The Shadow of a Doubt Affair

by nickovetch

A very sweaty and harried-looking courier tossed a sealed security folder onto Napoleon Solo's already cluttered desk. He sighed wearily and said, "Old Man's in an uproar today. I'd keep my distance if I were you, Mr. Solo."

Napoleon grinned at the young man and said, "I'll, ah, keep that in mind, Tim. Thanks."

The mail clerk smiled back and gestured to the C.E.A. in passing. "We who are about to die, salute you. Off to the lion's den." He was whistling a funeral dirge as he went.

Solo had to agree with the kid's gloomy bent. Things were strained around the Command today. He could almost see the black cloud hovering over Section Two's bullpen. As he reached for the folder he glanced over his shoulder at Illya's desk. He wasn't in yet and had infrequently been in the office the last few days. Solo knew he had been in the lab part of that time and assumed Waverly had Illya haring around for him, as was his wont.

He broke the security seal on the "Eyes Only" information and perused the lines of type. His eyes narrowed and he started at the beginning, paying closer attention to the disturbing news therein.

Solo's face tightened in anger as he worked his way to the end of the document. A mole, it seemed, had infiltrated Section Two. Not an unheard of predicament, but one that caused Napoleon to seethe with ire. Waverly was letting him know in no uncertain terms that this was his highest priority now. He hadn't even wanted to use the customary channels to get his point across. And the fact that Illya was to be excluded from this knowledge didn't put him in any better humor.

Napoleon looked again at his Russian friend's empty desk and grimaced. He hated working behind his partner's back. It went against his gregarious grain and undermined the relationship they had forged together. He sighed, straightened his tie and stood. As head of Section Two he would obey Waverly's orders. He was, however, Napoleon Solo, and would not follow them blindly or without letting his misgivings be known.

Taking the document under his arm, he left the office and headed to Mr. Waverly's office. "Lion's den, indeed," he repeated as he stalked to the elevator.

The elevator doors whooshed open and Illya Kuryakin stood before him. He glanced up at his partner and said, "Good morning, Napoleon." His quick eyes noted the security folder and Napoleon's grim expression and inquired, "Bad news?"

Napoleon took an internal breath and said casually, "No, just something the boss wants me to check into. Going down?" Solo stepped into the lift and pressed his floor. The lab level was lit and Illya nodded.

"I've got a couple of things to check on. Been keeping me occupied down there lately."

"Yes, I've noticed. Either that or you're just sleeping in and sneaking in late." He smiled at Illya and tapped him on the elbow with the folder.

Kuryakin looked at his feet for a moment and then met Napoleon's gaze. The floor chime dinged and he took a step forward as the doors opened onto the lab level. Another reluctant step and Kuryakin turned, a worried look on his face. "Napoleon..."

"It's all right, Illya. Go on. I'm just on my way to talk to Waverly and we can have lunch later. Okay?"

Illya stood with his hand on the door edge, clearly wanting to ask but polite enough not to put Solo on the spot. He simply nodded and said, "See you in the galley at one o'clock, then?"

"One it is. If you think your stomach can last until then, my friend."

Illya snorted and let go of the lift door and turned down the hall. Napoleon leaned against the elevator wall as the door closed completely. He closed his eyes and sighed loudly. He hated this part of the job. The information in the dossier had better be accurate or he would go on a personal headhunt.

He was still agitated when he reached Waverly's outer office. Lisa Rogers noted the look on his face and said preemptively, "He's been expecting you, Mr. Solo. Go on in."

Napoleon grinned ruefully, knowing his expression had betrayed him. He laid a gentle hand on Lisa's forearm and said apologetically, "Sorry, old girl. Got up on the wrong side of the desk this morning." He gave her one of his patented Solo smiles and she laughed. She waved him off with her hand and watched as he squared his shoulders before entering the inner office. She did not envy the man his job today.

Napoleon crossed the room to sit at the circular table. Waverly had his back to him and was signing off on a fellow agent's report. Without turning around the older man said, "Get some coffee, Mr. Solo. This may take some time."

Solo did as he was told and nursed the bitter brew until Mr. Waverly turned and addressed him properly. "I assume you are here because of the internal problem?" he asked without preamble. Number One of Section One did not waste time on small talk. Napoleon would just as soon cut to the chase as well.

"Sir, if I may?" He placed the folder on the table's surface and palmed his hand over the top of it. "This report..."

"Is stirring up a hornet's nest. Yes, I know, Mr. Solo." Waverly leaned back in his chair and reached for a briar to give his hands something to worry. He scowled at his senior agent and asked, "Just what do you plan to do about it?"

Solo gave a jaundiced eye to the report and looked up at his chief. He sighed. "I'll investigate the entire section, of course; check the roster, the latest field reports; see what's going on behind the scenes. The usual, sir."

Waverly would not let it rest so easily. This was taxing for his young protégé, he knew, but it was also an excellent test case. He had to know where Solo's loyalty to his partner ended where the organization was concerned.

He cleared his throat. "And what of the list of suspects in that report? How will you investigate your own men?" And partner, he wanted to add. He watched Solo's face carefully. His expression was carefully schooled, but the emotional turmoil was seething just below the surface. Solo didn't like to be maneuvered, even by his chief. He would play along, but only so far. Waverly constantly pushed the limits of that line.

"Carefully, sir. Very carefully. I will not let this turn into a witch hunt." The last was said very softly, but Mr. Waverly heard the steel backing the voice up.

He harrumphed and began filling the bowl of his pipe. "Very well, Mr. Solo. Borrow agents from other sections to help if need be. I, too, wish to preserve the dignity of this Command."

Solo stood to leave and stopped when Waverly jabbed the pipe in his direction.

"But, bear in mind, Mr. Solo, that the main suspects in this debacle have had access to the lab and enforcement sections and have extensive computer skills. That in itself narrows your scope of investigation."

"I know what it means, sir. And who it means. I'll do my job, Mr. Waverly. But I don't have to like it." He turned on his heel and walked out the door.

In the office, Mr. Waverly stared at the closed door and lit his pipe. Smoke puffed out in intervals as he ruminated on the situation. A moment later he reached for the intercom button.

"Miss Rogers, place a call to the London office. Head of Operations, please." He wasn't too long in the game after all. He'd do some investigating of his own. Just in case Mr. Solo's loyalties ran too far in the wrong direction.

Chapter Two

Napoleon looked at his watch. It was almost one o'clock. He'd spent the last four hours setting up surveillance on his own men, his own friends, and his own partner. A bitter taste was forming in his mouth and he wasn't sure he could get through lunch at all. But he'd have to go through the motions to pull the operation off. Sighing, he pushed away from the desk and pulled on his coat. He looked at the memo his partner would receive that afternoon, informing him he was assigned to the ballistic testing lab until further notice.

That in itself wasn't unusual as the labs requested additional personnel as the need arose. Illya was multi-talented enough to have been requested by name numerous times in many departments. Solo smiled finally for the first time in hours. Could he help it if his partner was so damned good at everything?

He was about to leave the office when Sam Masters walked in. Section Two, former All-American, Hollywood-handsome, and Solo hated his guts. His ego was as big as his suit size. He glared at the younger man, and asked, "What do you want, Masters?"

"Napoleon. Hello to you, too." He smiled revealing perfect white teeth. Napoleon wanted to knock them down his throat, but he could play the game exceedingly well.

Solo gave him a charming smile and apologized. "Been a hell of a day, Sam. What can I do for you?"

As expected, Masters relaxed. Fortunately for Solo, his brain was not as large as his ego. "I heard about the investigation. I'm assigned to Willoughby. Now, I know that guy fits the general profile, but you and I both know he doesn't have the stomach for this kind of thing. It's bound to be a waste of time. Why don't you give me someone to investigate worthwhile, eh, Napoleon?"

Napoleon tensed but would not rise to the bait. He kept his smile frozen in place and asked easily, "And just whom did you have in mind, Sam?"

"Don't play games with me, Solo. You know very well. I mean, it's not like there's any love lost between your Commie partner and myself. Might as well use that to our advantage..." The rest of his argument was lost as he suddenly found himself face down on top of Kuryakin's desk, his nose inches from the nameplate. Solo twisted the ham hock of an arm behind Masters' back as he pushed him harder into the furniture.

"You see that nameplate, Sam? Tell me, what does it say?" When he got no response, Napoleon twisted the wrist a bit more perpendicular to the floor. A grunt came out of the larger agent's mouth.

"Kuryakin. Illya Kuryakin."

"Right. You can read, then. Do you know what that means? That is his desk. This is his office. He works for this organization. And as a member of this organization, he has certain rights and privileges. None of which I'm going to violate by sending an ape like you to check him out." He released the arm lock and hauled Sam roughly around to face him.

His voice low and lethal, Solo's hard hazel eyes bored into Masters' green ones. "I'm the C.E.A. here, Masters. I'll conduct the investigation my way. It does not have to meet with your approval. Is that clear?"

The ex-jock grinned at Napoleon. He was used to the testosterone games men played with each other and was willing to let him win round one. But the game was far from over.

"Sure, Napoleon. But don't be surprised if you come to the same conclusion that I have. Your partner's guilty as sin. I'm gonna love to see the look on your face when you find that out. Beyond a reasonable doubt, of course. We do have to afford your Soviet partner the benefit of our freedoms, don't we?" He sneered at the section head and walked out the door.

Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin picked that exact time to walk into their shared office. He collided with Masters and nearly fell to the floor as Sam pushed him away.

"Watch where you're going, Comrade." Masters stalked off down the hall leaving Illya rubbing his elbow in confusion.

He saw Napoleon standing in the doorway, anger clouding his features. "What was that all about?" he queried.

Napoleon watched the agent's retreat. "Nothing important, believe me, Illya. Masters likes to jerk my chain once in a while. I just jerked his back. Hard." He grinned at his partner, suddenly feeling his appetite returning. "I believe we were due for lunch about now?"

Illya smiled and checked his watch. "Actually you're late. And I'm hungry.'"

"Perpetually, my friend."

Chapter Three

Solo had spent an uneasy night. He'd tossed in his bed unable to sleep, his slumber the victim of a guilty conscience. Knowing it was his job to investigate these agents didn't make it any easier or allow him to justify his actions. He was too good of a man and too good of a friend to let himself off that particular hook.

The American stopped by the commissary to get a large cup of coffee. He was going to need it. The brew was almost as distasteful as his next task. He walked to his office slowly, trying to delay the inevitable, all the while knowing that dragging it out would only make it worse. The office was empty; most agents either on assignment or out working on the leads Solo had given them on this case.

Napoleon stared at the intercom disdainfully, never hating the squat little device before but despising it now. Another tool of his perfidy, he thought. He sighed deeply and called for Mitzi.

"Yes, Napoleon?" her pleasant voice called back.

"Get me the lab. Ballistic section, please."

"Right away."

He heard a click and then Illya's voice coming through the speaker, distorted a bit and tinny. He was calling to someone in the distance and a large "BOOM" was carried over the channel. Solo flinched and waited for his partner to check in. He heard laughter and then Kuryakin noticed he was on.

"Kuryakin here."

"Illya. You sound a little out of breath. Everything all right down there?"

A derisive snort preceded his reply. "Perfectly. I was just taking advantage of my loan here to tweak some of the munitions payloads. Roberts said the casing on our current armor-piercing round wouldn't take additional strain. I just proved him wrong." Solo heard the smile in Illya's words and knew he was in his element. That was a small concession to his guilt, anyway.

"Well, I know how you love to blow things up, you crazy Russian. Just leave the laboratory intact, will you? I'd hate to think how I'd justify the costs if you blew your playground to bits."

"Playground?" Solo could hear Illya's eyebrows standing at attention. "I'll have you know, Mr. Solo, that we take blowing things up very seriously down here." Napoleon heard the snickering in the background that proved Illya was in for the duration. He had company on the swing set, it seemed.

"Well, if you could spare the gunpowder long enough to tell me where your field notes are for the Brazil mission, I'd appreciate it. I need to get my report to the Chief by close of day." It was not exactly a lie: Napoleon did have to turn the report in.

"I gave those to you two days ago."

