Dan Westin stared up at the ceiling, impossibly awake. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time he’d suffered insomnia, even after a protracted love making session with his wife. Even when the rest of his body was willing to surrender to exhaustion, his brain was still wound tight, still calling the shots.
He sighed and glanced over at his wife. He was happy – happy with his marriage, his job, his work, and his life. Yet all it had taken was Napoleon’s softly spoken “Hello, Illya” to upset his apple cart There had been months when he would go without remembering his other life and often when he did remember, it was merely to be thankful for the lessons it had taught him. He would always be Illya Kuryakin, UNCLE agent, but that was now secondary to Daniel Westin, scientist, married man, and the KLAE Resource. So what right did Napoleon Solo have to completely undo his world?
Kate moved in her sleep, nestling closer to him, as if somehow aware he needed the reassurance, and Dan thought back to their evening.
“I envy you, Illya.” Napoleon’s smile was self-effacing. “A lovely home, a boss who obviously values your work, and a beautiful wife to top it off.”
“Beautiful and brainy,” Dan said, winking at Kate, who hid her smile behind her wine glass.
“And a marvelous cook,” Napoleon continued.
“Ah, that would be Mrs. Neddleson,” Kate admitted, laughing now. “I’m afraid my talent ends at setting the table. And Dan did grill the steaks.”
“Beautiful, brainy, but not a cook.” Dan kissed her hand. “But then and again, I didn’t marry you for your cooking… at least not at the table.”
“Since when? I thought food was your number one priority,” Napoleon asked, looking from one to the other as he reached for his wine glass.
“Number two these days,” Dan murmured. Napoleon couldn’t see Kate’s foot gliding up and down his shin. It was playing havoc with Dan’s self-control.
“Oh, right, your…” Napoleon twitched two of his fingers up and down at him. “Ah… problem.”
“That, as well.” Under his mask, Dan could feel his skin heating. If Napoleon hadn’t been at the table, he’d have made a grab for Kate then and there, taken her on the dining room floor and laughed about it later in bed. Still, that would be bad manners and the waiting made incredible sex so much more… incredible. “So what do you do now, Napoleon? Where do you go from here?””
“Ah, go home to New York, I guess, such as it is, since I haven’t convinced you to come with me.”
“You should stay with us for a couple of days.” Kate’s foot stroked Dan’s ankle, but her eyes never left Napoleon’s face. “You and Danny can get caught up with stuff.”
“I can’t stay away too long.” Napoleon said, glancing towards the front door. Dan knew an UNCLE car and driver, along with some Section Threes, sat out front, waiting for instructions from their Section One, Number One.
“UNCLE can surely take care of itself for a few days, Napoleon. It did with Waverly.”
“But I’m not sure I can. My bodyguards get a little nervous when I’m left to my own devices for too long.”
“Then you should definitely stay here. Dan has guarded some of the most important people in the country and they never even knew it.”
“Somehow, I find the thought of my former partner, standing naked next to me just a bit too odd for even my eclectic tastes.”
Kate had laughed then and purposefully derailed the conversation at that point. Dan had looked over at her and smiled. There was no way in hell he’d leave her, not now, not ever. And yet, there was that gnawing at the back of his head even as he lay there in bed with her – the glamour, the excitement, and to think how much of a threat he’d pose to THRUSH now.
Then he’d stopped. Was there even a THRUSH any longer? And he certainly was in no condition to go gad-abouting around these days. He was well past the mandatory cut-off date and the thought of being locked up in an UNCLE lab as opposed to his own was not that attractive a vision. He’d rather spend his life working side by side with Kate than a minute without her. So why was he having these thoughts? It wasn’t right.
He heard something and sat up. He listened for a moment and then reached for his robe. He slid out of bed and Kate rolled over, murmuring something.
Tying the belt loosely, lest he needed to shrug out of the garment quickly, he moved quietly from the upstairs down to the entry hall. There, in the half light of the living room, someone was moving around, looking for something. A moment later and he recognized the person as Napoleon.
“Can I help you find something?” he asked, flicking on the light.
Napoleon, still wearing his suit, minus the tie and jacket, turned and dropped the brandy decanter he was holding. It bounced against the carpeting and Napoleon quickly dropped to a knee to retrieve it. “Damn it, Illya, don’t do that.”
“Sneak up on people...” He waved a hand at Dan, “Like that! You don’t have a head.”
