Remission of Sin
The mission. There had been a mission...before...before what? His mind screamed at him to remember, to stop what they were doing to him. But he was so tired. So tired now of it all.
The mission-my mission-is to obey. Yes, obey. But whom do I obey? Doesn't matter. The pain stops when I obey. No! Pain is good. Hold on to it. Pain is the truth and the truth is...
Illya Kuryakin slumped forward in his restraints, nearly catatonic now, Thrush chemicals surging through his bloodstream, beating down his resistance memory by memory. His captor flipped a switch at her terminal and a jolt of electricity caused his body to convulse, but he was too far gone to feel it or even register the pain.
"Damn," Dr. Kestrel complained. "He's becoming resistant again. I've never seen a test subject so refractory as this one." She watched the young agent as he barely seemed to draw breath. There was little more they could do with him today. Not in this state, anyway.
"Give him more of the drug, then." Her bovine assistant hovered at her elbow, bored to tears at the lack of response they'd had from the subject this afternoon. He'd much preferred the earlier attempts to loosen his tongue. A good old-fashioned beating always cheered Max up—as long as he was the one administering it.
"That would do no good and might even kill him. No, we'll have to let him sleep it off and start fresh tomorrow morning."
Max snorted. "They're gonna kill him anyway, you know. What's the difference? Now or later?"
Dr. Kestrel tried not to sneer at her lab rat. He did serve a useful purpose here. "The difference is that I need time to study the effects of my drug. What happens to Mr. Kuryakin here is incidental."
"Yeah, but Reeves ain't gonna be happy if you don't break him, and soon."
Kestrel sighed. Arguing with morons was only slightly less distasteful than arguing with her colleagues. She always won with Max.
"Let me worry about Reeves. You just take our pet human back to his cage now. Don't forget to feed and water him." She smiled at the leering man.
Kestrel moved to the sink and washed her hands, soaping thoroughly. This type of work always left her feeling soiled. Not that she cared about the test subject. He was U.N.C.L.E. scum and not worthy of her pity or compassion. No, she really wanted to get back to her passion: research. Implementing her chemical discoveries wasn't high on her list. But she did what her masters told her to do. If she could break the Russian she would be in their good graces again and would likely get a promotion as well.
She sighed as she came back to reality. Tomorrow would be here soon enough, and she had to go over today's data. One way or another the little blond would bend to her will and her concoction. He was close now...
Illya was draped over Max's shoulder like a skinny sack of potatoes. Max noted that the prisoner was a lot lighter now than when he'd been captured. That wasn't his fault; he made sure to give him his ration every day. It wasn't his fault that the guy couldn't keep anything down and was constantly hovering between raging fevers and wracking chills.
He dumped the dead weight onto a thin blanket on the floor of the straw covered cell, and shook his head. This guy ain't gonna make it another day. Looks like I'm gonna win the bet I made with Charlie.
He locked the door and turned to walk the concrete hall, whistling something trivial and tuneless as he went. Maybe my next assignment will be outside the dungeon. I could use a little sun...
Illya struggled to come awake on the floor of his prison. He heard whistling in the distance and wondered if he'd forgotten to turn off the kettle. He raised his head and was engulfed in a wave of nausea. His stomach flip-flopped, and he dry heaved once before he could lie back down. His hand felt the edge of the blanket and he wearily wrapped it around his shivering body. He tried to sleep but kept seeing faces. They seemed to be talking to him, trying to tell him something. He recognized the dark-haired one, but couldn't remember his name or how he knew him.
Trying to remember made his head ache and pound so he stopped and let himself float. He thought the word, 'Obey' and the pain diminished, receding with each repetition of the litany. It finally stopped altogether and he slept.
Napoleon Solo skipped lunch as he had done every day for the last two weeks. Having a partner missing tended to kill his appetite and string him tighter than a piano wire. Waverly knew better than to send him into the field in his present state and was compassionate enough not to belabor the point. He allowed his Number One leeway and turned a blind eye to the resources Solo was plundering at will to find his partner. He understood the feeling of helplessness and frustration. He had lost partners as well.
So it came as no surprise when Solo was not in his office when Waverly paged him. Switching channels he checked with Communications. Mr. Solo spent a good deal of down time there, contacting leads and checking the feelers he'd sent out like so many spiders let loose on the world's web. The Chief Enforcement Agent of U.N.C.L.E.-N.Y. was owed innumerable favors due to his tenure at the Command. He intended on cashing every one of them in this time.
Illya Kuryakin had disappeared from U.N.C.L.E.'s radar in Imatra, Finland. He'd been sent there to check out reports of Thrush's new laser-guided missile system. Imatra's Russian neighbors were understandably nervous concerning information that suggested field trials were nearly underway. Since Illya spoke both Finnish and Russian, he had been eminently qualified for the mission. He was to infiltrate the city, find the Thrush station and report to HQ. Solo was to have joined him once the satrapy was uncovered.
Kuryakin had missed his first check-in. Napoleon had shrugged it off, certain the wily Russian was establishing his cover. When he was overdue for the second, his boss began to worry. By the time the third prearranged time came and went, Solo was ready to take the next flight out. Mr. Waverly had intervened, convincing Solo he'd do better by his partner on this side of the situation with all of U.N.C.L.E.'s resources at his command. Napoleon had reluctantly agreed and begun to hunt for his missing friend.
Now as each day passed, he berated himself for not going to Finland at the first. There were agents in place, but the trail had long since grown cold and there were no further leads. Illya could be anywhere by now. Imatra was only seven kilometers from Russia's border. That meant Illya was in as much danger from the KGB as he was from Thrush. That was a particularly unpleasant thought and Solo tried not to dwell on it.
The American agent looked at the world map displayed on the wall in front of him. U.N.C.L.E. friendlies were lit in blue. Enemies were red. His eyes traveled over the relief to Finland and then eastward to Imatra. One of those blips was Illya. But, which one? He sighed and dropped his head into his hands. Hang on, Illya. I'm trying to find you. Do you know that?
Illya stirred on his straw bed and twitched in his fever. He dreamt of the dark-haired man again. Only this time he could hear his voice. He was trying to tell him something important. The words came out garbled like they were time-delayed on a bad overseas connection. He tried to listen, tried to make sense of the sounds but that only caused the pain to return. He sobbed as it hit his brain like a crack of thunder and he curled into a ball, trying to make himself a smaller target and hide from the agony. His bladder let go and he whimpered in his shame. 'Obey.' The word came to him unbidden and he clutched it like the lifeline it was. "Yes," whispered from his dry lips and he spoke the word aloud. "Obey. I want to obey." The hot needle in his brain pulled free and the absence of the pain was almost as agonizing in its withdrawal.
Max walked closer to the cell where the Russian was kept. He heard the cries of pain and then the hushed words of submission a moment later. He grinned and decided that maybe today wouldn't be a complete waste of time after all. The little bastard was cracking. About time, he thought. He keyed the lock and pulled the door open only to be assaulted by the reek from the dirty environs. Gagging, he held his breath and entered only far enough to grab the filthy man and drag him out of the pen by his hair.
"Gah! What a stench. Can't take you upstairs smelling like this." Max pulled Kuryakin down the hall to an unused cell and tossed him in. Illya was semi-conscious and barely on his feet.
"Strip," Max commanded. "Come on, take off the rags."
'Obey,' Illya thought muzzily and did as he was told. His body was covered in dirt and his own feces, vomit and straw sticking to him everywhere the rags hadn't covered. Max noted the ribs standing out and the jutting collar and hip bones that had been covered in flesh two weeks ago. He shook his head as he pulled a high pressure hose into the cubicle and turned on the spray.
Illya staggered against the water pressure, his legs giving out as he was pushed against the back wall. The water felt like needles on his skin and he tried to cover himself.
Max yelled at him to turn around. He did, and the water washed over his back and legs, sluicing the filth from him in rivulets to pool on the stone floor. The water stopped and he stood dripping and gasping, holding himself up palms against the wall. The cold water had cooled his fevered skin and he rested his aching brow against the damp stone.
