Illya had practically dashed back to the office he shared with Napoleon as though a pack of wolves had been after him. He paused to catch his breath as he saw Napoleon reclined on the couch, still human, still petting the purring cat.
"How'd the interrogation go?" Napoleon asked. "Did Fisk talk?"
"Da…" Illya said, wondering how to break the news to him. "He did. And I have good news and bad news for you."
"OK, what's the good news?"
"I have enough of a sample of the drug to analyze it—and hopefully create and antidote from it."
"That is excellent news," Napoleon said, grinning. "…But, ah, what's the bad news, then?"
Illya pondered for a moment, and then sighed.
"Napoleon, I will tell you this because it is your right to know," he said. "But you must not get excited or upset – anything that will set off an adrenaline spike. You must stay calm, and if you do not, I will tranquilize you."
"…This doesn't bode well…" Napoleon said, sitting up now. "I don't get it; if you've got the means for an antidote, then why would it make a difference if I get into another transformation or not?"
"Because that new version of the drug that Fisk gave you, according to Gaston, is a permanent version—after it metabolizes with the adrenaline, it re-forms the drug in your system, so if you transform again, you won't change back."
Napoleon looked as though he'd run smack into a brick wall.
"You must stay calm," Illya instructed, gripping Napoleon's shoulders. "I am serious about the tranquilizing-"
"I have no doubts about that," Napoleon said. "In fact, I almost wish you'd just go ahead and do that."
"Are you certain?" Illya asked.
"Why take chances?" Napoleon shrugged. "I mean, I'm already living 'Beauty and the Beast.' I might as well pull a 'Sleeping Beauty,' too…" He trailed off as he saw the look on Illya's face. "What's that face for? This was your idea…"
"It was, but I was thinking more along the lines of a last resort rather than an immediate plan," Illya said. "You do not usually lie down and admit defeat."
"Yeah, that was before I found out the next transformation would be permanent," Napoleon said. "Changing temporarily is one thing. I don't want to be the Beast forever. I'd lose everything in an instant if that happened."
"Napoleon, I promise you, you will never lose me," Illya insisted. "But if it is truly what you want, then I will give you a tranquilizer dart."
"Yeah, I think that is what I…" Napoleon trailed off, the word triggering something in his memory. "Darts…"
"Darts… Darts…" he murmured. "That's important. Something about darts…" His eyes widened as a flash of memory returned to him. "Darts—that's it!"
"Stay calm!" Illya reminded him again. "What's this about darts?"
"Professor Gaston has some sort of contraption set up somewhere Midtown; he wants to use it against the people of New York by using darts loaded with the beast serum, and now that the formula is perfected, he can! That's what I was looking for as the Beast—I was trying to take out that machine!"
"Do you know where exactly it is?"
"No, I never found it," Napoleon said. "We have to look!"
"Ah, I beg to differ," Illya said, gently pushing him down onto the sofa as Baba Yaga meowed in protest. "You are not to set foot outside of this building. THRUSH will be after you the moment you do. I will go look for it."
Napoleon exhaled, but admitted that Illya had a point.
"I'd been looking around the Broadway theatres," he said. "But I was getting nowhere—and when I saw you that night near the Majestic, I must have thought that we could work together, but you got in the cab, and I lost track of you."
"I doubt there would be any sort of device in or on the theatres," Illya said. "For a THRUSH plot like this, they would choose the darkest, most underground place they could find that would still have the most people—to maximize both the success and impact of their nefarious plans."
The two partners looked at each other.
"Times Square," they said, in unison.
"It'll be on a rooftop somewhere," Napoleon went on. "I remember that distinctly—that's why I was on the Majestic's marquee!"
"Duly noted. You wait here for me," Illya instructed him again, as he grabbed his Special from the desk drawer. "I won't be going alone."
"But be careful!" Napoleon called after him.
Illya responded with an assurance and left, and Napoleon sighed to himself as he sat around and waited.
He was remembering more and more—remembering Gaston's frustrations that Napoleon couldn't be controlled during his transformations, and that they had wanted him to be wild and dangerous so as to give him—and U.N.C.L.E.—a black eye. But with Napoleon still holding on to his heroic nature even when transformed and being received by the public as a hero, they had to change their plans—and decided on this plan to spread panic among the city by transforming random people into beasts.
