"Personally, I think the old man made a mistake bringing in the Soviet. I mean, we may be international, but that doesn't mean letting in avowed enemies. Does it?"
The setting was familiar; the grey walls suspended from ceilings of the same color, the floors fading underfoot as though one surface merely reflected an illusion of substance.
UNCLE headquarters was a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, but no one had garnered the attention of so many people as the new man in Section II, Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin: the Soviet.
His history was a maze of disinformation, purposefully crafted by Alexander Waverly himself. He knew that some things were better left unsaid, and his new recruit was a man whose experiences might be still more fodder for the gristmill, so to speak.
"Hrrmph, enemies indeed."
Oh, he knew what was said, and by whom. UNCLE was his house, and he kept it clean by methods not known in full by anyone save himself. He let his people wonder how he knew what he did, better to keep them on their toes. What he didn't like was the current flow of conversation, and the possibility that Kuryakin was viewed by too many as a threat.
"Miss McNabb, please have Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin come to my office…immediately."
There was only one response to Mr. Waverly, and Heather McNabb was calling the two men in question immediately upon saying those two words.
Napoleon Solo had met the Russian, and found him to be affable, if not completely charming. He was reserved, possibly due to the cool reception he'd gotten when arriving here at the New York headquarters of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
UNCLE was nothing if not apprehensive, regardless of whatever policies everyone swore to uphold. In a world that had been shaken by Soviet aggressions after the war, their support of North Korea and various double agents who had made headlines, it was not an easy assignment to come in and try to make himself at home among the doubters.
Of course, not everyone disliked Illya Kuryakin. But those who did had big mouths (wasn't that always the case?), and he seemed to have never spoken a word in defense of himself. Napoleon admired the ability of the man to simply walk away from the several rude remarks that he had heard spoken to his face, or sometimes as he passed by in the canteen or in the hallway.
As for Kuryakin, he dismissed all of it in a resigned way; he was resigned to prejudice in most Western countries. His reception in London had been only slightly better. But then the Profumo scandal hit, rocking British politics to their core. He had barely escaped UNCLE's London office with his scalp, arriving in New York to only slightly less hostility.
The two agents arrived at Waverly's office simultaneously, each of them aggressively responsive when answering the call of their punctilious superior. Kuryakin did it because he had never been without one. Napoleon Solo was not opposed to accommodating his boss, and usually considered it in his best interest to do so.
"Gentlemen, please take a seat."
The daylight visible from the only windows in the entire building shed little light on why they were both present. Solo, as his name announced, worked alone. He had resisted partnering with anyone, primarily due to his belief that no one worked as well with his style as he would require. It was a conceited point of view, but not without some merit. The missions on which he had been paired with another agent had not gone as smoothly as the old man would have liked, and Solo himself usually found the presence of another man an encumbrance to his rather unorthodox methods.
Illya Kuryakin had been so profoundly mistrusted on several occasions as to hinder the procurement of whatever had been the object of those missions. Alexander Waverly was entirely done with that nonsense.
Kuryakin's resume made him a poster boy for competence, his Survival School scores rivaled only by the other man sitting in this office. Together, these two men were the most accomplished and talented in the agency, of that Waverly had no doubts. The only thing left to him was to partner them, thus creating what might possibly be the winning edge in UNCLE's never ending battle with criminal elements like Thrush.
Law and Order, by whatever means necessary.
Before each man was a file folder, as yet unopened. Nothing happened before Waverly mandated it, not even perusing an assignment. Now he nodded his head, indicating they should read the contents of the folders. Each man responded, and in the next several minutes only the sound of measured breathing could be heard alongside the old man's softly tamping of his pipe bowl, the aroma of Isle of Dogs #22 wafting across the round table at which they were all seated.
Solo finished first, or so he thought. Figuring that the Russian probably needed more time to translate into English, he failed to notice the movement of his eyes; Kuryakin had read it once, then gone back to the top and started over again. He didn't want to look up just yet, not before being called upon.
"Mr. Solo, are you finished with that?"
Napoleon looked up, then at the blond next to him.
"Yes sir, I am. Umm…Am I to understand that we, that is Mr. Kuryakin and I, will be on this mission together?"
The grey eyes that viewed him from beneath the ominous looking eyebrows were like steel.
"Is that a problem, Mr. Solo?"
Illya didn't look at the two men, keeping his eyes downward, not daring to anticipate what Solo might say in response. He willed himself to not let out the sigh that was building.
"No sir, not at all. It's just that, well, I am used to working alone…"
That was probably the wrong thing to say, and he regretted it immediately.
"Yes, Mr. Solo, you usually do work alone, without back up; you too often exhibit the type of bravado that makes me concerned that you haven't a shred of common sense, something that Mr. Kuryakin has in spades."
Oh, so that's how it is…
The American agent straightened his head, indicating his censure was noted, although not appreciated. His lips pursed slightly, the top one an indulgent pout that did not go unnoticed by the old man watching him.
Sooner or later, Mr. Solo, we all come to terms…
The Russian's head with the halo of hair that was considered too long by most standards, (most notably those of Mr. Waverly), remained bowed down as though unable to take his eyes from the mission page in front of him. He didn't trust Solo's response, just as he mistrusted most of the people he met here. Only Waverly had made him feel secure in this overwrought city; his little apartment an island of respite from the turmoil that remained, as always, his life.
"Mr. Kuryakin, do you have anything to say about this? Our inability to partner you with an appropriate colleague is no less a concern to me. I am convinced that you and Mr. Solo are somehow fated for one another, given that neither of you can function satisfactorily with anyone else."
Illya braved a sidelong glance at his new partner, only to be met by a similar look from him. What was there about this that made him want to laugh out loud? Two errant schoolboys, set to rights in front of the headmaster…
Subduing a grin, the absurdity of the situation suddenly seemed an answer to his problems after all. Solo was well liked, most probably the next CEA of the Northwest Section… He could do worse.
"No sir, I am quite happy to be assigned as Mr. Solo's partner. I believe I shall learn quite a lot from him…sir."
Napoleon smirked a little, understanding the message.
Okay, I can do this too, comrade.
"Umm…yes, Mr. Waverly, I agree."
He caught a look from Illya, realizing how that sounded.
"Oh, not about learning from me…sorry. I mean that this seems like a good thing for us to…umm…try out, at least. Thank you, sir."
The old man looked at his agents, wary of their sudden acceptance of the situation, regardless of what mandates were taken for granted. No matter, he'd let them work that out themselves.
"Very well, then. Please familiarize yourselves with this mission agenda, and pick up your travel arrangements from Miss McNabb. That is all."
He put his head down, a whiff of smoke circling up from the pipe that he had managed to light during the briefing. The new partners departed the big office with the faint aroma of Mr. Waverly's tobacco as an escort.
Napoleon picked up the envelope with their plane tickets, and some additional details regarding their destination. Illya stood patiently by as he considered this new development. Napoleon's thoughts must have echoed those of the Russian as he turned to face him, extending his hand in what would become the first of many agreements.
"It seems we are now a team, Illya. Welcome to New York."
The blond gave him a glimpse of his smile, not yet willing to be completely deferential to this new comrade.
"Thank you, Napoleon. I believe Mr. Waverly has chosen well…for both of us."
Napoleon's own smile was slightly crooked, his affect one of having been caught slightly by surprise.
"Yes…I think you may be right, tovarisch. Say, are you hungry? I know a place…"
To each of them the thought occurred that having a partner might turn out to be a very good thing.