Notes: This fic was originally posted to DreamWidth and tumblr in three blurb pieces, but I was so pleased with how the blurbs turned out that I decided to put them together as a oneshot with a little bit of added extra dialogue.
Napoleon was always grateful when Illya accompanied him—even on errands that he didn't even need to waste time on. An old acquaintance had summoned Napoleon for help, claiming that he and Napoleon had served in Korea together and was now the head of a growing business.
"Derek Smith…" Napoleon said, repeating the name for the umpteenth time, trying to recall the owner. "I can't, for the life of me, remember who he was."
"Well, in your defense, that is an incredibly common name," Illya pointed out, as they headed into the luxurious office suite where he had asked to meet them. "Perhaps your mental block will lift upon seeing him."
"Maybe…" Napoleon mused. He trailed off as a man approached them, looking at Napoleon with recognition in his eyes.
"There you are, Solo!" he said, ignoring Illya completely. "Wow, you look well after all this time!"
"Derek Smith…?" Napoleon asked, repeating the name again. Seeing him wasn't ringing any bells, either, much to his frustration.
"Yeah, that's right—Korea, 1951. You were just a young corporal then," Smith mused. "Look, I'm sorry for how unprofessionally I'm dressed; I just got off the golf course, but I really do need to speak with you. See, climbing up the corporate ladder isn't easy—you make a lot of enemies doing this, but they tell me you're a crackerjack agent for U.N.C.L.E. who has protected the lives of many diplomats…"
Napoleon suddenly noticed something—a gold pendant with Korean letters etched on it, resting around Smith's neck. And, suddenly, something in Napoleon's memory sparked; he recalled seeing that same pendant back in 1951, covered with crimson blood—but it wasn't Smith who had been wearing it…
It had been a stormy night outside of Uijeongbu, and Napoleon had been heading back to camp after going on patrol. A Korean woman, carrying a bundle that was unmistakably an infant, was approaching another solider, calling for help. She had been wearing the pendant—but then, the soldier she had been approaching raised his gun…
Napoleon remembered now—how his horrified shout had been lost in a crack of thunder and gunfire as the other soldier had shot the woman. The baby had begun to cry even as her mother fell, lifeless. And the soldier, not even flinching, had merely reached down and snapped the pendant off of the body, pocketing it for himself as spoils of war, ignoring the crying infant. And as the soldier turned to go, Napoleon had seen his face in an instant, illuminated by a flash of lightning…
Napoleon snapped back to the present.
"How about it, Solo?" Smith asked. "Will you take the job as my personal bodyguard for this fancy party?"
Napoleon's face turned down into a fierce scowl—something that took Illya by complete surprise.
"Never," he growled.
Smith was taken aback; he hadn't expected Napoleon to refuse. Illya was more stunned by Napoleon's tone; anger was a very rare emotion for his partner, so Illya knew that whatever it was that had sparked it now must have been serious.
"I…. I don't get it," Smith said. "They told me you were the best. Solo, I'll be a sitting duck at this venue; I need someone to protect me!"
"That woman who approached you back in Korea wanted protection, too!"
Smith froze, stunned; all these long years, he had assumed that he had been alone that night.
"What… what are you talking about?"
"Korea, 1951," Napoleon hissed, pointing to the pendant Smith was wearing. "A woman, wearing that pendant, was coming to you, asking for help in getting out of the storm she had been traveling in. You shot her at point-blank range and stole that! You did a good job of washing the blood off of that pendant. But you will never be able to fully wash the blood off of your hands."
"I…" Smith stammered. "Look, that woman was holding something—it could have been a bomb or–"
"She was holding a baby!" Napoleon roared. "She was holding a crying baby—I know because I was there! I saw you kill her and leave that baby there to die after you looted the body! I carried that baby to the orphanage myself!"
Illya cursed loudly in Ukrainian; having lost his parents violently to war, as well, this had struck a nerve.
"I should have had you arrested that night itself, but I didn't know your name then. Well… anyway, this banquet is the least of your worries," Napoleon went on. "But I know just how I'll solve your problem—you're under arrest for murder and war crimes. Maybe your enemies will have a harder time trying to get to you in prison."
