The Little Black Book Affair
It was just sitting, innocently... well, perhaps not so innocently. Illya caught sight of it as he entered Napoleon's apartment—Napoleon's infamous little black book, its cover worn and just a little ratty around the edges.
"Illya?" Napoleon's voice floated from the back of the penthouse.
"I'm here! Are you ready?" According to Napoleon, they had seven o'clock reservations at the restaurant and they still had to pick up their dates. He didn't know who was awaited him. The woman Napoleon was currently seeing had a cousin visiting her. Illya wanted to blind date about as much as as he wanted to go on a double date, but his partner had a way of making you agree to his wishes.
Sitting down, Illya picked up the book and started to leaf through the pages. The sheer number of names in it nearly made his jaw unhinge with disbelief. The scope was truly amazing and Illya paused for a moment to wonder if Napoleon had just merely entertained all the women with dinner and dancing or if he, in fact, had slept with all of them.
"Okay, I'm ready." Startled, Illya tucked the book into his inner jacket pocket and stood all in the same motion, just a second before Napoleon walked into the room. "You want to drive or shall I?"
Illya smirked. "If we are going to arrive at the restaurant on time and whole, it is best not left to an amateur." He snatched the key ring from Napoleon's hand and they were off.
Illya yawned as he worked his key into the front door lock. He'd dropped his date off back at her cousin's place after she'd made it quite clear she wasn't one to dally with strange men. She, however, was a good conversationalist and a decent dancer. They'd talked and danced, argued realism versus rationalism, and the dangers of idealism as opposed to skepticism. It hadn't been quite the night of unbridled passion Napoleon had promised him, but Illya had been on much worse dates.
He opened and shut the door quickly, and locked it securely behind him out of habit. Stretching, he decided that perhaps the night hadn't been the worst he'd lived through.
Taking off his jacket, he frowned and slipped a hand into a pocket. Napoleon's black book. He hadn't meant to keep it, planning to palm it off to Napoleon at some point during the night, but the opportunity had never presented itself.
Oh well, tomorrow would work just as well. Illya walked into his bedroom and plopped down on his bed, the book still in hand. And since I still have it, it wouldn't hurt to take another look.
He was startled when he glanced over at the clock and saw that it read one a.m. He'd gotten in just after ten. It had taken him awhile to decipher some of the codes and two or three still eluded him. He'd quickly figured out that BLBLE meant, Blonde Blue Eyes. Same with BRBRE—Brunette, Brown eyes. He could only guess what SWAK meant and the asterisks were obviously some sort of rating system. What did elude him was NI, he had tried a variety of combinations, but hadn't figured it out. Some of the entries were just a first name or initial with a last name, but never complete and always followed by the abbreviations.
He set the small book on his nightstand. He'd give it to Napoleon tomorrow, well, today, actually, with his apologies.
Illya yawned, stripped down to his underwear and turned out the light. Tomorrow was for mysteries, tonight, sleep.
Illya was running through a field, chasing something, but he wasn't sure what or who. There was someone just ahead of him, just beyond his range of vision. He looked around for Napoleon, but his partner was nowhere to be seen. A clump of grass caught his toe and he went down, knocking the breath out of himself.
Above him, a man hovered, the sun obstructing his features, but he seemed familiar. He seemed to be frantically trying to say something, but a bird's loud chirp kept drowning him out. He was just about to sit up and reveal the man's identify, when Illya's consciousness poked him with a large 'Wake up, Idiot.' Stick.
His eyes flew open; it felt as if he'd just shut them. His communicator was blaring and one hand found his temple and he squinted at the clock. Just past seven, still early.
"Kuryakin," he mumbled, dry washing his face with his free hand and yawning.
"Finally! I didn't think you were ever going to wake up. Mr. Waverly wants you in his office."
"When?" A stupid question, Illya knew, but he still felt compelled to ask it.
"Half an hour ago."
"No surprises then. I'm on my way."
Forty minutes later, Illya paused to accept his badge and pushed on to the elevators. There was a small group of people waiting, a couple of familiar faces, but mostly just the nuts and bolts workers that kept UNCLE operating. The elevator arrived and everyone waited for him to enter first. He entered, punched the appropriate button and found a corner to prop himself up in.