Something soft landed on his shoulder and he turned to see Max holding a clean jumpsuit. "Go on, dry yerself off." Illya took the towel with shaking hands and tried to dry his body in between bouts of shivering. The white towel was brown and spotted with blood when he was done, the sharp spray having opened up his numerous cuts and gashes from his "retraining."
Tossing the coverall to the naked man, Max felt a twinge of pity for him at the haunted look in the man's eyes. He'd had a dog like that once. Been beaten and half-starved and always had the same look about him.
"Get dressed. We got an appointment upstairs, you and me." He smiled at the blond and Illya shuddered. He obeyed, however.
Dr. Kestrel watched carefully as Max herded the prisoner into the interrogation room. His head hung down, his eyes wouldn't meet hers, and he slumped into the chair resignedly. His blond hair was plastered to his head and he shook with tremors. As she strapped him down she felt the heat wicking from his body. Grasping his chin she pulled the face up and noted the glassy eyes and lack of resistance.
"So we are making progress this morning, eh, little man?" Nodding her head, she walked to the medical cabinet and got out the supplies she'd need today. The fever and the dehydration were worse and would have to be remedied for the drug to have a chance to work. She quickly placed a catheter in the subject's arm and began running fluids and antibiotics to him. It would be a pity if he died now so close to victory.
Motioning Max close she said, "Watch him carefully. When that bag is empty, call me. I'll be having breakfast in the staff room. We can begin the next round then." She patted Illya's head once as she walked by. She was sure their guinea pig would break today. Her appetite was back in spades.
Napoleon slammed his hand down on his desk and barked into the intercom. "What do you mean Agent Kearney hasn't checked in yet? He's hours late on his report. Get him and patch me through when you do." Solo scowled and tipped the last of his coffee back. He nearly spat it out. It was stone cold and acidic.
Fortunately for the rest of the staff, Mark Slate had heard his boss was acting one card shy of Attila the Hun today and decided to live even more dangerously than his current job in Enforcement required. He walked into Solo's office during the fireworks and took a seat quietly.
Napoleon sighed and stared at the Brit. "Do you have an appointment?"
"Do I need one?"
Solo rested his head on one palm and closed his eyes. He grinned an apology to Mark and shook his head. "Frightfully sorry, old chap."
Mark smiled back and didn't have to ask what kind of day his boss had had so far. No leads from any of their sources had surfaced, and Solo was losing hope of ever finding Illya dead or alive.
"Napoleon, when's the last time you ate something? And coffee creamer doesn't count."
Solo started to object but Mark cut him off. "Right, we're going to lunch. I'm pulling rank."
Slate used his easy smile and said, "The mere fact that I'm British should be enough. You colonists always were an upstart bunch to begin with."
"And I thought the English only acted superior."
"My dear boy, it's not an act."
Solo laughed at Mark's effrontery and allowed him to take his arm and usher him out the door. The cagey agent had made reservations at Del Vecchio's knowing Solo's weakness for the food and the waitresses.
Midway through their second bottle of Chianti, Mark pushed the leftover lasagna around on his plate and asked, "How are you holding up, Napoleon?"
The agent in him wanted to prevaricate but the friend appreciated the overture. He settled for a long sigh and Mark nodded.
"Remember last year when April had gone missing? Hell, I almost went 'round the bend. You and Illya kept me grounded. I've never forgotten that, Napoleon. Let me return the favor, will you, old boy?"
Solo gestured to the table and the wine and to Mark himself. "You already have, my friend. Thank you."
Napoleon filled their glasses with the last of the bottle and raised his in a toast. "To partners." His voice almost made it without breaking.
Slate clinked glasses solemnly. "To partners," he returned.
Illya Kuryakin was dead. Buried in the chemical cocktail he'd been given too much of. He was now Yuri Stephanovich. He was very glad to be Yuri Stephanovich. Yuri felt no pain, got to wear decent clothes and ate real food. The people here at this training facility were very concerned with his education. They really only had one rule. He was good at this rule: he excelled at it. Obey. Obey and all was well.
Every morning, noon, and evening he had classes. They told him he needed to be retrained. He believed them, since he didn't seem to remember much of Before. He didn't want to remember Before. It was only then that he felt the pain return, when he tried to remember.
He tried to forget. He was good at that, too.
Whatever they were training him for; he seemed to master it easily. He seemed to know instinctively what was required of him. His weapons training lasted only two days since he was better than the instructor. They let him carry a weapon now, though it wasn't loaded. They promised him that later.
Today he was watching slides of the place called "Uncle." There were grainy shots of the surrounding neighborhood and a place called "Del Floria's Tailor Shop." He had a vaguely uneasy feeling that they expected him to know these places but they were blanks to him. Next were photos of enemy agents considered to be targets for elimination.
The first picture was of a sixty-ish craggy faced gentleman. "Waverly," they said. He was their leader. Yuri nodded. The next two were Enforcement agents, a man named Slate and a woman called Dancer. Odd names, those. Of course, they were probably code. His captors watched him closely as the last photo was pushed before him. It was of a thirty-something male, dark hair and eyes, and his bearing was definitely alpha. Something stirred faintly in Yuri but he pushed it away before it could register on his face. He looked at his keeper and said, "He has an odd-looking weapon. The one I have been given is a much better gun, a Makarov."
It was a good answer and his instructors looked at each other, pleased. Their subject seemed to retain all the pertinent details related to his skills yet none of the personal or emotional baggage to go with it. Dr. Kestrel would be very happy with the outcome. They celebrated by letting the test subject have his meal early and retire for some much needed sleep. Tomorrow their new weapon would be honed and trained on his fellow agents.
Mark Slate held the telex print-out tightly and made his way to Solo's office. It had been two days since their lunch and there still hadn't been any information about Illya. Slate had been checking the routine intelligence when he had noticed the odd message from a listening post in Stockholm.
He might be grasping at straws but if this straw turned out to be one Illya Kuryakin, then he'd take the chance at looking foolish. Quickening his pace he slipped into an ascending elevator just before the doors closed on him. April Dancer was perched with one hip against the side-rail, running an emery board across a manicured nail. She smiled as she looked up and saw her partner's expression.
"What is it, Mark?" She was all business now and took his elbow to turn him toward her.
"I'm not sure, old girl." He gave the yellow flimsy to her and let her read it. "What do you think?"
April skimmed the type quickly and then reread one paragraph. She took in a sharp breath and read it a third time.
"I know, I know. I had the same thought. Glad it's not just me, then."
"Has Napoleon seen this?" She passed the paper back to her partner and her hand shook with adrenaline.
"Not yet. I'm just on the way up. Care to tag along?"
"Wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China." She looked apprehensive and excited at the same time. This was the best lead they'd had in weeks.
Slate and Dancer went in to Solo's office unannounced. Somehow they knew he wouldn't mind. He was hunched over his desk, using a magnifying glass to check out the latest satellite photos from the Imatra region. One look at Slate's face was all he needed to set the photos aside.
"What is it, Mark?" Slate grinned. That was the second time he'd been asked that question inside of two minutes. He was only too glad to answer it.
"You tell me, sir." He passed the sheet to his superior and bounced on his heels waiting for him to read it. April bit her lip, a nervous habit she had that Slate found totally endearing. Solo's eyebrows shot up and he glanced at the two agents.
"Well?" Mark asked. "Anyone we know?"
Napoleon leapt out of his chair and paced the floor, reading the telex again. "Where did this...oh, Stockholm." He read the pertinent parts out loud wanting to hear the words in his voice, wanting to make it more real. "To: Central. From: RedKite. Celebratory dinner tonight eight p.m. sharp. White Russian on ice. Mixed drinks available as well. Cash bar only."
He tapped the paper with a finger as he thought out loud. "RedKite, RedKite." He toggled his intercom and asked for Records. "Solo here. I want everything we have on code name 'RedKite.' And I want it five minutes ago." He didn't wait for the reply.
