Experiment In Vivo
"Let me make this perfectly clear. We will only have one chance to do this. It must go according to plan. Are you sure this will work?" Armand asked the dark-haired man seated across the desk from him.
"Positive. The target is regular as clockwork. He'll be where he should be when he should be. I've laid the groundwork and rehearsed as much as possible. I'm ready to go with this. Waiting any longer could jeopardize the outcome." He met the heated gaze of his superior without flinching, eyes hardening like steel in the pause that followed.
"And the outcome is? I want to hear it from your own mouth. Make no mistake. I will not be denied this revenge."
Montoya smiled savagely, white teeth flashing against the dark tan of his skin.
"Illya Kuryakin will die, I assure you. Painfully? Certainly. Slowly? Possibly. But he will die, oh, yes."
Armand smiled for the first time since the clandestine meeting began. "Excellent, Montoya, excellent." He opened the drawer of the ornate mahogany desk and drew out an envelope fat with currency. He slid it across the desktop toward his operative. "Your second installment. Payoff to be after the culmination, obviously."
"Of course, sir. I look forward to it." The assassin stood, pocketed the wadded envelope and left quietly.
Armand rocked in his chair a moment more before replying to the empty room, "Not nearly as much as I do, Mr. Montoya."
Napoleon Solo tapped his pen impatiently against the table of the empty conference room. His partner was late, again. He was working on an antidote to a nasty Thrush nerve gas they had recently stolen from a satrap laboratory. As usual, Illya lost all track of time when in such pursuit. Solo smiled and decided not to hold it against the Russian. He did so love playing in the labs. He buzzed Red Lab and heard his partner's annoyed voice.
"Yes, what is it?" Kuryakin asked grumpily.
"Is that any way to address your superior, Illya?" Solo said.
Illya snorted. "When you act like my superior, perhaps I'll treat you like one."
"That'll be the day. Come on, I'm hungry and you're half an hour late as it is," Napoleon reminded him. "Even mad scientists have to eat."
He heard the rustle of clothing as Illya removed his lab coat. "Sorry. I lost track of time. I'll meet you in the galley in five."
Solo smiled at Illya's naval-speak. It was a habit he thought quite endearing. "All right, but you're buying. That will teach you to try and stand me up." He switched off the speaker and put on his jacket, smoothing out the lines before exiting his office.
In the hallway he nodded at the agents and employees going about their business. As he turned the corner he almost ran into a fellow Section Two agent and apologized. "Sorry, Montoya, I didn't see you." Napoleon smiled at the good-looking man as he gave way. Montoya nodded and waved the faux pas off. Solo continued down the hall and didn't see the predatory grin break out on the agent's face.
"Oh, I'm counting on that, Napoleon."
Enrique Montoya had been with U.N.C.L.E. for almost two years. Unfortunately, he had been with Thrush even longer. He had infiltrated Section Two, at great cost to Thrush, for the sole purpose of eliminating Number Two, Section Two, better known as Illya Nickovetch Kuryakin. He did not question his orders or his superior's motives. He was well trained and would complete the mission given to him with ruthless efficiency. Personally, he had nothing against Kuryakin. He thought him a good agent, but the personal didn't enter into the mission. He would kill him as easily as he would a fly. Intellectually he knew this hit was a personal quest at the behest of Mr. Armand, but that did not bother him. Motives rarely interested him; cash and career advancement did.
He checked the hall outside Red Lab and ducked into the doorway. He carried a briefcase and a paper sack, to all appearances he seemed to be trying to find a quiet place to lunch. Sticking his head inside, he glanced about the room. Empty, as he expected. None of the other lab techs ever stayed past one p.m. He set his lunch bag on the counter and spread its contents on the tabletop. Satisfied with his cover, he slid the stool over to Illya's workstation. Setting the case on the floor he began to set up the explosive charge that would kill Kuryakin and seal his favor with his Thrush master. The grin was back in full force.
Napoleon chewed his sandwich slowly and looked up at the serious face of his partner. He had his coffee cup halfway to his mouth and had not moved in the last two minutes.
"Hello? Illya, buddy?" Solo joked, seeing the awareness come back to Illya's blue eyes.
He blushed slightly and said, "Sorry, Napoleon. I did it again, didn't I?"
"I'm beginning to get my feelings hurt, tovarishch." He grinned at his usually attentive partner.
"It's just that I'm so close to this final chemical analysis. If I can break down one final component, I'll have the tool to create the antidote." Illya was very passionate about work, and Napoleon understood that as he shared the trait.
