June 14, 1962
The bell on Del Floria's door rang out with a jangling noise, unlike the typically soft jingle. The kindly man behind the counter was stunned at the sight of Napoleon Solo as he crashed through the door; in the American's arms was the sagging form of his partner, the Russian. Del Floria didn't know him well, had only seen him occasionally since his transfer to New York as he passed through the little tailor's shop, demurely nodding his blond head in a timid but respectful manner.
Now, as Solo hurried past him, the young man hung limply in the other's arms, his face slack and the blue eyes hidden behind lids that seemed, to the tailor, perhaps never to open again. Brusquely, Solo grunted out a request for help, prompting Del Floria to push the press and activate the secret panel, then rush into the booth himself to turn the hook.
Solo's hands were full.
When Solo entered the reception area the girl behind the desk looked up and gasped, the sight of the two men startling in this pristine space. Napoleon's face was bruised, one jacket sleeve torn from its shoulder seams and all of him, it seemed to her, covered in blood. Whose was it?
That was all he said, and the voice was not like the smooth caress so familiar to her. He croaked out the order, and she was complying immediately as he stared into the almost serene face of his partner. Kuryakin hadn't moved, his right arm hung lifelessly down, free from the crushing embrace with which Solo was carrying him. He wore black, so it was difficult to see if he had blood on him…
The sweater he wore was sticky looking, wet…blood. That was the indication of what had happened. The black turtleneck was soaked with blood, as was the front and sleeves of Napoleon's shirt and jacket. Kuryakin didn't look as though… She couldn't tell if he was breathing or not.
Less than a minute later and the elevator doors opened to release a team of medical personnel with a gurney. Napoleon had gone as far as he was able, hating that he didn't have the strength left to walk up to medical himself. He let them come to him, take Illya from his arms and then collapsed into a heap as the attending medic called for yet another gurney.
"Gentlemen, you have the information in front of you. It is a simple task: meet the courier, collect the microdot and return to headquarters. You have both been exceedingly busy for the past two months, and this little rendezvous should give you a break from an otherwise hectic schedule. It is, one time only, my concession to your exemplary success."
Alexander Waverly didn't hand out favors to his agents, and this was an assignment, regardless of the ease with which it could, he hoped, be accomplished. The suspicion that there was a mole among his personnel was so precariously perched within Waverly's mind that he thought it best to not reveal it to these agents. The two young men he addressed were his latest triumph, the pairing of East and West, symbolically and practically speaking. They were UNCLE's future.
The Russian had been in the New York office only a few months, and pairing him with Napoleon Solo had been on the old man's agenda for two years. He had endured Harry Beldon's possessiveness regarding the young man, finally enticing Kuryakin to put in the transfer request that had brought him to Northwest. Waverly had his team, had the Russian. Beldon would do well to recruit his own poster boy for détente. This one belonged to Waverly, and had always been his for the taking.
Napoleon Solo looked up from the file, wondering why his boss would send them out on something like this. It was a courier run, something that a Section III could easily handle.
"Sir, is there something about this assignment that we should know? I mean, with all due respect sir, this hardly seems to warrant a Section II intervention."
A harrumph of displeasure or indigestion (it was hard to distinguish), and the venerable chief of UNCLE Northwest and beyond reached for an elusive pipe before answering his up and coming agent. Napoleon Solo was slated for success, of that the old man was certain. Kuryakin would help him attain that success, would enjoy the rewards of it himself, he supposed. UNCLE would remain intact in spite of the odds against survival in this business, and Solo would help keep it relevant in future decades. He was counting on that inevitability.
"Mr. Solo, the man you will meet has a microdot outlining a plan of such egregious harm to mankind, something so sinister as to make heads of state afraid for their very lives. Thrush has been emboldened to plan a strike against every major political system on the planet, and we must have the agenda for that before they are able to make their first move. This may appear to be beneath your talents, but I assure you the world's security will be at stake once again should we not gain this information."
Kuryakin watched the two men, wagering silently with himself on the outcome. Mr. Waverly never lost ground to his agents, and not even Napoleon Solo could stand for long in the glare of the old man's scrutiny. If the world was in danger, then who better to go to its aid?
"I see, sir… Thank you for that… explanation. I didn't intend to…"
"Yes, yes…I know, Mr. Solo. It is your nature to demand an explanation; something, I assume, that also makes you find ways to defeat our enemies. There is no fault in demanding answers, only watch yourself in future, if you please."
