Eleanor Van Stroup crawled through the intricate ductwork on her elbows and knees, carefully holding an empty rifle in one hand and a small plastic case in the other. Her hair had long since come out of its buns and curls, and was hanging messily about her shoulders. Her lab coat and trousers were caked with dust and lint from the ducts, and her joints were bruised and aching from climbing around like a child on a playground.
Up ahead, Dr. Von Stroup saw the light of a vent and picked up her pace. The sound of her knees on the aluminum bordered on cacophonous. She would be worried that the sound might give her away, had a barrage of gunfire not filled the air.
Down in the lobby below, a fight was taking place. Two U.N.C.L.E. agents had infiltrated the base, and were busy taking out Thrush personnel at an alarming rate. Van Stroup had to admit that it was a little impressive, the amount of damage they’d done with just the two of them. She supposed there was a reason they’d been named two of U.N.C.L.E.’s most prolific agents.
Dr. Van Stroup stopped her scrambling at the grate, set down her rifle, and opened up the plastic case. Inside, an extra-durable hypodermic with a frighteningly thick needle lay in double padding. She removed it carefully and loaded the special rifle with it. Inside that needle was the makings of the newest Thrush creation-- a human being.
As the head of the project, Dr. Van Stroup couldn’t be more proud. When she was tasked with the mission of creating the perfect human child, one that Thrush could raise to do their bidding, she was ecstatic-- this was an opportunity not only to revolutionize medicine, but to secure herself a place in Thrush’s new world order. When the board of officials saw her success, she’d be promoted to head of the biologies department, and free to command the sciences of the world, with all of Thrush’s resources to support her.
Down below, the firefight raged on. It seemed the U.N.C.L.E. agents were holding their own, and for good reason; they were protecting a woman named Emelia Esperanza. Emelia was a nun at an esteemed abbey, and had been taken against her will by Thrush. In the search for the perfect mother to carry their new creation, Thrush had decided they wanted someone of absolute purity and good heart. An untainted soul-- the perfect surrogate. They found their prize in Portugal, unaware that U.N.C.L.E. had caught wind of their schemes.
U.N.C.L.E. did not know of this new project, only that Thrush had kidnapped an innocent woman for a no-good cause. Their arrival could not have been more inopportune; they’d burst onto the scene just as medical had been prepping Miss Esperanza for the implantation of the zygote. Only the best genes had gone into the fabrication of the child, and so there was only one made. Thrush hadn’t the equipment to recreate the research, either-- the U.N.C.L.E. men had made sure of that when they set fire to the labs. They had only one shot at this.
The only way they were going to get the zygote into Emelia now was from a distance-- there was no foreseeable way they could get past those agents, and with U.N.C.L.E. reinforcements likely on the way, implantation through a long range dart seemed to be the only viable option. A durable syringe-like device had been loaded with the zygote, along with a special fluid that acted as a way to attach the embryo to the uterine wall upon transference.
Dr. Van Stroup looked down on the carnage. Bodies of Thrush agents lay strewn across the floor, put out by either bullets, sleeping darts, or a knock to the head. The two enemy agents stood around Emelia, who was cowering against a wall, praying. She was well protected from the ground, but from high up in the vent, Van Stroup had her in clear sights. With the rifle loaded, she braced it against her shoulder.
The easiest course of action would be to take out the U.N.C.L.E. agents first, but Van Stroup had only the specialized rifle. Even if she were trained to use a gun, she hadn’t had the time to raid the armory of what weapons were left. The agents would have to be worked around.
Eleanor hadn’t fired a gun since her Thrush training classes. She prayed that in the urgency of the moment, her aim would be true. She navigated the barrel through the slats in the grate, and set her focus on the cowering Emelia Esperanza. The shot had to be right between the hipbones, and while she was standing up for the needle to embed deep enough into the uterus. The layers of clothing should be of no consequence.
After only a few minutes of waiting, a small explosion scared Esperanza onto her feet. Van Stroup took this opportunity to set her aim. Closing one eye, the doctor held her breath and fired.
The transference agent was comprised of a chemical that caused the uterus to rapidly produce a nutrient-rich blood lining, often accompanied by painful contractions. A mild sedative had been added to the mix in order to counteract these cramps-- however, it could not completely mask the pain. Looking out into the lobby, she expected to see Emelia cradling her stomach. Instead, she saw the smaller of the two U.N.C.L.E. agents on the floor, curled into a writhing ball.
A cold anguish settled on her heart. All those years of hard work, perfecting serums, experimenting on human genomes, finding the perfect host-- all of it was doomed to die inside a man’s body. Eleanor felt anger and sadness swell inside her like a hot-air balloon.
She let out a scream that echoed off the walls of the duct work.
“This was meant to be a simple extraction!”
“I hate to break it to you, partner, but I don’t think Thrush had your weekend plans in mind when they staged a kidnapping!”
“Well, a little warning would’ve been nice--”
Illya Kuryakin paused in yelling at his partner to dodge enemy fire. He tucked and rolled to the shelter of an overturned office desk, where a frightened woman was cowering and praying. Napoleon Solo was a few yards away, standing behind a column.
It was a standoff between the two U.N.C.L.E. Section 2 agents and about eight Thrush soldiers. It had, as Illya said, started out as a normal grab-and-go operation to retrieve a Thrush prisoner, one Emelia Esperanza. Oh, they’d gotten her alright, but not without stirring up trouble.
“You’re not the only one who’s irritated, you know,” Napoleon called from his hiding place. He rounded the column briefly to fire a few shots, then retreated. “I had a date.”
A few shots clipped the top of the desk, and Emelia screamed. Illya returned fire and managed to get one of the goons right in the chest. As he reloaded his clip, he watched the terrified nun fiddle with her rosary; she didn’t look much like a nun without her habat, which Thrush scientists had liberated from her. In fact, Miss Esperanza was a truly gorgeous creature. Illya had no doubt that the “date” Napoleon was referring to was with her; the American could hardly contain himself when in the presence of such a specimen. He was going to be sorely disappointed when he learned about a nun’s oath to celibacy.
“We’ll have you back to your abbey in no time, Miss Esperanza,” Illya assured, snapping a new magazine into place. The kind words had little effect, as Emelia nodded, but continued her frantic prayer in Portuguese.
