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Shadowland

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...you know my background; the extensive research I've done in this area. Through experimentation and empirically based psychological modalities I've been able to develop a means of controlling the part of the brain involved in attention monitoring and working memory. Using this knowledge, I can offer you

 

It's murky when he wakes up, murky enough that he isn't sure his eyes are open. He turns his head through the thick air until at the other end of the room he sees a faint light, the shadows moving there...

...a way to induce the effect of environmental disassociation

Slowly he realizes he's in his own room, the gray early morning light outlining the window, its curtains undrawn. He gets up, not thinking about anything; he'd taught himself that trick long ago. It lets him push aside the black and cold thing waiting for him at the edge of consciousness.

 

...which allows me to create what I call a sleeper in whom  the connections between the emotions that normally regulate our response to the environment, and the area of memory and conscious self-monitoring have been separated.  A man with a false awareness if you will...

Excuse me doctor, but it seems to me that a man without a memory would be found out before he could complete any commands he's given.

Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I could be; the drug doesn't remove one's memories, the information can still be referenced, we just disconnect the information from the self monitoring process.  Let me give you an example; I would retain all memory of my army career, but  it would have no relevance to my present behaviour.

An interesting example to choose Doctor Eider.

 

He looks into the bathroom mirror and his body clenches, he's engulfed in a wave of nauseau, retching over the sink, unable to stop though he spits up nothing but a thin, clear liquid. His throat is sore when he finally stops.

...If I may continue, we produce an induced temporary malfunction of the prefrontal circuits

He takes a deep breath, leaves the medicine cabinet door open and props up the small mirror. It's easier to use, fragments of his face, he can concentrate on cheek, then chin; it's not so different from shaving in the close quarters of the submarine. He remembers a submarine, cramped, the constant clamor, too close, too many of them and too close. It's there, waiting, cold and dark and he carefully keeps his eyes from straying beyond the few inches that show his skin. His hand only slips once or twice.

 

And how do we do that, you ask. We use a two pronged process, a psycho-chemical procedure. We build a structure, a framework if you will, with BZ 343, then the conditioning induces the required functions.  Not conditioning as you know it of course, tedious, unreliable.  Think of

 

He knows where everything is in the apartment, the books the ammunition clips the clothes in the closet. He dresses the way he always does, white shirt, black pants, black tie; the leather holster, then the gun, then the jacket, then his watch and the tie clip.

 

...our sleeper as having an on and off switch, what BZ 343 does

 

He takes one filter out of the box in the cabinet, boils the water and lets his coffee drip. He feels clumsy doing it, as though his movement is being guided by someone else. The thought drifts away... and he looked at his watch. He needed to hurry he thought as he took a quick sip, he'd forgotten to set the alarm, he had an early meeting with Waverly and Napoleon.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"... is turn the switch on; when the conditioning wears off, the switch is off too, waiting to be turned on again. The subject goes about his daily life having done what we programmed him to do, and in the case of that conditioned action, remembers nothing..."

The expensively-dressed elderly gentleman sized up the speaker as he listened with half an ear; the Doctor was an enthusiast, he'd heard the speech before. Tall and thin, Dr. Egon Eider looked younger than his experience might indicate. His short hair and upright posture gave him away as the military man he had been until recently, his devotion to his science animated him.   The listener put both hands on top of his cane and looked away from Eider, craning his neck to look up and around the balcony with its peeling paint and broken skylight, then down into the gleaming, shiny operating theater with its tiered mirrors and new glass roof. "Dr. Eider's Wunderkammer" he thought.  "Nasty place. But clever, building it inside the shell of the abandoned hospital."

Dr. Eider stopped, realizing he'd lost his audience's attention. "If you'd like to come downstairs, Mr. Marton, I can show you..."

Victor Marton gave the room below a look of distaste. "No, no. I much prefer distance in these cases. I'm quite sure you're perfectly capable of doing your work without my presence. I'm merely here to tell you the Central Council has approved your proposal."

