The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Faded Into Gray
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! It was written with inspiration from Blackmore's Night's song I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore and the MFU 100 prompt #21 – Car.
Napoleon tapped his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel as he waited at the intersection. Was it his imagination, or did this particular semaphore always give him trouble? It seemed that every time he stopped here, he was kept waiting much longer than at any other intersection, even when there was no other traffic.
He glanced at the clock in frustration. He wanted to hurry and get to U.N.C.L.E. HQ and ask Mr. Waverly if there had been any news on Illya's whereabouts yet. It had been two days since he had apparently vanished from the face of the earth while on a mission in Europe. Lucius, who had been in the area, had gone to look for him and had turned up absolutely nothing. Now that Napoleon's own mission was finished, he intended to petition Mr. Waverly to go over there and join Lucius in the search.
It was about the same time the light turned green that a voice from the passenger seat nearly shot Napoleon through the windshield.
Napoleon whipped around in complete and utter shock. Illya was sitting next to him, calm and collected, as though he had not been missing for days but had just left U.N.C.L.E. HQ after a briefing.
"Illya?!" It took a great deal to send the usually unflappable Napoleon Solo into a state of visible shock, but this definitely did it. "What are you doing here?! How did you get here? I didn't even hear the door open or close!"
"Are you going to park here all night?" Illya returned. "The light is green, Napoleon."
Suddenly Napoleon was aware of the horns honking behind them. Frowning, he sped through the intersection, leaving the other cars far behind.
"Alright," he said, managing to keep his voice level. "Are you going to tell me what's going on, Illya? You're supposed to be in Sicily on a mission—or you were until two days ago. Now no one can find you!"
"I'm not in Sicily anymore," Illya replied.
"Well, now you're stating the obvious," Napoleon said sarcastically, annoyed with Illya for disappearing and making him worry, and now appearing in the car as though nothing was wrong at all. But the Russian's next words dropped a bombshell.
"I'm in Rome."
Napoleon screeched to a stop. "Illya, are you feeling alright?" he frowned. "You realize that this isn't Rome, don't you? It's the middle of New York City."
"You are in New York City, Napoleon. I am in Rome."
Napoleon lifted his fingers off the steering wheel while keeping his palms in place. "Alright. I really don't understand what kind of game you're playing, Illya, but I'll go along. What are you doing in Rome?"
"I foiled THRUSH's plot," Illya said.
"That's good," said Napoleon. "But you didn't bother to check in and report until now. That isn't like you, Illya. In fact, it wasn't like you not to report that you'd moved to Rome."
"There was an accident," Illya continued. "Both of our cars went into the water during the final confrontation. The bodies were all recovered. I am at St. Julian's."
The color started to drain from Napoleon's face. "You're . . . where?"
But this time there was no response. Napoleon was now alone in the car. And there was no way Illya could have physically removed himself from the car without Napoleon seeing or hearing.
Nevertheless, Napoleon scrambled out of the car, frantically looking up and down the street. "Illya!" he yelled.
His own voice only came back to him, coldly. Illya was not there. Everything was as though Illya had never been there, yet Napoleon knew he had been.
Or . . . something had been.
He leaped back into the car, revving the engine and speeding towards Del Floria's.
He had to make the next plane to Rome.
He just wondered how he would convince Mr. Waverly that he needed to look for Illya there.
He swallowed hard.
Illya's body, rather. That was the best he could do.
After all, he had just been visited by Illya's ghost.
Napoleon was unaware of it, but he was apparently still visibly dazed and pale when he got to U.N.C.L.E. HQ. When he walked into Mr. Waverly's office, the old man looked up and promptly narrowed his bushy eyebrows in concern. "Mr. Solo, what in Heaven's name is the matter?!"
Napoleon drew a shaking breath. "Mr. Waverly, I want to request permission to go to Europe to find Illya."
"Yes, I rather expected that," said Mr. Waverly. "There aren't any other pressing matters that you're needed for at the moment, so of course you may go to Sicily."
"Not Sicily, Sir. Rome."
Now Mr. Waverly's eyebrows shot up. "Rome, Mr. Solo? What makes you think you'll find Mr. Kuryakin in Rome?"
"Just a hunch."
"You must have a reason for choosing Rome, of all places."
"Yes, I do. But . . ." Napoleon hesitated. "It's rather hard to explain."
Mr. Waverly frowned. "Does it have anything to do with why you're looking so ghostly white?"
Napoleon reached up, touching the lower half of his face. "I . . . wasn't aware I was."
