Mark Slate straightened his tie and tried to look his most professional. After only a few months in New York, he still found it a bit nerve-wracking to be called in to see Waverly. It was one thing to make jokes about the head of U.N.C.L.E. North America when you were snug in the London office. It was quite another thing to face the man in his private sanctuary when he was your direct superior. Mark somehow always expected Waverly to announce that he had been discovered as a fraud, and to banish him to Papua New Guinea.
Still, he shouldn't be paranoid. It wasn't as though Waverly had singled him out. In fact, Waverly didn't seem to take it easy on anyone. He knew for a fact that Waverly was much harder on Napoleon and Illya than he was on any junior Section Two agent.
Mark entered Waverly's anteroom, and walked past Lisa Rogers. He could read sympathy in her dark eyes as she gave him a quick smile and waved him on. He returned her smile, and wondered if it was part of her job description to be so understanding. Lisa was always the one to soothe outraged agents after Waverly had given them yet another outrageously dangerous assignment. He supposed this meant he and April could kiss their milk-run assignment in Chicago good-bye. He'd been looking forward to seeing the Art Institute almost as much as not being shot at. Oh well.
He entered the inner sanctum, and found it the same as always. The ultra modern room smelled incongruously of pipe tobacco. At his desk, Waverly distractedly shuffled papers, an extremely displeased expression on his face.
"Come in, Mr. Slate," Waverly barked. "Sit down."
Mark took a seat at the central table, and waited for his boss to reveal why he'd been called here. He waited longer than he expected, and the point wasn't what he'd been anticipating at all.
"Mr. Slate, I'm afraid I have some bad news." Mark felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up, and his legs turn to lead. The only thing he could think was that something had happened to April. But April was still in the building, wasn't she?
Waverly picked a crumpled sheet of paper from off his desk and locked his eyes on it.
"We've had a message from the British Consulate about your father." Mark had a moment's relief that this wasn't about April before he realized what Waverly was implying.
"He was killed on a mission somewhere in Africa. I'm afraid the details are rather sketchy. You understand how these things are."
"Yes sir," Mark said automatically. His father. His father was a force of nature. A force of nature couldn't die.
"The funeral is to be held this Saturday, in London. Miss Rogers has booked your flight for Friday. We could move the flight up if you would like to take some of your personal days." Some back portion of Mark's mind registered the fact that for Waverly this was close to babbling. "Of course, we'll assign another team to the Fermi Labs task force."
"That won't be necessary, sir. April and I were only scheduled to inspect the security at the labs tomorrow and Wednesday. And I won't require extra time off."
"Yes sir." Mark nodded quickly and left the room with as much dignity as he could manage. What he really wanted to do was run. Run far and fast and get out of this building. He didn't want to think of anything. Not Waverly's attempt at sympathy. Not what he was feeling himself. Nothing.
"Mark, I'm so sorry." He'd almost forgotten that Lisa Rogers would be waiting in the antechamber. He usually appreciated attention from Lisa, but today he didn't think he'd survive it.
"Thanks, Lisa. Have you seen April?" He asked the question as much to distract Waverly's assistant as to get an answer.
"She might be in the cafeteria. I saw her heading that way earlier."
"You're a luv." He pecked Lisa on the cheek and fled from the room before she could say another word.
He didn't want sympathy. Not from Waverly, not from Lisa. What he did want was to talk to his partner. To try and work out how he really felt.
The cafeteria was nearly deserted. U.N.C.L.E.'s administrative staff had finished their morning break half an hour before, and only the occasional Enforcement agent drifted in to grab a coffee or doughnut.
That was exactly the way Illya Kuryakin liked it. He could enjoy his coffee and read the Times without interruption. So, it was with mixed feelings that he saw Mark Slate enter the cafeteria. He enjoyed Mark's company, but today he was in the mood for solitude. He started preparing to give the Englishman his famous Russian ice treatment, when he noticed the look on Mark's face.
He'd seen that expression before.
He'd seen it on the faces of agents who'd lost their partners, of wives who'd just been told their husbands were dead.
He hoped he would never see that look on his own face.
He sighed, folded his paper and made his decision. Inwardly, he wished it were Napoleon here, but he would have to suffice.
Illya caught Mark's eye, and gestured for him to join him. Mark forced a smile, and made his way to the table.
"Illya, have you seen April?" Mark's question soothed his worst fears. At least it was not the loss of his partner that had Mark looking like he did.
"No, not since first thing this morning."
"Oh. Someone told me she might be here."
Mark sat silently. Illya looked at him carefully, and considered. He again wished that Napoleon were here. Napoleon had the knack of making people tell him things without them realizing what he was doing. It was what made him such a good spy. Illya did not share that talent, but he did have one advantage his partner did not. He was blunt when he needed to be.
"Mark, is there something wrong?" He put all the friendship he felt for Mark in his voice. He may be blunt, but he didn't lack empathy, for all that some thought that of him.
"Is it that obvious?" Mark stared at the table, and tried not to look miserable.
"To most, probably not. But I know you, Mark." He leaned in to whisper conspiratorially in the other man's ear. "And I am a trained spy."
Mark gave a weak laugh.
"Yeah, I suppose I shouldn't try and put anything over on you." He continued to stare intently at the table. "I just got some bad news from Waverly. Found out my father was killed. Somewhere in Africa."
"Ah. I'm sorry." In general, Illya despised such automatic platitudes, but it seemed the only thing to say. "Was he in the business?"
"Sort of. SAS. Secret Ops and all that." Mark sniffed, and Illya feared he was going to cry. The younger man managed to reign in his feelings, however, and continued. "They won't even tell me how he died. Official Secrets Act, I suppose. He always seemed to be doing something secret that he could never tell anyone about, not even his family. Didn't make it easy on me, when I was a kid. 'Course, he never made it easy on himself, either."
"The easy way isn't always best, Mark."
"Christ, you sound like him." Mark gave another hollow laugh. "He always despaired of me. Thought I always wanted to find the easy way out."
"I'm sure he thought no such thing. He must have been proud of your work with U.N.C.L.E."
"I suppose. He didn't talk a lot, not about things like that. He always left things like that to my mum."
"Is she still living?" Illya asked, hoping he wasn't straying into another emotional mine field.
"Mum, yeah, she'll bury us all, including you. I should give her a call." Mark bent his head and looked at his intertwined fingers. His expression was unreadable, a set mask. He pressed his lips together, and looked back up at Illya.
"Listen, I don't want to sound ungrateful, but would you mind if we don't talk about this anymore."
"Of course." Illya knew better than to press someone when it would serve no purpose.
