Genre: Man From UNCLE
Word count: 2272
Prompt: "Trust the hairs on the back of your neck. I'm the reason you have them." (Dracula)
jkkitty, I hope your enjoy your story. Thanks for a fun prompt and for participating. sparky955, thanks for your beta and advice.
He kept his back pressed against the wall, hoping to blend into the rock surface. It didn’t matter that it tore his shirt and scraped his skin. He wasn’t sure if the dampness he felt was from blood or from the moisture that wept from the rocks. The stink of decay and mildew nearly choked the breath from him and he tried not to think of what it was doing to his lungs. All he tried to think about was escape.
When a hand clamped onto his shoulder, he nearly shrieked in terror. It was only that last moment that he managed to clamp his jaws shut. Instead, Howard ‘Howie’ Delquist whipped his head back over his left and glared.
“Don’t do that!” he whispered harshly to his fellow agent, Jack Jefferies. For his part, Jefferies seemed surprised by Howie’s reaction.
“What? Do I need to buy you new pants now?” The anger on Howie’s face made Jefferies grimace. “What the hell has you so high strung?”
“You know – HIM.”
For a long moment, Jefferies thought, then asked, “You mean Kuryakin? You have got to be kidding. You don’t believe all that crap you’ve heard, do you?”
“Don’t you?” Howie inched forward. Every inch was fraught with danger and he tried to keep everything in view. All he wanted was to be free of this cellar, this assignment and back in his own tub with a tall glass of beer and a good book.
“No, I don’t,” Jefferies said. “They just tell us that stuff to scare us. No one can do all the stuff he’s supposed to be able to do.”
“I just remember once I had him cornered and he told me, ‘Trust the hairs on the back of your neck. I’m the reason you have them.’ How did he know all the hair on the back of my neck was standing straight up right then?”
“Psychology, old son, and a perfectly reasonable reaction to stress and stimuli. Besides, that’s a line from Dracula that he fed you.”
“Really?” Howie ignored the pinch in his stomach. It had been empty for so long, the mere thought of food made him queasy.
“Yes, really. Kuryakin doesn’t walk through walls, fly through the air or walk on water.” Jefferies paused then. “I’m not too sure about Solo, though. If you ask me, he’s the more dangerous of the pair.”
“Solo? He seems about as dangerous as an after-dinner mint.”
“And that’s his greatest weapon. He doesn’t seem like he’d be willing to get his hands dirty or scuff up his $100 manicure, but he is. Once I heard he dug an escape tunnel with a fifty cent piece. Forty feet he tunneled, pushing the dirt behind him, never knowing if the whole thing would collapse on him before he was able to escape, but he did. And then he went back inside for his partner.” Jefferies wiped his face on the sleeve of his shirt. “He was always having to do that, rescue his partner.”
“I heard that it was Kuryakin always having to rescue Solo, mostly because he’d gotten too involved with some woman, trying to get her to change her ways and leave with him. He should know that THRUSH females are stronger than that. Kuryakin was always saving him.”
“I guess the lesson is that we’re supposed to take away from that is that you have watch out for your partner.” Jefferies took that moment to lash out an arm and pin Howie back against the well as a shaft of wood slammed down from the ceiling. “No matter how gullible he is.”
“How did you..?”
“The ceiling is covered with lichen, except for that spot. Told me it wasn’t the same as the stone around it.”
“Wow.” Howie took a moment to digest that. He’d been so worried about being spotted that he hadn’t even thought of booby-traps. “Thanks!”
“Like I said, we’re supposed to take care of each other. For this mission, we are supposed to, at least, pretend to be partners.” Jefferies managed to keep the smugness to a minimum. After all, it had been Howie who’d broken them out of their cell to begin with. “Have you seen anyone else?”
“Nope or heard anyone, either. Kuryakin’s probably taken them all out.” A rat scurried by and Howie gasped. “I don’t know that I’m cut out for this. Maybe a nice desk job.”
“Like there’s a choice now? Once we started this, the only way out is on our feet or in a body bag, you knew that. Surrendering isn’t an option.”
“It should be. Better that than him.” Howie took a deep breath and inched forward again, remembering to scan the floor and ceiling now. They got around a corner and Jefferies pointed.
“Look.” Jefferies whispered. “The way out.”
“I don’t trust it. It’s too easy. With all the traps that have been put in our path, we can’t just expect to open a door and be greeted by a limo and a dozen women.”
“Really? Think about it. Why put us through all of that and then just let us sail to hell out of here?”
“Because it’s exactly what we wouldn’t expect.” Jefferies squatted to pick up a small rock. He tossed it across the space between them and freedom. Nothing happened. “The way you are going, it’ll be another hour before we get there. By then, this place will be stormed and they will be asking us embarrassing questions about why we hadn’t escaped and suggesting retraining. I’m not going to be retrained.”
