"Have you got it ready?"

"Just about, there's a lot more here than I expected. When you told me the search parameters I thought they were way too specific to get even a single hit, instead… Well, you'll see."

"Good, good"

"What's your boss doing with this stuff?"

"I do not believe that is any of your business."

"Hey, no offense! I'm just glad someone's making use of these blackbox recordings. Central's been talking about shutting the whole program down. Of course, I always say: Why don't they make the whole satrap out of the same stuff as the blackbox!"

"I would have thought that would be obvious. The strength of a structure goes as the inverse of the square of the length. Scale a blackbox up to the size of a building and you would have to make the walls so thick there would be no room left for equipment or personnel."

"It… it was just a joke."

"Oh, I see. Good day."

TMFU TMFU TMFU

"I don't want to hear it, Jenkins! Just do your job," Napoleon Solo barked into the phone before slamming down the receiver.

"Charming as ever," remarked Illya Kuryakin from the doorway of their shared office.

"Don't start," Napoleon growled back. "It seems like all of Section II has forgotten how to do even the simplest parts of the job. Who's left picking up the pieces? -Me." He angrily shoved a file away and slammed the drawer.

Illya watched his partner with growing concern. He'd seen Solo aggravated, angry and even enraged, but there was something different in this foul mood in his usually debonair friend. Illya couldn't put his finger on it, but it was almost as if the CEA was feeling sorry for himself.

"What's wrong?" he asked, taking a step into the room and allowing the automatic door to close behind him.

"What are you talking about?" Napoleon turned a scornful sneer towards his partner, looking at Illya as if he were an idiot.

Anger flared in Kuryakin. If that's how Solo was going to be, he could work his way out of his funk by himself.

"Nothing," Illya replied, all trace of emotion or friendliness gone from his voice. "Waverly wants to see us."

Illya turned and walked towards the elevator, not looking back to see if Solo was following.

TMFU TMFU

If Alexander Waverly noticed the unusual frostiness between his top two agents, he didn't let on. He usually held that personal relationships were a distraction, however this team was both particularly close and particularly effective. He trusted them to put their interpersonal issues aside for the mission.

The mission in this case was to be a suspected THRUSH satrap in Venezuela. A suspicious quantity of supplies had been working its way through known THRUSH channels towards this location. There had also been chatter picked up about a new super weapon in the works. The clincher, however had come from an ornithologist in the country. She had noted an unusual fluctuation in migratory patterns in this area of jungle. Her observations would have gone completely unnoticed if not for the entire room full of UNCLE researchers whose sole function was to look for such bizarre reports.

Solo and Kuryakin were to investigate and, if necessary, destroy the satrap. Simple enough.

TMFU TMFU TMFU

"Ladies and Gentlemen, today we are going to witness something truly unique: the final, ultimate end of UNCLE's most irritating agents, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin!" The tall, skeletal speaker addressed the assorted representatives from THRUSH central seated along one side of a curved conference table. On the far side of the table was a bank of windows looking down to a room one floor below, rather like an operating theater.

"That's not the first time that boast has been made," grumbled the toad-like man in a general's uniform. "You'd better deliver, Klaus, after the idiotic risk you took deliberately letting them find this place."

"Of course, General Stahl," Alphonse Klaus soothed. "I will succeed where so many others have failed because I have discovered what no one else has: Solo and Kuryakin do not actually like one another."

A flurry of skeptical glances raced up and down the table.

"Of course, they are both fiercely loyal to the same cause," Klaus continued hurriedly, "irrational though that cause may be. But in sifting through recordings of the last moments of over a dozen satraps Solo and Kuryakin have destroyed, my researchers have discovered something fascinating; the moment the mission is complete, the moment they are finished serving their duty to UNCLE Solo and Kuryakin turn on each other with insults, disparagements, and scorn."

"That's ridiculous," scoffed a matronly woman further down the table, "They've been observed many times taking foolish risks to rescue the other from capture."

"It is my belief that UNCLE must place special emphasis on getting their agents back alive, even at the expense of the mission. That also fits with the soft-headed UNCLE ethos."

"I have chosen," Klaus continued, settling into the role of lecturer, "to pit Solo against Kuryakin, simply because more of the available material lent itself in that direction.

"With considerable difficulty, we were able to plant a sonic conditioning device in the walls of Solo's apartment. This conditioning consists of an aural-neural bypass that places the subject in an extremely suggestable state, and a program of subliminal messaging that has been chosen to increase violent tendencies and feed Solo the idea that he is unappreciated for what he does; that he is surrounded by ungrateful incompetents, without whom he would be better off.