Solo tried to sound chagrined. "Ah, yes, well, I seem to have misplaced them."

Illya sighed into the microphone and chided his partner, "Losing the paperwork does not make it go away, Napoleon."


He chuckled softly and gave in. "All right, don't get petulant. They're in the bottom desk drawer in my office under 'Field Notes.' Fiendishly clever filing system I have. Perhaps you could get one of the secretaries to help you find it?"

Napoleon shook his head and smiled at the jibe. "I might just do that. I'll leave you to your, ah, work, then, Mr. Kuryakin."

"Right. Illya out."

Napoleon clicked off the connection and rubbed his forehead with one hand. He had a headache that wouldn't quit, compliments of his conscience again. Reaching into his desk drawer, he pulled out a bottle of aspirin, shook two out and thought better of putting them back. He opened his briefcase and threw the bottle inside. He'd need more later, he was sure.

Now that he knew Illya was secured in the lab, he gathered his coat and made his way to the garage. His tires squealed a bit louder than necessary as he exited the parking deck, and he willed himself to settle down. Getting emotional wouldn't help anything. The fact that he was on his way to his best friend and partner's place to spy on him turned his stomach. Solo hadn't assigned Illya to anyone else. He couldn't ask another agent to do what he himself found repugnant. He would do it himself. He owed Illya that, at least. In some sort of perverted sense, it seemed the only honorable thing to do.

He stopped two blocks away from the apartment building. Parking carefully, he scanned the area, looking for familiar vehicles or faces. Seeing none, Solo cautiously walked to the stoop of the brownstone and quickly entered. It was cool and dark and seemingly deserted. Solo took the three flights up quickly, avoiding the elevator, not wanting to meet any of the inhabitants. He knew some of Kuryakin's neighbors by sight and didn't want to have to make up a story for his unusual daytime visit.

Solo checked the hall before leaving the stairwell. It was quiet and the faint smell of pizza wafted from the door directly across from him. His stomach growled and he regretted his breakfast of coffee and aspirin. Pulling out his lockpicks, he made short work of the door and overrode the alarm system. He slipped inside his partner's home and pulled the door closed. He leaned against the door gratefully; glad he had made it in without being recognized.

The apartment was shadowed, the drapes pulled closed in the living room still let in enough ambient light that he could see to navigate. He knew the layout well enough. Crossing to the kitchen, he took in the sparse furnishings and the lone coffee cup in the sink. The fridge and icebox were similarly barren and took no time at all to search. Chairs and table were perused and Napoleon then spent a fruitless hour in the bathroom and bedroom as well.

The apartment was small enough and frugally decorated as to make the unpleasant task quick and nearly painless. Solo carefully searched the couch and chair in the living room and spent most of his time checking the bookcase and the tomes it held. He had to be particularly precise there, as these were Illya's favorite belongings and the tidy Russian would notice something amiss here.

He had all but given up the search when a particular book caught his eye. He wasn't sure why until he got closer. "Crime and Punishment" was not in its proper place. Illya arranged books by author and this one was not in with Dosteyevsky's other titles. Carefully, Solo removed the book and flipped through the pages. An envelope fell out onto the floor and Solo used his handkerchief to retrieve it. The flap was open and he gently removed the papers from inside.

He only needed to read a few lines before his eyes grew dark with anger. Napoleon slipped the pages into the envelope and placed it in his coat pocket. He didn't bother to continue the search. There was no need.

With a careful eye he scanned the silent apartment. It struck him how like Illya the place was; small, unassuming, but full of depth and personality if you bothered to get past the façade. He shook his pounding head and crept back into the hall, locking the door and setting the alarms in their proper order.

Solo could hear the envelope rustling under his coat and his expression became very hard. The drive back to headquarters gave him time to put the mask of C.E.A. back into place. He had to be Illya's boss, now, not his friend. He'd have to run the papers through the lab and try to keep the results secured. Keeping information from his curious partner had never been easy. Now it was vital, and Solo knew he'd have to tread very carefully to keep both Mr. Waverly's and Illya's trust intact. He could not, would not, believe that Illya was the mole. It was too early in the investigation to make any assumptions.

Taking the elevator directly to forensics, Solo stopped in the manager's office. He closed the door behind him and had a very brief and very intense conversation with her.

Ten minutes later he was in his office, slumped in his chair, hands covering his face. He had stacks of prelims to read from his investigative agents but couldn't bring himself to do it just then. He'd take them home with him and run through them tonight. A mail pouch caught his eye, as there was only one item in it. It was on the corner of his desk, partially covered by files. Pulling it loose, he shook out the yellow envelope inside. It was addressed to Napoleon Solo, Number One, Section Two, and had the appropriate routing stamps on it from the mailroom. Couldn't be a bomb, then, he thought morosely.

He reached for his letter opener and carefully slit the end open. Shaking out the contents, he caught the edges of numerous photographs before they hit the floor. He blanched at the subject. It was Illya, sitting on a park bench in the shadows, apparently somewhere in Central Park. The next photo showed another man sitting beside him, animatedly talking with him. The color left Solo's face as he recognized the second man. Sergei Komorov, a Colonel in the KGB. And his partner was sitting next to him in broad daylight, apparently unconcerned about detection. What was going on?

He flipped through the rest of the shots. In two of them, Komorov was holding what appeared to be photos, showing them to a strained-looking Illya. He looked angry and his posture was tense. Komorov took the pictures and stalked off, and Solo noted that the photos ended with Illya alone again on the bench holding his hands over his face.

What was going on with his partner? Something didn't add up. Despite Waverly's edict that he not involve Illya, Solo was going to have to confront him with the evidence soon.

He thought back over the last few days trying to pull together anything unusual about Kuryakin's behavior. He had been away from the office more than usual, but the duty logs had proved he was either in the labs or detailing for the Old Man. Illya had seemed a bit more reserved lately, but that wasn't unusual for the serious Russian. One afternoon Solo had walked into the office and had seen Illya reading a letter in Cyrillic. He'd seemed embarrassed and had put the letter away quickly. Napoleon had caught the unease and had not mentioned it.

Solo pushed a lock of hair off his forehead and let his head drop onto his arms. His headache was on its way to migraine status and he decided to call it quits for the day. Gathering the reports, the photos, and the prelims together he locked them in his case and headed to his car. He nodded politely to the agents as he passed but his mind was a million miles away.

He stepped out of the elevator into the U.N.C.L.E. garage and walked to his coupe. Sam Masters and another enforcement agent, Douglas Briggs, were leaning against their car doors and talking animatedly. Their conversation stopped when they saw Solo. He walked past and nodded perfunctorily. Briggs called a greeting, but Masters merely watched Solo as he climbed into his car. Napoleon felt the junior agent's eyes following him as he backed out of his assigned space.

Rolling down the window, Solo met Master's heated gaze and asked, "Something I can do for you, Sam?"

Masters stood up straight and covered the few steps between their parking spots and placed his large hands on the sill of the driver's window. "Not unless you've decided to end this charade and arrest Kuryakin. I'd be glad to bring him in so you could keep your hands clean." He grinned at the dark-haired agent and turned to Briggs. "Why don't you tell Mr. Solo what you found in the computer logs, Doug? Why wait for the meeting tomorrow? I'm sure the Chief Enforcement Agent would want the wheels of justice to turn quickly. Isn't that right, sir?"

Napoleon looked past Masters and saw the guilty look on Briggs' face. Briggs was a good agent, fair and trustworthy and had never had any qualms about a Russian working in their ranks. The fact that he couldn't meet Napoleon's eyes was a bad sign. Solo sighed and motioned Briggs closer.

"What is it, Doug? You might as well tell me know as later. I've called a meeting with the investigative teams, anyway, so it will come out then."

The red-haired agent glanced at Masters, who was wearing a sneer on his face, glad of Solo's discomfort. Scowling, he reported to Napoleon quickly and efficiently.

"I ran a routine check on the computers in the Crypto Section. My prelim report will show you the names of the agents cleared for the level that was compromised. Kuryakin's on the list."

Solo broke in on the report. "A lot of names are on that list, Doug."

"I know, sir. That's why I did a detailed search of all the files that were accessed or deleted in the last two weeks. Nearly all of the printouts were routine and justified. There were, however, some 'Top Secret' documents that were accessed from the Crypto computers. That's not supposed to be possible. It would take an operative with a solid background in programming and cryptography to even get past the safeguards and encoding. Whoever did this covered his tracks extremely well."

Solo was silent and the only outward sign of his distress was the clenched fingers on the padded steering wheel. He knew where this conversation was going. "I sense a big 'but' coming here, Doug..."

Briggs exhaled sharply. "But...he left a signature behind. Keystrokes. No two people code information into a computer the same way. It's rather like fingerprints. I had the computer compare the patterns of the users to the times of the intrusions. I got hits two different times. Illya Kuryakin was logged in as the user both times." He paused and looked at Napoleon's face. "I'm sorry, sir."

Solo inclined his head in Doug's direction. "Don't be sorry for doing your job. I expect no less from everyone involved. Keep this information to yourself until the meeting. I have a lot of paperwork to go over myself. Maybe I can find the link in all this."

Masters blew out a derisive snort. "Come on, Solo. You know who the link is, all right. Stop dragging your feet and bring the bastard in. He's going to get wind of this and high-tail it back to Mother Russia otherwise, and we'll never see him again."

Solo directed a steely gaze at Masters and said,"First of all, get your hands off my car." Masters raised his hands as in surrender but smiled darkly to show his defiance. He backed off a few feet and dropped his hands to his sides, waiting to see how Solo would respond. Personally, he was hoping to escalate this encounter into something physical, but he would let Solo decide. If the C.E.A. lost his temper, so much the better. It would look even worse for his Russian friend.

"Second, in case you don't recall, Illya Kuryakin is innocent until proven guilty. I won't let anyone under my command be railroaded before the evidence can be evaluated. If you can't abide by that, then I'll pull you from the investigation. Is that clear?" His voice was low and moderated but his eyes were hard and brittle as he stared down the young agent.

Masters saw the fire there and blinked first. He retreated to his car and called over his shoulder to his superior. "We'll see how Mr. Waverly reacts to the evidence. Tomorrow will be soon enough for me to see Kuryakin twisting in the wind. And I do mean that literally, Solo. They still hang people for espionage in this country, you know." He slipped into his Corvette and revved the engine loudly, the sound reverberating in the quiet garage. He backed up, put the powerful engine in gear, and roared off leaving foul-smelling exhaust lingering behind.

Briggs coughed once and glanced apologetically to Solo. "I... well... I guess I'll see you tomorrow, Mr. Solo."

Napoleon looked at the troubled agent and shook his head. "Don't let Sam get to you. He's not worth the energy expense. Go on home and get some rest, now. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."

"I could say the same to you, sir." Briggs grinned and Solo returned the smile.

"The C.E.A. never sleeps. Don't you know that, Doug?" Napoleon saluted and pulled away, leaving the enforcement agent watching and wondering how Solo's luck might not be enough to pull this one out at the last minute. He wished him well.

Chapter Four

Napoleon sped down the road as if the hounds of hell were chasing behind him. His anger at Masters, the leak, and his own inability to exonerate his partner nipped at his heels like a border collie. He hated this part of his job, and he hated the way it made him feel. Instead of proving someone else's guilt, he was forced to prove Illya's innocence.

Grating as it was, part of that anger stemmed from his uncertainty that he could prove it. The evidence was beginning to mount and some of it was damning, to say the least. A tiny thread of doubt had begun to weave its way into Solo's mind, like it or not, and no amount of internal debate had been enough to unravel it. Doubting his partner was more than uncomfortable. It was unforgivable. Their partnership had to be inviolate or it would be over.

Forcing himself to slow, he unclenched his hands from the wheel and tried to let some of the tension abate. He couldn't help Illya if he wrapped himself around a light pole. He turned his thoughts to the meeting. He'd have to come up with some explanations for the worst of the evidence. He glanced to the briefcase beside him as if it would offer up an alibi. Sighing, Napoleon pulled into his parking garage and coasted into his slot. Laying his head on the steering wheel he rested for a moment and tried to focus his thoughts. It was going to be a long night.

