honor of The Beatles 40th Anniversary of coming to
Thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo
The grey corridor seemed extended -- stretched and elongated in a strange, infinite tunnel. His footfalls echoed eerily in his ears, uncomfortably loud in the deserted hallway. It seemed forever elapsed by the time he reached the automatic doors that suddenly appeared before him.
The opening split apart silently, or perhaps the pneumatic whoosh was drowned out by his still loud steps. As Napoleon Solo walked into the office he realized it was Waverly’s -- only because Section One Number One stood next to the instantly appearing round table so familiar to all upper echelon agents.
“Here is your new assignment, Mr. Solo,” the familiar words sounded in deep, slow reverberation.
A file folder left his hand and floated through the air, slowly revolving around the room but never reaching the Section Two agent.
“And here is your new partner.”
A bubbly non-form hovered to the right of Waverly -- no shape, no face.
His voice was absorbed in the ethereal mist at the edges of the office.
“You can’t! Where’s Illya?”
The protest evaporated into the grey mush that extended as far as he could see.
Onscreen, Illya in a movie, talked to a Russian in a
uniform. Illya was in a uniform -- in
A huge, silent, but fiery blast swept him away, and as he felt and saw himself turned to ash, a mushroom cloud filled the vaporized space where he had been. The uniformed Kuryakin dispassionately looked on as Solo’s particles blew away in a nuclear wind.
Only the echo of the foreign name sounded.
Snapping awake, his eyes instantly open. Solo stared at the dark ceiling as he caught his breath. As nightmares went, this didn’t even qualify as one. Too many times he woke up terrorized by the mutilations, tortures and death-scenes haunting morbid dreams about the possible injuries and fatal ending for his partner. This grey neatherworld was a comedy in comparison, but still unnerving.
Sitting up and
rubbing his face, he wondered where the roots of this strange dream had
originated. They had been home two days
from a relatively simple assignment in
Glancing at the clock, he groaned. Four-twenty-eight AM. He had only returned from Joyce’s apartment a little before . He flopped back down on the pillow and couldn’t close his eyes. Never admitting it, even to himself, he dreaded seeing that grey mist again. Not willing to take the chance, he rose and fixed himself some coffee. Sipping the black, strong brew, he sat on his sofa in the living room and glanced at the paper he had not had time to read from yesterday.
The front page
had an article on the UN, on a nasty battle in
realized he must have scanned the paper the day before and his subconscious
picked up the little tidbit, roiled it around in his suspicious brain, and
somehow manufactured the threat that Illya was going to be recalled to
Waverly himself had mentioned being privy to intelligence indicating the doomsday theories were not to be dismissed. A world war would effect UNCLE as it would everyone on the planet. Particularly if things escalated to nuclear proportions. Most operatives at UNCLE had no issue with nationalistic loyalties. There were minor personality conflicts occasionally, sometimes surfacing because of the outside world’s politics. Breeding and blood could not be completely forgotten under the idealistic umbrella of cooperation within UNCLE. Illya had suffered a few prejudices, but all low-key and pretty much -- at least publicly -- dissolved as Kuryakin’s status and reputation enhanced through his skills as an agent. It didn’t hurt that as Chief Enforcement Officer, Solo was a steadfast defender of the Russian.
brought up the subject of
Deciding it was time to end some of that secrecy, Solo readied himself and a little before called his friend on the communicator.
One word response. Not a good sign.
“Rise and shine, sleepy head.”
“Give me one good reason.”
Illya was unhappy at missing another half-hour of sleep. Now that he had his friend on the other end, what did he say? Hi, I had a bad dream about you. I’m not going back to sleep so neither should you?
“Well, I was wondering, ah, how would you like to meet for breakfast?”
“I’m up early.”
“So am I. And I know who is to blame for that.” The danger in the tone was unmistakable.
“Listen, I’ll be down in a few minutes and I’ll take you out to a nice, hearty breakfast. How about Mama’s?”