"Thus far these have been generalized feelings of aggrievement, but today, today we are going to make them very specific. We will use the aural-neural bypass to awaken the conditioning and then we will remind him of Kuryakin's unkindness.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, let us observe." Klaus gestured expansively to the observation windows.

TMFU TMFU

Napoleon Solo returned to consciousness, but through long practice gave no immediate outward sign.

Status Check

Pain: Minor. Generalized headache with slight dizziness – possibly drugged.

Position: Seated, hard chair, head lolled to chest.

Restraints: Check. Metal shackles on wrists and ankles.

Environment: Feels like a large room, sound of ventilation, bright lights visible through eyelids.

Memory: Hazy (definitely drugged). Locating the satrap, movement in the bushes, sting at the neck. Then here.

Weapons: TBD

Partner: TBD

Having learned all he could otherwise, Napoleon opened his eyes, but kept everything else still. He was wearing a grey-blue loose-fitting T-shirt and cotton pants. His shoes had swapped for slip-on loafers. So negative on the weapons, then.

At last he abandoned his pretext of unconsciousness and lifting his head slightly, he spotted a 6-inch bowie knife placed on a small table just beyond the reach of his right hand.

He found Illya in a similar chair across the room, facing him. He'd been allowed to keep his own clothes, but had been relieved of his obvious weapons. They would just have to hope THRUSH had overlooked some less obvious ones. Illya was restrained more thoroughly than Napoleon. Wrists, ankles, shoulders, lap and forehead, all were fastened to the chair with leather straps. Illya also had been gagged with a piece of white tape over his mouth. Napoleon noted the difference in their situations, but didn't know what to make of it.

Ice blue eyes told him his partner had taken the same inventory and had no more idea what was happening.

They were in a completely white room, round, about 20 feet in diameter and about that tall. A single door was at Solo's left, a bank of mirrored observation windows high on the wall to his right. Illya's chair was pushed up against the wall, Napoleon's nearly in the middle of the room.

"You okay?" Solo's voice came out rough from a parched throat.

The nod was minute due to the straps, but clear enough to Napoleon.

Illya's eyes cut to the knife significantly. Eyebrows slightly raised, he looked back to Solo.

"I don't think so, but I'll give it a shot…. Ah, no use, can't reach it."

"Any-"

The rest of Napoleon's question fell silent as the overhead lights went dark. Colored lights began to kaleidoscope around the room and a warbling beat, more felt in the head then heard with the ears filled the room.

Napoleon tried to shake his head to escape the noise. Why did it seem familiar? Some dark part of him was rising to meet the cacophony. How could he have forgotten? He needed to tell Waverly, to tell Illya, about the sounds in his apartment. Why did he keep forgetting? They would help him; they would make it stop… make it stop…

No, what did they know? He was the only one around here who knew what he was doing, not that anyone else would admit that. No, they were all jealous, ungrateful bastards. He could tell they all hated him. He'd have to watch his back, no one else sure would. Any day now one of the Others was sure to make their move. He'd just have to be the one to strike first.

Illya struggled futility against his bonds in the nauseating, swirling light. The light and sound show was irritating, but what bothered Illya more was the effect if was having on his partner. Napoleon had first seemed frightened by the noise, but now? Now it seemed almost like he was feeding off of it. His friend's face was twisted unrecognizably with anger and rage. Illya tried to call out to him, to snap him out of it, but of course that was impossible through the tape over his mouth.

Suddenly, the lights stopped swirling and swiveled to point directly at Kuryakin. No longer casting melting pools of light, they seemed to be flickering like a film projector. Illya could no longer see Napoleon through the glare of the light, but in the reflection of the observation windows he could see the lights were now projecting an image on himself and the wall behind him.

Illya realized he recognized the scene. It was of a THRUSH satrap he and Napoleon had destroyed months ago. Illya had been captured and Napoleon had rescued him just before the THRUSH doctor had used him as the first victim of the poison he was planning to dump in the local water supply. The doctor was even now sitting in prison for his crimes and the satrap had been blown up, courtesy of Napoleon and himself.

Somehow, a video recording of the tense moments as Illya was about to be injected with the toxin was being projected onto the wall. Illya couldn't help but be fascinated with how the projection was warped and stretched so that his face from the recording lined up perfectly with his face in reality. The white tape over his mouth even gave the impression that the recording's mouth was his own.

