Notes: this is a little ficlit I wrote on the occasion of David McCallum's 85th birthday today. This is meant to take place in 1986, and follows my headcanon that Napoleon and Illya left U.N.C.L.E. together in 1972 after Napoleon reached the 40-year-old mandatory retirement from field duty (I don't consider the Return movie canon, simply because it was so out of character for Napoleon to leave without Illya, for Illya to let him go, and for them to have not spoken to each other for 15 years).
So much had changed, and yet, so much had stayed the same. Manhattan had always been a constantly-changing world, even in the twelve years that Illya had lived there, though the 60s and the beginning of the 70s. It was the fall of 1986 now, and places that had been staples of his and Napoleon's life in New York were apparently lost to the mists of time—the Purple Unicorn was gone, along with several other hole-in-the-wall eateries that the two had entertained each other in. Napoleon's favorite high-class eatery, the Casablanca Club, still remained, though having moved up to Midtown, just off of Times Square.
Their favorite bagel haunt was, thankfully, exactly where they had left it, and Napoleon had proceeded to order their "usual" (an asiago bagel with hot pepper cream cheese for himself, a plain bagel with plain cream cheese for Illya, and a serving of lox for their cat, Baba Yaga), and then proceeded to take the meal to go to their new residence, a furnished apartment in a new high-rise, just across the street from the new location of U.N.C.L.E. HQ.
"You know, I almost miss that other apartment we had," Napoleon said, as he began to unpack.
"So do I," Illya said. "This one is unnecessarily larger. What are the two of us going to do with all of this extra space?"
Baba Yaga let out a meow and began to intently explore the larger space; clearly, she had no complaints.
"There's your answer," Napoleon teased. "We can get a whole bunch of cat trees and let her run wild." He glanced at her, thoughtfully. "…You know, she's awfully spry for being 26 years old…"
"We have looked after her very well," Illya said, picking up the cat and cradling her as she purred away in his arms.
"…I still say it's because she's the daughter of Bastet," Napoleon insisted.
"So you have told me…" Illya said, feeding her a piece of lox. "…I'm almost beginning to believe it."
She licked her lips and leaped to the top of the wardrobe, getting a better vantage point to observe her new kingdom. Illya smiled and opened the wardrobe, hanging up a black turtleneck—which prompted Napoleon to stop and stare.
"Is… is that what I think it is…?" he asked, pointing at the sweater.
"The same sweater that I've had since 1960? Yes, it is," Illya said, without missing a beat.
"…I haven't seen that for a while; I was beginning to think it was long-gone," Napoleon said, staring at it in wonder.
"Well, considering that we have been spending the last 14 years in Hawaii, a sweater was not something that I used while we were there," Illya said, smirking at him.
"…I'm also trying to figure out how that thing is still in one piece," Napoleon added. "When I think about all the suits I had to get reimbursed because they got damaged on missions…" He ran a hand over the sweater. "What is this thing made of, anyway? Indestructible mithril?"
"Apparently," Illya said.
Napoleon smirked, as well, and looked to his partner, happy to see him looking so content.
"You're in a good mood," he observed.
"Well, it has been a long time since I felt autumn in New York," Illya said, opening the window now. "I have enjoyed Hawaii, but… I can't deny that a part of me has really missed this. We have arrived at the right time, too—soon, the trees in Central Park will be changing color-"
"…And then we'll get the first snow…"
"People will start putting out pumpkins and start making things with nutmeg and cinnamon…"
"…And then there'll be even more snow…"
"Soon there will be chestnuts and gingerbread before we know it!"
"…And did I mention lots of snow?"
Illya looked back at Napoleon, rolling his eyes.
"Never fear, Napoleon; I will lend you my indestructible mithril sweater."
"…And there was a time when that could have fit me; now, I'm not so sure," Napoleon mused, staring at his waistline, which had grown slightly along with his age. "But I appreciate the thought."
Illya paused for a moment and then attempted to put the sweater on. He managed to fit into it, but it most definitely accentuated his waistline, as well, which it had not done back in the '60s.
"…Oh, well…" he shrugged. "At least it still fits. All of your rich, gourmet cooking wasn't enough to make it useless."
"Don't blame my cooking; you're the one who eats three servings of each thing at mealtime," Napoleon teased.
"You should consider that a compliment," Illya returned. "…Ah, and that reminds me; I wonder if those all all-you-can-eat restaurants that blacklisted me have forgotten about me by now…"
"If they have, I guarantee you they'll remember once they see the look in your eyes as you stare at the lunch buffet…" Napoleon mused.