“Of course? What did you do, Napoleon? Did you murder Rawlings and you require an alibi?”
Rawlings. Number Two Section One. A constant thorn in their sides.
“No mayhem. Just breakfast. I’ll be down in -- oh -- twenty minutes.”
Grumbling through an assortment of insults, he agreed to the peace-offering breakfast at his favorite little café near their apartments.
Unable to maintain his patience, Solo trotted down the stairs to the next floor a little over twelve minutes after the conversation. The stairs were closer and faster than the elevator, and Solo wanted to jog down to stretch his muscles and work out the edge in his nerves. It was with a slight tremor of trepidation that Solo knocked on the familiar door. Woken from an all-too rare undisturbed sleep was not a way to start the Russian bear out on a good day. Why take the risk? Solo hated to expose his insecurities, even to Illya, but he wanted -- needed --answers. Definitive answers. Today. It had nothing to do with the conflicts between their respective nations. It had everything to do with his own concerns as a friend.
Knocking, he received a mumbled invitation to enter. Not waiting to have the door unlocked, he hit a secret button on the side of the door jam and pressed a coded-sequence -- unlocking the custom electronic alarm system installed by Kuryakin. Illya had installed a similar system into his apartment. Opening the door, then closing it, he stood still, now uncertain about his assertiveness at this hour.
So like his partner’s personality, Illya’s apartment reflected the orderly chaos bursting like energetic fireworks within the Russian’s brain. The place was furnished with minimalist style and taste -- European flair meets bargain prices. There were almost neat stacks (tidy, not dirty, but not neat like Napoleon’s crisply organized pad) records, books and papers on the coffee table -- representing Illya’s varied interests for the week or the night.
Kuryakin, standing in the hall, toothbrush in his mouth, nailed him with a glacial stare.
“You need protection from a jealous husband?” he mumbled, then disappeared to finish brushing.
“Don’t be insulting,” Solo sniffed. “I’m not that type.”
Illya returned, wiping his mouth with a towel. “Yet you are the type who would roust his partner from a decent sleep for no valid reason.”
“Breakfast,” he supplied in a weak defense.
“This better be good.”
Wandering the familiar living room, Solo paused at the coffee table where a letter was unfolded. He noted the signature. Out of the scribble, he was able to decipher McCartney.
Picking up the letter, he commented he didn’t know his partner was still in contact with the Beatles.
From the other room, Kuryakin cryptically explained McCartney still kept in touch. There was some discussion of the Fab Four doing another movie with spy overtones and Paul asked for comments from their favorite spy. No offense to Napoleon, of course, but Illya was the one who appreciated their music, so they asked him. In fact, the latest song penned by Paul was inspired by Illya and the Beatle sent it along to get his reaction.
Solo also read
there was a thanks from all the Beatles for Illya’s
efforts at smuggling Beatle records into the
The thought, on
this insecure morning, brought a new and unpleasant realization to him. What if Illya wanted to go back to be an
“insider” for his little cultural revolution?
What if Napoleon’s efforts all these years -- to ingratiate freedom and
Western culture into his friend -- backfired and Kuryakin wanted to return to
his roots as some kind of crusader. His efforts at sending Beatle records into
His tone was more irked than he wanted to reveal. “Why do you still send the records? If the KGB catches you --“
The derisive laugh from the other room was confidant. “The KGB catch me? Napoleon, you not only wake me up at a ridiculous hour, you also insult me? If you are not careful you will owe me lunch as well.”
Continuing to read the letter, scanning the proposed song lyrics, Napoleon frowned.
Back in the
In Paul’s writing, he read:
Thinking of calling the song Come and Keep A Comrade Warm, or Back in the USSR. You are my Russian expert. What do you think?
Solo replaced the letter, feeling a little more uneasy. Is that the way Illya felt? He wanted to go back home?