Once in his pad, he stripped off his jacket, holster and tie and kicked off his shoes. Reaching the sideboard, he poured a healthy double scotch and sat at his dinette table with the reports spread out before him like so many pointing fingers.

He was deep in thought when he heard a knock on the door. Glancing at his watch, he discovered it was already after eleven. He scrubbed at his tired eyes and retrieved his Special before going to the door. With practiced ease, he checked the peephole as he kept his body behind the more solid protection of the wall and away from the lighter door.

He sighed. His shoulders drooped and he coded the alarm and unlocked the security system. He gave a quick glance to the papers spread out on the table but knew it was no use trying to hide them. Illya would have to be told. His conscience would brook no other outcome.

Solo opened the door enough to allow his slender partner to enter. He immediately reset the system. Old habits die hard. So do enforcement agents, he thought ruefully. He nodded at the Russian agent and went to pour him vodka. He had a feeling Illya would need it.

Kuryakin was quiet and had a look on his face somewhere between disbelief and anger. After the men had settled in the living room, Napoleon on the couch and Illya in the wingback, Kuryakin turned his bright blue eyes to Solo and said very quietly, "Exactly when did you lose confidence in me, Napoleon? Before or after you searched my apartment?"

Solo exhaled loudly. "Illya," he began, but stopped as Kuryakin stood and began pacing. He looked at the floor and waited for the punch that never came.

Illya stopped two feet from him and fixed him with a heated gaze. It was clear he was fighting his emotions; trying to keep calm when his entire being was screaming with indignation. Napoleon saw his face clear and a mask devoid of emotion came crashing down. Illya stepped back to the chair and sat heavily. He dropped his head and kept his eyes focused on the floor before him and spoke so softly Napoleon had to scoot closer to hear.

"In the Soviet Union, I learned early that it was dangerous to have friends. In the KGB, there was no such thing. We had comrades, but there was no one I could call tovarishch, and certainly no one I could trust." Illya stopped and for a while Solo wondered if he would continue. The quiet, gently accented voice started again, rough with emotion and strained to the breaking point with long-buried feelings from his past. Kuryakin's head was bowed and Napoleon read the rigid posture understanding what this admission cost the stoic man before him.

"Whether I wanted this way of life was not important. It just... was. That kind of thing stays with you, Napoleon, regardless of what you wish. It molds you and turns you into a kind of a robot; someone who moves and talks but doesn't feel." Illya stopped and clenched his hands together into fists. He lifted his eyes to Napoleon's and the senior agent registered the frank hurt and bewilderment there.

"You of all people know how I was when I first came to the Command; sullen, secretive, sure you were all talking behind my back and plotting against the 'Commie threat.' I was suspicious of you, too, and certain I was partnered with you because it was the expedient way to keep an eye on me. But, slowly, very surely, you got through my paranoia and kept up a barrage of friendship that I couldn't long withstand. You are a pig-headed, ugly American, and I was very glad of your overture of friendship. For, you see, it was impossible for me to be the one to make the first move. My upbringing forbade it. I know I pushed you away and made it difficult to say the least, but you wouldn't give up."

Napoleon tried to interrupt, but Illya held up a warning hand. Solo was astonished to see tears in his partner's eyes. Kuryakin scrubbed the backs of his hands against his face and took a deep breath.

"For once in my life, Napoleon, I knew what it meant to have a friend, a real friend. And the fact that you were my partner made it so much the better. As much as it was a foreign concept to me, I embraced the bond we had. I let myself trust you, believe in you, and had no doubt you would be there to back me up. It... it was freeing, Napoleon. I could finally let go of some of the loneliness and isolation my upbringing had built around me. And now..." The Russian's voice cracked and he could go no further.

Solo found his voice and said, "Now I've fucked that up, haven't I, Illya?" The American's voice was strained and heavy with regret and he met Illya's eyes with tears evident in his own.

"I know it won't mean much now, but I wanted to bring you in before this. Waverly ordered me to keep you in the dark. I'm sorry, Illya, so sorry that I did. The old saw about 'just doing my job' seems weak, believe me, but it's the truth."

Solo got up from the couch and knelt in front of Kuryakin. He saw Illya's body stiffen with displeasure at the closeness. It hurt, but he pressed on. "The truth is, Illya, I've defended you against all comers. Except myself. Honestly, I've had my doubts as to your innocence. I wouldn't be the C.E.A. if I couldn't look past our friendship and entertain at least the idea that you could be guilty. Distasteful as that is, that's the truth of it. You deserve to be told. I'm sorry as hell that it had to be that way. I value you as an agent but even more so as a friend. But I haven't been able to prove that to you lately, have I? Please let me, Illya. Don't let our partnership, our friendship, end here tonight."

Illya looked at him with a puzzled expression. He slanted his head to the side as a thought came to him. His eyes grew large as he looked down at Solo on the rug before him. "You found something in my apartment, didn't you, Napoleon? Something to make even you doubt me. What? What was it?" Illya looked at his hands for a moment and then hurriedly continued. "You don't have to answer that question. I know what your orders are..."

"To hell with my orders, now, Illya. You were going to find out tomorrow anyway. I was supposed to keep you in the lab until the investigative team had presented all the evidence to Mr. Waverly. You were to be called in later to respond. Now I think you should come in with me tomorrow and clear up these allegations before they take on a life of their own."

"But, Waverly..."

"I'll handle Waverly. He's put me to the test one time too many as far as I'm concerned. I either have his confidence by now or I never will. It's about time I pushed back. The young lion is about to take on the old one. Maybe this will be the issue to drive home to the Old Man that agents can be friends and still do our jobs."

Illya glanced away and sighed. "Has he given you an ultimatum?"

"Not in so many words, no. But I know when I'm being manipulated. I imagine I feel the same way about it as you do being impugned."

Solo tapped Illya's knee with his fist and cleared his throat. "Waverly won't be a problem. But you should know that some of the agents are out to get you, partner, make no mistake about that."

Kuryakin snorted. "What a surprise. Let me guess... Masters?" Solo nodded. "Well, at least he's consistent. He's always hated me."

The first smile of the evening crept into Solo's face as he listened to Illya. They were back to bantering. He stood and offered his hand to his partner and was enormously relieved when the younger man took it and came to his feet as well.

They stood still for a moment, clasping hands and trying to avoid the minefield ahead of them. Solo spoke first.

"Let's go look at this together." He cocked an eye at Kuryakin and said in his best Ricky Ricardo imitation, "Illya, you got some 'splaining to do."

Illya laughed then and Solo clapped him on the back. The bridge might be shaky, but it was still in one piece. They'd work on repairing it together.

Chapter Five

Two very bleary-eyed Section Two agents arrived at Del Floria's the next morning. Solo had his documents and Illya was armed with evidence as well, so they felt as prepared as possible given the short time they'd had to assemble a defense.

As Illya pulled on the hook to allow them entrance to HQ, Solo gave him a grin and said, "'Once more unto the breach,' dear friend."

Illya returned a shaky smile and replied, "You know, you always say that and then make me go first."

"Figured me out, eh? Although I do feel we're a couple of Christians about to be thrown to the lions."

"Don't be silly, Napoleon," Illya said seriously. "I'm not a Christian..."

They laughed quietly as they walked down the hall toward the elevators. "Well, then, the lion would probably spit you out." Napoleon made a wry face. "At the least, you'd give him indigestion." Illya shook his head ruefully and they moved into the car.

As Section One's floor approached they became solemn, each man contemplating the possible outcome of the meeting. One floor to go, Napoleon pushed the stop key and the lift ground to a halt. He turned and said, "Illya..."

Kuryakin looked at his shoes. "I know, Napoleon. Whatever happens, it will be all right." He shifted and looked at Solo. Napoleon held out his hand and offered it to Illya. They shook, the dark-haired man speaking first.

"To partners, Illya."

"To partners, Napoleon."

Kuryakin was the one to break the moment by starting the lift again. The doors opened onto a cluster of agents standing outside the conference room. They all turned to look at the two men coming off the elevator and a few of the faces hardened as they recognized Kuryakin. Illya did not fail to notice, but he did not comment, either. Solo's face tightened in anger and he pushed his way through the wall of bodies to the door. He felt a steely grip take his arm and turned to confront the red face of Sam Masters.

"What the hell is he doing here, Solo?" Masters was livid and breathing raggedly.

Solo wrenched his elbow from the bruising grip and took a step forward, backing Masters up at the same time. He did not touch the other man, but his demeanor was plain and his words precise. Pitched so that only Masters could hear, the C.E.A. growled softly into his ear, "If you touch me again, Sam, I'll forget my personal rule about striking a fellow agent, and I'll introduce you to a few techniques I learned from a Tibetan holy man." His eyes bored into Sam's. "You never really wanted to have kids, did you, Sam?"

Master's eyes widened slightly, and he gave ground to Solo. He had never seen such controlled fury in a man's eyes before, and he believed Solo's threat.

Fixing a smile on his face, Solo turned to the other agents and said, "Gentlemen, shall we go in?"

The agents filed into the room, Solo and Kuryakin trailing behind. Mr. Waverly was already seated at the head of the rectangular table, pipe in hand but not lit. He swiveled in his chair to face the group and a look of surprise flitted across his craggy features upon seeing Kuryakin in their midst. He recovered quickly and his gaze bore into Solo. "A word, please, Mr. Solo, if you don't mind."

Napoleon sighed quietly but crossed the room quickly to be taken aside by his boss. Waverly's scowl deepened as he made his displeasure clear to his top agent. "We discussed this yesterday. Kuryakin was to be otherwise occupied during the meeting."

"I know, sir, and I'm sorry for failing to contact you about it. Illya discovered that I had searched his apartment. He came over to mine last night to confront me about it. It would have done no good to deny it, sir. We know each other's modus operandi too well." Solo looked intently at his boss as if to encourage him to use that against him. But Waverly must have seen the conviction in his agent's eyes as well, for he held his next comment and stood still for a moment.

"Hmm, quite. Well, there's nothing to be done about it now. Let's just get underway, then, shall we?"

They turned back to the group that was settling in around the table and joined them. Illya was two seats from Solo, placed next to Doug Briggs. He was glad to see Masters had taken a chair next to Doug and not Illya. The other two sets of agents, Garcia and Larson, and Ogawa and Chesterton, passed out copies of the reports to each man there. Ogawa looked at Mr. Waverly as he neared Kuryakin's seat. His chief nodded once and Ogawa placed a folder in front of the Russian as well.

Solo busied himself with documents from his briefcase and arranged them for easy reference. He glanced up at his partner and saw him eyeing the folder evilly and trying not to look interested in it at the same time. Napoleon had to stifle a snort at the look on Illya's face. It appeared he regarded the report as one would a venomous snake about to strike. Solo sobered as the thought crossed his mind that it was indeed just as dangerous.

Waverly addressed the group and opened his report. "If you will, gentlemen, we'll start with the Threat Assessments, please."

Each pair of agents had investigated two enforcement agents that had been red flagged. Ogawa and Chesterton went first.

Ogawa read from his prepared statement. "Thomas Mallory, thirty-six, married, two children. Been in Section Two seven years now. Extensive computer skills, some lab work, and he had been recently out of the country on two assignments. He has the ability and the motive, now, it seems." The other agents' ears pricked at that and Waverly waved him on.

"Mallory is in debt—heavily. He likes to gamble and has been written up for the problem in the past at another field office. He's received counseling; the psychologist's findings are here, too. The doctor feels he's put the problem behind him, but the debts he's accrued are breaking him. His marriage is rocky because of it, also. He and his wife, Judith, were separated for a while but have since gotten back together. We feel Thrush would target him at the first opportunity, if they haven't already."

Chesterton agreed. "Threat Level Two, sir." Waverly nodded and made a note on his report. "And that brings us to Pierre Dupree. Thirty-one, has been in enforcement for four years, is single with an obvious lack of female companionship." Eyebrows rose indignantly around the table at that statement. Chesterton continued. "Yes, I know the Command doesn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but homosexuality is a red flag for blackmail and we all know it. Dupree is often seen in the company of other males and is a frequent visitor to known gay bars in Greenwich Village."

