By Glenna Meredith
It was too late to turn back now. If the fumes from the lab didn't catch up with him then the guards surely would. They had gas masks to protect them, and he… well, he'd broken a rule and not had a plan when the impulse to blow up a THRUSH satrapy had struck.
Napoleon might have stopped him, might have come up with something brilliant to substitute for his own bad timing, but the American wasn't here. Illya had gone off without him, left in a huff because his partner let himself get distracted again by a pretty face.
Illya knew better than to act on his own in situations like this. Napoleon was the strategist. Damn it! He knew better.
None of that mattered right now. Hindsight was useless, as was the distance he was putting between himself and the approaching crowd of THRUSH personnel. It seemed that no matter where he ran, every door was locked and the entrance was farther away than it had been before. The explosion Illya set had apparently triggered something unstable in the lab, something that was chasing him down and threatening to end what had been, up to now, a very promising career.
When he had spotted the THRUSH chief coming out of Luigi's, Illya didn't immediately think of following the man. No, it took all of thirty seconds to look back at Napoleon and the girl, and consider the possibility that something new was brewing in the city.
That was the mistake. He should have waited for his partner, should have known that going in alone was a bad idea. It wasn't as though the Russian was incapable of pulling it off, but usually when he did this type of thing it was part of a plan; there was something already in motion by the time he separated from Napoleon and went in for a recon, or an action like blowing up a building.
This particular building was situated on an otherwise empty lot, with a series of decrepit storage units on either side. This must have been an office of some sort that THRUSH had utilized, savoring it, no doubt, for its lack of distinction. You could never tell a THRUSH satrapy by its appearance; they varied from posh to rundown, abandoned buildings.
Illya had tailed the man from Luigi's to his location, and watched him go inside before he called headquarters. Of course he called in, he wasn't going to operate without any back up. Napoleon hadn't answered immediately, so Illya contacted Waverly who told him to observe.
Illya observed the disappearance of the THRUSH into the building and decided to go in and investigate. He just happened to have something on him to help make a few things go boom, and once inside he had easily slipped past the first guard and found his way to a laboratory in the basement. It wasn't anything too impressive, perhaps just the beginnings of something that was better off never realizing its purpose.
Illya decided to just blow it up and save the time and effort of anything further. Napoleon was probably already on his way, and he could call for a clean up crew as soon as… Chyort! That had been the plan.
Now there was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and Illya was heading towards it. Just twenty feet and he would be outside and, he hoped, clear of the blast.
The explosion ripped down the corridor, blowing out doors and windows on the main floor. The gas was gaining on Illya, as were two of the guards. Shots were fired just as the blast caught up with them. Illya had only a slight lead on his pursuers, his hand on the doorknob as the last explosion blew them out the opening.
Illya was ejected out the door like something in flight, hitting his head on a piece of loose pavement, scuttling over gravel and broken glass that had been part of that inner city ambience he had noted upon his arrival. One THRUSH guard landed next to him, the gas mask still on his face. He was dead, however, a detail not observed by the UNCLE agent who lay unconscious against the now mangled chain link fence.
Sirens were sounding in the background, another incident reported by some anonymous citizens. Napoleon Solo was heading for the same location as several police cars. One New York City fire truck was there on the scene when he arrived. When Mr. Waverly contacted him, Napoleon had been putting the pretty face into a cab, and wondering where his partner had gotten off to. His boss had answered that question, and suggested (without any indication that there was an alternative) he meet Illya there. A car had already been dispatched to the restaurant to pick up Mr. Solo (since Illya had taken their shared vehicle when he decided to follow the THRUSH), and was arriving just as Napoleon signed off.
As he approached the burning building, Napoleon Solo wondered what his crazy Russian had done this time. The blond was notorious for using just a little too much boom, had more than once put them in danger of being part of the mangled landscape. He scanned the rubble now, looking for that telltale blond hair…
Illya was out cold. Blood was oozing from a scalp wound, probably not serious. One side of his face was rutted with gravel and glass, although not deep enough to do more than leave some scratches probably. As Napoleon approached the scene where a paramedic was administering aid, the shock of blond hair was unmistakable even mixed with the drying blood.