He ignored Smith's protests and practically dragged him back to U.N.C.L.E. HQ, but was slightly surprised when Mark Slate ended up interrogating Smith, when he had been fully prepared to.
"I had asked Mark to handle the interrogation, Napoleon," Illya said. "As you are the witness, it would be less objective if you also did the interrogation."
"Oh. Good point…"
"I… also thought it would be better if Mark handled the interrogation after seeing how you reacted in Smith's office," he admitted. "Napoleon… I know you are furious with Smith because of what happened—you have every right to be. And I fully support you testifying to make sure he is given the harshest punishment the law can give for that heinous crime."
"…But…?" Napoleon prompted.
"But," Illya agreed. "…Napoleon… Please understand when I ask you to promise me that you will not lose yourself—who you truly are—in your quest to ensure justice."
"I don't understand…"
"You mind suppressed this horrific sight for so long," Illya explained. "Now that it is back in your consciousness again, there's every chance in the world that it can affect your entire personality—it already has. I have rarely seen you angry, Napoleon—and though your anger is justified, I beg you…. Don't let this change who you are. You are unique because you are kind and loving, and to lose that…" Illya shook his head. "If you changed your personality like that, it would be like losing you."
Napoleon exhaled, forcing himself to calm down; he managed a soft look as he glanced back at Illya.
"You won't lose me," he promised.
Illya nodded, satisfied, but also hoping that Napoleon's words would be true.
Illya had been following the proceedings with interest as Napoleon pursued the charges of murder and war crimes. Napoleon was soon due to testify at the trial, but Illya had been a bit pessimistic about the whole thing, especially given the limited amount of evidence.
"Napoleon… You realize that this scum is going to get away with it, don't you?"
He indicated the gold pendant with its Korean writing, sitting in its evidence bag, and Napoleon glanced at it, as well.
"You really think so?" Napoleon said. "I saw Smith kill a defenseless woman in cold blood to steal that pendant. He left her to die and left her baby to die—I was too late to save the mother, but at least I got the child to an orphanage."
"Look at it logically, Napoleon. This is the only evidence, and you are the only witness. Everything happened on a stormy night thirteen years ago in Korea, and we were unable to get any concrete records of the child you rescued—though they did say they would look harder for any information," Illya reminded him. "Regardless, the defense can pull any number of tricks—claim that your memory would be foggy after thirteen years, that you wouldn't have been able to see him in the rain, or that you saw someone else and that someone gave Smith that pendant of his own free will."
Napoleon exhaled, running a hand through his hair.
"I can't let Smith get away with murder," he said.
Illya exhaled, choosing his next words carefully.
"Napoleon, you are a highly respected international enforcement agent, sworn to uphold the law," he replied. "And if, by international law, we cannot convict Smith… then you will have to let him go."
"I know there are times we bend the rules when we have to, and even Mr. Waverly sides with us when that happens," Illya interrupted. "But on this, he will not bend. Nor should he, Napoleon. Smith is not a THRUSH mastermind endangering anyone at the moment. If Smith is acquitted and then turns up dead, you will be singled out immediately. Your time in Korea led you to U.N.C.L.E., and in the past thirteen years, you have built yourself a noble reputation, one that commands respect because of the way you do things—with honor and mercy. Smith deserves no mercy, but I would consider it the biggest travesty if he caused you to throw away all that you have put your heart and soul into for the last thirteen years. And I say this as your partner—as someone who has nothing but concern and love for you. You have worked far too hard to cast it all aside for one man."
Napoleon was silent for a long time, but he gave a nod.
"As much as I hate to admit it, you're right," he sighed. "We don't have enough to convict Smith. Maybe I could have if I'd confronted him thirteen years ago and brought him to our C.O. then. But I had to choose between going after him or getting that baby to safety."
"As I said," Illya replied, calmly. "Honor and mercy. You did what you were always meant to do—save an innocent life."
"But why didn't I try to find Smith after I saved the child!?" Napoleon asked. "What was wrong with me!? How could I just forget—and for thirteen years!?"
