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The Last Commandment Affair

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The mission was fairly straight forward: Infiltrate the satrapy near Massapequa, New York, rescue the ambassador’s son, and get out. THRUSH had promised that if its demands were not met the five year old boy would die in the next six hours. Both Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were assigned to the case. They had not had time to plan ahead as both had been pulled away from separate assignments even before they were completed. The plan was to meet at the north edge of the estate at sundown and proceed from there. 

Illya checked his watch. Napoleon was three minutes late. Unfortunately, THRUSH was ahead of schedule. He watched as the kidnappers left the mansion and hustled the boy into one of the cars. There was no time to wait. Kuryakin left the protection of the stone wall where he had been waiting for his partner and sprinted toward the blue Chevy sedan as it drove down the long lane to the road. 

He ran to a large oak tree and hid behind it as he took aim at the tires. He shot two of them forcing the vehicle to skid into a tree. Even before the car had stopped rolling, Kuryakin picked up a large rock and charged the car. The ambassador’s son was in the back seat sitting between two rather large thugs and Illya wouldn’t risk firing into the car lest he hit the boy. The UNCLE agent smashed the rock into the side window of the rear seat, pulled the lock, and opened the door in one fluid motion. Grabbing the closest man, he jerked him out of the seat, gave a karate chop to the neck and dumped the man onto the ground.

Before the others had a chance to react, Kuryakin shot them, scooped the child out of the back seat, and ran toward the woods away from the tree lined lane. The young boy wrapped his arms tightly around the agent’s neck and clung to the man’s waist with his short legs. 

The echoing report of gunshots brought three more THRUSH guards storming out of the mansion where they saw a slight blond man pulling the child from the car and running towards the stone wall that marked the estate’s boundary. Climbing into a nearby Jeep they took off after the man and child.

Agent Kuryakin was halfway to the stone wall when he heard a vehicle roaring up behind him. Running a zig zag course among the trees he hoped to confound the Jeep’s pursuit. Gripping his charge more tightly, he ran to the right only to feel a crushing blow of the vehicle’s right front fender plow into his left hip. With a cry of pain he lost his hold on the ambassador’s son and was sent sprawling. Through the haze of pain, he heard the Jeep stop and saw the men jump out and move towards the boy.

“We warned the ambassador we would kill the kid if there was a rescue attempt. Shoot him, then let’s get the hell out of here!”

“No!” Illya Kuryakin dragged himself to the boy and covered him with his own body.

“Fine, shoot the bastard, too!”  A single shot rang out as hot lead plowed into Agent Kuryakin’s back.

Before Kuryakin’s body could be moved to expose the boy, three more shots were fired dropping the THRUSH guards where they stood. The gunfire had a distinctive sound that could only have come from an UNCLE special. Napoleon’s here, was Kuryakin’s last thought before losing consciousness.

 

****

Napoleon Solo drummed his fingers impatiently against the arm of his seat on the UNCLE jet. He had been pulled off of his assignment in Boston due to the emergency brewing in Massapequa on Long Island. Alexander Waverly had filled him in on the facts of the affair, but there had been no time to confer with Illya to plan how they were going to handle the situation. All he knew was where to meet his partner, and that time was of the essence as it was suspected that THRUSH would soon relocate or kill the ambassador’s son. 

The pilot informed Solo that they could be delayed at least a half hour in landing due to a weather disturbance. The agent swore out loud.  The whole affair had potential for a major foul up. It was imperative that he get to the rendezvous point with Illya on time and back his partner. The situation was further complicated due to the order for radio silence. It was a foregone conclusion that THRUSH was monitoring all law enforcement channels for chatter about a rescue mission.

The pilot increased his air speed and received permission for priority landing clearance enabling him to shave fifteen minutes off of the estimated arrival time. Solo was only five minutes late to the rendezvous point.

 

It may as well have been hours. As he approached the stone wall Solo didn’t see his partner. The sound of small arms fire from a Walther and the thud of metal impacting with a tree drew his attention to the tree lined lane. He saw Illya pull the boy from the car and hightail it towards the wall. A cold knot clenched at Solo’s stomach as he saw a Jeep in pursuit.

