The hallway was nearly pitch black, but the figure moved easily down it, crouching every few feet to look around, verify the surroundings, and then to move on again. So cautious was the figure that the faint red of an electronic eye wasn't a surprise or a concern, more of a relief.
Digging into a day pack, the figure pulled out a can of hair spray and misted the air. Immediately, a maze of beams revealed themselves.
"Now it gets fun." Years of gymnastics and dance classes came into play as the figure twisted and contorted around to weave a path through the beams. Normal people would have had to spend a week in traction afterwards, but normal was not usually a term applied to this person.
Just inches from the prize, the hall lights flicked on and a trio of well armed, very capable-looking men appeared. Straightening, the figure stared at them with calm blue eyes.
The leader started to chuckle. "Look what THRUSH has sent us, boys. We thought they were sending their best agent. Instead, they sent a little girl."
"Wrong-o, mate." She dropped the day pack, flexed her hands, and grinned. "They sent a Kuryakin."
Napoleon Solo looked at the three men, each one sporting a pound of gauze, tape, stitches and plaster.
"She said what?"
"That they'd sent a Kuryakin." The man glanced cautiously over at his Section Three CEA and Illya just shook his head.
"All right, get some rest." Napoleon waited for them to depart before walking over to his wet bar and mixing a martini. This just seemed to be the time and place for it. "Well, at least we know she takes after you."
"Not helping, Napoleon." Illya walked to the only window in the building and looked out. "Send me out. I'll bring her back."
"More like she'd send you back in a bucket, old friend. We are not the men we once were."
"I could reason with her."
"Uh huh, because that always worked so well with you." Napoleon shook the cocktail shaker and poured the contents into two glasses. "You are not going after her."
"Then what, we send more agents?"
"No, we send just one."
"Who?" Illya accepted the glass and drank before his eyes widened. "No, absolutely not, he's too green for this."
"He's my son, Illya; he was born more experienced than some of the men leaving Survival School." He sipped and shook his head. "Just hear me out. We've always had a connection, the two of us. It's like something binds us together no matter what. What if that bond continues in our kids?"
"What we have has been cultivated over time and through years of association. What you're suggesting is impossible."
"That's what they said about our partnership, about our friendship, about us. They were wrong."
"Not this time. These two, they are strangers."
"So were we, once upon a time."
"Those were three of my best men and she wiped the floor with them. She'd kill Leon."
"I'm willing to bet she won't... that she can't. She wouldn't understand it and wouldn't be able to explain it, but I don't think she would kill him."
"Then maim him permanently. It's still the same." Illya sighed. "At least let me go with him. I might be able to keep her off balance and give him a sporting chance."
"You aren't giving him much credit."
"And you aren't giving her enough. If she's my daughter, she's a force to be reckoned with."
"God knows you are." Napoleon gestured to the door. "All right, go get ready."
Leon pulled the sweat-stained tee shirt over his head and tossed it into the bottom of his locker. He vowed that come his next day off, he'd gather up all his dirty laundry and wash it. Yeah, right, like I have time in my life right now to do laundry, he thought. It was easier just to buy new and toss the old. He usually spent his day off, when it finally arrived, in bed. Occasionally, he even slept, but he usually had one or two other things on his mind. His father's blood ran fast in his veins.
He grabbed a towel and sat to remove his shoes when his attention was caught by a flurry of activity.
"You lucky bastard!" Kote scolded the second they spotted him.
"Who did you pay off or it is because you're a Section One kid? Must be friggin' nice!" Raz joined in.
The three of them had gone through Survival School together and were thick as blood. Leon grinned at one and then the other. "What are you two babbling about?" Leon asked, returning his attention to his sneakers. "Take one too many hits to the head?"
"Rumor has it you're going into the field as an active agent."
"No way, I'm still a junior. It's milk runs for all of us."
"Not you and guess who your partner is?"
"One of you guys if I'm lucky..."
"Who? Raz, who? WHO?" Leon leapt to his feet to shake his fellow agent.
Raz glanced over at Kote and beamed. "You're going out with a retired field agent. You... um... do have your will in order?" Kote sniggered and began a study of the walls.
Leon sank to the bench. "They're sending me out with an old fart? May God have mercy on my soul..."
Kote started laughing and jabbed Leon in the shoulder. "It's worse than that... it's not just any old fart."
"It's me." A voice interrupted them and the three agents spun. Illya stood there, obviously fresh from a work out, as all three agents visibly paled. Not simply because this man had the power to make their lives miserable for a very long time, but because he held the authority to strip them of all field assignments for the rest of their careers with UNCLE.
