"Is this safe, Illya?"
The blond shrugged his shoulders.
"Perhaps the bigger question, my friend, is whether there is truly anything safe in this world. We live lives fraught with uncertainty, and safety remains merely an illusion, something to which we cling in our most desperate moments. I think…"
Napoleon held up a hand in an effort to stop his partner's endless dialogue. There were times when the American wondered whether or not it was simply a matter of cultural differences that divided them. For a young guy, this Kuryakin fellow was awfully morose.
"Illya, please. You don't know me very well, and to tell you the truth, I'm not big on long, drawn out explanations. Short and sweet, but mostly…'
Napoleon Solo paused to ascertain the effect his own speech was having on his new partner. None. Illya's brows questioned his sanity, from the look of it.
"To the point, that's all. Just tell me, please, if this elevator is safe. It looks old."
Illya Kuryakin was the newest member of Section II Northwest Region. Alexander Waverly had seen fit to partner the young Russian with the up and coming Napoleon Solo. It had seemed like a very good idea on several occasions. Now and then, however, Illya had to dip into his deepest reserves of comradeship and patience. The American was trying at times.
"I was making a point.'
The response was terse, but unfinished.
"I shall endeavor to avoid doing so in the future."
Now it was Napoleon's turn to appear flummoxed by his new partner's comment. He hadn't meant to hurt the man's feelings.
"Look Illya… I uh… Look, I didn't intend to insult you. You're a smart guy, I get that.'
The raised eyebrows again; it was at once condescending and yet somehow innocent.
"Okay, very smart. But, at the moment, all I need to know is that we're not going to take a freefall to the bottom of this elevator shaft. Do you think it looks safe?"
Illya cocked his head to one side, a look on his face as though he hadn't quite understood the question. Of course he did understand, and would have in any of at least a dozen languages.
"Yes, Napoleon. I believe it is safe for us to use this elevator. Does that please you?"
Napoleon looked around the decrepit hallway in which they were now standing. The carpeting was a pattern that looked like peacock feathers. At the moment it was making him slightly dizzy, and as he deflected an oncoming sense of vertigo, the normally suave agent wondered just how old this building was, and when the last maintenance was performed on the elevator.
As though reading his partner's mind, Illya spotted a chart on the wall of the car.
"It looks as though someone was last here for maintenance in… 1958. His name was Fred … something. I … the last name is illegible."
Napoleon was attempting to try and figure out why this entire scene was so irritating to him. He liked Illya, found his company to be enjoyable and his skills of the life saving variety. That always came in handy when out in the field among people trying to kill you. This conversation had set him on edge, however, and there was no real explanation for it except…
"Illya, when we had coffee across the street…"
Blue eyes bore into Solo. The blond head shook.
"I did not have coffee. I had tea. Do you not ever pay attention?"
Animosity was developing at a record pace. Napoleon felt sure he would be capable of shooting this skinny reject from the Soviet Union within a very short time. Just keep it up, blondie… his thoughts had a scathing inflection inside of his head.
"Napoleon, are you all right?"
No, Napoleon was not all right. He felt himself losing control while his memory kept bringing him to that cup of coffee that had been delivered by… by whom? He recognized her, sensed something that was familiar when she spoke to him.
Solo was struggling now to maintain control. It wasn't Illya's fault, he was certain of that. The waitress had slipped something into his coffee. The waitress… brunette, blue eyes and a crooked…
"That waitress. She's a THRUSH agent. You don't know her, but she put something…"
Napoleon was trying to withstand an assault on his senses that made him want to strike his partner. Anger and something else. Illya was staring at him with concern and a rising sense of apprehension about what might happen next.
"Napoleon! Bozhe moi…"
Illya struck the seething American with a wicked right hook that sent the dark-haired agent into the back wall of the elevator. Unfortunately for Illya, it didn't knock him out but instead added fuel to the strange fire that was burning like an incendiary used to blow up THRUSH satrapies.
Knowing the capabilities of his senior partner, Illya backed carefully out of the elevator car, all the while attempting to placate Napoleon with pleas for sanity and reason.
"Napoleon, you are responding to something planted in your coffee. You have said so yourself. This THRUSH agent, whatever her name is, has engineered this. She wants me dead or injured, or… '
Illya paused for a second, and wondered why he was being targeted.
"Think Napoleon. Who is she? Why does she want you to attack me?"
That had some effect on the deranged agent. Why did he want to hurt Illya? And why…?
"I … I don't know. Oh, my head. Cut it off, will ya?"
More shocking than the assault was this absurd request. Illya felt obliged to put an end to this situation and so, in as non-threatening a motion as he could manage, the young man reached into his holster and pulled out his Special. It was loaded with sleep darts.
When Napoleon woke up in Medical it was to a buzzing sound in his head that threatened to saw off the top of that appendage. He had a vague impression of being very agitated and angry, although he could not remember why, or with whom.
He opened his eyes wider and looked across the room.
"Oh… now I remember."
Illya Kuryakin was asleep in a standard hospital chair, leaning on the bed table that had been lowered to accommodate his posture. A shock of blond hair in disarray alerted Napoleon to the obvious: Illya had been on guard here for some time.
The slight form of the Russian began to move, then jerk into something like alertness.
"Napoleon? You are awake at last.'
A slight grin came over the pale countenance.
"Do you still want to shoot me? I sincerely hope not."
Napoleon remembered now why he had felt agitated, remembered the waitress and the tainted coffee.
"No. I mean yes, I am awake. No, I don't want to shoot you, you're safe."
Illya smiled, a wicked sort of smile that warned of certain mischief.
"Well, as I was trying to explain to you the other day, safety is merely an illusion…"
Napoleon barely missed hitting him with the pitcher of water.