Masters broke in with a comment, "Isn't that where you live, Kuryakin?" Illya merely looked at the man, disdain written on his every feature.

Solo cleared his throat. "Go on, Chet."

"Subject has the computer background, is light in the laboratory skills, and has connections to known Reds, er, Communists back in France. However, lately he has been on medical leave with a broken leg, and has not had access to some of the sensitive material. On that basis we've set him at Threat Level Three."

Waverly tapped his briar against his palm. "Very well, men. Next team?"

Larson stood and turned to his brief. "Miguel Sanchez, twenty-nine, Section Two for two years. Single, has an American girlfriend, ah, a Miss Gina Nash. Couldn't find any dirt on her, sir, she's clean. Sanchez does have some political affiliations that could be problematic. He was involved with a Castro youth brigade while in high school in Cuba and has since disavowed the connection. He does keep in close contact with members of that group, supposedly as casual friends only. He has a degree in chemistry and does have competent computer skills. He's been assigned to affairs in Columbia and East Germany recently. Threat Level Two."

Garcia's turn came and he recited from his notes in a carefully neutral manner. All the agents in the room knew they were playing with fire, and that their own names could just as easily have been on another list.

"Dirk Svendsen. Been in enforcement sixteen years, is thirty-nine, and we all know what that means. He's made noise about the 'Forty and Out' field policy being discriminatory and has even contacted outside lawyers about it. Disgruntled enough to make waves, but he has an exemplary service record. Threat Level Two."

Waverly sighed and looked at the ceiling, lost in thought. Napoleon looked at his scribbled notes and felt the beginnings of another headache. He nodded to Briggs and said, "Doug?"

Briggs stood and felt the glare from his partner drilling a hole in his head. He ignored the tingle that ran down his spine and began. "Arthur Willoughby, aged thirty-six. Transferred to Section Two a year ago, hopefully to get an advancement. He has a Masters in Theoretical Mathematics and had gone about as far as he could in the lab section. Hence the transfer. He's bright enough to pass muster, but lacks a certain aggressiveness that field agents need. He's been evaluated and is going to be sent back down in a couple of months. Could be upset about that, but he seems to be an egghead at heart. Definitely has the computer moxie, though. Threat Level One."

Masters' head came up at the last remark. He and Doug had worked the profiles together and had agreed that Willoughby would be a Threat Two at the most. Soft-hearted bastard, he thought. Just trying to take the heat off of Kuryakin.

Masters stood and gave an icy look to Solo, then directed his gaze at Kuryakin. He swiveled to look at his boss and asked, "Mr. Waverly, should an agent who is under investigation by this committee be allowed to hear the evidence against him? The others haven't had that luxury."

Waverly stood as well and addressed his comments to Masters, but let the tone of his voice prove that he was setting policy as he spoke.

"I understand the misgivings you have, Mr. Masters. Mr. Kuryakin is, however, in the untenable position of being partners with the head of Section Two. Since Mr. Solo is undertaking this investigation under my orders, that has placed him in a sticky stance as well. I've allowed Mr. Kuryakin to be here this morning to refute the evidence that there may or may not be against him. The other agents spoken of here will have that chance as well. Mr. Kuryakin will merely have first crack at it. All the subjects of this investigation will have their due process, I assure you."

Masters sighed dramatically and reached for his file. He stared at Kuryakin for a minute and then began reading. "Illya Kuryakin, thirty-five, single, been in Section Two for seven years, two of those at London- HQ. Presently on loan from the Soviets and assigned as partner to Napoleon Solo, Number One of Section Two. As such, he has access to the highest level of information and the availability of classified documents. He currently holds the rank of Major in the KGB and is still a commissioned officer in the Russian Navy. Subject has advanced degrees, is fluent in computer codes, and splits his time between the enforcement and lab sections. Obviously, Threat Level One."

An uncomfortable silence crept over the room as the accusatory tone in Masters' voice came across in no uncertain terms. Illya was white-faced and stared at the polished mahogany table before him.

Waverly cleared his throat and looked at the agents around him. "Quite. Thank you, gentlemen, for the work and effort you have all so obviously put in these past few days. It hasn't been a pleasant task by all accounts. I am not insensitive to that fact."

"Mr. Solo, if you please," he said as he opened the next folder in his pile.

"Yes, sir. We'll go on with the Evidentiary Phase. Starting with Mr. Kuryakin, as he is the only subject present. Agents Briggs and Masters?"

Masters beat Briggs to his feet and took advantage of the move to run the report. Briggs sat stiffly, not liking the task and wary of the slant that his partner could put on the evidence. He waited patiently and bided his time. If Sam got out of line, he would call him on it. Oh, well, it's about time for a new partner, anyway, he thought morosely.

Agent Masters reached for the slide projector in the middle of the table and switched it on. It was preloaded with the photos that had been sent to Solo. The lab had run them through and concluded that they had not been doctored.

Turning to Kuryakin, Masters clicked the remote and sent the first picture to the screen. "These photos were taken by an unknown subject and mailed to Mr. Solo two days ago." On the white surface, Illya was seen to be sitting alone on a park bench. Masters clicked again and a muffled gasp went through the room as the spies assembled all easily recognized another of their kind. "Mr. Kuryakin, would you care to explain why you were photographed in the middle of Central Park sitting next to Sergei Komorov, a high-ranking KGB official? Colonel, isn't he?"

Illya sighed and kept his eyes on the folder in front of him. "I don't know why," he answered.

"You don't know why you were there?" Masters asked incredulously.

"No. I don't know why I was photographed."

The tips of Masters' ears turned red as he sputtered, "That's not what I asked."

Illya replied calmly, "Yes, it was."

Napoleon had to repress a laugh as he listened to Illya maneuver Masters into his battle of semantics. That'll teach you to pick on my partner, he thought gleefully.

The agent glanced at Waverly as if for help. Waverly merely raised his eyebrows and said, "Proceed, Mr. Masters."

Masters shook his head fractionally and thought carefully at his next words.

"Mr. Kuryakin. Please tell us why you met Colonel Sergei Komorov in Central Park on or about August 14th, 1967."

"I met him there because it was a very conspicuous place. I knew I would be seen and probably photographed by the KGB if not the CIA as well."

It was not the answer Masters has expected and he stopped for a moment.

Score two for Illya, Solo thought.

Kuryakin continued on his own, taking the ball in his court and running with it before Masters could regroup. "I met with Col. Komorov concerning a personal matter. I wanted to be seen to prove I had nothing to hide."

"Okay, Kuryakin, we know the where. Now tell us the why."

Illya looked stricken and glanced up at Napoleon. His gaze shifted to Mr. Waverly and said, "Sir, I told Mr. Solo my reasons. This is a personal matter. Must I continue?"

Waverly sighed. "I understand you are a very private person, Mr. Kuryakin. Nothing said here will go past these walls. But it is imperative that you address this issue. Please continue."

Illya looked furtively at Napoleon who nodded almost imperceptibly. He closed his eyes for a moment and then began to speak.

"Komorov had written me a few weeks ago about a possible contact with a family member. He had information that there may have been a sister of mine still alive in East Germany. The records were scarce but from what he told me, it looked possible. I did not return the letter, however, fearing it could be a trap."

Solo remembered the day in their office when Illya had put the letter away as he entered the shared space. He felt guilty that he hadn't been able to help Illya with the decision. He realized with a start how utterly lonely Illya must have been since coming to New York. No family, no friends, just agents to team with and work to fill the empty spaces.

Kuryakin continued. "Next, I was sent a photograph. Grainy and blurred, it was supposed to be my sister Katya—Katrina. I thought her killed with the rest of my family in Kiev in 1943. It looked enough like her to suggest it could be true. The letter noted a dead drop I could use if I wanted to reply."

Agent Masters was feeling cocky. He had Kuryakin by the short hairs now and wanted to yank, hard. He broke in with, "You did reply, didn't you? And used the drop to arrange the meet? Answer me, Kuryakin."

Illya dropped his head and said softly, "Yes. I did."

Smelling blood, Masters pursued quickly. "What was that, Kuryakin? I didn't hear it?"

Illya raised his head and looked the American agent in the eyes. "I said, 'Yes, I did.'"

Murmurs went up as the agents understood the position Kuryakin was in now. An admitted act of espionage carried the death penalty. The Russian had been hooked: Masters was ready to pull on the line.

"Mr. Kuryakin, you freely admit to meeting with a member of the KGB on American soil with the intent of passing sensitive information between you?"

Illya sighed as he saw the trap looming now. "I freely admit that I met with a fellow countryman who had information about my sister. I did not pass any information, sensitive or otherwise."

Masters snorted derisively. "Who's playing with semantics, now, Kuryakin?"

Mr. Waverly interrupted. "Mr. Masters, I will have you address the members of this proceeding with the respect due their positions."

Solo looked at his partner and saw the shame and humiliation this was causing the man. Illya would not meet his eyes and kept his hands on his lap.

The projector clicked and the next picture showed Illya looking at pictures Komorov held in front of him. "And just what was your 'fellow countryman' showing you here, Mr. Kuryakin?" Masters emphasized the 'mister' a little too strongly.

Illya looked at the screen with haunted eyes and replied, "They were supposed to be pictures of Katrina." His eyes fell and he said, "They were not. They were someone else's sister, not mine."

The last picture went up and showed Kuryakin alone on the bench with his face in his hands. It was easy to see how the meeting had affected him. Napoleon looked at him now, seeing the same sadness etched onto his features.

He spoke. "Mr. Waverly, we all know, including Mr. Kuryakin, how much of a mistake the meeting was. But could any of us here, in the same situation as Illya, honestly say they wouldn't have done the same thing?"

Solo looked around at the other agents, seeing the truth of his statement echo in their faces. All except Sam Masters. He looked like he could have lynched Illya right there and gladly have supplied the rope. He was glaring at Illya and his fists were tightly clenched as he saw the sympathy that was gathering for Kuryakin.

Tapping his pipe on the table, Mr. Waverly made his decision. "Mr. Kuryakin." Illya's head snapped up and he faced his boss with a resigned statement.

"Yes, sir." He was ready for any punishment his superior would mete out.

Clearing his throat, Waverly said, "While I do not in any way condone your admittedly reckless actions, I also do not expect you to act as an automaton where matters of the heart are concerned. I'm convinced that the interests of national security were not compromised by your foolhardy tête-à-tête, and I am willing to let the evidence of this be logged as an indiscretion on your part. You will be disciplined in a manner befitting the situation after this larger issue is resolved. Do you understand, Mr. Kuryakin?"

Illya sighed quietly and nodded his head slowly. "Yes, sir, I understand. And I am sorry, sir."

The room was deathly quiet as each man considered the decision. Masters was fit to be tied but knew he had lost this round. There would always be the next one, he fumed.

There was a pall of quiet holding sway over the assemblage when Mr. Waverly looked up and shuffled his papers into a semblance of order. He scowled at his watch and announced, "Well. I believe we shall take a 15 minute recess and resume on the hour, gentlemen." The enforcement agents rose respectfully as Waverly stood slowly and retired into his office. The men looked nervously at Solo and Kuryakin, and one by one left the room without speaking.

Briggs went over to Masters who was glaring at the Russian, apparently not planning to budge from his chair. "Come on, Sam. Let's go get some coffee."

"And leave Kuryakin unmonitored? You've got to be kidding."

Napoleon Solo stood and placed his hands flat against the deep-hued wood of the tabletop. Leaning into them he fixed Masters with a look and said very softly, "That's good advice from your partner, Agent Masters. I suggest you take it."

The larger man returned the look, scowled and closed his report shut with a snap that made Doug jump. He placed one hand on Sam's shoulder in warning and his partner shrugged it off, shot out of his chair and stalked out of the room. Briggs reluctantly followed, giving Solo a sheepish look.

"I think I can take his name off my Christmas card list," Kuryakin joked, the remark falling flat in the tension-filled room.

"Yes, well, he was never on mine," Solo replied, sighing loudly now that they were alone.

The American agent gestured to the coffee service as he got up from his chair. "Want some coffee?"