The case had only fallen to Solo and Kuryakin by a happenstance. The two agents had just finished an assignment in sunny Spain, and were set to return to New York when they received a message from Mr. Waverly that Thrush had staged a small-scale kidnapping at an abbey in Portugal, and it was to be resolved before they could do harm to their prisoner. As it just-so-happened, they were the only available, qualified agents on the peninsula. Napoleon, citing their civic duty, was happy to take the mission. Illya suspected he just wanted to hook up with the nun.
Said nun continued to shiver behind the desk as the standoff continued. Illya pursed his lips-- he felt sorry for her to have been mixed up in all this. It wasn’t as if she had asked to be whisked away and subjected to... to whatever it was they had been doing to her.
“Illya, catch!” Napoleon called, tossing a small grenade towards his partner. Illya caught it with deft skill and pulled out the pin. Using his advantageous position, he aimed it at where three of the guards were hiding. It exploded in a dull roar, knocking out the guards as well as blasting a hole in the wall behind them.
In the explosion, Emelia had jumped to her feet, shrieking. As sorry as Illya felt for her, he couldn’t forgive breaking cover because of a little boom. Before she could get herself shot, the agent reached up to pull her back down to their hiding place-- until he saw it.
The nose of a rifle was poking through a ceiling vent, pointed straight at Miss Esperanza.
“Look out!” Illya shouted, jumping in front of her.
He saw the rifle kick, and a second later, he felt the familiar pinch of impact on his abdomen. Expecting blood, and lots of it, he was shocked to find his shirt still white. The wound itself was reminiscent of the time he was shot with an Amazonian poison dart. Turning to warn Napoleon of the sniper, he found he was very dizzy, and in increasingly high amounts of pain. Before he could get a word out, he crumpled to the floor.
He heard Emelia scream.
“Hey, toss me a clip, Illya,” Napoleon shouted from his place behind the pillar. He paused to quickly reload his Walther. “Just gotta take down a few more of these mooks and we’ll be home free.”
Napoleon held his hand out, waiting for the cold weight of a magazine, but it never came. Looking to his right, he expected to see his partner busy grappling with a Thrush goon, or shielding the lovely Miss Esperanza from harm, but instead found him doubled over on the tile floor, clutching an unseen wound. Emelia, with her hand over her mouth, looked horrified.
Agent Solo saw red.
Quick as he could, Napoleon somersaulted over to the desk and nabbed a spare clip himself. As soon as he was loaded, he opened fire on the remaining Thrush men. He took down two with deadly accurate shots to the head, and wounded another two. There was only one left, and he rushed his cover to deliver a strong right-hook. Once he was down, Napoleon gave him a swift kick to the head before returning to his partner’s side.
“What happened?” he asked the cowering nun.
Through tears and a thick Portuguese accent, Emelia managed to gather herself enough to speak.
“He jumped up to save me-- There was a gun, up there--” she pointed to the ceiling, “and he, he--” her voice broke into sobs as Illya let out a loud moan.
As she covered her face with her hands, Napoleon bent down to inspect his friend. It seemed Illya was still conscious, but just barely. His eyes had rolled back in his head and sweat beaded on his forehead.
Illya could see Napoleon above him, but only just so. His partner was a blur behind the incomprehensible agony that had overtaken his mind. He was on the verge of passing out, but that blinding pain kept him awake. What the hell had he been shot with?
Judging by the general lack of noise in the room, Illya concluded that the fight must be over. This was usually the part where the two agents sauntered out of the building, a damsel on Napoleon’s arm, and apprehended documents in Illya’s hand. However, with the state the latter was in, it was doubtful that either of them would do any sauntering. Plus, the whole place was bound to be swarming with Thrushies very soon, all who seemed rather keen to get Miss Esperanza back. They needed to high-tail it back to Napoleon’s car, and fast.
Illya felt himself being shifted around on the floor, then a pair of strong arms wedged themselves underneath him. The next thing he knew, he was being lifted off the floor, and, oh, he wished Napoleon hadn't done that. A twisting cramp made it's way through his abdomen as soon as he was moved; Illya cried out and struggled against his partner.
“Hold on, Illya, we'll get you to a doctor-- just hold on,” is what it sounded like Napoleon said, but Illya couldn't be sure above the ringing in his ears. Perhaps that's just what he'd wanted Napoleon to say.
He felt the cold smoothness of leather and assumed they had made it to the car. He was sure of it when he heard the radio tuned to the local jazz station-- Illya did love him some Bird Parker. Emelia was riding shotgun, which meant he had been dumped in the back. With the top down, he could feel the night’s cool breeze on his overheated cheeks. Napoleon’s hand was in his, and he squeezed.
Illya was beginning to think he wouldn't make it to the nearest clinic. Whatever Thrush had shot him with was certainly powerful, and it was quickly taking its toll on his body. His heart clenched to think that this might be the last time he laid eyes on Napoleon.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the pain stopped.
Slowly, his senses returned, and his mind cleared of fog. The pain had stopped tormenting his body, and he felt just as he did before, if a little nauseous. Illya sat up on the bench seat and gazed out the windshield, confused.
“How d’you feel?” his partner asked, “I noticed you stopped moaning and groaning.” Napoleon's hand was still hanging behind his chair, a little red from where Illya had squeezed it.
“I'm... fine,” the agent in the back seat answered. He paused. “I was moaning?”
“Loudly,” Emelia responded, turning as much as she could with her seat belt on. “You sounded like you had the devil in you, Señor Kuryakin.”
Illya scrunched up his face and wiped his sweaty palms on the leg of his pants. To think that he, a professional, had let himself get shot with... whatever that was.
“I notice there’s a distinct lack of blood on your person,” Napoleon remarked, placing both hands on the wheel. “Aside from the blood of a few Thrushies, that is. If you weren’t wounded, then what was it that happened back there?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” Illya responded, shucking his jacket and unfolding it onto the seat. Emelia blushed and turned back around in her seat, not wishing to see her savior undress. Illya felt around in his jacket for anything that might have been planted on him, such as an electrode that could set off cramping in certain muscle groups via remote command, or some pellet casing that contained a mild poison. However, the search was fruitless; aside from a few unused clips and his communicator, there was nothing in the jacket. He moved to sit back into the seat, but when he leaned back, he felt a small pinch on the skin of his lower abdomen.
Agent Kuryakin rifled in the cloth of his shirt and found a small hypodermic, with the plunger engaged, embedded deep, deep, in his skin. When he yanked on it, it gave a sickening tug, and he managed to pull it out with a yelp.
