Illya shook his head at the dark damp tunnel that stretched before the search crews. The cool air had a clammy feel that made him shiver beneath his lab coat, long padded gloves and breathing mask. It was a bad day for rats in this part of the city. He felt another presence like a ghost watching their every move. He tried to ignore it but the feeling wouldn't go away and he surreptitiously looked around in the dark corners unlit by their flashlights.
Who ever it might be was very good.
Putting the feeling in the back of his mind, he focused on their catch so far. Sixteen rats, a ferret and a dead rabbit that looked like it had died hard. He grimaced but kept on shining his light into the nooks and crannies. He didn't want to come back here. However, he had a hunch that he might have to repeat this exercise in the near future. If not here, he sighed then in a similar tunnel or sewer.
"Join UNCLE and tour the slime pits of the world." He muttered under his breath. "Right under our feet."
The shrill beep of his communicator interrupted him and he pulled it out awkwardly to answer with a terse, "Yes."
Static was his only answer. He didn't want to think about how much dirt and concrete was above his head. He'd never been claustrophobic before but he thought he might make an exception in this case. Shivering, he sounded the retreat. They hadn't found anything in the last ten minutes and the tunnel was narrowing.
Once back out in the sun, he felt himself relax while the others loaded the cages into the back of the paneled van. Removing the face shield and heavy leather gloves helped. Tuning his communicator to headquarters, he called in. There was a pause then Napoleon's voice came through loud and clear.
"Did you find any more?"
"Perhaps. Only the lab will know for sure. We'll be back in about fifteen minutes."
"Good. Mr. Waverly would appreciate a quick but thorough examination."
"Which he will get in due course. Kuryakin out." He sniffed in a moment of pique and got in the van with the others. When had he ever been slow? Or too hasty for that matter? You couldn't hurry this kind of testing, especially when you had to wear layers of protective gear to keep from contaminating yourself or others. He shuddered at the thought of this disease getting out into the general populace.
It was a killer and not a pleasant one. The deaths would be hard and messy; spreading the disease even faster as it mutated within their human hosts. THRUSH had cooked up a devil's brew this time. For a moment he pondered the possible reasons why they might have continued to work on such a disease but he couldn't picture any result but death and more death.
Unless there was a vaccine or cure they didn't know about.
He would need to talk to the boys who'd found them or have one of the others do it. Illya admitted to himself that children baffled him. April would be much the better interrogator since she and Miss Chandler could talk to them together. He would suggest it on their return. They were still a few blocks out and when his communicator chirped again, he sighed and answered.
"Slight change in destination. Uncle Alex has authorized the opening of Base four for the duration of these experiments." Napoleon's voice was apologetic.
"Agreed. Kuryakin out." He nodded to the driver beside him and they turned right to head outside the city. "How long, Peters?"
"Twenty minutes in this traffic." The young agent flashed Illya a smile. "Don't worry, I won't rock the evidence."
Illya chuckled. "I have no fear of that, Peters. You are a very good driver."
The black haired man gave him a pleased look and another beaming smile. Illya wondered if his compliments were that rare. He'd been practicing his people skills but that response seemed all out of proportion to the comment. Pondering the reaction, he listened with half an ear to the story of how the young man had learned to drive on his uncle's dirt racetrack down in rural Tennessee.
Those big blue eyes were so often turned to him that Illya rather feared for anyone who might get in the way of the big van but the driver was as good as he said he was. The traffic was still light enough not to cause any problems. And it was rather refreshing not to have to be so correct. Perhaps I am 'loosening up', as Napoleon would say.
That made him smile and seemed to redouble Peters' story telling. How very odd. I must ask Napoleon what he thinks. He checked the side mirror to make sure that the other agents had followed them and saw the dark blue Chevy Nova close on their tail. Ahead stood the shabby warehouse that housed their quarantine lab. He wondered if anyone had come to turn everything on like the electricity and air conditioning. Someone would have to be here to unlock the door for them.
