And where's your usually constant companion?"
"I'd like to think he's figuring out how to get me out of this mess," Ecks said with a cheeky smile. "What about yours?"
"Oh, he's waiting for the signal to send for backup. And unfortunately, I can't give him that signal or any other. THRUSH shot my communicator pen right out of my hand and it was not in working order when I retrieved it."
"Now that's a very good reason to rely on more than one method of communication," Ecks smirked.
"I'll be sure to take that up with Mr. Waverly when I return to U.N.C.L.E. Headquarters," Napoleon said.
Ecks tilted his head, giving his companion a curious look. "Not much ever ruffles you, does it?"
"Not much," Napoleon agreed. "I know you enjoy pushing Illya's buttons, but that won't work so well on me."
Ecks shrugged. "I don't have any particular interest in pushing your buttons, Solo."
Napoleon really wasn't surprised, but he asked, "Might I ask why you enjoy doing it to Illya?"
"Because he reacts," Ecks giggled.
"A very mature answer," Napoleon intoned.
Another shrug. "Neither of us are very mature when we start interacting and arguing. That's why we always need someone like you to break it up."
Napoleon nodded. "Perhaps it's your way of getting back at Illya for stabbing you in Hyde Park?"
Ecks started in surprise. "Well, if it is, it's a relatively harmless revenge." He smirked in mischief. "It's not every man who has the chance to encounter his killer over and over in the flesh."
"I can't argue with that," Napoleon acknowledged. He stepped back, looking up at the dark clouds looming over the uncovered alley. "Were you actually able to get in touch with Mr. Wye?"
"I don't know," Ecks admitted. "There was so much static on the line, I'm not sure I got through."
"So it would seem that we shouldn't simply depend on help arriving."
"Oh, I'm perfectly willing to get out of this myself, Solo, if we can come up with a way to do it." Ecks pointed to the dark silhouettes looking out at them from a window. "Two of us against who knows how many THRUSH agents isn't good odds. I have no desire to be gutted again."
"I don't blame you." Napoleon looked thoughtfully at their unwelcome audience. "Perhaps if we could come up with some sort of distraction. . . ."
"We couldn't come up with anything that would distract all of them at once," Ecks retorted. "And even if we managed to get them away from one room, there's no way we'd get into and out of the building without being caught . . . or simply gunned down."
"I know it doesn't seem likely or logical," Napoleon agreed. "But I have no desire to remain a sitting duck."
"You're an optimistic sort, aren't you?" Ecks mused. "Unlike Kuryakin's pessimistic realism."
"I believe in optimism when the situation calls for it," said Napoleon. "Of course, Illya would say that I think that's all the time."
"And is it?"
"Most situations aren't as bleak as they might seem to be," Napoleon said. Several gunshots pelted down from the nearest roof. "But some are."
"I suppose all spies think about death, don't they?" Ecks mused. "Their own, that is, not their enemies'."
"Most likely. A spy that doesn't realize their own mortality is probably unfit for the trade." Napoleon gripped his gun and pressed himself against the wall as he waited for any further move from THRUSH.
"Do you fear death, Solo?"
Napoleon had to consider that for a moment. "Not really. But that might be because I still hold to the beliefs I was raised with and feel that I would be going to a good place."
"To some extent that makes sense," Ecks agreed. "But even those who believe they'll be going to Heaven know that they'll be leaving loved ones behind. Don't you worry how they'll deal with it?"
Now Napoleon paused. "I'd have the assurance that they'd know I died serving my country, the way I would want it to happen."
"Spoken like a true idealist," Ecks grinned. "You know, the strange thing is that there were people in my old organization who said the very same thing."
"I don't doubt it," Napoleon said calmly. "There are idealists in every organization who believe they are doing the right thing for their country."
"Wye would say that idealism can so often be a dangerous thing," Ecks said, "since extremists can twist it around to fit their own goals."
"And he would be right," said Napoleon. "On the other hand, pessimism can be a dangerous thing as well. If you lose all faith, what do you have left?"
"Nothing," Ecks replied without hesitation. "There needs to be a balance." He regarded Napoleon with amused interest. "What about Kuryakin? Does he have anything besides his pessimism?"
"When it counts." Napoleon spoke more vaguely now, feeling that he didn't have the right to speak for Illya.
"And you're probably greatly responsible for that."
"I've had some influence," Napoleon said.
Several more bullets came at them from a window. Napoleon fired back.
"They're getting impatient," Ecks said. "They're not going to keep waiting for one of us to make another stupid move."
"So it would seem." Napoleon peered up at the window, hoping to determine how many gunmen were up there. But in the dark night devoid of moon and stars, it was impossible to see.