"Splendid," Eider's eyes glittered. "Of course Thrush would recognize this as an unparalleled opportunity for research, and I welcome dealing with a group truly appreciative of new ideas." He pulled out a cigarette case. "May I offer you one, my special blend."

"Thank you." Marton took one of the cigarettes and waited for Eider to light it for him. He took a deep drag before he spoke. "I must warn you, for myself, I put little faith in the effectiveness of psycho-chemical or any other scientific attempts to make people over. Through the years, I've seen too many of these experiments founder. But there's always been a group at the Central Council that is enamoured of new technologies and I am, after all, an open-minded man."

"Oh, I will make a believer out of you, Mr. Marton," the doctor gestured expansively with his cigarette, intense in his conviction. "I am a scientist, I believe in research, experiment, analysis. In the scientific method. If you'll just come downstairs into my office, I'll be happy to show you the results of our early tests. We're now able to calculate precisely how long.. "

Marton interrupted him. "Don't waste your persuasive energies on me, Dr. Eider. Your proposal is very abitious.  Just show us that your theories work. That's all we need, to see them work.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Illya opened the scratched leather case; the plate on the lock had warped over the years, he had to fidget with the latch. The padding inside was worn thin as well, he should have had the whole thing replaced long ago. He'd considered getting a new oboe too, but her seasond sound pleased him and anyway, this was the one that Iacob gave him.  Old Iacob down the hall, who'd taught a restless young boy how to play; who'd never stopped waiting for the sons who didn't come home from the war. "Listen to her Illyusha," he'd say after he was particularly pleased by Illya's play, "she won't lie to you. You'll never be able to say that about another woman," he'd add, laughing at a private joke.

B flat, a short run to F, five triplets, to G, the Bach was an exercise in clarity, control, precision. Illya played with his eyes closed, concentrating on the music, on his breathing, on his fingering until nothing else mattered. All emotion was contained in the architecture of the notes, in the progression of the runs, the timbre he produced when he blew into the instrument.

He didn't think about how often he'd done this after spending an evening with Napoleon.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

The polished chrome framing the liquor cabinet's open lid reflected Illya's hands as he refilled his glass from the vodka bottle he'd left there. He poured carefully, absorbed in the task of filling the glass as full as possible; he felt Napoleon's eyes on him and looked up to meet them in the mirror on the wall above the cabinet.

"You have too many mirrors, Napoleon," he said. "Sometimes I can't tell if it's you I see."

"Who else would it be?" Napoleon asked from the sofa, half amused.

Illya didn't turn around but continued to watch Napoleon's reflection. "My grandmother told me that mirrors are full of ghosts."

"I see you, and I see me," Napoleon said. "I don't see ghosts."

"Because they're shadows , they only come out in the dark."

"And have you seen them?" Napoleon asked.

"My grandmother lied sometimes," Illya said. He touched the mirror. "But not always. "

"You are very drunk my friend."

"You don't believe me?"

In answer, Napoleon reached to turn off the lamp next to him and came to stand behind Illya. He put one hand on Illya's shoulder as they waited for their eyes to adjust to the darkness. The mirror reflected their faces back at them, only shadows at first, then planes and curves, and a glint where the faint light now visible from the window behind them picked up the gleam of Illya's hair.

"What do you see now, Illya?"

Illya looked, conscious of the warmth of the hand on his shoulder, of Napoleon's presence behind him, of the two dark figures looking back at them. He felt something stir, the weight of the shadows bearing down on them and sighed. "There are too many ghosts, Napoleon," he said and broke away. He went to the end table and switched the light back on, then seated himself on the sofa, cradling his glass in his hands.

"And now you're afraid of ghosts?" Napoleon turned to watch him.

"I'm too drunk to have this discussion now."

"The only time you will have it is when you're drunk."

"Leave it Napoleon, just once let an opportunity slip by."

Napoleon shrugged. "God helps those who help themselves."

"How convenient," Illya raised his glass, "to have a god you can bargain with."

