Illya was frozen. He couldn't even protest without possibly eliciting reprisals of some sort. Anton was defecting, and he was doing it on UNCLE's operation. Napoleon was beginning to catch on, and saw the look in his partner's eyes.
Katya looked tentatively over her shoulder at the two UNCLE agents as Rabinovich sat silently, studying the effects of falling dominoes in his mind.
There was dead silence in the car as each person considered his, or her next move.
The two men from UNCLE were momentarily stunned by the action of their driver, but Illya quickly regained his composure just as Napoleon was preparing for a heated exchange in Russian.
"Anton, what have you done? If you cross the border now, you make UNCLE an accessory to your defection. You will not receive amnesty within the organization, not with this type of deception as your passport to the West."
Illya thought he understood why Anton was doing this, and his heart went out to him and Katya. He recognized a surge of guilt as the past years raised the specter of a life bound by a constant government presence, even in one's private affairs. It might have been him but for events over which he had been given no control.
"Illyusha, you of all people…"
Katya's eyes were brimming with tears. She loved both of these men, her husband and the man who had left her for a life of freedom and adventure. Perhaps theirs had not been a great love affair, but it had been some type of love at least. Now, with Anton, she knew he loved her and would do this, make this great effort, in order to give her a better life; a life of freedom and of choices.
Anton kept his eyes on the gate ahead of them. This border crossing was populated by men of his acquaintance; he trusted them to let him pass. The man to whom the money was given was named Gregor Poporov. He held no ill will towards Anton, and would enjoy the bonus given him for the blind eye he was prepared to turn.
Napoleon took all of this in, the sight of the frightened couple who were determined to leave their lives behind them and embark on a journey into the unknown. A sense of respect for their bravery seeped into his emotions unannounced.
"It's all right, Illya. Let's help them do this."
Illya turned towards the American with a stunned expression on his face. Illya supposed that Napoleon was mad if he thought Waverly would condone this defection. They were here at the invitation of the Soviet government, after all. How would it look if they removed two of its people in the process?
"Napoleon, how do you propose to make this work? Waverly can't possibly explain this to the Soviets.'
Illya took in a deep breath and surveyed the scene before them.
"I will handle this. They are my friends, my countrymen… Let it fall on me to take responsibility for this, tovarisch."
Napoleon and Anton each took on puzzled expressions while Katya blinked back more tears. Illya would do this, it was just like him to try and smuggle old friends out of a life he had also left behind.
Only Rabinovich now seemed unaffected by the goings on in the vehicle. It was assumed that he did not speak English fluently. As it turned out, everyone was wrong.
"My friends, if I may call you that now, considering our circumstances…'
Thee of the other four looked at the professor, amazed at his measured and proper British accent. So many surprises today.
"If I may offer a suggestion, it is perhaps reasonable to present this scenario as one of a family leaving together, rather than only me."
Napoleon's expression became even more perplexed looking.
"How do you mean, Professor? No one here is related, unless I've missed something… again."
He said that with a sideways glance at Illya, who remained impassive.
"What I mean to say is that either of these two…'
He pointed to Anton and Katya in the front seat.
"Could pass as a child of mine. I suggest we simply tell the authorities that this is the case, that Katya, for instance, is a long lost child of my youthful indiscretion and that we have recently been reunited in the wake of this business with THRUSH. She was, after all, sent here specifically to bring me in."
Silence was his only response as each person considered the plausibility of his plan. Something in the back of his brain niggled at the agent, made Napoleon wonder about it.
"Professor Rabinovich, is Katya your daughter? Was it you that requested she come here and be a part of this assignment?"
Now Katya was looking wide-eyed at the professor and then Napoleon, amazed that the American would suggest such a thing.
"That is ridiculous, Mr. Solo. I am certain that the professor…'
But the professor wasn't denying anything. Katya thought back on her childhood, of the missing parent she had longed for but had never known. Her mother had done all that was possible to raise her two children, and everyone knew the story of the soldier who had never returned from the war. Katya knew the story and reveled in the heroism she attributed to the man portrayed as being her father.
Illya knew the story as well, and now as he watched her, the possibility of Rabinovich's scenario being true riveted him to the expectation of an answer to Napoleon's question.
Rabinovich smiled, but shook his head.
"Nyet, Mr. Solo… Katya…YA ne tvoy otets moyego rebenka."
Katya nodded, realizing how close she had come to hoping that the professor was her father. How strange that a few minutes in one's life can alter so drastically a perception of truth.
Illya was quick to get back to their dilemma.
"So, we proceed then, with the professor's plan? Katya, can you play the part of a loving, long lost daughter?"