"Not if there is tea," Illya answered. They busied themselves with their cups, purposefully not talking about the briefing.

At last Napoleon gave in and asked the Russian, "Ready for Round Two?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"No," Napoleon answered honestly. "But at least you've got most of us in your corner after Round One."

"But can I throw in the towel?" Illya was grinning, and Solo laughed, a short exhale of sound in the quiet.

"Yeah, Masters would love that."

"I can handle Masters," Illya said quietly.

Now it was Napoleon who grinned, "So I've seen." He quickly sobered, however, and said, "Be careful, Illya. He's trying to get you on the ropes any way he can."

Kuryakin frowned at the term, trying to fathom it. Solo understood and explained, "He's trying to get you in a corner where it's hard to fight your way out."

"Oh." Blond eyebrows rose as he envisioned the metaphor in his mind. "I do my best fighting in corners. I am protected on two sides that way."

Solo smiled. He had seen Illya in action do exactly that. "Just come out swinging, partner. Come out swinging."

Chapter Six

All eyes were on Waverly as he came to the table and waved at them to, "Sit, sit." He looked at his top agent and nodded to him.

"If we are all ready, let us proceed." Solo saw Agent Briggs get to his feet and allowed the agent to start.

He looked uncomfortable as he questioned Kuryakin. He wasn't personally invested in the outcome as Masters was. Clearing his throat the younger man turned to Kuryakin and said, "Mr. Kuryakin. As part of this investigation, I turned up some computer logs that seem to incriminate you as a possible security leak. Would you look at these duty logs and confirm the dates here?" He showed the blotter to Illya and pointed out the dates highlighted. "Were you at HQ on the dates in question?"

Illya checked the roster, did some mental calculations, and replied in the affirmative.

"These reports confirm that you were logged in on the system in the early afternoon on both dates. Can you recall what you were doing and why?"

The Russian thought for a moment and then answered. "I had been in the lab both of those mornings. The duty roster will confirm that. I worked on a chemical compound we had stolen from a Thrush satrapy a few days before. It was an enzyme that had metallurgical lysing properties and I was having trouble analyzing one of the components. I went to Crypto to use their computer."


"Crypto's computer is the most sophisticated model and its enhanced memory could handle the complex equations I had to feed it to encode the analysis."

Briggs rubbed his chin and looked over at Masters. His impatient expression made Briggs want to squirm. He did not. He continued with the questioning at his own pace.

"I see. Mr. Kuryakin, we have compared the security overrides with the user logged on at those times and came up with your encoding patterns both times. How do you explain that?"

Illya looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, "By admitting that I was on the computer at those specific times."

Several indrawn breaths were heard simultaneously around the table.

Briggs was nonplussed at the forthright answer. He stared at Kuryakin and then ventured, "So you admit that you were on the computer at the exact times the system was compromised?"


Masters beamed, and Solo's stomach clenched at his friend's admission.

"But any number of others terminals could have been active as well." Kuryakin waited expectantly for the others to catch up with his logic.

Briggs did not. "Meaning? What, exactly?"

Illya sighed as one explaining something complicated to a child. "If I were logged on, and another party knew that, it would be simple to use my terminal to, how do you Americans say, 'piggyback' a signal from a second terminal. It would appear as if it were my station that made the incursion."

Briggs squirmed. "Okay, let's pretend that I don't know anything about computers." There were muffled snickers around the table at that thinly veiled admission. Coughing, Briggs carried on. "How many people in this office have the skills to do just that?"

Illya considered for a second or two. "Very few," he admitted. "They would need extensive knowledge of code, shared files systems, and would have to know how to configure the program well enough to exit without leaving an electronic signature."

Briggs chewed on his pencil eraser. "Give me a short list of possibles, Agent Kuryakin."

As easily as he would draw up a grocery list, Illya's quick mind determined the status of the appropriate suspects and stated, "Mallory, Willoughby, and myself, of course. And the programmers who put in the system."

Waverly called for silence and toggled the intercom. "Miss Rogers, get me Dr. Sorenson from the computer lab right away. Tell him to meet me in the main conference lab ASAP." He looked at Briggs and explained, "He was one of the programmers when the Command upgraded the system. He'll be able to confirm or deny Mr. Kuryakin's hypothesis."

Solo spoke up. "Either way, sir, that seems to cut our list of suspects in half." He did not have to reiterate that Kuryakin was still at the top of that list.

"Eh, yes, indeed. We may as well go on while we wait for Dr. Sorensen."

Solo stood and gave a fleeting look of apology to Illya. He then pulled out a plastic evidence bag and removed an envelope carefully. He took a deep breath and began without preamble, the way Kuryakin would approve.

"While searching Mr. Kuryakin's apartment, I discovered this in a book on the premises." His hands were steady as he drew out the documents inside, but he was shaking inwardly. He knew how badly this could go for Illya.

"I had Forensics go over this with a fine-toothed comb. I have the report from Dr. Preston herself. The actual pages are copies of the latest enforcement roster and projected assignments, schedules of upcoming Section One Summits, and addresses of some of our most secure safe houses. The implications of that are, of course, staggering."

Illya had his head down and did not see the angry glares from across the table. Napoleon did, and pressed on quickly.

"Illya Kuryakin's fingerprints were the only ones found on the outside of the envelope. None, however, were found on the copies inside. The saliva on the glue was shown to be from a person with type B blood."

Briggs asked gently, "What is your blood type, Mr. Kuryakin?"

Illya looked up at Napoleon before replying, "B positive."

Mr. Waverly stared at the blond man a moment before asking, "What do you have to say in your defense, Mr. Kuryakin?"

Illya looked pale and stricken as he answered. "Sir, I was as surprised as Napoleon, ah, Mr. Solo, when he showed me the copies. I don't know how to explain away the fingerprints, except to say a lot of mail goes through my desk at the lab and in Section Two's bullpen. I could have been set up easily to handle the envelope, and it could have been retrieved by any number of people." He stopped and took a breath. "As far as blood type, a large percentage of humans are type B."

"The envelope was found hidden in your apartment, Mr. Kuryakin," Agent Briggs carefully reminded.

At Illya's silence, Solo inquired, "Have there been any hits on your security system, Illya? Anything at all?"

Kuryakin knew where his friend was going with the line of questioning and he felt grateful for the gesture. He couldn't help himself, however, and had to answer honestly, "No. There haven't been any incidents lately..." He broke off suddenly as something flashed across his face.

Solo knew that look. "What?" he prodded. "Illya. What is it?"

"The bugs," he said cryptically.

"Bugs?" Solo echoed densely. "Listening devices?"

Illya laughed. "No, Napoleon. Bugs. Real ones. Insects. The apartment building was infested with them. I got a notice regarding fumigation about ten days ago. They fumigated last Wednesday."

Light dawned in Napoleon's mind. "And you would have had to disable the alarm system..."

Illya finished for him, "To let the apartment manager in."

Solo continued. "Did you confirm the fumigation order?"

Illya wrinkled his brow at Solo in consternation. "Of course I did. Everyone in the building got one. The same company did the job as last year."

"Approximately how long was the security system off-line?" the C.E.A. asked.

Kuryakin considered a moment and replied, "I turned it off before leaving my apartment at seven-thirty in the morning and turned it back on when I returned home for lunch at one o'clock."

"So for five and a half hours, your apartment was open to almost anyone who had reason to be there."

"In essence, yes. It was locked, but the manager had the key. Apartment locks are notoriously easy to pick, Napoleon, as all of us in enforcement well know."

The questions were interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Sorensen. A quick synopsis of the hearing was relayed to him and he confirmed to Mr. Waverly that what Illya had said was indeed possible. "I can run a simulation using two different terminals for you, sir, and show you the results."

"Hmm, yes. Do so right away, Doctor. I wish to go forward on this as soon as possible. Send the results to me personally when they are finished."

"Yes, sir." Sorensen glanced at Kuryakin once before leaving. He hoped the man wasn't in any trouble. He was one of the few individuals at the Command whom he could talk to as an equal on so many subjects. He hurried back to his office to comply with Waverly's edict.

Waverly turned back to the task at hand. "I'll have Miss Rodgers confirm the fumigation order with your landlord, Mr. Kuryakin. That should be easily verified."

"Thank you, sir."

"Mr. Solo, have the lab check for residual pesticide on the envelope. That would also confirm how long it had been in Mr. Kuryakin's apartment."

"Right away, sir." He buzzed the lab on the intercom and relayed the request.

It was deathly quiet in the room as all the occupants thought over the evidence presented, refuted and pending. Illya looked like death warmed over and Solo hoped for a respite soon for his partner's sake.

The head of Section One must have noticed the same thing as he harrumphed and declared, "Until such time as we have received confirmation of our inquiries, this investigation is on hold. All of you in this room are considered to be on call and will stay in the building. We will reconvene when the data is finalized. Dismissed, men."

As the agents began to disperse Waverly said quietly, "Mr. Kuryakin, I wish to see you in my office. Mr. Solo, you as well."

The younger men trailed their boss to his office and took their accustomed seats. They shot looks at each other until Waverly turned and addressed them.

"I'm sure I don't have to tell you the predicament we are all in due to these unfortunate circumstances. As a result, I will have to ask you, Mr. Kuryakin, to stay on the premises until these matters come to a close. It is unfortunate that you are a suspect, but I cannot, nor can Mr. Solo, show you any favoritism or special treatment concerning due process."

"Of course, sir," Illya agreed. "Under the circumstances, I quite understand the need to be billeted in an U.N.C.L.E. apartment."

"Mr. Solo. The fact that my Chief Enforcement Agent's partner is under suspicion is galling to me personally. Get down to the lab section and light a fire under those department heads. I want those reports yesterday."

Solo smiled and jumped from his chair to comply. "Yes, sir," he beamed.

As his partner left the room, Illya hesitated and turned back to his boss.

"Yes, Mr. Kuryakin?"

"Sir, am I restricted from my work in any way at this point?"

"Only in that you must stay in the building. Why do you ask?" Waverly's eyebrows were growing together in concern.

Illya hesitated a moment and then continued. "I have some things I wish to pursue on my own."

Waverly sighed and looked at the ceiling. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that comment, young man, and send you on your way."

Kuryakin repressed the smile fighting to come out as he walked briskly from the office.

Chapter Seven

Illya tried not to let the looks he was getting as he walked the hallway bother him. As the "Resident Russkie" he was almost inured to the comments and prejudices he encountered on a routine basis. Almost. It was something that irritated his partner to distraction and Napoleon railed against it at every opportunity. Kuryakin was more sanguine about the whole thing and normally took it in stride.

Lately, though, the rumor mill was working overtime and the accusations were flying. Most of the people working for U.N.C.L.E. were broader minded than that and continued to treat Illya with the respect one of their number deserved. He had even gotten a couple offers from the steno pool to meet after hours for "support sessions." He had shown Solo the notes and he had acted affronted and dismayed that Illya was liable to get some action from the whole sordid mess. They had both laughed and then Illya had promptly taken Margie up on her offer, before Napoleon could take advantage of her sympathetic nature.

Illya had to grin as he thought of his current situation. He was going to be alone in the safe house tonight. Another perfect opportunity for the Ladies Aid Society to come to his rescue...

He shook off the thought as he entered the Ballistic Lab. Some of the diagrams he'd been working on were still at his station. He took in the activity there, noting that the lab was busier than usual. U.N.C.L.E. had gotten lucky on raids lately and had new Thrush prototypes to examine.

Something niggled at the back of his mind as he surveyed the scene. An auxiliary workstation had been recently used but not cleared. He walked to it and peered at the small bits of gray material left on the countertop. Taking the largest piece, Illya sniffed the debris and then tasted it with his tongue. His eyes widened and he immediately checked the duty log for the day. Brushing the material into a bag, he placed it in his jacket pocket and went to check the materials inventory log as well.

An hour and a half later, Illya had checked the inventory sheets against what was in stores and had a very unpleasant idea forming in his head. He knew he should go to Napoleon with the evidence he'd collected, but he didn't want to place his partner in the untenable position of seemingly playing back-up to a prime suspect in the investigation. No, he would have to bide his time and keep digging. He was Number Two, Section Two, after all. He hadn't gotten to that position by his good looks alone.

