The Memory Box Affair

Fandom: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Pairing: Napoleon Solo/Illya Kuryakin

Category: slash

Rating: G

Word Count: 1999

Notes: Written for the LiveJournal group Muncle for their Down the Chimney 6 Fiction Exchange. Prompts were: “established relationship/friendship (somewhere around 50ish perhaps), episode-related incident, old photo”

Original Publication Date: 21 December 2009

 

 

 

December 18th 1986, somewhere in London

“You’d think after twenty years that somebody like you could get it right, Illya.”

“I told you not to open the oven.”

“Oh, so it’s my fault? I only wanted to see it.”

“Yes, it IS all your fault. You’re not supposed to open the door or it won’t rise. You couldn’t help yourself, could you? After all these years, you still can’t help yourself. Blasted, stubborn, irritating American!”

Illya pulled the deflated and ruined soufflé out of the oven, putting it on top of the ancient Aga range with more force than was strictly necessary. He turned to his partner and put on his best scowl. It might have worked to stop Napoleon’s protest, although he felt that the dirty apron and fluffy oven gloves significantly diminished the menacing aspect of his trademark Siberian sulk.

Napoleon mock pouted and began to approach.

Illya sighed and opened his arms. Their long years together meant they could never stay angry at each other for long and they both stood there in a gentle embrace for several minutes.

When they broke apart, they were both smiling. It was Napoleon who spoke first as Illya put away the apron and gloves.

“Chinese?”

“Definitely. I’ll order, but the bill’s on you, my friend.”

“Now that’s not fair!”

Illya said nothing but pointed to the ruined soufflé. Napoleon once again gave in, raising his hands in surrender. He followed his partner out of the kitchen towards the phone where Illya ordered their meal in flawless Cantonese.

———————————

Twenty minutes later they sat in the living room in front of the fire eating their second-choice dinner.

Napoleon took a sip of his wine and turned to his partner who was enjoying his kung pao chicken and noodles.

“So Illya, as I recall the original plan for this evening was to have a lovely soufflé, followed by putting up some Christmas decorations. Since the first part of the plan didn’t exactly come to fruition….ouch!”

He was interrupted by Illya swatting him across the shoulder.

“Ah yes, that would be because as I recall a certain someone ruined the soufflé, we were forced to accept Chung’s finest.”

“Er…yes. And very nice it is too. Are we still going to put the decorations up? It’s getting rather close to Christmas and the neighbours will start to think we’re Scrooges.”

Another bite of kung pao chicken, followed by a dismissive wave of Illya’s hand gave Napoleon his answer. Nevertheless after finishing the meal, they agreed it was time to be more festive. After delving into a dusty hall cupboard, they emerged with several boxes of Christmas decorations.

One of the boxes was old and battered, mostly held together by tape and neither Napoleon nor Illya could remember where it came from.

Napoleon picked up the two sturdy looking boxes, leaving Illya with the tattered one, and went to carry it into the living room. A sudden noise drew him back into the hallway. He was greeted by his lover swearing in several languages, mostly Russian although there was definitely Italian, French and what Napoleon thought might be Swedish too.

Fighting back a smile at the state of his partner and lover sitting on the floor surrounded by Christmas decorations, he surveyed the destruction. Tinsel, some wooden ornaments and the remains of an ornate glass bauble had been scattered across the floor.

“Are you trashing our new apartment already? First the soufflé, now the hallway. Get up, you clumsy Russian.”

“The bottom of the box gave way as I picked it up.” Illya glowered up at him, rubbing his toe. “AND I stubbed my toe on that old iron you insist on using to prop the living room door open.”

Napoleon reached out a hand to help his lover up and then froze. Among all the decorations, a small wooden box caught his eye. Wary of the broken glass, he knelt down to retrieve it, feeling a lump in his throat and tears prickle the back of his eyes. He glanced back at Illya and saw that his eyes were filled with concern.

“Napoleon? Are you all right?”

He shook his head and shakily got to his feet, still cradling the box and retreated to the living room. Illya hastily dumped the rest of the decorations and followed.

———————————

He saw Napoleon gingerly place the box on the coffee table and just stare at it. Illya sat down on the sofa. As he watched Napoleon’s fingertips glide softly over the wooden detailing, Illya noticed the letters ‘NS’ and ‘CR’ inlaid into the pattern on top of the box.

Illya motioned for Napoleon to sit beside him.

“Napoleon? Talk to me.”

“I…I don’t know…I can’t…”

“Please, tell me.”

Napoleon continued staring at the box.

After a few minutes, he seemed to compose himself slightly and slowly opened the box with shaking hands. At the top was a tattered photograph of a very young and handsome Napoleon Solo smiling into the eyes of the dark haired young woman in his arms.

It was Clara Valder.

Although the photograph was faded, Illya could still see that she wore a glittering dress with sequins and elbow length gloves. Napoleon was resplendent in a well fitted tuxedo, but his smile seemed more genuine than hers, unencumbered and honest.

Illya knew Napoleon and Clara were ‘very good friends’ but it was clear from the photograph there was much more to the story. Napoleon’s reaction at the end of the Terbuf Affair had piqued Illya’s interest about the relationship, but he had never pried out of respect for his partner and friend.