". . . Do you ever worry that Kuryakin might lose whatever hope he has if something were to happen to you, his long-time partner? You must be the closest thing he has left to family."
Ecks sounded serious now and not merely curious. He was likely thinking about how Wye had reacted following the stabbing in Hyde Park. Perhaps he was really worried about Wye rather than wondering about Illya, but all the same, Napoleon wasn't sure he wanted to answer the question.
". . . What about you, Mr. Ecks?" he said instead. "It would seem that someone who has already come so close to death might fear it all the more."
"I like how you shifted the floor to me when I got too close to your deepest-held feelings and concerns," Ecks remarked. "But I won't pry, and I don't mind answering your question. I would be foolish not to fear it. At the same time, I don't want to dwell on it. I'm good at what I do and I don't intend to stop doing it."
Napoleon nodded in approval. "That's a good way to look at it."
"That's pretty much how a spy has to look at it if he doesn't want to go daft. And I'm still a spy at heart, Solo."
"I believe you are."
"I suppose the reason you got into this line of work in the first place was because of some idealistic dream of ridding the world of evil organizations and people and bringing about peace," Ecks said.
"Something like that," Napoleon acknowledged. "And you've said several times that you were only in it because you were forced into it."
"That's true. I never wanted it. And yet it became my lifeblood anyway."
"Apparently so, since you are still engaging in very similar activities when now you don't have to."
"At least now it's my choice, and I can accept or reject cases at will." Ecks looked curious again. "What will happen when you hit the magic number of 40? Will you leave U.N.C.L.E. or keep on?"
"Well, since Mr. Waverly has altered the policy, I imagine I will stay on . . . if I'm still physically fit enough to be a field agent by then."
"Unless you are permanently injured on a case, I don't doubt you will be," Ecks replied.
"Yes. But that's always a possibility spies face as well."
"A spy's life is all about injuries and death, really," Ecks said. "Either someone else's or their own."
"And most of their assignments involve preventing the deaths of many more," Napoleon added.
"Kuryakin probably didn't believe me, but a lot of Wye's and my assignments involved stopping THRUSH and similar organizations, just like you," Ecks smirked. "Of course, it was mainly because our organization wanted to take their place, but you still ended up with us preventing some devastating schemes that we didn't want to see happen."
"I believe you," Napoleon said calmly. "Why shouldn't Illya?"
"Because he absolutely hates me," Ecks answered.
"Illya finds you . . . highly vexing," Napoleon said, "but I don't think he would spend his valuable time actually hating you. And whether he will ever acknowledge it to you or not, he realizes that not every individual in our enemy organizations is as evil as the organizations themselves."
"He claims to realize that, but usually his behavior around me leads me to doubt," Ecks said.
"Well, that is a problem you will have to work out with Illya yourself . . . if we ever get out of this," Napoleon said.
Ecks gripped his gun, taking a shot at a sniper when it looked like the dark silhouette was growing ready to fire. A grunt came from the window before the figure disappeared to the sound of a loud thump.
"Nice shot," Napoleon congratulated.
"It doesn't make much of a dent in our enemies," Ecks frowned. "I wonder if . . ."
Another round of bullets interrupted his thought. He fired back, then jumped and rolled to the ground. Napoleon fired too, hitting a mark, and moved into the corner out of range.
"Mr. Ecks?" he called. When there was no reply, Napoleon frowned and cautiously went over. Ecks was lying mostly on his stomach, not moving. The hand holding the gun was out, limp on the ground. The other hand was tucked under him, as though clutching a wound.
Napoleon's eyes narrowed. He reached down, moving to turn Ecks onto his side. As he did, he regarded the other man in confusion. Unless the light was exceptionally bad, there was no blood.
"I'm dead," Ecks whispered. "Go with it. Maybe we can still get the upper hand."
It was certainly a desperate act, Napoleon decided. But these were desperate times. He let Ecks go and slowly got to his feet. "Alright, THRUSH," he called. "I'm the only one left. There's I don't know how many of you and only one of me. Why don't you come down and get me instead of hiding in the shadows like cowards?"
The response was more gunfire. Napoleon fired, then gripped his side and collapsed next to Ecks. He hadn't been sure which option THRUSH would ultimately take, but he wasn't really surprised that they had chosen to stay concealed.
They lay there for several minutes, waiting, wondering if the THRUSH agents were going to come down and make sure their victims were dead. When at last there came the sounds of doors opening and footsteps approaching, Napoleon tensed. At his side, he sensed that Ecks was also on higher alert.
A shoe kicked Napoleon in the ribs. "Good work," the THRUSH agent sneered. "Who'd have thought that U.N.C.L.E.'s top field agent could be taken out so easily?"