“Everything alright back there, Illya?” Napoleon asked, with more than a little underlying concern slipping through.
As he held it up to the light, Illya inspected the strange syringe. It had a thick chamber with a spring-loaded plunger, and scorch marks on the glass; it must have been fired from that rifle. The needle was long and thin, but thick enough to have injected him with something of substance, as it appeared to have done.
“I think I’ve just found the source of my discomfort,” reported Illya, passing the hypodermic up to his partner. Napoleon studied it with a detached interest.
“So, you were poisoned?” he asked, keeping his eyes on the road as he handed the find back to his friend.
“Something like that, I suppose.” Illya put the needle in his front pocket, and slipped his jacket back on. “A drug, perhaps. A nerve stimulator, meant to temporarily incapacitate me. Obviously, it worked.”
“Yes, a little too well. Had I not been there, think of what they might have done to you.” Napoleon’s tone was light, but one could see the worry etched on his face. “Either way, we’re sending you straight to medical once we get back to headquarters.”
“I expected nothing less,” his partner replied with a morbid smile.
Silence fell in the car as Illya continued to scrutinize the situation. That this small thing could have caused him so much pain would have been incomprehensible, had Illya not been well-versed in the art of chemical warfare himself. Still, it was an astonishing feat, considering the circumstances, and Illya was impressed at Thrush, despite the attempt on his life.
At least it was over.
With a job as erratic as being a secret agent, one did not typically develop rituals. Chasing threats halfway around the world hardly left time for simple comforts. Nevertheless, Illya Kuryakin relied on the normality of a nightly ceremony to keep him sane as much as he relied on his pistol to keep him safe.
He and Napoleon had just come back from their debriefing with Mr. Waverly, after a long flight from Spain, and a very long tour of Emelia Esperanza’s abbey before that. Napoleon had dropped Illya off at his inner-city flat on his way to his own luxury condo. While he wasn’t envious of his partner’s fancy set-up, Illya had to admit-- it would be nice, after a long and grueling day, to sink into sheets that had a higher thread count than 42nd Street had stoplights. But what good was a nice bedspread when one was spending half their time around the world anyway?
Before unlocking his door, Illya examined the line of white dust in the hall, the strip of paper he’d delicately set in the door jam, and the blond hair he’d stuck to the doorframe and concluded, seeing that all his traps were still in place, that no one had been in his apartment while he was away. Silently relieved, he unlocked two deadbolts and a lock in the handle before stepping in and setting his security alarm. This gave him the liberty to shrug out of his sullied jacket, untie his shoes and drop with a sigh onto the lumpy couch in his living room. He thought he might have a drink or some food, but he was too tired to open a bottle of anything, and after a week and a half out of country, half the food in his pantry was bound to be spoiled, anyway. Illya resigned himself to bed, and began his ritual.
He went to his room, toed off his Oxfords, and placed them neatly in his closet, along with his tie. His multitude of gadgets were emptied from his pockets and set carefully on the bedside table, and his jacket hung on the rack. Socks were folded, pants and shirt thrown in the laundry basket to be dealt with later, and bed ruffled and ready to be slept in.
As he was on his way to the bathroom to perform the more hygienic side of his nightly ritual, Illya stopped to inspect himself in the hall mirror. In the reflection, he saw the same thing he always did-- a man of medium height, with blond hair in need of a trim, two blue eyes, a lean muscular build, shaved chin, and a mastectomy scar under each pectoral.
Illya touched the scars, and thought about how, though the operation had been difficult to undergo, and expensive, he preferred this over any alternative. The body he looked down on now was what he’d wanted for so much of his life-- he’d rid himself of his breasts, he was muscular, and he was hairy. Not only did he feel like a man, but he properly looked like one. A younger Illya would be ecstatic to learn that one day, he would have achieved his ideal image. Well, almost ideal.
There was the issue of a hysterectomy. He still menstruated, albeit irregularly due to the synthetic androgen he took by pill. This cumbersome bodily function often interfered with his work, and made it more difficult than it had to be to keep his secret. If he was caught, his position at U.N.C.L.E. would be compromised. He could not let that happen because of an internal organ he didn’t need nor want.
Illya’s hand ghosted over his lower abdomen, where the infernal uterus lay. There was a small, purplish-red bruise from where he’d been hit with the hypodermic. The pain, now but a memory, had been reminiscent of more than one occasion where he’d been downed by menstrual cramps. When he did bleed, the pain was sometimes so horrible he was tempted to out himself right then by going to the hospital.
He’d almost been exposed quite a few times, usually by Thrush agents. As far as he knew, Thrush was unaware that there was a transsexual in U.N.C.L.E.’s midst, but there had been some close calls. More than once, he’d been undressed by some villain, but luckily, the mastectomy scars were too faint and too well-hidden amongst his many, many other scars, and so far, no ne’er-do-well had had the indecency to take his underwear off. For now, his secret was safe from both friend and foe, but the longer he put off a full sexual reassignment, the longer he was at risk of being exposed.
The night was getting late and Illya didn’t want to think about this anymore. He was tired, and he could have an identity crisis in the morning.
He gave the tiny bruise, the only evidence of his earlier injury, a quick rub before he turned into the bathroom and continued in his nightly ceremonies. It would be fully healed in a few days, and then he could forget about this whole affair.
The next day came and went. It was full of paperwork, flirtatious secretaries, more paperwork, Napoleon’s tall tales of how he whisked Illya away from danger, and infinitely more paperwork. During the lunch hour, Napoleon could be found in the commissary, reenacting their adventure from the day before, in full Technicolor and with wild gesticulations. Illya listened in from his place in the soup line.
“So there we were-- my partner shot, the nun crying in the corner, and me down to one magazine and my tie clip.” He was surrounded by a gaggle of Section 2 and Section 3 agents, all keen to hear about this week’s adventure. “I didn’t have time to think, so I just acted. Thirty seconds later-- no, twenty-five seconds-- and those Thrushies were littering the floor like so much garbage.”
Napoleon’s fan club let out a chortle and all sipped their coffee in unison. Illya smirked at their devotion to the CEA’s story; after all, it was commonly known that numbers 1 and 2 got the most exciting missions. In passing, he noticed that Napoleon wasn’t wearing his jacket, and noted with detached interest how nicely his shoulder holster accentuated the lines of his back. Before he could get too distracted, he shook himself out of his thoughts.
“Well, how’d you manage to get both Illya and the girl out safely?” Mark Slate asked around the rim of his styrofoam coffee cup.
