When he was a boy, it was Napoleon's job to get the mail. He would go down to the end of the drive way and bring the mail back to his mother. As a young child, it was a matter of great importance, and when the novelty wore off, it became one of the tasks his allowance was contingent upon. Because of that, Napoleon developed a love of the mail.
In the summer, he would sit on the wooden bench outside the parlor's French doors and wait. He would listen to the birds and the buzz of the insects until he heard the sound of the mail truck approaching. Then he would hide in the bushes and wait until the mail was safely deposited and the mailman was away to his next stop.
In the winter he would watch from the warmth inside, then he would hastily pull on his farm boots and a flannel shirt and then slip/slide his way to the mail box. More than once he'd end up in a snowbank on the way down, but never on the way back. The mail demanded special care.
As he grew older, he and his friends would send mail, coded messages, back and forth. When he received a message from Bobbie or his brother, Napoleon knew he had an afternoon of gleeful deciphering ahead. Even better, then it was his turn to craft a response.
It was something that stuck with him through adulthood and he claimed that it was those stolen moments that made him so good at surveillance and with his other functions at UNCLE. And he would await the mail delivery at work with the same sense of excitement. It was something that always amused his partner for in Napoleon's world, there was no junk mail, no crap, just glorious mail.
Napoleon pulled the curtain back and stared out the bedroom window up the street, then down at his watch. "Where is he?"
"Who he?" Illya dropped an armful of laundry onto the bed. He would send out his work clothes to the cleaners, but regular stuff they did themselves. He sat down and began sorting through underwear.
"Jimmy?" Napoleon looked out again.
"The mail carrier."
"I've lived here for years and never knew his name." Illya held up a sock and scowled at it. "Where were you last week?"
"Huh?" That pulled Napoleon's focus momentarily. "Oh, I found it behind the toilet."
"The toilet?" Illya paused and managed to look puzzled. "Maybe I'm more tired than I realize, but when did I undress last in the bathroom."
"For what it's worth, I think we have a thief. Fremir seems to be developing a bad habit. I caught her with one last week. She was cleaning it like it was a kitten and singing to it."
"Sure, why not? That's all we need now-" Illya trailed off when it was apparent that Napoleon wasn't listening. He smiled, shook his head and returned to the socks.
"There he is! Finally!"
"Are you expecting something special?"
"The latest issue of Wine Connoisseur."
"I thought they called and told you that we'd made the top ten list."
"They did, but not where in the ratings. If we don't beat out Napa, I'll cry." Napoleon headed down the stairs, two at a time."
"Be careful," Illya shouted and then chuckled. He finished sorting things out and put stuff away in their various drawers. He kept expecting to hear something from downstairs. When he didn't, he went to check it out for himself.
"Napoleon-" he started as he got halfway down, but then stopped. Napoleon was sitting on the floor, a look of anguish on his face. "Napoleon!" Illya was at his side in a heartbeat. "Are you hurt? What's wrong?"
"It's gone." He looked up from a sheet of paper and a handful of photographs fell to the floor.
"What's gone, Napoleon?" Illya picked up the closest one and looked. It was a shot of the old farmhouse Napoleon had grown up in. When his parents passed, it was given to his sister, who later sold it to her ex-husband who ran it as a hospice for people in the end stages of AIDS. In this one, Napoleon stood, awkward in his Sunday best. "Nice shot. How old were you? Ten?"
"What?" Napoleon looked at him, openly confused.
"Okay, Napoleon, Amante, you are scaring me. What is wrong?"
"Winston sold the farm off. The new owners… they were going to just do some repairs to the farmhouse, you know restore it, but they found out how much the renovations were going to cost and they ended up tearing it down." He held out a snapshot, obviously newer than the rest of a square white clapboard house. "They destroyed my home and built this."
"Shame this one lacks character. I liked the layout of the farmhouse." It never seemed to know where it was going." Illya studied Napoleon closely. "You are really broken up about it, aren't you?"
"It was home. No matter what, I could always go back. When I thought I lost you, it was the only thing that kept me from going crazy. I knew it was in bad shape, but to destroy it for that?"
Illya stood and pulled at Napoleon's hand. With a grunt, Napoleon got to his feet, pausing to gather up photos. "This is a letter from my cousin, Royce. He lives just down the road and when he found out, he started photographing the place and documenting it. Then he went through all his photos and sent everything to me." He stopped and stared at one. He was about seven, standing beside the mailbox, proudly holding onto an armful of mail. Tears stared rolling down Napoleon's cheeks and he let Illya guide him to the couch. "This is stupid. It was just a building."
"No, it was home, Napoleon. I felt that way about it, too, but look at it this way. Now no one can take it from you. You will always have the memory of what it was to you. Like that funky wood stove in the kitchen and that crazy bathroom downstairs..."
"Mom's and Dad's bedroom right off the kitchen and how it was nearly impossible to sneak in late at night without waking them up." Napoleon smiled sadly. "That broken down porch that they were always going to replace, but never did."
"The woodshed. Remember when I found that dead goose there…"
"And the time a bird hid a dead rat up in the rafters and it fell on Josie's head. I never thought she was going to stop screaming. Or bathing! It was months before she'd go out there again."
Illya laughed, "Remember the one night we got so drunk that we couldn't make it upstairs and your parents found us nearly naked on the floor of the parlor."
Napoleon started to laugh at that. "I'd forgotten about that!"
"I wish I could. Your mother looked at me odd for a month afterwards." Illya bent down and picked up the issue of Wine Connoisseur. "Did you even look to see how we did?" He started to thumb through the pages.
"What? No, I started to but then I saw the letter from Royce."
Illya stopped and scowled at a page. "I refuse to believe a New York wine could beat out something from here."
"What?" Anxiously, he grabbed the magazine and studied the page. "You…. You… idiot! That's not us!"
"I didn't say it was. We're in second place behind some greasy spoon from SF."
Napoleon whistled, long and low, his mood broken. "Scoma's not a greasy spoon, Illya."
Illya held up his arm, displaying a small circular five-star tattoo. "I got more stars."
Napoleon pulled Illya close then, holding him tightly. "You got more everything, my love." They stayed like that for a long time and Napoleon finally released him with a long sigh. "I'm still going to miss the old place."
"It'll never be gone, Napoleon." Illya touched Napoleon's chest with his palm. "As long as it's in here, you will never be without it."
"Or me." And he sealed it with a kiss.