Napoleon's mouth was open just enough to emit a small whoosh of breath as his lips curled up slightly, the smile noncommittal but teasing. He wondered sometimes how the old man put up with him.
"Yes sir. I will try and…curb… my curiosity where this office is concerned."
Kuryakin had that funny quirk of a smile on his face as the two stood back and relinquished their positions. He marveled at the audacity of a man to stand up and question his superiors; it was an act punishable by many types of horrific acts where he came from, and the thought of it now made him uncomfortable. Even though he had spent a number of years now, living in the West, some attitudes and actions were still so foreign to him that he doubted he would ever succumb to the temptation. Besides, Mr. Waverly had brought him here, believed in him to be a part of this organization.
"Illya, you ready? C'mon partner."
Napoleon had been standing and waiting for how long? He got up, closed the folder and nodded to his chief. They were dismised, the older man's lack of attention a sure sign that he was finished with them.
The building on the wharf had been checked out; everything was secure and the meet considered safe. Illya never considered Thrush personnel trustworthy, however, and the idea of one of them willing to turn over information still felt wrong to him. Napoleon had agreed that some things really were too good to be true, and neither of them was letting down their guards just yet
Napoleon spotted the courier first. He seemed to be alone, and the open space in which he stood didn't allow for subterfuge on his part. Illya had moved in behind the man even as Napoleon was approaching him. A surveillance of the area had not uncovered any other Thrush, and it didn't appear that there was a danger beyond the obvious perils of being a spy.
Overhead a gull was screeching, probably homing in on an unfortunate fish that unwisely swam in the murky water. It was a typically warm New York day in June; nothing outstanding about it save for its conformity to what was expected.
The sounds of the gulls began to give way to something else, and as it neared their location, the whining and whizzing of it stirred a recognition of a familiar Thrush sound. Napoleon saw it, up and…
"Illya! Up, they're up there!"
Napoleon shouted across at his partner even as the low flying machine zoomed in above them. The courier was the first man hit, his surprised expression not lost on the diving American agent. Illya's position behind the now dead man made him a target of the machine gun action from the buzzing menace. His body was thrust backwards as shots ripped into him, the action of assasination taking mere seconds to perform as Napoleon took aim and began his own assault on the Thrush mini aircraft.
It was over so quickly that it seemed almost not to have happened. The Thrush attack on their own man was not surprising, but now as Napoleon made his way to the scene of the worst damage, he saw Illya's body as it lay limp and lifeless. His sweater was soaked with blood already and as the call was made to HQ for help, he was already picking up the blond and carrying him to the car. He couldn't wait; Illya wouldn't survive long like this.
He had given barely any attention to the fact that he had also sustained an injury, ignoring the bullet in his left arm as he focused all of his attention on Illya.
What had Waverly known and not told them? He wondered now as the frantic drive back to headquarters began. He ran lights and endangered other drivers as he sped uptown, hoping against hope that he hadn't made it worse by not waiting for help. It would have taken them as long as it would require for him to drive, he was certain of that. Anything longer and… he couldn't think that way. Illya had to make it. They were so new as a team, so full of promise. That's what they both knew, what Waverly counted on. Why had he been willing to sacrifice them like this?
The drive cost him twenty precious minutes, but not as long as it might have been just an hour later. As he pulled up in front of Del Floria's, he was aware of his own energy fading as the blood continued to pour from his own wound. It didn't matter, he had to get Illya inside. After that…
The blood loss had been staggering. Illya was on life support and surviving, much to the amazement of the attending medical staff. The bullets had struck twice, one of them slicing through his appendix and the other puncturing a lung. It wasn't bad, considering the odds against not being dead in this scenario.
Napoleon's arm had been attended to, the bullet removed and his arm placed in a sling announcing his recent misfortune. He had not been permitted to accompany his partner into the surgical suite, but instead headed for Mr. Waverly's office. The secretary on duty watched him move resolutely toward the doors, not allowing for the possibility that entry would be denied.
Waverly was hunched over the controls to his communication console, his appearance somehow older than when they had seen him this morning. How long ago was that?
"Mr. Waverly, Illya was almost killed out there…"
Waverly's head shot up, the unsolicited comment a shock in this orderly and autocratic office. He understood, however, the need for the young agent to express his outrage, regardless of whether or not it was approved.
"Yes, Mr. Solo, I have read the report and spoken with Dr. Barnes. I regret, of course, that our information did not reflect the possibility of… of sabatoge."
