Fandom: Man from U.N.C.L.E
Word count: ~2000
Summary: Even old spies can enjoy autumn in New York.
Notes: Takes place in the current day, and I've pretty much disregarded the Fifteen Years Later Affair, mostly because I haven't seen it yet and also because almost everything I've heard about it indicates that I wouldn't want to. Much love goes out to zulu for the beta.
When Napoleon wakes in the morning, he accidentally kicks Illya's shins as he's getting out of bed. Illya grumbles something unkind in Russian, as he always does when Napoleon wakes him too early, and Napoleon ignores him, as he always does when Illya insults his manhood.
His back twinges as he sits up. These days, Napoleon imagines that he can hear his bones creaking as he moves, but he's probably just becoming morbid in his old age. It has been happening more and more, the lingering reminders that he is no longer as young as he once was. But age has its virtues, too, virtues learned through time and sweat and tears.
He dresses in a finely tailored suit that does not quite hide his expanding waistline. Illya teases him for it at times ("Perhaps you enjoy your dessert a bit too much," he likes to say), but Napoleon has not lost his ability to engage in repartee ("Ah, but what else is a meal for?" is his usual response). It's still early as he prepares to leave. The downside to being the big boss -- the Capo del Capo if you will -- is that you to always arrive early and leave late. You must be even more married to your job than when you were when you were young and lived for nothing else.
Napoleon doesn't regret it in the slightest.
The front door squeaks as he leaves, the way it has since the mid-1980s. It would be easy to get that fixed, but they never have. It's saved Napoleon from a few unwanted house guests (the kind that carry guns and tear gas) over the years. It's never smart to make loud entrance into the home of a spy.
U.N.C.L.E. provides him with a car, but today, the morning sun is too pleasant. Napoleon chooses to walk. He still does that on occasion, when he feels the need to savor everything while he still can. As he steps out the front door of his brownstone, he takes in the sights. A few leaves flutter to the ground, stark red against the pavement. A few yellow taxis weave through the traffic, comforting in their omnipresence. A young man walks his black dog along the sidewalk.
Napoleon may be a man of the world, but his his home, undeniably, has always been New York. It's autumn now. The sky is a perfect, perfect blue, and the weather is crisp and cool. The kind of weather they only ever get in the fall. New York isn't what it was when Napoleon first arrived, when he was twenty-two and too young and too arrogant, but it has the same cold air that chills Napoleon's lungs as he breathes, the same red-gold-brown leaves that line the sidewalks and streets.
Illya has picked up the horrible habit of calling Napoleon a "sentimental old fool" when he gets like this, but sometimes Napoleon will catch him speaking with a wistful fondness for the missions of their youth. ("That incident with Strigas, now that was inspired! These children rely too much on their computers. One day it will be their downfall.") It is the sight of Illya more than anything else -- even his own aged visage in the mirror -- that reminds Napoleon of how much time has passed, how old they have become. Illya's hair has gone white, so pale as to be almost translucent, and his boyish features have been creased with frown lines. But these things are still dear to Napoleon. He has watched Illya change over the years, just as Illya has watched him change over the years. The sharp edges of their rivalry have smoothed into something far more comfortable, something far more easy.
They have grown old together, and in their line of work, it is a gift. One that should not be taken for granted.
Del Floria's still operates much as it always has, but with upgraded machinery, so now shirts hang on a conveyor in front of the secret passageway inside. The young man at the counter nods as Napoleon enters. A grandson, if Napoleon recalls correctly. His memory isn't what it once was. U.N.C.L.E. has faded from prominence since the final destruction of THRUSH in the early 90s. And after the Cold War finally ended, most countries turned inward, focusing on bolstering their own intelligence programs rather than letting the talent join a multi-national organization. The U.N.C.L.E. of today is a lumbering dinosaur, much like Napoleon is himself. Napoleon's final mission is to make sure it dies a good death, to make sure his life's work goes out with a whimper rather than a bang.
All is quiet today in HQ; there are only a few reports that he needs to read over. Napoleon has been scaling down operations for years, but he still finds himself surprised to see how small they've actually become. When U.N.C.L.E. finally passes away, it'll be the end of an era. He sometimes wonders what Waverly would have said if he could see them now. Would he approve? Would he berate Napoleon for not trying harder? The world has changed, and U.N.C.L.E. could not change with it.
"I can hear you being maudlin," Illya says as he walks into Napoleon's office. He's probably stepping out so he doesn't kill any of his fresh-faced incompetents in Section Eight. "You know how I hate such indulgences." Illya helps himself to a glass of Napoleon's Alka-Seltzer. (Rachel, Napoleon's secretary, stole all of his alcohol one day and replaced it all with water and Alka-Seltzer, insisting that it was much healthier. Somehow, it stuck.)
Illya's face may not look the same as it did forty years ago, but that glint in his eye behind his dark-rimmed glasses is identical to the one Napoleon remembers seeing in this very same office the first time Waverly introduced the two of them. It makes Napoleon want to be impulsive and carefree, twenty-two again with his whole life and the whole world right in front of him. "Let's go out," Napoleon says on a whim. "There's someplace I want to visit."
