You Can't Win Them All
Disclaimer: I don't own any part of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I only wish to borrow the characters for a while.
Note: I'm attempting to write a more serious story this time which I hope you all enjoy.
Thick black smoke billowed from the row of motel cabins. Flames licked the wooden walls of the three chalets as their occupants screamed in terror.
A car roared toward the stricken accommodation and screeched to a halt by the closest structure.
Kuryakin leapt from the vehicle and ran toward the door, barrelling into it, forcing it open. Solo close on his heels followed him inside. Amidst the choking smoke a man, woman and little girl sat back to back on chairs unable to move due to the ropes tied around them. Their cries increased as the two young men crashed into the room.
Knife at the ready, Napoleon dashed to the captives prepared to cut their bonds only to be halted by Illya's urgent warning.
"They are attached to a bomb!" Kuryakin was on his knees beside the device that rested against the woman's foot. "It is connected somehow to the ropes and will detonate if you cut them."
"Can you deactivate it?" coughed Solo as the smoke penetrated his nostrils and throat.
He needed no verbal answer as he saw his partner's nimble fingers set to work on the various wires that cascaded from the lethal box.
Interminable seconds passed before Illya spluttered. "Cut them free, Napoleon!"
Savagely Napoleon sliced through the bindings allowing Illya to drag the hostages to their feet and propel them outside.
While the man, woman and child collapsed on the grass a safe distance from the burning building, Illya and Napoleon scrambled to the next cabin.
"Napoleon... that bomb... had a... timer." Illya gasped as he slammed into the door splintering the timber. "It was... set... to explode in... one minute!"
Two men and another little girl greeted the U.N.C.L.E. agents as they burst into the flame filled room. Like the other hostages they were tied up and connected to an explosive device.
Rushing to the bomb, Illya quickly assessed the deadly apparatus then began to disarm it.
Both he and Napoleon had to ignore the desperate pleading from the captives to cut them free.
Standing back and waiting for Illya to finish was the hardest thing Napoleon had had to do in a long while. The terror in the child's eyes burned into his soul.
"Cut them free!" Illya yelled and Napoleon lurched into action, his knife slicing into the bindings.
Without ceremony, Kuryakin hauled the two men to their feet and pushed them toward the exit, while Napoleon lifted the girl into his arms and fled from the inferno.
After laying the child on the grass as carefully as haste would allow, Solo ran to rejoin his partner who was trying to kick down the door of the third cabin.
"That last bomb only had thirty seconds remaining on the timer!" Desperately Illya kicked again at the unyielding door.
Running full tilt, Napoleon slammed into the wooden barrier, falling to the floor as it gave way under his weight. Scrambling to his feet he was just able make out the two terrified women, secured in their chairs through the thick choking smoke but he could clearly hear their cries of panic.
"We haven't much time!" Illya pushed past Solo, his voice sounding thick and hoarse.
Napoleon immediately followed.
A resounding boom rent the air. The blast lifted Napoleon off his feet and flung him backwards out of the cabin causing him to land painfully on the ground, the air punched out of his lungs. Pain rippled through his body as he attempted to move and was only just able to turn his head. The sight that greeted him was the unmoving, bloodied body of his partner lying just a few feet beside him.
Three Days Later
Very slowly and deliberately Alexander Waverly filled his pipe with tobacco. It allowed him the time to study the two young agents sitting at his circular desk. He'd listened to their account of the recent mission and noted how tense the men had sounded.
Now they both sat in silence, ramrod straight in their chairs with their full attention focused Waverly's actions. Each man looked thoroughly bruised and battered.
Injuries were part and parcel of their job and would heal but Waverly was concerned. Something was very wrong with his top agents, Solo and Kuryakin. Gone was the banter the two usually indulged in, and the exchange of glances that frequently frustrated Waverly.
Since their arrival in his office Illya and Napoleon had barely looked at each other. Though they sat side by side they could have been a million miles apart.
Waverly caught the flinch Solo tried to suppress when he struck a match in readiness to light his pipe. "Gentlemen," Waverly's voice boomed in the tense quiet, startling Napoleon and Illya, clearly showing how ragged their nerves were. "Your verbal report will be enough for now. I want you both to go home and rest."
"Sir, I should like to write up my report now." Recent smoke inhalation caused Illya to sound husky.
"You need a few more days to recover, Mr. Kuryakin."
"I was discharged from the medical department this afternoon, Sir." Stubborn blue eyes regarded the head of U.N.C.L.E.
"Only because your injuries no longer require medical intervention but you still need to recuperate!" Waverly spoke sharply, and then softened his tone as he studied the ashen face of his Russian agent. "You both do."