Solo smiled broadly for the first time in weeks. "He's alive. Illya's alive..." April leaned over and hugged him tightly, kissing his cheek as she wiped suspicious moisture from the corner of her eye. Slate clapped Solo on the back and matched the smile. The celebration was short-lived, however.
"Meet me in Conference Room A. I'm going to Records and I'll be there in five minutes. Mark, get the most recent maps of Sweden and Finland. Wait, I've got the Finnish maps right here." He sheepishly handed them to April. "I guess I forgot to return them to the Map Room."
"April, call Transportation and book the three of us for the next direct flight to Stockholm."
April risked a look at Mark. Napoleon was back in fighting trim. She winked at her partner as they both replied, "Yes, sir."
Yuri Stephanovich was also in fighting trim. Thrush had made sure of that. He'd been given live ammo and been drilled relentlessly on enemy identification. Dr. Kestrel had put her stamp of approval on his next phase of indoctrination.
She now sat at a table across from her pet project. Yuri practically salivated when she was near, his desire to please her Pavlovian in its intensity. Kestrel used that to her advantage ruthlessly.
"Yuri, if you're good today I have a special reward for you tonight." Now that the man was clean and dressed properly even she had to admit how attractive he was. Yes, giving him a proper reward wouldn't be difficult at all. She ran her stockinged foot along his cloth covered leg languorously, giving him a taste of her intent. Yuri whimpered, squirming in his seat, reacting to her touch automatically.
"Good. That's good, Yuri. You always obey me, don't you? You want to obey me, yes?"
The blond closed his eyes as her leg roamed higher. "Yes," he hissed, nearly growling with regret when she stopped her caresses.
"Excellent. You're progressing so well we've decided to step up your training, give you a real test. You'd like that, wouldn't you, Yuri?"
He nodded, but didn't trust his voice.
"We're going to have visitors soon, Yuri. We've let certain sensitive information leak to our opposition to peak their interest about our little operation here. They are particularly concerned with you, dear boy. They want you dead; silenced. They are terrified you will give away their deepest, darkest secrets and will stop at nothing to obliterate you."
Yuri listened carefully, no emotion exposed on his face. His hands were clenched in front of him, however. Dr. Kestrel's words sunk in and he was determined to make her proud of him. He wanted to obey. Especially her.
"Our enemies have given you a code name. You are currently their number one target." Kestrel tossed a mug shot on the table in front of the Russian. In the background was the skeleton globe symbol and in the foreground was a picture with the name, 'Illya Kuryakin' superimposed. Yuri picked up the photo and studied it dispassionately.
"All their agents have been issued this picture. They are to terminate you with extreme prejudice. Anyone who calls you by this name 'Illya' is the enemy. Kill them on sight. Do you understand?"
Yuri looked at the picture again. He was actually pleased he was feared enough to have been given a code name. He met Kestrel's eyes for a brief moment and then dropped his gaze submissively. "Kill them on sight. I understand. I will obey."
Kestrel smiled broadly at the beaten man. She was turned on by his capitulation, his obedience. She resumed stroking him under the table as he gazed heatedly at her again. "I have other commands I wish for you to obey now, Yuri. And I promise they will all be very pleasurable..."
Six hours after the hastily called conference, Solo, Dancer and Slate were in the air above the Atlantic, going over the security information they'd managed to glean before take-off. Every mole and underworld contact their Command knew of had been squeezed and squeezed hard. A "secret" Thrush base had been ferreted out on the outskirts of Stockholm and the team was racing there to meet their Swedish counterparts.
Mr. Waverly hadn't tried to dissuade Solo from going this time. In fact, he had sent them off with his blessing and had called to Solo as he left his office, "Good luck, Mr. Solo. Bring him home."
Napoleon had started at hearing that and replied fervently, "I will, sir."
Their equipment was waiting for them in the belly of the jet and it took mere moments to sort it out. Eager for the chase, Mark and April checked each other's gear, and Slate gave Solo a thumb's up. A Volvo wagon pulled up to the hanger and four dark-clad agents poured out, identification ready. Introductions were made quickly and efficiently as the agents settled themselves in the car again.
Solo had seniority and laid the plans out for the others. "According to our information, the satrapy is an old munitions bunker complex. A lot of it is underground and will be harder to infiltrate. Best guess is that's where Illya will be." He tapped a point on the map the Swedish agents had brought, the location gleaned from a local informant for a large amount of krona.
Agent Lofgren nodded. "I've been there many times as a boy. I used to play near there. I've never been inside the complex, of course. It was closed up then. I doubt many people are even aware it is in use."
Solo nodded. "Good, then you're point man." He sighed and pushed his forelock back into place. "I don't have to tell you how important this is to me. If Illya's alive we are getting him out of there. No matter what. Understood?" There were solemn nods all around. Every agent knew what it meant to have one of their own missing.
"All right. When we get there, Lofgren and Hansson will take point. Slate and Dancer will create a diversion. Gottberg will stay with the car and Bylund and I will follow the point team. Everybody clear?"
Solo sighed. "Remember, our objective is to get in, find Kuryakin and get out. Any gratuitous damage we inflict is purely a bonus." He grinned at the serious faces around him. "That was a joke..."
"Oh, is that what that was?" Mark asked, deadpan.
Yuri was thrown from his cot out of a dead sleep by a violent explosion very near his quarters. He shook his head to clear it and pulled on his coveralls. Grabbing the Makarov, he raced out of his room to join the confusion that greeted him. Men were pulling clothes on and running for their stations, shouting curses and instructions to the late arrivals.
He remembered Dr. Kestrel's warning and began to make his way to the lab. He was to protect the laboratory and wait for back-up. Checking the weapon he chambered a round and took the stairs up. No one was at this end of the corridor and he stopped to listen for anything out of the ordinary. He heard booted feet ringing on the metal rungs of the steel stairs and he quickly made his way to the lab level. The hallway was empty and he crept through the door and across the open area. He left the lights off, the only illumination coming from the red emergency lights at both ends of the corridor and the glow from the lighted exit signs.
He opened the lab door silently and took a secure position behind a support column. He took deep slow breaths and waited for someone to come through the door.
At the first explosion, Dr. Kestrel dressed quickly and moved to secure quarters. Everything she needed was in place and she activated the hidden cameras on the laboratory floor. Yuri might not know it but he was still her test subject. A smile pulled at her lips as she recalled their pleasurable "lessons" of the previous evening. He was in her complete control and now she wanted to see how far the leash could be let out.
All around her Thrush minions rushed to defend their space. She cared little about any of them, only enough that they do their jobs and protect her as well. Her experiment had to proceed. The Council was very interested in her latest drug and was waiting to see the results first hand. Very well, they would all see the fruit of her labors.
The teams of two leapfrogged into the complex, alternating backing each other up and checking the area as they passed. One team moved ahead, testing the defenses while the others mopped up behind. They met little to no resistance, and Solo's internal alarms were going off. Loudly.
The third team, Lofgren and Hansson, was guarding the egress and exit points, making sure they would have a way out if things went bad. They knew the layout better and could coordinate if a team had the misfortune of being cut off.
Solo motioned to Bylund. "Watch the stairwell. Dancer, stay with him until we call for you. Check in with Lofgren and Gottberg. Something's not right here. This is too easy."
Slate went into the stairwell first and moved up one floor. Solo joined him at the landing and Mark eased the door open with his foot. He looked into the corridor and shrugged. "Empty," he whispered to Solo.
Napoleon shook his head. Either this area wasn't worth guarding or it was a trap. There was only one way to find out. He signaled Mark to take the right and he took the left. They silently picked their way through the lab level, checking doors that were unlocked and leaving them open as they progressed.
Slate swung the glass door open and crept inside the unlocked room. The red glow made for difficult lighting and he scanned the counters and shadowy corners for movement. He saw a distorted shape in a glass beaker behind one of the pillars and ducked quickly, ordering, "Come on out. I know you're there." His face was a mask of concentration and tension as he waited the hidden man out.
Kestrel drew in a breath as she saw the drama unfolding. Yuri was waiting, trying to draw the U.N.C.L.E. agent out, waiting for his chance. At least she hoped he was. Would his training overcome his instincts? How well had her drug done its job? The camera was trained over Yuri's shoulder and she saw his hand tighten on the Makarov.