"That's the point of having gods," Napoleon answered.  "You can't bargain with a disinterested universe.  Even when you do know what you want."
 He shook his head impatiently.  "Illya, this isn't..."

Illya interrupted him.  "Even if you always want more."

Napoleon gave him a searching look. "And you dont?"

Illya looked down into his glass. Finally he raised his eyes. "I have an early flight tomorrow, I should..."

"...leave," Napoleon said. "That's what you always do, you leave."

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

The music had changed its texture, the sound was darker, the notes longer. Not dancing now but yearning, whispering, promising. Illya faltered when he realized what he was playing, but then he finished the piece; it was the Schumann Iacob taught him and he hadn't played it for years, but the piece was short and he remembered every note.

When he was done he sat still and held the oboe across his lap, looking at nothing, at himself. She'd been trying to explain to him for a long time. He didnt want to think about how long he'd been refusing to listen. He played the Schumann again, not very well, uncomfortable now that he heard everything he'd been running away from.

He stopped again. Willful deafness, Illya Nikovetch. Blindness too. How foolish to imagine it was Napoleon's reflection that confused him, when all along it had been his own.

Two years now; a difficult assignment, their survival more luck than skill that day, a dreary room in a motel north of Green Bay; a few drinks too many. They'd argued, who knew what about. The surging adrenalin had escalated into pushing and shoving, not for the first time; and soon enough they were wrestling on the floor. And then there were mouths, and tongues and hands going where they'd long wanted to go, and a bed, and skin meeting skin. And the next morning... well, they went on with their lives; not embarrassed, no regrets. No complications. And then it happened again and then again; unquestioned now as the dinners they shared, the dangers they faced together.

When you know what you want, Napoleon had said.

Oh Napoleon, he thought, the wanting is the easy part.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Napoleon woke up before the alarm rang, disturbed by a dream already fading. Illya... all that nonsense Illya had been spouting. Always so practical, always so detached, his partner; then running and hiding behind grandmothers and ghosts instead of... Napoleon stopped, sat up and let the remnants of the dream go. He hadn't realized he was still angry.

He got up. There were meetings to go to. It was a relief they were on separate assignments this week. He filed the anger away for when he could afford to indulge in it.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

The meeting had already started when Illya entered the conference room.

"Ambassador Esenbel confirmed then, that he was making the offer with the sanction of his government?" Mr. Waverly was leafing through Napoleon's report of his meetings in Washington, pausing now and then to clarify a point. A neat pile of tabbed and labeled cardboard folders was at his right hand, a cup of coffee at his left. Monday's business waiting for his attention. He pointedly looked up at the clock at Illya's entrance, then his eyebrows rose. "Good Lord, Mr. Kuryakin, what in the world happened to you?"

Napoleon turned around at that as well, and he pursed his lips and frowned.

"The taxi I was in coming home from the airport Friday night was rear-ended," Illya said, sliding into the chair next to Napoleon's. He took the tinted glasses out of his breast pocket and put them on, then reached for the first folder in front of him. "Insignificant, only scratches."

"Well." Waverly gave him a sharp look, then decided to let it go. "Let's continue then gentlemen. Mr. Solo, you were about to answer."

"Yes sir," Napoleon said, going back to the report. "We have full governmental approval. I also had a few minutes with Ambassador Eralp, who'd come down for the reception, and he was quite expansive. The Thrush activities running through Mersin are causing concern in Istanbul." His eyes slid towards Illya when he was done.

Illya refused to meet them.

"I should think so, the politics of the drug issue are difficult enough without Thrush meddling. Good job, Mr. Solo," Waverly closed the folder. "I appreciate your rapid filing of the report, I know you only came back last night. I'll ask Mr. Bahar to begin laying the groundwork. I'd like you and Mr. Kuryakin to be ready to travel by Tuesday next week." He picked up the next folder. "Mr. Kuryakin, Mr. Canet tells me that the  test of the new operating program will take place tomorrow?"