"Yes Sir." Napoleon agreed and rose to his feet, aching muscles protesting this fresh movement.
Following Solo's lead, Kuryakin also stood making a determined effort not to sway in front of Mr. Waverly.
"I do not expect to see either of you for the next week. Is that clearly understood gentlemen?"
"Yes Sir" The two agents replied in unison and slowly walked out of Waverly's office.
Never before had the corridors of U.N.C.L.E.'s New York Headquarters seemed so long. Each step was agony for both agents. The bomb blast that hurled them through the air to crash onto the ground may not have fractured any bones but had left them severely cut and bruised. Neither man spoke as they concentrated on navigating their way through the maze of passageways.
It wasn't until they reached a junction and Illya began to turn left, that Napoleon broke the strained silence. "The way out is straight on."
"I am fully aware of that!" Kuryakin snapped. "But I have a report to write so I'm going to our office!"
"Illya? Mr. Waverly gave us orders to go home."
"I know, I was with you when he gave them. Don't you remember?" Illya's sarcasm could cut sharper than a knife; a lesser man than Solo could be crushed by the Russian's harshness but undaunted Napoleon tried again to reason with his partner.
"You need time to rest and recuperate. The report can wait."
"I can't! I want to be done with this assignment!"
"Illya," Napoleon began tentatively, "we should talk about the mission..."
"There is nothing to talk about!"
"But there is, my friend. We must..."
Clenching his jaw, Illya favoured his partner with a cold glare, his annoyance swiftly changing to hostility. "Go home, Napoleon!" Turning on his heel Illya stomped down the corridor, an action that probably caused him a great deal of pain.
Watching him go Napoleon sighed deeply. In the few conversations he'd managed to have with Illya during their stay in Medical, Napoleon had discovered Illya believed the mission had been a failure and that he alone was responsible for the deaths of the two women. Nothing he'd said could sway the young Russian from this belief. Every time Solo had reached out to console him Illya closed down his emotions and refused to discuss the tragic event. "Illya, it was not your fault." He whispered to himself before heading down the corridor to the exit.
Evening had faded into night, the skies over New York now black with a sprinkling of stars. Waverly looked out of his window, stretched and yawned. 'Time I was home', he thought to himself. 'Not as young as I used to be', he added with a grin.
Deciding to check on how his command was operating from the comfort of his office, Waverly activated the large screen above his console and sat back in his chair. Every department could be monitored by Waverly and it was his habit to check on each area before he left the building.
At this time of night only the minimal amount of staff were on duty. Even the harsh artificial lights were dimmed to a more comfortable intensity. It almost seemed as if U.N.C.L.E. had closed for the night. Of course Waverly only had to flick a switch on his console and he had an army of agents ready to do his bidding.
Communications was perhaps the busiest area, messages in and out of headquarters continued in a never-ending stream. 'If anything important comes in they'll just have to contact me at home' Waverly mused. Tonight he felt very weary.
Intending to conclude the surveillance of his Command as quickly as possible, Waverly was immediately dismayed at the sight that greeted him when another area of Headquarters was displayed on his viewing screen.
Sitting alone in the semi darkness was the forlorn figure of a young man, hunched over a table clutching a cup in both hands.
"Are my orders never to be obeyed?" Waverly snapped but his initial annoyance faded as he observed the despondent agent who studied the cup in his hands intently. Sadness seemed to radiate from him as he sat motionless. Not once did he raise the cup and drink from it but simply stared at the cooling liquid it contained, mesmerised.
Shaking his head and rising to his feet, Mr. Waverly understood that there was a young man in desperate need of his guidance. Weariness had left his body, which was fortunate, he decided, as he realised he was not going home early tonight.
The door of his office sliding open startled Kuryakin from his thoughts. Looking up quickly, he was dismayed to see Waverly enter the room. A wave of guilt washed over him as the 'Old Man' stared down at him, a serious expression on his face.
For a moment Waverly continued his intense scrutiny of his Russian agent, then he found a chair and placed it in front of Illya's desk and sat down on it.
Illya swallowed hard as he waited for the tirade to begin.
"I also prefer this time of night to catch up on my paperwork. It is, I feel, less frantic." Waverly spoke softly, catching the younger man completely off guard.
"Yes Sir," Illya managed to squeak, the soreness in his throat impeding his speech.
"But I thought I gave you instructions to go home." Waverly continued keeping his tone gentle.
"Yes Sir, you did but..." dropping his gaze to the paper he'd been writing on, Illya could no longer look Waverly in the eye.
