Notes: And, it's done! Thanks to everyone who read and supported this!
"Napoleon, please leave…" Illya pleaded again. "The last thing I would want… is for you to get hurt somehow."
"Funnily enough, the last thing I want is for you to get hurt, too," Napoleon said. He looked out the window once more, and then abandoned this idea. It was true that he wouldn't get very far, especially if he carried Illya with him. He sighed and now turned to face the door of the room.
Trying to get the jump on Mills as he entered was one option, but one that wouldn't work if Mills entered firing at anything that moved. It didn't matter that Mills was somehow obsessed with "saving" Napoleon from Illya—if something happened and Napoleon did get hurt or killed in the ensuing confrontation, Mills would somehow blame Illya for it and draw out his suffering all the more.
"We need backup, but it'll take them ten minutes to get here…" Napoleon said. "How can we stall him for ten minutes…?"
Illya didn't respond to this; while his rational side was ready to admit that he was in no condition to defend himself, his rarely-seen sentimental side knew that if there was anyone who could find a way out of this predicament, it would be Napoleon. His partner would not let him die without a fight.
"Tell me one thing," Napoleon was saying. "You said that Mills would taunt you during his attacks?"
"Da…" Illya murmured. "His ego is quite large. But I fail to see what that has to do with anything."
But Napoleon was looking as though the proverbial light bulb just had gone off over his head.
"Illya, I've got an idea. I promise you, you'll be safe through the whole thing, so just go along with me on this."
"What about you…?"
"Well…" Napoleon sighed. "There's quite a bit of risk to me, but I'm willing to take that chance if it means stopping Mills."
"Aside from the fact that I am more than willing to pull rank on you right now, there isn't really anything you can do to stop me, is there?"
Illya, though very much against the idea, was too exhausted to protest as Napoleon now began to set things into motion; even with his own condition as it was, the Russian could only think of his partner, and hope that Napoleon's attempts to protect him from Mills wouldn't end with him getting hurt in some way.
Once the outer door had been breached, a quick ransacking of the other rooms in the apartment had been audible from the bedroom until the bedroom door was soon kicked open. The lone figure in the bed shuddered, facing out the window, not daring to look back. The figure was tightly wrapped in a blanket, with part of the blanket raised up as a hood to keep out the autumn chill.
But it wasn't the chill that the figure in the bed was trembling about. His breath nearly stilled as the intruder approached him from behind.
"Turn around and face me," Mills ordered. He wasn't bothering to disguise his voice now that the jig was up.
"N-nyet," the figure in the bed stammered, quietly.
He flinched as Mills kicked him in response.
"Speak English!" Mills yelled at him.
The prone figure didn't respond; he continued to lie there, not daring to move as he heard Mills search the room, and then the bathroom and closet. There didn't appear to be anyone else in the room.
"Glad to see Solo finally ditched you," Mills said. "Did he finally break free from your brainwashing? Or did you realize that it was finally time for you to die, and you didn't want Solo to hear the truth? That doesn't matter; I'll make sure he knows all about your treachery. There won't be any mourners at your funeral, Kuryakin—just revelers, celebrating your death. You see, no one mourns the wicked. Now turn around and face your end like a man! I want to remember the look on your face forever."
But the figure in the bed did not turn.
"Why…?" he whispered, weakly. "Why… are you doing this…?"
"Why?" Mills repeated. "You have the nerve to ask me why? You know exactly what you did! I was next in line to be Solo's partner after his last one had failed. I had applied for a transfer to Section II, and I would have been a field agent fighting by Solo's side. But instead of me getting the chance to work alongside him, you muscled your way in and got the position that should have been mine! I was certain that you would fail—that you would be sent back to Europe after all your gross failures. But, somehow, you manipulated everyone into letting you stay—and that was when you brainwashed Solo, wasn't it? You bamboozled him into signing your transfer!"
"You did!" Mills roared. "It's the only explanation for how an all-American man like Solo would be seen in your company repeatedly! And all I could do is watch helplessly as you got Solo to follow you around like a dog on a leash! I would have liked to see him pull free of your control and fight back. But I'll have to live with this."