"Ah... I'm not with them..." Leon stammered out, dropping his gaze down to his knees, looking indifferent.
So unlike his father, Illya thought. Napoleon would have issued a nonverbal challenge at that point, partially to throw him off balance and partially to give himself some time to think of a snappy comeback. "If I had a dollar for every time I heard that," Illya muttered, pulling off his sweatshirt. 'Battle scarred old warhorse' Napoleon called him, but the effect wasn't lost on the younger men. He had earned each and every scar that marred his torso and with it, he issued a silent challenge. Once you look like me, then you can pass judgment, but not before. "Do you gentlemen have some place to be?" He looked over at the younger Solo. "You, agent, are with me."
Raz and Kote nearly fell over themselves in an effort to escape from the locker room and Illya watched Leon eye their departure longingly. He finished stripping and walked into the shower. After a moment, the younger man joined him.
"We're going out together?"
"Your father thinks it is wise. He feels you can accomplish what a handful of our best senior agents can not." Illya ducked his head under the water.
"To make sure you don't get yourself prematurely killed in the process." Illya lathered his hair quickly and rinsed it, then turned his attention to the rest of his body.
"And vice versa?"
"Don't flatter yourself. I wasn't taken from the field because of inability, rather because of some ancient, poorly conceived bit of doctrine. Old does not mean incapable." He rinsed and shut off the water. "You would be well advised to remember that." He left Leon standing there, his mouth slightly agape.
"He's not the enemy, Illya." Illya managed not to jump as a towel was thrust at him as he exited the shower, but Napoleon knew he'd surprised him. He'd long since learned how to read the tiniest of cues from the Russian. "You're going to need him as much as he's going to need you." Napoleon kept his voice soft and calming. "It wasn't his fault."
"No, it was mine for getting old and not having the common sense to die when I still had the option." Napoleon watched Illya move from him and shook his head slowly. As hard as field retirement had been for him to adjust to, for Illya it had been worse. Napoleon had the benefit of being removed to another world and of being isolated from Enforcement while Illya had to sit and watch younger men take his place. Benched by forces outside his control and not very happy about it, and now Napoleon was about to make it worse.
"Report to Medical when you're done and then come and find me."
"What?" Illya paused in toweling off his hair. "Why?"
"Because, Mr. Kuryakin, I am your superior and no matter what, you will do as I say. You aren't going into the field until you've been cleared." He watched a veil of anger settle over his friend's features and knew he'd be dealing with it for days to come. What's more, he didn't care. Napoleon turned and walked from the locker room. His hands might be tied, but he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. He locked eyes with his son for a moment, then turned and walked off. Leon had the sense to stay in the shower until the Russian had dressed and departed before coming out. With any luck, he'd make it through this whole affair alive.
Leon flattened himself against the floor and brought the night vision binoculars to his eyes. "Still nothing," he whispered.
"It's early. If this agent is half as good as we think she is, she's been staking this out for hours, deciding what to do and whether to move or not."
"What if she doesn't take the bait?" Leon adjusted his position slightly and snuck a quick glance to his left. Kuryakin had seemingly been motionless for hours; his focus never wavered from his target. Must be an old guy thing to be able to lie still like that he thought and returned to the lure.
"We up the ante until she can't resist. This THRUSH has her limits."
"How do you know this?"
"I just do. What's that?"
"Where?" Leon moved the binoculars to follow the point. He could barely see it now even with night vision and yet Kuryakin had spotted it with his naked eye. The man really was part cat. "There she is."
"Let her get closer. I don't want to risk spooking her now." So they lay very quietly until the figure was nearly to her prize, then at Kuryakin's curt nod, Leon hit a switch and the place exploded with lights. He was ready for it and even he had to blink from behind his arm as he shielded his face. He didn't know how it didn't completely blind her.
"You guys just don't get it do you?" Her voice carried a distinct British accent to it, much like some of the girls he'd dated when he'd been at Cambridge.
"You are so busted, babe," Leon said, slowly getting to his feet and aiming his Special at her. "You are going down."
"You and whose army, little boy?"
"Just me." Kuryakin stepped out from behind Leon and the woman paused and then grinned. Leon tore his eyes from her to the Section Three head and then back.
"Hullo Dad, I wondered when you'd show up. Never thought it would be on the coat tails of a young kid. Mom always told me such stories, wild, crazy tales about you and your partner. Said I was just like you."
