When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face—
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space ..
Napoleon Solo had been on every floor of UNCLE HQ trying to find his missing partner. If Illya were still in the New York offices, the number two man in charge didn't have a clue where.
"Hi there Napoleon. Um… Happy Thanksgiving."
Mandy was finishing her shift in Translations, and the sight of Napoleon wandering through the door was a little puzzling. She didn't have anything in the queue with his name on it. Everyone was starting to scurry around and get a head start on the Holiday weekend; at least those who were lucky enough to get more than one day off.
"Happy Thanksgiving, Mandy. Say, have you seen Illya down here? I seem to have lost track of my wandering partner."
The pretty brunette removed her black-rimmed glasses and looked thoughtfully at the handsome brunet in the doorway. Given her choice between the two men, she did rather prefer Napoleon. He was a better height, for one thing. Plus, he exuded the charm of a man in control. A woman liked that. Mandy liked that.
"Gee, no Napoleon. I haven't seen Illya since… hmmm… lunch? Yes, I believe he was still in the Canteen when I came back up here around two."
Napoleon thought about that. He hadn't been available for lunch today, and had instead been in a meeting with Mr. Waverly and a representative from one of the member nations. The last time he had seen his partner was earlier in the morning over coffee and a report of their last mission. Illya had just a few more details to add before turning it in to Mr. Waverly.
"Okay, thanks Mandy. And, Mandy… really, I hope you have a lovely holiday. Are you spending it with family this year?"
Mandy blushed, remembering her earlier thoughts about Napoleon.
"Gee, Napoleon. Actually, I have a new gentleman friend who has invited me to meet his family. We're going upstate for the weekend."
Napoleon smiled and tried to not look too shocked. Mandy was an attractive and entertaining young woman, but she could pull some outlandish maneuvers on the unsuspecting… or sometimes the suspecting types as well. He smiled at a few memories…
"That's great, Mandy. I hope it goes well for you… all."
Napoleon reached over and kissed her on the cheek, then waived goodbye as he exited through the still open door and down the hallway to the elevator. He still wanted to find Illya, and he still didn't know where to look.
Illya Kuryakin had never mastered being the social creature that Napoleon Solo exemplified. His friend was well liked and conversant in the most inane subjects; and he did it out of kindness to an appreciative audience. It was never belittling to Solo to spend time on a boring individual, or to take the trouble to compliment a woman just because it would make her feel good about herself.
Illya envied that ease with which Napoleon navigated life and social situations. He himself was not ill bred, but had been dealt a shy and reserved personality that refused to come out of hiding except when disguised as someone else. He could perform easily as long as it did not involve betraying the man behind the mask.
Sitting now in the twilight, the lights of the city were just beginning to shine as day settled into its respite. The expanse of it was a little comfort for the soul of a man who sought refuge from over indulgence and opulent gestures that held little meaning.
Thanksgiving had been heralded as this great American event; a grandiose statement of a benevolent spirit that, in Illya's experience, did not truly reflect the day. He didn't resent it so much as there was a lingering grief over the contrast between what he had found here, and what he knew for a certainty existed in his own country.
Lines of hungry people would be waiting to buy food that closely resembled what many Americans would be throwing out at the end of their meals tomorrow.
No, he didn't blame anyone. It wasn't their fault. People do what they are taught, after all.
Napoleon stopped by Illya's apartment first. He knocked and delivered the special signal that they both used when entering the other's apartment. No response.
Something told the American to keep going up. Once before, just after Illya had moved in, Napoleon had found him up on the roof after a frustrating day with some Section II guys. They hadn't meant anything harmful, but good-natured ribbing had not gone over very well with the new Russian in town.
Napoleon hadn't considered Illya to be particularly sensitive, but a lack of fluidity with American slang and a few practical jokes had set the new agent at a disadvantage. What the larger group had viewed as harmless turned out to be an insulting barrage to a man already on the defensive. To their credit, each man had gone to Illya and apologized, forming a basis for better relations between East and West in the land of UNCLE. It was a testament to the caliber of men serving the Command that they were willing and committed to cementing the camaraderie among the agents… all of them.
Thinking back on all of that now, Napoleon eased open the door to the roof. It was a typical roof, with air ducts and some electrical wires crisscrossing in a few places. Someone had placed four chairs and a table on one side, probably for the bridge players who liked to come up and watch the city lights and vie for the best hands.
Illya was sitting on a box of some sort, the slimmest sliver of moonlight glinting off of the pale blond head. It was funny, but Napoleon had never noticed how blond hair served as a beacon before he met Illya. None of the women he dated, many of whom were blonde, had ever caused him to notice that detail about hair color. He had probably been preoccupied…
Napoleon eased himself down next to his friend, taking the last few inches on the edge of the box seat. He didn't think he could match Illya's posture, though. The compact body had easily folded up into a neat package with his feet on the edge of the box and his arms wrapped snugly around his knees. As Napoleon took his seat, Illya put his chin down and stared off into the descending night sky. Napoleon thought he looked a little like a child; a towheaded kid with nothing better to do than gaze at stars.