His eidetic memory served him once again as he mentally ran through the copies of the roster and schedules that had been found at his place. Something big was going on, and it dwarfed the trouble he was currently in. Napoleon was in the lab section somewhere. He needed to talk to him. He clicked on the intercom and buzzed Forensics. A clerk connected him with Solo almost immediately.

"Illya? What's up?"

"Napoleon. The meeting Section One was supposed to have tonight? It has been cancelled, of course?"

"As per security standards, yes. Any leaks mandate that we change the schedule immediately. But, you know that already, Illya." Kuryakin heard the unspoken question in the C.E.A.'s voice but ignored it.

He sighed in relief and replied, "Just confirming, Napoleon." Kuryakin decided to tweak Napoleon a bit and get him off the scent. "I, ah, have a date tonight and wanted to make sure I could make it."

Napoleon chuckled on the other end and said, "You're really giving me a run for the money lately, aren't you, Valentino?"

Illya ignored him and cut off the intercom. Pulling out a notebook, he scribbled into it and pulled out a chair to one of the workstations. He withdrew a small piece of the gray material in his pocket and ran it through the spectrograph. His fingers drummed an anxious pattern on the counter as he waited for the results.

Chapter Eight

Mr. Waverly had gotten his reports in record time. There wasn't a member under his command who didn't jump when the Old Man barked. Solo smiled at the thought as the Section Two teams again arrived for the hastily called meeting. Illya sat in his chair and Solo caught the preoccupied air that meant Illya was working on something and was lost in the process. Or it could be he's thinking about his date, Napoleon mused.

The Section One chief had gotten good news in his reports. Consequently, the pipe he was sucking on was lit and spewed smoke intermittently. He waited for the room to settle and for his agents to look to him expectantly.

"Gentlemen, I have received confirmation from our lab section that Mr. Kuryakin was indeed correct about the computer 'piggy-backing,' did you call it?"

Illya nodded.

"Quite. There is a report form Dr. Sorensen in front of each of you with the details of his analysis. I believe that clears up one loose end, does it not, Mr. Masters?"

Masters glowered at Waverly but had to acquiesce.

Waverly continued. "Mr. Solo, confirm the other item, would you, please?"

"Yes, sir. The envelope found at Mr. Kuryakin's apartment had traces of Malathion on it as we expected. There was not enough saturation to suggest it was there during the actual fumigation, however. The lab feels it was placed shortly after the chemical was introduced. That also confirms Mr. Kuryakin's theory that the evidence was planted before he got back for lunch. The apartment manager, Mr. Masood Patel, verified the building was fumigated on that date as per the building owner's orders."

Solo stopped and looked around the table at the collection of agents. Most of the men had relieved looks on their faces; glad the evidence had borne out Kuryakin's take on the events. Section Two agents were usually a tight group and allegations of this sort were difficult to bear.

Solo let his gaze linger on Sam Masters, as the American's face was dark and clouded with unleashed emotion. He would not give up his pursuit of the Russian easily. And since the actual perpetrator had not been caught, Solo knew there were still doubts about his partner.

Illya looked relieved and met his eyes with a lightness that hadn't been there for days. Solo saw the gratitude in the blue depths and nodded quickly at him.

The only sound audible was the sound of air being drawn into the pipe's stem at the head of the table. Waverly sucked on the mouthpiece contentedly for a moment and then addressed the room for a final time.

"I believe that concludes this meeting, then. Your teams will continue to investigate the suspects and report any pertinent evidence to Mr. Solo immediately. Mr. Kuryakin, you are still, however, under investigation and will therefore remain in our safe house until further notice. It is merely a formality, but a precaution we must take."

Illya nodded. "I understand completely, sir."

Solo almost laughed as he thought how the Russian's mind worked. The U.N.C.L.E. apartment was posh compared to his efficiency digs, and Illya knew it would work to his advantage. No, Illya wouldn't be in a big hurry to vacate the premises, Solo decided.

Waverly leaned back in his chair and said, "Very well. Dismissed, gentlemen."

He laid a hand on Solo's arm as he rose. "A word, please, Mr. Solo."

Napoleon sat back down as the agents filed out, some clapping Illya on the back or shaking his hand as they did so. Masters was nowhere to be seen.

He turned his attention to his boss. Thick aromatic clouds were puffing out of Waverly's mouth as he relaxed with his protégé. The hearing had gone well and both men were relieved at the outcome. The pressing matter of finding the real mole still weighed heavily on them, but the agents allowed themselves a moment of peace.

Finally, Mr. Waverly spoke. "I've decided to go forward with the Section One meeting tonight as scheduled, Mr. Solo."

Solo stared at the Old Man as if he had spoken in tongues. "Excuse me, sir, but you what?"

"Yes, well, no one will expect the meeting now since it had been compromised. This is a perfect opportunity to stay beneath the mole's radar."

Solo grinned at the logic of his chief. One thing bothered him still. "But Mr. Waverly, we still can't rule out everyone from Section Two, and they will be the agents providing security."

"Hmm, yes, I've considered that as well. Consequently, the suspects will be all in the same room, and your department should be well able to keep an eye on their own men, what?"

The dark-haired agent thought for a moment at what the old man was getting at. A large grin split his face as he stared at Waverly with new respect.

"This 'meeting' is a ruse, isn't it, sir? A ploy to see who might show his hand?"

Waverly smiled at his charge. "Of course. I wouldn't risk anything unnecessarily. We may be able to draw out the traitor before he can cause any damage. The real section heads know the meeting was cancelled. Agents from another office will stand in for them. No one will be the wiser."

Napoleon frowned. "Including our own men?"

"Especially our own men, Mr. Solo. And you are not to speak of this to Mr. Kuryakin, either. The less he knows the better."

"Yes, sir. He just asked me if the meeting had been cancelled. He seemed relieved that it was."

The chief took a long pull on his pipe and said, "Put the word out to your agents that they will provide security for the meeting. It is set for eight o'clock tonight."

Solo stood and said, "All right, sir. I'll go notify the bullpen about the change."

Doug Briggs hurried down the hall toward Section Two's shared office, commonly referred to as 'the bullpen.' Solo had pulled him aside a moment ago and detailed their new assignment—babysitting the old men in Section One at their quarterly meeting—a meeting that had been cancelled earlier in the day. He wanted to tell his partner before he left for the day or made any dinner plans. Looked like they were in for the duration.

He reached the door and activated the sensor with the back of his hand. Masters was there, along with Ogawa, Chesterton and Garcia. A few others milled in the attached mini-canteen, getting coffee and smoking cigarettes, telling the same tired jokes that were always making the rounds after a mission. Doug motioned Sam over and said, "We're on tonight. The meeting was reinstated and we're security."

Masters looked incredulous and said loudly, "What are they thinking? A meeting, tonight?" Briggs made a slashing motion and warned his partner to silence. The other teams came over and the word passed quickly. Most of the men broke up and went off to get dinner, knowing it would be a long night. No one noticed the lanky agent hanging back, finishing his cigarette slowly, waiting until the room was clear. He smiled knowingly and headed for the elevator.

Chapter Nine

Illya went over the list in his head again. He would order Thai to be delivered to the apartment, knowing Security would bring it down to him. The champagne and flowers had already been brought in and were waiting in the small kitchen. He looked around the lodgings and smiled. Everything was immaculate here, the staff keeping it spotless for visiting dignitaries and enforcement agents who needed a place to lay their head during assignments. Plus, the dishes were always clean and the refrigerator always stocked. There were worse places to be stuck, he mused.

Illya sighed with contentment, pleased that things were going well for him now. With the compromised meetings cancelled and his own investigation proceeding at a good clip, he could try to relax tonight and let Natalie from Records soothe his aching brow. She had been flirting with him shamelessly for over two weeks now, and he was certain she would be good company for the evening. The entire evening, he hoped.

He smiled and decided not to get ahead of himself. He was an agent and a gentleman, after all. Of course, he had dismantled the audio and video monitors in the apartment just in case. No need to give the lads in Security anything to watch on his account.

Glancing at his watch he decided to take a shower and get ready early. Clean clothes and toiletries had been brought from his place and he was glad whoever picked them out had had good taste. His blue polo shirt and chinos were in the pile and he grabbed them from the closet. Soviet or not, he decided he would take a decadently long shower and glory in the conspicuous consumerism U.N.C.L.E. had put at his disposal. He whistled on the way to the shower. If Napoleon Solo could see me now, he smirked.

Forty-five minutes later, Illya Kuryakin was freshly washed, shaved and shiny as a new coin. He turned on the stereo, selecting a classical music station and turned down the lights around the living room. He placed the champagne in a bucket and set the flowers in a crystal vase. Picking up the phone he ordered the dinner for two and buzzed Security to let them know to watch for the delivery.

He lost himself in the music, currently Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C Sharp Minor" and closed his eyes. He started as the door chime rang and realized he had almost fallen asleep. The stress of the last few days appeared to be catching up with him after all. Perhaps this interlude was just what he needed. He scrubbed a hand across his face and checked his watch. Eight-ten; later than he thought.

He bolted to the door and opened it just as Natalie was poised to ring again. He gave her one of his patented shy smiles and took her hand, kissed it, and used it to draw her into the room. She beamed at him, her powder blue dress showing off her incredible curves in a luscious display of femininity. A wave of perfume wafted over him as she swept into the living room.

"Natalie, so lovely to see you. Thank you for coming."

She smiled at his casual clothes, never really seeing him in anything other than a dark suit or hospital gowns. The polo set off his blue eyes and she seemed to disappear in them. She shook her head minutely and answered finally.

"My poor Illya. Just the thought of you all alone down here in this dungeon...well, it was too much to bear."

Illya repressed a smile at the word dungeon. If she could see my place, he thought.

She went on before he could reply. "I'm sorry I was late. There was quite a line at the elevators what with all the enforcement agents using them to go downstairs. I finally took the stairs."

Illya stared at her for a moment and asked, "What did you say?" Alarm bells were going off in the back of his head.

"I said, 'I finally took the stairs.'" She saw his look and asked, "Illya, what's wrong?"

"Enforcement agents. Going downstairs? You're sure?" He vaulted over the couch and grabbed his Special.

"Yes, I'm sure. That's why I was late, I couldn't get a car down here..."

She stopped as Illya spun her around and said, "Lock the door behind me until I send for you. You'll be safe here. Understand?"

He was already to the door and through it before Natalie could answer.

He pelted down the hall then took the stairs a landing at a time, agonizing at how long it was taking him to get to the conference room. Why hadn't he told Napoleon earlier? Why hadn't Napoleon told him about the meeting? A thousand thoughts screamed through his mind as he raced for the conference level.

Throwing open the stairwell door, Kuryakin burst out aiming his Special in front of him, looking for the trouble he knew he would find in the room at the end of the corridor. It didn't occur to him that he looked like a madman in his headlong rush to stop the tragedy about to unfold before him.

Yelling at the top of his lungs, Illya pushed the lone man stationed outside the door out of his way, and saw the astonished look on the man's face at recognizing his assailant as a fellow enforcement agent. Too late it registered to Illya that this might be a mistake, but he had to get to Waverly now. Nothing would keep him from that.

Three things happened in quick succession.

Masters saw the gun in Kuryakin's hand and drew on Illya, firing at the frantic body hurtling toward his boss. Napoleon saw the impact jerk Kuryakin sideways but he continued his arc and landed half across the table and half across Waverly's chair, sending it careening across the floor to stop against the wall.

Solo blanketed his boss' body putting himself between him and any possible threat in the room. A phalanx of agents ringed their chief and the faux Section One representatives, guns drawn and faces grim.

Masters and two other agents wrestled Kuryakin to the floor, overpowering him as he struggled still to get to Waverly. His Special was wrenched from his hand with enough force to break his wrist.

From his position on the floor Solo looked over at his partner and saw the blood on Illya's shirt slowly spreading as he panted against the pain and shock. He gaped at Illya and asked, "Why?"