He found his way to Waverly's office by sheer rote. Still, it made him smile to know he'd beaten his partner there.
"Ah, Mr. Kuryakin." Waverly gestured to the table and Illya sat at his usual place. A quick spin and a file folder came to rest in front of him. Pulling on his glasses, Illya flipped open the folder and started to read. "Miss Carlisle, do be good enough to bring us some coffee, strong coffee, please." Illya could have kissed him, but, well, a cooler head prevailed before he could actually do anything.
A few minutes later, the door opened. Illya expected the secretary, but instead Napoleon breezed in, looking like a million dollars, well rested and ready to take on the world. Illya would have been willing to bet his next paycheck that the man had had less sleep than he had. One day, he would have to find out his partner's trick.
"Mr. Solo, it's so good of you to join us. Perhaps now we can get started."
"Traffic, sir." Napoleon made the expected excuse and slipped Illya a knowing grin.
Waverly harrumphed and dimmed the lights. "The screen, if you will indulge me for a moment."
An hour later, they walked out and Illya was shaking his head. "I still don't like it."
"You don't think I can pull it off, do you?" Napoleon was brushing the wrinkles from his jacket.
"I don't want to be the one to pick up the pieces if you can't." Illya was trying not to slip into one of his moods, but a lack of sleep and the thought of Napoleon going in without him as his back up bothered him immensely. "What happens if you get in too deep and can't get out?"
"I've gone undercover before, you know. You aren't the only one around here who can hide in plain sight." They paused for the elevator and entered. The people already in the elevator parted as if afraid that if anyone got too close, one of the agents might start shooting. "Besides, you'll be monitoring me from this end. This is going to be a piece of cake."
Famous last words, Illya thought ,staring at the communications console, willing it to life. Napoleon had been silent for nearly fourteen days and Illya was way beyond concerned. Napoleon either had been found out and eliminated, or he was so deeply entrenched, there was no way for him to get a signal back out.
So during his watch, he sat there, waiting for a message, just some scrap of hope that Napoleon was still in a game that was going in his favor. At night, he stared at the pages of that book, puzzling over this entry and that. One name in particular had caught his eye—Marion—LI. His Marion? He'd seen her a few times after their last affair together, but the chemistry which had seemed so promising at the start waned. But Napoleon was dating her as well? That didn't seem right, nor did the number. He had very good recall when it came to numbers, but he didn't recognize this one at all
An impulse made him dial it and when a man answered, he mumbled an excuse and hung up. Apparently Marion didn't let the playing field get cold for long. He pushed the feelings of betrayal aside and went to bed.
That damned field again, Illya thought. Every time he tried to take a step, weeds conspired to trip him. He stumbled and nearly fell, but a pair of hands caught him, keeping him upright. When he turned to look, the face was obscured.
"Who are—?" Illya started and the alarm clock answered. Blinking, Illya looked up at the ceiling tiles above his bed and vainly tried to remember the dream. The harder he thought about it, the more vague it became. At last, he surrendered to the inevitable and got up.
Only to sit beside a silent console and stare at the backs of his hands.
The phone rang and Illya snatched it up. "Napoleon?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Kuryakin." And Illya could tell by Waverly's voice that he truly was sorry. "I gather there is still no word?"
"No, sir." He ached to add, Request permission to begin recovery efforts, but he knew better. All of them were expendable to the cause, but not Napoleon, at least not to his way of thinking. He brought a hand to his chest and felt the hard outline of the little black book. He felt as if as long as he held on to that, it was like having a bit of his partner still with him.
"Do you have a team in place?"
"Yes, sir." That team had been ready to move a day after Napoleon's last message to them. It had been so typical of his partner. It started out business and ended with the careful description of one of the 'involved' women, right down to her measurements. Illya knew in his gut that Napoleon would try to bring her out with him and that might have just been his downfall. If she was more loyal to THRUSH than she was eager to escape, it would not end well for Napoleon.
"Send them in, Mr. Kuryakin. Remind them that their primary objective is to get the innocents out and recover our property secondary to that." It was hard to think of Napoleon as property and he wanted to snarl a suitable response. Instead...
"Sir, request permission to accompany the team in."
"If I refuse, you will no doubt ignore my orders entirely and accompany them anyways?"