"Thanks." Mark relaxed visibly. "I thought you and Napoleon were supposed to be someplace exotic this week."
"Thankfully, no. Our last brush with 'exotic' resulted in sunburn and mosquito bites."
"You really do sound like my Da. You should have met him." Mark gave another shallow laugh, but this time it showed some of his old humour. "He spent half his life working against the Soviets. I bet it would have really aggravated him to have a Russian be so much like him."
"I think I shall choose not to respond to that, in honour of both your father and yourself."
"Fair enough, mate."
They were interrupted as April Dancer swept into the room. She came immediately over to their table.
"Mark, Lisa just told me. I'm so sorry." She gave her partner a firm hug, her auburn hair contrasting sharply with Mark's blond.
She sat down beside Mark, keeping one hand on his shoulder.
"Have you been looking after my boy, Illya?" She gave him a significant look that suggested if he hadn't looked after Mark properly, he would pay a high price.
"Of course, April. Section Two takes care of their own."
"Illya's been very understanding, April. Don't annoy the senior agents."
"It's what keeps them on their toes, Mark. Knowing that us young pups are just behind them, snapping at their heels.
"Ah, is that what it is. And here I thought it was just our professionalism," Illya said, playing along with April's tone. She knew her partner best, and if this was the way she thought they should act, he wouldn't disagree.
April turned back to Mark.
"Lisa also told me that you still want to do the Chicago mission. Are you sure about that?"
"It's a milk run, April. We both know that. And I'd rather do something than just sit around waiting for the funeral."
"If you insist."
"I will allow you to take me out someplace very nice for lunch, however."
"Sure. Oh damn." April's face twisted in annoyance. "I just remembered, I volunteered to pick up Chris Spicer at J.F.K. There wasn't anyone else around and she's flying in from the Amsterdam office." She checked her watch. "And her plane is due in less than an hour."
"You should get out of here, then. Don't keep Chris waiting, or she won't invite us to her next wild party."
"Wild party?" Illya asked. He'd had no idea.
"No senior agents allowed, Illya. Especially not the CEA's partner."
"Ah." No other comment was necessary.
"Take care, Mark. I'll be back soon.
"Thanks. And remember that we're flying to Chicago ourselves at 4:00."
"I won't." She leaned forward to give Mark a hug, and ruffle his hair. Illya almost thought she was going to do the same to him, but she appeared to think better of it. He was glad; it would have been terrible to kill such a charming girl.
"'Bye Mark. Illya." She flashed one last concerned smile as she tied a scarf around her head. The impossibly scarlet scarf flashed in the room, the colour bringing out April's own colouring. With one final wave, she was gone.
Illya looked at his companion.
"You are lucky to have such a partner, my friend."
"Yeah, don't I know it."
April pulled out into traffic on the Long Island Expressway. She'd checked the convertible out of the motor pool because she always thought better while driving in a car with the top down, and she had a lot to think about just now.
She was worried about her partner, and not quite sure that there was anything she could do about it. She had not yet lost either of her parents, so she didn't know what Mark was going through. She wasn't even sure what kind of a relationship Mark had had with his father. He hardly ever talked about him. In fact, until this morning, April had not been sure that Mark's father wasn't already dead.
On the positive side, Mark seemed to be holding up well. He wasn't quite himself, but neither was he overly distraught. But he could just be experiencing shock.
She shrugged. This was getting her nowhere. She would just have to wait and see how Mark was. If he needed support, she would give it to him. She would also make sure she could attend the funeral with him, if that was what he wanted. It was what they always did: looked out for one another.
She was so wrapped up in thoughts of her partner that it took her a full minute realize that she had a tail.
A beige sedan was keeping pace exactly two cars lengths behind her.
Her first thought was that she must be imagining things. She wasn't on an important mission, just picking up another agent as a favour. Why would anyone want to follow her? Of course, thinking like that got people killed.
She started varying her speed--slowing down, then speeding up radically--but the car always remained the same distance behind her.
"Not good, Dancer," she muttered under her breath.
She took another glance in her rearview mirror. The beige sedan was still keeping pace with her, a pale, ominous shadow with windows tinted so darkly she couldn't see the occupants.
"Damn you. Why couldn't you have waited a few days, whoever you are?" She looked back at the sedan, but it wasn't about to provide an answer.
She pursed her lips and made a decision. Reaching over to the passenger seat, she pulled her communicator from her handbag.
Illya had decided to stay in the cafeteria with Mark after April left. He wasn't sure what he could do, but he didn't feel comfortable with leaving Mark to himself. Napoleon would have told him it was his maternal instinct, and called him 'babushka'. Illya would have questioned Napoleon's parentage, and done exactly what he was doing anyway.
In the absence of his partner, he sat with Mark, drank sweet tea and talked about inconsequentialities
They were still in the cafeteria, talking, when the telltale alarm of an U.N.C.L.E. communicator came from within Mark's jacket. They both frowned as April's voice emerged from the activated device.
"Mark, I hate to do this to you now, but I think I'm in trouble."
"What sort of trouble, luv."
"I've had a car following me since I got on the expressway. A big, beige Ford sedan. No front license plates."
"You're sure they're following you."
"He keeps changing his speed to match mine. He's either following me, or he just likes the way I drive."
"I see your point." He thought a moment. "Do you want me to come out there."
"Not yet. It still could be nothing. But I'd like to check in with you every five minutes. If you don't hear from me, then you can call out the cavalry."
"Fair enough. I'll be waiting for your next call."
"Cheers." And she signed off.
"Christ," Mark swore, expressing Illya's feelings exactly. "This has not been a good day."
"We both know she can take care of herself." Illya decided to be the voice of reason, when his Slavic pessimism kept wanting to take over and declare the Apocalypse.
"Yeah, we both know that." Mark stared directly at him. "But it doesn't make it any easier to sit here and wait, does it."
Illya had no answer to that.
They spent the next five minutes waiting in grim silence for April's call. At six minutes they were both staring at the communicator, willing it to respond. At ten minutes, they knew something had gone seriously wrong.
Illya was the first to break the silence.
First he called his own partner, and asked Napoleon to meet them in his office. Then he called communications, and found out that the tracer on April's communicator had been activated. He asked them to determine her location and let him know what it was. Those tasks complete, he hauled Mark to his feet and began to guide him out of the cafeteria.
Mark, who had quietly sat through everything, shook off the hand at his elbow.
"I'm fine, Illya. Really."
He looked at the younger agent skeptically.
"O.K., I'm not fine. I'm worried as hell, I'm sick at what might have happened to April. And this was not the best day for this to happen. But I'm dealing with it. I'm functioning. And I'm going to help see this through."