The agent showed his ID card to the policeman standing nearby, and eased his way past some other officers. Napoleon's driver, a Section III agent named Willoughby, waited along the perimeter of this mess, he'd not ever been witness to something quite this… messy.
"Officer, my name is Napoleon Solo, and that…'
He pointed to the crumpled figure on the ground, the one without the gas mask…
"… is my partner, Illya Kuryakin. He followed a known criminal here tonight, who is perhaps still inside. Do we have any reports on survivors?"
The policeman stopped him, his eyes scanning the area before coming back to rest on the well-dressed man before him.
"Buddy, uh… Mr. Solo, there ain't nobody left inside that building. It's a miracle your friend here got out as well as he did."
Napoleon nodded. It had all the trademark destruction of a Kuryakin job. Why did he always think things needed blowing up?
Napoleon kneeled down next to his friend, almost afraid to ask the paramedic how it looked.
"So, what's the damage here? Is he going to be all right?"
The paramedic hesitated, his fingers working at the blond's forehead trying to staunch the blood flow. Dried blood on Illya's cheek made him look hollow and leaner than normal. The cut on his forehead continued to bleed, a dark spot forming beneath the bandage.
"He's breathing okay, so that's something. I can't say what other damage there might be, you'll have to ask the doctor about that after we get him there."
Napoleon sighed. It was a familiar exhalation of a breath always held for occasions such as this. Why the hell had Illya gone alone? There was a major dressing down just waiting for the Russian when he woke up. But for now, the Chief Enforcement Agent of UNCLE Northwest put on his best face and began his own perusal of the site, directing Willoughby to accompany him as they searched the areas they were allowed to enter, looking for anything that might indicate what THRUSH had been doing here.
The walls of medical echoed the activity of an ambulance pulling into the bay, equipment being transferred and scurrying footsteps as personnel were thrust into action. Illya Kuryakin was not unknown here, although his actual time in New York was barely over a year. A few of the nurses had originally thought him a little frightening, with his stern blue gaze and the grim set of his mouth. Little by little, however, they had noticed more the fullness of the bottom lip, and the glint of light in the blue eyes; all of it tended to produce more sighs than words of disapproval, and the care of him became a matter of seniority among the women who waited, not too patiently, for each of his arrivals.
This time it was worrying to each of them, these angels of mercy. Blood on his head and face announced trouble unlike a bullet wound or a physical beating. Oh, his clothes were ripped, and each garment was quickly cut away by the physician now, revealing rising welts and bruises from the collision between hard surfaces and a body of flesh and blood.
IV lines were started, blood samples taken and prayers were uttered by those who still did such things. One nurse got a good look as Doctor Miller pulled back an eyelid: red. Nothing but red, no blue. She gasped slightly, forgetting to be professional and detached, as she thought of the last time Illya Kuryakin had looked at her and smiled.
Napoleon and Nathan Willoughby had gone through as much of the rubble as was possible. So far they hadn't found anything to indicate what type of trouble THRUSH had been brewing here at the site of this mess. Why Illya had felt the need to blow it up…
"Mr. Solo, is there anyplace else we can look? I mean, it seems pretty much like a lost cause to me."
Nathan Willoughby was twenty-six years old, fresh from Survival School and doing his time in New York as a Section III prior to a more permanent posting elsewhere. He might still make it to Section II, depending upon his performance during this probationary year under Alexander Waverly.
Napoleon shook his head, looked up at a night devoid of stars, the sound of sirens screaming somewhere else in the city blocks beyond. Illya had looked bad, he thought. Napoleon had a bad feeling about all of it.
"I don't know, Nathan. It doesn't look promising, does it?"
The other man shook his head, both of their thoughts farther away than this burned out lot. One of their own was down.
"Let's go, then. I think we'll just have to wait and see what the lab boys come up with after they've analyzed the… remains. I'd like to go check on Illya."
Nathan nodded, a silent ascent to the unsaid words of concern.
"I'll go get the car started, Mr. Solo. That officer is waiving to you."