An hour ticked by, and then another. And another. Napoleon was tempted to call Illya over Channel D, but didn't want to distract him, or worse, alert THRUSH to his position with the communicator going off.
He was soon distracted, however, by his own office intercom going off.
"Solo," he said, answering it.
"Mr. Solo?" Waverly's voice came over the intercom speaker. "Report to my office immediately."
That was it—brusque and no-nonsense. And Napoleon was aware of two very important things—that Waverly's voice had an edge to it, and that he had summoned Napoleon there personally, rather than having Lisa page him over the intercom as he usually did. Based on prior experience, neither of those meant anything good.
He placed Baba Yaga on the couch and headed to Waverly's office, where the Section I leader regarded Napoleon with a searching look.
"You wanted to see me, Sir?" Napoleon asked.
"Yes, Mr. Solo. I want you to tell me exactly what's been going on."
"I distinctly remember give both you and Mr. Kuryakin the weekend off. Instead, I find that you had a blood test in Medical this morning, that you and Mr. Kuryakin were waylaid by THRUSH in the afternoon, and this evening, you both came in with your neighbor as a prisoner, and Mr. Kuryakin interrogated him before running off three hours ago with Mr. Petros, saying they had to stop a THRUSH plot! Now, I ask you again, what exactly has been going on around here?"
"Well, Sir, you know how it is," Napoleon said, with a shrug. "Just because you've given us the weekend off doesn't mean that THRUSH does. And you know Illya and myself, Sir—we're always ready to clean up THRUSH's messes, whether or not we're officially on duty."
"Yes, I do know the two of you," Waverly said, folding his arms. "I also know that, under normal circumstances, you and Mr. Kuryakin are inseparable unless I split you two apart on a mission."
"Indeed, Mr. Solo. Now, I could call Mr. Kuryakin and ask him what is going on, but I would not like to interrupt him if he is in the middle of something. So, the blood test, the attack, the arrest, the interrogation, this sudden mission, and your lack of participation in it—what is the explanation?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Sir."
Napoleon was about to when a piercing whistle filled the room; someone was reporting in.
"Open Channel D!"
Napoleon's heart skipped a beat; it was Andreas Petros, and he sounded worried.
"Yes, Mr. Petros?" Waverly said.
"We destroyed THRUSH's device, Sir, but as we were leaving, Gaston and his men captured Agent Kuryakin-"
"What!?" Napoleon exclaimed, and then forced himself to calm down.
"There are too many of them for me to free him-" Petros began, but Waverly cut him off as Illya's communicator rang.
"Mr. Kuryakin?" he asked, hopefully.
"Afraid not," said a voice who Napoleon recognized as Gaston's. "Kuryakin is with us—and if you wish to ensure his safety, we demand that Napoleon Solo—and only Napoleon Solo meet with us here at Times Square at sunrise—that's in about one hour. If anyone else attempts to recover Kuryakin, or if Solo doesn't arrive alone, Kuryakin will die."
The transmission was cut off after that.
"Sir…?" Napoleon said. "Tell Andreas to come back; I'll meet with them."
"This is most certainly a trap, Mr. Solo. I really cannot allow-"
"With all due respect, Sir, this is my day off. And I will be approaching this problem purely as a civilian, so that nothing that happens will reflect upon U.N.C.L.E. in any way. …I, ah, suspect very strongly, Sir, that I will not be coming back, but I will do my best to see that Illya does."
"I suspect that very strongly, too," Waverly said, bluntly.
"And on the off chance that I do return, it will not be in a state that will allow me to properly continue my career as Number 1 of Section II—or as an U.N.C.L.E. agent of any rank," Napoleon added, also bluntly. He took out his credentials, communicator, and Special, and placed them on Waverly's desk; Waverly seemed surprised at this.
"Mr. Solo?" he asked, his tone of voice asking a dozen questions at once. "Exactly what are you intending to do?"
Napoleon averted his gaze for a moment before gathering his courage and looking Waverly right in the eyes.
"Rest assured, Sir, that I have no intentions of turning rogue. But it will be practically impossible to perform my duties as an agent after what THRUSH intends for me, even if I survive this," he said. "It has been an honor working for this agency, Sir, and working with you."