Illya had no great desire to relive that experience, the helplessness, the barely controlled fear. He concentrated on his breathing and firmly reminded himself that this was in the past. He already knew how this one turned out. Any second now, Napoleon was going to burst through the door and sleep dart the doctor pressing the needle to his arm.

Right on cue, the door flew open and the doctor dropped. Within seconds Napoleon had all the other bad guys knocked out and was loosening the straps that held Illya to the gurney.

Illya flinched as he heard his own voice, amplified above the rest of the film's audio. "You're very late! What happened, did you get lost again?" Illya was shocked at the acid, biting sarcasm in his voice. Surely he never sounded that cruel, did he?

Before Napoleon's reply could be heard, the scene shifted, this time to a corridor with beige walls and a harmless-looking, but deadly foam advancing from the left side of the frame. Illya was dressed, rather improbably, in a white burnoose and tussling with a THRUSH goon. Unseen by Illya, a man in a business suit pulled a fire ax from the wall and approached the fight, lifting the ax to strike. Just as Illya noticed the new threat, a figure in a protective suit emerged from the dissolving foam and blocked the killing blow.

Once they were clear, Illya was thanking his rescuer sincerely, even addressing him as 'my friend' when the figure pulled off his mask to reveal the face of Napoleon Solo. At that, Illya' smile dropped. Once again his voice was amplified.

"I should have known who it was when I saw you trip over your own feet."

Illya's face burned with shame. How could he ever treat his friend that way? Hearing for himself the scorn and derision dripping from his voice – this is what Napoleon has been hearing for years.

The scene switched again and Illya wished he could turn away, wished he could block his ears. Then he remembered the look of rage on Napoleon's face and the large knife just beyond his grasp. With a sickening lurch of his stomach, Illya knew what THRUSH's plan here was. They were brainwashing his partner into killing him.

This had been tried before, and had come far, far too close to succeeding. Another black mark on his soul, Kuryakin thought ruefully. In that case, Illya had been brainwashed into believing Napoleon was trying to kill him. They had fed him lies and he shot at his best friend with every intent to kill. Now they were feeding Napoleon the truth and he had the terrible feeling it was going to succeed this time.

Illya struggled against his bonds anew, but couldn't move so much as an inch in any direction. He tried to yell at Napoleon, to beg forgiveness, but what came out was easily swallowed by the sound-pressure and his own recorded words.

The scene switched again and again. And again. Each and every time Illya's only response to his partner risking his own life to save his was at best ridicule and at worst open hostility.

The defensive side of Kuryakin's mind kicked in. 'It's not like Napoleon never gave me grief when the tables were turned.' 'They're just showing me at my worst. I'm sure I've thanked him plenty of times.' But, in truth he couldn't recall a single time he had, at least not without attendant sarcasm.

It was something of a relief when the film looped back to the first scene. At least they had no more of his unforgivable behavior to display. That relief was short-lived, however. With a nearly inhuman yell from Napoleon the film stopped and the room lights snapped back on.

Illya's breath caught in his throat at the look of pure lupine rage Napoleon was aiming straight at him. An instant later, Solo's metal cuffs popped open and he was out of his seat, knife in hand.

'Nyet, moy droog,' Illya thought desperately, his eyes pleading with whatever was left of his partner, 'not like this.'

But Napoleon advanced on him still, head low, shoulders high, glaring at Illya. Solo crossed the few feet between them like a storm cloud.

A moment later and Napoleon was on him, left forearm barred across his throat, knife raised high in the air. The knife came down in a single, swift, sure stroke.

Illya's eyes strained down to the left side of his chest, his head turned the fractional movement allowed it, then he tore his gaze up to his partner's face. A second later Illya's eyes rolled back into fluttering shut – then still – lids as his features went slack.

TMFU TMFU

The swirling lights from the room below reflected off the walls of the observation room. Alphonse Klaus stood at the window, an eager gleam in his eye. This was the culmination of years of work and he intended to savor it. He could see Solo futility fight the conditioning before falling completely under its spell. When he judged the effect was total he signaled his assistant to begin phase II.

He was quite pleased with the effect of his painstaking image manipulation. Kuryakin blended nearly seamlessly with the moving picture, one could almost imagine he was saying those words here and now.

He looked over to Solo to gauge his progress. 'Strange,' he thought, 'he looks more confused than angry.' A disquieting sliver of doubt crept into his usually supremely confident mind. The confusion in Solo's face soon vanished, replaced with an unreadable, neutral expression. Not what he had expected, but some variables in the human factor were unpredictable.