As Illya looked at the photograph, curious about the remainder of the contents, Napoleon sighed and finally spoke.

“I thought I’d lost this years ago.”

“You and Clara, you look….happy,” Illya said, awkwardly.

“I was. She was…very special to me. I’m sorry for being so emotional.”

“It’s okay. Do you want me to leave you alone for a while?” Illya squeezed Napoleon’s shoulder and gently kissed him on the temple as he went to stand up.

Napoleon turned and leant into his partner, pulling him back down before he could leave. “No, please don’t go. I need you. It’s just a little strange unearthing all these memories, that’s all.”

Illya frowned slightly and looked into Napoleon’s eyes. They were still full of tears and spoke of a sadness and longing that it pained him to ignore.

He cupped his partner’s face and smiled. “Are you alright with this Pasha? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“No, it’s okay. Let’s look together.”

“Okay.”

———————————

Illya moved across to the kitchen to bring them both a drink. Napoleon distractedly took a glass of whisky and ice in one hand. He took a sip and set it down on the table next to the box.

Illya picked up his drink, but froze and held his breath as Napoleon delved deeper into the box. At first glance, it seemed a random assortment of items. Illya struggled to identify any of them as Napoleon rapidly fingered through the box.

As he searched through the contents again, Napoleon pulled out a ripped scarf, closed his eyes and smiled as he threaded it through his fingers.

“I remember this. It was the first time I met her. I had just got out of a cab on an incredibly windy day and this scarf wrapped around my leg. Clara practically bowled me over as she was chasing it. I was fresh out of Survival School and a little green, so I wasn’t really sure what to make of the whole situation.”

“The Great Napoleon Solo at a loss to seduce a lovely young lady? Surely not!”

“Petulant Russian. Well, despite forgetting almost everything from Survival School except my name, I did eventually manage to invite her out to dinner. That was the start of it all.” He paused and stroked the scarf once more before laying it aside. “Yes, that was it.”

He folded the scarf up carefully and placed it back in the box.

He delved through again and out came the heel of a lady’s shoe. Napoleon laughed out loud and twirled it in his hand, leaning back on the sofa.

“Oh Clara, what did you do to me that night?”

Illya was even more intrigued. “What happened?”

“This is from the same night as that photograph was taken. I managed to persuade Mr. Waverly that I could take Clara to an Ambassador’s party whilst I was on standby duty. Oh dear, the forms I had to fill in after that…but anyway, ah yes.

We were just about to leave when the heel of her shoe broke on the stairs. She nearly fell, but I managed to catch her before she hurt herself.”

“Well, I’ve become used to women throwing themselves at you Napoleon, but that’s taking it a bit far, don’t you think?” Illya said with a smile.

Napoleon returned the smile and nodded. “Yes, she fell right into my arms. It caused a bit of a stir at the party, but thankfully the mission wasn’t compromised.

I called HQ for our ride home, but there were no vehicles available. It was pouring with rain, but Clara insisted that she get home. So being the gentleman I was, I offered her my umbrella and we walked. Well, I say we walked, but it was mostly me carrying her and both of us getting completely soaked.”

This sounded like a complete nightmare of an evening to Illya, but Napoleon’s face just lit up and he smiled broadly as though recalling the evening in his mind.

“Where was this party again?” asked Illya.

“A long way away from my apartment, I can tell you that for certain.” Napoleon began to laugh as he looked at the object in his hands. But after a while, the laughter subsided and was replaced by a bitter silence.

The fire crackled in the grate and the clock chimed ten o’clock.

“I did love her, you know.”

“I know.” Illya said simply, the arm around Napoleon’s shoulders reassuring him.

“It was a long time ago” said Napoleon, taking a sip out of his drink. “But, I have learned a lot since then.”

Napoleon gently replaced all the items in the box and closed the lid.

“Illya?”

“Yes, Pasha?”

“I have decided that some memories are best discarded.”

Napoleon sat up and in one smooth movement picked up the memory box and threw it into the fire.

Illya blindly lunged to reach for it, but was stopped by Napoleon grabbing him by the arm.

“No, it’s time, Illya. Let it go.”

They both sat and looked on as the memory box burned away in the renewed fire.

“Why, Pasha?” Illya asked as he stared at the crumbling remains in the grate.

“Those memories are all up here” Napoleon said, tapping his temple. “I don’t need a box full of things to remind me. It was a long time ago. Don’t get me wrong though, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“No?”

“Definitely not. Every decision I made back then whether right or wrong worked out well in the end.”

“Why?”

“Because everything I did and everything that happened all led me to you. I wouldn’t change that for all the world.”

“Oh Napoleon, don’t be so dramatic. U.N.C.L.E. New York had been looking for a suitable Russian candidate for years and…mmppphfff”

His objections were firmly cut short as Napoleon kissed him quite thoroughly. After several minutes which could have been several lifetimes, they broke apart.

Illya composed himself and smoothed down his hair. Napoleon smiled at him, stroking his cheek and also running his hand through the dark blond hair.

“Illya, you do know that I love you, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know. I love you too, Pasha.”

“As much as I love you though, I have to ask something.”

“Yes?”

“When are you going to learn to make a soufflé properly?”

 

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