He kicked the prone figure again; the figure grunted in pain again, but still refused to face him.
"And you weren't satisfied with all of that, were you? Not only did you put Solo under your power and used him to further your career for the last seven years, you muscled your way into Section VIII to hog more glory there, too! Do you know what it's been like, having to share space with a traitor and watch him steal the glory there while not being able to do anything about it because he has the CEA brainwashed as his personal attack dog? It's frustrating, having to put up with something like that, day in and day out! But I saw through your little scheme right away—now that Solo is no longer of any use to you, you're going to kill him on some mission and make it look like THRUSH did it. And then your next plan is to get rid of Waverly and take over the New York branch and make us all march to the beat of your communist drum! And I'm the one who gets to stop your nefarious plan!"
The figure didn't respond this time, and Mills was too enveloped in his twisted fantasy to notice.
"I'll be a hero once I stop you," he said. "And I'll actually look after Solo, unlike you. I'm so glad I stopped you before you really did succeed in killing him. I just wish Solo was here right now to see this moment."
The figure in the bed now finally turned, revealing Napoleon in the bed, his Special raised and pointed at Mills; he fired once, knocking the weapon that Mills had been holding out of his hand.
"Be careful what you wish for," Napoleon hissed, an angry fire burning in his eyes as he glared daggers at Mills.
Mills's entire countenance changed from smug satisfaction to abject horror as Napoleon now aimed his Special squarely at his chest. He never imagined this—his "idol" pulling a gun on him, and with such anger. Mills just couldn't understand it; after everything he had said and did to expose Illya as a traitor, why was Napoleon upset!?
"Solo! Solo, I'm so sorry! I didn't realize that Kuryakin made you take his place! That fiend! He wanted me to kill you-!"
"This was my idea," Napoleon said. "And after everything you put Illya through, consider it a miracle-and undeserved mercy-that my Special is loaded with tranquilizers and not bullets."
"Solo! Solo, please! Just listen to me! Kuryakin-"
Mills dropped to the floor like a rock; just as the tranquilizer took effect, he could discern Illya's weakened form under the bed, watching him with an unreadable expression. Illya's weary expression lightened, however, as Napoleon now knelt down and tenderly lifted him out from under the bed and placed him back on it, tucking him in once more; this was all punctuated by Mills's defeated moans just before he fell unconscious.
"It's over, Illya," Napoleon said, softly. "You're safe now."
"You blockhead…" Illya murmured. "He could have shot you…"
"I was going by what you said about him taunting you," Napoleon said, now handcuffing Mills's hands behind his back before returning to Illya's side. "I had a feeling he'd do that before trying to finish 'you' off, so I did my best to keep him talking. The original plan was to wait for backup to get here and then I'd have tranquilized him while he was distracted by their arrival."
"You went ahead and shot him anyway…" Illya observed.
"…My emotions got the better of me," Napoleon confessed. He sighed. "Well, tell me something—if our situations had been reversed, and it had been me lying wounded and poisoned, and you were the one holding the gun on the one who had done it to me, what would you have done?"
"You are truly a paragon of mercy, Napoleon, for I would have used the actual bullets," Illya admitted.
"I wanted to. I really wanted to."
"I doubt anyone would have faulted you, as Mills had the gun on you first," Illya said. "But, perhaps, I am glad you did not."
"I would not have wanted you to change your ideals on my account," Illya mused. "One of us has to be the noble soul, and I have already taken on the role of the ruthless one. I am known as the Ice Prince after all…"
"That's a load of-"
"They don't know you like I do," Napoleon said. "You are anything but an 'Ice Prince.' You may hide your emotions well, but I can see them."
"I let you see them. I am a very private person. I understand that this leads to my reputation, but until this fiasco with Mills, I had not thought that it could have ever come to something like this."
"Mills isn't a typical case," Napoleon admitted. "He was stewing in jealousy for so long, he began to see things in a way that just weren't true. I don't know where Mills got the idea that he had ever been in the running for my partner; something about him hadn't felt right, and I never even considered accepting any of his many requests—in spite of all those gifts he tried to give me."