"It's okay, partner. I'm finished anyway. Scurry on back to your beakers and I'll see you after work." He winked at the blond man, letting him know there were no hard feelings.
Illya smiled his shy smile back and left so abruptly Solo was sure he created a vacuum.
He made a mental note to keep an eye on how late Kuryakin stayed slaving away tonight. Given the choice and the opportunity, Illya would live in the lab. Solo had other plans for the agent tonight, even if he had to be dragged bodily away.
The rest of the afternoon went by uneventfully and the next time Solo checked his watch it was six o'clock. Illya had not checked in. Sighing, Solo decided to head for the lab in person. He grabbed his coat and his briefcase and said goodnight to Mitzi on the way out.
"Late night ahead, Napoleon?" she asked amiably. She smiled at her handsome boss and wished for the hundredth time that he were interested. A small sigh escaped her as he leaned close.
"Afraid so, Mitzi. Illya's in the lab again." He rolled his eyes and she laughed at his expression.
"Well, I have a crowbar in the closet if you think it will help."
"You know it just might. Keep it handy, will you, doll?" Napoleon winked at her and started out the door.
"Do you want me to page him for you?" she asked politely.
He half turned to her and replied, "No, I'd like to try a sneak attack. See if that works better than giving him a chance to lock the door. Go on home, Mitzi. I'll see you in the morning."
"All right, Napoleon. Good night." She watched the graceful form of her boss walk through the door and shook her head. Too little, too late, she thought. She envied Illya and the hold he had over Solo. But she was gracious and only wished the best for them. God knew they had so little joy in their lives as it was. She tidied her desk, gathered her belongings and left the office, trying to erase the mental movie playing in her head that starred Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin.
Riding the elevator down to the lab level, Napoleon hoped he could pry Illya away from his work tonight. They both needed a break from the monotony of office work. As much as he knew Illya liked research, he was just as sure they needed the diversion field work always brought. He was hoping for a little excitement to come their way soon.
Exiting the lift, Solo turned into the corridor taking him to Red Lab. It was so named due to the dangerous material that usually lay within. Illya's and the other technicians' workstations were outside the secure vault that housed a separate containment, venting and elaborately controlled security system. The actual nerve gas recently confiscated was sealed there, waiting for U.N.C.L.E. to finish creating the antidote.
Napoleon spied his partner hunched over a microscope, jotting down notes in his tiny, meticulous script. A Bunsen burner was flaming a gold colored solution to a controlled simmer on the other side of the Russian's workspace. The lab was deserted, most of the technicians having clocked out precisely at 5:30 p.m. Solo cleared his throat loudly enough to catch Illya's attention. He looked up, surprised to hear another person in the room with him.
"Napoleon." He removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. "What time is it?" he asked, looking around him at the empty lab.
"After six, partner. Time to pack up your toys and go home."
Illya sneered at the word 'toys', but did not answer. He bent back over the scope. "I think I may have something here, Napoleon."
"Well, I know I have something 'here,' milok. But what I really want is to get you 'there.' Meaning my place. Any chance of that happening in the next few minutes?" Napoleon used his best seductive smile on Kuryakin, perfectly willing to play dirty pool if need be to accomplish his goal.
"Now, Napoleon, you know that won't work. Not when I'm working on something," Illya replied.
"Illya, I'm working on something, too," Solo leered, arching an eyebrow at the smaller man.
"Napoleon, really, you are impossible." But he was smiling back at Solo and a blush was creeping up on his neck. "Go find some poor secretary to pester for a few minutes. I'll be ready to go soon." He scribbled notes on his pad and checked his math with a slide rule.
Solo walked to the other side of the counter and perched on a stool. "But I like to pester you, Illya. You turn such interesting shades of pink."
Illya laughed at that and conceded to Solo. "I do love you, Polya. But you can be so annoying. If you are quiet, I'll permit you to stay. But don't touch anything, all right?"
"Oh, I'll touch all right, lyubovnik. Later. You can count on that." He raked his gaze over the agent's body suggestively.
Illya sighed and got up to check a printout on the computer. He never made it that far. A thunderous noise that was obscene in its volume annihilated the quiet. Alarms sounded and the outer steel doors automatically slammed shut. The computer system governing the Red Lab section immediately instigated containment protocol. Sprinklers came on a second later to douse the flames the explosion created. Smoke poured out of the ruined console that had been Illya's station. Twisted metal and bits of glass littered the floor and what was left of the countertops.
Illya heard a moan and realized it came from him. He had been thrown across the room by the blast to slam against the wall, dazed and bruised but intact for the most part. His nose and ears were bleeding, and his head ached miserably. He shook his head to clear it and saw a leg sticking out from the other side of the terminal.