Slate took one more step to the left to try and get a better angle on his enemy. He saw a dark shape straighten and move out from the protection of the column. The only distinctive feature of the jump-suited Thrush was the unruly mop of blond hair...blond hair? Mark's face relaxed instantly as he recognized his opponent. He didn't drop his gun but smiled at the smaller man and said, "Illya!"
The other agent's blank expression tightened at the name and a snarl took over his features. He raised his weapon and Slate never had a chance. The Makarov spat red fire as Yuri accurately pumped four bullets into his former friend's body. Mark went down like a rag doll and lay still. Yuri cautiously crossed the short distance to the body and checked it for signs of life. Mark's eyes were open and he focused on the man bending over him. "Illya..." sighed out of him as he took his last breath.
Yuri looked at the face carefully, cataloguing it as the enemy and nothing else. Something shiny was sticking out of the dead man's pocket and Yuri pulled it loose. It was just a pen, but it stirred something in his mind. Unfortunately, the memory stirred the pain response as well. He looked down at the body at his feet and cried out as daggers of pain lanced through his head. He clutched his temples and nearly blacked out.
A few hundred feet away Dr. Kestrel watched his agony and smiled.
At the first gunshot Solo swarmed down the hall toward the room Mark entered, and Dancer and Bylund raced up the flight to join him. Napoleon ducked as he rolled into the room and came up pointing his Special at a Thrush guard kneeling over Slate. He didn't fire since the guard seemed incapacitated as he clutched at his head and sobbed in pain. Solo knew that voice. He took another step forward and said softly, "Illya?"
The Thrush man looked up sharply and raised his weapon again. Solo fired before he could pull the trigger. Illya gasped as the sleep dart burned into his chest, slumping forward onto the still body of Mark Slate.
Napoleon gently pulled Illya off Mark and propped him against one of the counters. The amount of blood puddling on the floor beneath his friend told him there was no hope. He checked for a pulse anyway.
He lifted Mark's head and pulled his upper body onto his lap, grieving for him. It was how Dancer found them a moment later. She knelt beside her partner and took one of his hands in hers. Solo wrapped an arm around her and whispered, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," in her ear. Bylund watched the door, giving them a much needed moment. April looked from Mark to Illya, noticing who was in the uniform for the first time. He was still holding the Makarov. "Is he...?" she asked fearfully.
"No, he's unconscious. I had to dart him." Solo looked down, not wanting to meet Dancer's eyes just yet. She was in shock and it took a minute for the implications to set in. "You mean Illya...?" She couldn't finish the thought or the sentence.
"It wasn't Illya. He was going to shoot me, too. They've done something to him, brainwashed him or worse."
Solo stood up looking around the lab for the first time. He recognized a torture chamber when he saw one. He began scooping up papers, reports, notes, anything looking vaguely important and stuffed them in a satchel.
Bylund motioned to him. 'Unfriendly coming.' He hid behind the door jamb as Solo shifted to the other side. An older, squat man entered the door noisily whispering, "Yuri?" as he came. Solo grabbed an arm and yanked him into the room the rest of the way.
"Hey, what gives?" He clammed up when he saw the U.N.C.L.E. agents and Yuri out on the floor.
Solo pushed him against the wall and menaced him with a look. "What did they do to my partner?" he asked very quietly, his voice pitched low and almost conversational.
The man looked confused for a moment and then understood. "Oh, Yuri? He was your partner?"
Solo shook his head in a negative. "Not Yuri. Illya. His name is Illya Kuryakin. Illya is my partner."
Max laughed into Solo's face despite the danger he knew he was in. This dark-eyed man meant business. "There ain't no Illya left anymore. Kestrel made sure of that."
"Kestrel?" Solo prodded, shoving the gun barrel into Max's ribs for punctuation.
He grunted and started sweating; even his limited brain could tell this guy was teetering on the brink. "Dr. Kestrel. She's the one I work for. The one who did the experiments."
Bylund hissed into the dark room. "Solo, we've got to move. We've been here too long already."
Napoleon made a quick decision. "All right. Take Slate. I'll get Illya. April, you with me?" The redhead gamely nodded through her tears.
Solo shoved the heavy man toward Dancer and said, "He's coming with us." Napoleon yanked the man's arm behind his back once savagely and said as he cried out, "You're the first to die if we don't get out of here. Understand?"
He nodded mutely and Dancer collected him, her automatic ground into his spine to encourage his cooperation. Bylund hefted Slate's body over his shoulder and Solo pulled Illya over as well. He noticed how light the Russian was and grimaced. He'd have to deal with it all later. Right now they had to get out of here alive.
Dr. Kestrel was riveted to the monitor screen, barely able to contain her excitement. Not only had her little lab experiment killed Mark Slate, he had been keen on doing the same thing to the esteemed Mr. Solo. Oh, her results would please the Council to no end. She didn't bother to have the raiding party stopped. She had what she wanted. She didn't even mind losing Kuryakin. As long as she had the drug, she could create an army of Kuryakins. This one no longer served her purpose. Her bag already packed, she transmitted a message to Central and made preparations to leave.
"I suggest you take us out of here the most direct route to the east entrance as possible," Solo said to Max and he pointed to the stairwell at the other end. "That way is quicker." April's gun jabbed him intimately and he gasped, "It's the truth, I swear."
"It had better be," Dancer growled. "Ever hear the term 'human shield?'" She pushed Max to the forefront to make her point. He looked back at the agents behind him and then made a beeline for the stairs.
Solo readied his communicator and contacted the other team and Gottberg. "Solo here. Get ready; we're coming out the east exit. Have one bird in hand and casualties." He shifted Illya's body slightly and continued. "Any feathered friends we should know about?"
Hansson's surprised voice answered, "Negative. No fowl about."
They hurried down the stairs as quickly as their burdens would allow, and Dancer ushered Max out the door first. They met no resistance, and Solo stopped wondering why and just took advantage of it. The Volvo roared up to them as Gottberg stood on the brakes, barely waiting long enough for the agents to pile into the cramped vehicle. The Swede roared off again, leaving Solo struggling to ease Illya into a seat and shut the door behind him.
Napoleon panted in the dark interior, watching quietly as April cradled Mark's head in her lap. Her shoulders shook and she sobbed softly as she stroked the beloved face. He turned away and allowed April her privacy. The senior agent finally allowed himself to take a good look at his partner. He reluctantly handcuffed him tightly to the locked door, but carefully placed a seat belt around his waist. He took out a penlight and shone it across the sleeping man's face, noting the hollows of his cheeks and the drugged response from his pupils.
Solo unzipped the jumpsuit to the navel and carefully felt for injuries. No obvious broken bones but a few of the ribs were covered in mottled bruises. Illya was terribly thin, healing gashes and myriad cuts covering the pale skin. Solo swept the blond fringe away from Kuryakin's eyes and said softly, "You need a haircut, partner." His voice was not at all steady.
He sighed and knew there was nothing more to be done at present. Lofgren had taken the prisoner in hand, and now they would need to be debriefed before returning to New York. He still had one unpleasant task to perform.
"Open Channel D..."
It was mid-afternoon of the following day before the reports had been written, Max's interrogation finished, and the return flight arranged. Solo had gone over the pilfered documents while the doctors had gone over Illya. Between Max's information and the paper trail, Napoleon could piece together most of what had happened to his friend. He wasn't any closer to the chemical formula, however, or understanding how it had been able to turn one of U.N.C.L.E.'s most loyal agents into a turncoat.
Waverly had spoken to the Swedish medical section and had requested that Kuryakin be kept sedated until his return to HQ-NY. They had no way of gauging his response and their chief wanted him to be in familiar surroundings before they tried to assess him. An U.N.C.L.E. jet had been made available for their use and Solo watched as his partner was loaded on a stretcher into the back of the jet. He swallowed a lump in his throat as Mark's body was also carefully secured in the cargo hold.