Napoleon leapt over the low wall, drawing his weapon as he ran. In slow motion, he watched as the Jeep plowed into his partner sending him flying, the THRUSH goons talking, Illya crawling over to the child to cover him, someone pointing a rifle at Illya and firing. Dear God, no! Solo’s training kicked in to full automatic mode as he raised his pistol and shot all three men without consciously aiming.

Running up to the still body of his partner, Solo dropped to his knees and gently rolled Illya over. Those blue eyes were only half open, staring vacantly. The blood flowed freely from both the entrance wound in the back and the exit wound in his chest. A rivulet of blood trickled down from the corner of his mouth. The mission, Solo, don’t forget the mission, Napoleon reminded himself. It was one of the hardest moments in Solo’s life when he turned his attention away from Illya to check on the status of the little boy. He was dead. The bullet that had gone through Illya had penetrated the boy’s chest and shredded his heart.

Solo moved back to Illya and checked for a pulse. Miraculously, he felt the rapid flutter of a heart straining to keep up with the blood loss. “Hang in there, partner!” Grabbing his communicator, he called for a helicopter and medical team. “Agent down, for God’s sake, hurry!”

 

***

“He’ll live, Napoleon,” Dr. Evans reported.

“What is his condition, doctor?”

“He’s a very lucky young man. The fire power of the bullet was such that it didn’t shatter when it entered his body which means that it caused less damage than it could have. Unfortunately for the child, that same bullet had enough power to pass through Mr. Kuryakin and kill him.” Dr. Evans paused and drew a deep breath.

“What aren’t you telling me, doctor?”

“The bullet pierced one of his lungs and nicked the pulmonary artery causing him to nearly bleed out. We had to give him several units of blood. Oddly, that is not the injury that might keep him out of the field. His left femur is shattered. Its ball joint is badly damaged and his pelvic bone was fractured. He will be confined to a wheelchair for months before graduating to a walker. Napoleon, it’s likely he will have to use a cane for the rest of his life.”

Napoleon shook his head and muttered, “I should’ve had his back!”

Later, Napoleon visited his unconscious partner in medical. He sat for several hours watching his best friend. Just sitting and watching. Illya’s injuries shook him to the core.

“I’m so sorry, Illya. I should have been there, if I had been, the boy would still be alive and you and I would be sitting at Mama Leone’s washing down dinner with a couple of beers.”  He stayed for a while longer before slipping an envelope onto the bedside table with “Illya” written in his familiar, nearly illegible scrawl. Napoleon placed his hand on Illya’s forearm and bent his head in silent prayer, then left.

Two days later Illya was awake enough to be aware of his surroundings. Several agents and secretaries came in to visit and wished him a speedy recovery. Even Mr. Waverly came in to see how the Russian was doing. The two exchanged strained pleasantries, both avoiding discussing the one worry on Illya’s mind. Finally, he asked, “Mr. Waverly, is Mr. Solo on assignment? I haven’t seen him since I woke up.”

The Old Man harrumphed, clearing his throat self-consciously. “Mr… ah… Solo is no longer in the employ of UNCLE, I’m afraid. He tendered his resignation with no explanation the day after your surgery.” Before leaving the room, he said, “Hurry and get well, Mr. Kuryakin, I need you now more than ever.”

Dear Illya,

I’m sorry that I wasn’t there in time to provide proper backup. If I had been there you wouldn’t be where you are and the ambassador’s young son would still be alive.

 

Dr. Evans and his associates tell me that you will survive once again. You are a tough son of a bitch, my friend, and I am relieved to know that you will recover, although it may take a while. I won’t be there to see the progress you make and for that I am sorry. 

 

I’ve had enough. Enough of blindly falling orders when I know those orders aren’t carefully thought out, of seeing you injured and waiting in medical each time to see if you were going to recover. Enough of watching innocents die just because some megalomaniac is hell bent on destroying the balance of power in the world.

So, tovarisch, I’m leaving. I getting the hell out of here. Please don’t try to find me. Take care of yourself. Stay well. Stay alive!