"Napoleon!" he shouted and rushed to his aid. He knelt down beside him and inspected the injuries. Solo was conscious but groggy and in pain. A sliver of metal was jutting out of his thigh, which was bleeding steadily. Illya removed his tie and placed a tourniquet above the worst of it. Solo coughed once and it was then that Kuryakin noticed the frothy blood on his lips. He gently pulled the suit jacket away and winced when he saw the shrapnel embedded in his friend's chest. He placed a handkerchief against the metal shard and grimaced when Solo moaned.
"Illya?" Napoleon tried to sit up and turned pale. "What happened?" he managed to get out before a coughing fit took him.
"I don't know, Polya, but try to lie still. You're bleeding from the chest and leg."
"I'm fine, Napoleon. Just a few scrapes." He walked unsteadily to the communications station and snapped on the toggle, leaving a bloody handprint on the slick metal. He stared at the red stain for a moment and blinked dizzily back to reality. "This is Kuryakin in Red Lab One. There's been an explosion of some kind here. I have an agent down and need assistance now." His voice was calm but his insides were shaking. He didn't like the look of Napoleon's chest injury. There was a terse reply from the speaker.
"Mr. Kuryakin. We have a code yellow on the board from Red Lab One. Check your containment immediately." Illya paled at the report and moved quickly to the inner door of decon. It was intact, he realized gratefully, but the machinery monitoring the containment had been damaged in the blast.
He reported back to security. "The containment held, but the monitor was damaged in the explosion. There is no, I repeat, no breach in containment. He heard the agent on the other end sigh in relief, and echoed the sentiment.
"I need a med team dispatched here, now," he reminded the disembodied voice.
"Cannot comply. The computer still shows code yellow and will not stand down on decon. You'll have to reset it manually from there. We can't risk exposure."
Illya swore in three languages before replying. "I told you, the monitor was damaged. I can't reset it. Override it."
"No can do, Kuryakin. Double safeguards are implemented. We can't get anywhere near you until a full decon has cycled and the board shows green."
Kuryakin said softly, "Solo won't make it that long. He's in bad shape."
"Sorry, Red Lab. There's nothing we can do at this end." The connection clicked off with a finality that hung in the quiet.
Illya went back to his partner. Napoleon was pale and sweating. Illya loosened the tourniquet and then tightened it again. He checked the bleeding and didn't like the bright red color seeping around the bandage. Napoleon began to shiver, shock beginning to set in. Illya placed his suit coat around his shoulders, easing him to lie on his lap.
He pulled Solo to him and tried to warm him with his body heat. "Still with me, Polya?" he asked gently.
"Always, Illya," came the soft answer. Illya's heart clenched at the meaning. He kissed the top of his lover's head and tried to think. Napoleon would bleed to death before the decontamination could be completed. If he wanted to keep Napoleon alive he had no other choice. He propped Solo carefully against the bench and took his face in his hands.
"Trust me, Napoleon?" He smiled at him and looked into his hazel eyes. Solo nodded, too shocky to speak. Illya went to the first aid locker and brought back an oxygen mask. Fitting it over Solo's mouth, he caressed his cheek one last time before moving to the inner containment chamber. He bypassed the door lock mechanism, completing the circuit to open the sliding Plexiglas door. He stole a last look at Napoleon, aching to be with him but knowing he was running out of time. He smiled at his lover and saw the panic begin in Solo's eyes.
"Illya, no!" was the last thing he heard as he stepped into the chamber and sealed the door behind him. He was once again grateful for his eidetic memory as he recalled the formula he had been working on in detail. He worked quickly, creating what he hoped to be the antidote from the chemicals stored inside the mini-lab within the chamber. When it was done he prepared a syringe and filled it with the drug.
He activated the speaker and said, "Kuryakin here. I'm in Zero Zone. Wish me luck." He left the channel open and keyed in the sequence to open the inner vault. The chamber slid open with a pneumatic hiss, and a swirl of nitrogen escaped to curl around his arm. The vial of nerve gas was sitting in its niche, looking nothing like the evil Illya knew it to be. It was actually a pleasing amber color in its liquid state, waiting to be released into the air to combine with oxygen and hydrogen to form the gas. Illya used a glove to pluck it from the vault. He took a deep breath, calming himself as he did so.
He closed his eyes and saw Napoleon's bleeding body in his mind. That image spurred him on to end the drama quickly. He rolled up his sleeve and jabbed the needle into the muscle of his upper arm and depressed the plunger. The liquid burned like fire and made him gasp with the pain of it. He waited two minutes, then three, and decided that was long enough.