"Mr. Solo, you really look as though you've seen a ghost yourself!" Mr. Waverly exclaimed in concern.
That struck a nerve. ". . . Mr. Waverly, what would you say if I said I thought I had?" Napoleon's voice was quiet, sobered, resigned.
Mr. Waverly rocked back. "Is that what happened to you, Mr. Solo?" Somberly lowering his voice, he added, "Do you think you saw Mr. Kuryakin's ghost?"
Napoleon averted his gaze. "Yes, I think I did. And I realize I may have just been hallucinating. But it . . . he . . . he said he was in Rome. I know it's unorthodox, but I would like permission to try looking for the answers there. After all, Lucius hasn't found anything in Sicily."
Mr. Waverly frowned, deeply. "Did this apparition say anything else? Such as what happened in Rome?"
"He said both his car and that of the THRUSH agents' went into the water," Napoleon said to the table. "The bodies were all recovered."
Mr. Waverly pondered on that information. "Let me run a check on that," he said. "If I discover such a thing actually happened within the last two days, I will clear you to make the journey to Rome."
"Thank you, Sir," Napoleon said.
It was with a heavy heart that Mr. Waverly called Napoleon back to his office thirty minutes later.
"There was an accident with two cars in the water, Mr. Solo," he said grimly. "There was no identification on the bodies, but they were taken to the morgue at St. Julian's Hospital in Rome."
Napoleon looked down. He had been hoping against hope that Mr. Waverly would learn different.
"I never thought there was a time when I would wish I was just crazy," he said quietly.
Mr. Waverly regarded him with sympathy and understanding. "I don't know what it was you saw or heard, but obviously it isn't something to dismiss. I've arranged for a seat for you on the next plane to Rome."
"Thank you, Mr. Waverly." Napoleon turned to go, looking and feeling numb and overwhelmed.
"Oh, Mr. Solo . . ." Mr. Waverly stood. "If you wish, I can advise Mr. Bowen to join you in Rome."
Napoleon paused. "I'd rather handle this alone," he said. "Just tell Lucius to come home if there isn't another assignment for him."
Mr. Waverly nodded. He had expected that Napoleon would feel that way. "I'll contact him and tell him to get on the next plane for New York," he said. "And Mr. Solo . . . I'm sorry."
"So am I." Napoleon headed out the doors, leaving Mr. Waverly to sadly sigh and sink back into his chair.
After all these years, losing agents never got easier, not for him nor for their partners. It was easy enough to say not to get attached, but when they were all human, it was really all but impossible not to. Even Lucius, cold and efficient assassin though he was, had begun to grow fond of his U.N.C.L.E. associates.
Mr. Waverly tiredly rubbed at his eyes. Napoleon and Illya had been partners on a majority of their cases for several years. There had been more than one time when each had believed with a sinking heart that the other was dead. This time, it seemed to be more than just belief.
And he had to wonder how Napoleon was going to deal with that as time went on.
The flight to Rome was long, tedious, and downright agonizing. Napoleon wanted to get there and get the identification process over with, but at the same time he wanted to put it off as long as possible. Once he gave positive identification on Illya's body, it would only end the first phase of the nightmare. Then the second phase would begin.
Of course he had known other agents cut down in their duty. Sometimes he had even been there. But even ones who had served as his partners on missions had not been with him anywhere as long as Illya had been.
He was still shaken over the way he had learned of Illya's whereabouts and passing, too. And perhaps it was not just the fact that Illya's ghost had chanced to visit him with that key information, but the fact that he had not said anything else. Illya was aloof and always had been, but couldn't he have at least said goodbye? The conversation had been left hanging so open-ended when he had vanished. Napoleon didn't like that at all.
Long before the flight was over, memories crept into Napoleon's mind—welcome at other times, but not now. There was the day he and Illya had first met, very briefly, with Napoleon congenial and Illya very reserved. Their earliest missions, as only partners and not friends. The way the friendship had slowly, ever so slowly snuck up on them both, without them fully being aware of it until it had suddenly dawned on them that they enjoyed each other's company off-duty as well as on assignments, they could banter easily and each know what the other was really saying, and sometimes they did not need words at all to accurately communicate. They had complete trust in each other's loyalty and devotion.
Napoleon could hardly comprehend that all of that was over now.
He did not want another partner.
His footsteps grew harder and heavier in the Rome airport, far worse when he ventured outside for a cab, and nearly like he was wearing cement blocks as he exited the vehicle in front of St. Julian's.