"Yet you gave me a chance," Illya mused.
"I consider myself able to read people very well," Napoleon said. "And besides that, I could tell that you were genuine. Not only are you honest, but you don't shy away from saying what you believe to be the blunt truth. And that's exactly what I needed—along with someone I could trust, someone I could enjoy spending time with… All of those things."
"Perhaps that's what I was looking for, as well," Illya mused. He sighed, closing his eyes. "Forgive me, Napoleon, but I am still very weak."
"You don't have to apologize," Napoleon said, gently. "You just keep resting until you get your strength back."
"Mmh," Illya responded, and he was soon fast asleep. He didn't even stir when April and Mark finally arrived with backup, taking Mills away and congratulating Napoleon on catching him alive whiling inquiring as to how Illya was.
Napoleon handled everything in stride, and he calmly waited for everyone to leave before reactivating the traps on the door and returning to Illya's side.
Illya was sleeping peacefully, albeit deeply, and it was as Napoleon reached over to brush some strands of blond hair out of Illya's eyes that he froze, staring at his own hand, which was suddenly shaking.
Napoleon frowned, trying to grab at his right wrist with his left hand, but not even that seemed to stop the tremor, nor did anything he try succeed in stopping the suddenly-swelling emotions in his chest.
With the danger gone, all of the adrenaline that had kept him going over the last two days was going away, leaving behind the very tired and worry-stricken agent who, despite being normally all smiles and confidence and usually handled adversity so well, was suddenly coming to grips with how close he had come to losing his partner.
He allowed himself a moment of weakness—burying his face in his hands for just a minute before returning to his normal, stoic self. He glanced back once more at his partner.
It was the slow but steady rise and fall of Illya's chest that gave Napoleon comfort. Whatever remained of the poison was being fought back by Illya's body. Despite his pessimistic attitude from earlier, Illya was still fighting.
Napoleon sighed, recalling Illya's words from before.
"Not even you can save me all the time…!"
He glanced at his partner once more, and managed a wan smile as he watched him peacefully sleep.
"Just let them try and stop me, Tovarisch," he said, softly. "It's a challenge that I accept."
His hand, no longer trembling, now resumed his original task of brushing Illya's hair away from his face.
Some things, Napoleon decided, were worth fighting Destiny for.
Illya's recovery was slow but steady; it took another couple of weeks before he was able to return to work, and, of course, Napoleon stayed back to look after him. Illya had been quiet and contemplative throughout his recovery, and though he did talk to Napoleon about his thoughts, things clearly remained on his mind. But it was to Napoleon's concern that, upon Illya's return to U.N.C.L.E., after warmly greeting Baba Yaga, Illya requested to go down to the morgue. It was a bit more than Napoleon could stomach, so he waited outside the morgue with Baba Yaga as Illya opened the drawer holding the body of Colonel Nexor. It was more than a bit unnerving to look into the face of a dead man and seeing his own, but he pushed the thought aside and spoke aloud.
"So…" he said. "Here we are. You, still here. And I very nearly joined you." He glanced at the other drawers before turning back to Nexor. "What I've got to say won't take long… But I've got to say it. You've brought me a great deal of trouble—but I suppose I can't blame you entirely. Mills would have found some other case to blame me for if it hadn't been this one."
He sighed, looking around the room once more.
"It strikes me as ironic," he continued. "You and Gurnius had so many followers—countless people who either shared your horrific beliefs, or those you charmed and deceived into following you. They swore fealty to you and your twisted vision. As for myself, I don't have very many I consider myself close to—certainly no followers to speak of. But I have a very small group of people who mean a lot to me. And though you and your followers outnumbered us by many, your supposedly loyal followers weren't able to keep you or Gurnius alive—those who survived more or less abandoned you to your deaths, and yet, that small group of mine would have been ready to move the foundations of the Earth if they thought that it would have saved my life. I have had a lot of time during my recovery to think about a lot of things, one of which was whether or not it would have been wise to resign—find some line of work in Little Russia where I would not be scrutinized as I am now. But then I thought of my little group—how I couldn't leave them to fight evil such as your lot without me…" He glanced out the glass panel on the door, looking at Napoleon, who was still waiting patiently for him. "How I couldn't bear the thought of not being by Napoleon's side. I belong with him—with them. I suppose I can dare to say that some good came from all of this—that I understand the importance of my being here, for they would not have fought tooth and nail to keep me safe had I not been important to them."