“Sure I do. You just can’t see it.” Dan moved to the desk and rooted around in the center drawer. Finding a key, he unlocked the bottom drawer and pulled out one of his spare masks. He settled it into place and turned back to his former partner. “Better?”
“Much… thanks. Do you have something to wipe this up?” Napoleon gestured to the amber liquid soaking into the shag carpeting.
“Sure.” He left and returned a minute later with a damp cloth. “That should do it.” He watched Napoleon clean up the spill. “But you still haven’t answered my question. What are you looking for?”
“A glass. I didn’t think you’d appreciate my swigging alcohol straight from the bottle.” Dan nodded and walked over to the wet bar. He found and held a glass out to Napoleon, but his former partner merely stared at the glass as it appeared to float in midair. “This is really real, isn’t it?”
“What? My invisibility? I’m afraid so. You probably don’t realize this, but there are only about four other people outside this room who know about this.” Dan set the glass down and found another for himself. He poured the alcohol carefully, sloshing it a bit. “Sorry.” He grinned slightly. “I can’t see my hands either.”
“You… you really are Illya, aren’t you?”
Dan carefully picked up the glass and held it out to him. "Yes, Napoleon, I am… was … warts and all.” He lifted his glass. “Nostrovia.” Dan walked back to sink into his favorite armchair, a shabby thing that had seen better days. Kate was always after him to toss it, but he loved the beat up piece of furniture. When he first saw it, it had reminded him of the first piece of furniture he bought upon his initial arrival in New York. That seemed so many years ago now.
After a minute, Napoleon lifted his glass in a silent salute, then sipped it carefully. “I can see why you don’t want to go back. She’s really something, Illya. Is she always that demonstrative?” He sat across from Dan and tried pointedly not to stare.
“Kate? Naw, she was pretty mellow tonight. You should see her when she really builds up a head of steam.”
“I have eyes… and ears, Illya. I… ah… heard you.”
“Sorry… I’m not used to house guests. I sort of forgot you were down the hall.”
“A couple of times, by my count, and don’t apologize for being in love with your wife. I said it before and I will say it again, I envy you all of this.”
Dan held up a hand, not that either of them could see it. “Don’t. In the last few months, I’ve been chased by dogs, bitten, shot, half frozen, and in bed with pneumonia… twice. Running around naked in the dead of winter is not always conducive to good health.”
“Sounds like the good old days.”
“In my case, they are neither good nor old. What I do now is not very different from our days as agents, except for this.” He let the robe gape open to reveal nothing save the inside of the fabric. “I can’t stay like this, Napoleon, and I don’t want to. Kate, she wants kids, and I can’t… not like this…” He paused and then continued. “Listen, would you mind if I took this off? I didn’t shave tonight and the itching is making me crazy.”
“I’m sorry. It’s your house… it’s a really nice place, Illya, very comfortable and homey.” He shook his head slowly. “I mean, Dan, sorry, you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks.” He watched as the head was pulled off and tossed onto the coffee table. “I guess I’m still getting used to you being alive.”
“But I’m not. Illya Kuryakin is dead and buried and will not be resurrected, my friend. I have no desire to recapture my youth in any form. I am now Dan Westin and Dan Westin I intend to stay.”
“I know. It just makes me… I dunno.” Napoleon sipped the brandy. “Feel less alone, knowing you’re still alive and well… if not as Illya Kuryakin, then just as a friend.”
“I’d like that… to continue our friendship. I have missed you, Napoleon. So many times I longed to pick up the phone and call you, just to hear your voice, but the years passed and I found myself lacking the nerve. Then when this happened, everything got very complicated…”
“We can never make up for lost time, Illya, but to able to just hear your voice again…”
There was a sudden noise as the front door was kicked in and Napoleon jumped to his feet. Two men with very lethal looking guns were standing there. Dan let the robe fall to the side and slowly stood.
“Nice, Solo, but pathetic. Coming here to play house… ‘talking’ to your old partner? How did you ever defeat THRUSH?”
Napoleon apparently recognized the man. “Hello, Mulvilhill, it’s been a few years. How are things at Leavenworth?”
Slowly Dan walked from the chair towards the intruders, taking care to stay well to the left of their guns.
“Too many years, Solo, sitting in that stinking cell, waiting for a chance to get out… to see you again.” The man swept the room and his eyes came to rest on the robe crumpled in the arm chair. “But at least I still have my sanity. What sort of nut job are you, Solo? Sitting there, talking to an empty robe?”