Illya looked at the younger agent in unsentimental appraisal. Mark was his friend, but so was April. He would not endanger her to placate Mark.
Mark looked back at him from a face that was worried, and grief-stricken. Mark was right; this had not been a good day for him. On the other hand, it did not look like his problems were going to break him. Worried he might be, but there was still confidence in his eye, and strength in his bearing.
"Yes, you are," was all he said, before returning his hand to Mark's arm, and shooing him in the direction of Napoleon's office.
"No arguments from you?" Mark sounded surprised.
"I believe you are capable of dealing with this. I will also convince Napoleon of that fact, should he doubt it. Is there anything else."
"No," Mark said, relief apparent in his voice. "Thank you, Illya."
They walked the rest of the way in silence.
Napoleon was waiting for them in the enforcement office, puzzlement evident in his face.
"Mark, Illya, what's going on?"
Illya took over, knowing that he could explain things best to his own partner. He told him what April had told them, when she had disappeared, and what their fears were. He also gave a possible plan of action.
"April disappeared on Long Island. I don't believe Thrush would risk transporting an U.N.C.L.E. agent too far, so they must have a satrapy in the area. If one of us stays here to search for signs of a Thrush enclave on Long Island, the other two can track down April's homing signal."
"Sounds good to me. I'll stay here and lead the research team. You two can go to Long Island."
Silently, Illya blessed his partner for realizing that Mark had to be allowed to be part of this. He turned to Mark.
"Illya, you don't have to baby me. I can . . ."
Napoleon interrupted him.
"Don't even try, Mark. He never lets me drive, either." He pursed his lips. "I want both of you to be careful. Whoever grabbed April could be starting a collection of U.N.C.L.E. agents."
"Don't worry, Napoleon. I'll take care of Mark."
Napoleon smiled. "I'm more worried about you, tovarisch. You seem to stumble into these situations more than he does."
Illya knew better than to be insulted. He reacted with the mild annoyance that his partner expected of him. "Hmmph. You are one to talk." He started out of the room. "We'll call as soon as we've found anything."
One last thought stopped him on the way out.
"I'll give him a full report." Napoleon waved them out of the room. "Now, get."
Illya didn't need to be told again, and neither did Mark. They both strode out of the office, anxious to be on their way. Illya just hoped that when they reported to Napoleon, they would have good news.
Illya drove along the Long Island Expressway with a blatant disregard for speed limits. His partner would have long since made a sarcastic remark about his driving, but Mark Slate had all his attention on the homing receiver in front of him.
He knew how Mark felt, mostly. Napoleon had been the one captured enough times. Illya preferred to be the one captured rather than the one left to pick up the pieces. As the partner left behind you had more than Thrush to combat. You also had to fight your own imagination, the impulse to envision the absolute worst that could happen to your partner.
But Mark had more than even that to deal with. Mark was under the added pressure of being partner to the first female Section Two agent. They all knew that if anything happened to April, Waverly would probably exile her partner to Antarctica, no matter that her disappearance had not been his fault. Not to mention the fact that Mark and April had become best friends.
All this on top of Mark losing his father. Today. Too many losses.
Illya tried to remember how he had felt when his own father had died, but failed to draw up anything besides a dull ache. He had been a child, and that had not been a good time even without his father's death. In this case, he simply could not imagine how Mark felt.
Shaking his shoulders loose, Illya focused on the road. He wasn't going to dwell on the grief. He would concentrate on finding April, on the one thing he could actually change.
Mark directed him to the next exit, and they found themselves in a run-down industrial area. Many of the buildings seemed to be abandoned, and none were well maintained.
They found April's car in the parking lot of an derelict factory; her communicator pen left on its homing signal and hastily stowed under the driver's seat. The interior of the car showed signs of a struggle: the contents of the glove box were spread on the floor and the scarf April had been wearing was caught in the rear view mirror. The brilliant red of the scarf seemed a reproach to him, a tangible reminder that he had not been here when needed.
Mark picked up the scarf and pulled it through his fingers, as though its touch had the power to tell him where his partner was.
"She's not here." Illya was a bit shocked to note that Mark sounded lost. In spite of the Englishman's youth, or perhaps because of it, Mark always managed to sound cheerful, even in impossible situations.
"We'll find her, Mark." He pulled out his own communicator. "Open Channel D. Napoleon, are you there?"
"Right here." Illya found just hearing his partner's voice comforted him. "Good news or bad?"
"We've found April's car, but she's not in it. It looks like she's been taken."
"That may be an understatement. Have you found any links to Thrush on Long Island?"
"A few promising leads, but nothing positive yet."
"Let us know when you find something. We'll check the warehouses in the immediate area."
"Fine. Tell Mark not to let you do anything foolish."
"I'll try, old son," Mark said over Illya's shoulder. Slate's voice sounded remarkably normal, but Illya had only to look in his eyes to see the strain was starting to tell on him.
"You do that." Napoleon signed off.
Illya looked at Mark Slate appraisingly.
"How are you doing?"
"Fine," Mark said with minimal expression. There was a tightness around his mouth and a strain in his eyes, but Illya was still confident that he would be able to function.
"Then let's go." He looked at the industrial park surrounding them. "We have a lot of ground to cover."
They drove in silence after finding April's car. Illya kept the wheel, while Mark just sat and thought. He thought about what could have happened to April, about where she might be. About whether she was still alive.
He didn't realize he was holding tightly onto the dashboard until he felt a hand gently prying his fingers loose. He glanced over to see Illya looking at him with concern.
"We'll find her Mark. Napoleon will find a way."
Mark nodded, then found his own voice.
"Does it get any easier? Not knowing if they're alive or not?"
Illya pressed his lips together and shook his head.
"Not really." He paused, holding the steering wheel in a death grip. "You get used to it, but it's never easy."
"I hope I never get used to it." Mark said with vehemence.
"It's a survival tactic. It doesn't mean you care any less."
Mark realized his mistake.
"God, Illya, I didn't mean to say . . . I know how close you and Napoleon are."
"Don't worry, Mark. I know what you're going through." And Mark knew he did. No one had been declared dead more often than Solo and Kuryakin. He often wondered at their resilience. Maybe they just both believed in the other's immortality, in spite of all the death they had seen.
"Spasibo, moy droog."
"N'ye za shtoh."
They completed the remainder of the drive both locked in their own thoughts.
By the time they reached U.N.C.L.E. HQ, Illya could feel an increasing tightness in his hands and shoulders. It was worse than when Napoleon was missing. At least Illya was confident in his own ability to deal with these situations, and in his partner's ability to survive them. But this was the first time Mark, or April, had gone through anything like this.
