Ha! And you thought you'd already read the epilogue! This snippet is an alternate addition to The Reality Affair. If you MUST have a happy ending, or at least not a total ending, here one is. Read the other tale first, or this will not make the slightest sense. Not that it does much, anyway.
He groaned in annoyance as light disturbed his dreams. Rolling over, he sought the sanctuary of the woman asleep beside him, resting his head on her soft breasts. The silken flesh beneath his cheek rose and fell as she breathed. There had been terrible nightmares the night before, but he could remember nothing of them. Alice had held him when he struggled awake and soothed him into a dreamless sleep. The memory did it. He was awake.
Still somewhat groggy, he carefully slipped out of the bed. Breakfast. He would make some breakfast. There were still many people who did not know he could cook. He imagined what Alice's surprise and delight would be like when he served her breakfast in bed, and smiled. After all the usual morning hygiene exercises (he stuck out his tongue in annoyance at the taste in his mouth), he would make Napoleon's Omelet Supreme for her.
He came into headquarters whistling cheerfully. Alice Gershwin, one of the best of the secretarial pool (and a damned good shot on the shooting range, too!). After three months of dating, she had allowed herself to be lured to his bed. Mm, mm, mmmmMMMm. Beneath that cool, bun-wearing, librarianish exterior lay a passionate lover. Tonight they would go on a triple-date with Illya, Gloria, Mark and April.
He settled into the routine of the day with a sigh of frustration. Thrush had taken Afghanistan and turned it into a nuclear power. The little country now held the larger countries around it in the grip of fear. Thrush scientists lived and worked under the protective envelope of the king. At this point UNCLE was running out of choices. There were no honorable solutions presenting themselves. Thrush worked its way into the hearts of the downtrodden who sought revenge. The country, though a third of its population was starving and illiterate, now had the power to force its neighbors to send food and other help. Destroying the food shipments was out of the question. Too easy for the world to learn who was to blame. They were likely to suspect one of the great powers trying to uphold the status quo. NATO fought the Reds, UNCLE fought the bird.
An idea shivered at the edge of his thoughts. He frowned and began to write.
It was feasible to send teams to infiltrate the nuclear plants. There were a few agents whose families had come from Afghanistan. Infiltrate, then arrange an accident. There were only four plants. The hue and cry would rise against the government wasting so much when the people had so little.... He stopped writing abruptly, clutching his pen in his fist.
This is reprehensible! What's the difference between us and Thrush?! his inner voice asked. Shaken, Napoleon waited for the outraged emotions to pass or to fall back, as they always did, to the needs of the moment. His hand cramped up. He dropped the pencil and massaged his hand, confusion clouding his thoughts. This had never happened before. Wonderful, he thought. My conscience rears its ugly head NOW? True, aside from turning out nuclear bombs these plants brought power to the starving population. True, enemy governments had succeeded in turning aside United Nations relief shipments, but....
Well and after all, he and Illya had a good chance of being on one of those teams sent to Afghanistan. Maybe it was not his conscience, but old-fashioned cowardice. He grimaced. Horrors, he might have to see the psychiatric division!
He pulled himself together and finished writing his suggestion. Pass it on to Mr. Waverly. See what the boss thought about it. He could not seem to find his usual smug pride in a burgeoning plan. The horror he felt reminded him of when he was young. When he was fresh out of college the idea of moral compromise had been repellent to him. Shouldn't it be now?! protested the inner voice. He shook his head again. Then again, maybe he did want to see a psychologist. That idea was repellent to him, NOW.
Dinner and dancing was the plan for the evening. Alice with Napoleon, a fact he remained quite happy to grin about. Illya with Gloria, who was Hawaiian and whose last name was a string of syllables Napoleon could never remember. April with Mark, and if their partnership had extended beyond the professional level, no one was admitting it. That inner voice piped up during dinner. April wouldn't get involved with Mark anymore than with me, it said. Oh indeed, he thought. And why not? Because she and Illya are aliens, the voice replied with absolute conviction.
Napoleon choked on his beer.
He coughed and spluttered as both his partner and his girlfriend pounded him solicitously on the back.
In the restroom he splashed cold water onto his face. He glared into the mirror and held the edges of the sink as hard as he could. His sins, all the compromises of his life seemed to be rising in his thoughts. Is this what a breakdown feels like? There haven't been any signs! It was almost as though he was seeing his past through new eyes. His inner voice kept expressing startlement in a tone of growing horror. Napoleon swore aloud.
He met Illya's eyes in the mirror. He fixed a false grin onto his face and opened his lips to say something humorous. Then he froze in confusion.
The mirror's surface had gone black. Illya and April stood within it, as at a window peering through at him except... there was something strange. Illya looked odd. His haircut was wrong. Illya would never wear a gray suit! Something in the gleam of his eye was not Illya. April, however, looked right. Oh wonderful. I've lost my marbles, he thought.
He said, "You promised." What? Where did that come from?
The hallucination rippled. Illya and April both smiled warmly at him, then Illya reached out, his left hand closing on Napoleon's left shoulder. Napoleon closed his eyes as strength poured into him. Steadiness, stability, confidence returned. He reached his right hand to grasp Illya's arm and his fingertips met cold glass.
"Napoleon, what is wrong?" Illya's voice sounded behind him.
Napoleon opened his eyes and shook his head at his partner's reflection. "I just felt queasy." He grinned as he straightened up. He felt good now, better than he had felt in years. Now that he had decided to quit UNCLE, the heavy weight seemed to have slipped off his shoulders. Time for someone else to take up the responsibility of necessary evils. He was a young, talented professional, and was going to start his own business. He had quite a nest-egg built up in his savings. I wonder if Alice will still date me? On the other hand, I might need a secretary.
"Illya, boy, I am free as a bird!" he told his partner, laughing. To Illya's questioning expression, Napoleon dropped his arm over the blond's shoulders and they left the room. "Do you think when you open your clothing design business, you can use someone like me in upper management?"
Now, I would be ecstatic to see what you think this snippet means. Being the writer, I of course know what it means in relation to the rest of the story. But what do YOU think? Beloved readers, it is difficult to ask these questions without trying to lead you to the answers. I will only tell you that I am a very sneaky person when I seek to turn tragedy into hope. I have to find a way it can be done without Mary-Sueing, and without invalidating the story. Ha, I hear you cry. What about this Alice Gershwin?
Hey, I respond, what about her? At any rate, owing to the fact that I am a truly obnoxious person (but you've noticed that, right?), I have written this happy ending for "The Reality Affair".