"Yes, sir." The line was drawn and the seconds ticked by.
"Go get your partner, Mr. Kuryakin. I have the feeling it would take more than our combined forces to stop you anyway. Bring him home, Mr. Kuryakin... Mr. Kuryakin?" The receiver dangled by its cord, dropped as Illya raced from the room.
The black-clothed men huddled around the hastily-drawn map, one of them keeping a steady beam of light on the sheet of paper. It showed a large structure and the area immediately surrounding it.
"We know there are exits, here, here and here." Illya pointed to various spots on the map.
"We'll station a clean-up squad by each one." Burke was Napoleon's counterpart from the London branch of UNCLE. Smart, just as cunning as he was handsome, although Illya would never say that out loud. Illya was amazed and thankful that the man had graciously stepped back and permitted Illya to take control of the rescue/recovery team. And he'd done it with aplomb and grace. His only comment, "I know how I'd feel if it was my partner in there," giving Illya a sense of control.
"There hasn't been any reported activity in the area for over twenty four hours." Illya paused to look around at the various UNCLE agents. "Either they've hunkered in—"
"Or flown the coop." Burke's partner, Burton, was the polar opposite of his partner, just as Illya was from Napoleon. He was glib and always ready with a laugh or a supportive hand to the shoulder. He was also a sharpshooter and black belt, a good man to have at your side, and Illya was glad he was here.
"Exactly, but whichever it is, we should expect them to have left us a surprise package or two."
"What if they've taken Napoleon with them?"
"Then we follow."
"Those weren't our orders." Illya didn't know the man speaking, but it didn't matter. Burke trusted him enough to have brought him along.
"Then I follow, the rest of you can do as you please." Illya didn't mean to make the comment as curt as he did, but at the moment he didn't care about protocol or orders or anything else except getting inside and hopefully getting his partner out.
"I didn't mean—" the man started and Illya shook his head.
"It's my partner; I won't ask you to jeopardize your career," Illya interrupted him and managed a small smile. "I need you to set up a cross fire here. Draw their attention, if there is attention to be drawn. It should be obvious fairly quickly, but wait for my signal."
"What about you?"
"I'm going in the back way."
"I'll go with—" Burke started but let the sentence die as Illya shook his head. "...Oscar and take the front," he finished. Illya smiled gratefully at not having to say what he was going to. "We'll wait for your signal."
"Let's do it. Keep your heads down and let's all go home alive." Illya felt Burton's hand on his shoulder, holding him back as the group started to move.
"Illya, are you sure going in there alone is the right move? Are you thinking clearly?"
"Probably not, but if anyone is going to get himself killed..." Illya sighed. "I have to do this, Oscar." The fingers tightened and Illya smiled, bringing his hand up to cover the other. "After all, if anyone is coming away with an "I told you so,' it should be me."
"Just watch your back."
"Now you sound like Napoleon."
"Any port in a storm."
Illya crept slowly through the labyrinth of tunnels, brushing aside a mass of cobwebs. Dust covered debris was strewn about the corridor, proving an adequate trip hazard. Illya was careful to avoid disturbing any of it. It would be just like THRUSH to leave a bomb hidden beneath a half crushed box. He moved with care, keeping away from the walls and avoiding anything that looked too innocent.
Where do they find these places? he thought as he eased around a corner. The beam from his flashlight strayed across a gray stone wall and he paused, straining to hear the slightest sound, eyes closed in concentration. The occasional drip drip of water was all he could hear. Sighing, he dug his communicator out of his back pocket.
"Open Channel F."
"We're in position."
"Stand down. There is nothing here. If THRUSH was here at all, it was a very long time ago or they may have never gotten down here to begin with."
"No Napoleon, I take it?"
"No nothing." Something was tugging at his subconscious and he glanced off into the darkness. "I'm going to take about ten more minutes."
"Okay, we'll keep our eyes open in the meantime. Out."
Illya walked slowly, cautiously, down the hall to the end where it split. His instincts were telling him right, although the left passage held more promise by way of several doors. Perhaps overly cautious, he turned right and followed the hall to a door, one single door.
He studied the frame with his flashlight, looking for anything that might be a trigger. It seemed safe, but still he kept to one side as he pushed it open.