Mark looked drained, but was still holding up. He was functioning, was still reasonably calm and could think rationally, which was more than Illya could say for some rookie Enforcement agents. There were some senior agents who didn't handle stress this well.
The two of them strode through the halls of U.N.C.L.E. to Research, where Napoleon was waiting for them.
Napoleon was talking with a group of the research team. All of them were frowning over a series of printouts, and all looked exceedingly grim.
Illya caught his partner's eye, and they moved to a corner of the room where they were away from the team and, more significantly, away from Mark.
"Well?" Illya asked.
"We may have something."
"I assume from your looks that it isn't all good news."
"You could say that." Napoleon looked over at Mark, who was anxiously peering over the shoulder of one of the researchers. "How is he holding up?"
"He's fine, so far. Stop stalling."
"Sorry." Napoleon gave a slight smile. "There are two warehouses on Long Island that have possible Thrush connections. One is close to where you found April's car; the other is a 40 minute drive away. It's the second warehouse that seems to have the closest connection to April and Mark. Do you remember Theo Rapos?"
"I know that he's rather high in Thrush North America."
"Mark and April had a run in with him about two months ago, just after they started working in Enforcement. They shut down most of his intelligence operation. And Mr. Rapos has a history of taking revenge, rather violently."
"I don't think we should tell Mark that last part."
"He's a big boy, Illya."
"I know that. But I don't want him anticipating the worst before he has to. He's doing that without any prompting."
"Okay, babushka. I bow to your superior wisdom."
"Don't start, Napoleon. It's been a long enough day."
"And it's only going to get longer." The American looked over at Slate, who was talking animatedly with a member of the research team. "Christ, were we ever that young?"
"I was never that young. And as for you, I don't think you've ever grown up."
A snort from Napoleon was the only response he received.
Napoleon looked around the room again, his head tilted to one side. "I think it's about time we tell Mark, and everyone else, the plan."
"What is the plan?"
"You and I are going to lead an assault force on the warehouse.
"Won't that put April in danger?"
"Looking at Rapos' profile, we've decided speed is preferable to subtlety." A grim, hard look had returned to Napoleon's face
"Remember Tomlinson and Leclair?"
Illya thought back. The two agents had been captured and tortured by Thrush several years ago. Both had ended up crippled, physically and emotionally, and both had been detrained and pensioned off.
"Uh-huh." He pursed his lips before continuing. "He's not a nice guy, Illya. Waverly decided, and I agreed, that it's worth the risk to try and pull April out fast."
"If she's still there." Illya hated to confirm the stereotype of the pessimistic Slav, but he just seemed to think that way.
"We've had the warehouse under surveillance for the last 20 minutes. There's been no movement in or out."
"That's one good thing." They were nearly to Slate when Illya stopped and turned to his partner. "Let me tell Mark."
"Be my guest. I wasn't looking forward to it myself."
As it turned out, Mark was the consummate professional. He listened to the plan, asked relevant questions, and agreed readily to his role. It didn't hurt that his role was to go in with the first team and find April.
Illya volunteered to go in on the first team as well. Napoleon would be with the team that followed.
As they all trooped into the locker room to change into assault gear, Illya was pleased to note that Mark looked determined, with none of the skittishness one might expect of an agent in his position.
Now if they could just manage to find April . . .
April Dancer awoke in near darkness, unsure of what had happened.
She seemed to be lying on a concrete floor, curled in on herself. When she tried to move, she found her hands bound together in front of her. Not good.
Adrenaline raced through her system, bringing her fully awake. With a gasp, she pushed herself upright, and sat against the wall.
And remembered it all.
The car chase through Long Island, trying to lose her pursuers in streets she was barely familiar with. The realization that her opponent was a more skilled driver. Getting trapped by two more cars in back of an abandoned factory. Hiding her communicator, its homing signal on, in hopes that Mark would be able to find her. Being dragged from the car. Darkness.
She remembered it all.
But she still didn't know where she was now. Or why.
Using a technique Illya had shown her, she calmed her mind and considered her predicament.
Not only were her hands bound, but a quick check revealed that all explosives, detonators and lock picks had been removed from her clothes. Her eyes had adjusted to the dim light, and she could see her surroundings. The concrete cell was perhaps 10 feet square, with a solid looking metal door. There was a tatty looking metal cot in one corner, and a bucket in the other.
The cell was bad.
What was worse was not knowing why she was here.
She and Mark weren't working on anything vital at the moment. They'd finished a grueling assignment last week, and Waverly had given them some down time. They were to leave for Chicago this afternoon - was it still afternoon? - to perform a mostly ceremonial role at a Fermi lab security check. It couldn't be anything current.
Which meant it had to be someone with a grudge.
Napoleon had warned her about that aspect of their profession: past opponents with an ax to grind coming after you for the sheer fun of it.
She stood, and kicked at the door, frustration welling inside her.
"Let me out, damn you." She knew no one would pay attention to her, but she had to spend the rage growing inside her. "Open up." Kick. "Open this bloody door now!"
Unexpectedly, the door did open. April stopped, momentarily startled. She recovered quickly, and stood, poised to take advantage of any opening she was given.
A man entered the cell, a gun held before him in an easy, comfortable grip. He was an unremarkable looking man, in his late forties. If April had passed him on the street she would barely have glanced at him. But now he stood facing her in an isolated cell, a gun in his hand, and an unmistakable look of hatred on his face.
It took a moment for April to realize she had seen him before, and a moment longer to remember the name.
"Rapos," she said, doing her best to hide her emotions.
"I'm pleased you remember, Miss Dancer." An unpleasant smile crept onto the man's face. "It saves me having to explain why you're here."
"You might say that." His grip tightened on the gun, and he waved April towards the cot. She moved toward it, and sat down, hard.
"I think it's reasonable to take revenge on the person who has destroyed your career."
"Thrush Central didn't forgive your failure, I take it."
She was struck across the face with the gun before she could register his movement. The world went grey around her, and she struggled to maintain consciousness.
"Keep quiet." He raised his hand again. "Insolence will be swiftly punished."
She almost made another comment, but stopped herself. Instead she bit her lip, and looked down at the floor, biding her time until she could see her way out of this mess.
"That's better." She could almost see the self-satisfied smile on his face. "As a female, you should know your place in this business."
So that was it.
"You're angry that you were defeated by a woman."
His face flushed quickly.