He left, much to the confusion and consternation of Waverly. He pondered for a moment before leaving his inner office.
"Miss Rogers?" he asked. "Arrange a meeting for me with the prisoner that Mr. Kuryakin and Mr. Solo brought in earlier this evening."
Napoleon didn't have trouble finding where Gaston was holding Illya; a crowd of onlookers of all kinds—good, bad, and ugly—were looking up at one of the buildings, and Illya was there, with Gaston and his men. Napoleon could overhear some police offers saying that there was a delicate hostage situation, but it did nothing to dissuade the crowd.
Napoleon managed to slip past them, into the building, and emerged onto the roof; he saw Illya's eyes widen in horror.
A gag had been pulled around Illya's mouth, and it took every bit of strength for Napoleon to stay calm.
"Let him go, Gaston," he said, firmly. "I'm the one you want. Release Illya—that is what we agreed."
"The agreement was that he would live," Gaston quipped. "And so, he will live. I never once said anything about him being free."
Gaston's men blocked the entrance back into the building.
"Come stand beside your partner, Solo," Gaston said. "I want you to be seen by everyone down there."
Napoleon had known this was coming. He would have to stay calm—stay human as long as he possibly could. He sighed and stood in front of Illya, whose blue eyes were filled with sorrow.
"'m sorry," he said, muffled through the gag around his mouth.
Napoleon shook his head and gave him a wan smile.
"You've got nothing to apologize for," he assured him.
Illya was struggling to remain stoic, but managed a small nod, but then flinched as he was struck with a billy club. Gaston's other assistants now surrounded the Russian, silently and emotionlessly striking him. From below, the crowd gasped and shouted.
"Stop it!" Napoleon ordered.
"Oh, you know what will make it stop, Solo," Gaston said. "There's only one way. We aren't going to stop; you'll have to make us."
Napoleon moved to pull Illya away, but two of Gaston's men held him back, forcing him to watch as Illya's beating continued. Napoleon had never felt this helpless—he had to stay human, but he couldn't let Illya suffer…!
"…Do you care so little about your partner that his pain does not move you?" Gaston taunted. He was trying to get a rise out of Napoleon. "You're just going to watch? Well, then, it's clear to me that Kuryakin is no longer of any use to us."
He snapped his fingers and four of Gaston's flunkies held Illya's limbs so that he couldn't move—a fifth now approached the struggling Illya with a dagger.
"You said you wouldn't kill him!" Napoleon snarled.
"I lied," Gaston said. "What does it matter, anyway? It's clear that you think so little of his life."
He snapped his fingers, and the crony drew back the dagger. And Napoleon lost it.
As the transformation began, his strength grew rapidly, allowing him to break free of his captors; he then launched himself at the men holding Illya, swiping the man with the knife out of the way and then grabbing Illya in a protective hold as the transformation finished. As the Beast of Broadway once more, Napoleon let out a mighty roar that sent the THRUSHies scurrying back and earned him gasps from the crowd.
Napoleon ignored them all, using a claw to cut the gag from around Illya's face. Illya just clung to him, unable to hide the sorrow in his voice.
He trailed off as Gaston started clapping, standing on the edge of the rooftop, a few feet from them. His men didn't look as thrilled; they all seemed to be eyeing the rooftop exit.
"Well done, Solo," Gaston said. "You won the battle. But look at you, eh? Forever the Beast of Broadway? It would appear I have won the war."
Napoleon bared his teeth, growling. He gently placed Illya down and now advanced on Gaston, and as Illya looked down at the crowd, and then at the smug look on Gaston's face and at the gun in his hand, Illya put two and two together. Gaston had gone back to his original plan.
"Napoleon, don't!" he ordered. "Don't you see what he's doing!? He's trying to goad you into attacking him so that you'll be classified as dangerous—he wants you to attack so that he'll be justified in killing you—or have the city officials do it for him!"
Napoleon stopped in his tracks, but still growled.
"Even if you survive, what kind of future awaits you?" Gaston sneered back at him. "Do you think U.N.C.L.E. will keep you on their payroll like this? Don't kid yourself; you know the truth. Everything you have strived for—your purpose in life—is now out of your grasp forever! You can no longer save innocents from THRUSH! You can't stay in that cozy apartment of yours anymore, either—I understand that your landlady doesn't allow animals! You'll have to live alone off the land, like the Beast that you are—for that's a face that not even a mother could love!"