Napoleon slapped the young man on the back, the agreement of a comrade, the physical sign between men that they were all right. So much that went on between men was a silent form of communication; Illya had tried earlier, his disapproval evident. Now this mess was the result of them both refusing to just use words.
The police officer was approaching as Napoleon uttered the word beneath his breath, his palm on his forehead in the only sign of frustration anyone would see from him here tonight.
"Say, did you fellas find anything in there? Our guys think there was some sort of gas that ignited. That one man had on a gas mask, so maybe that's what your agent was after."
Napoleon hadn't smelled anything, not like a gas leak. He shot the officer a look of annoyance at the suggestion, and then quickly exchanged it for raised eyebrows and the appearance of an appreciative wink.
"Perhaps you do have something there, officer. Our labs will be on it, I assure you. We can hopefully exchange reports on this by the morning.'
Napoleon reached out to shake the policeman's hand, a genuine gesture now from both men.
"Thank you, and your men. You saved my partner's life."
"We live to serve. Uh, I hope he'll be okay. I know what it's like to have a partner, the kind that gets into trouble. He looked like a nice kid."
Kid. Yeah, that said a lot. Illya the Kid. If he weren't in law enforcement, he'd probably be on the Interpol most wanted list. He enjoyed blowing things up too much to be on the side of peace. What a crazy life for a man to live.
"Good night, officer. Get some sleep."
Napoleon threw up his hand in a sign of farewell; his next stop would be the UNCLE Medical floor.
Alexander Waverly seemed always to be present. At the moment he stood over the bed of his young Soviet agent, Illya Kuryakin. A swath of blond hair was pushed back and standing nearly on end, a bandage on his forehead. Waverly noted the deep set of the man's eyes, his lids now coloring from the onset of bruises. Blood tests had revealed something, although the labs were not certain exactly what as yet.
The other tests… well, that was disturbing, to be sure.
Napoleon walked in on his superior, and was slightly startled at the sight of the old man lingering at the bedside of the Russian. He hoped it wasn't a vigil, noted that his mouth had gone suddenly dry at the thought of it.
Waverly heard the door, and in the midst of Napoleon's fears he turned and motioned for him to come closer while he himself walked towards his top agent.
"Mr. Kuryakin will live, in case you are in doubt of it, Mr. Solo. In spite of my instructions that he should observe only, and wait for your arrival, he seems to have taken it upon himself to simply do away with this satrapy, and everyone inside. We will need a thorough debriefing on this, uhh… when he… when Mr. Kuryakin is able.'
The rangy eyebrows shot up in a familiar, challenging fashion.
"Do you understand, Mr. Solo?"
Napoleon did understand. Illya had a lot to answer for, eventually.
"Oh, yes sir, I do. Um… is there any word on… what kind of damage, exactly?"
As if on cue, Dr. Miller walked into the room, a clipboard full of papers in his right hand. He looked at the two men, formulating how to best explain to them about their wounded agent.
"Mr. Waverly, Mr. Solo… '
He sighed, as only those who bear bad news are able…
"First of all, in spite of a great deal of bruising and some cuts and scratches, Mr. Kuryakin will live. He is mildly sedated right now; I didn't want to put anything into his system until we ascertained what he had encountered in that THRUSH lab. What is, perhaps, the most troubling…"
All three men stopped and turned, as one, towards the groaning noise that came from the subject of this meeting. Illya was in pain, a lot of pain and he always felt completely justified in expressing the complaints associated with pain unless it would give pleasure to the one inflicting his pain. Being partly sedated and in pain generally bypassed that last consideration.
"Illya? Illya, you're in Medical. You're safe."
Napoleon knew how it felt to wake up and not know for sure that it was home base and not some enemy camp.
Illya put his hand to his forehead, not daring to open his eyes and face a harsh interrogation light, perhaps.
His weary question was a gamble, and he hoped it would pay off in a friendly reply.
Napoleon puzzled at his friend speaking Russian, something he nearly always avoided.
"Illya, you're in Medical. Hey, tovarisch… can you hear me?"