"I'm angry that I was defeated by a child. A neophyte in the game. And your partner is no better. He's barely been in the field longer than you have." Rapos puffed out his chest. "Two children beat me, and suddenly I am no longer trusted. Thirty years of loyal, fearless service, and I am now considered expendable. All because of you and that boy . . ."
He quieted down, and leaned toward April, his face so close to hers that she could feel his breath on her face.
"It is for that reason, child, that I am going to show you what fearlessness is. You and your partner, if he has the nerve to show up."
April bit her lip, and considered.
Things would go easier for her, she knew, if she acted weak, gave Rapos what he expected: a frightened inexperienced agent. That was the smart thing to do.
She found she didn't want to do the smart thing.
She almost laughed. She was always scolding Illya for making things worse for him by antagonizing his captors when Thrush, and others, got hold of him. She'd asked him why he did it, and he'd never been able to explain. Now she knew.
He did it to keep his self-respect, his identity. To prove that, for the moment, he was still in charge of his own destiny.
She needed to prove all of that to herself, so she did the only thing she could.
"Go to hell, Rapos." She spit out the words.
Rapos' brief look of shock was almost worth the beating the followed.
Slate crouched behind a trailer outside the Thrush warehouse with the rest of the first assault team, and concentrated on his breathing. He was trying desparately not to think about anything else, but was failing miserably.
His father had always told him that if he could think only about his breathing, he wouldn't have time to think about how nervous he was. Now, as he waited for the signal to begin the assault with his heart beating too fast and his palms slick with sweat, he wished that advice had come from someone else. He couldn't keep thinking about his Da. Not now.
His father was never coming back, however much he wished otherwise. But he could save April. If he concentrated on what he was doing.
He tightened his grip on the stock of his rifle and looked down its sight at the warehouse. There had been no movement around the warehouse for the past two hours. He hoped that was good news.
"Okay, people. Move in. You know the drill." Solo's voice sounded in his headset.
Slate looked over at Illya and nodded his readiness. When the other members of the team had done the same, they all ran quickly toward the building.
Mark felt his tension evaporate as he began to move. Now there was only the job ahead of him.
He and Illya had been assigned the job of blowing the door, and they completed the task quickly and easily. When the door was a heap of smoking rubble, he saw Solo's team begin to advance on their position. He and Illya were already inside.
The change in light was shocking. It was dusk outside, the light of day fading, but inside there was barely any light at all. Mark found himself blinded for several seconds, as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. He hoped Thrush had not set up sentries inside the door.
He blinked as he began to make up shapes in the warehouse, and finally called a clear. Illya followed calling the area around him clear. The remainder of the team began to filter in after them.
The warehouse had been subdivided into a warren of hallways and small rooms. The team split up into pairs, with Illya and Mark moving right. Mark could sense April's presence in here somewhere; he just hoped his instincts would guide him to her.
The warehouse was silent except for the sounds of his breathing, the clatter of his boots on the floor, and the occasional status call from another agent in his ear.
Without warning, there was an explosion of movement to his right. He rolled to the floor and came up firing. Two Thrush went down. Illya ran up behind him, then they both moved in the direction the men had come from. If they had guards placed anywhere, perhaps it was to keep prisoners secure.
The two of them ran through the halls, the silence of the warehouse broken now and then by the sounds of gunfire. Mark hoped the good guys were winning.
He and Illya came to a branching of the hall, and without even talking about it, they split up. The increase in risk meant they might find April that much sooner.
The light got even dimmer as he got farther inside the complex. It was beginning to look more like an interrogation area. The walls here were made out of cinder block rather than sheet rock, and the doors were made of steel. Mark checked every door and niche, hoping that each one would hold his partner.
In the end, he almost missed her.
He'd opened yet another door to reveal what was obviously a cell. There were restraints on the wall, a bucket in the corner and a small cot to one side. On the cot was a small bundle of rags. He was just about to close the door again when the rags moved, and he caught a flash of auburn hair.
"April!" He was at her side in a flash. She wasn't conscious. "April, luv, you have to wake up." He was beginning to worry that she was too drugged, or injured, to respond, when her eyes opened.
"Mark?" She blinked painfully. "Christ, I must be dreaming."
"No dream, luv. But we've got to get you out of here." He looked her over. "Is there anything broken? Any internal injuries?"
Saying April Dancer did not look well would have been an understatement of epic proportions. She had obviously been beaten. Her face was scraped and bruised. Mark was willing to bet her entire body was covered with bruises.
She shook her head. "It's all superficial, Mark. They'd only started in on me."
"Did they . . ." He couldn't say the word.
"No, Mark. It's just superficial." She touched her face gingerly. "Although I'm sure it looks rather nasty."
"Can you walk?"
She nodded, and he helped her to her feet. She moved stiffly, but she could move. He put an arm gently around her shoulders, then spoke into his headset.
"Team Leader, this is Bulldog Three. I have the package. Making my way back."
"This is Bulldog Two. I'll move to your position." That was Illya.
"Negative Bulldog Two. Package can travel. Will meet you at junction."
"Bulldog Three, this is Team Leader. Go on your plan."
Mark was more pleased than he'd thought possible that Napoleon had trusted his judgment.
They began to make their way through the complex. Their progress was slow, but April was holding up well. They were nearly at the junction where he and Illya had split up when Mark noticed a movement up ahead.
Without thinking, he pushed April into a doorway and followed after her. Almost before they were through the door, a rain of gunfire traced their path. He slammed the door behind him, and called in a frantic request for help, even as he made sure that April was under cover.
"Bulldog Three, under attack. Package is still safe."
"Bulldog Two on the way. Team Leader, you'd better get down here."
"Acknowledged. This is Team Leader. Assault team converge on Bulldog Two's position."
Mark made his way behind the desk where he'd insisted April wait. He found her crouched almost under the heavy wooden desk, shaking a bit, but still determined.
"Are you hit?" He checked for fresh blood on her already bloodstained clothes.
"Mark, I'm fine." She sounded calmer than he felt. "Don't worry so much."
He almost believed her, but he could still see the fear shuttered behind her eyes. "One of us has to, luv. You never were the worrying type." He put an arm around her.
"Not like you," she snorted, then a serious look crossed her face again. "Are they on the way?"
"Yeah. Illya and Napoleon should both be here soon."
"Well let's hope our feathered friends don't decide to take us at all costs before they get here," April said, a sour look on her face.
"I thought you didn't worry?"
She didn't reply, but just gave him a small punch on the arm.
They had peace for almost twenty full seconds when another blast of automatic fire raked across the door. Mark saw April convulsively jump, and patted her arm reflexively.