His mind returned to the last time he and Mark had lunch together. Leave it to Slate to try and cheer Napoleon up while everyone else in the Command tried to steer clear of him. He owed Mark so much and suddenly realized how much he would miss him.
Movement caught his eye again and he turned as April slipped up beside him and linked her arm in his. Her eyes were swollen and puffy but she had a smile on her face. They really hadn't had time to talk much since their debriefing, but now an easy silence encompassed them. April laid her head on Solo's shoulder and they stood like that for a time.
"He was a good agent, wasn't he, Napoleon?"
"The best." He kissed the top of Dancer's head.
"And a good friend."
"That he was." There didn't seem to be any need to say more. They walked to the jet hand in hand.
It was one of the longest flights in Solo's memory. April finally passed out from fatigue and was sleeping on one of the couches. Solo longed to stretch out as well but knew Illya would need careful monitoring. He took a seat next to his secured partner and dozed lightly.
It seemed seconds later that he woke to frenzied movements from the stretcher. He knelt beside the cot and saw Illya struggling to awaken and thrashing in his restraints. His eyes were closed but he was speaking in Russian. Solo tried to understand but it sounded like gibberish to him. There was an emergency kit under the gurney and Napoleon grabbed it and took out one of the preloaded syringes of Thorazine. Swabbing Kuryakin's tricep, he murmured, "Sorry, Illya" as he pushed the needle home and injected the drug deeply into the muscle.
"Nyet, nyet," came clearly from him as he still jerked and twisted in his confinement. Solo leaned over him and placed his hands on Illya's shoulders.
"Relax, partner. It's all right. You're safe now. We're going home." He continued to soothe his friend until the drug kicked in and Illya quieted. Gathering a couple of pillows and a blanket, Napoleon made a makeshift bed on the floor next to his sleeping agent. He sacked out and didn't wake until the plane began its descent into New York.
Solo sent Dancer to Medical straight off after settling back into HQ. It was standard protocol after losing a partner. Solo knew the rules well; he also knew from experience how unfeeling those restraints could seem so soon after a tragedy like Mark's death. He made a mental note to check in with April as soon as he finished his own business. Illya would be out for another couple hours at least, and Mr. Waverly would be chomping on his pipe stem for a complete report.
Solo sighed. He knew his Chief hated losing agents as much as he did, but the older man always hid it so well as to seem cold-hearted. Napoleon knew better, but many of his own section regarded their boss as ruthless and even uncaring. He wondered how he would fare if and when he was put in that position.
So, girding his loins, he stepped into the Lion's Den. Waverly was barking at a hapless agent, and Solo wondered what the poor guy had done to set him off. He shivered slightly, knowing just how withering a come-uppance from the boss could be.
The agent, Bill Rodgers from Enforcement, made a hasty, if red-faced exit. Napoleon kept his eyes on the tile as he passed. He had his own issues with Waverly and was quite likely to have more before the end of the day. Solo waited and let Waverly proceed at his own pace.
Number One, Section One set a report down on his desk and finally acknowledged Solo's presence. He sighed loudly and sat back in his chair. He drew on his pipe for a moment and then spoke.
"Dreadful business in Stockholm. I've read your preliminary report and talked with their medical section. Please accept my condolences on the loss of Mr. Slate."
Solo looked down and nodded. Waverly seemed uncomfortable with the next question. "According to your report it was Mr. Kuryakin who shot and killed him?" He nodded again. "And your partner was about to do the same to you before you darted him?"
"It wasn't Illya, sir. I mean, not the Illya we know. He was in a great deal of pain when I found him. I believe he was trying to remember who we were, and that set off the response. His name seemed to be a trigger of some kind. He didn't try to fire until I called him by name."
"Yes, I read your notes. That's why I wanted Mr. Kuryakin here before we evaluated his mental status."
"Sir, I would like to be the one to question him. I understand somewhat what he went through. The man we captured, Max, detailed what this Dr. Kestrel did to him. I know Illya better than anyone else and if anyone can reach him..."
"Yes, yes, of course, Mr. Solo. Under the doctors' auspices, however." Waverly knew that Slate and Kuryakin weren't the only casualties of the affair. "How is Miss Dancer holding up?"
Napoleon was undecided whether to answer as her boss or as her friend. He settled on both. "She's grieving. She's still in some degree of shock. I think the worst part is dealing with Illya. She doesn't know how to feel about all this." Solo laughed bitterly. "Neither do I, sir."
"Just remember, Mr. Solo, if we are having trouble dealing with this, think of how our Mr. Kuryakin will fare. I fear it may be more than any agent should have to deal with. Mr. Slate was more than another agent to him. I believe they were good friends as well?"
Solo smiled for the first time in the meeting. "It was hard not to be Mark's friend, sir." He cleared his throat and Waverly allowed a moment of silence to prevail.
"Very well, Mr. Solo. I believe you have an appointment in Medical. I shall be down shortly to visit Miss Dancer as well."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Napoleon left Number One's office, wondering how anyone could ever think the older gentleman uncaring at all.
The American agent went directly to Medical, asking about Dancer's whereabouts. Miss Bridges informed him she was currently in with Dr. Mueller. He schooled his features but the mere mention of the Command's resident head shrink made him uneasy. Starting in early on the poor girl, he thought. Napoleon asked for some stationery and wrote April a note and sealed it in an envelope. He wanted to have something waiting for her when she was released. That and a visit from the boss would go a long way toward letting her know she wasn't alone.
"Thank you, Miss Bridges. Is Dr. Martin with Illya? I'd like to talk to him." He handed the envelope to her and she casually brushed his hand with hers as she retrieved it.
"Mr. Kuryakin is still sleeping, sir. I'll page Dr. Martin for you if you'd like." She batted her eyes at the C.E.A. trying her best to get his attention.
Solo smiled at her but there was no real warmth behind it. His mind was on his agents and their current problems. "Ask him to meet me in Illya's room, please. I'm on my way there now."
"Yes, Mr. Solo," she said, a bit deflated but not defeated. The gorgeous man spent a lot of time in Medical either as a patient or visiting one. She'd have another chance soon enough.
Illya's room was just down the hall in a secured part of the floor. Solo's badge allowed him entry but a guard checked him out just the same. Napoleon nodded to him, pleased he took his job seriously. It was Illya's life on the line here. The door was open and Napoleon peeked in to see Kuryakin sleeping soundly. He was strapped down, secured to the bed by wide leather restraints. Even though they were padded and made to be comfortable, Napoleon chafed at their use. It was he who had ordered them. Sometimes the job nibbled away at Solo, and sometimes it took big bites. He sighed and watched the I.V. fluids drip into his partner's arm.
Solo was about to have Dr. Martin paged when he walked into the room. He shook Napoleon's hand and flopped into the chair next to his. "Sorry it took so long but I wanted to check in on Dancer's debrief."
"How is she doing, Jack?"
"She's normal, Napoleon. She's mad as hell her partner's dead. Wants to get on the next plane and take on Swedish Thrush single-handedly."
Napoleon laughed quietly. "She'd do it, too. She's a tough cookie."
"Which is why she'll be fine, Napoleon. Just give her time and a shoulder to cry on if she needs it. It's not going to hit her for a while yet."
Nodding his head in Illya's direction Napoleon asked, "When is it going to hit him?"
Jack sighed and didn't answer at first. "I couldn't tell you even if I wanted. I went over the data and the extrapolations from Stockholm's shrinks and damned if I know what to expect. We'll just have to let him come around and see what his state of mind is. He could be perfectly normal now that the drugs are flushed or he could come back as Yuri." Jack rubbed his chin and shook his head. "I wish I could tell you otherwise."
Napoleon swallowed and nodded. He watched Martin adjust the drip rate on the I.V. and settled into the chair more comfortably. "Well, no matter who comes back, I'll be here waiting for him."
"I expected nothing less, Napoleon. Good luck," he called as he left the room.
