"It wasn't your fault. You couldn't have saved her". Napoleon was not sure that his partner was hearing him, he was off somewhere else reliving the tragedy they had just survived. Illya's bruised body was trembling and his eyes were distant, too distant; he was in shock from his injuries and the horror of losing the innocent woman to the ravages of the Thrush torture.

"Illya, can you hear me? We need to move...you need to try and get up". But he wasn't moving. The blond was sitting, facing a path of scorched grass that only hinted at the narrow escape they'd made as they came out of the nearby Thrush enclave; the building was lying in ruins as smoke drifted up from the waning fire. It was another miracle to add to their list of harrowing escapes, one that they would barely remember accurately in the days to come.

The fire had chased them out of the wood structure as claxons rang and Thrush personnel shouted and shoved their way through the rubble. The laboratory had combusted in a shocking explosion, but not at their hands. The two UNCLE agents had been in their cell, still in shock from their own torture and the woman's death; her agonizing death at the hands of Dr. Bruneldi, a vicious and deranged man who had taken each of them through nightmarish procedures as he demonstrated just how evil a human being can be. The toxins he had introduced would take weeks to be purged from their systems, something they had yet to understand and endure.

Illya, for the sake of his aryan appearance, had been of particular interest to the mad scientist, and had been subjected not only to the chemical torment but to physical abuse as well. He was battered and bruised, his left leg bearing evidence of burns inflicted after a severe beating. The Italian doctor had been victimized during the war for his dark mediterannean appearance, not fitting the ideal of perfection favored by the third reich; even now he hated people who did.

The young woman...she hadn't survived the hours of intense physical abuse from needles and chemicals. She had been a prisoner when the two agents were brought in, not with them but still of concern to them both. Illya had become especially interested in her as he heard her story of travelling from Poland to America. She, like the Russian, had been subjected to loss and tragedy because of the war and had lived through the agonies of occupation and brutalities that, even now, she couldn't repeat. Before they had taken her to the doctor's chamber of horrors to be plunged into a nightmare of experimentation, Illya had quickly developed a concern for the pretty blonde, identifying with her history and frustrated that he could do nothing to help her.

When they had brought her back, she was already lifeless, never able to revive from the poisonous chemicals that had been introduced into her body. Illya remained in the cell with her as Napoleon was removed next; his friend left to tend to the dying woman as he worried over his partner, hoping that his fate would be better than the unfortunate in his arms. The Polish refugee had died in Illya's arms as he awaited his partner's return. As the dark haired agent was thrown back into the cell, the Russian's grief over the death of one was countered by his concern for the other, finally giving way to the real fear of what lay ahead for himself.

Napoleon did fare better in fending off the chemicals even as he resisted the questioning and the prodding. The real target was the blond, and it wasn't a matter of research. The vendetta against his type was at the heart of Bruneldi's angry quest for a vengeance he couldn't satisfy, a hatred that had it's origins in a prejudice that he mirrored in his own violence against the Russian. Given even more time with the man, he would insure that the beauty he envied in his appearance would soon disappear, and finally, gratefully, give into death.
He endured the blows administered by the Thrush brutes, only to be strapped down for the real torment as chemicals coursed through his blood, scorching him from the inside, thrusting him into a swirl of disoriented thoughts and cascading delusions. He lost all connection to reality, his body lost to him as his mind became a visual torment, bright and unyielding with monsters and death. This wasn't a truth syrum, it was a madman's attempt to create the same madness in another human being.

When it had finally been enough, and Bruneldi had sent him back to the cell, his body was limp from exhaustion and pain. The woman was dead and Napoleon, coming up from his own chemical stupor, was unable to shield him from the abrupt landing as the guards dumped him onto the concrete floor. It would be several hours before he regained any type of consciousness, and when it came was accompanied by violent illness, vomiting and headaches.

The explosion was like an earthquake, and the entire building became a hive of activity as guards and laboratory personnel began to swarm to the exits. No one came for them, and if not for the wood construction, they would have been lost to the fire. As it was, the structure was so badly shaken from the violence of the blast that Napoleon was able to batter himself against the door until it yielded, and pull himself and his friend to safety. They followed the stream of shocked and injured people out of the building, escaping up a hillside and out of sight. It was assumed that Bruneldi had died in the fire from which the explosion had come. It was small compensation for the loss of life, perhaps loss of soul to some degree.

Napoleon feared that there was internal damage beneath the bruises that covered his partner's body. Something beyond just the torture, even the woman's death, ate at him now. Whether it was the drugs or the tragedy, a deeper sorrow had permeated the steel of his emotional defenses, and threatened to paralyze him. He was awake, the blue eyes, although dulled, were responsive and observant of his surroundings. Physically the body wouldn't respond. He couldn't make himself move, and it felt as though he might be taking root in this earth, his legs sinking into the landscape as he became a part of it. If Napoleon tried to pry him up from this position, he feared that his body would tear apart, and so he resisted the arms that were attempting to pull him up and make him move from where he was sinking...growing...

"Illya, can you hear me? Do you know what's happened?" Brown eyes searched for a response, for some indication that his friend heard and understood him.

"What the hell did they use on you, tovarisch?" The question went unanswered of course, the exact chemical compounds would never be accurately identified. But, as they sat on the hillside and watched undetected by the survivors below them, Illya's stupor began to wear off. He no longer felt as though his legs were rooting into the ground on which he sat and the blue of his eyes began to recover some of their glint. Napoleon heard sirens approaching; probably passersby or neighbors had seen the smoke and called for help. Eventually they would make it back to UNCLE headquarters and check into medical.

"Napoleon, is she dead?" Illya couldn't remember what had happened to the woman, and sadly recalled that there had been no introductions. He didn't know her name.

"Yes, she is. There was nothing we could do".