"It was your brain's coping mechanism, Napoleon; the stress of seeing something like that would have been immense—your brain had to suppress that memory for your own sanity."
"I've seen THRUSH do worse; I've never forgotten any of that!"
"Well, you received extensive mental training in Survival School," Illya said. "Napoleon, in addition to knowing you have to let Smith go… know that you do not have to forgive him. But you must forgive yourself. You told me you were drafted out of high school—you would have been eighteen?"
"Still adolescent yourself, regardless of what the law may have said," Illya pointed out. "I know that my mind has blocked out much in order to allow me to have survived the terrors of war. So did yours. And yet, your mind also allowed you to do what you had to in rescuing that child."
"Maybe so, but I'll bet Smith never blocked anything out of his mind. And now, Smith is going to walk free after taking an innocent life—and if I have any hope of keeping my job, I'll have to let him do it!?" Napoleon exclaimed.
"Let me put it this way, Napoleon," Illya said. "If you remain in your job, you will actively be preventing more wars—and preventing more war orphans as a result."
Napoleon listened and then nodded. He knew that his partner had spoken the truth—about everything he had said. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but, nevertheless, it was the truth. He would just have to do the best he could now.
In spite of the best efforts from Napoleon and the rest of the prosecution to try to convict Smith for the murder, the lack of evidence, unfortunately, made the case fall apart. In spite of Napoleon's reputation, the passage of time since the incident caused the jury to question what he had seen, and they went with Smith's version of the story—that he found the necklace after stumbling upon a body in the storm.
Napoleon was furious—and even moreso when Smith had the gall to turn up at U.N.C.L.E. a few days later. Illya had steadfastly refused to leave, even after Smith had stated that his business was with Napoleon, and Napoleon alone. Illya stayed, as did their office cat, Baba Yaga, who immediately arched her back at Smith, hissing angrily at the sight of him.
"What do you want?" Napoleon asked, his voice tinged with ice.
"Well, Solo, first of all, before you got sidetracked with trying to drag my name through the mud, I had wanted to hire U.N.C.L.E. as bodyguards for one of my fancy gatherings," the man said, smirking, as he reached for an orange from the fruit basket on the desk.
"U.N.C.L.E. doesn't protect war criminals," Napoleon shot back, quickly yanking back the purloined piece of fruit. "We don't provide them with any comforts, either."
"But I've been acquitted!" Smith grinned. "Your memory just didn't serve you well then—I just picked the medallion up off of some stiff lying on the ground."
"You and I both know that's not true," Napoleon countered.
"But the jury doesn't—and that's all that matters," Smith smirked. "So, how about it—the protection?"
"We have the right to refuse our services to others when we find it prudent," Illya said.
"And I don't really care," Smith said. "Fine; I can hire plenty of other people to protect me at my party."
"Then go do it—the less I have to see of you, the better," Napoleon said.
"Well, there's one other thing I want from you," Smith said. "My medallion—the one I found in Korea. It's mine. I want it back."
"It isn't yours," Napoleon snapped, his anger visibly increasing. "You admitted on the stand that you found it—therefore, it was never yours!"
"Nevertheless, I'm sure I can find some loophole to make sure you return it to me," Smith said. "See, I want that back—a souvenir of war, and now, it's my trophy of how I defeated the great Napoleon Solo."
"Get out of this office and this building, or I will have you removed from the premises," Napoleon insisted.
"Touchy, aren't you? Fine, I'll leave for now," Smith conceded. "But you haven't seen the last of me."
He turned and left with the cat hissing at his retreating back, and Illya closed the door to their office before turning to his partner.
"What was the point!?" Napoleon suddenly fumed. "What was the point of having me be there, at that time and place, to witness this, if it did absolutely nothing!?"
"…You are asking that question to someone who cannot even begin to find an answer," Illya said, with genuine sympathy in his voice.
Napoleon's expression softened.
"You needn't apologize to me—or anyone," Illya reminded him. "He was playing on your emotions the entire time he was here—I, for one, am pleased that you held it together in front of him. He didn't need the satisfaction of seeing your anger unleashed…"
He trailed off as the intercom buzzed.