"And why would you say that?"
"I don't talk as much." He aimed and pulled the trigger twice. The surprise just had a second to register in her face before she dropped to her knees, clutching her stomach and the blossom of blood that soaked through to stain the front of her turtleneck. Her mouth moved with an unspoken word and then she pitched forward and was still.
Leon stared at the fallen woman and then back at Illya "You shot her. You cold hearted bastard, you shot your own daughter."
"She wasn't my daughter, she was THRUSH. I couldn't allow her to..." Holstering his Special, he turned and caught Leon's fist square in his mouth. He spun with the force from the blow, but quickly regained his footing and faced the younger agent.
"You sick bastard." Leon tried for another punch, but Illya was ready and evaded it easily, stepping in with a couple quick jabs to Leon's stomach. It was enough to knock the wind out of him briefly and Illya slipped behind him, pinning his arms against him.
"You hit me again and I will kill you." Softer, in Leon's ear. "Play along with me." Louder, "Do you understand me, agent?"
"When I heard the stories about you, I defended you. I was wrong... you're worse."
"It matters not to me what people say. She was a threat to UNCLE, better me than someone else. Now, help me clean up this mess before reinforcements arrive."
"Why should I?"
Illya drew his weapon and aimed. "Reason one."
Leon nodded and swallowed. "Good argument. You get her feet."
Quickly, they carried the woman to the van they'd left parked in the shadows. Leon argued momentarily with the back doors before getting them open and struggling inside with his burden. Illya pulled the door shut and pounded on the partition that separated the driver from them. "Go!"
The van rumbled to life and Illya drew a deep breath as he sank to the vehicle's floor. He leaned over and slapped the woman on the arm.
"About bloody time; I was getting a crick." The woman rolled over and accepted his hand up in a sitting position. The van hit a pot hole and she fell back against him.
"You're alive." Leon looked from one blond to the other.
"Can't get anything past him, can you?" She laughed.
Illya regarded his daughter and shook his head sadly. "He's his father's son. Leon, this is Lisle. Lisle, Leon."
"This was all a set up?" Leon looked from father to daughter and back.
"I can't believe you made it through adolescence. THRUSH has an unusual and very permanent retirement plan for its operatives. It wasn't like I could just walk away." She pulled the turtleneck off and tossed it aside, revealing a bullet proof vest and two empty blood packs. "That was my favorite shirt by the way. You owe me." She struggled out of the vest and then accepted the sweater her father offered her.
"Put it on my tab." Illya pulled out his communicator. "Open Channel D."
"How did it go?" Napoleon voice's was distorted and tinny sounding.
"Aside from your son's rather amusing show of force, exactly as we'd planned. We'll be there in fifteen."
"So once I'd decided that Mom's way wasn't mine, I had to figure out a way to attract some attention without making it obvious." Lisle wiggled back against the sofa cushion, tucked her legs beneath her and held her cup of coffee in both hands. "I knew if I made enough noise, eventually someone would take notice and once I knew UNCLE was around, it was merely a matter of time."
"And your mother had nothing to say in all of this?" Napoleon poured a cup of coffee and passed it to his son.
"Sorry, she died about ten years ago. The leader said it was cancer, but with THRUSH, it's anyone's guess how it happened."
"And now what?" Leon sipped the coffee carefully, keeping his attention split between her and the older UNCLE Section Heads. "You come and work for us?"
"I don't know. I'm sort of tired of the whole spy thing. And I hear Russia's really nice this time of year."
"Your grandparents are expecting you." Illya set his cup down on an end table, completely missing the coaster there. Napoleon frowned and moved the mug appropriately. "Needless to say, they were surprised, but enthusiastic upon hearing the news. You'll be safe there for the time being."
"It's weird how one phone call can change your life," Lisle said, brushing her bangs from her eyes. She drained the cup and then stood. "I'm due at HQ for a little chat with the head guys."
"You got the heads of Sections One and Three here, who else do you need?"
"Cor, you are thick, aren't you?" She tapped her forehead. "The head guys... you know... um, shrinks you call them. Tell me again how you got to be this old?"
"I'm not old..." Leon protested, following after her.
The two of them walked from the room and Napoleon chuckled. "And all I can think of is that line from Casablanca."
"What line? Play it again, Sam?" Illya retrieved his cup and frowned. He'd only seen the movie once.
"Nope." Napoleon watched his son hot on the heels of the blond and grinned. "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."