“He didn’t,” Illya interrupted, watching as all eyes turned to him. “Actually, I’m still unconscious in a Thrush satrap somewhere in Portugal.”
Mark and the whole group let out a hearty laugh and Napoleon pursed his lips in annoyance. Illya caught himself staring at those lips and mentally gave himself a slap.
“Nice of you to join us, tovarich,” the American greeted his partner with a hint of ire in his voice, “I was just about to tell them how I had to carry you out of there like a sack of Russian potatoes.”
“Yes, I’m surprised you were able to lift me at all.”
The surrounding agents hollered scandalously. Illya remembered the feeling of those strong arms under him and he nearly pinched himself in discipline.
“Actually, the whole Affair reminded me of last month in Belgium,” the Russian continued as he was handed a bowl of chicken soup. “You were so deeply unconscious that not even smelling salts could wake you, so I had to roll you out of the building before it exploded.”
The whole gang let out a raucous laughter, so much that Napoleon had to clear his throat to be heard.
“It sounds to me like you need to work on that upper-body strength, my friend,” and the way he said ‘my friend’ sent shivers down Illya’s spine. “At least I was able to get you off the ground. You’re welcome.”
Napoleon laughed with his compatriots, and the jubilant sound nearly made Illya drop his bread roll. That smile that spread across his tanned face, the way his eyes turned to half-disks of coal, how he lifted his chin and flashed his teeth-- Napoleon Solo was too attractive for his own good. Illya hated himself for looking at his friend the way he did, for feelings the things he felt. This was no way for an enforcement agent to behave.
“Yes, well, I’ll call you the next time I’m in need of rescuing,” he deadpanned. “Unless of course, you’re busy trying to seduce another nun.”
As the Russian left the commissary with his lunch, he heard the jiving laughter of his fellow agents, Napoleon included. It was refreshing to be at ends with his partner after such a tense mission, but if his mind was going to continue to act in such a rash and emotional manner, then had no other choice but to withdraw.
His raging hormones be damned-- it probably all the estrogen in his body that was causing him all this strife. All he wanted was to be good friends with Napoleon, but his libido, it seemed, had other plans. Illya couldn’t let this go unchecked; there was no telling the prejudice he would face were he to openly display his affections for his partner. It was hard enough trying to hide his biology, he didn’t need the added struggle of trying to hide his feelings.
Were he in a more present state of mind, Illya would have noticed Napoleon admiring his backside as he walked away.
“I don’t trust her.”
“We’re not supposed to trust her, we’re just supposed to listen to her.”
“This could be a trap.”
“Illya, with the lives we lead, everything is a trap.”
Napoleon tugged at his bow-tie in the mirror one final time and spritzed himself with cologne before turning to his disgruntled partner. Illya was fighting with his own bowtie, and begrudgingly accepted Napoleon’s help in straightening it.
The two agents had met at Napoleon’s apartment one night, just before they were scheduled to rendezvous with an important contact with a taste for Italian finery.
The mission was simple: meet a woman, Janice McLin, for dinner and collect vital Thrush secrets from her. Ms. McLin had been used as a pawn by Thrush in the past, and narrowly escaped being terminated, but not without scraping up a few goodies on her way out. Or so her file said. The actual credibility of the contact was what had Illya so worked up.
“The whole thing sounds fabricated,” the Russian commented as Napoleon went to work on his tie. “Thrush rarely allows their-- that’s a little too tight-- their victims to escape, much less make contact with U.N.C.L.E. I smell a double-cross.”
“Well, your keen sense of smell doesn’t go unnoticed,” his partner replied, standing back and admiring his handiwork. “Dear Uncle Alex has made the necessary arrangements in case our Ms. Janice is not who she says she is.”
“Ah, yes, the backup.” Illya sighed indignantly and readjusted the shoulder holster under his jacket. “Just know that if anything goes wrong, I warned you.”
“Yes, of course,” Napoleon chuckled, holding the door open for the blond man. “Now, come on, we’ve got a date.”
La Magia Stasera was a charming Italian eatery, with the dimmest lights, cushiest chairs, and the most exquisite pincantina di vitello just south of Spring Street. The valets were cheeky, the waiters snooty, and the menu so expensive one could practically feel two weeks’ salary leave them at the curb. It just wouldn't feel like fine dining without these things.
Janice McLin was seated at a large table, surrounded by what appeared to be a group of socialites. They were all laughing at one of her jokes, sipping their wine and acting altogether very jolly. Looking at her now, it seemed difficult to think Janice could be under Thrush’s thumb. But Illya kept a sharp eye, just in case.
“Why, Mr. Solo, I presume,” Ms. McLin announced as the two spies approached the table. She stood up from her place at the head of the table and extended an arm, which Napoleon took gratefully.
“Your intuition precedes you, Janice McLin,” the dapper spy said, kissing her gloved hand. The signature Solo charm was evident in his demeanor. “The pleasure is all mine.”
“Hm, I'm sure it is.” Janice grinned and returned to her seat, motioning her two new guests to do the same. Illya rolled his eyes at the exchange, but took his chair politely.
McLin’s company buzzed around her like flies, laughing and drinking and flitting between the tables, but their hostess’s attention was now diverted elsewhere. She propped her chin up on a gloved hand and gazed across the table at the two agents.
“So,” began Napoleon, “I hear you have some information for me.”
“Oh, not for you, Mr. Solo,” Janice smirked. “For your organization.”
“Hm, of course. We are but humble couriers tonight.”
“I do hope you’ve got your listening ears on. The information I have is very... sensitive.” Janice purred from behind a glass of wine.
“Then I’ll make sure to be at my most... observant.”
The flirting was nauseating. As much as Illya had convinced himself that it was necessary to get on their mark’s good side, he couldn’t help but feel a tug of jealousy. The Russian scowled at his menu as his partner and their contact continued to slather one another with disturbingly suggestive comments. Gaining Ms. McLin’s confidence was one thing, but it almost sounded like Napoleon intended to take her back to his penthouse and have a little more than words with her. Illya grumbled and ordered the most expensive thing off the menu.
Eventually, a plan was made to meet McLin in a back room of the restaurant after their meal and exchange the information there. Until then, she said, she wouldn’t dare give anything away. All parties present knew that Thrush had ears everywhere.