What was the man saying? Why… Illya tried to open his eyes, only to find that everything was covered in red, a haze of red and brown hues… Suddenly startled at the realization, he fought through the drowsiness and jolted up, only to be caught by a pair of hands that gently but forcefully pushed him back onto the pillows.
"YA ne vizhu!"
He was frantic; Illya Kuryakin felt panic well up inside of his normally stoic self.
"What did he say? Doctor, what did Illya say? What's wrong with him?"
Napoleon sensed the fear in his friend, and a type of foreboding began to overwhelm him as well.
"Alexander, I think you should get one of your translators down here. We're going to need some help with this."
Clive Miller was a good doctor, a compassionate physician. He knew that the information he had would need careful transmission, that the young man involved should hear it from someone speaking his own language.
Nathan Willoughby, who had remained at the door of Illya's room, was dispatched to collect the Russian translator. Illya lay back onto his pillows, his left hand over his face as though attempting to eradicate some intrusive entity, his right hand clutched at the sheet that was now only partly covering his slender body.
"Doctor, what is it? Why…?"
And then Napoleon saw it, the blank gaze behind the tortured fist as it was lowered to Illya's side. No longer blue, his friend's eyes were clouded with red, and as he looked up at the ceiling, at nothing in particular, Napoleon realized what Illya had said.
"He can't see anything, can he? He's blind…"
The words came out in a whisper, too awful to say aloud, as though by doing so it would confirm it somehow. Illya was blind.
The scene had played out, the translator had arrived and the doctor had explained everything in as much detail as possible. Illya was, at least for now, temporarily blinded by a vitreous hemorrhage, a fairly commonplace injury when a head trauma was experienced. It would most likely heal, in time, as the blood receded away from the vitreous humor, something Napoleon had never had occasion to study, but now knew to be the gel surrounding the retina. He was certain Illya would be only too happy to fill him in on all of the science involved in this eventually.
For now, it seemed that the gas he had inhaled in the THRUSH lab was something used to alter memory. And that, unhappily, accounted for why Illya was only speaking Russian. In his mind the Soviet agent was back in his homeland, with no memory of UNCLE, nor Napoleon nor Waverly… none of it. To say that it made him surly and uncooperative was an understatement, and the only person to whom he would defer was the lovely translator who had been told to remain with him at all times, to take an apartment upstairs and be on call for any and all requests.
Dr. Miller had called in some specialists to look at the Russian, and each had agreed that, most likely, the problem would solve itself. Even now, after forty-eight hours, some of Illya's vision had returned, although he complained of streaks that were a constant torment to the normally independent man. Not being able to see was the worst of a bad situation, and even making his way to the toilet had proven a hazard once or twice.
Napoleon was on his way to visit his unfriendly friend when he ran into the translator, Abigail Anders.
"Abby, are you getting a break finally from that Bolshevik?"
Abigail was a pretty woman, with flaxen colored hair and green eyes that sparkled. Napoleon thought it serendipitous that she should be in his world right now, while he was missing his friend…
"Hi Napoleon. You haven't heard? Illya is starting to remember some things, and he started speaking English and French. What a guy, English and Russian, and all of the romance languages… and his eyes are getting blue again."
Napoleon could swear she sighed in between all of that gushing. So much for asking out Abby. She had fallen under his partner's dubious charms.
"Gee, no Abby. I guess I missed that bulletin. So, he's treating you well, I take it, and not terrorizing the rest of the staff, hopefully."
"Mmmm… he's fine. He has to wear that mask over his eyes to keep him from straining them, so he does require some assistance…"
She thought back to helping him into the shower, then his sudden gesture of appreciation…
"So, yeah… he's doing … great. Just… great."
She was smiling too much, Napoleon thought. Sneaky Russian.
They each kept walking then in their opposite directions. As Napoleon peeked into his partner's room, the blond was reclining at the prescribed angle, the mask in place and Heather McNabb was reading poetry to him. Of all the…
"Hello everyone. Have I missed anything?"
Heather stopped reading and Illya sat up a little straighter, his head turning towards the sound of Napoleon's voice.
"Napoleon, come in. Thank you, Heather. That was a balm to my soul, I assure you."