Napoleon was dumbfounded at that, his complaint subsiding into a series of questions that now formed in his tired mind. His partner was fighting for his life, the Thrush courier was dead…
"Sir, did our team recover the microdot?"
The grey head nodded, his eyes not reflecting what should have been a victory over their constant enemy. Napoleon thought he saw something like… was it regret? That would be unlikely, even now.
"Yes, Mr. Solo, and the information is legitimate as far as we can tell. What we didn't know or expect was the presence of someone within our own organization who alerted Thrush to our efforts to obtain this intelligence. You were betrayed…we…were betrayed, Mr. Solo."
There was more to this than simple treachery, Napoleon could sense it and see it in the old man's face. This was personal, and he dreaded hearing the name of the traitor even as Alexander Waverly was forming it on his lips.
"Nehemiah Brousseau, Paris Bureau Chief, has been taken into custody. I brought him into the Command…ten years ago, by my estimates. I will be on a flight to Paris…'
He looked at his watch, sighing almost imperceptibly as he did so.
"I leave in forty minutes. The UNCLE jet is being fueled as we speak, the helicopter is waiting for me…"
Napoleon felt stripped bare. His emotions were struggling to find the most volatile form of expression against…what or whom? Waverly was going to face a man he had trusted enough to endorse as a bureau chief, Illya was lying in medical, nearly murdered for the sake of an act of treachery against not only the U.N.C.L.E., but its formidable head as well.
"Mr. Waverly, sir… I am so sorry. I have met Mr. Brousseau only once, but he was certainly not someone I would have ever suspected of… not of treason. Not of this."
He looked around him, at his own blood stained shirt and then at the man in front of him. Alexander Waverly had been through wars and intrigues that had shaped him and this organization. To be violated like this, betrayed by a trusted member of the Command, was almost too much to bear. But, then again, this was Alexander Waverly.
"I will be back upon completion of this unpleasantness. Mr. Solo, please extend my well wishes to Mr. Kuryakin. He seems to have stabilized, and the doctor sees no reason why he will not recover. I consider it a personal failure on my part to have not seen through the veneer of this deception. You and your partner, both of you, have my sincerest apologies for this incident. However, our lives are never without danger, the threat of our enemy never far off. It is only for the fact of having been betrayed that I offer any explanation at all. Do you understand?"
Napoleon reckoned he would live to answer that question for many years yet to come.
"Yes sir. And, thank you."
June 15, 1962
Napoleon woke up in the bed next to Illya's. The medical staff was always willing to accommodate the partner who wasn't dying, or close to it. His arm ached a little, but he looked better than the Russian. He had been able to shower and change clothes at least. Illya was still sleeping, his condition having passed from critical to 'guess he'll live'. The doctors here had their own weird sense of humor, and considering what they had to deal with, Napoleon didn't blame them one bit.
As he rolled over and stretched, he realized that Illya was looking at him. It was almost eerie, the blue eyes pale against the grey walls and white sheets, his blond hair just a little more colorful than the background upon which he lay.
"Hey there, tovarisch. You're alive, so at least we have that good news to work with."
The smile reached his ears he knew. The partnership they shared hadn't been a long one, but had quickly become friendship as well. Waverly had planned this one very successfully.
"How long…? Are you all right?"
Two questions, words he would learn to appreciate over time.
"I'm fine, just a little hole in my arm. You're the one who ended up without an appendix."
Napoleon slipped out of the bed and walked to his partner's bedside. The gauntness was disturbing, but it would pass. Get the guy a good meal or two…
"How's your breathing?"
The reaction was a forlorn look that indicated weariness and pain. Napoleon knew how it felt to be nearly dead. Heroics were overrated.
"Um, there's something else about all of this situation, someone…'
Illya's eyes were closed again, his breathing already indicating that he was asleep.
"So close, my friend…so close."
Napoleon decided the details about the traitorous acts that had led to this scene could wait. The days ahead would have plenty of time for debasing the memory of a traitor. For now, healing was necessary for the physically wounded.
He thought of Mr. Waverly, of the wounds inflicted on the old man by all of this. There were more ways than he could think of right now to tear a man apart, and propel his world into chaos.
"I guess all of us are expendable, in one way or another."
He looked at his own partner then, wondering if they really were expendable. He decided they weren't, no matter what he might say or do or think in the future…
"We're going to live, Illya. I promise you that. This is just the beginning."