"It's a little hard to believe that he could be," a second agent worried. "Maybe he's not dead. And what about the other guy?"
"I don't even know who he was," the first agent said in irritation. "But as long as they're dead, let's just leave them here and get going. It'll just be two more mysterious deaths in a cold, cruel city, and U.N.C.L.E. will get the real message."
"But the boss might want to see this triumph personally."
"Hmm. You might have a point. Alright, we'll take Solo and leave the other one."
Napoleon decided the charade had gone on long enough. He sprang up, pointing his gun at the shocked THRUSH agents. "I'm afraid your boss will have to wait a little longer if what he wants to see is the end of Napoleon Solo."
Ecks jumped up too. "I'm not easy to kill either," he sneered.
The first THRUSH agent swore, but then started to smirk. "It won't be difficult to kill you both for real at such close range."
Ecks fired first and downed him. "You're right," he said. "It isn't."
Napoleon likewise fired at the second agent as he was preparing his gun. "Might I suggest we make a hasty retreat to the nearest telephone before the snipers on the roof get back into position?"
Ecks was already running for the head of the alley. "You'd better hurry if you want to catch up!"
Napoleon ran after his unusual ally. Although they each had to exchange fire with more THRUSH agents on their way out, they somehow managed to flee the alley without being injured. And when they arrived on the main street, a car was just pulling up to the curb.
"Napoleon!" Illya called from the passenger seat. "Get in!"
Napoleon needed no prodding. He dove into the backseat, with Ecks flying in right behind him.
"Oy," Mr. Wye exclaimed from the driver's seat. "What kind of mess did you get yourself into, Ecks?!"
"It's a long story," Ecks sighed. "That entire block belongs to THRUSH and they pinned first me and then Solo down."
"You're lucky Mr. Wye received your distress signal," Illya commented.
"Yes," said Napoleon. "We are. But I'm sure we would have figured out what to do on our own if we had to. We managed to get out of the alley."
"Yes, you did," said Illya, "and I would like to hear about it."
"You will," Napoleon promised. "If I hear about how you met up with Mr. Wye."
"We will exchange full stories later," Illya said. "Right now U.N.C.L.E. is about to storm the block. Mr. Wye received Mr. Ecks' distress signal, but there was so much static that he couldn't hear where to go. However, he did hear something about a beauty parlor, and after he and I met and began discussing the problem, that was a clue for me since I knew you were going to investigate a THRUSH beauty parlor. A communication from you was overdue and I could not reach you on your communicator, so I took a chance and called for backup."
Napoleon watched in approval as many U.N.C.L.E. teams converged on the block from both land and air. "Impressive," he said. "You're just in time." He started to get back out of the car. "Shall we join them?"
"With pleasure," Ecks smirked.
As they all exited the car and headed over to the alley from which Napoleon and Ecks had so recently emerged, Napoleon turned to look back at the British private investigator. "We made a good team," he commented.
Ecks nodded. "We actually did," he smiled.
Illya scowled. "You certainly seem to get along better with Mr. Ecks than I do."
"He's really not that bad," Napoleon said calmly. "You just have to know how to handle him."
Ecks caught Illya's eye, smirking at him before walking on ahead with Wye.
Illya rolled his eyes. "I would certainly like to know your secret, Napoleon."
"Well," said Napoleon, "it isn't easily taught. Some have it and some don't."
"I've always known at least that much," Illya retorted.
"In any case, I would recommend actually sitting down and having a serious talk with Mr. Ecks sometime, without any of your more . . . colorful exchanges."
Illya grunted. "I highly doubt he could go for more than five minutes without deliberately trying to rile me."
"It's partially just his way," Napoleon said. "And partially his enjoyment of teasing someone who reacts to it."
"You certainly have become an expert on all things Mr. Ecks," Illya said.
"Only on a few points," Napoleon shrugged. "When you're pinned down with not much else to do but talk, you'd be surprised what can be learned."
"Perhaps," Illya said, and then turned his attention to snagging a THRUSH agent attempting to escape the raid.
Napoleon grabbed one more. This was certainly a profitable bust for U.N.C.L.E. In addition, it had given him a lot to think about. It didn't surprise him at all that Illya had returned stymied from his past conversations with Mr. Ecks. That character had a way of getting people to take good, hard, and sometimes unwelcome looks at themselves.
The life of a spy was always an uncertain one. But, Napoleon knew as he led his THRUSH prey to the nearest U.N.C.L.E. car, it was a highly valuable life choice for him. In spite of the uncertainty and the possibility of heartbreak in the future, he didn't regret it one bit.