Napoleon

Choryt! Illya read the letter twice more, then slowly crumpled the letter and tossed it into a drawer.

Illya Kuryakin never did anything half-way. To say the man was driven was an understatement. Within a month after beginning physical therapy the stubborn man had graduated from a wheelchair to the hated walker. From there it was only a matter of another month before he began using a cane. Now six months later he still carried the cane with him at all times, using it when he had been on his feet too long and for balance if the ground wasn’t level. 

Although he was no longer field certified, the Old Man had made him head of Section 2 where he availed himself to the myriad resources to search for Napoleon Solo during his off time.

At first, Illya was angry. Angry that his partner would abandon his career, that his best friend had left him to face the long recovery alone. They had always been there for each other, lending support and encouragement through difficult times. Angry that Solo wasn’t here as head of Section 2.  Slowly, his anger turned to grief. He had no idea where his friend was, whether he was alive or not, so he continued to search.

For nine months, the new CEA had avoided cleaning out his friend’s desk, however the time had come to do so. Mr. Waverly advised him that he would be sharing the office with another agent. He pulled open the top right drawer where he found several silk ties. He pulled out a striped blue and green tie and held it, a half smile on his lips. He had given it to Napoleon for his last birthday. He put it and the others aside. Below them was a manila file folder labeled “Personal.” Illya hesitated for only a second before opening it.  There wasn’t much in there: a letter from his Aunt Amy, copies of his own performance reviews, and a copy of his last will and testament. Under it all he found a handwritten document titled: The Ten Commandments of an UNCLE Agent.

There was no such thing, but Illya knew that Napoleon had once been a devout Roman Catholic although for as long as he had known his partner, Napoleon had never gone to church. It made sense, though, for his best friend to come up with his own set of commandments as a guide to conduct himself as an agent. 

The Ten Commandments of an UNCLE Agent

  1. Remember Edmund Burke’s words: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. 

  2. Obey UNCLE leadership. Go and do what you are told

  3. Prior planning prevents piss poor performance…never begin a mission without a detailed     plan

  4. The mission comes first

  5. Have you partner’s back

  6. Protect the innocent

  7. Report all facts at debriefing

  8. Loyalty is paramount to success

  9. Kill only when necessary for self-defense or necessary to complete the mission

10. Remember that…  

Whatever Napoleon had planned for number ten he never got around to listing it. Next to number three, there was an angry red mark and the notation “It shouldn’t have happened!”  Number five was marked with an exclamation point and “I am so sorry Illya, I should have been there.” And next to number six, “He should still be alive!”

Illya laid his cane down on the desk and sank slowly onto Napoleon’s chair as he reread the handwritten page. Oh, Napoleon, you stubborn blockhead, none of this was your fault.

***

Night life in Ketchum, Idaho, was in full swing. Throngs of fur and goose down clad skiers walked along the sidewalks their Aprés ski boots crunching in the dry packed snow. Laughter punctuated by clouds of frozen vapor followed them as they wandered from one bar to another which were specifically geared to the Jet Set skiers that arrived every winter to ski the slopes of Sun Valley.

One couple stood on the corner watching the crowd. “Oh, Leon, let’s go to The Staggering Ox. They have a great combo playing there tonight. It really is the “in” place to be, it’s where it’s happening, ya know,” punctuating her sentence with a giggling squeal.

“Call me Napoleon. Sure, honey,” although his heart wasn’t in it. They followed the crowd into the saloon which was decorated with chainsaw carvings of bears. Elk antlers and wagon wheel rims had been made into chandeliers. Chair legs and backs had been fashioned from varnished limbs from the local forest, the seats from leather. Napoleon shook his head. Sometimes the man wondered if the same designer had decorated every one of the popular tourist hangouts. He mentally dubbed the “look” as “tourist trap gauche”.  

Cigarette smoke mingled with that of the log fire burning in a bright red, conical shaped fire place. One group mingled in a corner watching a bearded man and his girlfriend sitting in front of what looked like a TV screen. The young man put a quarter into a slot and the couple began to turn knobs that would move a bar of light up and down on each side of the screen. A square of white would travel from bar to bar and rebound. Napoleon and his date watched them play Pong for a few minutes before moving to an empty table and ordering drinks.