Illya folded his hands on the table. "Tomorrow..." he coughed. His hands clenched for a moment as his reply seemed to get lost on the way to his tongue, and he had to go back and search for it. "Tomorrow or Wednesday sir. " Now he remembered. "I plan to make some minor changes to the program following the meetings at SRI last week. Dr. Englebart made some very astute suggestions regarding the architecture of the time sharing system we plan to put into place."

"Yes, Mr. Canet mentioned he expected the new system would, um, blow us away. I trust, Mr. Kuryakin, he was not being literal."

Illya's blank stare went unnoticed by Waverly who was already pulling out the next folder, but not by Napoleon who was still trying to catch his eyes.  Illya wouldn't look at him, there were things Napoleon shouldn't know.

"Last item, gentlemen." Waverly pushed a singe sheet of paper towards Napoleon. "What do you make of this?"

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"They knew we were coming."

Napoleon put his gun back in its holster and returned to the main room of the warehouse. The dusty rays of light from the clerestory windows turned the cavernous room into a grid of light and shadow, overturned cabinets and garbage littered the floor. "I'll ask Jason to have Section 3 go through this mess, but I don't suppose they left much behind."

Illya was nudging aside a tangle of torn wires with his foot . He didn't bother to reply.

"You could tell that tip reeked from the minute Waverly gave it to us," Napoleon said. "Someone is playing games."

"It makes you wonder," Illya agreed. A shimmer on the floor drew his eyes. He knelt down to look. Bent metal and glass, a starburst of cracks. He picks it up slowly. In the dusty air it shows him a room full of shadows, figures half recognizable.

...and remembers nothing

He's gripped by a wave of tension. Black and cold, something moves in him.

"Anything interesting? " Napoleon asked.

Illya blinked. He was holding a broken mirror, filled with distorted reflections of himself. He took a breath, then he turned to Napoleon, seeing him through the grid of light and shadow, remote, as fractured for a moment as his own image. He shook his head.

"Someone's pocket mirror," he said, letting it drop back to the ground. "Cracked." He stepped on it as he stood back up, then stumbled forward.

Napoleon caught his arm to steady him, and Illya pulled  away.

"Go ahead and call Jason," he said his voice even, "we're just wasting our time here."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"One more time," Egon Eider muttered to himself, "one more time." He wound the reel of tape back then played it again, writing quickly while staring at the monitor.

The tape was black and white but clear enough. Two men, guns in hand, in a coordinated dance through an empty warehouse, taking turns moving forward, one always covering the other, moving through a grid of shadows and light. He watched as they went from one end of the huge space to the other, watched as one of the men left through a doorway, then came back. "They knew we were coming," the man said, as he put his gun back in its holster.

He'd had to fight for the cameras, the surveillance.  "You're playing with fire,"  Marton had said, all traces of geniality gone.  "It's a mistake to trifle with UNCLE, there's no margin for error now."

He had defendedhimself; the documentation, the analysis were vital to the experiment after all. Defended himself forcefully enough that the Council approved.  But when Marton leaned back in his chair and looked at him after the vote, his eyes were cold.

Eider kept writing in his notebook. It's not as though he could place cameras inside UNCLE...   though perhaps after the experiment with the computers was done.  Was there something... he rewound the tape again. No, no. Everything was going just as planned.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Illya opened the scratched leather case; the plate on the lock had warped over the years, he had to fidget with the latch. Once he'd raised the top though, he was at a loss what to do. He reached for the instrument, but his hands felt think and clumsy, as though someone else were moving them and all he could do was watch. Something washed over him. Something strong and familiar, but he couldn't hold on to it and he closed the case again. But he kept it on the sofa, next to him.

He wouldn't turn his back, he hated the feeling of being watched. From where he sat though, if he glanced sideways he could see the reflection of the room, empty as long as he couldn't see himself.