It took another forty minutes or so for Illya to wake up. He started mumbling and Napoleon stood by his side speaking encouragements to him. Opening his eyes, the Russian tried to focus on the figure bending over him and startled awake. Solo moved back a bit giving him some room in case he became violent. Kuryakin tensed and realized he was strapped down. He tested the bonds expertly and gave up after a moment.
Even though prone and with Solo standing over him, Kuryakin appeared to look down his nose at Solo. "I take it I have been behaving...badly, Napoleon?"
An enormous sigh of relief gusted out of Solo as he grinned at his partner. "How would we ever tell?" he joked but was brought up short by the implications of his words. Illya caught the look and narrowed his eyes. "Napoleon? What's going on?"
Solo dragged the chair close and sat heavily. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Illya's brow furrowed with concentration and he tried to raise his hand to his head. He stared at the restraints evilly. "I was in Imatra. I was tailed from the airport and thought I'd lost them. I checked into a different hotel to give them the slip, but apparently they were better operatives than I gave them credit. Possibly KGB splinters working with Thrush. Someone recognized me in a big hurry."
Solo poured him a glass of water and held his head up so he could drink. Illya nodded gratefully. "I left the hotel to meet my contact and never made it out of the alley. Must have darted me, I don't even remember hitting the ground."
Clearing his throat uncomfortably Solo said, "We lost track of you right away. I should have gone after you then, instead of waiting."
"That's not standard procedure and you know it. Anyway, I'm back now so all's well that ends well, as they say." Illya caught the fleeting look of grief on his friend's face before he could hide it. "What's going on? Napoleon? Why am I in restraints?"
Solo prodded gently, "What else do you remember?" He pushed the call button when Illya closed his eyes to concentrate.
"I woke up in a cell. Medieval-dungeon type. You know, the usual." He shook his head and sighed. "I don't remember anymore."
Dr. Martin and a nurse entered the room, the nurse holding a tray with syringes on it. Kuryakin tensed automatically, the combination of restraints and drugs too much a part of his nightmares to be dismissed lightly. He turned a worried look toward Solo. "Napoleon..."
The anxiety in his partner's voice ate at Solo, knowing that they were the ones causing it now, not Thrush. "It's okay, partner. They're not going to hurt you. We just have to know that you're all right."
Kuryakin's eyes never left the tray. "Why wouldn't I be all right?" His respiration picked up and sweat began to trickle down his face. Martin looked at Solo and nodded.
"Look at me," Solo commanded. When the Russian was slow to respond, he repeated sharply, "Look at me, ILLYA!"
Kuryakin turned and did as he was told, puzzled by Solo's actions. "Illya?" his partner repeated hopefully. There was no change in Kuryakin's posture or attitude. Napoleon breathed a sigh of relief and Martin smiled back at him. The doctor took the tray from the nurse and set it on the bed stand, dismissing her as he did so.
"When is someone going to tell me what is going on?" There was barely restrained anger in the question and Solo couldn't blame Illya's response.
"I'm sorry, tovarisch. We weren't sure how you would respond to your name. It seemed to be a trigger Thrush programmed you with."
"To do what, exactly?" Illya looked from the straps to Napoleon and back again, a silent plea from one agent to another. The senior man glanced at Martin and saw the negative in his eyes.
Solo spread his hands apart and replied, "I wish I knew. We do know that Thrush used an experimental drug on you." He stopped and watched Illya carefully for any sign of recognition. Satisfied, he continued. "All we can gather is it was meant to break you, make you obey their commands." Napoleon had turned away to pull up a chair and Martin gasped. "Solo!"
Illya tried to curl in on himself, the word 'obey' triggering a pain in his head so intense it was nearly immobilizing. He groaned and bucked against the straps and buckles hard enough to tear one of his arms loose. Solo grabbed the flailing limb as Illya began to convulse underneath him, twitching and jerking in a grand mal seizure.
Martin took one of the syringes, checked the dose and injected the I.V. line quickly. A few seconds later Illya slumped, loose as a rag doll. Jack ran a quick check and resecured him to the bed.
Solo was rattled and sat heavily in the chair. "Damn. This was my fault."
"You had no way of knowing."
"I read the reports, questioned Max. I just stupidly assumed that his name would be the trigger."
"Napoleon, there may be a lot of triggers. That's the problem. Until Illya integrates the missing time into his consciousness, he's basically a time bomb waiting to go off."
"And when he does integrate, he's going to remember everything. Including Mark..."
Martin nodded. "But we'll be here to help him deal with it. He won't be alone."
Napoleon Solo looked at the limp form of his partner on the bed, hating Thrush more than ever.
The C.E.A. updated his boss as to Kuryakin's condition. Feeling like a failure, he took full responsibility for Illya's current condition. He felt powerless to help his partner and was sure Waverly would censure him for the last botched mission. Sitting in the chair in front of Waverly's desk he waited for the shoe to drop.
A halo of smoke rose above Mr. Waverly, making Solo smile. The Old Man was no angel: indeed, he seemed to devil his agents with great regularity. Now it looked to be Napoleon's turn in the barrel. Waverly was cross as a sick bear today, trying to grab some small victory from this affair. At least Mr. Kuryakin was back in the fold. It was something to be grateful for.
Waverly looked at Solo as he did everything but squirm on his chair like a recalcitrant schoolboy. He sighed. "Well, we seem to be losing ground on more than one front today. We've lost an invaluable agent, and two more are on the disabled list. Plus, there is the added ignominy of the original mission failing miserably. What do you suggest we do about it, Mr. Solo?"
Solo started, ashamed. He'd forgotten about the missiles: he'd been too wrapped up in the tragedies of late to concentrate on his job in a responsible manner. Smarting, he looked Waverly in the eye. "I'll take the next flight to Finland myself, sir, and look into it."
Waverly nodded; it was the correct answer and he had wanted to see if his protégé would come up with it given the stress the man was under. He was pleased, but let the young agent squirm a bit more for good measure. Waverly took his time answering.
"You'll do no such thing. I appreciate the offer and under more ordinary circumstances would require it. Unfortunately, we are operating under extraordinary circumstances. I have other agents in place and they are investigating. Section Two has been decimated and your place is here with your men. They'll look to you for guidance and reassurance. See to it that they receive it."
Napoleon Solo nearly allowed his jaw to drop to the floor at the unexpected kindness delivered by his Chief. Nearly, however, since he was a trained spy and knew how to cover well. He swallowed instead and replied, "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Section One, Number One harrumphed and dismissed his charge. "Go on, now, and see to Mr. Kuryakin. I need that exceptional young man back on his feet in the worst way now. And see to it that you involve Miss Dancer in his rehabilitation. She needs to feel that she is still an integral part of the section. Being removed from field status can be most unnerving to an agent of her caliber."
Solo stood and nodded. "I'll see to it, sir." He left the office wondering anew at how the old lion managed to keep his operation humming with just a few carefully chosen words to his subordinates. I wish it were that easy for me, he thought wistfully. 'Once more unto the breach, dear friends,' sprang to his mind unbidden.
Solo detoured to April's office on the way to check in with Illya. He'd probably still be sedated and Napoleon could make better use of his time with the section's only female agent. He knocked on the door and stuck his head inside when she answered.
"April? You busy?" He gave her the full-tilt Solo-smile. She could hardly do anything but respond in like manner. Napoleon entered the small room and took in the fact that she was sitting at her desk doing absolutely nothing.
"Are you kidding?" she groused. "Full-pensioners have more to do than me at present." Her eyes couldn't help but stray to Mark's desk, bare now that Personnel had come and boxed up his effects. She dragged her gaze away reluctantly and sighed. "What's up, boss?"
"Well, for one thing, I'm hungry. Want to have lunch with a dashing older man?"
"Sure. Can you find one?" She winked at him, letting him know she was having a go at him. All those years partnered with Mark Slate had rubbed off on her. She had a quick and ready wit.
Solo feigned an arrow to his heart. "You wound me, young lady. However shall you make it up to me?" He batted his dark lashes at her suggestively.
"By letting you pick up the bill. Come on, Sir Solo, I'm hungry, too."