Katya wiped away the last tear and grinned.
"Da, da… I can and I will do it. Thank you Illya, Napoleon. Thank you."
Anton put his head on the steering wheel, his breath coming now in a deep sigh. This is what he needed, this opportunity. One good opportunity.
Gregor Poporov returned with papers and a knowing smirk on his face. He would do this, and take the money willingly. Life was about more than duty, after all. And Anton was a good man, with a pretty wife. He bore them no ill will for doing what they were about to do.
"Here you are. Go now, dolgo zhitʹ moy drug."
"Yes, long life to both of us… all of us. Do svidania, Gregor."
The gate was opened and the car pulled through with moderate speed, nothing to indicate that they must rush through it before someone caught on to their scheme.
No one spoke for the first quarter mile of travel into the new, free zone in which they were driving. It was beyond belief how easily the plan had worked, but the prospect of telling the story to Waverly about Rabinovich and Katya now occupied the thoughts of both UNCLE agents.
"Mr. Waverly will, of course, never accept the story as true. That is not the issue, it is whether or not he will allow the professor to state it as such to the American authorities."
Napoleon agreed with Illya. Waverly would have known all of the players, all of their histories. It was still odd that he hadn't warned Illya about his old friends.
Illya looked at his partner, questioned with a raised eyebrow the disconnected thought that prompted a single word.
"Unless what? What is it you are thinking?"
Napoleon cut his eyes to take in his partner's expression, then looked forward to the couple in the front seat. Katya was sitting close to her husband, her head on his shoulder as though it was only the two of them in this car. Illya was unsure of the intent of Napoleon's observation, his head was still reeling with the consequences that might ensue from this deviation from the plan.
"Anton, what made you decide, on such short notice, to simply leave your home?"
From behind it was obvious that Anton's shoulders suddenly tightened, so much so that Katya raised her head to alleviate a sudden discomfort. Illya had a sickening feeling in his gut, an instinctive wariness now concerning his old friend. What had Napoleon sensed that he hadn't?
Rabinovich stiffened slightly. He had survived many things in his life, and this last journey was one he hoped would remove him into the safety of an academic's quiet existence. Looking at the back of Anton's head, he wondered now if that dream was in danger.
Katya was clueless to the tension in the back seat. She turned sleepily towards the men behind her and was surprised to see Illya reaching beneath his coat; she knew he carried his gun in a shoulder holster.
"Anton, you haven't answered my partner's question. Why the sudden urge to travel to the West?
Katya was confused. Did Illya's tone sound accusatory?
"Chto ne tak?"
Anton placed his hand around Katya's neck with a grip so firm it caused her to cry out.
"Nothing my love. Nothing is wrong, is it comrades."
Katya was afraid now, of the hand that harnessed her neck, of Anton and Illya… everything was frightening. She tried to withhold her terror, but tears formed in her eyes and before long the pleading began.
"Anton, moya lyubovʹ! You are hurting me."
Illya was incensed, but he couldn't show it. He could not betray any weakness to this traitor. Anton was doing more than just leaving his Soviet masters; he was the enemy within the other great threat to individual freedom.
"How, Anton? How did you come to this, working for THRUSH?"
The other blond laughed at the absurdity of Illya's innocence. Was he really so altruistic in his loyalty to UNCLE that no sense of personal advancement ever tempted the former Soviet?
Katya tried to pull away, her disbelief mixed with an encroaching terror.
"THRUSH? What are you saying, Illya? Anton, tell him."
But Anton said nothing, only kept his grip on Katya's neck as he drove purposefully toward his destination.
Illya and Napoleon recognized the threat: Anton could probably snap Katya's neck, and would most certainly hurt her badly should they try and stop him. The woman was crying, her shoulders slumped in a posture of defeat. She had to believe that Anton didn't know he was hurting her.
Throughout all of this, professor Rabinovich had sat quietly, mesmerized by the drama and the prospect of his being handed over, in spite of everything, to THRUSH. He had run from them, refused them and now, with this deception, it seemed he would end up in their clutches after all. Life was strange, taking twists and turns that a person could never foretell in spite of preparation and planning.
Rabinovich had been educated in various institutions, was in fact British by birth. He had defected to the Soviet Union in a pique of socialistic asceticism that he had grown to regret. This latest journey was only one in a long series of wanderings, and he found that there was a lack of enthusiasm for going forward. He had reasoned himself into a black hole, had lost all hope of life being better than the absence of it.