He'd sneak to the mirror while the old woman was lighting the lamp by the door and stare at himself. "Come away from the mirror Solnyshko, she'd scold, and put her hands over his eyes. "Don't you know not to look into a mirror at night, don't you know you'll see ghosts?" She was his grandmother, he thought,  but he wasn't sure anymore, it was so long ago and there's no one he could ask.

"But I want to see the ghosts," he'd reply.

"No you don't," she'd warn him with a stern look, "because if you look long enough, you'll see your own ghost.  And he'll reach out and grab you and the mirror will swallow your soul." He'd shiver with delight.   Then she'd take the scarf from her shoulders and drape it over the glass. "Come with me," she'd take his hand, "you can sit with me by the stove until your mother comes home.  I know what story I'll tell you today, the story of the boy who didn't know how to be afraid."

Illya remembered the wooden cottage, the warm stove, the room with the mirror that no one ever used; he remembered but he still wasn't sure. He put his hands over his face. When he removed them something stirred on the edge of his vision, but the mirror was empty, he wasn't fast enough to catch what he saw.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Eider lit another cigarette and watched the tape again, he squinted anxiously but still had no idea what it was in that case. A clarinet perhaps? He wasn't familiar with music, with instruments. He was relieved that Kuryakin left it alone; he added another notation. Something to study later; he could not afford to have anything interfere with the experiment.

Everything was going as planned, everything. These personal quirks, the slight anomalies, transient, meaningless frills. Window decorations in the structure he had built, no more. He ignored the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray and lit another.

He'd thought in Thrush to find a reprieve from the stupidity, the barrenness of petty minds, instead they were hovering over him now; another greedy bureaucracy ready to suck what they could from his work. He would show them all.  When he proved he could give them access to UNCLE, well, he would show them all.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

Napoleon had just put the coffee and the toasted bagel from Pete's  down on his desk, when Jason Grier appeared in the doorway with a file in his hand.

"Some of us," Jason said, "have been working for hours."

"And the rest of us appreciate the effort," Napoleon answered with a grin. "What brought you out at the break of dawn today?" He unwrapped his scarf and hung his coat in the small closet. He gestured to Jason to sit down across from him while he settled himself at his desk. He removed the lid from the coffee and took a sip. He eyed the bagel suspiciously and decided to let it sit. Normally Illya would have grabbed it before he'd even tasted his coffee.

"The warehouse raid yesterday," Jason said, tossing the file on Napoleon's desk. "We went in and took the place apart, the damn place was like a stage set. Nothing, nothing at all in the warehouse itself, but we found two very well hidden cameras in the ceiling. Remotes."

Napoleon's eyebrows rose. He grabbed the file and started leafing through it. "A microwave transmitter ?" he asked.

"A small one on the roof, short range. Impossible to see unless you're up there. But Koji's been asking around, and two people remember seeing a panel truck a couple of blocks away. Recording, re-transmitting, who knows.

"Why would anyone want to record a raid on an abandoned warehouse? Thrush?"

"Possibly. They've certainly got the technology. Simpson wanted Illya to come take a look at the transmitter."