“I particularly like the line about keeping a comrade warm,” Kuryakin commented dryly as he shrugged a black jacket over his black turtleneck sweater.
“Swell,” Solo replied without enthusiasm as he preceded the Russian out the door.
ran an old world styled diner called the Blue Danube. To those in the know in this small corner of
Food ordered, they sipped their coffee in silence for only a few moments. Illya finally stabbed him with a searing stare and asked, “So, what is the problem?”
He thought of denying it, but knew better. He lied badly to his partner. And to one who knew him so well, it was useless to prevaricate over the unusual invitation to breakfast, or the early morning call. Although they lived in the same building, they did not always ride together to work. Solo sometimes did not spend the night at his apartment, and sometimes they were called on differing assignments and it became impractical to always travel in one car. Most often, though, they did commute together, and were familiar regulars to the staff here, often grabbing breakfast on the way to Headquarters.
“Don’t you want to eat first?”
“That bad,” Illya groaned.
“Well, not really,” he admitted, toying with his coffee mug. “I just wanted to talk.”
Illya’s eyes narrowed. “About?”
Scowling, berating himself because this should have been known -- that Illya would be this tough and he would be this self-conscious -- he forged ahead. Voice low, he leaned closer across the table.
That startled the cool, if rumpled blond and his eyebrows shot up close to his bangs. The assessment was not as cold as current Soviet-American international relations, but frostier than normal glares he received from his partner. The blue eyes seemed to cut right through him as Illya sipped his coffee and clearly considered a response. Carefully considered.
“I am familiar with it.” At Solo’s sour expression, he gave an imperceptible nod. “What about it?”
“I just wondered,” he started conversationally, not to be annoyed or put off by the flippancy. He should not have come here -- to the old world smells and camaraderie and atmosphere where Illya loved to soak in the images of the motherland. Well, too late now, he inwardly sighed and forged ahead. “You never told me. Do you think you’ll have to go back? Someday?”
Their breakfast arrived and Kuryakin silently studied him. Neither went through the motions of preparing to eat. There was no way to guess what was behind the veiled blue eyes. Often they were not readable even to the partner who knew him best. Now, they were blockaded behind an aloof barrier. That defensive shield often there in their early years, rarely sprung up nowadays. It was there now in daunting solidity.
This was going to
be tougher than he thought. Did he want
to proceed? Illya’s foreboding
expression suggested this was private territory and should be respected. That Solo should know better than to trespass
here. Well, if that’s the way he wanted
it, he would have to say so. They could
walk into work any day and find out their respective countries were at
war. Illya might be called back to fight
against them -- UNCLE and
to be able to read him -- not unusual.
He also came to some kind of decision -- it was clear in his
expression. “Do I think I will return to
The answer did not help. “Do you mean for a visit?”
“Yes.” His concentration was on heaping jam on his toast.
Okay, this was like a battle. The stubborn Soviet was going to make him pay for every inch of ground covered in this grueling conversation. “I mean, do you think it will be -- more than that?”
Biting into the toast, Illya reached across the table and lifted a slice of toast from Solo’s plate. “Eat,” he admonished, “since you are paying. Mama’s breakfasts are perhaps the best meal of the day.”
Solo complied, taking it for the diversion it was. Okay, this would not be discussed over breakfast. But he would not be deterred. “So Paul’s lyrics are closer to the mark than you’ve let on?“
He pointed to Solo’s food. “By the time we are finished traffic will be heavy. We will have time to discuss this in the car.”
A not-so-subtle hint he wanted more privacy for this dialogue. Progress. At least it was not a denial. With a nod, Solo ate, savoring the tasty food and collecting his thoughts for the drive to the office.
“Illya,” he began
immediately as soon as they closed the doors in Solo’s Corvette. “Do you think you’re going to be recalled to
Sober and no
longer guarded, Illya faced him with some indefinable emotion barely flitting
across his face. “I have never mentioned
my arrangement between UNCLE and the
“Really?” The news was a surprise, but shouldn’t have been. Cunning was a byword to both the old man and the Russian. “And they are?” He would not be put off.