With a savage squeeze he crushed the vial of nerve toxin with his gloved hand. The chemicals combined with the room air and a cloud of yellow-white gas filled the chamber. Alarm klaxons screamed to life as the decon systems frantically attempted to vent the contagion.
Illya wondered if the alarms were the last thing he would ever hear.
A minute passed. And another. After the third, Illya let out the breath he had been holding. He slumped to the floor of the chamber, spent.
"Kuryakin here. Get the med team here, now. Decon is complete." His head felt terribly heavy for some reason.
"Kuryakin, our board is still yellow. How do you know decon is complete?"
Illya smiled. "Because I'm still alive. Override the computer. Red Lab One is secure."
An hour later, he was in sickbay waiting to hear about his partner. He had refused any treatment, choosing instead to pace in the waiting room. Napoleon was in surgery, and Illya would not budge until he had news.
He circled the room yet again and nearly bumped into Mr. Waverly as he made his entrance. He was dressed in formal wear and had an even larger scowl on his face than usual. One glance at his agent told him more than any of the reports he had received this night. His features softened and he took Kuryakin's arm and steered him to the nearest chair.
"Sit down, Mr. Kuryakin, before you fall down."
Meekly, Illya replied, "Yes, sir," and did as he was asked. Truth be told, this was the only other man who could ever order him to do anything without question. It was not so much his position of authority as it was the respect Illya deemed him worthy of. Mr. Waverly had earned his respect many times over.
Waverly noted the bruises and the dried blood on Kuryakin's face, but did not say anything. He had told one of the medics to give them a few minutes' privacy and then to attend to his extremely stubborn agent.
"I understand Mr. Solo is still in surgery but doing well," he supplied. He saw the brief flare of relief in Kuryakin's eyes before he veiled the emotion. "I spoke with the doctor on duty, and he seems to think he will recover fully. That's certainly good news."
Illya relaxed slightly more into the chair with the news, and Waverly saw the exhaustion clearly written in his body language. Illya would hide it, of course, but he was on the verge of collapse.
"We will discuss this... situation... after you've both had time to recover. I'll not go into it now, but we do have things to talk about, don't we Mr. Kuryakin?" He raised his eyebrows in Illya's direction, and Illya dropped his head, blushing furiously.
"Yes, sir, we do," was all he said.
Waverly cleared his throat and made one last remark to his beleaguered agent. "You will let the doctor attend to your injuries now, won't you, Mr. Kuryakin?" It was thinly disguised as a question, but they both knew it was not.
As if on cue, a medic appeared in the doorway, trailing a beefy looking orderly behind him. He had been warned about this particular Section Two agent and thought it prudent to be prepared. Mr. Waverly had to suppress a smile at the size of the attendant. He really couldn't blame the doctor. He stepped aside to let the men pass and gave Illya a nod before leaving. "Behave yourself, young man, will you?"
Kuryakin had the good grace to look reproved.
A short time later Napoleon was wheeled down the hall to his room. He was unconscious, but his color had improved dramatically. A transfusion bag dripped into his I.V. and numerous machines monitored him. The orderlies transferred him to the bed gently and tucked the blanket around the still form.
The duty doctor appeared a minute later, checking the chart and his patient's vitals. He was satisfied with patient Number One. Patient Number Two, however, was another story. He glared at Kuryakin balefully and pointed seriously at the other bed.
"And just why aren't you in it?" he demanded. Illya looked at his feet.
"I was waiting..."
"For your partner," the doctor finished. "Yes, I know. Well, your partner is currently in better shape than yourself, Mr. Kuryakin. At least he's sleeping. Which is what you'd better be doing in the next five minutes, or I'll order a sedative. Is that clear?" he queried.
"Crystal," Illya replied. He was too tired to argue the point. He also knew he would lose. This medic clearly had taken the Alexander Waverly course in haranguing. Shucking off his shoes and jacket en route, he made his painful way to the spare bed and climbed in. He stifled the groan of pain that the movement elicited. He did not want a hypo.
Satisfied, the doctor made one more parting comment. "Just be glad I put you here to begin with. Saves you the trouble of sneaking in here when my back is turned." His voice was gruff, but his expression was kind as he grinned at he blond agent. "Get some rest, Illya. Napoleon will be out for hours. I'll wake you if there's any change." He turned to leave and the sleepy voice of Kuryakin called after him.
"Thank you for saving my partner, Doctor."
"From what I heard, you did that yourself."
Illya was silent.
"Goodnight, Mr. Kuryakin." He was answered by a soft snore from across the room.