"S'All right, luv," then into the headset, "You'd bloody well better move it, Illya. Our friends are right outside."
Another blast hit the door.
"I'll be there soon." Illya's voice sounded breathless through the headset.
"It better be soon enough," Mark muttered under his breath. He made a decision, then squeezed April's shoulder. "I'm going to guard the door, in case they get through. I want you all the way under the desk. I'll feel better if I know you're safe."
April looked on the verge of protesting. She acquiesced at the last minute, but not without making a request.
"Fine, but give me your handgun. I feel exposed without a weapon."
"As you like." He pressed the Special into her hand.
"Thanks." She gave him a quick, shaky smile and a kiss on the cheek. "Now, go get the bad guys."
He stood guard to one side of the door. For a few seconds, there was nothing. The silence was such that he could hear the whirring of the ventilation system, and the occasional muted sound of action from elsewhere in the warehouse.
What finally broke the silence was worst than the expected attack. An unpleasantly familiar voice started addressing them from outside the door.
"Well, I seem to have both of the children trapped in one place. How convenient."
Mark could almost see the satisfied smile on Rapos' face. He'd barely had any contact with the man when they'd crossed paths several months ago, but Rapos had made a nasty impression on him.
"What should I do now? I could throw in some tear gas grenades. That would get you out here. But it would hardly be sporting." There was an evil laugh. "I do so want to be sporting."
Mark kept quiet. He knew Rapos was only trying to get a rise out of them. Force them to react before help could reach them.
"I could simply blow up the room. But that lacks a certain elegance. And satisfaction."
There was a longer pause. Mark gritted his teeth, hoping Illya was very close indeed.
"I've made up my mind. But I don't think I'm going to tell you. I'll keep you guessing. That will be much more fun. For me."
Mark tightened his grip on his rifle and readied himself for the worst.
It wasn't long coming.
There was an impact on the door and it burst open. A Thrush foot soldier flew through the door. Mark shot him before he could even aim, and he fell, lifeless to the floor. Immediately on his heels, another Thrush followed, firing as he came through the door. Somehow, Mark managed to shot him as well.
Mark began to think that he could handle this one too, that everything was going to be fine, that he, April, Illya and Napoleon would be sharing a pint at McSorely's this evening. Then Rapos himself entered the room.
Mark pulled the trigger on his rifle, and found the weapon had jammed. Of all the times for that to happen . . .
Rapos didn't press his advantage immediately. He smiled at the young agent, as an indulgent father would at a child who's made a mistake. Only then did he raise his own weapon and fire.
Mark felt an impact in his chest that tore through the light flak jacket he was wearing.
His first thought was surprise that it didn't hurt.
His second thought was shock, as the pain ripped through him, turning his world red.
His third thought was one word: April.
He was unconscious before he even hit the floor.
April crouched under the desk, holding Mark's special. She had to concentrate to keep her hands from shaking, but figured she wasn't doing too badly for someone who had just been rescued from a brutal interrogation.
The sound of Rapos' voice had given her a turn, but she had forced herself to stay calm. She just reminded herself that the man was a bully looking for a reaction. Neither she nor Mark was going to give it to him.
The attack on their position was the worst. She couldn't really see, but she tried to follow events by sound. She recognized the sound of Mark's U.N.C.L.E. issued rifle. It seemed he had taken out two or three members of Thrush. But then there was an eerie silence, which was broken by a shot that did not come from Mark's gun.
Then the voice started up again.
"Your partner is dying little girl. Don't you want to come out and say good-bye? Or perhaps you can even save him."
She heard footsteps begin to move toward her position. She relaxed her shoulders, and got ready to act.
She had to decide if she was fast enough to beat Rapos.
She knew she was fast. The only record she hadn't beaten at Survival School was still held by Illya Kuryakin.
But was she fast enough here, in the field? When her partner's life was in the balance?
"I don't think I'm going to give you the chance to save him, little girl. He's not looking at all well. I think I'll do him a favour and finish him off now." She heard the sound of a gun being cocked.
She stopped thinking, and just acted. She rolled and stood, aiming where she judged Rapos was.
Rapos was waiting for her, of course.
April fired, after only a fraction of a second to confirm her target. Rapos fired a second later.
April's shot took Rapos firmly in the centre of the chest. He was dead before he hit the floor. Rapos' shot went wide, but not wide enough.
April felt the impact in her arm, but there wasn't any pain immediately. She ignored her own injury and went quickly to her partner.
She began to staunch the blood from Mark's wound with one hand, while keeping the other hand firmly on Mark's gun. Her world had narrowed to the point where it included only one slight Englishman. She was ready to take on all of Thrush to save her partner. She was damned if she was going to let a little thing like a bullet wound take him from her.
Illya reckoned he was just two turns from Mark's position when he heard another blast of gunfire ahead of him. This time it sounded like a shotgun.
"Mark, what's happening?"
When there was no answer from his headset, he swore, in Russian and English, and sped up.
He turned the last corner, and found the room where Mark and April must have taken cover. The walls were pocked with bullet holes, and the door hung half off its hinges. There was also a body in the doorway. He noted thankfully that it was neither Mark nor April.
"Mark, answer me." He approached the door along the wall, a feeling of dread building in his gut. "April. Are you there?"
"Illya." April's voice seemed curiously far away.
Illya reached the door, and entered cautiously, his rifle up. He found two more Thrush bodies in the room, and April bent over a third man, a Special in her hand.
"They shot him, Illya. I think he's dying."
He flung his rifle aside and moved to help April.
"Agent down! Napoleon, get in here now. And bring the medic." He ripped off his headset before he got a reply, and moved to Mark's side. The young Englishman had been shot in the chest. His pulse was weak and thready, but he was somehow still alive.
"He's still hanging on, April. And we're going to keep him that way." He looked up at April, and noticed that she was bleeding too.
"You've been shot as well."
"I'm fine Illya. Look after Mark"
"I'll look after Mark, if you tie off that wound. I don't want you going into shock."
April looked at him stubbornly for a moment, and then nodded. She ripped a piece off the bottom of her shirt and began binding it around the wound.
Satisfied that April was fine for the moment, Illya turned to her partner.
Mark's wound was not going to be solved by a simple bandage. He was bleeding from the chest. Illya applied pressure to the wound, trying to staunch the flow of blood. The younger agent struggled under his hand, but remained unconscious.
"What the hell . . ." There had been few times Illya had been as glad to see his partner, but for now there would be no celebration. Instead he delivered a concise report of the facts.
"The Thrush men are dead. Mark is bleeding badly. April has a gunshot wound to the arm. She might go into shock. And that medic had better be on the way."