"Well that won't be till later today," Napoleon said. "They're starting the tests on the new operation system this morning."

~~~~~~~~~~

 

The computer had come to life,  Alan seated at the second console and Irmila Salonen monitoring the three display units. Illya punched in his code and watched the numbers appear on the screen and begin to scroll, saw the patterns begin to form. Numbers had always made patterns for him, patterns as satisfying as those of his music. Point and counterpoint, theme and variation, but a language for the mind, without the pitfalls of emotion.

And sometimes the patterns danced for him, like they did now, he saw the  beat on the third quarter note... he could still hear the count out: three demi coupés, a full coupé, once forward, once back.  He remembered large windows on one side, mirrors on the other. A parquet floor roughened by use, warped to the left.  He had watched the actors learn how to dance: court dances, precise and elegant. Not a class for  spies,  but it pleased him to watch them, so he'd offered to play.  He'd always rememberd the melody... his mind went blank. There was no melody, he was watching  numbers scrolling across a screen. Illya took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. How tired he suddenly felt, how cold.

...they don't remember

...a flicker at the edge of his vision and his eyes were drawn to the glasses still in his hand, he saw the numbers that danced across the screen reflected on the tinted lenses. Inside out; the dance reversed, distorted, shapeless... no, not shapeless the thought came suddenly, wrong

...Illya Nikovetch. You know the melody

something is wrong.  Something dark and cold is twisting the numbers, reshaping the patterns

remember

why is it so hard for his hand to move.  His  body is frozen

remember

an agonizing wave of tension, his hand is a stranger's hand. It's my hand, he thinks, it's my hand he remembers; this is my hand to move.

Illya pulled the emergency lever and shut off all power to the machines.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Napoleon caught him as he was putting on his coat.

"What happened in the computer room?"

"Nothing happend."  Illya put his hands in his pockets.

Napoleon curbed his irritation with effort. "According to Alan," he said carefully, "Right after the test started, you pulled the plug on the whole system without any warning. And then you left."

Illya looked at him, eyes remote, face closed. There were too many things he couldn't tell Napoleon. "There was a warning," he said. "That's why I shut it down." He brushed past Napoleon and left.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Napoleon made a face at the foil wrapped bagel still on his desk. He sighed and swept it into the wastebasket. He was thinking about things he didn't want to think about. What the hell was wrong with Illya the last few days, the way he was keeping his distance, disappearing from sight whenever Napoleon went to look for him.

They had never let their personal life interfere with their work, either one of them. He picked up a pencil and bounced the end restlessly. He'd been pushing, true, but then he wouldn't have to push if Illya wasn't such a close-mouthed... what was the point in being angry. Illya, who counted the cost of everything, who refused to ask for more than what he saw on offer, was backing away from him like a skittish horse.

He looked at the pencil in his hand. He might as well be honest with himself.  They'd been content until he started to wonder, to his own bemusement, if what they had mattered to Illya. Maybe it was his ego, maybe it was something else he wasn't ready to consider, but he needed it to matter to Illya.  Because  then he could decided how much it mattered to him. He was a fool.  He threw the pencil across the room in disgust.

~~~~~~~~~~

remember, Illya Nikovetch

A siren, she was calling him, the scratched leather case was in his hands. When he opened it this time, he concentrated, he touched the wood, the metal, he didn't think, he let the strong wave of familiarity guide him.

He put the reed in his mouth, moistening it. He was clumsy, trembling as he assembled the instrument. When he inserted the reed his fingers were awkward and fumbling, as though he were echoing his own movements, always a half beat behind his thought. But he wouldn't stop now. He took a deep breath... and he blew...

the oboe screamed; then it screamed again, a high pitched, terrifying sound

and he remembered

his eyes stayed open until the end, he didn't know which of them screamed, perhaps it was him; he could see everything they were doing to all of them, over and over; so many of them. The drugs had started to burrow into his mind, twisting every nerve in his body until all were screaming, or he was, there was no difference. Something was changing things in his head, stealing things from him, things it had no right to steal.

He kept his eyes open so he could see at them all, see them look back at him, in the room full of mirrors, the room full of ghosts. His body wracked by waves of unbearable tension, all their bodies wracked; his mind was warping around him, he had little time left he knew, they all knew, the knowledge was in all of their eyes.

He put the oboe down.

He went to stand in front of the living room mirror, his face no more than dark planes in the low light. He watched himself raise his hand, put his palm against the glass. Smooth and cool. Slowly he looked up, until he met his own eyes, he was waiting for his ghost.

At first the eyes he met looked empty, but gradually, as the glass under his hand warmed, awareness flickered in them, until finally he saw what he needed. There were two of them now, facing each other, he and his ghost. "Give it back," he said. "It's not yours to keep. Give me back what's mine." He felt the pull of the other, but he stood fast. "You had it for safekeeping. I'm not ready to join you yet."