“Where are my agents?” Good, Napoleon, Dan thought as he got into position. Don’t let them gall you into action. Give me a chance to gain the upper hand.
“They’re taking a bit of a snooze right now. They should be all right… eventually. You, on the other hand, I’m not sure that all right will be in your future. I’m sort of thinking dead would be a closer assessment.”
“What are you going to do with me?” Napoleon moved away from the chair he’d been sitting in. Dan recognized the move, it was one each of them had performed many times. He was preparing himself for the attack.
“Inside info has it that you haven’t named a successor. You go down and UNCLE will be in chaos with no one to lead them. What better time for THRUSH to stage a comeback?”
“Illya is my successor. He always has been.” Napoleon squared his shoulders. He was no longer in his prime, but he’d not go down without a fight, not Napoleon Solo. For some reason, that made Dan smile.
“Your partner is dead, Old Man. Has been for years.” The man snickered then. “Guess who put the bullet into his brain?”
“It wasn’t you,” Dan said from beside Mulvilhill.
Mulvilhill spun as did the other agent and Dan ducked to keep from getting clipped. “Who said that?”
“Illya did. He’s always with me, in one form or another. That’s one of the great things about having a partner watch your back, Mulvilhill, but you’ll never know that,” Napoleon said, and Dan watched him reach into his pocket. Napoleon then quickly pulled his hand back out as the enemy agents turned back to him. Dan guessed Napoleon had triggered some sort of transponder. Still, he wasn’t about to let two goons shoot up his living room. Kate would have his head… well, his mask at any rate…
“How did you do that?” Mulvilhill was talking to Napoleon again.
“I didn’t do anything.” Napoleon was the picture of innocence and Dan grinned. How many times he’d seen that look on his ex-partner’s face. “I’m telling you, it was Illya.”
Dan moved quickly to Mulvilhill. He tapped him on the shoulder and when the man turned, Dan slammed a fist into his jaw. Not quite the powerhouse of his youth, but he had the element of surprise in his favor. When you couldn’t see it coming, he still packed quite the wallop. Mulvilhill dropped like a rock and Dan brought a double fisted blow down to the base of his head as he fell. He turned to the other agent, who was obviously having a ‘fight or flight’ moment. He dropped the weapon and charged out the door and into the arms of two very surprised UNCLE agents.
The ensuing struggle was brief and Dan watched the agents collar the groggy Mulvilhill and his henchman quite effectively. Another handful of Section Two and/or Three agents arrived and joined in the discussion as everyone tried to find a suitable explanation.
“It’s okay, fellas,” Napoleon said and everyone quieted. “All’s well and all that.”
“Are you sure you don’t need a doctor or anything, Mr. Solo?” One of his regular bodyguards was doing his best to keep from swaying in place, the obvious victim of a sleep agent.
“I’m fine, Mr. Preston, but I would feel better if the paramedics checked you out.”
“But to take down a man like Mulvilhill at your age… not that you’re old, sir… wow, that’s really… something.” Dan barely kept from snickering aloud at that as he made his way back up the stairs. Kate was standing just to the edge of the hall, out of sight if not hearing range, holding a parcel of clothes in her arms.
“What’s going on down there?” she whispered and Dan hurriedly pulled on a gray sweat shirt and matching sweat pants. He bent to yank on socks and cram his feet into untied sneakers before pulling his false hands on.
“Napoleon never goes looking for trouble; it always finds him.” He got his head on and they neared the corner to peer around it, like two children spying on Santa Claus.
“Well, contrary to popular belief, just because there’s a little snow on the roof, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a fire still in the furnace. Never be fooled by appearances, Mr. Preston.”
“No, sir… I mean, yes, sir!”
“But Kuryakin? Where is Kuryakin?” Mulvilhill was murmuring. “I heard him.”
“Mr. Kuryakin to you, Mulvilhill,” Lubow, Preston’s partner, corrected.
“But where is he, Solo?”
Napoleon smiled and tapped his chest. “In here, Mr. Mulvilhill, in here, right where he belongs. He waved good bye to the villain as Kate kissed Dan’s cheek.
“He loves you so much, Dan.”