Heather leaned in to plant a kiss on Illya's cheek and whisper something into his ear. The one that wasn't covered in bandages.
Napoleon waggled his finger at the pretty blond, his eyes saying what he dared not in front of his partner. She blushed slightly, and pulled the American towards her, kissing him in a way that suggested he had not lost his place in her heart.
With that settled, Napoleon strolled over to Illya's bedside, noticing with some concern the mélange of blues and purples that still mottled his skin. It had been bad, after all. Napoleon shouldn't begrudge his friend some female sympathies, he supposed.
"Illya, tovarisch, you're back? I have to tell you, that was a very strange few days we had with you."
Illya nodded and then he slid off the mask so that he could try to see his friend.
"Is that safe? Illya, aren't you supposed to leave that on…?"
"It is safe, my friend. The condition has mostly reversed itself, for which I am, of course, greatly relieved. The past few days have been like living inside of another person. I knew English, but I could not speak it. I knew myself, and yet someone else was here, inhabiting this battered body. The loss of vision only made it seem more bizarre, as though it were a symptom of the same condition."
Napoleon looked closely at his partner. The blue was reappearing, although there was still a cloudy, brownish-red cast to them in places. The best medical care and some advanced techniques had come to Illya's aid, things that might not be common yet to the general public. There were advantages to being nearly killed for UNCLE; they knew how to make repairs beyond the norm.
"It's good to have you back, Illya. There are a few questions, however. When you're ready, we'll debrief over this little fireworks display you put on."
Illya had been expecting this ever since his memory had returned. He wasn't certain about the answers he would give; perhaps his only defense was that he had only intended to blow up the lab portion, because the explosive device he had carried in with him was not powerful enough to destroy the entire building.
"Napoleon, I honestly do not know why the damage was so great. All I had with me was a K2 button explosive. It should not have resulted in what it did. But, I have no excuse for my actions. I rushed in and ignored good sense, as well as Mr. Waverly's instructions to simply observe."
Illya suddenly felt the weight of his actions that night. The fear of blindness, the loss of memory aside, he still had to give an account of how it all happened. In spite of his mistakes, UNCLE had cared for him and brought him back to health. He hoped it would not be in vain; he hoped this would not cost him his job.
As Illya and Napoleon discussed the events of that night, a lab report was being delivered to Mr. Waverly. In it, details disclosed the nature of the lab, the contents within it and the deadly plans for which it had been appointed.
Napoleon's communicator warbled its song, causing both men to stop in mid-sentence as the usual answer was given.
"Solo here. Yes sir, immediately."
Napoleon replaced the faux cigarette case and turned back to his friend.
"Ummm… Illya, do you think you can manage to get a robe on and go upstairs with me? Mr. Waverly wants to see both of us, in his office."
It was not unheard of, to summon a man from Medical after he was sufficiently healed and able to be ambulatory. Illya scrambled into the provided robe and slippers, and grudgingly allowed Napoleon to wheel him upstairs to their superior's office. The mask was replaced, to guard against the brighter lights in the corridors beyond. Illya thought it also might lessen the likelihood of being verbally bludgeoned, although it was a feeble hope at best.
When Napoleon and Illya had passed through the pneumatic doors and into the inner sanctum of UNCLE's chief, they were directed to sit and wait while Waverly shuffled the papers he had received, and then he spoke.
"Gentlemen, Mr. um, Kuryakin had quite a close call with several, shall we say, unpleasant encounters. Hmmm?'
The old man surveyed his two men, his best two men, and continued…
"Our labs have isolated a rather nasty bit of business from their samples, taken from that THRUSH satrapy. It seems that the purpose of the lab there was to develop a mind-altering drug that could be dispensed into a public water source, and would completely eradicate the memory of an entire populace. Diabolical, absolutely diabolical."
Illya and Napoleon were unprepared for that information. Illya's memory loss had been attributed to the gas, but to find out the plan was for entire cities… But to what purpose?"
"Sir, do we know where they intended to use this formula? Was it for here, in New York?"
Waverly nodded, his most solemn expression reserved for near misses of this nature.