When the film strip neared its end with no outward reaction from Solo, the sliver of doubt grew wider. If this turned into a failure, far from advancing him within THRUSH, it could spell his early 'retirement.'

"Run it again," Klaus whispered to his assistant and the first scene played over again. Klaus could detect some restless shifting from the officials at the table behind him when Solo gave out an almighty roar and began to grasp for the knife near his hand.

"That's it! Shut it down, release him!" Klaus barked to the assistant.

Down below, the bright lights came up and Napoleon Solo seized the knife and stalked toward Kuryakin, still bound helplessly to the chair.

Kuryakin was dead with one blow.

Solo stood still for a moment, leaning over his former partner, his shoulders heaving with great gasps from the exertion, both physical and emotional.

After a long moment a jerk of his right shoulder indicated the removal of the knife. As he stood, the observers got their first view of Kuryakin's fatal wound; a single bloody gash.

"Straight to the heart," someone murmured with admiration, "he died between heartbeats. Amazing!"

In the room below a change was coming over Solo. He looked down at his hands, suddenly shaking. The knife dropped from nerveless fingers and clattered to a rest on the chair next to the dead UNCLE agent. Hands clutched into fists, arms hugged around himself, Solo stumbled backwards, away from Kuryakin's still form.

"No, Illya. God please, no," Solo whispered. "I'm sorry." He sank to his knees and began rocking back and forth, arms clutched around his middle. Another signal from Klaus and two black-clad guards stepped in and dragged the unresisting Solo out of the room.

"Well done, Klaus, superb work!" General Stahl enthused. "What's your plan for the other one?"

Klaus' eyes were momentarily clouded, but snapped back to their normal gleam in an instant. "That rather depends on the subject," answered Klaus. "I hope to convince him to join us. He'll have no future at UNCLE after this and he might see reason and help us voluntarily. Plan B is to use the same regime to elicit sensitive UNCLE information from him. Even failing that, I'd say there is a 99% chance he'll never again be fit for field work. And at the very least, of course, I have destroyed UNCLE's most effective team."

"Yes, yes indeed you have! Well I know what my recommendation will be regarding your election to THRUSH central."

"Thank you, gentlemen, ladies," Klaus beamed. "Please, this way."

TMFU TMFU

Sometime later, Klaus sat in the satrap control room, staring at a monitor. This should be his moment of greatest triumph; that's certainly what the big wigs currently winging their way back to THRUSH central thought. Still, there was a nagging doubt that wouldn't be silenced. Something was off about Solo's reactions. He had expected some level of self-recrimination. Moral codes, he had been told, often caused discomfort when broken, but this abject grief was way out of expected parameters.

On Klaus' monitor, Solo sat in nearly the same spot he'd been dumped 45 minutes prior. Sitting on the floor of his cell and leaning against the cot, his knees drawn up to his chest. His left arm still cradled his stomach, hand balled into a fist, his right hand gripped a fistful of hair, elbow balanced on his knee. Occasionally, he would screw his eyes shut as if trying to block out some terrible vision.

Klaus let the routine chatter of the control room buzz around him as he thought.

"Power level steady."

"Unit one – all clear. Unit two – all clear."

"Temperature nominal."

"Unit three – all clear. Unit four – all clear."

"Pressure 1800 psi and steady."

"Unit six – all clear. Unit seven – all clear."

Solo should have felt guilty at Kuryakin's death, certainly. Klaus had been counting on using it to turn the UNCLE agent, but he didn't understand this reaction. And Alphonse Klaus detested anything he didn't understand.

A rumble of thunder from one of the typical tropical mid-afternoon thunderstorms intruded at the edge of his thoughts. At that moment on the monitor, as if he'd heard the sound too, Napoleon Solo looked up at the ceiling and smiled.

'Now what's he doing,' Klaus thought, 'smiling at thunder?' But that was ridiculous. The sound was quiet enough at the surface level and Solo was five stories below ground.

"Coolant failure on generator two."

"Cut in auxiliaries and send a repair crew."

"Unit five, report please. Unit five, come in."

Another rumble of thunder, louder this time, and Solo rose to his feet. He gave a cursory inspection of his left hand and began to brush dirt from his clothes and straighten his disheveled hair.

"Coolant failure on generator one!"

"What? The other one too? Kick in auxiliaries."

"Sir, auxiliaries can't handle both generators at once."

"Do it. We don't have a choice. What's the repair ETC?"

"Unit two, make contact with unit five and report back."

On the monitor, Napoleon Solo sat on the cot, crossed one leg over the other and folded his hands on his knee, looking for all the world like a man waiting for a bus.