"Surely some of them are under new management after 14 years!" Illya said. "I think it is worth looking into…"
"Not tonight," Napoleon said. "Tonight, I want to take you to the Casablanca Club. It is a special day, after all."
"Ah, yes, our return to New York and our old lives as U.N.C.L.E. agents," Illya sighed. "It is a cause for celebration…"
"Well, it is, yes," Napoleon said. "But it wasn't quite the reason I had in mind."
"But what else could possibly…?" Illya began, but he trailed off as Napoleon pulled a small, wrapped box from his pocket, and Illya chuckled sheepishly. "…I lost track of the days and forgot it was my birthday again, didn't I…?"
"You did," Napoleon said. "It really makes shopping for your presents very easy. Well, anyway, you can't be blamed this time; we've been traveling for hours, across multiple time zones."
"And we will be doing a lot more of that, being with U.N.C.L.E. again," Illya said. "At least that will remain the same."
"You think we did the right thing? Agreeing to come back, I mean," Napoleon said. "With our private investigation service in Hawaii, we got to choose what we did, how we did it, and stayed in control of whatever danger we got ourselves into… Back with U.N.C.L.E. again, we're going to have to follow orders, even if we don't like them—probably means a lot more solo missions and time apart."
"I know," Illya sighed. "Mark was talking about long-term undercover assignments being in store for us. I didn't like the sound of that too much."
"Yeah, neither did I," Napoleon sighed. He glanced at his partner. "…So, why did we say yes?"
Illya turned from the window and glanced back at him.
"We have a duty of care, I suppose," he said. "After all the work we put in to preserving peace back in the 60s, we don't want to stand aside and risk things going wrong that we could have helped to prevent. You, in particular, saw preserving peace as your ultimate mission back then. Deep down, that has not changed in you, in spite of how much you enjoy relaxing on the Hawaiian beaches."
"And you wouldn't let me come back here alone," Napoleon added.
"Of course not."
"Well, alright then," he said. "We'll give this a try—and someday, we will return to that little Hawaiian bungalow."
"We will," Illya promised. "We survived the worst of what THRUSH had to offer; we can get through this, too."
"You bet," Napoleon said, and he handed over Illya's present. "Happy Birthday, Tovarisch."
Trying not to appear too eager, Illya opened it, slowly. He blinked in surprise to see a black bow tie with golden elephants embroidered in it.
"Oh, it's charming!" Illya said, grinning. "See, this is the kind of thing I like—there's no need to spend lavish amounts of money on expensive things!"
Napoleon let out an embarrassed cough, prompting Illya to arch an eyebrow. Removing the bow tie from the box, Illya sighed in amusement as he saw, hidden beneath the tie, a pair of gold cufflinks with a black opal set in each one.
"…Of course, you couldn't resist the flashy, expensive thing, too…"
"They just seemed so… you, when I saw them."
"Let me guess—Macy's?"
"Where else? I just thought they'd look good on you."
"No doubt they will," Illya said, embracing his partner—a gesture which Napoleon cheerfully returned. Illya couldn't help but smile. "Thank you, Napoleon. I shall wear these to dinner tonight."
Baba Yaga, still perched on the wardrobe, meowed at the word "dinner," her ears up and alert.
"Yes, of course, Dearest; we shall bring you something from the restaurant, as well," Illya assured her.
"Nothing but the best for our daughter of the cat goddess," Napoleon insisted.
Satisfied, Baba Yaga curled back up on the wardrobe, purring again, and Napoleon turned back to Illya.
Illya nodded, attaching the cufflinks to his sleeves and tying on the bow tie. He paused in the mirror on the way out to admire how he looked; Napoleon had been right—they did look good on him…
"Can I pick 'em, or what?" Napoleon grinned, his reflection appearing in the mirror behind Illya now.
"Yes. Yes, you can," Illya said, with an amused shake of his head. That, too, had stayed the same. "Now, let's go."
They headed outside to hail a taxi, curious to see how the rest of the city had changed in their 14-year absence.
One thing was for certain, though—their partnership would be as strong as it had been in the '60s, if not more so now.
And even if Napoleon missed the warm Hawaiian breezes and the days he could waste basking in the sun, the heart of the city was just as much home again as it had been in the '60s—for Illya was with him, and that was all that mattered.