Mark Slate carried his suitcases down the basement stairs and into the family room with its pool table, comfortable old sofa and fireplace. Continuing past the bathroom and into the spacious back room, he set them down and looked around with a curious gaze. Double bed with bookcase headboard to his left, an old six drawer oak dresser with a mirror above it on his right and doors which should be a walk in closet straight ahead, all caught his wandering eye.
"Why the hell did I have to move?" He asked the still air. Shaking his head, he opened a suitcase and began to fill the drawers with folded clothes. Thinking back to the summons to Mr. Waverly's office and the apologetic but firm order to move into the safe house off of 53rd Street. There'd been a twinkle in the faded blue eyes and Mark had simply nodded before taking the day off to pack and move.
He still had boxes to bring in but April had said she'd help at four and it was almost that time now. Taking the empty suitcases, he set them in the back of the closet where he'd hung up his suits. Measuring with his arm, he decided to put the bookcase that doubled as his shoetree in the closet. It would look tidier that way.
"Mark? Are you down there?" A familiar voice echoed from the stairs.
He went out to the bottom of the staircase and looked up into Napoleon's face. The number one agent was in jeans and a sweatshirt that somewhat shocked Mark. He didn't think he'd ever seen him dressed in anything but a suit. And relaxed ... very relaxed with a grin on his face instead of the practiced charming smile.
"We just got here with our rental truck. We've got a porter's dolly if you've got boxes to move."
"Great! April should be here any minute to help." Mark came up the steps and saw Illya over Napoleon's shoulder, unloading several boxes onto the bright red, two-wheeled dolly. "You needed an entire truck?"
"Illya has books and bookcases like you wouldn't believe. And I've got furniture that belonged to my parents."
"And boxes and boxes of clothes. Don't forget them, Napoleon." The soft accents drifted up from the sidewalk.
"At least they're not as heavy as your books, Illya."
Mark listened to their familiar bickering while they emptied his car of boxes and got them down to his new home. Puzzled, he listened for the new note he thought he heard beneath the joking asides. By the time April got there, they'd moved all the furniture out of the truck and up the stairs to the first and second floors. The only furniture that Illya had was a beautiful stained glass lamp that looked like a Tiffany but probably wasn't.
It sat nicely on the Chippendale table with the graceful lines of the eighteenth century that sat behind the comfortable stuffed sofa that came with the brownstone. The elaborately framed art from Napoleon's apartment were stacked against the wall in the living room while the simply framed posters went on up the stairs to Illya's room on the second floor.
There was a lot of shuffling of furniture to make room for Napoleon's family antiques. The bedroom suite from his room went up the steep steps to the third floor above Illya's bedroom at the front. Then the heavy carved oak headboard came up the steps to Napoleon's back bedroom. Mark was slightly envious of the nice wide queen sized bed.
Maybe it was time he broke down and bought some furniture, he mused. Except for his stereo, records and clothes, he traveled extremely lightly. Of course, his part of this move had been accomplished in less than an hour while they didn't finish unloading the truck until almost eight p.m. Once the door to the truck slammed down on empty space, Napoleon ushered them down the street to the little Italian restaurant on the corner.
They ate as if they were starved. The appetizer tray disappeared quickly and the first bottle of red wine led to another with their entrees. Mark watched his friends and fellow agents with an assessing eye. He still couldn't understand why he'd been moved in with them or why any of them had to be moved at all.
While they waited for dessert, he ventured his query. "Guys, why are we living together?"
Napoleon shrugged elegantly. "Uncle Alex said something about budget cuts. April, has he said anything to you about moving?"
She shook her head, dark hair swirling over her shoulders. "I know that two of the girls in Section Four moved in together yesterday. Lainie and Helen, you remember Helen, don't you, Napoleon?"
"Blond, curvaceous and lips to die for?" He tilted his head to one side. "I only dated her once. She never stops talking."
"Well, she is in Communications." April teased him and Illya chuckled, surprising them both.
"Frederick Lowell from Section Five -- Security moved in with his cousin Peter Baynes." Illya volunteered.
"I heard a rumor about some FBI agent who's coming up for an interview. I'll have to tell Uncle Alex that we have a furnished third bedroom he could rent out." Napoleon said dryly.