"Yes, Mr. Solo, exactly so. New York City was the intended victim here, the entire city. A blanket loss of memory of who they were and what they were, all of it so that THRUSH could take over City Hall and commandeer the most important metropolitan center on earth.'
Another long pause, and then a steely gaze that landed on the blond. Illya had removed the mask upon entering the office, and now he felt a little dizzy from all of this information. His newly reclaimed use of the English language was struggling against the drama of it all, the near miss, as it were. He had saved the city.
"You, Mr. Kuryakin, in your haste and, perhaps in a bit of a snit about your partner's slowness to meet your agenda, have managed to save New York from perhaps the most dastardly scheme to ever be proposed against it. I cannot, in good conscience, ignore this spectacularly fortuitous blunder for the good it has done, nor can I, also in respect to our positions, allow you to go without some form of disciplinary action for ignoring my directions that night. You put me in a harrowing situation, young man, at the same time you qualify for a medal!"
Illya had stopped breathing, and now he let out a shallow breath. Napoleon had heard every word, disbelieving most of it and yet unable to grasp why Mr. Waverly would lie to them. Illya had saved the city?
"Sir, I… '
What should Illya say? What could he say? Thank you? He managed to assemble his response in English, but his accent betrayed how ill at ease he felt.
"Sir, I was at fault for not … I should not have … it was fool hardy of me to rush in as I did. I am sorry, sir. We would, of course, have had the same result, a better form of success, perhaps, had I waited for Na.. Mr. Solo."
Blockhead. He was an utter and complete blockhead, and he wasn't even sure what that meant.
"You are quite correct in that, Mr. Kuryakin. You might even have avoided being seriously hurt, something that carried quite a high price tag, I might add.'
It sounded like a harrumph, Illya wasn't certain.
"Mr. Kuryakin, you are, needless to say, on medical leave until Dr. Miller gives you a clean bill of health. Because you are currently unable to do anything that requires reading, I cannot assign you to write reports for every agent in Section II. Because you have some physical limitations, you cannot take on the karate training of our newest batch of graduates from Survival School.'
Another pause, another harrumph…
"I can, however, assign you to the translation department for an indeterminate period of time. You can assist Miss… what is her name? The Russian linguist?"
Napoleon hung his head, a headache suddenly causing him to rub his temples as he considered how unfair this was, so completely unfair…
Illya, on the other hand, had a nearly religious experience as he remembered the look on Abby's face when…
"I believe you mean Miss Anders, sir. Yes, I will call her immediately and let her know I will be… assisting her."
"Yes, you do that. And as for you, Mr. Solo, take a day off and then report back here day after tomorrow, nine a.m. sharp.
Each man gave his version of a smile as Napoleon took the helm of Illya's wheelchair. He resisted the urge to push the Russian into a wall, considering it beneath him to show such a banal response to his friend's rather good fortune. Illya had, after all, nearly died… nearly been blind… nearly…
"Napoleon, is that not the most fantastic turn of events? I am overwhelmed with something like gratitude for the way this has turned out."
There was a wall…
"Yes, it is almost beyond belief, Illya. I'm sure Abby will be very happy to have you down in translation. It's a good thing you got your memory back, all of those languages and what not."
The blond was grinning like a maniac as he considered his friend's response. And then he remembered how this had all started, with his own petulant attitude towards Napoleon's flirtation with the girl in the restaurant.
"Napoleon, I'm sorry about all of this. I reacted like a child the other night, running off and creating this… this situation. Perhaps, in a few days when I'm not looking quite so damaged, you and I can go on a … um, duplicate date, yes? I and Abby, and you and one of your lovely girlfriends. What do you think?"
Napoleon thought he recognized this as a type of apology. Not your normal one, but still, for Illya it was a good one.
"Do you mean a double date? That might be nice, Illya. I like Abby, and she really is your type of girl, I suppose, all of those languages. I'll see who's available, and we can celebrate your recovery."
And so, just like that, the two friends were back on track. Before long Illya would be out of the wheelchair and sporting a pair of dark reading glasses the doctor prescribed as part of his recovery.
Yes, those dark glasses.