Waiters in white suits delivered the food after an eternity of more exhausting banter. Napoleon was enjoying himself immensely, it seemed, while Illya kept his guard up. Someone has to be on their toes, the Russian thought as he cut into his chicken risotto. The sooner they finished eating, the sooner they could get this transaction over with.
Illya bit into his food, and immediately froze up. Something wasn’t right; the smell, the feel, the taste of the food was off. Something was off-kilter, even for as decadent and foreign as Italian dishes were wont to be. As he slowly began to chew, a twisting feeling grew in his stomach and he quickly spat it back out into his napkin.
“It’s poisoned!” exclaimed Illya, reaching for the holster in his jacket.
Napoleon, who had his fork on his way to his mouth, dropped it and went for his own gun. This spurned the socialites surrounding Ms. McLin into action, each pulling out a piece of their own; it seemed their Thrush contact was really a Thrush plant. However, the two men had come equally prepared: every remaining patron in the restaurant stood and revealed themselves to be U.N.C.L.E. agents. It seemed there wasn’t a soul in the restaurant who didn’t have a gun pointed at them.
“Well, gentlemen, I’d hoped to do all this after dinner,” McLin said over the click of hardware, “but you seem so eager to get started.”
“The game is over, Janice,” retorted Napoleon, his weapon leveled with her heart. “I’m afraid it was over before it began.”
Her smile fell. “You do take the fun out of everything, Mr. Solo.”
With a wave of her gloved hand, the Thrush agents opened fire on them.
The ensuing firefight shattered chandeliers, turned over tables, and marred the marble flooring. Solo and Illya were made the primary targets; it was only by their advanced training(and a few overturned pieces of furniture used as shields) were they able to come out unscathed. From the agents’ place behind a mahogany dinner table, they managed to take out a few of Janice’s cohorts. With the combined effort of the two top Section 2 men, and the rest of the dedicated cavalry, the adversary was subdued before they could say ‘uncle’.
While the reinforcements put the surviving Thrush agents in handcuffs, Napoleon and Illya tag-teamed Ms. McLin, and captured her before she could make a sneaky exit out the back door. The fight was over before desert.
“Well, I suppose that just goes to show you,” Napoleon sighed while the two of them oversaw the transportation of all enemy agents to U.N.C.L.E. HQ. “Once a Thrushie, always a Thrushie.”
“I told you it was a trap,” Illya quipped. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his partner’s exasperated stare and smiled quietly to himself.
The rest of the night was no less hectic than it had been at the restaurant; there were detainment procedures to go through, and an interrogation was in order for Ms. McLin. Any information she said she’d give them at the restaurant, she’d surely give to them now.
It was going to be a long night-- and U.N.C.L.E.’s top agents were anything but excused.
“Why can’t one of the other thirty men who were there write a report?” Illya complained as he loosened his bow-tie. “They were just as close to the action as we were.”
Napoleon shrugged out of his tuxedo jacket. “Seniority, my friend, isn’t all perks. As the two heads of enforcement, I’m afraid the burden falls to us.” He hung it up on the coat rack in their office and went about removing his cumberbund. A perplexed expression crossed his face. “And besides, you’ve never been one to complain about work. Why the change of face?”
Illya shook his head and grumbled. “I suppose I’m still a bit queasy from the poison. It must have affected me more than I thought.”
“Well, once the toxicology report comes in from Section 4, we’ll see what they can do for you.” Napoleon rapped the side of his typewriter with one knuckle. “Until then, we’d better get cracking.”
With a bit more grumbling, Illya reluctantly hung up his own jacket and sat down at his desk. Normally, he’d be the one trying to persuade his partner to do his fair share of the work, but tonight he was feeling ill as well as ill-tempered. That mission had turned him sour, and all Illya wanted to do was go home and get some sleep before he had to be back here in the morning.
Just as Illya had finished typing up the preliminary details of the mission, a knock came through the steel door. Napoleon, after glancing at the monitor and seeing a familiar face, pressed a button on his desk and the door slid open. Dr. Anders from Section 4 stepped through.
The Section 2 agents and the bookies of Section 4 didn’t always get along-- in fact, the scientists were sometimes intimidated by the guns of the operation. Anders was one of U.N.C.L.E.’s most efficient chemists, however, he was also the most skittish when it came to dealing with enforcement.
“Well, speak of the damn devil,” Napoleon remarked, “we were just wondering how that chemical analysis was coming along.” He got up to greet the nervous scientist.
“Ah, yes, that,” Anders said, adjusting his tie. “Well, see, we ran your food against you gentlemen’s, uh, blood samples, and ah...”
Illya left his desk to join his partner. “And?”
“Yeah, what diabolical concoction has Thrush tried to kill us with this time?” chuckled Napoleon.
“Well, you see, that’s just it, gentlemen, is uh. There wasn’t any-- well, at least, there didn’t seem to be any, ah...”
“Out with it, Doc, how long do we have to live?” Napoleon asked, his smile fading.
Anders bucked up. “You weren’t poisoned,” he said quickly. “The tests-- uh, the tests didn’t show any traces of poison in the food,” he spared a glance at Illya, “or in Mr. Kuryakin’s blood.”
All three men fell into a silence as the two Section 2 men shared a look. Evidently, the tension had become too high for poor Anders, and he scuttled out of the office, but not before dropping a thin folder on Napoleon’s desk.
As soon as the door slid shut, Illya grabbed the folder and rifled through it.
“This makes no sense,” he muttered, reading over every negative test.
Napoleon came around and looked over his partner’s shoulder.
“Perhaps you were mistaken?”
“No,” Illya shook his head, “I am positive; that food was tampered with.”
“Hm.” Sauntering back to his desk, and to his half-started first hand account, Napoleon hummed in thought. “Well, maybe you just had a bad risotto.”
Illya gave him a look and went back to his own desk. In the folder, he found a sheet containing his blood test-- Anders was right, there was no sign of any toxin whatsoever. But how could that be, when Illya’d had such a visceral reaction to it? How could that be, when he was still feeling sick? Perhaps he’d been sick to begin with, or Napoleon was right; maybe it was just food poisoning.
In either case, they’d caught their prey. Janice McLin would see a long time behind bars, but not before U.N.C.L.E. got as much as they could squeeze out of her.
The whole affair was over.
In general, it was never good to see a Section 2 agent running. They always got to their appointments on time, with no need to hurry or rush. They were patient, cautious men and women, who took their time to take in their surroundings. If they were doing anything above a light jog, it usually meant either their life was in danger, or someone else’s was.
