Small Steps

by Rachael Jurassic

Disclaimer: The Man from U.N.C.L.E and characters are the property of MGM. This fan fiction is for entertainment purposes only and no profit will be made from it. Thanks to Fiction2 for being my beta.

Napoleon had noticed it a couple of days ago - a definite spring in the man's step. Later that morning, in a rather boring meeting, Solo had seen a small smile frequently appearing on the Russian's lips before it was ruthlessly suppressed. It had looked rather out of place in a briefing about the new security procedures and he had noted that the other Section 2 agents were not smiling. Of course, that was to be expected.

Solo had got to know Illya Kuryakin a little during the year the Russian had been in New York, even though the man had not been around that much. Waverly had been using his new agent extensively in Eastern Europe, helping to set up the new Prague HQ, and he frequently returned to Moscow. More recently he had been in Cuba. The newly established government there was unsurprisingly suspicious of many of U.N.C.L.E.'s agents and had, thus far, only allowed Soviet or certain South American personnel on the island. But, despite these absences, Solo had worked with the Russian on a few occasions. After a shaky start he had decided they worked well together. As number 2, section 2, Napoleon was allowed a certain amount of leeway when it came to his working arrangements. Although he wasn't looking for a permanent partner, if it became necessary to choose one, he supposed he could do a lot worse than teaming up with Kuryakin. Napoleon had eventually learned to appreciate the other man's quiet competence, intelligence and sly sense of humour. He even thought that he might be beginning to like the Soviet agent. Unfortunately it was hard to tell if those feelings were reciprocated as Kuryakin played his cards very close to his chest.

The fact was that Solo didn't know a great deal about the Russian, the man didn't appear interested in socialising with the other agents or volunteering any information outside of his official file. This attitude was a source of continual irritation to his colleagues who, Napoleon knew, believed the Soviet agent to be cold, arrogant and standoffish. Solo couldn't really blame them; Kuryakin did come across that way, even to Napoleon who had some evidence that there was much more to the man than appeared on the surface.

'Speak of the devil,' he thought, as the subject of his musings walked into the canteen, piled his plate high and sat at a table on the other side of the room.

Kuryakin always ate alone. He had never asked to join others at a table and nobody had ever decided to share his. Solo thought this was because of the air of, 'leave me the hell alone' that the man exuded. Napoleon couldn't blame him for that; the Russian's first year in New York had not gone entirely smoothly. Even now there was still suspicion, although only among the most stubborn of U.N.C.L.E.'s employees. Perhaps more importantly there also seemed to be distrust on Kuryakin's part. His unwillingness to drop his guard was seen as an insult by many, although not the majority of the female staff - they simply found it devastatingly disappointing. Napoleon would never be able to work out why women were attracted to the obviously unattainable. The Russian didn't give them the slightest encouragement and sometimes he was just plain rude, but still they kept coming back. Solo sighed and continued to eat his pastrami sandwich while surreptitiously keeping an eye on Kuryakin.

The Russian was eating with his usual enthusiasm, his head bent over a copy of the New York Times. Solo could see that smile again and he could hardly blame the man for that. Generally speaking there was nothing but bad news from his homeland; this must have made a pleasant change. Napoleon couldn't remember ever having seen him so upbeat. It was nice to see, he realised. It was certainly true that Kuryakin often looked at his most content tucking into a plate of food, but this overt display of good humour had not gone unnoticed. Several of the other agents in the commissary were casting not entirely friendly glances in the Russian's direction. Solo really hoped they didn't cause any trouble. Tensions in some quarters were running high and he had no wish to have to step in if things turned ugly. One half of the world, it seemed, did not view the news with such cheer.

A moment later Solo was taken by surprise when Kuryakin glanced at his watch, hurriedly stuffed one more mouthful of food down and almost ran out of the commissary. This was unusual behaviour; the Russian's plate was still half full. Napoleon looked at his watch and decided to follow the man, suddenly realising where his fellow agent was going.

As he had suspected, he saw the slight figure up ahead turn left, left again and finally push through a set of doors. The American smiled to himself as he pursued the blond young man. He hastened to catch up but then paused just outside the doors and watched through the glass window.

Inside the room Kuryakin was frantically pushing buttons on a remote control. Glancing upwards Napoleon looked on as the television flashed from image to image, until the opening credits of ABC news appeared on the screen. Solo heard the volume being cranked up and watched as the Soviet agent settled into a chair, never taking his eyes off the TV. A second later the news report began, this time accompanied by pictures. Napoleon was even more interested as he had not realised that there was film available now. Apparently, neither had Kuryakin because he was beaming, a look of unfettered excitement in his eyes. Solo thought he looked very young, like a child at Christmas. Quietly the American pushed open the door of the agents' common room.

Predictably, Kuryakin heard him and immediately jumped to his feet, the smile now wiped off his face.

"I'm sorry Mr. Solo; I'll get right back to work..."

"No, no, I was rather wanting to watch this myself," Napoleon replied as he sat on a battered leather couch against the wall.