“Yeah, me too.” He caught and kissed her long and hard, holding her close enough to him that he could almost feel her heartbeat. Pulling back, he caressed her face. “But not as much as I love you.” Then clearing his throat, he called, “Napoleon, what’s all the noise about?”
Everyone in the room turned to look up at a yawning Dan Westin and his equally bleary-eyed wife. The scientist was dressed in a gray sweatshirt and matching sweat pants, his wife was wearing a bright pink robe and looking none too happy about having a dozen men milling about her living room.
“Oh, just a little trouble. Didn’t mean to wake you.” Napoleon raised a hand in greeting.
Kate ran a hand through her hair, fluffing it slightly. “I think I’ll go make some coffee. We’d be up in another hour or so anyhow.” She yawned, pulled her robe more tightly closed and smiled as Dan kissed her cheek
“You are my treasure, Dr. Westin.”
“And you, Dr. Westin, you’re a pain in the…” The last word was muffled as he kissed her amid snickers from downstairs.
“Yes, but I’m your pain.” Dan sat on the top stair and tied his sneakers before joining the milling mob downstairs. “You want to come jogging with me, Napoleon? The exercise would do you good.” Preston had stopped and was starting open mouthed at the scientist. “Did I say something wrong? Are you not allowed to exercise, Napoleon? That would explain a lot.”
“Oh my God… sir… Dr. Westin… you look just like… him.”
“Who him?” Dan offered the younger man a grin.
“Illya Kuryakin… sir. I’ve seen photos… the resemblance is uncanny.”
“Well, you know what they say about everyone having a twin.”
“But you sound like him too… we have tapes on file.” Preston gestured to his partner. “Lubow, look at this.”
The man reappeared in the doorway and whistled. “Wow, incredible….”
That was when they realized Kate had reentered the room.
“That’s his wife, you moron. I meant Dr. Westin.” Preston punched his partner in the shoulder and Dan smiled. How many times he and Napoleon had been in their shoes, joking after a successful collar. How easy it would be to slip back into that lifestyle, he thought, then he felt Kate’s arm around his waist and he smiled happily at her.
“I am Dr. Westin as well,” Kate said offering him a steaming mug. “Would you like to join us?”
“No, we’ve taken up too much of your time already. Are you ready to leave, Mr. Solo?”
“No, if it not too much of an intrusion, I think I’ll stay here for a little while longer. Catch up on some unfinished business. Why don’t you two go along and I’ll see you in the morning… later in the morning.”
“Stay as long as you’d like, Napoleon.” Kate handed him a mug emblazoned with the caption, I smell hair burning. Were you thinking? “Ignore the mug, one of my grad students gave it to me. But the invitation is sincere. You will always have a place here with us.”
They waved the agents farewell and returned to the living room.
“Ill…Dan,” Napoleon started.
“It’s all right, Napoleon. Call me what you will. A name won’t change what we had.”
“What we have.” Napoleon held the cup up to them. “To present friends…”
“And absent enemies,” Dan finished. “You must be exhausted though.”
“Not really. I feel invigorated. That’s more action than I’ve seen in years and I just stood there. I can see now why your boss doesn’t want to lose you.”
“And we can’t lose him, not until I can get another prototype up and running. Until then, the KLAE Resource is at his bidding.”
“No, the KLAE Resource is available to anyone who can meet the price or show a genuine need.”
“Hmm, and if I were able to come up with both the money and the need?”
“I would be yours… at least, I would be yours in the business sense. Carlson wouldn’t turn that sort of offer down.”
“Excellent. I think UNCLE will find many future opportunities to employ both your special talents and needs.”
“No, Napoleon.” Dan kept his voice gentle but resolute. “I’m not about to resume the life of a Section Two agent. This is my home. I’ll take whatever assignments Carlson gives me, but I won’t leave what I have behind.” He kissed Kate’s hand. “We come as a pair.”
Napoleon smiled a little sadly Dan thought. “Sorry, you’re right. We aren’t the men we were, hell, we aren’t even partners anymore.”
“We will always be partners, Napoleon.” Dan pulled his wife down to his lap and she settled an arm around his shoulders. “There are just a few added benefits now.”
He felt Kate’s hand gently stroking his back, her way of letting him know it would be okay. She was his conscience, his focus, his reason for being. As long as she was beside him, Dan knew he would be okay. And now with Napoleon once again on his other side, Dan felt for the first time in a long time that what was once his curse was now a blessing… even if it was a blessing in disguise.