He laughed and extended his elbow formally. She took it and allowed him to escort her down the hall. They got a few smirks from fellow enforcement agents, but it was all good natured. When one of their own went down, the whole section felt it and worried about the surviving partner. Section Two took care of its own.
"How are you holding up, April?" Napoleon kept his voice low and a smile on his face as they passed co-workers in the hall.
He felt the muscles in Dancer's arm tighten a bit and he squeezed her hand gently. "It's all right, honey. I miss him, too." She relaxed again and they continued to the elevator. Once inside she felt secure enough to answer.
"It's hell, Napoleon. A hundred times a day I turn around and he's not there. I keep thinking of something I want to tell him, and then..." she stopped suddenly and put a hand to her mouth. Napoleon reached over and pushed the stop button. And then he reached for April, pulling her into his strong embrace. She hugged him tightly, crying into his chest. The senior agent stroked her hair lightly, running a soothing hand across the knotted back. "It's all right, April. Let it out, sweetheart."
The U.N.C.L.E. went on around them as they stopped their personal orbits and took the time to grieve their loss. Solo rocked Dancer slowly letting her have all the time she needed. After a few minutes she pulled back and sniffed. Napoleon took out his handkerchief and dabbed at April's cheeks. She smiled and said, "I must be a mess."
He gave her the square and said, "Darling, you're beautiful as always."
She sniffed again. "And you're a beautiful liar, Napoleon Solo. I love you with all my heart."
He kissed her forehead and asked gently, "Ready?" She nodded and he pulled the button out and resumed their ride. "Do you know where you want to go to eat?"
"There's a little Italian place Mark always told me we should try. We just...never got around to it. Del Vecchio's. May we go there?"
Napoleon closed his eyes and didn't miss a beat. "I think that would be a splendid place." He quietly sent a prayer up to Mark and knew the Brit was smiling.
Later in his office, Solo smiled as he thought of their lunch-time get-together. He had confided to April that he'd been to Del Vecchio's with Mark just a few days prior, and that Slate had used the ploy to get him out of the office and to distract him from his worries. She'd laughed and agreed that it was a typically Mark thing to do. April had looked into Napoleon's hazel eyes and said, "And a typically Solo thing as well."
They had passed the time pleasantly and Napoleon even managed to get her to eat more than a few bites. She trusted him and allowed herself to relax with him almost as much as with Mark. Solo knew that the responsibility for his two wounded agents lay squarely on his shoulders. Their degree of trust and faith in him would give him the tools he needed to help them heal. Napoleon knew they would have to help each other deal with the hurt and pain that each agent would feel in the aftermath of Slate's death.
Waverly had been right about Illya's friendship with Mark. The stoic Russian had few casual acquaintances and even fewer friends. Solo, April and Mark were allowed in his circle. Losing one of their number would hit Kuryakin hard. Knowing he had been the cause of Mark's death would be devastating.
Even knowing Illya hadn't been responsible for his actions; April still hadn't been able to bring herself to visit the agent. She also knew Illya would begin to wonder why very soon. Napoleon talked her into coming with him for his afternoon visit. At least she'd have another person there to buffer her reactions.
April met Napoleon in his office and he saw the tension and uncertainty etched on his face. "Sit down, April." He frowned slightly. "Having second thoughts?"
"It's that apparent, is it?" She sighed and folded her hands in her lap, looking at the buckles on her shoes. "I don't know, Napoleon. I mean, I know it wasn't our Illya who shot Mark, but...I can't get that picture of him out of my head. Yuri..."
Napoleon bowed his head at the pain in her voice. He didn't have any sage words to help her. All he could say was the truth. "April, it could have been any of us."
He saw April shudder at the thought. "I know. And part of me is glad it was Illya and not me. If it had been I who shot Mark..." Her hands squeezed the handle of her purse tightly.
"But it was Illya. And he's going to remember sooner or later. And, being Illya, he's going to pull down blame around himself like a brick wall. It's up to us to make sure he doesn't get buried under the rubble. Don't avoid him, April. He needs the two of us more than ever."
Dancer stood and he watched her steel herself; set her shoulders and raise her head. "All right. I'm ready now."
Napoleon took her elbow and walked her out the door. "Dr. Mueller is going to try Pentothal on him this afternoon. We have no idea how he'll react, so be ready for anything. He's still in restraints."
She shook her head and allowed him to lead her to Illya's room. Mueller and Dr. Martin were already there and Jack motioned them to stay put and keep quiet. They sat on the unused bed and watched Mueller inject a clear fluid into the IV set. "Just relax, Illya, and let yourself float. You'll feel sleepy in a moment."
"Yes, doctor, I have had Pentothal once or twice before," he replied snidely. "Four, five, six, seven, eight..."
Solo had to stifle a laugh and April grinned at him. He was still Illya, faulty memory or not.
Kuryakin's body relaxed in the restraints, his arm muscles smoothing out and his breathing became slow and regular. Dr. Mueller began speaking slowly to him.
"Illya, can you hear me? Do you know who I am?"
Illya sighed once and spoke, slurring his words as the Pentothal took hold of his motor functions. "Yes. You're Dr. Mueller."
"That's right, Illya. I'm going to ask you some questions. You don't mind, do you?"
"Yes, but that won't stop you, will it?" Illya frowned and licked his lips.
"Now, Illya, we're trying to help you. You know that, don't you?"
"I...I don't..." he began to toss his head becoming agitated. Mueller injected another syringe and waited a minute.
"Illya, you should be calmer now. How do you feel?"
"Tired. Want to sleep..."
"You can sleep soon, I promise. Right now, you need to listen to my voice and pay attention. I want you to tell me about your last mission. Do you remember the mission, Illya?"
He shook his head but did not answer verbally. His hands clutched the ends of the leather restraints, and Solo began to sweat for him. He hated seeing this part of the therapy and could commiserate with his partner. April took one of Solo's hands in hers and squeezed.
"What do you remember about the mission?"
"Finland. Missiles. The airport...I left the airport and was followed. Lost him, I thought. Checked into a different hotel and then went to meet my contact. Got as far as the alley and then...I don't remember anything else. Woke up here and Napoleon...Napoleon..."
Solo tensed and wanted to go to his side. Jack warned him off. April took a firmer hold of his hand and pulled him back.
"What about Napoleon, Illya?"
The Russian shook his head, sweat plastering his hair to his forehead. "He's worried about me. Something about the mission. Everybody keeps asking me about the mission. But I think he's angry with me."
"Who is angry with you, Illya?"
"Why would your partner be angry with you?"
He pressed his lips together and his brow wrinkled in puzzlement. "I don't know. I did something wrong on the mission."
"What, Illya?" Mueller sat up straighter and spoke quickly. "What did you do wrong on the mission?"
Kuryakin tossed his head back and forth in frustration. "I don't know!" he shouted. "Why doesn't anyone believe me? I can't remember. I can't!" His voice pitched higher and louder as the doctor gave him more of the sedative.
Solo looked at Martin and Jack held up his hands and silently told him to be patient. Napoleon growled low in his throat, and April knew how he felt. Interrogation or torture; either was just as hard on the partner as it was the victim.
Illya was calming, and Mueller began again. "Illya, tell me where you are."
"That's right. Do you know why you are here?"
"Were you hurt on the mission?"
"I don't...don't think so. I have a lot of cuts and bruises but that's not unusual for me."
Jack Martin laughed quietly and gave a look to Solo. He smiled back.
"How did you get the cuts and bruises, Illya?"
"Don't remember. Maybe in the alley when they darted me."
"When who darted you, Illya?"
Illya growled and snapped, "I don't know. Thrush maybe? The KGB. The GRU. I'm not exactly 'Mr. Popular' in Eastern Europe, you know."
Mueller smiled and relaxed. "All right, Illya. I want you to relax. Listen to my voice."
"No. Don't want to listen to you anymore. Napoleon? Where's Napoleon? Why isn't he here?"
Nothing short of a sleep dart could keep Solo back. He approached the bed and took Kuryakin's hand in his. "I'm right here, partner."
"Napoleon? Where've you been? I was worried...I know you're angry with me. I'm sorry."