"Mr. Solo?" Waverly's voice crackled over the radio. "Can you report to my office, please? Feel free to bring Mr. Kuryakin with you, if you so desire."
"Right away, Sir," Napoleon said, and he shut off the intercom with a sigh. "Well, he's got his ear to the ground."
"He cannot possibly find fault in anything you have done," Illya assured. "That's what I was most insistent about, and you have stuck to that, much to my relief."
"Mmh," Napoleon sighed, as they made their way to Waverly's office.
They were surprised to see Waverly in conversation with another man, a bit younger than him—the man had light blond hair, a hearing aid in each ear, and a collar that quickly identified him as a man of the cloth.
"Ah, Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly said. "I want you to meet Father Francis Mulcahy. …Well, as I understand it, you, Mr. Solo, have already met him."
Napoleon blinked, trying to place the man for a moment before his eyes suddenly widened in recognition.
"…You were the chaplain in the medical unit in Korea where I had my appendix taken out," Napoleon realized.
"That is correct," Mulcahy said, with a warm smile. "And I am very pleased to see that you were able to end up exactly where you wanted to be—where you can do the most good."
"…Not enough good, I'm afraid," Napoleon said, averting his gaze. "You see, I just had a—"
"Yes, I know all about it," Mulcahy sighed. "You see, in addition to serving as the unit chaplain, I was also very involved in the care and well-being of the orphanage in Uijeongbu. When your request for information on the records of… that night came in, they asked me to try to help them with the records, as well. I was still searching when Mr. Kuryakin called to follow up and say that the trial had already begun."
Napoleon looked to Illya in surprise, but then smiled fondly at his partner before turning back to Mulcahy in slight confusion.
"I appreciate your efforts, Father, but I'm not sure why you're here now."
"Because I did eventually find the information you were searching for! The child's father found her after the war—he'd checked the orphanage as a last-ditch attempt—"
Napoleon gave a wan smile.
"Again, Father, it's not that I don't appreciate your efforts, but we can't bring Smith to trial a second time," he said. "I'm afraid it was all for nothing."
"If you'll permit me, Mr. Solo," Mulcahy said, with a gentle smile. "I have two people outside who certainly don't see it that way."
Napoleon blinked in surprise as Waverly instructed his secretary to show them in; he and Illya both turned to see a Korean man enter the office with a thirteen-year-old girl. The man looked overwhelmed, and the girl looked nervous.
"Mr. Solo," Mulcahy said. "I want you to meet Mr. Ahn, and his daughter, Chun-hei. Mr. Ahn, this is Mr. Solo—the man who saved your daughter's life thirteen years ago."
And even Illya couldn't help but smile as Mr. Ahn gratefully shook Napoleon's hand, and as Chun-hei shyly thanked him.
And now, for the first time since remembering that horrible night, Napoleon managed a smile, as well, taking the medallion from the evidence bag where he'd been keeping it all this time.
"I think this belongs to you," he said, gently.
Chun-hei took the medallion, cautiously, and then shyly spoke again—
"How's that?" Napoleon asked.
She pointed to the writing on the medallion.
"That's what's written here—'Beloved daughter.'"
"That medallion was given to my wife by her parents when she was young," Mr. Ahn said, struggling to keep his emotions in check. "Chun-hei is just as precious to me as my wife was to them. Mr. Solo… Thank you for saving her."
"You see, Mr. Solo," Father Mulcahy said, with another gentle smile. "Where there is evil, there also exists the chance for good to prevail. It was you who allowed that chance to happen by being there that night."
It was rare that Napoleon Solo, of all people, was at a loss for words, particularly since he was no stranger to receiving grateful thanks for his endeavors, but this was different—Illya distinctly saw him swallow a lump in his throat as Mr. Ahn gratefully shook his hand again, keeping his other arm around his daughter.
Perhaps, Illya conceded, as he watched the scene unfold, Napoleon had received the answer to his question after all—and had also received peace of mind that was a long time in coming.