Kuryakin gasped, one agent's arm was wrapped around his neck, choking him. He rasped out, "The chair...Napoleon, check the chair." Handcuffs were snapped on his wrists harder than was necessary and he cried out at the pain that lanced up his right arm from the broken bone in his wrist. The Russian was bodily restrained as Solo crossed to the wall where Waverly's chair had come to rest.

Carefully, Napoleon turned it on its side, staring wide-eyed at the pressure plate strapped and wired into a one-quarter block of C-4 explosive. If Mr. Waverly had sat in that chair...

Napoleon stalked to where the men were holding Illya. He threw Masters off his partner and snarled, "Get your hands off him. He just saved Mr. Waverly's life. Along with every one else in this room as well."

Kneeling beside his partner, Napoleon pulled the sticky shirt away and inspected the wound. There was an alarming amount of bright red blood seeping from the bullet hole. He placed his handkerchief inside the wound and applied pressure with the heel of his hand. Illya gasped and tightened in pain under his hand. Solo grimaced. "Sorry, partner."

He turned to Ogawa and snapped, "Get medical down here. Now! And get these fucking cuffs off him."

Ogawa jumped to comply as another agent sent for a medic. No one had ever seen Napoleon Solo this angry before. He took the offending cuffs and threw them against the far wall where they ricocheted off to land in a corner.

Napoleon glanced down at Illya and saw the pale skin and blue-tinged lips. He heard Illya whisper and leaned down to hear him better.

"Mr. he all right?" The words took their toll and he panted, shock pulling him down into its dark grasp.

Solo felt a towel being pressed into his hands as he saw Mr. Waverly kneel and take Kuryakin's head in his lap. He heard Illya's gasp of awareness as the chief said gently, "He is indeed all right, young man. Thanks to you." The slight body relaxed as he registered the fact that the old man was fine. He moaned despite himself as Solo pressed the towel against his side to staunch the flow of blood.

Illya's eyes began to lose focus and he reached for Waverly's hand. "I'm sorry, sir. I should have gotten here sooner..."

"What, and miss the opportunity for melodrama? You are Russian. You can't help yourself." Waverly winked one bushy-browed eye at him and smiled. Kuryakin began to grow limp and his boss shook one shoulder gently. When there was no response, he said firmly, "Illya. Illya Nickovetch. Stay awake and listen to me, now."

Illya opened his eyes blearily at the command in the voice. He had no choice but to obey. Solo looked wonderingly at his boss, never having heard him use the patronymic version of his friend's name. It had the desired effect and Illya stayed conscious enough to look over at Solo. He was wearing a comforting smile and Illya tried to match it. He almost made it.

The medical team was waved through and they began working on the fallen agent. Kuryakin was lifted onto a gurney as Solo reached down to help Mr. Waverly to his feet. As they clasped hands, the two men looked at the red blood covering their fingers and running off to drip on the pristine floor. Napoleon glanced away, strong emotions warring inside of him.

A moment later, Solo calmed and appraised his boss critically. "Are you sure you're all right, sir?" he asked worriedly.

"I am perfectly all right, Mr. Solo. Now, why are you standing here when one of your agents is down? Go on. See to him. He has valuable information we need to clear this whole fiasco up. See to his protection as well. Standard failsafe precautions."

Solo smiled warmly at the old gentleman. Sometimes he could really surprise a person. He barked orders at the agents in the room. "You two—take Mr. Waverly to his office and have him checked out by his personal physician. Chesterton, get a team down here and check the rest of the floor for explosives and have bomb disposal take this thing down to Demolitions. The rest of you get to Medical and set up a secure post there. I want round the clock security on Kuryakin." He glared at the men standing around in shock.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Move!" he bellowed. Agents scurried like mice at his shout and he tried not to let them see him smile. His gaze fell on Masters and he added, "Not you, Sam. You go down to security and monitor the video feeds. Check out the grabs from this floor for the last few hours. Maybe you can come up with something useful for a change." As he walked past the disgruntled agent, he made sure to let him see the smile on his face.

Chapter Ten

Illya was being assessed in the treatment bay when Napoleon got there. An I.V. dripped into him as well as a transfusion bag. He'd been given something for pain and his right wrist was immobilized. His eyelids fluttered as Solo approached and took the good left hand in his.

"Illya. Hey, partner. How you doing?" His color was better but he was still bleeding heavily gauging from the activity of the doctor trying to quell it.

Kuryakin clenched Solo's hand and tugged slightly to bring him closer. Napoleon leaned in and tried to hear the words forming on the Russian's lips.

"W-w..." he started but closed his eyes again, the morphine dragging him down into its soft depths.

Napoleon squeezed the hand tightly and waited. Illya wanted to tell him something and he knew the stubbornness wouldn't be put off for long. Another few seconds and his partner glanced over at him as if surprised to see him there after all this time.

The glazed eyes struggled to focus and he tried to lift his head. He gasped in pain at the fire lancing down his side and back where the path of the bullet had taken.

"Easy, Illya. Just relax. I'm not going anywhere. You can talk to me later, after you wake up."

Panic seeped into his eyes and Kuryakin tried to take a deep breath. He managed a shallow one and said clearly once, "Willoughby." Even that one word seemed to exhaust his meager reserve. He sank into the bed and hoped the room would stop spinning soon.

Napoleon looked down at Illya and repeated, "Willoughby? Arthur Willoughby? He's the mole?"

Kuryakin nodded weakly and promptly passed out. The doctor scowled at the blood pressure reading, snapped the bed rails in place and began ordering the attendants to get his patient to surgery. There was controlled chaos as the team complied. Illya was rolled down to the elevator before Napoleon could issue orders of his own.

The agents stationed outside Illya's room were Garcia and Larsen. Solo motioned them inside an adjoining empty room and filled them in.

"It's Willoughby. Kuryakin confirmed it. Get Security to back you up and find him. With HQ buttoned up, it shouldn't take long to track him down. I doubt if he had time to get out of the building. Check the egress monitors and see if he left. I want him in custody immediately. When you get him, notify me. I want to interrogate him personally."

The Section Two men nodded. Larsen almost felt sorry for Willoughby. Having Solo interrogate you must rank up there with proctologic surgery, he thought. He shuddered and caught up with Garcia.

Napoleon was in the lounge when Waverly joined him three hours later. He poured his boss a cup of coffee and dismissed the secretary taking dictation from him. He'd learned from experience how long the wait could be in Medical and had found ways to utilize the time to his good. The investigation may have come to a conclusion, but there was always the damnable paperwork to finish.

Mr. Waverly sat opposite Solo and asked, "How is Mr. Kuryakin?"

Solo sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "He's still in surgery, sir. The bullet perforated his liver and stomach and they're trying to stop the bleeding. That's all I was told."

Waverly cleared his throat and replied, "Dr. Mercer is the best surgeon we have. He couldn't be in better hands."

There was an uneasy silence as both men thought about the struggle that was going on in the O.R. at that very moment. It was broken by Waverly adding sugar to his untouched coffee. He settled more comfortably on the leather couch, sighed wearily and addressed his agent.

"Well. It appears Mr. Kuryakin cracked the case wide open somehow. It was Willoughby, then? There's no doubt?"

"No, sir, no doubt. They brought him in two hours ago. I'm letting him sweat before I interrogate him. We have security footage of him entering the conference room earlier tonight and leaving ten minutes later. No one else, not even housekeeping, had been in that room today since it was announced the meeting was postponed. Willoughby had just enough time to get in there, set the bomb, and get out before my agents secured the room."

"What evidence does Kuryakin have, then? Did he tell you of his suspicions?"

Solo frowned, not liking the truth of it. "No, he did not, Mr. Waverly. I'm sure he had his reasons. As soon as he's well enough..."

"Yes, yes, of course. No matter for now. We have our man and we can put the puzzle pieces together at our leisure."

Waverly's mouth quirked as a smile tried to start as he continued. "One would think, Mr. Solo, that you would keep a tighter rein on the agents under your command. This isn't the first time our fair Russian has run rings around the entire section, now is it?"

Solo began to feel affronted until he saw the twinkle in the blue eyes give him away. He smiled and asked, "Have you ever tried to rein in 'Rasputin' sir? It's not an easy task."

Waverly did chuckle then and came to his feet. Solo rose as well and walked his boss to the elevators.

"Keep me informed of Kuryakin's progress. I'm stopping by the chapel on the way to my office. I expect to see your interrogation report on my desk by morning."

"Yes, sir. It will be a pleasure." The agent's dark eyes flashed at the thought of Willoughby's treason and the damage he could have done.

Mr. Waverly caught the look and added softly, "Perhaps I had better say a prayer for you, too, Mr. Solo."

The American blushed and looked at his shoes. "Yes, sir," he mumbled.

Napoleon watched as the Old Man walked slowly down the hall, feeling in his bones how long the night ahead would be for them all.

Chapter Eleven

This was getting to be far too routine, Napoleon thought. Sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair, watching over Illya as he drifted in the twilight world the narcotics held him in. The morphine was a steady palliative against the wall of pain Illya would encounter if awake. The bullet had done extensive damage to the slight frame and the surgeon had been hours in repairing it.

So his partner lay white against the bleached linens while Solo struggled unevenly against sleep, knowing he needed the rest but not willing to leave his friend in such a state. He sat up straighter in the chair and took another swig of coffee. It was room temperature and did nothing to rouse him. A glance at his watch confirmed the lateness of the night. Or day. However you chose to look at it. An enormous yawn took over his face as the door swung open and Agent Briggs crept in. He looked anxiously at the pale form in the bed and then to Solo.

"It's all right, Doug. He's out of commission for a while yet."

"Then that's all the more reason for you to go get some sleep, sir. I'll stay with him and let you know when he wakes." He shoved a box at Solo and he caught the delicious aroma of bacon and eggs escaping from the wax paper. His stomach growled loudly in the quiet hospital room. Both men laughed softly. Napoleon started to demur but thought better of it. His report was ready to hand over to Waverly and he was dreadfully tired.

He motioned for Briggs to take the other chair and devoured the breakfast. Between bites he thanked Doug and gestured to the still form on the bed.

"I appreciate the way you handled the investigation, Doug. You were professional without being prejudiced. Illya and I won't forget that." He held his hand out to his fellow agent.

Briggs flushed and answered, "It could have been any of us that had been set up, Mr. Solo. I tried to keep that in mind."

They shook hands, and Solo yawned again. He shot a last look at the patient and the monitors and nodded to Briggs. "I'll be in the apartment downstairs. You can get me at any time. And, thanks, Doug."

The younger agent grinned jauntily and said, "You must be losing your touch, Chief. An hour earlier and you would have had company in the apartment." He made an hourglass shape with his hands and laughed out loud.

At Solo's puzzled look he added, "Illya had a date with him last night before all the fireworks began. We just found her this morning—Natalie from Records. She said he ordered her to lock the door and not come out for anyone else. Must have taken him literally because she was there all night. She certainly gave the cleaning crew a start."

Solo laughed until it hurt. "That poor girl. Locked in an empty apartment with no escape."

"Well, I wouldn't feel too sorry for her, sir. She had plenty of take-out and a bottle of champagne."

Solo turned to glare at his partner. "Why, Illya, you little romantic, you. Who would ever have thought?"

He was still laughing as he left the room to get some sleep.

Chapter Twelve

The phone next to the bed rang and Solo tried to answer his pen. Grumbling sleepily, he managed to grab the receiver before he knocked it on the floor. He sat up, wide awake now, remembering where he was and why.

"Solo here." He looked at the alarm clock. Almost noon. Six hours of sleep, anyway. He'd done with far less before.

Doug Briggs' voice came through a little too cheerfully for Napoleon's current state. He dragged a hand across his stubble and tried to feel human.

"Good morn, ah, afternoon, Mr. Solo. Sleep well?"

Solo snorted. "Despite U.N.C.L.E.'s best laid plans, yes," he admitted. His brain was catching up to his mouth and he asked quickly, "How's Illya?"

"That's why I called. Doctor says he's cut back the morphine and he should be waking up soon according to the vitals he's getting."

Napoleon let out a shaky breath and said, "That's great, Doug. I'm on my way."

"Uh, sir? You probably have time for a shower first. I think you scared the girls in the steno pool last night the way you looked."