Seeing the slight trembling of the younger man's hands and the stiffness of his posture Waverly deduced his usually resilient agent was on the edge of breaking. Harsh words could shatter him completely.
"It was not an easy assignment, Mr. Kuryakin. You and Mr. Solo did the best you could."
"But it was not enough." The words were spoken so quietly, Waverly almost didn't hear them. "The two women died." Illya raised his eyes to stare directly into Waverly's. "I failed Sir."
Noting that Illya had said 'I' and not 'We' confirmed his suspicion that the Russian believed he was solely to blame for the tragedy.
"You did not fail, young man."
"Yes, but you and Mr. Solo were not to blame. THRUSH caused their deaths."
"I should have reached them sooner! I took too long disarming the other explosives! I...!"
Waverly reached out and gripped the now shaking hands. "Illya!" His sharp tone instantly silenced his distraught agent. "You could not have done more."
Large, liquid blue eyes looked back at him, disbelievingly.
"Neither you nor Mr. Solo had enough information with which to find the hostages. It was only your relentless perseverance that enabled you to discover where they were being held."
"I took too long, deciphering the clues THRUSH left us."
"When it was obvious to THRUSH the ransom was not going to be paid they had no intention of letting them be found. Such is the evil of that organisation," Waverly explained gently. He watched as the young man once again dropped his head, his shoulders sagging as if they were carrying the weight of the whole world on them.
"It is such a waste of innocent life. It is so wrong!"
"Yes it is and it always will be if groups like THRUSH are allowed to continue operating in the world." The 'Old Man' favoured the young man with a paternal smile when he looked back up. "It's courageous agents like you and Mr. Solo who keep them from causing too much harm. It is why U.N.C.L.E. needs to exist"
"If only..." Illya subsided into silence, his energy almost spent.
"Life is full of, if only" Waverly sighed as he observed Illya slowly absorbing his words.
In that moment Illya seemed so very young and vulnerable.
Waverly squeezed the hands he still held reassuringly. "I'm sure that since childhood you have seen of the cruelty of mankind." He almost smiled at Illya's startled expression.
"While I may not know much of your personal history I am aware life in Russia during the time you were growing up must have been extremely difficult."
Illya was barely able to suppress a shudder when a few distressing memories resurfaced.
His reaction did not go unnoticed by Waverly. 'How much more can this young man take?'
"You should not shoulder the pain of this assignment alone."
"I can manage, Sir." Illya straightened up in his chair forcing the persona of the resourceful, organised agent to re-emerge.
"You don't have to." Ignoring the abrupt change in his agent's demeanour. Waverly knew the boy was still suffering. "You are partnered with Mr. Solo. This assignment has been painful for him also. He would welcome your help in resolving his hurt."
"Mr. Solo does not require my assistance."
'Of all the stubborn people I have ever met!' Waverly thought irritably but somehow he managed to keep his tone level. "How do you know? The staff in Medical said you barely spoke to each other all the time you were there."
Sorrow overwhelmed Illya as he remembered the times Napoleon had tried to talk to him but he'd staunchly refused to listen, preferring to deal with his anger, guilt and despair alone. "I didn't know what to say."
"You don't have to be strong all the time, especially with your partner. Go and find him and just talk, you will know what to say." Rising from his chair Waverly smiled down at the younger agent and with no reprimand in his words added. "And would you do as you were told and go home?"
Carefully Illya slid into the seat opposite Napoleon. "So you did not go home either?"
Napoleon lifted his head taking his attention off his coffee cup and stared at his partner. Dark eyes radiating sadness and desperation.
A wave of sadness hit Illya like a cold shower. So absorbed in his own misery he had failed to see it in his friend. "I'm sorry."
"For keeping you out. Not sharing how I felt. For being a pain in the..."
"You're always that." A ghost of a grin touched Napoleon's lips.
"I think it is time we left headquarters. The coffee in U.N.C.L.E.'s commissary is not good at the best of times and I do not believe it improves sitting in a cup for several hours?" Illya grimaced at the slimly, congealing, black liquid in Solo's cup.
"It doesn't make good conversation either. I've been holding this cup for ages and it's not said a word!"
"I promise I'll do better. If you'll let me?" embarrassed, Illya ducked his head.
Acknowledging that it was difficult for his self-reliant friend to let his emotions be shared, Napoleon stood and took Illya's arm and drew him to his feet. "Let's go to my apartment. I'll certainly be able to improve on the coffee and together we'll improve on the conversation."
Putting his arm around Illya's tense shoulders, Napoleon urged him out of the commissary. It was time to leave headquarters behind with all the troubles the enemy could throw their way and begin the process of healing, together.