Better Late than Never

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: ARCHIVED at: Chrome and Gunmetal (http://www.chromeandgunmetal.com/chrome/archive/0/betterlate.html)


Napoleon Solo was wearing a wedding ring.

Somehow, whenever April had imagined where his life might have gone after UNCLE had dissolved ten years before, she'd never pictured him married. Before taking Waverly's chair he'd seemed to enjoy the prowl too thoroughly to settle and after... After, he had gradually but inexorably become one of those men who are married to their jobs.

Two clusters of people away from her, Napoleon turned and caught her eye, as if he'd felt the touch of her gaze. Perhaps he had. Ten years of civilian life couldn't erase instincts honed over nearly thirty years of UNCLE service. Even April still caught herself noting potential exit points of every room she walked into.

A small smile and a wave seemed all the encouragement Napoleon needed to break off his conversation and find his way in her direction. "April," he greeted her upon arriving. "You look good."

Napoleon was a good thirty pounds heavier and more grey than brunet, but she wasn't about to say so. Besides, his eyes still sparkled the way they always had, and he wore an air of contentment that was even more attractive than his polished charm had been. "So do you," April said smoothly, raising her wine glass in a small salute.

Napoleon just laughed. "You've got nothing to gain by flattering me now," he teased. "I look every one of my years and I know it. But I've earned them."

"Oh, I don't know," April responded lightly. "If a little flattery will get me some gossip, I'm willing to indulge."

"Gossip?"

April leveled a gaze at him. "You're wearing a wedding ring, Napoleon. Don't tell me I'm the first person to ask about it."

He conceded the point with a graceful gesture. "I'll tell you the same thing I've told everyone else. My spouse will be here in," he checked his watch, "five minutes. Until then, I'm sworn not to enjoy the surprise all by myself."

Now that was interesting. "Surprise? After all the women you went through, what could possibly surprise me about your wife?"

Napoleon just smiled and sipped at his wine.

Well, five minutes wasn't that long to wait. Napoleon had never been hard to make conversation with. Particularly since he'd shed the ingrained habit of flirting. Surreptitiously, April kept an eye on the door, watching for lone women. As the five minute deadline drew near and then passed, Napoleon's eyes also turned to the door.

April watched even more closely, but no women appeared. When someone did slip through the entryway, it turned out to be Illya Kuryakin. "Look, there's Illya," April said, unnecessarily, since Napoleon had already caught his eye. "I didn't think he was going to come tonight. I thought a reunion would be rather too sentimental for him."

"He almost didn't," Napoleon said, smiling broadly, "but his spouse talked him into it." Illya was making a beeline for them.

"You're still in touch?" April asked, a little surprised. And Illya married as well, apparently.

Before Napoleon could answer Illya drew up next to him, put a hand at the small of his back and leaned into an extended welcoming kiss. April could actually feel her jaw dropping.

"Sorry I couldn't be here earlier," Illya said as they pulled apart. He took Napoleon's glass out of his hand and turned to April, explaining, "Dinner meeting."

"As you can see," Napoleon said, not seeming to miss the drink, "I've been a very good boy and not spoiled the surprise at all." He paused. "April, your mouth is still open."

She hauled it closed with difficulty.

Illya finished Napoleon's wine in one gulp and placed the empty glass on a try carried by a passing waiter. "Aren't you going to introduce us?" he asked, glancing sidelong at Napoleon.

"Oh, for God's sake. Illya, you know April already."

"Proper introductions, Napoleon."

Napoleon shook his head indulgently. "April, I'd like you to meet my husband, Illya Nikovetch Kuryakin." Then, to Illya, "I can't believe you still get such a kick out of that."

"Husband?" April finally managed.

"Well, not legally," Illya allowed. "But the term is accurate, nonetheless."

Slowly, the shock was receding. Napoleon and Illya shared space as easily as they always had, even touched each other--more or less--as they always had. Somehow, this made more sense than any wife Napoleon could have produced. They'd always been together, from the day they met to the day UNCLE dissolved. And beyond, apparently. Illya had even retired from the field nearly two years early, rather than let his partner leave him behind.

Which made her wonder... "How long have you been together?"

"Twenty-two years," Napoleon replied, his voice thick with satisfaction.

"Twenty-two years?" Around them, heads were turning, drawn by April's exclamation more than her former colleagues' unusual closeness. Which, come to think of it, wasn't all that unusual. Twenty-two years. "How did none of us ever notice?"

Napoleon was becoming incredibly smug. "Our finest, ah, affair ever," he said, his eyes inviting Illya to share the joke. "We were the best. And at the time, our lives depended on our being discreet."

April could believe that. THRUSH, bigots inside and out of UNCLE, blackmail, bait...though they never did seem to avoid that last one. "Still," she argued, "for twelve of those years you worked constantly with dozens of spies. Didn't anyone ever guess?"

It was Illya who answered. "Aside from Waverly?" he shook his head. "Never. Though there were a few close calls..."

"There were always close calls," Napoleon said, memory darkening his expression for a moment. But when Illya touched his cheek briefly the shadow passed and he smiled, a sweet smile, the kind of smile April had never seen him bestow on anyone before.

"Why did you come tonight, Napoleon?" April asked suddenly. "Did any of us ever really know you? Either of you? I thought," she glanced down at her wine glass for a moment. "I thought this reunion would be a chance to reconnect with the people we'd all been closest to, the people who all held our lives in their hands, in one way or another."

April trailed off, feeling a little bit foolish, but Illya was shaking his head. "That is why we came," he said. "We may have had to keep our secrets, but that didn't mean we wanted to."

"We always wished we could have been open with you and Mark and half a dozen other people," Napoleon agreed. "Getting the invitation to this was like a second chance."

Slowly, April smiled. "You know," she said tentatively, "Mark is just over by the buffet."

Napoleon's eyes twinkled. "April, would you care to make the introductions for us?"

In answer she took their arms and led them off in the right direction. "I think," she cast Napoleon a sidelong glance, "that Illya is not the only one who still gets a kick out of the introductions."

"Maybe," he allowed. But he was smiling.

--End--