He did not want to see Illya lying dead, his skin sickly pale and his eyes forever closed. But there was no choice; he had to do this.
He stepped through the doors and into the hospital. "Napoleon Solo, of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement," he greeted the receptionist in a subdued manner, as he held out his identification. "I believe I'm expected."
The girl nodded, speaking in broken English and with a pointed forefinger as she directed him to the morgue. He thanked her, proceeding down the final leg of his horrible journey.
The pathologist greeted him as he arrived, leading him to the freezer compartments at the back of the room. The older man opened the first, and Napoleon steeled himself as the slab was rolled out and the sheet pulled back.
It wasn't Illya.
He frowned. He didn't recognize the person as being from THRUSH, either. "I don't know this man," he said.
The pathologist nodded and closed the compartment, moving on to the next. Again Napoleon braced himself for what he might see.
It still wasn't Illya.
This time Napoleon recognized the corpse from the files U.N.C.L.E. kept on top THRUSH agents. "She's from THRUSH," he reported.
The next two were also from THRUSH. As the pathologist closed the fourth compartment, he looked back to Napoleon. "That's all of them," he said in his accented, but very good, English.
"What?!" Napoleon stared, both wanting to believe and dreading it. There had to be a mistake. "But there should be at least one other—an U.N.C.L.E. agent! I was told that all the bodies had been recovered."
"Yes," the pathologist nodded. "All were. They didn't tell you, Signor? The other was revived and is barely alive, comatose upstairs."
Napoleon went stiff. Was it . . . could it possibly be . . .
"They didn't tell me," he said. "Do you know what the other . . . looks like?"
The pathologist shook his head. "No; he was never here in the morgue."
Somewhere in his mind Napoleon knew he shouldn't let his hopes start to rise, but they were rising anyway. "Thank you!" he said before he turned, hurrying for the elevator to return to the main floor.
It was Illya; it had to be Illya. He was alive, somehow.
Napoleon didn't care about all the little details, or how or why Illya had astral-projected to appear to him in the car, or about rationalizing another miracle being bestowed upon one of them. He only cared that it surely had to be true.
He was out of breath by the time he had rushed back to the front desk. "There was another person brought in from that car wreck," he gasped to the receptionist. "Someone alive, in a coma. I might know who he is. Please, I have to see him!"
The receptionist blinked in surprise but gave him the room number. And then Napoleon was off, hurrying down the hall while trying not to crash into anyone. The girl was calling for him to please slow down, but he only partially heeded her.
It has to be Illya, he told himself again and again. It is Illya.
He finally stopped when he arrived at the room. Now that the moment of truth had come, his stomach was starting to do flip-flops again. He did not want to open the door and be discouraged and crushed by what he found. But he drew a deep breath, grasping the door handle and pushing it open.
His heart leaped into his throat at the sight of the blond man lying unconscious in the bed.
"Illya," he whispered in swelling joy and relief.
Illya was still alive. There was still hope.
Napoleon stayed by Illya's side after placing a call to a stunned Mr. Waverly to let him know of the latest, surprising, and wonderful twist. The hours passed slowly, again filled with memories of the past, but now they were tinged with hope. When Illya at last began to revive, Napoleon perked up. "Illya?"
Blue eyes weakly started to open. "Napoleon," Illya rasped, a trace of a smile on his lips. "You made it."
"Yes, I made it." Napoleon rested his hand on the railing. "It would have been helpful if you had mentioned that you were still alive when you dropped in on me."
"I'm sorry about that. I had no control over how long I could stay."
"Well." Napoleon sighed. "I suppose you're forgiven. At least you managed to tell me you were here."
"Does Mr. Waverly know?"
"By now he does. How are you feeling?"
"I'll be feeling a lot better after a good meal."
Napoleon nodded, pleased that Illya was already thinking about food. "I wonder if Italian hospitals have the same terrible quality of food that American hospitals are notorious for."
"I'm about to find out," Illya replied, reaching to press the button to summon the nurse.
"Ah. And will I be permitted to join you in the discovery?"
"If it is a good one. If it is not, you would likely be just as well not participating."
"If you're hungry enough, you would probably eat it anyway."
"On the contrary, Napoleon. I would recruit you to go out and smuggle in some decent food."
"Quite a covert mission."
"One of the utmost importance."
Napoleon relaxed, stepping back as the nurse came in. Illya would soon recover. He was hungry; they were bantering. All was right with the world.