As they waited for a waitress, Napoleon frantically tried to recall the name of his date. He had dated a different girl almost every night the last two months that he had been in Ketchum. He hardly remembered a few of them and tried to forget the others. 

He turned his attention to the girl sitting next to him. Claire, that’s right, that’s her name. Watching her he took inventory: young, at least fifteen years younger than he; long bleached blonde hair with a rabbit furred headband pulling her hair away from her face, high end ski wear from the powder blue parka to the form fitting matching ski pants, and dripping in casual but expensive jewelry. He guessed correctly that she was “Daddy’s little princess” here with her friends on Christmas break.

Claire caught him studying her. She reached out and stroked his beard, gazing into his brown eyes with a look that promised him an intimate evening was to follow. Napoleon smiled and looked away. Dear God, Solo, what the hell are you doing. You’re almost old enough to be her father! 

Claire looked around to a group that came through the door. “Oh, Leon, there’s Sally and Bambi with their dates! Let’s go meet them.”

“It’s Napoleon. Why don’t you go talk with them while I order our drinks. What would you like?”

“Uhmmm, Oh I know! How about a White Russian? I’ve been told that those are to die for.” Her move toward her friends was arrested by the stricken look on Napoleon’s face. “What’s wrong, Leon? Are you ill?”

“I…I….I’m sorry, Claire. I guess I don’t feel well. Look, would you be all right staying with your friends? I need to leave.”

Napoleon Solo leaned against the exterior wall of the saloon, taking calm steadying breaths. For nine months he had traveled the continent putting as much distance between UNCLE and himself, both physically and emotionally. UNCLE was easy to put out of his mind, not so much his partner. At first, he thought of Illya all the time, then a couple of times a day, and after all of these months he found he sometimes went as much as a week without thinking of his best friend. Then something as innocent as Claire’s drink order brought all that he was trying to avoid rushing to the forefront of his memories. Damn it!

Napoleon wondered how well Illya had fared with the recovery process. Many times he had picked up the phone to call his former partner but never completed the call. What would he say to Illya? Gee, partner, sorry I wasn’t there? Sorry I hightailed it out there and left you to face your recovery alone? No, if Napoleon was angry with himself, how much angrier would Illya be?

Solo pushed away from the wall and headed up the street to where he had parked his borrowed Jeep. He was staying in a cabin about five miles up a mountain and at this time of night it took a bit more time to negotiate the turns.

He pulled the Jeep into the garage and after closing the garage door, he trudged along the snowy path to the cabin. Letting the door slam behind him, Napoleon made his way through the dark hall to the bar where he poured a half glass of scotch. He left the lights off as he carried his drink and the rest of the bottle into the den. He found his way to the easy chair, sat down and prepared to get stinking drunk.

He downed the half glass of scotch in one quick motion, filled it again and tipped it back draining it in three throat burning gulps. He reached for the bottle for a third time.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, my friend?” A soft-accented voice interrupted Napoleon’s self-imposed misery.

Napoleon’s glass shattered as it hit the flagstone floor, he jumped to his feet as his right hand automatically reached for the nonexistent Walther before his brain had a chance to register who was in the room with him. His eyes searched the dark room and finally he saw a silhouetted figure sitting in one of the arm chairs in front of the window by the fireplace.

Illya Kuryakin reached up and turned on the floor lamp.The light shone on his blond hair with shadows accenting the angular planes of his face. Napoleon watched as the Russian rose out of the chair and approached him, his left leg from the hip down swinging forward a bit wider than his right leg. The former agent eyed the cane held loosely in his friend’s right hand.

 

“What are you doing here?” Napoleon’s voice was raspy from the scotch and emotion.

 

“What? No, hello, Illya? How are you?” The comment was softly spoken with a hint of humor.

“Okay, then, how are you?”

“Fine, Napoleon. Really, I’m fine.”

All of the anger Napoleon felt for the past nine months and the guilt over Illya’s injuries rushed to the surface and before he could stop himself he said, “Good, now get the hell out of here!”