"Oh..." Kuryakin didn't seem quite certain what to do, but decided it would be all right to sit and he quickly turned his attention back to the screen. "I er..."

"Don't worry about it, I'm sure you'll work extra hours this evening to make up."

"Yes sir, absolutely."

Solo sighed quietly, he hadn't been serious and he was getting a little irritated that the man continued to address him as 'sir' despite being told often that there was no need. However, he put that to one side and turned his attention to the television.

It was showing a flickering image of a rocket, next it quickly cut to a close up of a man in a space suit and then, what he had been waiting for, the view from the window of Vostok 1. It was incredible.

"Wow," Napoleon breathed. He glanced sideways at Kuryakin. The man's jaw was hanging open and, as he watched, the corners of his mouth curled upwards until he had the biggest grin on his face. Solo was pleased that the Russian's attention was entirely focused on the news broadcast as he was having trouble maintaining a straight face as well. This was partly due to the unbelievable sights on the screen, but it was also because of the look on the normally buttoned down Soviet's face. The words 'small boy' and 'birthday presents' sprung to mind.

"That's him!" Kuryakin pointed at the screen as a small man descended the steps of an Aeroflot plane and began to walk along a very long carpet, on either side of which were cheering crowds.

There was more of the same as a car sped through the streets of Moscow. Everywhere people were smiling and waving flags. The man standing in the back of the automobile smiled an infectious smile. It was mirrored on the face of his compatriot thousands of miles away in New York.

"Can you imagine? Being in space," said Kuryakin. "It's incredible. The first man in space."

"And a Russian," Solo replied.

If possible the blond's smile broadened still further.

"I don't care who it is, it's amazing," Kuryakin replied, though it was clear to Napoleon that it did matter. It mattered a lot. "What must that be like?" the blond shook his head in amazement.

"Terrifying, I imagine," Napoleon replied.

"Oh, look at that. All those people."

Solo watched as the camera panned across Red Square. It was a pity the film was in black and white; it would have looked remarkable in colour. Banners were everywhere, flags flew in the wind and enormous pictures of Yuri Gagarin were held aloft.

From amidst the throng the man himself emerged. He walked up a flight of steps and, once he had reached the top, saluted and spoke briefly to Premier Khrushchev before being enfolded in an enthusiastic bear hug.

"What branch is he?" Solo asked.

"Air force. He'll get a promotion...and a medal."

"He deserves it."

Shots of the crowd were interplayed with the sight of waving officials surrounding the hero of the hour. Everybody was smiling. Napoleon looked over at Kuryakin again, he had the same look of awe in his eyes as he saw in the people cheering up at the balcony, but there was something else as well. A sudden flash of another emotion...sadness Solo thought, before it had gone as quickly as it had appeared.

"It must be incredible to be in Moscow today," Napoleon said, fishing a little.

There it was again, and the American wondered if Kuryakin ever got homesick.

"Hmmm," was the only reply.

"Have you ever been to a parade?"

The Russian nodded, seemingly caught up in the coverage. It was obvious he was not going to be drawn so Solo gave up and just watched the happy faces. 'This is one celebration that was not choreographed,' he thought, but he kept that to himself.

And then the broadcast switched to a man in a suit in Washington.

"Scenes of jubilation yesterday in Moscow but we can't help but wonder what tomorrow holds," the reporter said. "One thing's for sure, the Soviets won't restrict themselves to sending men in to space and unless we respond..."

Kuryakin shifted in his seat, his smile fading. Every news article had ended this way in the days following the reports of Yuri Gagarin's historic flight. Paranoia was always just below the surface of American society and now it ran rampant. Napoleon had watched angry discussions on current affairs programmes about the likelihood of war, missiles, spy rockets. He supposed they were partly right; the Soviets would take this opportunity to ramp up the pressure on the West. Plus, there was the fact that NASA was undoubtedly embarrassed. The USSR seemed to be leaving them trailing in their wake.

"So, what's next do you think?" Napoleon said, attempting to ignore the broadcast as it now shifted to the opinion of experts, all of whom seemed to think that this might herald the start of World War III.

"I'm sorry?"

"The next 'first'? I mean, you guys had the first satellite, the first man in space. I'm wondering what will be next."

"Who knows? Maybe to stay up there for longer, or float outside the capsule?"

"Or the moon?"

Kuryakin laughed.

"Yes, maybe even that," he replied.

The Russian's good humour was returning. Napoleon continued,

"I don't suppose you could let us have the next one, eh?" asked Solo.

"Oh I suppose we might," Kuryakin deadpanned. "Maybe," he added with a slight smile.

"That's generous of you," the American replied, smiling back.

"Well," the Russian said with a slight shrug. "I'm sure we can allow NASA one victory. We wouldn't want them getting upset. I know how jealous they are of our space programme hogging all the limelight."