Waverly’s project now as a female agent.
Years ago, I was Waverly’s project for
“Ah,” he sighed, the glimmer of the arrangement crystallizing in his mind. “I always wondered if you were the poster boy for Russian’s efforts at international cooperation. For your homeland, you are the plant for keeping an eye on all us capitalists over here.” A soft, rueful laugh escaped his grin-twitched lips. “Devious. They obviously picked the right man for the job.”
Kuryakin’s eyes sparkled with humor. “Your praise is too kind.”
Remembering the vividly violent and disquieting dream, Solo became subdued. “What if they call you back?”
“Waverly is not about to send me back,” he nearly scoffed.
“But they might insist --“
“They will not --“
“Illya!” He wanted to pound the steering wheel from the frustration of the situation -- and the double-frustration of trying to have a meaningful conversation with his partner. He settled for non-violent snapping back. “I don’t want to lose you! I don’t want the world situation to separate us.” The adamant demand was abrupt and intent.
Startled, Kuryakin displayed the surprise only with a widening of his eyes. Pondering thoughtfully for a moment, he surrendered a curt nod. With a measure of sympathy, he relinquished a slight twitch of a smile. “There is no need for concern, my friend.”
“But, I am concerned. Very concerned.”
Sighing with aching relief, not really appreciating the deeply emotional impact of the subconscious stress, he offered a guarded laugh. Then he sobered again. “You want to go back? I mean, you wouldn’t, would you? Go back even if they wanted you?”
Kuryakin’s face reflected bewilderment.
Making a face,
Solo amended, “I didn’t mean that. I
mean, I don’t want you to feel like an abandoned orphan, but I hope you never
go back. To stay, I mean. Those lyrics. Back in the
“They are only lyrics.”
“Are you sure?” He needed to know. “We’ve been through a lot, old friend. I would hate to lose you to your government’s whims.” Self-conscious, a little embarrassed at his confessions, he surrendered an anxious grin. “You’re too valuable a partner to lose. Too late in the game for me to train someone new.”
It was hard to
put into words the fears and confusion he must have harbored for years, but was
surfacing only now because of the world situation. Illya was in the middle of the global
conflict -- ideologically speaking, of course.
He never renounced his sentimental attachment for his country, although
he was not a Communist in thoughts or actions.
Yet, would he defy his government if he had to? Would he want to defy the Kremlin to stay
Napoleon was almost
afraid to ask the next question -- deeply concerned over the answer. He wanted to believe Illya desired to remain
here, as much as Solo wanted him to stay.
Not necessarily in
“Do you want to go back?”
The partnership was so important to both of them. It had transcended pain, grief, and lives on occasion. Sometimes even Waverly’s orders. Could it be stronger than two countries on a collision course? On Napoleon’s side, he knew it was stronger than anything. He was certain nothing on earth would make him betray his friend. But did Illya feel that strongly? To betray his country, if necessary, to stay here in the event he was ordered back?
While solemn, there was still a gleam in the blue eyes. Illya’s gaze was level and profound. “I won’t go back permanently. I have made another long-term commitment beyond UNCLE since I’ve been here. That is more important to me. It commands my loyalty more than the organization and more than my homeland. This is where my home is now.”
nodded, catching the deeper meaning that so often came from his friend’s
complex and cunning mind. Beyond UNCLE -- or
He gave a slow nod of understanding and quietly released a sigh of relief. “Yes, I see. Well, your dedication is one of your best qualities, Illya.”
With a sly nod, Kuryakin smiled, acknowledging the double-meanings. “That includes being on time for work.”
“It’s a fast car,” he assured, starting the engine and shifting the Corvette into first gear.
Feeling a lot
better about the future, he sped through the streets of