Morning light was filtering through the shades when the day staff arrived for rounds. Napoleon was just stirring, coming awake slowly and painfully. He blinked open his heavy lids to see a pretty nurse taking his pulse. She smiled at him and said, "Good morning, Mr. Solo. How do you feel?" She drew to his side and offered him a drink of water.
"I'm able to feel, so I guess that's something." He sipped at the water until his throat felt better and sank wearily back onto the pillow. He grimaced at the throbbing in his thigh and the ache in his chest. Sudden realization dawned on him and he bolted upright, terror causing his heart rate to leap and his monitors to squiggle.
"Illya! Dear God, Illya went into the vault..." He started to swing his legs over the side when a familiar voice came through the curtain between the two beds. The voice was followed by the body he knew almost as intimately as his own.
"Easy, Napoleon. I'm all right. I'm right here, partner." Illya firmly put Napoleon back in bed and ran a reassuring hand across his shoulder. The nurse adjusted the leads and tubing and warned him not to try that again.
"Don't worry, he won't," Kuryakin assured her. "Could you give us a few minutes, please?" he asked.
"Of course. If you need me, ring."
Illya's eyes followed her out the door and then dropped to gaze at his lover. Napoleon was flushed; sweat beading on his furrowed forehead as he drank in the sight of Illya alive and obviously well.
Kuryakin sat on the bed and took Solo's hand in his. He rubbed the hand against his cheek and kissed the palm. Napoleon sighed at the contact and closed his eyes. "Illya. I thought..." He stopped as his body shivered and he gripped Illya's hand tighter.
"I know, Polya."
No further words were needed. Illya lay carefully against his lover's side and drew him into his arms. He felt Napoleon relax into the familiar niche and caressed him lovingly, gently, until Solo grew lax and drowsed into the peace of sleep. His steady breathing lulled Kuryakin until he dropped off moments later.
Alexander Waverly strolled through the door prepared to endure the complaints of his bedridden agents. He was in no way prepared for the sight before him. Number One, Section Two was currently being held in the arms of Number Two, Section Two. They were both sleeping soundly. Once he recovered from the shock he muttered to himself, "Well, I always wondered when it would happen. About bloody time, I'd say."
He retreated out the door and placed a 'No Visitors' sign as he left. He was smiling as he did so.
Miles across town a shadowy figure entered a darkened office illuminated only by the burning tip of an expensive cigar. The sweet smell permeated the room and gave Montoya a feeling of familiarity. Armand said nothing, merely drew in the cigar smoke with practiced ease.
Minutes later, Montoya spoke up. "I'm here for the final payment. Do you have it?" His voice contained an element of smugness, the certainty that he deserved the money evident in his words. He sat in the wing-backed chair and fingered the brim of his fedora. Armand was angling, he was sure of that; sure he was trying to get by cheaply. Very well, Montoya thought. I can outwait him.
The orange circle flared again as his boss dragged on the Havana. A slight creaking of the chair was the only sound in the dark room.
"So, Mr. Montoya. You've come for your last installment, yes?"
"I expect to be paid, the job's done."
"Is it, Mr. Montoya?"
He grinned, his white teeth showing ferally in the gloom. "Of course. I was in the corridor when I heard the bomb explode. There was a two-for-one sale, by the way, Mr. Armand. Solo was in the lab, too." He laughed heartily, pleased that he could relate news of this import before being paid off. It would certainly give him a bargaining chip to squeeze more out of Thrush.
"And did you verify the... results... of the explosion?" Armand inquired.
"I heard the explosion, I saw the bloody bodies pulled out. Obviously, I couldn't loiter around without causing undue suspicion. Surely, you wouldn't have wanted me to blow my cover after all these months of preparation? If they didn't die in the lab, they certainly did as a result of their injuries." Montoya relaxed, sure that his boss would see the logic of his report.
"Of course you did the right thing. Thrush wouldn't want to lose a... valuable asset such as yourself." Another drag on the cigar and Armand sighed.
"Then we are in agreement. I would like my reward now, if you please, Mr. Armand."
Armand leaned slightly forward noiselessly in the chair. "And you shall have it, Mr. Montoya. You shall have it indeed."
The flash of the automatic briefly illuminated the face of Enrique Montoya, double agent. Surprise was the only thing written there a moment before he crumpled forward, a small black hole dead center between his eyes.
The barrel of the gun added its smoke to the cigar's as Armand took one last satisfied puff. He walked to the body in front of his desk and stubbed the Havana out on the back of Montoya's neck.
"It would seem they just don't make spies like they used to. Pity." He sighed sadly as he walked out of his office for the last time.
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