Nothing happened and Illya tried to squash the feeling of coming out of his skin—an unfortunate side effect of adrenaline.
Playing his beam around the room, Illya gasped. Bodies were strewn about like dirty laundry, all of them broken and bleeding. It was a torture chamber, straight out of the Inquisition and it had been recently used from the looks of it.
Illya knelt beside the closest victim. Bones peeked through huge gaping holes. There was no way this person could have withstood that sort of injury. The fact that the bent head had dark hair made Illya's guts ache.
With a trembling hand, obviously the fault of the adrenaline and nothing else, Illya reached out to tip the head back. It was frozen and that's when Illya frowned. He let his hand skim down the shoulder to the arm. The flesh... wasn't flesh at all.
"Wax," he muttered. He pulled out his communicator. "Open Channel F."
"A whole room full of it. Follow my signal and bring some lights."
Ten minutes later, Illya head the approach of people and instinctively lowered himself behind a blood and gore stained rack, just in case.
"Illya?" Burton's voice was low and as he held his light up, he gasped and the light swung drunkenly.
"It's okay, Oscar." Illya stood up slowly so as not to frighten any trigger happy agent. "They're all wax."
"Wax?" Burke lowered his gun and walked over to Illya. "All wax?"
"So far. I can't even hazard a guess as to why these are here."
"Different strokes for different folks, I guess." Burke started to wander the room. "These remind me of that one movie... um, Mystery of the Wax Museum."
"I must have missed it," Illya muttered, helping one of the junior agents set up a light standard.
"It was great—Vincent Price was this museum curator hopelessly scarred by an accident. He couldn't sculpt people anymore, so he'd find a likely victim and dip him or her in wax. Trouble started when he thought he found his Joan of Arc—"
"Helen, it was Helen," Oscar interrupted, then he caught his breath. "Illya, you need to see this..."
"Okay, just give me—"
The edge on Burton's voice made Illya abandon his project and trot to his side. There was a man, his head severed, still in position at the chopping block with a bare-chested, hooded man beside him, his axe ready for the next victim.
"So there was a beheading. It was a common spectacle, especially in England and France." Illya was ready to dismiss it outright, but Burton caught his arm.
"Watch the axe man's chest. He's breathing."
"What?" All of a sudden, Illya dashed to the man and pulled off the hood. Napoleon stared back, unseeing and unmoving.
"What's wrong with him?" Burton's voice was husky.
"I don't know. We need a medic," Illya shouted. "Napoleon?" he tried, shining his light into the hazel eyes. The eyes blinked, but it was just a reflex. He shook Napoleon, but that brought no response either. He'd been desperate to find Napoleon, but not like this.
Illya glanced up as the doctor approached him. Waverly was walking beside the man and both of them looked grim. He stood, setting the magazine he'd been staring at aside.
"It doesn't look good, Mr. Kuryakin."
"His hypnotic state has been induced at so deeply a subconscious level; we haven't been able to alter it. We've tried physical and drug stimuli, but nothing seems to penetrate it."
"We have no way of knowing. It could be permanent or he might snap out of it in the next minute."
"When can I see him?"
"Tomorrow. Go home and try to get some sleep, son." Waverly's voice was kind, but had a no nonsense edge to it. Illya thought about protesting, but when Waverly adopted that tone, there was no way to breech it. Obey or else
So, in the end, Illya obeyed. He left HQ and headed for his favorite bar in the Village. One where they knew him and would give him the space he needed. He would get a drink, get laid and perhaps then he would sleep... perhaps.
Instead, Illya ended up nursing the same drink all night and went home alone. No one caught his eye, although plenty tried. None of them were the man he wanted so desperately at this moment. Around midnight, he let himself into his apartment and carefully locked the door behind him.
His movements were all automatic now as he prepared for bed. As he pulled back the sheets, he spied Napoleon's little black book on his nightstand. He could practically recite some of the pages now, although he still hadn't deciphered NI and still baffled him.
He picked up the book and began to thumb through the pages, Napoleon's familiar writing a small comfort in an otherwise cold world.
He was walking through a field again, the same damn field he'd been walking through for the last month in his dreams. In the distance, he saw a house, alone, abandoned for all intents, just like him. A quick look around showed him he was alone this time. No dark shadowy figure loomed over or behind him.