They stared at each other, then both of their hands moved higher, and they leaned in towards each other until their foreheads touched, smooth cool glass. And when he pulled back and looked again, what Illya saw in the mirror was his own reflection. And he remembered.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Eider watched Kuryakin turn from the mirror. Nothing in the sequence made sense to him, he was a rational man, but the eerie, nervewracking scream of the instrument had filled him with foreboding. No, he was thinking, it can't be BZ 343, he'd tested it, analyzed and tested again. What was Kuryaking doing now... he was looking straight at the camera... it took him a second to register that the screen had gone black.

"Pick him up," he heard himself screaming into the phone; he took a deep breath to calm down. "Pick him up and bring him here.... I know you're technicians but... there are two of you aren't there.... you have guns...... yes, yes, double pay," he slammed down the receiver, his heart hammering. One more session with the drugs and he might still avert disaster.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

"Hello Napoleon." Illya was on the sofa, right hand on his thigh, loosely holding his gun. He had cuts on his face and arms, some still bleeding, his shirt soaking up the blood. The floor was littered with shards of mirror, glass and plaster, and with two Thrush agents stretched out face down.

"You couldn't wait for me before starting the party?" Napoleon asked.

"I wanted to moi droog, but if you insist on being fashionably late..." Illya's voice was shaky.

"Illya." Napoleon surprised himself by the intense relief and affection that came out in the word. I need you, was all Illya said on the communicator, but the tone of voice had terrified him. He sat down next to his partner and took the gun from his hand. "How badly are you hurt?"

"I'm not sure," Illya said.

Napoleon gestured to the two men on the floor. "Are they dead?"

Illya shrugged. "They were stupid. I didn't have to shoot them, so maybe not."

Napoleon looked around, it was hard to believe the two Trushmen could cause the mayhem he saw. A camera, the lens smashed to bits was hanging by a wire from a hole near the ceiling, the oboe case, twisted and broken on the floor underneath. The oboe itself was half under the sofa, the old tarnished mirror that hung on the wall was completely shattered.The glass crunched under Napoleon's soles when he went to check on the bodies. He pressed his fingers against their necks. "Alive enough to talk," he said.

Illya hadn't moved. The two men, the camera, Illya's white face... Napoleon sat down next to Illya again. "I talked to Alan before you called," he said. "He came to see me when he couldn't get in touch with you. You were right. There was something wrong with the code. An extra command that would have opened a door to an attack. Or to a thief. It was very clever he said."

"I know," Illya said. "I wrote it." He looked down at his hands. "And I entered it."

Napoleon grabbed Illya's arm, felt how stiff and cold his partner was. He turned him so they were facing each other, then he reached up and held Illya's face between his hands. "And you stopped it Illya, whatever it was, you stopped it."

"But how do I know," Illya asked, "how do I know for sure that it's over."

"Because I'm here," Napoleon said, "and I've got you." For a moment Napoleon was afraid he'd get no reaction, then Illya managed to roll his eyes.

"How you manage to squeeze that oversize ego into what looks like a normal head will never..."

"Close your eyes and be quiet," Napoleon said. For once, Illya obyed him. Napoleon put his hands on Illya's shoulder. "I have you," he said. "I have you."