"He is. What can I do?" Napoleon looked around, uncertain as to his role, now that the shooting was finished.
"Check April's wound, and keep her calm and warm."
"You've got it." From the corner of his eye, Illya saw Napoleon retie April's bandage. Then he took his jacket off and put it around April. He sat beside her, rubbing her back in a comforting gesture and talking to her in a low voice. Satisfied that she was being looked after, he returned his attention to Mark.
Illya kept pressure on Mark's wound, and hoped that the medic would arrive soon. It wasn't the worst chest wound Illya had ever seen, but it was bad enough. And worse yet, Mark was beginning to come around.
Mark pushed weakly at Illya's hand, trying to dislodge the one thing that was keeping him alive.
"Mark," Illya said, attempting to break through the haze of pain he knew was surrounding his friend, "you've got to keep still."
"It hurts," Mark gasped out.
"I know it hurts, but it'll hurt worse if you move." He grabbed one of Mark's hands. "Do you understand?"
Mark bit his lip and nodded, his face distorted with the pain. He strained to take in a lungful of air.
"'M not going to make, am I mate? 'M going to say hello to my Da in person."
Illya took a second to answer. The wound was bad, very bad, but if the medic got here soon, and Mark fought as much as Illya knew he could, then the Englishman should be recover.
"You're not ready to join your father just yet, Mark."
"Just hold on. Keep fighting it."
"Mark?" April's voice was steadier than Illya knew it had any right to be. "Mark, you better bloody well be all right. If you die, I'll hunt you down and kill you."
Mark smiled, even as a trickle of blood appeared at his mouth.
"All right, luv. Whatever you say." His words came out as a mere whisper, but Illya knew April had heard them.
He had thought things were bad enough. But then, Mark began to convulse beneath his touch.
"Relax, Mark. Just think about breathing. Don't concentrate on anything but taking in your next breath.
"Christ, Illya, you are too much."
Illya looked at his charge, to find the younger man was laughing.
"What . . ."
"R'member I said you were like my Da?" Mark paused to take a laboured breath. "Well, he used to do that concentrate on your breathing stuff, too." Mark started laughing again, only stopping when he was clearly overcome by pain. "It would have killed him to know there was a Russian agent just like him."
Illya could only raise his eyebrows for a moment. Mark was continually full of surprises.
"We must talk about your father sometime," was all he could say.
"Yeah," Mark said. He looked on the verge of saying something else, when he shuddered with pain. Things were getting worse.
Illya held him tighter, helping him ride out the pain, while calling on the headset for the medic to hurry. The medic, with two assistants in tow, arrived maybe thirty seconds later, and Illya suddenly found himself displaced. He watched, more disquieted than before, as Mark was stabilized, and bundled onto a stretcher.
Two more agents with a stretcher followed soon after, and took April away.
Illya followed behind, worried for the two young people being hustled through the warehouse, and glad that it was not his partner who had been shot.
As he left the warehouse, and entered the parking lot, Napoleon came over and stood beside him.
"How's he doing?" Napoleon asked, the concern apparent in his voice.
"I told him he will be fine." His own voice sounded dead to him.
"Well, he'll have to be fine. No rookie agent is going to prove Illya Kuryakin wrong."
As he followed Napoleon back to their car, Illya hoped he was right.
The first thing he knew was pain. It felt like someone had been standing on his chest. No, it felt like an elephant had been standing on his chest.
The second thing he knew was that he was, somehow, still alive. After all, you wouldn't feel pain if you were dead. Would you?
He drifted in this state, knowing he was in pain, and alive, but not knowing much else, for some time; might have been hours, might have been days. Then he got the bright idea that maybe he should open his eyes.
With his eyes open, he saw he was in what must be a hospital bed, surrounded by a curtain. In spite of the featurelessness of the place, he knew it was the U.N.C.L.E. infirmary. That was comforting. He couldn't be that badly off if they hadn't packed him off to the ICU of a New York hospital.
He stared at the curtains, doing a mental inventory of the various aches and pains that called for his attention. Pain in arm? I.V needle stuck there. Irritated nose and throat? Tube down nose. Burning ribs? They must have had to crack his chest, god help him. Tearing pain in chest? The incision where they'd stitched him up.
He tried to shift in the bed, and found he couldn't move. He looked down and found he was held in place by medical restraints. That, more than anything else, caused a swell of panic to rise within him. And with that panic, came other thoughts.
What had happened after he passed out? Had any other agents been injured in the rescue of his partner? How was his partner?
The questions about his partner were what he most didn't want to think about. What had Rapos done to April? Was she really not injured too badly? Was she more than physically injured? Would she still be capable of being his partner?
That last thing was what bothered him most: the thought that April Dancer might not be able to work with him any more. He knew that some of the other male agents just reckoned he was sleeping with April, but that couldn't have been further from the truth. April was sister and best friend rolled into one. He was closer to her than he'd been to any other partner, or any other friend for that matter. To bring sex into that would spoil it.
He just wanted her back, body and spirit whole.
He finally remembered one last thing he hadn't wanted to recall.
His father was still dead.
He grimaced. He seemed to be doing rather a lot of thinking about things he didn't want to.
A noise in the hall, the sound of a footfall, startled him.
"No. It's Illya." A blond head peered from around the corner of the curtains surrounding his bed. "You're awake, then."
He had a vision of Illya's concerned face hovering above him as he lay on the warehouse floor, hoping he wasn't bleeding to death. He shook the vision off.
"Awake and alive." He met his colleague's eyes. "I didn't expect to be either."
"Didn't I tell you that everything would be well?"
"I hate to admit it, but I thought you were lying. Easing a dying man's thoughts, and all that."
"I never lie to friends." Mark thought that Illya sounded affronted. "Not even to dying friends."
"I'm not sure if that's a comfort or not." Mark tried to shift, and found himself held in place again. "Anything we can do about these?"
Illya jerked, as if seeing them for the first time. "I'd forgotten." He started swiftly removing the bindings. All Enforcement agents knew the horror of being tied up, Illya more than others. "You were delirious. They were afraid you would tear open the incision."
"I don't remember."
"I expect not."
Mark finally asked what he really wanted to know.
"How is April?"
"She's doing well," Illya answered quickly.
"Don't hold anything back, Illya."
"Remember, I don't lie to friends. April had received a beating, and she was shot in the arm by Rapos, but had no serious injuries."
"That's all." Illya went to the head of the bed and pulled the curtains back slightly. "If you don't believe me, you can ask her yourself, when she wakes up."