Napoleon roared and the frightened flunkies stampeded into the building, abandoning Gaston, who didn't seem to notice—Gaston grinned maddeningly at Napoleon, trying to egg him on further.
"Napoleon!" Illya cried, rushing forward to try to hold him back; it was a futile effort—as the Beast, Napoleon's strength was several times Illya's. "Please! You know that is not true—and no matter what anyone else may say or think, I will never leave your side. You know that!"
"Oh, sure, he won't leave your side," Gaston sneered. "But that's all he can do, isn't it? Face it, Solo, I have taken everything from you! You've got nothing left—except a chance at revenge! Come and get it!"
"Nyet! Please!" Illya exclaimed, still holding onto Napoleon out of desperation as he roared furiously again. "He hasn't taken everything from you—not yet! The Beast of Broadway is a beloved vigilante, remember? The people of New York still trust you—and you can still help them, but only if you prove to them that you are not controlled by primal rage! You may be the Beast of Broadway, but you are still Napoleon Solo—paragon of mercy, and that is what people need to know you as! I agree that Gaston needs to die—I have no hesitation in saying that. But you cannot be the one to do it! You cannot give him or anyone justification for killing you! Revenge is not worth that! And what I said still stands; you will never lose me! That can never change, no matter what has happened to you." He felt a tear fall from his eye; Illya could count the number of times he had cried on one hand, and yet, he was letting a tear slip by him now. "We have each other, remember, Napoleon?"
Napoleon's posture softened, and he turned away from Gaston to face Illya now hugged him. Napoleon gently hugged him back. It was a moment of relief—until the crowd below started screaming.
Illya saw why quickly; realizing that this plan had failed, as well, Gaston had raised the weapon, aiming to just kill Napoleon without any justification. Illya broke away from the embrace and rushed at Gaston in a flying tackle—the momentum of which sent them both off of the roof as onlookers screamed.
Napoleon leaped from the rooftop, grabbing onto a lamppost with one arm and grabbed the falling Illya's leg with another, stopping his fall in midair. Illya took a moment to catch his breath before looking down at the still-screaming crowd. It was quite clear from their reaction that Gaston hadn't survived his fall.
Illya looked back at Napoleon and shrugged.
"Well, I did say that you couldn't be the one to kill him," Illya reminded him. "Naturally, I wanted to…"
Napoleon responded with a snort.
As the duo now reach the ground, they found the crowd dissipating as U.N.C.L.E. agents suddenly started swarming in from all directions, moving in to arrest the THRUSH agents inside the building and sealing off the area. Napoleon and Illya both stared as Waverly himself stepped out of one of the cars.
"I had a talk with your prisoner," he said, looking from one to the other. He took a moment to observe Napoleon's new form. "He explained everything. In the future, I would hope that you will not keep things like this from me again."
Illya gave a glum nod, but then blinked as Waverly now looked at Napoleon for a moment before handing him back his credentials, communicator, and Special.
"I expect you to report back to work Monday morning as usual, Mr. Solo," he said, sternly. "Given the circumstances, you will be temporarily reassigned to Section VIII—helping Mr. Kuryakin develop an antidote for this serum." He glanced at Illya. "I trust you will put your very best efforts into it."
Without even waiting for a response, Waverly moved on to check the status of the arrests. And Napoleon took a moment to look wistfully at his human photo on his credentials until Illya placed a gentle hand on his arm.
"I will put more than my very best efforts into it," Illya promised.
Napoleon just held him close. That, he knew very well.
Epilogue: Ever as Before
Illya practically lived in the lab the next week, and Napoleon with him, helping him with retrieving chemicals and anything else that Illya needed help with. Baba Yaga stayed with them; though she had been initially alarmed at Napoleon's appearance as the Beast, she soon realized it was him, and would often spend long hours attempting to groom his fur.
Finally, one evening, Illya held up a finished liquid.
"I think I've got it," he said, breathlessly. "At least, I hope I've got it. Theoretically, this should break down the drug in your system, meaning that it will stop reacting with the adrenaline your body produces—and that should return you back to your human self." Illya's face fell. "Assuming it works."