He walked, slowly and methodically towards the house. Now the grass and weeds seemed to bow away from his feet as he walked and the door to the house slowly opened at his approach. Even though common sense and his training told him otherwise, he entered and looked around.
Not much downstairs, a small rustic kitchen, complete with an iron stove to one side, a small living room, two chairs in front of a fireplace. In the center of the room was a staircase and he headed up it without thinking about what was driving him on.
After what seemed like an hour, he got to the top. There was nothing up there but a bed and a figure sprawled out on it. As he approached, the head came up and Illya saw it was his partner. Napoleon, alive and awake, Illya didn't think, didn't even stop to question whether or not his actions might end with him on his ass and a broken nose. He embraced Napoleon and kissed him. Kissed him more passionately, more hungrily than he had ever kissed anyone else in his life.
He pulled away, suddenly aware of the liberties he'd taken and just a little shocked at his own revelation.
"Napoleon..." he started, but his partner placed two fingers on his lips and smiled. "Wake up, Illya."
The phone jarred him awake and Illya sat up. Or tried to, he was tangled in a great many wires or ropes or... tubes?
"Shh, calm down, Illya, it's okay..." Napoleon's voice made him look in that direction and choke. "Settle back, Illya, they're coming to take the tube out right now, just don't fight it... relax."
In spite of the tube choking him, Illya let his partner's hand press him back to the bed and he frantically tried to read Napoleon's face. It was dark, lit from behind. Then there were people around him, all talking too fast for him to understand, in a language he didn't even want to translate.
A searing burned in his throat and he gasped as the tube was pulled free. His eyes teared uncontrollably as he tried to get enough oxygen into his lungs.
"Take a deep breath and relax, Mr. Kuryakin. The worst is over." The doctor passed the tube over to a nurse and patted his shoulder. "We'll keep everything else in until we're sure you're going to stay with us this time."
He wanted to talk, ask about what he'd seen, what he'd experienced, but everything fell from his mind as he watched Napoleon escort the others from the room. The man looked as if he hadn't slept in a week, hadn't shaved in longer. His hair was awry and his clothes rumpled. There was a bandage on his head and one of his eyes looked bruised.
"I was beginning to wonder if you were going to come back at all. It's not a party without you here, partner." Napoleon raised the head of the bed up and reseated himself in an extremely uncomfortable looking straight back chair. He picked up a spoon and a cup. Illya knew this routine from both sides of the fence and he nodded slowly, opening his mouth as Napoleon brought the spoon with a few ice chips in it to his lips.
His throat hurt, but the ice cooled it. It was starting to become a struggle to keep his eyes open, but he wasn't going to sleep again until he had some answers.
"What?" he finally managed to whisper after a couple of spoonfuls of crushed ice.
"Do you remember the accident? The crash?" At Illya's blank stare, Napoleon set the spoon down and held up something vaguely familiar, his little black book. It was torn nearly in half and looked burned. "This saved your life." Napoleon turned the book over in his hand and smiled. "The doctors found this in the breast pocket of your jacket, although I couldn't tell them how it got there. If it hadn't been there, the piece of metal it stopped would have gone through your heart." He dropped it onto Illya's lap and smiled. "I don't know why you had it in your pocket and honestly, I don't care." Napoleon's free hand gently brushed the hair off Illya's forehead and he winced. "You are going to be one big mass of cuts and bruises for awhile, but you being awake now confirms to them what I knew all along—you are one tough customer."
Illya smiled slightly, feeling the edges around him start to blur. His hand searched for and found Napoleon's hand, resting on it. They had a good many things to discuss once he was feeling better. For now it was enough that Napoleon was here and well. Everything else would fall into place.
He happened to glance down to the book lying open on his lap. Apparently he'd flipped through it just enough for some of the pages to have lodged in his mind. He saw an abbreviation and moved his finger to it. NI was written after the name.
Napoleon looked down and Illya almost thought the man was blushing for a moment, then he looked up and grinned. "Not Illya."
Illya smiled with that and closed his eyes. He swore he felt lips softly touching his cheek, but with all the medication in his bloodstream, who could be sure? What he was sure about was that when he woke up, he and Napoleon were due for a long talk... a very long talk.