Napoleon Solo had an image of himself that was, at times, a limiting influence when it came to undercover work. His partner had few qualms about any disguise that might be required, and was a consummate actor when the time came for being another person entirely.
With this in mind, Napoleon found himself in a state of mild surprise when Illya stated, adamantly, that he would not play the part of the gondolier for a second time. He was quite insistent that he and April Dancer should be the couple inside the gondola, with Napoleon playing the part of the pole wielding boat pilot.
"Gondolier, not pilot." Napoleon was amused at the mistake. Illya rarely made them.
"I don't care what we call him, I will not be him this time. Besides, a blond Italian gondolier? You fit the part much better than I."
Something told Napoleon that there was more to it than a mere physical description. He had noticed a certain … something … going on between Miss Dancer and his friend, although it wasn't obvious. Heat. That's what it was, and he wondered if Illya was encouraging it.
"So, have you discussed this with April?" Illya looked stricken.
"What? Of course not. This is between you and me, I am simply saying that I do not wish to play the part this time." Then it hit him, the implications of his demand.
"What? No, no you have entirely the wrong idea here Napoleon.' To which Napoleon raised and eyebrow and smiled.
"I… I have no designs on April. She is part of this mission, that is all. Well, except for the part where I do not wish to be the …''
"The gondolier, right, I get it." Napoleon sighed, he hadn't counted on being the one in the striped shirt and straw hat, but considering it now he imagined it could be fun, and he might look good in that costume. He wondered if it might be conducive to romance.
"Fine, I'm the gondolier and you're… you and April are the couple. Are you happy now?" Illya glared at his partner, the icy blue seemed to be crystalizing as Napoleon observed the approaching mood.
''What? Isn't this what you asked for?" Napoleon wondered if all Russians were this difficult. There was something going on, and that's why Illya was being so defensive.
"I'm going outside for a walk." Illya turned to leave, grabbing his coat as he left the office.
"What the …? Hey, it's time for …' The door closed behind Illya as Napoleon finished his sentence.
'… our meeting with Mr. Waverly."
Illya made his way through the corridors, out into Del Floria's and finally to the cool air of a waning winter's day. Napoleon was right, of course. He was manipulating things so that he and April could be closer, and that in spite of the fact that he had tried to avoid her for months. This mission would be a disaster if he allowed something to happen between them. Napoleon knew, or sensed what was happening beneath the surface of what Illya had tried to maintain as a strictly professional relationship.
Which of course meant that he had failed.
His thoughts were interrupted by the warbling of his communicator. As it trilled he recalled the meeting with Waverly. He hoped Napoleon was covering for him as he turned and ran the distance back to Headquarters.
Illya managed to get upstairs to Mr. Waverly's office in time to make a not too conspicuous entrance. Seated there at the big table were Napoleon, Mr. Waverly, Mark Slate and April. Illya slid into the chair next to his partner, avoiding looking at the woman in the room, hoping that she didn't notice how obvious it was that he was trying too hard.
Mr. Waverly began, and as he unfolded the details of the mission Illya's world began to wobble and spin just enough to make him feel slightly dizzy. The mission in Venice was out, something new was happening in London.
“Gentlemen, Miss Dancer…"
And so began what promised to be a beginning, and quite possibly an end.
This is a prequel to my series of stories that begin with The House of Monkeys