Illya doesn't look entirely convinced, but he nods along and agrees the way he always does when he's humoring one of Napoleon's odd flights of fancy.
As they board the company car, Illya takes the driver's seat purely out of habit. He asks, "Where to?" with another pointed look.
"Battery Park," Napoleon says, and he waits for Illya to absorb that bit of information.
"You can't be serious," Illya says, realization dawning in his eyes. "Even your mid-life crisis wasn't this bad." Napoleon's mid-life crisis had resulted in two destroyed helicopters, a broken nose (not Napoleon's), a broken arm (Napoleon's), and a very unfortunate stray cat. They did their best to never speak of it in polite company.
"But I am," Napoleon says with a smile. "It's the perfect day for it."
Illya frowns. "Just this once," he says, lying through his teeth, and he turns the car straight down Broadway towards the ferry.
It's close to noon now, so the sun is even brighter overhead, but the wind on the bay is heavy and cold. Napoleon pulls his coat tighter around his shoulders as he chats with a couple of German tourists who are planning on backpacking across the country over the next month. The sky above the deck seems almost impossibly bluer, not a cloud in the sky. The skyline behind them still seems empty, even though Napoleon remembers the skyline before the towers were built, still remembers the patchwork look of the construction in the late 60's. He and Illya were in Argentina when the planes hit, in the process of closing down the Buenos Aires headquarters, and it was hard not to feel partially responsible afterwards. For not doing enough. For not being there. For not stopping it the way they should have.
But the past is past, and if Napoleon were to go over his list of regrets, he'd be busy until the next week. Being an agent has always been about making the difficult decisions.
After he says farewell to the tourists, he finds Illya bundled up on a bench on the top deck, frowning. "I remember the first time I saw her," he says, staring straight ahead at the Statue of Liberty. She stands tall and proud, so incredibly beautiful. Napoleon has always felt little lurch of awe every time he sees her in person.
"I don't think I've heard this story, tovarisch," Napoleon says. He sits down next to Illya, perhaps a bit too close, but no one seems to notice.
Illya snorts. "I have never told it before." A faint smile lingers at the corner of his lips. "I had just arrived at New York, and I was quite keen on exploring the local landmarks." The boat draws closer to Liberty Island, the statue becoming even larger, even more imposing. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," he quotes, and for a moment, he does almost look young again, as if he's seeing Lady Liberty for the first time. (They've visited her together before. There was a particularly memorable affair that had ended with an innocent battling THRUSH goons in the crown while Napoleon and Illya tired to disable all the THRUSH ships that were circling the island.)
Napoleon reaches out to cup Illya's cheek, which startles both of them. Their relationship has been an open secret for years, but neither of them have ever been comfortable public displays. It was never a part of this thing between them. Still, with the water blue-black around them, the gulls circling overhead, it feels natural, even easy, for Napoleon to lean forward and press a gentle kiss to Illya's lips.
Illya's skin is cool, wind-chilled, but his eyes are bright and clear. Napoleon slides his hand into Illya's, the simple hold hidden between their bodies. "I did much the same when I first came to New York," he says. "Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me." He remembers the way the warm spring weather had felt cooler over the water, the bright laugh of the lovely girl from San Francisco who had flirted shamelessly under Napoleon's attention. He can't quite remember if it was before or after Korea, but it was definitely before U.N.C.L.E., before he had discovered his calling in life.
"I hope this means your mood has passed," Illya says, as dour as always, but he doesn't pull his hand away from Napoleon's the way he would have ten years ago.
"Hardly," Napoleon says. "But I think it's getting better." There are those who think of autumn as nothing more than a sign of coming winter, but Napoleon is not one of them. He thinks of autumn as a time of pumpkin pies and apple crisps, of Giants' games and Thanksgiving parades. The coming winter doesn't frighten him at all. Not if he can still wake up each morning kicking Illya's shins and spend each day looking out over the city, his city, and hold onto moments as perfect and fragile as this one. The sun is brilliant overhead, and Napoleon asks, "After retirement, where will you go?" The unspoken words, after U.N.C.L.E. closes down for good, hang between them.
Illya shakes his head as if Napoleon has asked the most foolish question he's ever heard. "I'll be wherever you are," he says. The of course, you idiot is implied.
Napoleon laughs at that out loud, the sound of it mixing withe blare of ships' horns in the distance, the rumble of engines below, the sharp cries of sea gulls overhead. "The answer is the same for me," Napoleon confesses. It's the first time they've ever put it in words, the first time they've expressed it in anything other than a touch to a back, a shoulder, an elbow. It warms the air between them.
"I expected nothing less," Illya says, and though his voice sounds put out that Napoleon could ever imagine otherwise, his hand -- worn and wrinkled and so familiar it makes Napoleon's chest ache -- tightens around Napoleon's fingers.
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
-W. B. Yeats "When You Are Old"