April Dancer was calmly on her way back to her office, carrying a stack of papers recently liberated from Section 3. She was to spend the rest of her shift analyzing communications from a warehouse on the docks to see if it had any connection to the case she was currently working; she had reason to believe it was being used as a front for a Thrush body-dumping operation. She couldn’t be sure until she’d rifled through every scrap of information they had on the place.
Just as she was rounding a corner, a head of blond hair flew past her. Turning on her heel, she watched as the fleeing form of an agent sprinted down the hallway, dodging everyone in his way.
“Illya?” she muttered as the man ran out of sight.
Shaking herself of surprise, April ran after him at full speed. As soon as she’d handed her papers off to the nearest personnel, she drew her gun and switched the clip to sleeping darts.
“Illya!” she called once the agent was in sight again, but he didn’t seem to have heard her. She barely registered her partner, Mark, had run up alongside her.
“What’s the trouble?” he asked, brandishing his own weapon.
“Not quite sure yet,” she replied, “but I’m willing to bet Illya knows.”
They followed the squirrelly agent around two more corners, his Oxfords slipping at every turn, until he disappeared behind a door. April cursed when she read the men’s room sign; her badge wouldn’t let her in.
“Get in after him,” she told Mark. “Be wary.”
A small group of agents on high alert had amassed around the bathroom. They all watched as Mark curled his hand around his Special and tentatively stepped through the sliding door.
“Illya?” he asked as the door shut behind him. “You in here, mate?”
The sound of painful retching answered his question. Looking to the stalls, Mark spotted a pair of skinny legs kneeling on the floor. He sighed and holstered his gun. A hunched back and a mop of blond hair greeted him as he pushed open the stall door.
“Illya?” Mark repeated, joining his friend in the cubicle.
This was awfully close quarters for two male agents, but they were both willing to make allowances for the sake of the situation. Illya even let Mark rub his back as he heaved into the toilet.
After a solid two minutes of expelling everything in his stomach, Illya leaned on the steel toilet and pressed his face into the crook of his arm.
“Hello, Mark,” he panted, his voice low and ragged with fatigue.
“Alright, Illya,” the Brit answered, keeping his hand on the smaller agent’s shoulder. “Wanna hand?”
“That would be lovely.”
Agent Slate helped get Illya up and let him stagger over to the sinks. He watched for a moment before turning back to the door where he knew a whole host of agents must be waiting by now.
As predicted, when the door slid open, April was still waiting, her gun in hand, and about five more personnel had joined her.
“He’s alright,” Mark reported in a low voice, “just feelin’ a bit green about the gills.”
The combination of relief and annoyance was palpable in the hallway; every agent present let the hackles lower and went about what they were doing. A mousy Section 3 man handed April her papers back.
Illya emerged a few minutes later, still wiping his mouth with a paper towel, to find April and Mark waiting in the hall for him.
“Thank you for your concern, but I’m sure I can make it back to my office alone,” he remarked, sounding as cool as ever. However, his pale cheeks betrayed him.
“I’m sure you can,” replied April. “We just fancied a stroll.”
“You wouldn’t say no to a little company, wouldja?” added Mark.
Illya smiled ruefully, and allowed them to flank him as he made his way back to his and Napoleon’s shared office. He was grateful for their support, but he didn’t want their pity. Section 2 agents were a tight-knit bunch, and what happened to one, happened to all of them.
It was for this reason Illya conveniently left out that this was the fourth time he’d been sick in the past week.
Something had woken him up.
Illya lay in bed, the early morning sun blocked out by his curtains, and seethed. He wasn’t experiencing the best of mornings; every cell in his body was fighting his obligation to get out of bed and go to work. Just the thought of leaving the warm safety of the covers made him groan.
This behavior was contrary to every genome Illya possessed. He’d never been late to one shift in his time with U.N.C.L.E., unless it was because his life was being threatened. Not to mention that during his campaign in the Russian navy, laziness was next to insubordination, and subject to reprimand. Illya remembered vividly the punishments some of the men received for deigning to show their faces late to roll call.
Even with the threat of misconduct hanging over his head, Illya still couldn’t bring himself to crawl out of bed and get dressed.
His tired mind went back to the source of his discomfort-- what had woken him up? He was beginning to wonder if he was under attack, when he heard it: a knock followed by another knock on the downbeat, then three more short knocks at his front door. Napoleon.
Grumbling at the annoyance, Illya pushed himself further into the soft confines of his sheets. If Napoleon had come up to his apartment, he must really be late. Usually, the Russian would meet his partner by the curb every morning, and they would drive to headquarters. Today, Illya’s body had other plans.
Perhaps he could call in a sick day. The whole office knew by now that Illya was feeling under the weather, so it would come as no shock if he took a day to rest. Mr. Waverly might have a few things to say about, though, and so might Napoleon.
Outside in the hallway, the obtrusive American in question stood impatiently outside of his friend’s apartment. He’d used his coded knock twice, and still no answer. It was almost 7 o’clock, and they were going to be late for their briefing with Waverly. It was unlike Illya not to meet him at the curb as per their usual, and even more unusual for him to not answer the door like this.
Napoleon had heard the rumors-- Illya getting sick in the middle of the day, skipping meals in the commissary, being irritable with his fellow agents. It was only out of concern that Napoleon had parked the car and come all the way up here instead of just going ahead to headquarters. He was worried for his friend.
It struck the CEA that Illya might not be late because he was sick, but because he was in trouble. Immediately, his guard went up like an iron wall. He brandished his gun and approached the door, careful not to make any more sound than he already had.
Using the set of keys Illya had given him in case of emergencies such as this, Napoleon went to work on the locks. With each tumbler that turned, he risked giving himself away, but this was the only way in, unless he wanted to break down the door. Finally, each lock was undone, and the door opened quietly into the apartment.
All was dark. Napoleon held his gun at his side as he swept over the home with his gaze. Everything appeared normal, but that’s what every assassin wanted you to think. Nothing was out of place, as far as he could tell; Illya, when he wasn’t at work, was prone to being untidy.
Finally, he reached the bedroom. What lay beyond that door could be a myriad of threats, and Napoleon tried to mentally ready himself for any number of them. He kept his cool and remembered that he wasn’t the one in danger-- at least, not yet.
Napoleon flung the door open, aiming his gun at every corner of the dark room. His eyes flitted frantically, searching for his friend. He panicked when he didn’t see anything, until he landed on a suspiciously person-shaped lump under the covers.