Napoleon laughed quietly. It had taken him a while to pick up on the man's sense of humour but, once he had, he realised that a lot of people misinterpreted what the Russian said. It was also clear that Kuryakin knew that as well and avoided contact with people at the New York HQ as much as possible in order to minimise the misunderstandings that had been rife when he had first arrived. It was obvious to the American that the other agent had wanted to talk to somebody about the historic events unfolding over the last few days but Napoleon suspected that he was the first person Kuryakin had been able to open up to, even to this small extent.

'It must be odd being cut off from everybody he knows at a moment like this,' thought Solo and he was fairly certain that the Soviet agent would have given anything to have been in Moscow today. In the circumstances, Napoleon wouldn't have said 'no', either.

The news had switched to Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem when Solo's communicator sounded.

"Mr. Solo, please report to Mr. Waverly's office immediately."

"I'm on my way."

He was heading towards the door when Kuryakin received a similar summons. The Russian quickly switched off the television and followed the senior agent. On their way to the meeting neither spoke. Napoleon wondered if the briefing had anything to do with the possible repercussions resulting from the success of the Vostok flight. He suspected the other man was thinking the same thing; his body language indicated that he was very tense. Inside Waverly's office they found Kasper Sorenson - number 1, Section 2 - and Daniel Hernandez, an agent from Costa Rica. Waverly was fiddling with his pipe, a sure sign of trouble.

"Gentlemen," the Englishman began as they took their seats, "we have been receiving alarming reports for a few days now from our Moscow office about a planned invasion of Cuba. This information has been confirmed by various other reliable sources." Napoleon noticed the tension in Kuryakin increase still further as their boss continued. "Early this morning there were attacks on three air fields and a build-up of US Naval ships has been reported off Guantanamo Bay."

"The Americans have attacked...?" Kuryakin began.

Waverly cut the young man off,

"None of the planes had US markings and the build-up of ships could be a coincidence. There has been evidence of troop movements of Cuban nationals from Guatemala to Nicaragua in recent days..."

"How could Cuban nationals have trained and armed themselves..."

"Mr. Kuryakin, I am aware of the implications that you are so eager to voice."

The Russian sat bolt upright and kept quiet; the reprimand had been clear in Waverly's voice.

"As I was saying," the Englishman continued, "there has been a good deal of movement of men and armaments and some reports in the foreign media of a planned attack. This morning the Cuban Foreign Minister has spoken to the UN accusing the US of a premeditated attack. The White House is, of course, denying this and claiming they had no part in it, nor do they intend to intervene."

Solo noticed Kuryakin's jaw clench; he obviously found it hard to believe that the Americans were not involved.

"Surely," Napoleon said, "the Americans wouldn't take on an ally of the Soviet Union, it would risk too much this close to home."

"I would like to think so," Mr. Waverly replied, "but from our intelligence gathering it appears that they have indeed been that foolhardy."

Looking round the table Solo studied the reactions of the others. Sorenson and Hernandez appeared quietly resigned to the idea. Waverly was as visibly distressed as Solo had ever seen him. Kuryakin simply appeared angry, his fists clenched in his lap. Napoleon could understand that reaction but still, a line was being drawn. Only a few minutes ago the two of them had been joking about the space race, now they were most definitely on different sides of an ideological divide. Napoleon desperately wanted the reports to be false while the Soviet agent had evidently accepted them without hesitation. Sadly, Solo suspected that the other man was right; this had all the hallmarks of a US backed invasion.

"Mr. Sorenson," Waverly continued, placing a file on the table, "you will remain here to co-ordinate operations. I need a couple of agents in Florida; you'll select them. Mr. Solo, I want you in Nicaragua. I need you to unearth where these people and equipment have come from and to find out who got them there." As he spoke, the Englishman rotated the table until the file stopped in front of Napoleon who picked it up unsmilingly. "Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Kuryakin," Waverly continued, "I want you in Havana. The Cuban government knows that you are coming and will co-operate fully. I need you to find out what is going on down there. I will require you to report hourly to Mr. Sorenson." He produced two more files and handed them to the agents concerned. "Mr. Sorenson, I wish to speak with you for a moment. The rest of you, your planes are standing by."

Thus dismissed, the three junior agents left. All of them flicked through their files as they made their way to logistics to pick up their equipment. Napoleon wanted to say something to the Russian, he just wasn't sure what. He was saddened by the immediate evaporation of goodwill between himself and Kuryakin. The blond agent was stony-faced as he picked up his field supplies and he and Hernandez left without a word to the American. Half an hour later Solo was boarding a plane. Within two days the invasion began in earnest. Napoleon was dismayed as the reports came in and his own investigations lead him inexorably to the conclusion that the CIA was involved. Weeks later, when Kuryakin and Hernandez finally returned to New York, the Russian's guard was up again. The small breakthrough had, it appeared, been for nothing. Yet again the man sat alone in the commissary but this time his newspaper was full of reports of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Napoleon sighed quietly to himself, cleared his plates and left the man in peace. Another time, perhaps, he would work out what to say. But not today.

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