"Sir, repair crew reports complete destruction of both main cooling pumps. Repair impossible."

"Auxiliary coolant temperature 120 and rising"

"Unit two, report please. Unit two, come in."

With a sick sense of certainty, Klaus ordered his monitor switched to the feed from the conditioning room. The room was darkened, but he could make out the observation windows opposite the camera. In the foreground sat the two chairs. The two empty chairs.

"Begin emergency generator shut down."

"You can't! The capacitors will feed their charge back to the generators."

"Disconnect them, then. How long will that take?"

"The procedure says 20 minutes."

"We don't have 20 minutes."

Shouting to be heard over the rising chaos of the control room, Klaus shouted "Pull up the footage of this from 10:13 this morning! No, I don't care about that, just do as I say!"

TMFU TMFU

Illya Kuryakin strode down the corridor in the lower level of the THRUSH satrap, very much alive, but not particularly caring how many THRUSHies stayed that way too.

His fireworks display two floors up should keep most of the personnel busy, but he made his way cautiously, gun at the ready, looking into each room as he passed. Pausing at a metal box fastened to the wall, he smashed it open and removed several items.

He finally found what he was looking for by peering through the sliding observation portal in a formidable reinforced steel door. Some quick work with an explosive button and the door swung open.

"You've been having fun, I hear." Napoleon stood from the cot, making a small gesture as if straightening imaginary cuffs.

Whatever retort Illya would have made died on his lips as a barely perceptible look of pain ghosted across his eyes.

Crossing the space between them, Illya held out a second gun, handle first. Napoleon took it, gratified by the familiar weight. Illya tucked his own gun into his waistband.

"Here, let me see." He gently took his partner's left wrist and held it palm up. "It's deep. You're going to need stiches." Illya produced the roll of gauze from the smashed first aid kit and began to wrap it around Napoleon's hand, covering the deep cut in the fleshy part of the palm.

"Are you okay?" asked Napoleon. His usually reserved partner was even more sealed off than normal.

"I'm fine." Illya's eyes spoke loudly to the contrary. "We need to get out of here."

Message received: 'I can shove it aside for now; we'll talk about it later.'

"You got it, partner mine," replied Napoleon to both Illya's meanings.

With easy familiarity, Solo and Kuryakin moved through the corridor as one.

TMFU TMFU

"Generator one disconnected."

"Re-route coolant to generator two immediately."

"We have to shut number one down first!"

"Do it now! Forget about saving number one, if number two goes down now, the whole place'll blow."

Deaf to the commotion around him, Klaus, for the third time watched the playback from the conditioning room. Just as he'd seen from his vantage point across the room, Solo advanced on Kuryakin, much to the other's horror. When he reached him Solo pushed his left forearm against Kuryakin's throat, but hidden from the observation windows by Solo's back, his left hand was pinching the material of Kuryakin's shirt, plucking it away from his chest. Klaus could see Kuryakin's eyes follow the path of the knife until it came to a sudden stop an inch above his chest. With a tiny flick of the wrist, Solo sliced a vertical gash in his partner's shirt. Kuryakin looked up at Solo, his face unreadable. Solo gave a small wink and to Klaus it seemed like an entire wordless conversation passed between the two in only a second.

"Pressure in the red."

"Temperature at 141… 142… steady at 142… Temperature 141!... 140, it's working!"

As Kuryakin feigned his death, Solo, covering the movement with the heaving of his shoulders, reached across with his left hand and released the clasp on Kuryakin's left wrist strap. He then reached that hand up to where the knife was still held frozen in place and, with another small flick, sliced open his palm. As blood welled up, Solo wiped some on the knife blade and then pressed his hand to the slice in Kuryakin's shirt.

"Over pressure alarm! We're venting coolant."

"Override!"

"It's not responding!"

"Temperature 142, 145, 150, 160, my gauge is pegged!"

All that was left now was for Solo to mime pulling the knife back, drop it conveniently within Kuryakin's reach and put on the charade of grief they'd all witnessed at the time.

"Stay at your posts! You will follow orders; I swear I will shoot the next man to leave his station!"

"Commander, the situation is beyond our control, you must order an evacuation!"

Where had he gone wrong? Klaus wondered numbly. He had accounted for every variable conceivable, how had he read the situation so poorly?

"Commander Klaus, can you hear me? There's nothing else we can do; we have to get out of here before it's too la-"

TMFU TMFU TMFU

Two hours later, tired and dirty but relatively unscathed, the two UNCLE agents stumbled into a small village 50 miles from Caracas. They managed to convince an inn keeper to front them a meal, a room and the use of his phone.