A sigh of relief and irritation left Napoleon as he opened his jacket and holstered his gun. No danger after all.
“Looks like someone decided to get some beauty rest this morning,” he smirked, coming up to stand by the side of the bed. On his way, he nearly tripped on what appeared to be Illya’s alarm clock. Picking it up, he saw a bullet hole right through the center.
“I see someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Napoleon almost laughed, then, upon hearing a light snore, added, “if they ever woke up at all.”
He threw the clock at the sleeping body with no ceremony. It had the desired effect in getting the other agent to sit up, but Napoleon wasn’t quite sure if his Russian friend was awake. Illya was upright, but his eyes were still closed and his mouth was hanging open.
Napoleon sighed and went to the kitchen to make some coffee.
Fifteen minutes and half a pot of concentrated caffeine later, Illya was half-dressed and ready to form coherent sentences.
“You should have gone ahead without me,” he remarked as he ran around his apartment, fueled by coffee-induced energy.
“And let you sleep in while I get chewed out by Waverly? I don’t think so, mister.” Napoleon dodged a dirty sock. In return, he walloped a clean tie his partner’s way.
“You’re so kind.”
Illya grabbed a pair of clean pants out of his closet and made to take off his pajama bottoms, but first made Napoleon turn around. As excited as Illya was to be in the same room as Napoleon in a state of undress, he really didn’t have time to fantasize. His partner agreed, and turned around, apparently accustomed to the Russian’s eccentricities. However, he did allow himself to secret a look at Illya’s bare legs.
At 7:18 AM, twelve minutes before their meeting with Waverly, the two agents were finally ready to leave. At 7:20 AM, they hit a traffic jam, at 7:32 AM, they skidded through the secret entrance to headquarters, barely grabbing their badges on their way, and at 7:33 AM, Napoleon and Illya entered Mr. Waverly’s office.
“Ah, gentlemen,” the old man greeted, “I’d been wondering whether or not you were going to arrive at all. Now, if you’ll take a seat, please.”
The two Section 2 agents entertained the thought of arguing their tardiness, but thought best to leave it alone, and took a seat at the round, swiveling desk. Illya stifled a yawn.
“This concerns your mission approximately twelve weeks ago.” Waverly puffed on his pipe. “The Affair in Portugal. I’m sure Mr. Solo hasn’t forgotten, after that lovely nun stood him up.”
Napoleon and Illya both made faces ranging from disgruntled to amused, respectively.
“Anyhow, after a successful raid on a Thrush office in Berlin, we’ve uncovered some interesting files pertaining to the laboratory you two visited. Take a look.”
Mr. Waverly set a hefty packet of filed down and spun the tabletop until they stopped in front of Napoleon.
“These are a collection of financial statements from Thrush’s treasury. If you’ll turn your attention to the third page, the sixth entry down should interest you.”
Illya crowded his partner to take a look at the files, and sure enough, near the middle of the typed page was an entry for nearly six months ago.
“Paid to the order of Van Stroup, Eleanor, M.d.,” Napoleon read aloud, “a sum of...” The agent broke off mid-sentence in confused astonishment.
“Yes, that’s right, Mr. Solo,” Waverly continued. “2.5 million dollars.”
Illya met his superior’s eye in shock.
“What could they have possibly been using it for?” he inquired. “We saw no large-scale weapons or other projects when we were there.”
“Oh, this was fairly large-scale, Mr. Kuryakin. However, it’s scale can only be measured on paper and in pay grade alone. It was the importance of this project that made it so expensive, gentlemen, not its physical size.”
Napoleon furrowed his brow. “If you’ll elaborate, sir?”
“Yes, yes, Mr. Solo, I’m getting to it. You both remember Emelia Esperanza, correct?” Waverly pointed with his pipe to the stack of folders. “That second file there is an entire dossier on Miss Esperanza. It seems Thrush had been planning her kidnapping for quite some time, and had put quite a bit of investment in her.”
“But why?” Napoleon asked, flipping through Emelia’s stolen file. It listed everything from her frequented locations to a thorough medical history.
“I assume, Mr. Solo, for this.” The table spun once again, replacing the financial statements and the dossier with a single file, marked “Project: Manger”.
“‘Project: Manger’, sir?” Illya asked, cracking open the file.
“As in, ‘away in a manger’?” His partner added.
“Quite correct Mr. Solo,” chuckled Mr. Waverly, “quite correct. You are both familiar with the story of the virgin mother, I presume. Evidently, Thrush saw fit to recreate the tale. Only, instead of immaculate conception, it was to be artificial conception. According to that file, a team of top Thrush scientists were assigned to create an example of the perfect human being. They employed geneticists, reproductive scientists, microbiologists, you name it. Should they succeed in producing a live result, they were to recreate the experiment a hundred fold, and give rise to a new generation of higher man. According to the thesis of the file, these perfect men would populate the earth under Thrush’s regime.”
Napoleon looked appalled. “And Miss Esperanza was...”
“Our mother Mary,” Illya finished. The two exchanged a glance.
“Or she was, until you gentlemen spoiled the plot.” Spinning the table, Waverly brought the file back to him. “Unfortunately, you were unable to apprehend any notes or equipment, or even the head of the project, Dr. Van Stroup. As such, they will probably have no trouble at all in starting the process over again.”
The enforcement agents did their best not to look like kicked puppies.
“I suppose it’s not all for naught, however,” the Section 1 man went on. “After all, you saved an innocent girl from being impregnated with a veritable Frankenstein’s monster.”
“What would you like us to do now, sir?” Napoleon asked, leaning forward.
“Right now, Mr. Solo, I would like for you two to finish all your paperwork and wait for any further development.” Mr. Waverly tamped out the ash in his pipe. “If Thrush is to continue this ‘Project: Manger’, then we shall have to wait for them to make the first move, I’m afraid.”
“Yes sir,” the partners replied, getting up from their chairs.
“Oh, and Mr. Solo, Mr. Kuryakin,” the old man called back. “Do try to be on time from now on.”
“Yes, sir,” they echoed begrudgingly.
“I think that went rather well.”
“It would’ve gone better had you woken up when you were supposed to.”
“You cannot tell me there hasn’t been a day in your career in which you weren’t late.”
“There hasn’t. Because I don’t shoot the hands out of my clock in the morning.”
Illya made a face at his partner as they made their way down the steel corridors towards their office. The coffee was beginning to wear off, and all it left him with was the urge to pee and a strong headache-- he didn’t need nor want Napoleon’s criticisms.
