Notes: This is my usual yearly fic in honor of what would have been Robert Vaughn's birthday!
Napoleon smiled in satisfaction as he glanced at his reflection in the mirror. Another year older, and yet, there was not a single wrinkle or gray hair to betray that fact—much to his satisfaction.
"Ponce de León, eat your heart out," he murmured.
The smell of pancakes and syrup finally succeeded in drawing him away from his reflection; though Illya was not as accomplished a chef as Napoleon was, pancakes were among the things he could make, and since it was Napoleon's birthday, naturally, he wanted to prepare breakfast that day.
Illya already had the plates set up—one for each of them, plus one more for Baba Yaga, who had already started on her pancake.
"Happy Birthday, Napoleon," Illya greeted him.
"Thank you, Tovarisch," Napoleon grinned.
The two of them feasted on the pancakes.
"So, when are Ma and Dad coming over?"
"Evening," Illya said. "I figured I would treat us all to a dinner in your honor—your choice of eatery, naturally."
"I'll mull my choices over and let you know-" Napoleon began, but he was cut off by an odd sound on their apartment door. "What is that?"
Baba Yaga perked her ears up and looked in the direction of the door, but, otherwise, didn't react, prompting Napoleon to get up and open the door. There was no one at the door, but as he turned, he stared as he saw a piece of paper taped to the door.
"Illya! Look at this!"
Illya got up from the table and headed over to Napoleon as he removed the paper from the door.
"What is that?"
"A message that was intended for me, by the looks of it," Napoleon said, glancing from the paper to his partner. "Hang on, it's a poem—a riddle of some kind… Look at this…"
He held up the paper so that Illya could read it; the note was typewritten to avoid having the handwriting traced-
Greetings, Mr. Solo; will you play my game?
The average man would find this quest hard.
But I wish to match wits with you, Mr. Solo-
How well do you know the one and only Bard?
First, I refer to The Winter's Tale,
And the beast that saw Antigonus depart.
Go to where the beast now battles-
Against another beast in the city's heart.
"A battle of wits…?" Napoleon mused. "With Shakespeare as the theme? I don't know who's behind this, but I will not lose!"
"I have every ounce of faith in you," Illya said. "But be careful—it could be a THRUSH trap."
"I don't think so; they don't really know of my love of Shakespeare. But of course, we'll be vigilant. Now, then, this riddle…. Well, the first half of the clue is easy enough."
"Is it?" Illya asked.
"Sure—The Winter's Tale? Antigonus and a beast? This is obviously referring to Antigonus's fate, summed up in a famous stage direction-'Exit, pursued by a bear.' But where would a bear be fighting another beast in 'the city's heart?' Pretty sure bear fighting is against the law."
"To say nothing of the fact that urban-dwelling bears are not that common… At least here. I could tell you some stories from Russia…"
"I'd believe them," Napoleon said, and he went back to pondering. "Let's see… Not the Bronx Zoo—they wouldn't let their bears fight."
"I think not," Illya agreed.
"Maybe it's metaphorical…" Napoleon mused. "Bears are used in a lot of symbolic things—bear markets, for instance, or…" He trailed off. "That's it!"
"The two beasts in battle in the heart of the city—the bear and the bull! The Stock Exchange, Illya!"
"…Yes, of course. Well, that's it; you've solved it."
"There's more to this than just one clue," Napoleon said, a spark of intrigued determination igniting in his eyes. "A battle of wits means that there'll be more clues—most likely, we'll find the second one at the Stock Exchange! I'm going to head over there; you coming?"
"Of course; I relish the opportunity to stand back and watch how your mind works…" Illya mused.
Baba Yaga let out a "mrrah" and followed them out the door, dragging a pancake along with her.
Arriving on Wall Street amidst the usual hustle and bustle of the crowd, Napoleon couldn't see anything out of the ordinary—at least, not until a paper airplane flew out of nowhere and smacked him in the face, prompting Illya to chuckle and Baba Yaga to leap up and swat at it.
"Well, at least we know it isn't a THRUSH plot; they wouldn't be throwing paper airplanes," the blond mused.
"Hmm," Napoleon replied, scanning the crowd to see if he could spot who had chucked the paper airplane at him. Finding no likely suspects, he unfolded the airplane to read the clue, which had been typewritten like the last one-
Well done solving the first clue;
Find the next one, should you choose to play,
Where the Bard's tale of star-crossed lovers
Was set, in film, in the modern day.
"Well, Romeo and Juliet, of course," Napoleon said. "…Unless this is referring to the play-within-a-play about Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I doubt it—Romeo and Juliet is what everyone thinks about when you use the phrase 'star-crossed.' And the modernized film adaptation, of course, must be West Side Story! So, the Upper West Side is where we need to go!"