He turned back to Nexor's body once more.
"This experience was still, nevertheless, extremely unpleasant, and, therefore, I cannot thank you," he said, matter-of-factly. "But I will carry the lessons I have learned from it for a long time."
His piece said, he closed the drawer back up and headed outside, nodding to Napoleon that he was finished.
"I never did give Mr. Waverly the mission report," he realized, as the two of them, with Baba Yaga in tow, headed back to their office. "I suppose I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on?"
"I'll help you with it," Napoleon promised, as he opened the door to their office. "But, before that, I have a little something I've been planning…"
Illya stopped in his tracks, blinking as he saw the sight in their office. Dozens of people were there, from all sections of U.N.C.L.E.—and even Janet was there with a visitor's badge on, standing with April, Mandy, George, and Mark. Waverly was there, too, standing beneath a large "Welcome Back" banner. And on the desk was a tray of bagels of all kinds, with cream cheese and other toppings for them (Baba Yaga hungrily eyeing the lox).
"We never had our bagels," Napoleon said. "So I came up with the idea of a welcome back bagel party for you. The others brought the idea to life, though."
"…You didn't have to do this…" Illya said, clearly taken aback.
"We wanted to, Illya," April said, sincerely.
"Napoleon told us about his idea, and we all agreed that we wanted to show you our appreciation for everything that you do here," Mandy added.
"And not just here," Janet said. "I mean, you helped me—and I'm sure you've helped so many other people."
"You aren't kidding," George said. "If we invited all the innocents you've helped, they'd have violated the building's fire codes…"
"So, this little impromptu gathering had to do," Mark said, and he turned to Waverly. "Anything to add, Sir?"
"Just a hearty 'welcome back' to you, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly said, with a nod. "I think you'll be pleased to know that Mills is slated for deprogramming before his imprisonment—and we've decided that Mr. Solo will be the one to do it."
"It would be my pleasure, Sir," Napoleon said, with a nod. "Can Illya be present?"
"If he so chooses," Waverly said. "Now, then, before we have this little party, I think it's only appropriate that you say a few words in recognition of your partner's return, Mr. Solo."
"Ah…" Napoleon said, and he took a moment to gather his thoughts before continuing. "Well, no one is more relived and happy than I am to see Illya back here, of course. Illya has been my partner for seven years now, and, well… I can only say that, ever since day one, it's been an adventure—one that I've been enjoying every minute of. That includes both the good and the bad; I know we don't like those bad times, but even the bad times help me realize just how much he means to me. And, believe me, this latest fiasco has reminded me of that a lot."
He looked to Illya now, ignoring the crowd listening to him, and just looked into his partner's eyes.
"Just after I'd been able to take you home, while you were resting and I was encouraging you to get better, I said that I didn't know where I'd be without you. Well, I've done a lot of thinking about that these past couple weeks, and… It turns out that's not quite true," Napoleon admitted. "I do know where I'd be—and it's not a pretty place. Lost. Alone. Probably dead, so that's technically moot. I've always known that I was a lucky person, and I don't think there's any greater example of that than knowing that you're my partner, always having my back."
"You know that I am dubious about things such as luck," Illya said now. "But I do agree that I am a better man on account of knowing you, and having you as my partner, as well. And I do hope that this team of ours continues to do what we do best."
"I know we will," Napoleon said, and he drew the Russian into a tight hug, which Illya returned.
And even though the room broke into applause (led by Waverly, no less), the two of them were practically oblivious to it until they broke apart, and the party began. And as Illya, Napoleon, and their circle of friends took part in the bagels, they both realized how lucky they were, indeed.
They had each other—and even more, too.