by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Mr. Waverly frowned down at the report on his desk and absently tamped some tobacco into his pipe, though he didn't light it. "Mr. Solo," he said, a hint of disapproval in his tone, "that makes three partners in three months."

Napoleon managed not to squirm in his chair through a sheer effort of will. "I'm aware of that, sir."

"There is a reason why I require my Section Two agents to work with partners," Waverly pointed out. Napoleon nodded. The assignments given to Section Two were frequently too complicated to be carried out alone and too important to entrust to a man without someone to back him up. "Your inability to maintain such a relationship concerns me," Waverly went on.

"I was with Daniel Swinnard for nearly two years," Napoleon said helpfully.

"Hmmm." Waverly set his pipe aside and leaned back in his chair. "Mr. Swinnard was assigned to you, Mr. Solo. It was his job to help you make the transition from Survival School to real field work."

Crestfallen, Napoleon nevertheless managed an impassive, "Ah." He'd thought Dan was his friend. "Did he, ah, want to? Be reassigned, I mean."

"What he wanted was beside the point, Mr. Solo." Which meant that he had. Damn it. Waverly's eyes softened in some indefinable way. It was the look of a man about to deliver bad news. "If you can't make this work, I'm going to have to transfer you to Section Three."

"What?!" Napoleon exclaimed, then managed to bite the rest of the incredulous words back behind his teeth. A lack of control like that was the last thing he needed to demonstrate right now. He paused to scrape a little calm together. "You said, 'if,' sir. Does that mean I get another chance?"

Waverly nodded, triggering a relief so intense Napoleon would have sagged if he hadn't been keeping such tight control of himself already. "A last chance," Waverly said distinctly. "Illya Kuryakin. He's just finished Survival School, but you will not be mentoring him. Mr. Kuryakin has previous experience in the intelligence community."

Previous intelligence experience. Soviet intelligence, judging by his name. Napoleon felt a thread of unease. His last chance at Section Two was going to involve getting with a Soviet in an office almost entirely staffed by Americans...three of whom would probably be happy to see Solo depart for Section Three.

"When do I meet him?"


Kuryakin was not what Napoleon had expected. He was slender and blond, with eyes so blue Napoleon had caught himself looking a little longer than he should have and an accent that sounded more of England than of Russia.

He was also wary. Deeply wary, so deeply that it showed in his eyes, though Napoleon suspected he didn't usually show much emotion at all. Napoleon had expected hostility, if his move to UNCLE from...wherever...was involuntary, or an eagerness to please, if it was his own choice.

They traded greetings, Kuryakin stiffly polite, Napoleon trying for both encouraging and casual. He led his new partner to what would be their shared office. Napoleon had just moved in himself; he'd barely had time to unload his box of things before meeting Kuryakin. His previous partners had all been more senior. They got to keep their offices.

Well, one way or another, this would be his last office. If he and Kuryakin worked out, they'd both stay. If they didn't, Napoleon would move down a floor and into the cubes that sufficed for Section Three agents. Maybe he ought to be thinking of it as Kuryakin's office.

Oblivious to Napoleon's depressing train of thought, the Russian briskly stocked his desk up with stationary and proceeded to correctly divide and label his file drawer. Hell. Napoleon hadn't done that in his first week, never mind his first hour.

Their first few days were quiet. Kuryakin settled into his apartment in UNCLE's building, Napoleon dug up his file, what there was of it, and both of them tried to make their office feel a little more lived in. The pristine nature of it, rendered by the cleaning staff after the last occupants had moved out, made Napoleon feel like a rookie.

He'd almost managed to convince himself that things would go on like this indefinitely--distant and wary--when they went down to eat in the cafeteria together for the first time. Illya piled more food onto his tray than a man that slim had any right to, and Napoleon led the way to a table that was already partially occupied.

The man to Kuryakin's left was rehashing one of his missions, now that it was over and the details had been declassified. He finished up this monologue with the comment, "I swear, those bastards get more irritating every time I run into them."

"What else would you expect from...thrush?" Kuryakin asked mildly.

Napoleon choked on his drink. Aside from being a songbird and a criminal, thrush was also a very unpleasant--and irritating--fungal infection. Glancing up, Napoleon caught a twinkle in Kuryakin's eye. He knew, even if the rest of the table shot them puzzled glances and shrugged the comment off.

"Never mind Solo," someone muttered. "The man's not right in the head."

Kuryakin's eyes flickered toward the speaker and back to Napoleon. He saluted his partner with his water glass and dug back into lunch.

Napoleon had to suppress snickers for the rest of the day.