After the Worst

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: This fic written for Shayheyred, who asked for "Napoleon/Illya, returning from an assignment, angst". Like I said, a little rusty with this pairing. I'm not even sure I should post this to muncle. We'll see.

Sometimes the worst assignments didn't end with either of them waking up in the hospital.

In fact, Napoleon would go so far as to say that the truly terrible assignments never ended with either of them in the hospital. At least if they were injured it meant that they'd actually engaged the enemy. If they were injured, they'd fought as hard as they could. If they bled or broke bones or had to spend two weeks putting their minds back together, then they'd paid the price. Maybe it hadn't been enough, maybe they'd failed, but they had paid. They had put their bodies between evil and the world, and if evil won...even UNCLE agents were human. Even their training and experience had limits.

No, the worst assignments generally had nothing to do with the infirmary. They were the ones in which something went wrong somewhere--sometimes they knew what and where, but not always--and Napoleon and Illya never even got within sight of their target. It hardly seemed worthy to call it an Affair when they were so distant. It felt like they'd done nothing at all when they had to come home, not a scratch on either of them, and report failure...and not know why.

Waverly had to understand the emotional toll, because he rarely kept them at headquarters when they came home from such an assignment. Not even when they got back early. Instead he would send them home, and the two of them would go back to Napoleon's apartment because Napoleon always needed that tiny extra sliver of control that being on his own turf gave him, and it never seemed to bother Illya.

And they would sit, as they were sitting now, and they would drink, as they were drinking now, and they would talk, as they were talking now.

It was almost a ritual by now. Illya would start, and the phrases were predictable in a way that would get them killed at any other time.

"It wasn't your fault."

"I'm number one Section Two. I was in charge of the operation as a whole. I should have known."

On and on, trading statements of guilt and absolution back and forth until the liquor was gone and the sun had set--or come up, depending on when they got in.

Then they would go to bed, but only to sleep, because sex wasn't life affirming when they'd both come away disgustingly healthy. They'd tried it once, hoping to comfort each other, to ease the bitterness, but it had been too much like they were stealing something. The morning after that night was the one and only time they'd ever looked at each other and seen regret.

So they simply went to bed, to wait for a little distance, and a chance to try again.