Mark looked to the gap in the curtain. There was another bed in the room, and on that bed was his partner. She was curled in a ball on her side, wearing clothes that were several sizes too big. Her face was swollen in spots, and turning alarming shades of purple, but her sleep appeared peaceful.
"She insisted on staying with you. Said it would help your recovery if you had her to complain to."
"She's the complainer, not me," Mark said, a smile playing his lips.
April stirred at that point. She didn't open her eyes, but she did speak.
"He's a congenital liar, Illya. Don't pay any attention to him."
April Dancer stretched, a graceful movement in spite of her bruises and ill-fitting clothes. She stood, and was at her partner's side in a single fluid motion.
"Hey, kiddo. How's it going?"
"Not very well. I feel as though I've been split in two."
"You nearly were.
Mark grimaced. "Thanks for reminding me."
"Just ignore her, Mark," Illya said. "In my experience, partners just wait until you are in hospital so they can make your life truly miserable."
"I'll have to tell Napoleon that," April said, an impish grin on her face.
"Please don't. I'll never hear the end of it." Mark thought that Illya looked like an affronted schoolmistress.
Illya looked closely at both of them. To Mark, it seemed as if he had decided that the two partners needed some time by themselves. He suddenly bowed.
"If neither of you need anything, I should be on my way. I'm supposed to meet with Napoleon."
"Go ahead," April said. He was nearly out the door when she called him back. "Illya, thanks. From both of us."
"I was merely doing my job," he said, but he gave them both one of his off-kilter grins before he was gone.
April Dancer looked down at her partner, and tried not to let her feelings show. It wasn't easy. Mark might be alive and on the way to recovery, but he looked bloody awful. He was slight in build to begin with, but now he was absolutely swamped by the medical equipment that surrounded and enveloped him. The heart monitors and IV's and tubes seemed the most substantial part of him. Remove all the needles and tubing and he might fade away to nothing.
She was so intent on studying Mark, that she was startled when he spoke again.
"Are you all right, luv? Really?"
"No problems, mate." April tried to keep her tone light.
There was a seriousness in Mark's voice that made April realize that he needed something more than a flip answer.
"Absolutely. They didn't break me like the delicate female they thought I was." She held his gaze with her own. "It wasn't pleasant, Mark. I don't think 'pleasant' was in Rapos' vocabulary. But it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. The gun shot wound didn't even hurt that much." She twisted her mouth. "Although Illya says that's 'cause I was already in shock."
"That sounds like Illya."
"Yeah, doesn't it."
"So, do you think they'll let us back in the field?"
"I've asked around. Everyone seems to think they will. Of course, there's also consensus that Waverly's going to give us a good talking to before we're certified operational again. That could be the worst part of the whole thing, if Illya and Napoleon are to be believed."
"I don't fancy confronting the Old Man."
"It'll be fine. I can usually get around him. Sort of." April took his hand in a firm grip, and squeezed tight. "We'll be fine. We just have to stick together."
April considered her next words carefully. There was one more topic she and Mark needed to discuss, but she was reluctant to broach it.
"Mark, what about . . . your father. You didn't really have time to deal with that properly. And Dr. Lawrence doesn't think you'll be able to attend the funeral."
She was surprised at how quickly the emotions tooks over. One moment Mark seemed reasonably calm, the next he was struggling to maintain control. She watched the emotions at war on his face. Grief fought with pride and shame and relief. One after another, they swept across his features.
She could take it no longer. Leaning over her partner, she whispered gently to him.
"It's just me, Mark. You don't have to hide from me."
That was enough. The war was over, and grief had won. April was shocked at the strength of the feelings that took control of her partner. He was completely silent, but his face was contorted, and tears streamed down his face.
April nearly let herself be caught by the same forces that had hold of Mark, but she knew that now wasn't the time for her. She had to be here for Mark. So, she held his hand, stroked his forehead and waited for the worst to pass.
She was shocked when Mark finally made a sound, and she recognized it as a laugh. A choked, weak laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.
"Mark, are you all right?" She could understand the tears, but the laughter unsettled her.
Mark gasped a couple of times before he had the breath to speak. His voice, when he found it, was only a whisper, but he sounded like Mark again.
"I was just thinking what my Da would think. Me lying here blubbering over him." He shook his head. "He'd be appalled."
"Let me guess. He was a stiff upper lip, think of the Queen kind of guy."
"That's an understatement." He started to laugh again, then stopped with a wince. "Christ, my throat hurts."
"Easy for you to say. You're not lying here like a human pin cushion."
"Hey, I took a bullet too."
Mark looked serious again.
"Thanks for that. You saved my life."
"Only after you saved me. I'm not keeping a balance sheet."
"I don't suppose anyone in our business should." He sighed heavily. "I'm really going to miss him. We never talked much. I've hardly seen him in the last 2 years. But I think we were closer than either of us thought."
"You know, you've never really mentioned him."
"I didn't think I had too much to say about him. I may have been wrong."
"Well, whenever you want to talk about your Da, you always can come to me." She gave a mischievous grin. "And I have the feeling that Illya wants to hear about him as well."
Mark grinned. "That's appropriate. Imagine a 45 year old British Illya and you've got an idea of what my father was like."
April started laughing herself.
"Oh my god, I can almost see it. Illya as a British serving officer."
April couldn't help herself. In spite of all they'd been through in the last 24 hours, or perhaps because of it, she found herself laughing hysterically. Mark joined in with her, a broad smile on her face, wincing occasionally when the laughter strained his injury.
That was when she realized that the worst was over. Not matter what had gone, or what was to come, at this moment in time all was right with the world.
Illya ran into Napoleon as he was leaving the medical section. He nodded to his partner, and fell into step beside him.
"How are they?" Napoleon asked.
"Both doing well. Have you reported to Waverly yet?"
"Yeah, and that was a lot of fun. Our illustrious boss is looking for someone to blame, and frustrated that the only one who fits the bill is one very dead Thrush agent ."
"Without a live bad person to take the blame, I'm guessing Mr. Waverly is in a very cranky mood."
"You might say that. I thought he was going to blame me for the whole thing at one point."
"Remind me to stay out of his way for a few days."
"You and me both, partner."
They reached the entrance to the Enforcement offices, and Napoleon stopped and leaned against a wall.
"So April and Mark are doing well." Napoleon looked speculatively at him. "They're going to make a good team."
"They already are a good team." Illya caught his eye, and a shadow smile played on the Russian's face. "They might even be better than us."
"We, bratik, are the perfect team. And you can't beat perfection."
The American punched him lightly on the arm, and continued down the hall. Laughing himself, Illya followed behind, content that they were all safe.
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