Napoleon Solo replaced the telephone handset and returned to the table where his partner was determinedly working his way through his second bowl of some sort of local stew.

"Well, the cleanup crew will be here in the morning and we're booked on a flight back to New York tomorrow evening."

A small nod was the only answer he got from Illya. Ever since he'd opened that cell door Napoleon knew there was something troubling the Russian agent. Now that the escape from the satrap and trek through the jungle were behind them, it was time to find out what that was. Of course, there were a number of items Illya had every right to be troubled about; things that would leave most men gibbering in a corner. Napoleon just had to figure out which particular item it was in this case.

"Nice job back there," Solo opened. "Quite the fireworks show, even for your standards."

A small shrug, but Illya lifted his eyes to Napoleon's. He knew damn well what Napoleon was doing and, it seemed, he was ready to go along.

"You as well. Very convincing, you even had me fooled."

Napoleon mirrored Illya's earlier shrug. This was the first thing that might have been bothering his partner. Watching your best friend seemingly about to murder you had to be… vexing. But for Illya to bring it up straight away meant that wasn't it.

"I had a good teacher."

"How did you know they would just walk away and leave me alone?"

"I didn't, we just got lucky," Solo admitted. "But you, with one arm free and a knife against a whole base full of THRUSH? Those were the best odds we'd had all day."

"Also lucky you were immune to the brainwashing," Illya said, his voice a bit too level to be natural.

The second possible item. Napoleon knew Illya still harbored some guilt for that incident in the Caribbean. They still weren't to the heart of Illya's dark mood, but they were getting close.

"I wasn't immune," Napoleon answered, trying to control the tremor in his voice. He shuddered at the memory of that other self emerging, the feelings of rage and aggrievement. They'd seemed so natural, so righteous. He knew he was in for some couch time with the psych department when he got back.

"I suppose that does explain the snit you've been in these last few weeks." Napoleon was gratified and relieved to see a glimmer of the old wry humor return to his friend's face.

"Moi?" he asked in mock indignation.

Illya turned serious again. "So what did break the conditioning?"

"That was the lucky part. The films they chose to make me turn against you – well, they made me snap out of it."

"That's what did it?" Illya asked incredulous. "You watched me act like an ungrateful child – an unforgivable ass - over and over again. After watching that – I wanted to stab me!" Illya finished hotly, his cheeks flushed and eyes shining. Embarrassed, he looked down at his food.

Bingo, we have a winner.

"Listen, Illya," Napoleon took a deep breath, collected his thoughts for a moment and continued, "To do this job and keep a shred of sanity we pretty much have to convince ourselves that we're immortal, right?"

Illya regarded him with an 'I trust this is going somewhere' look, but said nothing.

"But there's one small part of our brains that we can't fool. One part that knows that we are flesh and blood and, in reality, there's no reason our names can't join the others on that wall at HQ. And when things get tight that part starts to speak pretty loudly."

A muscle tensed in Illya's jaw. He knew exactly what Napoleon was talking about. For as many times as he'd dodged death, staring it down was always a truly unnerving experience.

"But," Solo continued, "there's something else that part of our brains knows for an absolute fact: that our partner is doing absolutely everything in his power to get us out."

Napoleon swallowed past a sudden lump in his throat, but continued with a steady voice. "So in those times we have to make a choice; give in to the fear – or get annoyed that our partner is taking his damn sweet time with the rescue.

"Fear makes you slow, it freezes your brain. If it turns to panic, you're done for. You can't plan, you can't see opportunities for escape. But annoyance? Annoyance makes you want to live just out of spite.

"Sometimes that boils over into some choice words – we've both done it – but think about what that annoyance means. It means that we are so sure the other one is on the way, we take it as a given. So I didn't hear an ungrateful child or an unforgivable ass back there. Regardless of the words you used, what I heard you saying over and over again was 'I knew you were coming for me.'"

Neither spoke for a long moment. So much between them was normally unspoken, but Napoleon felt his friend needed to hear the words this time. He just hoped he hadn't embarrassed his Russian partner.

"Thank you, my friend," Illya said finally.

"V Lyuboye vremya, Tovarisch."

A/N: I want to thank everyone for all the support and lovely comments I've gotten on the first two stories I've written so far! When I first started getting into this awesome show – 6 whole months ago – the guys sniping at each other bothered me a bit. So this was my way of explaining it to myself.