The metal door slid to one side when Peters pulled up and lightly honked the horn. They pulled in far enough for their tail to follow and when Illya stepped out of the van, he saw Napoleon closing the door behind them. He was impeccably dressed as always in Illya's favorite brown suit. But Illya could have sworn that he'd been wearing his black herringbone tweed when they left home this morning.
However, they were too busy at the moment for him to take the time to question him. Their arrival precipitated a frenzy of activity that only ended with each animal in its own cage and the computers set up for data entry. Peters seemed to have designated himself Illya's assistant and stayed at his side like a persistent shadow.
Illya rather enjoyed teaching when the student wanted to learn so he explained what he was doing rather than just silently working. Peters listened intently, asked good questions and absorbed the scene like a sponge. When the last rat had been prepared, Illya sat back and removed his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose and flexing his shoulders from their hunched position.
"What is the verdict?" Napoleon's voice surprised him.
"We won't know for about 24 hours. Some of the cultures will need to grow and the rats that still live will have to be watched to see what symptoms appear." He leaned back against the chair and raised his eyes to Napoleon's. The frown there was a little surprising. "I'm sorry but science doesn't come with a fast-forward button."
The frown dissolved into his normal grin. "I knew that getting that video player was a mistake."
"That's only because April made you watch 'The Women's Room' after you made her watch 'The Guns of Navarone'." Illya gently chided him.
The pout was small but there and Illya suddenly had the urge to kiss it away. To cover his inappropriate contemplation, he dropped his eyes and signed his name one more time on the last rat. Peters was there to take the papers for filing and their hands brushed against each other. The young agent blushed and stammered an apology that Illya waved away with a smile.
"Illya, we should probably be on our way." Napoleon's frown was back. "Security is set up here and you've already admitted that the experiments can't be hurried."
He thought a moment, running over all the parameters set in place before nodding and getting up from the desk. "Peters, if you would remain and make sure the animals are fed and watered, I'd appreciate it."
"Oh yes, Sir." The young man smiled and nodded eagerly.
"Keep track of their temperature but make very sure they don't have a chance to bite anyone."
"I'll be careful, Dr. Kuryakin. I promise." He smiled shyly, holding the paperwork to his chest.
"I know you will, Sean." Illya returned the smile and patted his shoulder. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night, Sirs." The farewell was divided between them.
Illya exchanged good byes with the others and walked out with an unnaturally quiet Napoleon. Silence filled the car and he watched his lover, perplexed at his frown and his almost haphazard driving. "Is there something wrong, Napasha?"
Napoleon started and cast a quick look at him. "When we get home, Illya, I'll tell you then."
"Then we're not going back to headquarters?"
"Mr. Waverly told me to sign you out and take you home."
"Oh, good. That underground tunnel was nasty in the extreme and I want a long, hot bath. It was the oddest feeling down there." He hesitated but Napoleon made an encouraging sound for him to continue. "I felt as if someone was watching us. From the moment we set foot inside the culvert, all the way down that noisome corridor and to the end of our search, that little prickle at the back of my neck remained."
"Sure it wasn't young Peters?"
Illya looked over at him. "Of course not. He was ahead of me on the other side."
"Hm-m-m. I'm surprised he wasn't right on your heels."
"Oh, love, you are without a doubt the most innocent person I know. Peters has a king sized crush on you."
"Nonsense, Pasha. He's just a young man intent on his career."
"Wrong, my naïve love. He's head over heels in lust or love with you." Napoleon smiled tenderly at him. "I say it as one who knows, Illyusha. You are a love magnet at UNCLE although I do my best to distract them."
Illya laughed out loud. "That's just silly, Pasha. They don't even see me when you're in the room."
"Not necessarily, love. Sean Peters has eyes only for you. I'm betting that he won't be washing that shoulder where you patted him for quite some time." Napoleon parked them in front of the brownstone. "I can't even be jealous because I know exactly how he feels. But you come home with me so I can afford to be generous."
"You're not kidding, are you?" Illya wondered if he looked as flabbergasted as he felt.