“I didn’t think this business from Portugal would come back to bite us,” Napoleon continued.
“Yes, it’s rather inconvenient. I’d hoped to be rid of that Affair when we submitted our report.” Illya inwardly cringed at the memory of the creative torture he’d succumbed to.
After Portugal, he’d come home and analyzed the hypodermic used to incapacitate him, but any trace of what it was loaded with had been emptied-- into him. It had crossed his mind to test his blood for contaminants, but whatever had afflicted him seemed to have passed, so he dropped the subject and disposed of the needle. The incident wasn’t mentioned in the report, as per an agreement between the agents.
“It’s nasty business, what they were doing,” said Napoleon, “trying to get an innocent woman to carry their experiment like that. They had no right violating her body in such a manner.”
Illya smirked at Napoleon’s chivalry. For all his exploits, romantic and sexual, Napoleon seemed to be very concerned with the fair treatment of women.
“It is the nature of Thrush to be unconcerned with the wellbeing of their victims,” Illya responded. “I’m sure once they had their way with her, they would have simply dumped Miss Esperanza right back where she came from. If they let her live, that is.”
“Or if that procedure didn’t kill her,” Napoleon added with a shudder. “Just imagine-- evil scientists planting a human being in your body to grow.”
“I’m afraid that’s quite impossible for me to imagine,” replied Illya, a little too quickly. “But I doubt it would kill her. The practice of in vitro fertilization is becoming more and more reliable each year.”
“You’ve got a point there. Not to be crude, but I suppose all they’d need to get the thing inside her would be a tube, or a needle.”
“She might not even know she was pregnant,” Napoleon continued. “It’s doubtful they would have given her any information on the project.”
A needle to transfer the embryo... How could one not know they were pregnant? Unless falling pregnant was the last thing they’d expect. A nun with no sexual history, or a secret agent who couldn’t risk exposing his true identity...
“Well, it’s a good thing we got there when we did, or else Miss Emelia would be leading an entirely different life nowadays.” The American shrugged. “Say, how’d you like to join me in the commissary for some breakfast? I know you didn’t eat this morning, you must be famished.”
Illya’s mind buzzed. The world seemed the slow down to a snail’s pace in comparison to how fast his mind was racing; he had so many details to examine, so many clues to piece together. He needed to think.
“No, I’m actually feeling rather ill,” the Russian said, and his own voice sounded a thousand miles away.
“You, voluntarily skipping out on food? You must be sicker than I thought,” Napoleon joked, but even Illya, in his flurry, could sense the concern in his voice.
“Go on without me,” Illya replied simply, and turned tail.
Before his partner had the chance to argue, Illya was gone. He had to get to their office, to look over those reports one more time. He had to be sure that he was wrong.
He couldn’t really be... could he?
He cursed himself for not seeing it before. But then, how could he? When he had every reason to believe the contrary, why should he think that he was pregnant?
Illya entered his and Napoleon’s office and went straight for the filing cabinet. From there, he pulled out a copy of his report on the Portugal incident and a file they’d appropriated from the Thrush lab. Sitting down at his desk, he scattered the papers across the surface and began looking for answers.
In his report, he took care to describe in as much detail as he could the equipment they’d encountered. Most of it looked like the sort of thing one might see in a geneticist’s lab; Illya had recognized dissecting microscopes and centrifuge machines, but he was a physicist, not a medical doctor, and the finesse of much of the equipment was lost on him. This much was said in his report. Frustrated, he switched over to the Thrush file they’d swiped.
The papers looked something like a recipe. A list of chemicals was listed, followed by a brief description of what each would do.
“‘The gonadotropin stimulatory hormone, figures one, sub-figure B through sub-figure H, is accompanied by a transudate carrier, figure two’,” Illya read aloud. “‘Preexisting plasminogen, figure three, sub-figure B, in the uterine cavity, figure three, sub-figure A, sustains the zygote, figure three, sub-figure C, until heightened progesterone levels succeed in vascularizing the endometrium, figure three, sub-figure D.'”
His forehead puckered in confusion. To even begin to understand the rest of the papers, he’d have to scour medical journals for days. The only way he was going to find anything fruitful on this front would be to run it by Section 4 first, but there was no way he could think to do that without giving his reasoning as to why.
Illya rifled through the papers, but found nothing he could translate. Just as he was ready to chuck them back in their folder, something caught his eye.
“‘Trace amounts of morphine have been added to the transference material to counteract the sensation of the rapid predecidualization of the uterus’,” he read.
The “sensation” the paper was referring too must have been the pain he felt when he was shot by the needle.
Oh, if only he hadn’t thrown it out with such carelessness. It contained the key to figuring out what had been done to him. Obviously, he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time-- the rifle had, after all, been aimed at Emelia. It was only by a sick stroke of fate that he jumped in front of her at the last moment, thus taking the blow for her. Even more miraculous was the fact that the embryo appeared to have succeeded in implanting itself in his uterus. Only he would have such rotten luck.
Pregnant. He, Illya Kuryakin, was pregnant. He, who had taken every painstaking measure to protect his identity as a transsexual man, who had lied, bribed, fought, fled, and suffered to get to where he was today, was to have it all torn apart by a tiny thing growing in his abdomen. Thrush couldn’t even begin to know how badly they’d ruined his life.
An angry tear slid down Illya’s cheek and he cursed, “ chyort,” under his breath. He wiped furiously at his stinging eyes, frustrated that his body was misbehaving at a time like this. Now that he knew the cause, he couldn’t say he was surprised.
Illya sat at his desk for a long time. The Thrush file lay open, along with his and Napoleon’s report. He tried contemplating his choices through the fog of despair in his mind, but he couldn’t get a straight thought through. He had to approach this logically, but he couldn’t do that if his mind was out of commission.
A slow approach was needed. In order to first consider his situation to its full extent, he needed food. Illya had already gone far too long without eating, especially since his body was attempting to sustain a fetus. The mere thought of food made his stomach heave, but he’d be damned if he fainted over a silly thing like malnutrition.
However, no sooner had Illya left his desk then he started to feel dizzy. He was lower in energy than he thought-- he had to get to the commissary before he keeled over in his office. He took a step forward, then another, determined to beat the haze behind his eyes.
On the third step, the world pitched and Illya’s knees buckled. His mind went black before he had the chance to curse his own stupidity.