Bright blue eyes momentarily narrowed at the harsh words before Illya’s face was once again a passive mask.  “All right, Napoleon, I will, but do you think I could sleep on your couch tonight? It’s very late and my ride is not due back until tomorrow morning. Nor do I relish the idea of you driving me down that road in your condition.”

Napoleon went to the closet and returned with a pillow, sheets, and a couple of blankets. He threw them onto the couch and without another word retreated up the stairs to his bedroom.

Sleep didn’t come easily for the former agent. Emotions that he had tried to stifle for the past nine months came boiling to the surface.

He was distressed by his reaction to Illya’s presence and the way he treated his one true friend. No, not just a friend, Illya was his brother, closer to him than any of his own family members with the possible exception of Aunt Amy. And now? Now he had really screwed up. I wouldn’t blame him if he never talked to me again!  Finally, fatigue won over stress and Napoleon fell asleep in the predawn darkness.

Sunlight filtered through the curtains teasing Napoleon into wakefulness. The smells of frying bacon and fresh coffee wafted up the stairs. Slowly, the events of the previous evening tugged at his consciousness. He debated as to whether he should stay in bed and avoid facing Illya, but integrity won over self-preservation. It was time to face the music. 

After a quick shower, Napoleon dressed and went down the stairs and entered the kitchen. Illya was at the kitchen table looking through yesterday’s newspaper. He looked up and watched as Napoleon walked in. “Good morning. There’s fresh coffee and some bacon. I’ll be leaving in about fifteen minutes when my ride gets here.” He pushed his chair back and started to leave. 

Napoleon placed his hand on Illya’s arm. “No, please wait. I’m… I’m sorry, Illya. I know I was a bit of an ass last night.”

“A bit?” Illya smiled. “I think you surpassed ‘a bit’, Napoleon.” He saw pain in his friend’s eyes and relented. “However, I accept your apology.” He sat down.

“Thank you.” Napoleon rose to get a cup of coffee. “How did you find me?”

“Well, being a spy does have its perks. Actually, I found a letter from your aunt in your desk. I read it and found out that your family had this cabin. So I took a chance that you’d be holed up here and thought I would pay a surprise visit to an old friend.” He paused a moment his eyes meeting Napoleon’s. He continued, his voice roughened with emotion. “I have truly missed you, my friend.”

Napoleon averted his eyes choosing to stare at his coffee, instead. “I don’t know how you can stand to be near me, Illya, after what I did.”

“What exactly do you mean ‘after what I did’, Napoleon?”

Napoleon brought his head up sharply, “Don’t be obtuse, Kuryakin! It’s my fault you got hurt and that boy was killed! I left UNCLE. Hell, I left you lying in a hospital bed not knowing if you would ever walk again! That’s not what partners do, it’s not what friends do!” His voice lowered in volume and strength, “It’s just that I was so damn angry at the Old Man for sending us into a mission with no plan, at THRUSH for its callousness. Angry …” He stopped at the touch of Illya’s hand on his forearm.

“Napoleon, look at me. I admit that I was upset that you left. That you were not there during my recovery for moral support or to bully me through my physical therapy. I was even angry that you left me with the job of head of Section 2. Then, over time I realized that it was not anger so much as grief. I missed you, moi brat. More than you will ever know. I missed your egotistical, womanizing, stubborn ways, and your companionship.

“In regards to you blaming yourself for that fiasco of an affair, Napoleon, the last time I checked you are not God. You couldn’t have prevented what happened. I read your report and that of the pilot’s. The weather wasn't something you could control. Blame falls squarely on the shoulders of THRUSH, my friend. Yes, it is our job to minimize the impact those bastards have on the world and we do a damn good job at it, but sometimes circumstances are beyond our control.”

“Illya, look at me and tell me you aren’t frustrated with that boy’s death or with the fact that there was no prior planning!”

The Russian let out a deep sigh. “I would be lying if I said I was not. When I sleep, I still can see his face as I pulled him from the car. But I also know we did everything we could and dwelling on the failed mission is not going to bring that boy back. We need to move on, Napoleon. It’s not easy, but it is something we have to do.”