"Well, I can top that one." April said smugly while curling a fettucine noodle around her fork. "One of my old college friends works for the New York City District Attorney's office and she got a call from Uncle Alex about possibly coming to work for us."
"Interesting. There have been no departures as far as I know from the ranks. So why the expansion?" Mark threw in his two cents worth. "Increased activity on THRUSH's part?"
"Some of the scientists in the propulsion lab are due to retire this year." Illya offered. "And Garibaldi is always threatening to quit."
"Good riddance to him. He has to be the most sour man I've ever met." April scowled and stabbed another ravioli. "Maybe there are some promotions coming up."
Mark caught a quick look between the two men across the table and once again wondered about the undercurrent to the conversation. "You haven't mentioned what happened in Switzerland, Napoleon? You were supposed to be back ten days ago."
"We ran into a spot of trouble and had to recuperate."
"What Napoleon means is that I had a bad reaction to a drug overdose and he had to wait for me to get better."
"You're all right now, right?" April placed her left hand on his and surprised a shy smile from the usually reticent agent.
He nodded. "I am fine with no lingering trauma. We rested in an old castle, complete with ghosts. It was most interesting."
"Ghosts?" Mark asked. "You don't believe in ghosts, Illya?"
"There was a vast array of different manifestations including auditory and optical illusions that might or might not present evidence of another dimension."
April burst out into laughter in which Napoleon joined heartily. Mark knew he'd been had by an expert. "Now that sounds more like the kind of explanation I'd expect from you."
"I shall endeavor to come up to your expectations, Mark." Illya said with a dead pan expression that didn't quite hide the twinkle in the bright blue eyes.
They ended the meal with cannoli drizzled with honey before returning to the brownstone to start unpacking. April joined him downstairs and helped him hook up his stereo system. Then while he put a metal bookcase together, she opened the boxes of his extensive music collection and got ready to hand him the records. Teasing him about his penchant for alphabetizing, she nonetheless took the time to keep them in order so he could fill the shelves correctly.
"April, have you noticed anything odd about the other two?" Mark wondered if he was imagining things.
"Goodness, yes. Something happened in Switzerland, I expect. Did you notice how they distracted us with ghost stories? And Illya still looks a little shaky. Normally he's tough as old boots but did you see how Napoleon made sure that he didn't lift anything too heavy?" She was bent over his box of tools and assorted hardware.
"I wonder what kind of overdose it was? He does look a little translucent. But then Napoleon has always been a bit of a mother-hen." Mark shrugged and finished shelving the records, sitting back on his heels.
"Do you want this poster over your bed like it was in your apartment?" April straightened up with a nail in one hand and the hammer in her other.
"Yeah. I think I'll put the travel posters up in here. It looks a little sterile." He looked around at the dark paneled walls. "And dark. I wonder if they have any 100 watt bulbs in the kitchen storage closet."
"Why don't you go see while I hang this. You're going to need something brighter in the bathroom too. Of course, you don't have to worry about putting on your make-up." She batted her eyelashes at him and sent him upstairs laughing.
Thank goodness they weren't attracted to each other Mark thought, crossing the living room back to the kitchen. Opening drawers at random, he found one filled with light bulbs. Pulling out four 100-watt bulbs, he headed back to the stairs only to be stopped by an unfamiliar sound. Detouring to the stairs up, he heard Illya laughing infectiously from his bedroom.
"Are you sure I can't help you, Pasha? You seem to be having a little trouble with the nail."
"Just you wait, Illyusha. I'll show you how much trouble I have 'nailing'."
Mark froze. He'd never heard that tone of voice before from either of the senior agents. Especially not to each other. A thump then a breathless laugh drifted down from the second floor. Mark wasn't sure he knew what was happening upstairs but he was going to have to do some hard thinking. Lost in thought, he found himself by the pool table with his hands full of light bulbs and no memory of coming down the stairs.
"Mark ... Mark, what's wrong?" April's hand on his arm startled him.
"Um, nothing." He didn't know what to say or whether he could even put it into words.
"Heard something you shouldn't have?" She smiled and tugged him over to the sofa.
Shocked, he could only stare at her. "How did you know?"
"Oh, Mark." She pushed him down on the sofa and fiddled with the controls for the gas fireplace, only stepping back when the even flames shot up. Rejoining him, she curled up sideways to him so she could watch him. "Would it make so much difference if you knew they were ... together?"