"…You do realize how big the Upper West Side is?" Illya said. "We could be there all day looking for another paper airplane."
"…Right…" Napoleon said, staring back at the paper. "Well, the specific location in the movie is Lincoln Square…"
"That narrows it down somewhat…"
Napoleon suddenly snapped his fingers.
"San Juan Hill! I think some of the on-location filming for the movie even took place there!"
They got in a cab and were headed there; Napoleon seemed deep in thought as they rode on the way.
"What are you thinking about?" Illya asked. "Having second thoughts about the location?"
"No, I'm confident about that," Napoleon said. "I'm just trying to figure out who is doing this, and why. Is it someone trying to dethrone me as the reigning Shakespeare trivia champion at the office?"
"I suppose we'll find out once we follow all the clues…"
"…Guess so…" Napoleon replied, but it still didn't stop him from being in deep thought about it.
Nevertheless, they had barely gotten out of the cab at San Juan Hill when Napoleon found himself taking another paper airplane to the side of his head. Once again looking around and seeing no one who stood out, he held up the next clue for Illya to read.
Clue three harkens to a Danish prince,
And two he once considered friends.
From Avon to Broadway, an untold tale
Now chronicles their unfortunate ends.
Napoleon's grin had grown even further.
"It's Hamlet," he said. "Well, to be more specific, it's referring to the unofficial spinoff-and-pastiche that was just brought over to Broadway—Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I've been meaning to see that, you know?"
"…Now why did I not think to get you tickets to it for your birthday?" Illya chided himself.
"I'll take a rain check," Napoleon said. "But, at any rate, I know where the next clue is—the play is at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway, so that's where we need to go!"
He was so excited, he was about ready to take off down the street before realizing that it would be a long trek on foot; he gathered Baba Yaga in one arm and hailed a cab with the other, and Illya just shook his head in amusement.
Napoleon spent a few minutes admiring the marquee of the Alvin Theatre, clearly wishing he could see the show; he was pulled from his dreaming by Baba Yaga pawing at a paper that had been stuck to the door of the theatre.
"I think she is eager to continue with this quest, as well," Illya observed, taking the cat from Napoleon as he removed the paper. "Is that the next clue?"
"Was there ever any doubt?" Napoleon mused. He held up the clue for Illya to read again—
In halls where treasures are on display,
And time, across centuries, does span,
Find the statue of the unfortunate king
Who was slain at the hands of an honorable man.
"Well, the play is easy enough," Napoleon said. "Julius Caesar. Brutus, who orchestrated his assassination, was repeatedly—and sarcastically—referred to as an honorable man in Antony's speech. Obviously, the hall of treasures is a museum… except that there are an almost endless supply of museums here in New York."
"While that is true, I am sure that the museums which would have anything of Caesar's on display would be limited," Illya said. "I think we can rule out the Guggenheim, for instance—one would not find statues of Roman rulers in a gallery full of modern art and other inexplicable pieces."
"You're still sore about the Pop Art Affair?"
"…Wouldn't you be?"
"…Yeah, I would," Napoleon admitted. "Okay, let's get back to this, then. Now that I think about it, you're right - we can narrow it down to two museums: the Natural History Museum, or the Met."
"That sounds about right," Illya assessed.
"And the Natural History Museum, though it does have stuff on ancient civilizations, probably wouldn't be the place for a statue of Caesar, either; they tend to focus more on everyday life. So… It has to be at the Met! Hey-!"
Napoleon looked around furiously as a paper airplane flew out of nowhere and smacked him in the face again. Opening it, he saw that it was blank—but two tickets to the Met fell out.
"Really!?" Napoleon called. "I solved the clue—you're still going to make us go all the way to the Met to get the next one?"
There was no response, of course, and Napoleon sighed, shaking his head as he glanced at the tickets.
"You're still going to go, aren't you?" Illya asked.
"Well, of course; I've got my honor as a Shakespeare buff to defend! Once more, unto the breach, Tovarish!"
It was now Illya's turn to shake his head, but, nevertheless, he followed his eager partner to the Met.
In order to make sure that the tickets didn't go to waste, the duo spent some time looking around at some of the exhibits. Illya had managed to conceal Baba Yaga in his sweater, wearing a coat loosely over his sweater to prevent the cat-shaped lump from standing out. She behaved herself, though there were a couple of times in the Egyptian exhibits where she peeked out to look at some statues of Bastet.
"She's getting restless, Napoleon; we should find Caesar and the next clue and go," he said.