Napoleon looked down at the suit he had slept in, bloodied and rumpled from the fracas in the conference room. "Ah, okay. I see your point. Do me a favor and bring me a change of clothes from my office closet, will you, Doug? Illya's kit is still here. I can use that."

"Sure thing, sir. I'll be right there."

Napoleon stepped out of the steamy bath twenty minutes later and found the clothes laid out on the bed for him. He had to admit the shower had done wonders for his mood and his appearance. He spied Illya's glasses on the nightstand and reached to take them with a hand that was not quite steady. Taking a deep breath, he placed them in his jacket pocket and left for the medical section.

He noted with approval how his agents had secured the medical bay. He was checked and double checked before being allowed to enter Illya's room. Chief or no chief, he could still be an enemy and had to pass the same scrutiny as anyone else entering this place.

Something was wrong. He could tell by the looks on the medical personnel's faces and the hushed way they went about their tasks. Dr. Mercer was back, listening to Illya's chest and the frown on his face worried Napoleon. Much as he wanted to ask, he kept silent and let the professionals do their jobs. Blood was drawn from the pale arm and another unfamiliar doctor conferred with Mercer about his vitals.

Solo heard the hushed conversation and listened without seeming intrusive.

"No, that shouldn't matter. By now, anyway. He should be more responsive to stimuli. I've stopped the morphine completely until we can evaluate his condition."

The second doctor had a perpetually wrinkled brow from what Solo could see. His nameplate read, "Dr. M. Chow" and Napoleon didn't recall ever seeing him before. Suspicion immediately won out and he motioned the agent on duty over.

"Harris, isn't it?" The man nodded. "Has Dr. Chow been checked out? Did he clear?"

"Yes, Mr. Solo. He was assigned to Medical three weeks ago. He just finished his processing a few days ago. He's clear," Harris said.

Thanking him Napoleon brushed by and approached the bed. Illya was sleeping peacefully as far as he could tell, and most of the tubes and lines had been removed. He still had an I.V. going but the transfusions had stopped. Solo took that as a good sign.

Solo cleared his throat. Illya was his agent and he had a right to know his condition. "Dr. Mercer?"

The tall surgeon looked his way and came to the bedside. "Mr. Solo. Been a while since I've seen you. Your luck must be holding out lately." He grinned at the running joke the medical staff perpetuated against the dapper enforcement leader.

Solo caught the jibe but ignored it. "What's going on with my partner, Doctor?"

Mercer sobered and sighed. "That's the question, Mr. Solo. I don't know. He should be awake by now. He's off the morphine drip and the anesthetics have cleared by now. His vitals are good, but he just won't wake up. I'm hesitant to give him any stimulants with the internal damage he's taken. His blood count is just now approaching normal and I don't want to send him back into shock."

Mercer glanced at Chow. "The thing we're most concerned with is possible damage to his brain from the hypovolemia and concurrent hypoxia he suffered. We corrected his loss immediately, but until he regains consciousness we can't evaluate the damage that may have been done."

Napoleon paled at the thought of Illya's razor sharp mind being compromised in any way. He had always counted on that wit and wisdom to be there for him. He looked to Mercer expectantly and asked, "What can I do to help?"

Mercer wanted to say; "Nothing" but the haunted look on Solo's face stopped him. He had a responsibility for this man's health also, including his mental status. Solo wanted hope and he had to provide it for him.

He came around the bed and laid a hand on Solo's shoulder, feeling the tension in the bunched muscles beneath his fingers. "Talk to him, Napoleon. Hearing a familiar and trusted voice could bring him around. It's worth a try."

Napoleon dragged his gaze from the still form on the bed and looked around the room. "May I have some privacy, please?" he asked softly.

Mercer signaled and the medical staff left the room quietly, setting the machines for automatic monitoring as they did so. Dr. Mercer told Napoleon to ring the desk if there was any change. He nodded tightly and pulled a chair next to his partner's bed.

Once they were alone, Napoleon sighed and let some of the tension leave him. He needed to be calm and let that feeling get through to Illya on some level. He reached out to take the cold left hand of the Russian and rubbed it with his own warm ones. There was no inkling of recognition there and Solo merely watched the bandaged chest rise and fall for a while. The regularity calmed the American agent and he began to speak quietly to his friend, hoping the cadence of his speech would trigger a response.

"Illya, wake up. It's Napoleon. I'm here, partner. Where are you?"

The white-sheeted body rose and fell with regular respirations but did not move toward consciousness or acknowledge Solo in any way.

"Come on, Illya. You've been through worse than this. What about that tough Russian reputation of yours? Wouldn't want to tarnish it, now would you?" Napoleon's voice broke and he stopped, not wanting to become emotional now. He watched the monitors bleep and blip and an idea struck him. Whenever Illya was drugged or delirious he usually jabbered in Russian. Napoleon had been teamed with him long enough to speak the language passably, much to the dismay of a certain infuriatingly private Slav. Many times Illya had turned the room blue with a streak of colorful Russian epithets only to have Napoleon reply that he didn't think half of them were anatomically ergonomic.

He smiled remembering the way Illya would stare at him, then, wondering how much he had really understood but too stubborn to ask.

What the hell; it was worth a try, Solo decided.

He stood beside the rail and clasped the limp hand tighter.

"Vstavai, paren'! (Wake up, partner)

No reponse in the face or the hand that lay still against his.

"Nu davai, ty menya bespokoish'." (Come on, you're starting to worry me)

Still nothing. Napoleon rubbed the forearm and bicep, trying to will some of his energy into the body before him.

"Nazhmi ruku, pozhaluista." (Squeeze my hand, please)

Refusing to give up, Solo tried another tack that had usually worked with the stubborn Slav in the past—swearing.

"Chyort, Illya, otkroi glaza! Ehto prikaz!" (Dammit, Illya, open your eyes! That's an order!)

Watching the monitors hopefully, Napoleon admitted defeat and lowered his eyes to the floor. This wasn't working. Maybe if he just talked to him, instead of ordering him around...Illya had always been a terribly mulish type. He changed tactics and used a more soothing tone of voice next.

"Illya, ya mog by poluchit' Masters partnyorom. Ty ne khochesh' izht' c etim pozorom, da?" (Illya, if you don't wake up, they'll partner me with Masters. You don't want that on your conscience, do you?)

He felt the barest twitch of Illya's fingers in his and he held his breath. Another spasm—he hadn't imagined it. He squeezed the palm harder, blinking back tears as he talked to his friend.

"Khorosho! Otlichno, postaraisya!" (Good! That's right, keep trying!)

Illya's eyes began to flutter and his breath came more rapidly now. Napoleon let out the breath he had been holding and shook the arm under his hand.

"Illya, Illya, wake up," he said in English this time.

"Napoleon, pozhaluista. Molchit'. Pytayus' spat'" (Napoleon, please. Shut up. I'm trying to sleep.)

Solo's worried face split into an ear-to-ear smile at that and he pushed the call button. "No you don't, Illya," he said. "No more sleeping on the job."

Kuryakin opened his eyes with difficulty and Solo reached for a washcloth to swipe across the gummed eyelids. "Better?" he asked.

Illya sighed and yawned hugely. "Mmm..." He tried to go back to sleep, but Napoleon shook his shoulder gently, rousing him and eliciting a growl of displeasure from the blond man.

The medical team entered at that point and spent the next twenty minutes poking, prodding, and thoroughly annoying one Illya Kuryakin. Napoleon hovered nearby, knowing how much Illya hated medical intrusions. He couldn't muster up too much sympathy, however, since he was just as anxious as the staff to evaluate his partner.

After one particularly painful jab, Illya glared at his doctor and asked haughtily, "Are you quite through, Doctor?"

Mercer turned to grin at Solo, saying, "Your partner is back to normal, Napoleon. You have my condolences." He patted Illya on the head; the coup de grace in ill manners as far as the Russian was concerned, and left the room laughing. The other technicians left as well after tucking their grumpy patient back into the covers.

The C.E.A. stood next to the bed with a goofy smile on his face as Illya scowled at him from his blankets. "I don't know what you're so happy about, Napoleon. I'm certainly not. My side hurts, my wrist hurts, and my I.V. line is jabbing my hand."

Solo began to laugh until tears ran down his cheeks. His partner was indeed back. Illya tried not to smile but a quirk at the corners of his mouth almost gave him away. Napoleon wiped his eyes with a handkerchief and took Illya's good hand again. He clasped it warmly and let Illya know by his expression how close it had been for him.

Kuryakin sobered and cleared his throat. Napoleon poured a glass of water for him and helped him drink. He gasped when the movement stretched his incision and grimaced as he lay back down.

"Do you want me to get the nurse? They said you could have morphine after you woke up fully."

Illya took a deep breath. "No, it's not bad, now. I'd really rather have the pain than the drugs."

Napoleon nodded, understanding completely. Section Two agents were funny that way. They'd rather endure the discomfort that told them they were alive than accept the abrogation of the pain for their inevitable injuries.

Solo made himself as comfortable as the uncomfortable chair allowed. He'd long held the belief that infirmaries around the world used easeless furniture deliberately to ensure visitor's stays were brief. He stretched his legs and slumped in the chair, crossing his arms over his chest.

"You feel up to talking?"

Illya nodded. He knew Napoleon needed information now more than he needed sleep. Solo filled him in on the capture and interrogation of Willoughby, saving him the trouble of asking.

"How did you catch on to him, Illya? I had two other agents investigating him, but you found something they didn't?"

Illya told Napoleon about his find in the lab. "I knew no one had been authorized to work with C-4 and it rang a bell with me. That's when I checked the stores and found a pressure plate and some wiring had been taken from supply. I checked the lab roster and Willoughby had been there that morning. I still wanted to be sure. I was trying to get surveillance video of him to prove my suspicions."

Napoleon let an uncomfortable silence stretch before he replied. "Illya, why didn't you come to me with this earlier?"

Kuryakin looked very small in the bed as he all but squirmed in discomfort. "I'm sorry, Napoleon. Truly I am. But I wasn't sure and I didn't want someone else to have to go through... "

"What you did?" Solo interrupted. He sighed and nodded, letting Illya off the hook. "I understand, Illya." He looked him squarely in the eye as he continued, "And it didn't help matters by me keeping silent about the meeting, did it?"

Napoleon took a deep breath and continued. "Well, it turned out that Willoughby wanted to stay in Section Two a little more than anyone thought. I guess he felt if he eliminated half of sections one and two, he'd have been able to stay and be promoted as well."

"Did anyone check his psych profile?" Illya asked.

"After the fact, yes. Nothing there to red-flag him, but his ego couldn't take the demotion as far as we can tell. I guess he wasn't as much of an egghead as we pegged him for. He liked the glamour and excitement of enforcement."

Illya made a face and gestured to his bandages and cast. "Glamour and excitement..."

Silence followed as both agents ruminated on the previous day's events.

Both men felt the discomfort of the results of their mistrust of each other's instincts. They fell quiet for a few moments.

Napoleon spoke first. "Illya, I've learned an important lesson in all this."

Kuryakin raised his eyebrows at his partner's words. "Yes?"

"Yes. No more operating behind your back, orders or no orders. If the Old Man doesn't like it, he can get a new chief."

Illya was stunned at Napoleon's admission. Waverly had always been like a father to Solo and he had matured in the elder man's penumbra. For him to make an admission like that...

Solo continued. "We're the best agents this Command has ever had, Illya. I won't let anyone try to drive a wedge between us again. I trust you, my friend. Beyond the shadow of a doubt."

Illya was saved from trying to make a coherent reply by the entrance of a very agitated, very coiffed and very perfumed Natalie From Records bursting into the room. She took one look at Illya lying so pale on the sheets and screeched, "You poor baby! Oh, Illya, my poor, poor Illya!"

Napoleon backed hastily away barely avoiding getting stilettoed by Natalie's heels as she swept to her charge and wiped his brow with a washcloth. He winked at Illya and waved goodbye to him behind her back, giving his partner a thumb's up as he went.

It's always the quiet ones you have to watch out for, he thought as he whistled his way back to his office.

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