Napoleon gently nudged Illya with his forehead; he wasn't going to blame Illya for anything—not when it was Gaston's fault for making the drug, and Napoleon's fault for allowing it to be slipped to him. Illya nodded and took a syringe, filling it with the antidote.
Napoleon nodded, and didn't even flinch as Illya injected the serum into his arm. Illya removed the needle and held his breath. There didn't seem to be any change, however, and Illya exhaled in defeat, sitting back on at the counter.
"I thought for certain that would be it," he said, ruefully. Baba Yaga meowed at him, and Napoleon gently nudged him again, but that didn't seem to raise the Russian's spirits at all. He drew a vial of Gaston's red serum from his pocket, staring at it. "Then, there is only one thing left for me to do…"
He didn't even respond as Napoleon nudged him once more; he just stared forlornly at the vial.
"I thought I had taken everything into consideration," he said, feeling Napoleon's grip on his arm. "Did I miss something? Or is there truly no way to reverse it? Or perhaps, it is simply beyond my level of understanding. I know I have limits; it will have to be up to someone else to try, then…"
"But you needn't worry, Napoleon. I swore to you that you would not be alone in this, and I will keep that vow-"
"What?" he asked, distracted.
"Illya, you blockhead, it worked—and I'm freezing over here!"
Illya stared, dumbfounded, at his partner, human again and shivering. Wordlessly, Illya handed him his lab coat and Napoleon gratefully threw it around himself as Baba Yaga walked figure eights around his ankles, rubbing up against his shins as she purred away.
"You…" Illya began, stunned. "It worked…!?"
"Ah, yeah, it did," Napoleon said. "So… thanks?"
Illya still seemed out of it, and so Napoleon gave a shrug and took it upon himself to give his partner a hug of gratitude. The hug brought Illya out of it, and the Russian returned it; they were in the process of cleaning up the lab equipment when Waverly stopped in the lab.
"I wanted to see how it was going," he said. "Evidently, rather well."
"Ah, yes, Sir," Napoleon said, fidgeting slightly. "I, er… I was wondering, since my transformations were the cause of a THRUSH plot, does it mean that I can get reimbursed for my ruined suits and silk pajamas?"
Waverly rolled his eyes.
"Yes, you're definitely back to normal, Mr. Solo," he sighed. "You know the procedure—take it up with Accounts. …But, preferably, after you've had an extended rest. I'd like for Medical to examine you, and after they have cleared you, I would like for you to rest at home. And this time, stay out of trouble!"
"Yes, Sir," Napoleon mumbled.
"Mr. Kuryakin, you will look after him again, and this time, you will keep out of trouble by any means necessary!"
"Understood, Sir," Illya said.
"Good. Be here next Monday morning, and you'll both be reassigned back to your positions in Section II."
They nodded, and Napoleon cleared his throat.
"Yes, Mr. Solo?"
"Thank you," he said.
He didn't elaborate, and he didn't need to; Waverly nodded and left.
Medical cleared Napoleon to leave, and soon, he, Illya, and Baba Yaga were home. Baba Yaga decided to nap in an evening sunbeam while Illya and Napoleon relaxed on the couch after the ordeal.
"I never thanked you," Napoleon murmured, gratefully drinking a cup of tea. "For everything you did."
"You would have done the same for me," Illya insisted.
"And you were ready to try to make the antidote again from scratch," Napoleon marveled.
"Hmm?" Illya asked.
"When you thought the antidote had failed. You were going to try again, weren't you?"
"…To be honest, I would have admitted defeat and let someone else with more experience try…"
"…Then why did you take out that vial of Gaston's serum if you weren't going to try to analyze it again?"
"I was going to take the serum myself and transform," he admitted, at last.
"I was thinking about what Gaston had said—that being by your side was the only thing I could do. But it wasn't true. I wanted to share your fate."
"Napoleon, try to understand… It wasn't only that I didn't want you to be alone in this—though that was certainly a part of it. Our chances have always been best together. Why change that now?"
Wordlessly, Napoleon hugged him, and Illya returned it. Thankfully, it hadn't had to come to that, but it still meant the world to Napoleon that Illya would have been willing to make that sacrifice.
Then again, perhaps, he shouldn't have been so surprised. As Illya said, they had each other.
And that would always be the secret to their success.