Outside, the sound of snow tires squeaking on hard packed snow accompanied with the honk of a car horn announced that Illya’s ride had arrived. “I have to go, Napoleon. Will I see you again… soon?”

“Wait, Illya. Why don’t you stay with me for a couple of days? This is Christmas Eve. Please, at least stay and celebrate Christmas with me.” This was the first time in months that Napoleon felt like having company, and the first time that he felt as if he were more than merely going through the motions of living.

“All right. I’ll go tell the driver to come back tomorrow.” He left to speak to the driver pleased that his plan was working. He would have to proceed carefully. It wouldn’t do to push his friend too hard, or to make him feel as if he were being backed into a corner.

Napoleon watched Illya as he left, studying the man’s gait. He noticed that Illya automatically carried his cane, but only used it as a precaution when he stepped outside onto the snow and ice.

When Illya returned to the kitchen, Napoleon was dressed in a heavy parka, hat, and gloves. In response to the questioning arched eyebrow the brunet said, “We can’t celebrate Christmas without a proper tree. I thought I’d snowshoe over to the back lot and pick out a young spruce. Why don’t you see what you can find for decorations.”

Illya stopped him. “If you wait a moment, I will accompany you. The exercise will do me some good.”

“Ah, Illya, is that a good idea? What about your leg?”

“I will be fine, Napoleon. If the going is too strenuous I’ll head back.” Napoleon looked doubtful. “Really, my friend, I will not break.”

Both men hiked out on snowshoes. Illya used ski poles to keep balance while Napoleon led the way, breaking a path through the snow for the hundred yards to the desired tree. Napoleon found himself more winded than he cared to admit after only a few swings of the hatchet. 

“You are out of shape, my friend. You are getting soft from your inactivity,” Illya teased. “Let me have a try.” He also took a few swings and saw that not much progress was made in cutting through the wood. He stopped and inspected the blade. “No wonder, Napoleon! This blade is so dull it would not cut through soft butter. What did you plan to do, bludgeon it into submission?”

Napoleon made a face. “Everyone’s a critic,” he said, grabbing the hatchet back. After many more swings of the hatchet than it should have taken, the six foot tree fell. He picked up the trunk and started toward the house dragging the tree behind him.

“Here, let me help.” Illya leaned forward to pick up the top of the tree. Holding the ski poles in one hand, he lifted his end of the tree. Five steps later, his left snowshoe tangled in a fallen tree limb, sending a sharp pain running up his leg to his hip. Napoleon heard a cry of pain and turned around in time to see his friend’s face lose all color as he fell sideways into unpacked snow.

“Illya!” Shit! He dropped the tree and went to Illya. “Illya, are you okay?” Seeing the glare his friend shot in his direction he apologized, “Sorry, stupid question. Can you get up?”

“With a little help, yes, I believe so,” he gasped.

Here. Take my hand.” 

It took almost a half hour to cover the distance back to the cabin. Napoleon helped his partner out of his snowshoes and took him inside. “Sit down here and I’ll make a fire,” he instructed. ”You’re soaked.” He started to pull at Illya’s parka and hat.

“Napoleon! Stop fussing. I just need to give myself a few minutes. Go retrieve the tree. By the time you get back, I will be as good as new.”

Two hours later and with much coaching from Illya, Napoleon set up the tree and decorated it. Popcorn on a string became a garland. Illya had found some tin can lids. He punched some holes in them and used them as ornaments. Wine glasses strung up by their bottoms joined the can lids. The two men sat in their chairs. After toasting each other for their cleverness and creativity they sat in companionable silence watching the flames from the fireplace reflecting off of the ornaments.

Napoleon broke the silence. “How are you feeling, Illya?”

“I’m better, thank you.”

“Illya,” he hesitated. “Are they going to let you back in the field?”

“I don’t know, Napoleon. The doctors didn’t expect me to recover this much.” His lips quirked in amusement. “I have made it my goal to prove them wrong. I still have a ways to go, but each week I feel a measurable improvement.” Illya decided the time had come to broach the subject as to why he was there. He slipped an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to Napoleon.