Illya kept his eyes closed, concentrated on those hands, grounding him.  He took a deep breath, he didn't know how long it had been since he'd been able to do that. He took another. He wanted to tell Napoleon how it felt to be able to breathe again, but he couldn't talk, right now, he just wanted to breathe.

~~~~~~~~~~

Waverly sent him to Dr. Brunner's Clinic in Zürich, and Illya was relieved. He didn't look forward to the regimen of tests and counseling he knew was coming; he preferred to suffer and sulk through it alone, without the burden of sympathy and visitors and well meaning questions.

Dr. Brunner let him go after three weeks with a handshake, and the comment that while he might not be able to guarantee his sanity, as far as he could see, he was in no danger of any relapse from Eider's drugs.

"I still don't understand quite what you did, Mr. Kuryakin, but there seems to be no permanent damage. Long term applications of Dr. Eider's drugs would clearly alter the brain, but you were exposed to only one dose. Unpleasant procedure all around of course with his so-called conditioning, but fortunately the effects dissipated. From his notes, I gathered that Dr. Eider's experiments were getting more reckless; he'd promised Thrush too much, a dangerous game indeed. Well, he paid for it, didn't he."

He came back to New York late Saturday afternoon and when he called Waverly from the airport, was told him to make himself scarce until Monday. Illya unlocked his apartment door with a feeling both anxious and hopeful, it was empty, he was alone. The place had been cleaned and repainted though, the hole where he'd knocked the camera from the wall re-plastered. A very large, very vulgar seascape hung where the mirror had been, and Illya smiled. Napoleon would have his joke.

He took his suitcase to the bedroom and left it there. He smiled again, when he saw the new bottles of vodka and scotch sitting next to each other on the kitchen counter. He could feel his nerves settle down a notch, but his heartbeat sped up when he heard the rat tat tat on the door.

"Delivery man," Napoleon said when Illya opened the door, his smile matching the one on Illya's face. "Will Chinese do?"

"Perfect," Illya said as he let him in. "Zürich was sadly lacking in Moo Shu Pork."

Napoleon took over then, pointing Illya to the couch and telling him to stay there. He ransacked the cabinets, finding dishes Illya didn't know he had, and set them on the coffee table in front of them, until the meal looked like the celebration it was meant to be.

And then he set out to charm. It was subtle but it was deliberate. He was wrapping Illya in warmth and affection; it was the courtship they'd never bothered with. Illya thought of stopping him, he didn't need to be courted after all, but who could resist Napoleon in this mood, who would want to.  And so he joined in the the game to his partner's delight; allowed their hands to brush as they reached for their drinks, glanced at Napoleon and let the exquisite tension built between them.

"I brought a present," Napoleon said when the meal was done. He went to retrieve the large bag he'd left by the door, the bag Illya had been pointedly ignoring all evening to Napoleon's amusement. When he pulled out a new leather instrument case, Illya's breath caught in his throat.

"Go on," Napoleon said, when Illya just sat with it on his lap, a hand on either side, enjoying the solid feel of it. The latch moved as smoothly as the trigger of his gun when he opened it.

She was there. Cleaned, polished, repaired; the keys gleaming in the light. "Napoleon," Illya looked at him, unable to say more. He took the oboe out of the case, assembled it, inserted the reed. He closed his eyes and blew, and produced a note bright and true. He stopped. "I've never played for you before," he said to Napoleon.

"Do you want to?" Napoleon asked.

Illya nodded.  He though a moment then he began to play.  It  was a Russian song, a simple lyrical melody; moody and haunting, both achingly familiar, and heady and strange. The tempo quickened, the notes rose above them, then came back to earth. There were depths and shallows, light and darkness. Napoleon listened and he knew what Illya was giving him; there was no question that needed to be answered, for Illya it had always mattered and always would.

When Illya was done, they both remained silent while Illya took the instrument apart and put it back into the new case. He ran his hand over the leather after he closed it. "Thank you," he said without looking up. "I would not have wanted to lose her."

Napoleon got up to sit down next to Illya. He took the case from him and placed it on the table. "I would not have wanted to lose you, Illya." He reached up to tuck a stray strand of hair behind Illya's ear, turning the movement into a caress. He took Illya's hand and laced their fingers together. "You're not leaving any more," he said.

"Of course not, it's my apartment after all," Illya's voice was dry, but his eyes were shining and he tightened his grip on Napoleon's hand.

And when Napoleon laughed and gave him a light cuff in response, Illya pushed him down on the couch and leaned over him. "No, I'm not leaving," he said "and neither are you."

"And just how do you plan to make me stay?" Napoleon asked, heat flaring in his eyes.

"Come into the bedroom with me," Illya said after he'd thoroughly kissed him, "and I'll show you how."

 

~~~~~