"I still say it's because she knows that's her Ma, but sure," Napoleon insisted. At any rate, he was eager to get the next clue.
Sure enough, they found the statue head of Caesar, and though Napoleon was on the alert, he was still blindsided by another paper airplane.
"…I must admit, I am impressed at our riddlemaster's ability to elude my spy instincts," he said, as a quick scan around the gallery yielded nothing.
Cross a bridge for this final clue,
And you will have won the day.
Recall where Falstaff met his match,
When he thought himself besieged by fae.
"…So, the last one—naturally, the trickiest…" Napoleon mused, as they now left the Met and Baba Yaga emerged from hiding and stretched. Napoleon absently gave her some ear scritches as he pondered over the clue. "Let's see… Falstaff first showed up in Henry IV, Part I and then Part II. By Henry V, he had died. Legend has it, though, that the queen requested Shakespeare for another play with Falstaff—and the end result was, supposedly, The Merry Wives of Windsor. The fae weren't in the historical plays, so it has to be Windsor. …Of course, it wasn't really fairies in Windsor, either; it was a trick, and they were fake, but he thought they were real."
"And the clue refers to the location where this occurred," Illya said.
"Yeah, and that's where it gets confusing," Napoleon said. "This took place by an oak tree in Windsor Forest; Falstaff was dressed as Herne the Hunter, and the tree came to be known as Herne's Oak after the play made it popular. Except… the real-life tree is long gone—and it would have been in Windsor Great Park, since the forest had been renamed. And there was no bridge in the play, like the clue is referring to. It can't be that we have to go all the way to England!"
"That would seem a bit excessive," Illya intoned.
"No kidding…" Napoleon said. "It must be some sort of parallel to Herne's Oak that we have here in New York…" He trailed off, looking at Central Park all around them. "…I guess you could compare Central Park to Windsor Great Park… But that still doesn't tie the bridge in to anything."
"So you are admitting defeat?"
"Never," Napoleon insisted, grabbing a map from one of the information kiosks nearby, pouring over it. "I don't know of any notable oak trees near bridges…"
"Nor do I," Illya mused.
"There was a Shakespeare Garden in the park, but it's gone to seed over the years, so that can't be it…"
"Was that pun necessary…?"
Illya shook his head again as Napoleon suddenly froze, still staring at the map.
"…I think I found it…" he said. "Oak Bridge! This has to be it—and it's just a ten-minute walk!"
He took off down the pathway, prompting Illya and Baba Yaga to chase after him.
They soon found the bridge, and Napoleon paused as he crossed it, finding a large picnic lunch spread on a blanket by the lake side.
"…The clues led to here?" he asked, baffled. "A picnic?"
"Yes, a picnic," Illya said, and he smirked. "Happy Birthday, Napoleon."
Napoleon turned to face his partner as it sunk in.
"You mean you…? The clues…?"
"I got to thinking, what could be something meaningful I could give you for your birthday?" Illya said, smiling. "Buying things… Well, anyone can do that—and you know I tend to balk at that as the default option for occasions such as these. And then I realized—a way for you to have an experience you would truly enjoy, by using your skills and knowledge of Shakespeare! And I was right—you have been enjoying yourself thoroughly all morning; I chose well."
Napoleon let out an impressed, surprised chuckle.
"Well, thanks," he said, once he managed to speak again. He hugged Illya in gratitude, but then paused and let go. "Hang on…. You were with me the entire time—how did you get the paper airplanes rigged to get me without them being disturbed by passersby?"
"Ah, well, I had a couple of accomplices to toss the paper for me…" Illya smirked, and he gestured as Cora and Leopold Solo came out of hiding, bringing the last of the food. Baba Yaga meowed and greeted the two of them, purring.
"Ma? Dad?" Napoleon asked, stunned. "Illya, you told me they were coming in the evening!"
"I never specified which evening—it just happened to be yesterday."
Cora hugged Napoleon as Leopold clapped him on the back with one hand while holding Baba Yaga in his other arm.
"Happy Birthday, Son," Leopold said.
"Thanks," he grinned. "Well, I have to admit, I didn't expect this present…"
"Oh, there's more," Cora said, taking four tickets out of her purse. "Tickets to tonight's showing of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead."
"Ah, that's why I didn't think to get them for you…!" Illya said, in a tone of mock surprise.
Napoleon shook his head in amusement again.
"Well, shall we continue this discussion over lunch?" Cora offered.
The men were all in agreement.
And as Napoleon sat down to eat, he had to reflect on how the picnic and the tickets were just the icing on an already blessed cake—for here, right now, he had everything he ever could have wanted.