"Come inside and I'll take care of that bath wish you had." Napoleon slid across the bench seat and opened Illya's door, nudging him out of the car before following him onto the sidewalk.
Illya frowned and thought back over the afternoon. They'd all been a little nervous after his warnings about the potential of the disease. Perhaps they had stayed a little closer than for a usual sweep, but Sean had been at least three feet away from him the entire time. With a start, Illya found himself in the upstairs bathroom.
"Are you sure, Pasha?" He asked the man unbuttoning his jacket.
"Quite sure, love. Along with three women and at least one other man, you're the fantasy du jour." Napoleon leaned in to kiss him and for a long moment, Illya forgot everything but the warm lips on his.
Then his jacket hit the tile floor and fingers slid his buttons open easily. Finally, he began to return the favor, stripping his partner almost as quickly as he was undressed. Pulling back just far enough so he could see Napoleon's eyes, he asked the question he'd been wondering about since the warehouse.
"Why are you in this suit when I watched you dress in black this morning?"
Napoleon's grimace was rueful. "Mary Lou upended her ice tea on my lap when I told her I had to cancel our date."
Illya snickered while he turned the faucets on full blast. "She is a very determined woman, Napasha. You might as well get it over with."
"I can't understand it. I've stood her up four times already but she keeps coming back for more." Napoleon said resignedly. "She's practically a force of nature. Not like little Sean. You're probably his first male crush."
Illya paused before getting into the tub. "But why, Pasha? I know my nickname and the feelings behind it. He must as well."
Napoleon settled in at the far end and tugged him in to settle between his legs. "Well, I wasn't going to tell you but I'm afraid the Ice Prince has melted and turned into the Sun King."
"What?" Illya rested his head back on a comfortable shoulder and turned so he could watch his lover's face. The green water lapped about them and the heat began to relax him.
"Since we became lovers, you've become more approachable." Napoleon ran soapy hands slowly over Illya's chest, gently circling the hardening nipples. "I've watched them watch you and felt unbearably smug that you chose me. Never let me take you for granted, Illyusha."
Illya let his lips brush the pulse in Napoleon's throat. "You don't, Pasha and if you ever do then I will know that you have tired of me."
"Never." Napoleon's arms tightened around him and warm lips nuzzled under his ear. "I promised you forever and I won't accept anything less."
"I do love you, Pasha. The others are merely acquaintances with whom we work. I must admit to enjoying smiles rather than frowns when they see me." Illya caught the soap and lathered his hands so he could run them up and down the long leg at his side.
"You deserve the smiles, Illya. The science labs have never run so smoothly since I've been a part of UNCLE."
Teeth tenderly nipped at Illya's ear and he just barely kept a chuckle under control. "It probably helps that our work has slowed a bit. Although, this problem may have long ranging effects."
"We won't know for a while so can we leave the problems in the lab for tonight?"
Illya turned his head just far enough to see the pout he could hear in Napoleon's voice. "But what ever would we talk about, Pasha?"
A kiss was his only answer, that and the soapy hand that gloved his cock slowly up and down. Arching into the knowing grip, Illya wiggled over the growing length behind him. This was what had kept him going while they tramped through the dank tunnels, looking for plague-carrying rats. This love that wrapped his heart with warmth and joy was always his.
Soon the tub grew too restrictive and they separated enough to finishing washing. They toweled each other dry and Napoleon told him they had a surprise for dinner. Dressing casually in shorts and t-shirts, they moved down to the kitchen and Napoleon's surprise. The pasta salad had all of Illya's favorite vegetables and shredded chicken cooked just the way he liked it. Giving the cook a kiss, he loaded their plates with salad and fresh rolls from the bakery down the street.
Then, with Napoleon taking the thermos of iced tea, a bucket of ice and a pair of glasses, they moved to their first picnic spot on the roof. The cool breeze stirred their hair and for the first time that day, Illya relaxed completely and let go of the strange feelings from the culvert. This was their time and he was prepared to enjoy every moment.
Tomorrow would be soon enough to worry about what THRUSH was up to.
End part three