"So, what are you doing up here, Illya? I was looking all over headquarters for you."
Illya's forehead was touching his knees now, and all that was visible was the blond hair shining under the lights. He shrugged his shoulders and raised his head at the same time, giving the impression that one motion had triggered the other. Napoleon was still trying to figure out how he had arranged his body to fit into that tight configuration…
Illya's voice was low and measured. He was still looking out over the city as he spoke.
"Are you familiar with the history of the Ukraine?"
Napoleon had some general knowledge.
"What, specifically, do you have in mind?"
Illya didn't turn his head completely towards Napoleon, but cut his eyes in that way he had of doing. It always accentuated the shape of them, and the color.
"I am quite possibly descended from Swedish Vikings."
"That actually makes more sense to me. It explains the hair, too."
Illya shook his head, which left Napoleon wondering if he was agreeing or simply amused.
"Yes, I suppose it does…"
"So, what is it, Illya? Something is bothering you, that's sort of obvious."
Horns were honking down below. Someone must have gotten a cabbie's attention.
"I did not wish to create a melodrama, Napoleon. Sometimes I just feel … overwhelmed by it all. This holiday …"
Napoleon knew it, of course.
"Thanksgiving. You mean because we're so outlandishly American?"
Now Illya turned completely to look at his friend. There was nothing condemning in his expression. But something…
"I do enjoy being here. Please, do not ever think I have any ill will toward your country, or the people in it. I am merely one of millions of immigrants who have found a home here. My neighbors, other agents and employees at UNCLE…''
He sighed, unable to express what was gnawing at him tonight.
"Illya, it's all right to be homesick."
Was that it? Was he like a schoolboy who has been sent away and yearns for what has been left behind? Was he still that schoolboy?
"When I was in the State School, it was too much a sign of weakness to be found dreaming of home. Many of us had lost so much already, were victims of the war and of our own government's greed for the best and brightest. They tried very hard to make me into something better."
That puzzled Napoleon. Illya was the best at whatever he put his hand to. Did he doubt that? It was hard to imagine, considering how nonchalantly he routinely scored the highest numbers and put away the enemy with disarming ease.
Illya caught that moment of confusion and attempted to clarify his statement. The bleat of another horn and then a blast of expletives in Italian broke the stream of conversation.
"I think perhaps his Thanksgiving will not be so happy."
Napoleon chuckled at that, unwilling however to let the moment pass.
"What do you miss most, Illya? What would make your Thanksgiving here, tomorrow, feel less like you are out of place?"
Napoleon was thinking he would take his friend to The Russian Tea Room. Maybe having borscht as a first course would make him feel better. Unless it was too much…
Illya thought about the question, and then he considered an answer for his persistent friend. Last year he had gone with Napoleon to visit his family, something that had been pleasant and enlightening as a cultural experience. It had been nice, actually.
"Why are you not going to your sister's this year? Do you not do the same thing consistently?"
Napoleon shook his head, and remembered the same things that had just gone through Illya's mind. His sister wasn't hosting the meal this year. To be honest, a big family meal was almost more than Napoleon wanted to deal with as the years went by. His professional life was a big question mark that grew more difficult to disguise.
"Things are … different, and sometimes it's just easier to not be with family."
Illya considered that and understood. Even now, were he to try and return to the Soviet Union, he would not receive a hero's welcome. Living and working in the West had a negative connotation, whether viewed from a political standpoint, or jealousy. His life was easy compared to so many in his country, and it was relatively easy to adjust to abundance. The die was cast, it would seem.
"Napoleon, I suggest we find the most American meal in the city and not even think about where I came from. What matters right now is where I am."
That's really all they had. Living in the moment is what they had left at the end of the day, the end of a mission. Life held very little in the way of guarantees even among the safest pockets of civilization. For an UNCLE agent, the only sure thing was the knowledge that sooner or later you would encounter a close call. Living through it was something you hoped for.
"You may be right, tovarisch. And, to tell you the truth, I'm not even that fond of turkey. How about we go find the best steak in New York City, and just be thankful we're home long enough to enjoy it."
Illya un-hinged himself from his perch on the box, stretching as he did so in a way that made Napoleon feel as though it had at least taken a little effort to sit like that.
"How do you do that, anyway? What are you, made out of rubber…?"
Illya huffed into the night air, and then in an impromptu display of just how limber he was, launched into a demonstration of Barynya, complete with some fancy stomping and the traditional Russian squatwork steps that Napoleon could only dream of.
When he landed finally with his arms overhead and a crazed expression of some formerly unseen glee, Illya was breaking a sweat and breathing hard. At least there was evidence that it had taken some work.
"There you go, my bourgeois friend. That is how we do it in Russia."
Illya slapped his American friend on the back and guided him to the stairwell door. He was done with the mood that had driven him up here on the roof. He was glad Napoleon had found him.
Thanksgiving. It was a good idea.
Up On The Roof - written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King