“What’s this?” 

“Napoleon,” he leaned forward making eye contact with his friend. “Napoleon, UNCLE needs you. Your leadership and skills are sorely missed.”

“I can’t, Illya. Mr. Waverly and I parted on less than amiable terms. I…”

“Open the envelope, Napoleon. Read what’s there before you make any decisions.”

After reading the letter he looked up. “Mr. Waverly wants me back? It says he’s willing to reinstate me as head of Section 2! I can’t do that, Illya! What does that do to you?”

“I would work as your assistant, much like before. The only difference is that I wouldn’t be out in the field, at least for a while.”

“Illya, I…I can’t.” He stared at his hands. Then looking up, he continued. “You just don’t understand. After that last affair… after that total screw up, I can’t go back. Between that child getting killed and you nearly crippled for life all because of poor planning on Section 1’s part.”

Illya was quiet for a moment before saying, “Okay, moi brat. I told Mr. Waverly I would try to persuade you to come back, but I’m not going to bully you into it my friend. I’m sorry that’s your decision, however I will respect it.” Changing the subject to ease the tension, he asked, “Napoleon, may I have another drink?”

As Napoleon rose to refill both glasses, Illya pulled a wrapped present from behind his back and placed it on the table between their chairs. When he came back with the drinks, Napoleon saw the package.

“What’s this?”

“Your spy skills seem to have suffered, my friend. I believe it’s called a present.” Illya smiled. “It’s not much, but it is something I wanted to leave with you when I return to New York.”

Napoleon read the tag. To Napoleon: Never forget that I am and will always be your friend, no matter your decision. Stay in touch. Illya

He ripped the wrapper off to find a beautifully framed document written in calligraphy and read the title, The Ten Commandments of the UNCLE Agent.

What?” Napoleon wasn’t sure whether he was angry or embarrassed that Illya had come across something that he considered very private. In the end, he decided that he was quite touched by his friend’s efforts. “Where did you get this?”

“I found your copy in your desk when it was time to clean it out. I hope you don’t mind, but when I saw that you hadn’t finished the last commandment I took the liberty of doing so. It says everything I have been trying to convey to you the past twenty-four hours, my friend.”

Napoleon skimmed down to the last commandment.

10.  Forgive yourself and your mistakes. Don’t dwell on ‘if only’. You can’t undo what has been done, the whole thing quickly becomes ludicrous and can drive you mad.***

Napoleon read it again. As he did so, something inside gave way, releasing all the emotions of the past nine months. His whole being seemed to implode. He sank further down into his chair, his shoulders slumped, shaking violently. An anguished sob escaped as tears welled up in his eyes and spilled over. “Oh God, oh God…” he repeated over and over as the tears fell.

Illya left his chair and ignoring the pain in his hip and leg, knelt before his friend. He pulled Napoleon into an embrace, holding him and offering support as the stress and tension of the past nine months poured from him as water pours from a breached dam.

“It’s okay, my friend, let it out. Let it completely out,” Illya urged.

A half hour passed before Napoleon’s tears subsided and he calmed down. Neither man said anything. Illya helped him up and led his friend up the stairs to the bedroom. He guided him to the bed and had Napoleon lie down. Pulling the covers up and over the exhausted man, Illya turned off the lights and left the room.

Christmas morning dawned with brilliant sunlight streaming through the cabin’s windows. Illya packed his knapsack and waited for his ride. He heard footfalls on the steps and looked up to see Napoleon coming down. He was dressed and carrying two suitcases. Hope surged in the Russian’s heart.

Napoleon reached the bottom of the stairs. He placed the suitcases on the floor and walked over to Illya. Placing his hands on his friend’s shoulders he said, “I think you saved my life last night, Tovarisch.”

Illya smiled, “I take it that this means that you are coming back to UNCLE?”

“It will be hard, Illya, but with you by my side, I am willing to try.” He pulled Illya into a bear hug and held on tightly. “Thank you!”  

Outside a car horn honked. The two men picked up their luggage and headed out the front door. Napoleon turned back to lock the door, smiled at his partner, and both walked to the car.