As Illya and Napoleon tried to fathom their predicament and a way out of it, Rabinovich reached into his coat pocket and found the handle of his small revolver. No one had bothered to check him for a weapon, something that he found now to be oddly amusing. Perhaps he could achieve some type of wholeness in an expression of self-sacrifice. The thought of it drove him now, silenced any regrets that might try to interfere.
Rabinovich gripped his gun with a resolve that was strangely exhilarating. This was, perhaps, the most obtuse form of intellectual investigation he would ever indulge in. It would certainly be the last.
Illya felt the movement next to him too late to grasp what was happening. In the instant before his gun went off, Rabinovich smiled a farewell to the other travelers, briefly wondering how this would impact their lives, if at all.
The blast was deafening inside the small car, and Anton applied the brakes in a desperate attempt to gain control of the situation. Katya broke the hold he had on her and moved to the far side of the front seat.
Illya felt the spray of blood and matter as it rained on him, a sudden revulsion causing him to nearly retch. Napoleon was on the receiving side of the professor's body as it was thrust to its left, the opposite side of the fatal wound.
Immediately cognizant of the distraction, Napoleon took the advantage offered and reached forward, putting his arm around Anton's neck in a strangling embrace.
"Stop the car! Do it now, or I'll break your neck."
Anton did as he was told. Katya was wailing now, the sight of Rabinovich and the despair in seeing her husband's situation was too much. As the car pulled to a stop Illya jumped out of the back seat and began to try and wipe away the remnant of the professor's spewed blood. He tore off his jacket and threw it on the ground, then went to the trunk of the car to look for something, anything to clean up the mess. He found some rags that he gathered up before returning to the front of the car.
Napoleon had his gun out and was handling Anton, who was unable to fathom the incredibly bad luck of losing Rabinovich to suicide. Now what would he do? THRUSH would never accept him, and UNCLE… What would they do to him after this?
Illya opened the door for Katya who was now near hysterics. She fell into his arms, sobbing as she tried to stand. Illya held her, close to tears himself in the midst of this display. She didn't deserve this.
In a surge of insolent abandon, Anton turned and began to wrestle Napoleon for the gun the American held. Illya turned at the sound of the scuffle, and eased Katya down onto the ground as he ran around the front of the car to aid his partner. To Illya's horror, he saw Anton gain the advantage and point the UNCLE Special at its owner and start to fire.
Illya was fast; he fired on his old friend, felling him in one shot. He felt more than saw Katya come up on his right side, her screams a harsh intrusion into his own grief at what had just happened.
"Katya… Mne ochenʹ zhalʹ… so sorry."
She didn't hear that last. Her heart was pounding so hard that she couldn't hear anything, and Illya was so overcome with what he had been forced to do that he failed to see Katya reach into the purse she still held and withdraw a small weapon.
"You have ruined my life, taken away everything I love. I don't care about THRUSH, or that pompous professor… none of it. I loved Anton, and now you've killed him.'
Illya stepped forward, but Katya swung around and pointed the pistol at Napoleon.
"He can be the sacrifice for my Antoshka. Your friend for my husband, Illyusha. It has to be."
Napoleon tried to step away from the car but the gun was leveled at him, leaving him nothing to do except run away, and he wouldn't leave Illya.
Illya was pleading now. How had it come to this?
"Please, give me the gun. Anton was going to kill you, Katya, and then he tried to kill Napoleon. You know this, da? You saw it happen, he was going to snap your neck."
Katya didn't move, her eyes were intent on Napoleon as Illya continued to speak. Her hand was steady, a surprising observation to both men as they tried to unravel this strange turn of events.
"Anton would never have killed me. He was merely using me to get you to cooperate. And now you have taken him from me, just as Rabinovitz took our future. His stupid, cowardly action has ruined everything. Everything!"
With that she pulled the trigger of the gun aimed at Napoleon. Two blasts were heard as Napoleon spun from the impact. Katya went down, her face drawn in anguish as Illya's bullet made its mark. The Russian ran to Napoleon, unable to look at the woman who, just hours earlier, had kissed him and then welcomed him into her home. The betrayal of not one, but two of his former friends, weighed on him as he bent down to tend to the only one he now counted as true.
Illya helped the wounded American up from the ground, steadied him and checked the damage.
"…. Not too bad. We had better get you to a doctor, just the same."
Napoleon was still in shock, not from blood loss but from the lightening quick destruction that had just taken place. Illya's face was unreadable, but there was no doubt in Napoleon's mind that beneath the façade was a torrent of anguish that must be pushing him to a limit that only Illya could repeal.
"Illya, I am so… sorry.'
It seemed lame, to have nothing more than the word sorry.
"I'll call in this mess to Waverly. You should… "
Napoleon let the last words die away. What should Illya do? How could he possibly gather the remains of his friends and not bow to the guilt of having killed them? How had this all gone so wrong?