He grimaced at the picture that painted in his mind. "I hope I'm not so intolerant as all that but Napoleon is such a womanizer and I always thought Illya had earned his nickname."
"Napoleon flirts with anything in a skirt, Mark but he's never been serious. Illya is the only one to whom he is completely and irrevocably committed. I think whatever happened in Switzerland, they both woke up to how they feel about each other." She held his hand. "It doesn't mean they're weaker now. Loving doesn't mean they're going to go limp-wristed on us. I think they're probably stronger now then they've ever been."
Mark thought about that. His main image of homosexuals came from the Soho District and the bars that catered to transvestites, cross dressers and raving queens. With a sigh of relief, he couldn't see Napoleon or Illya acting that way. So how did he see them now? With a blush, he found himself wondering who was on top.
"I'm confused. My brain tells me that homosexuals are weak and petty minded men who can't control themselves."
"Wow, that's a pretty negative picture. What do you think about Professor Grim in Weapons?" She asked him.
"What about him?"
"He lives with his 'cousin', Vance. They've been together for 26 years. They had a small party on their twenty-fifth anniversary. Mr. Waverly and I went and had a great time."
Mark felt as if his world had turned upside down. Bill Grim was a first rate shooter who had come up with some refinements that made their weapons even more dangerous. He was big and masculine with an air of no-nonsense practicality. Mark thought that he was as tolerant as they came but he didn't seem to be reacting to this situation very well. Taking a deep breath, he tried to get back to basics.
Napoleon and Illya were competent men who were given the tough assignments because they could handle them. As senior agents, they were often sent into impossible situations but they'd always come through for UNCLE. The fact that they were ... damn, he couldn't even think about the physical part.
"I think I can accept it if I don't think about ... um ... you know." Mark stammered.
April grinned mischievously. "That's the part I find so yummy. I'd love to be a mouse in the corner and watch them. They're so sweet together."
Mark looked at her in shock. "Two men making love turns you on?"
"Well, sure. Don't tell me that the thought of two beautiful women making love doesn't turn you on."
A flush crept up his neck all the way to the tips of his ears. He'd been part of a threesome in his college days and watching the two of them keep making love while he was recovering had been hotter than hot. "Okay, yeah, I have to admit that's a turn on. But I can't see two guys."
"Then we're going to have to agree to disagree on it then. Are you going to be so uncomfortable here that you'll have to move? Or can you live and let live?" She looked sympathetically at him.
"I think I'll have to think about it for awhile. See how it goes. Maybe stay out of their way." Mark sighed and let his head fall back onto the sofa back.
"Well, you may not have to worry about it for awhile. I got a call asking us to come in tomorrow morning for a new assignment." April grinned at him before getting up. "Walk me home and stretch those long legs of yours. We'll only be a few blocks away from each other now."
"Ten blocks is more than a few." Mark protested weakly but allowed her to pull him up. "Let me get my jacket."
They headed up the stairs and April called her goodbyes to the others. Napoleon came down and kissed her cheek. "Thanks for all your hard work, April. We appreciate it."
"How is Illya really?" She asked him quietly.
"Better. The doctors are still going over the combination of drugs that he was injected with." The grim note in his voice and the clenching of his jaw gave away his feelings. "It was a devil's brew that brought up years of old trauma."
"It's a good thing you were there to protect him." She kissed his cheek.
"For once ... he let me." Napoleon's smile was slight but genuine. "Thanks again. Do you need a ride home?"
"Nope, I'm going to walk her home to stretch my legs." Mark said as naturally as he could.
"Fine. We're going to turn in early. It's been a busy day. See you at headquarters tomorrow." Napoleon smiled at them both and headed back upstairs.
Locking the door behind them, Mark took April's arm for a brisk walk down the block. "Okay, I see what you mean. I always thought of Napoleon as essentially cold hearted with a good brain but without a kind bone in his body. But he's not."
She tucked her hand into his elbow and smiled affectionately up at him. "You're getting there, my friend. Just take it one day at a time. I expect they're going to be as discrete as can be."
"Yeah, you're probably right."
"Hah! I'm always right. You should know that by now." She teased him.
He laughed out loud and they continued into the night, sharing their friendship and the banter that characterized their relationship. Mark decided that for now, he'd take what came and mind his own business. That should prove interesting enough to keep him busy for some time to come.
End part one