He squeezed the cold hand in his and replied, "Sorry for what, Illya?"
"Sorry for...whatever I did to make you all so angry with me."
"Illya, I'm not angry with you. Who do you think is angry with you?"
Illya sighed and squirmed as much as the restraints would allow. He looked like a small boy as he screwed up his face in sorrow. "Mr. Waverly. April. Mark."
At the mention of Mark's name April drew in a sharp breath. She kept quiet and willed her strength to Napoleon.
"Illya, why would they be angry with you?"
"I don't know...but they haven't come to see me. They always come to see me."
Napoleon looked at Mueller and he waved him on. "Yes, they do. Because they're your friends, aren't they, Illya?"
"And you can trust them, can't you?"
"Yes. Mark is my friend. And April..."
Napoleon looked over at Dancer. She walked to his side but didn't speak.
"What about April, Illya?"
He smiled for the first time during the session. "She smells good. And she's pretty. But don't tell her I said that or she'll punch me in the nose."
Solo laughed and April covered hers with a cough. "I won't tell her."
Dr. Mueller and Dr. Martin conferred for a bit and then Mueller rang for the nurse. A moment later she appeared pushing a crash cart into the corner of the room. She stood by waiting for orders.
Martin motioned Solo and Dancer to them. Solo let go of Illya's hand and said, "Illya, I'll be right back, all right?"
"Mmm..." he said, burrowing into the pillow and nodding off.
Solo didn't like the looks on the doctors' faces nor the boxy cart's appearance. "What now?" he asked.
"This is getting us nowhere," Mueller said. "We can't get around the mental block he's erected even with the Pentothal. Illya doesn't want to remember and we can't make him remember. We can, however, make Yuri remember."
Solo sucked in a breath. "Isn't that extraordinarily dangerous for Illya?"
Martin looked sideways at Mueller and he shrugged. Jack replied, "Yes, it is. We really don't know how he'll react when confronted with the other personality. We'll take every precaution we can, Napoleon. But there are no guarantees that Illya can integrate Yuri fully without some damage to his psyche."
Solo paced the length of the room. April watched, feeling completely useless. Illya was Napoleon's partner. He knew him better than anyone.
"What choice does he have? He can't go on like this; restrained, drugged, locked up. It would kill him." Solo waited for an answer.
Martin spoke. "You know him better than anyone, Napoleon. What would Illya want?"
Looking at his friend lying on the bed, Solo was certain he was right. "He'd want to do it. Risk it; whatever it takes. He'd want to remember Mark; mourn him; cherish his memories." April came up next to Solo and took his hand. Tears ran down her face as she nodded in agreement.
Mueller looked at the faces around him and said, "All right. Let's do it."
April spoke for the first time. "What can we do to help?"
"Just be here and be ready to react to what he does and says." Martin took a syringe from the tray and handed it to Mueller.
"I'm giving him a larger dose of Pentothal mixed with a drug used to treat schizophrenia. I believe it will allow us to reach the part he's shut off."
Solo winced as he watched the fluid seep into Illya's already drugged body. 'I'm sorry, partner,' he sent to him.
Illya twitched as the drugs took hold. His breathing slowed and Solo watched the respiration monitor nervously. Jack mouthed, 'He's okay' to him.
Illya was pale and looked like death warmed over before Mueller decided he was ready. He drew close to the bed and addressed the patient.
"Illya, can you hear me?"
"Illya, I want you to verbally answer my questions, all right?"
Napoleon began pacing again, unable to sit still. He jammed his hands into his pockets and wished there was something he could do.
Kuryakin twitched under the blanket, his body reacting to the chemicals. His voice remained steady and monotone.
"I want to talk to someone, Illya. Will you help me do that?"
"I want to talk to the person who knows what happened on your last mission."
Illya twitched again but did not speak.
"I want to talk to the person who knows Max."
"No," he said. The Russian's respirations picked up and sweat formed on his upper lip at the mention of Max's name.
Mueller continued, "I want to talk to the person who remembers Dr. Kestrel."
"No," Illya whispered. Heart rate doubling, Illya began to pant and twist in the bonds.
Mueller took a deep breath. "I want to talk to Yuri."
"No," formed on Illya's lips but there was no sound. He seemed to deflate, as if all the air left him at once.
"I want you to obey, Yuri."
"No!" Illya shrieked. His entire body tensed, arching upward off the bed as far as the restraints would allow. Monitors squealed as his heart rate went off the scale.
Solo looked at Mueller and yelled, "Do something!" Jack put an arm around his shoulders and held him back. "Hang on, Napoleon. He knows what he's doing."
Mueller drew close to Kuryakin and spoke to him forcefully. "Illya, listen to me. Yuri is a part of you now. You have to embrace him. It's the only way to become whole again. Illya, you are Yuri. And he is you. Do you understand that now?"
Slowly, Illya's body began to relax, the monitors registering the deceleration of his heart rate and respirations. He panted, slumping back against the mattress, sweat pouring from him and goose bumps covering his skin. Paler than white now, he seemed to blend into the sheets and almost disappear.
Mueller waved Napoleon and April over. Solo took one side of the bed and April the other. "Illya, I want you to wake up now. Your friends are here with you. You're not alone." Illya turned his head in Mueller's direction and opened his eyes. Napoleon's was the first face he saw.
Solo smiled at him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, partner."
Illya looked confused for a moment and then he focused on Solo. He said, "Oh, God, no, please, no..." and closed his eyes. Napoleon took Illya's face in his hands and turned him back to look at him.
"Illya, look at me. Please look at me."
Blue eyes looked into his as tears spilled down the pale face. "I remember, Napoleon. God forgive me, I remember..."
Solo gathered him in his arms as best he could and held tight. Martin began undoing the restraints and Mueller worked on the other side. When his upper body was freed, he grabbed Napoleon with all his strength and sobbed into his embrace. Solo returned the pressure, holding Illya together with his strength of will.
Martin and Mueller signaled to Napoleon that they would be outside. He nodded to them as they left. Heart-rending sobs came from Illya as he realized what he'd tried to repress. Napoleon murmured encouragement to him all the while, rocking the too-slight body in his arms.
Solo looked at April as tears slid down her shocked face. She placed her hand over one of his as he comforted his partner. A quiet sniff escaped her and Illya tensed in Solo's arms, pulling away slightly to see who was in the room with them.
He turned his head and saw her standing near. "April..." whispered out of him and he shook with misery. "I'm so sorry, so sorry, so sorry..." He hung his head and couldn't look her in the eye.
April lowered the bed rail and sat next to the tortured agent. Tears ran down her face and she called his name gently. "Illya." He couldn't open his eyes and she said softly again, "Illya. Come here." She held her arms open to him, and he looked in her eyes and saw the forgiveness there as well as the sorrow. He launched himself at her arms and wilted into her.
"April, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Forgive me..." His voice caught and he couldn't speak.
Napoleon had to turn away from the emotion of the scene. He took deep breaths and tried to calm himself. From an emotional standpoint, he knew this was what both April and Illya needed, but seeing the normally collected Russian falling apart in Dancer's arms was almost more than he could bear.
Illya's shoulders shook with the outpouring of grief, and the toll from the drugs made itself known as well. He sagged in April's embrace, too exhausted and heartsick to move. Dancer felt his weight shift and knew he was near collapse.
"Help me, Napoleon," she whispered as he turned his attention back to them.
Solo supported Illya's head and shoulders as he settled him back on the bed. Illya whimpered at the loss of body contact and April kicked off her shoes and lay down beside him, gathering him in her arms once more.
He quieted immediately and snuggled against the warmth of Dancer's body. "You smell good," he murmured just before drifting off.
Napoleon smiled at the sight and pulled the blanket at the foot of the bed over both of them. "You all right?" he asked her quietly.
She kissed the top of Illya's head sadly, mourning what they had both lost. "No. But I will be. And so will he."
Napoleon nodded, leaned in and kissed April gently on the lips. They would all be all right, somehow. And, somewhere, he knew Mark Slate was smiling.
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