Napoleon called in for help, requested a team from Berlin be flown in to handle the clean up for this mess. Illya finally squatted down next to the car, out of view of the death scenes inside and out. Napoleon's brush with lead was minor, a flesh wound that was easily handled with a handkerchief.
The weary agent sat down beside his Russian friend and partner. Illya had eased himself into a seated position and was leaning against the front tire. No longer concerned about going anywhere, or how he looked, he had removed the turtleneck he had been wearing and put on a white shirt from Rabinovich's luggage.
He wouldn't miss it.
Two days later found Solo and Kuryakin back in New York. Napoleon sported a sling to support his damaged left arm. Illya looked the same, but beneath the physical were layers of unmined emotions that refused to surface.
It was not a hero's welcome that greeted them when they walked into Alexander Waverly's office.
"Please sit down, gentlemen."
They did. Sit down. They also shot matching glances to each other that betrayed a certain concern about what might be coming next.
"I uh… I am very sorry, Mr. Kuryakin, for the loss of your two … uh… your friends. That was most unfortunate, to be sure. You are to report to Dr. Durbin at eleven o'clock. Mr. Solo, you are to make certain that your partner reaches that appointment."
Illya was not surprised. He was not happy about having to see a psychiatrist, but he understood the reasoning. It might even be helpful, and he was disinclined to object.
"Yes sir, I will be there."
Napoleon couldn't help looking surprised at that, but Waverly merely smiled.
"I'm glad to hear it, young man. Dreadful business, and most unexpected. I'm afraid we missed that completely. Please have your reports in by Thursday morning. That is all."
Illya rose first, anxious to get out of this office, and wishing he could just… get out. A few days off might have been a nice gesture.
Napoleon decided to speak privately with Mr. Waverly, and Illya left without him, certain of the content of the conversation. When the pneumatic doors had closed, Napoleon directed his gaze and his speech to his superior.
"Mr. Waverly, I hate to ask this but, I really need to know. Did you have prior knowledge about Katya and Anton? Were you aware that they were friends of Illya?"
Waverly placed his right hand over his left as he prepared to answer his Chief Enforcement Agent. Solo was a good man. So was Kuryakin.
"Mr. Solo, in the course of making decisions at the level in which I operate, there are occasions in which certain information is handled as though it were non-existent. I did not feel obligated to inform Mr. Kuryakin of the presence of his Russian compatriots. It was a non-issue as far as I was concerned. Are you suggesting that it would have made a difference?"
Napoleon felt the heat rise in his face. Why exactly did he think it mattered about Katya and Anton?
"Sir, Illya… Mr. Kuryakin, was placed in a position in which he found it necessary to shoot both of them. It has taken a great toll on him, emotionally and mentally, over the last few days. If we had known previously about who was involved…"
Waverly understood. He even empathized. It didn't matter.
"And tell me, Mr. Solo. What difference would it have made? Would Mr. Kuryakin have been more or less likely to act as he did had he known previously about the Sidorovs? Would he have not tried to save your life?'
The steely grey eyes were only slightly less intimidating beneath the bushy brows than they might have been on a man eating tiger. Solo was immediately sorry for having brought up the subject.
"Mr. Solo, I have many regrets about this affair, not the least of which is that Mr. Kuryakin, through no fault of his own, has become victimized by his own history and affections. The betrayal by Anton Sidorov is despicable, and yet his own motives were to better himself and his wife. Her reaction, equally regrettable, was borne of grief and … well, who knows what else.'
The old gentleman took a deep breath; his own history was perhaps only a little less messy than this affair.
"Dr. Durbin will be gentle with our Russian. Mr. Kuryakin needs to talk about this, to acquit himself of the guilt he is carrying. Give him some time, Mr. Solo."
That was it. Napoleon thanked the old man and turned to leave. Just before he reached the doors, he turned once more.
"Excuse me, sir.'
The hoary head rose again and forced its attention on the man facing him.
"Yes, Mr. Solo?"
"Was Rabinovich really Katya's father? He said no, but… something made me doubt him."
Waverly considered the stealth of his man, the cunning that powered him through difficult situations. He deserved an answer.
"No, no he was not Mrs. Sidorov's father."
Solo tilted his head, an unconscious reaction to things that didn't sound quite right.
"All right. Thank you sir."
As Napoleon was walking out of the office, he thought of the inflection in Waverly's voice… not Mrs. Sidorov's father. That caused the agent to stop in mid-step.
"Then whose father was he?"
He resumed his steps. Perhaps it was better to let this one alone.