Jefferies darted and look left and right and broke for the other wall.
“NO!” Howie tried to grab him as he passed, but his partner was too fast. He was within one step of the door and the floor suddenly fell away and he toppled backwards. Jefferies plummeted out of sight with a surprised cry and then a scream. Howie’s breath caught in his throat. “Why wouldn’t he listen to me?” he shouted to the ceiling.
“He’s a fool. He has too much to learn.” Kuryakin’s voice was a shout and a whisper in his ear, but Howie couldn’t tell if he was really there or if it was just in his mind. It was all Howie to do to keep from vomiting. “He should have listened to you. Now it’s just the two of us… together.”
Suddenly, death didn’t seem all that unpleasant. He wasn’t going to stay here and be made an example of. With a shout, Howie broke free from the fear holding him captive. He ran as if the devil himself was on his heels. Truth be known, he was.
He got to the pit and dropped to his stomach. “Jefferies? Jimmy?”
“What are you doing? Get out of here!” He could hear the man, but not see anything. At least he was still alive. “Complete your mission.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“Howie, you need to get out of here and bring back help.”
“I won’t be long, I promise. Try and hold on.” Howie swore to himself that he would be back as soon as he’d delivered the microdot he carried. Then he would have a squadron at his back. By god, he’d reap vengeance upon the guilty parties who hurt his… his partner.
Howie grabbed the door knob, half expecting to be electrocuted. It wasn’t. He wrestled the door open and pushed his way in. It exited into a brightly-lit room.
It took him a moment to realize he was in a class room and his fellow agents were around lounging among the desks and chairs.
“About freaking time, Howie.” Gordon was an explosion of color. He was attempting to dab it off with paper towel.
“What happened to you?” Howie couldn’t stop staring even as his feet moved forward.
“Got taken out in a gun battle, along with him.” His partner was equally hued. “At least I missed the glitter pit.’
“Ha, ha. Nothing says love like glitter in your underwear.” Hunt finished pouring himself some coffee and walked awkwardly back to his seat. “It wouldn’t have been so bad if you hadn’t take so long, Howie. Damn…”
“I don’t… I thought it was real…” Howie stopped, still trying to gather his wits.
“That’s what we wanted you to think.” Napoleon Solo was standing in the doorway. He walked in, closely followed by his partner. Kuryakin seemed too busy with his clipboard to even bother to look up.
“So, what are we taking away from this little assignment?” Solo sat upon the desk at the front of the room.
“That escaping is harder than it seems?” Chao peeled off his slime-covered shirt and dropped it to the floor.
“Partially, yes. The reality is that if you do prove to be Section Two material, you will find yourself in this situation more times than you want to think about.”
“Even you?” Linder had bagged his stink-bombed boots.
“Especially us.” Solo smirked. “Some of us have more of a talent for it than others.”
“Watch out for your partner.” Gordon said. “Even if they are all shiny and pretty.”
“Shut up,” Hunt snapped. “At least I tried to rescue you, unlike poor Jefferies.”
“Hey, it was my own fault.” Jefferies hobbled into the room.
“You’re… you’re alive?” Howie was both thrilled and ashamed. “I left you… I should have tried to rescue you.”
“That’s when you would have failed, my friend,” Kuryakin spoke finally. He looked up from the clipboard and nodded. “Congratulations, Mr. Delquist. You are the only one who passed this assignment.” He grinned at the man.
Howie swayed for a moment as the room started to do cartwheels and he dimly heard people shouting things. When everything stopped swimming around him, he was stretched out on a table, his collar open and Jefferies was fanning him with a report cover.
“Just from smiling at the poor man,” Solo was saying. “I wish I had your power.”
“Only if you vowed to never use it for evil.” Kuryakin held up a hypodermic needle and cleaned a spot on Howie’s arm. “This will make you feel much better.”
“I won’t talk.” Howie tried to resist, but Solo held him firmly in place until Kuryakin was done.
“Calm down, Mr. Delquist. It’s just a shot of B-12.” Napoleon helped him sit up. “I imagine starving you for two days, combined with that adrenaline let-down was a bit much. Illya, you want to take over?”
Kuryakin nodded and returned to the rest of the class. “Your partner can be your biggest asset or your worse hindrance to a successful mission. Mr. Delquist chose to complete his mission, no doubt planning to return to the aid of his partner as soon as he delivered his microdot.”
“Not you. You’d have stayed.” Howie murmured. Kuryakin smiled and nodded at that.
“Yes, you are right. I would have, but I have had years of experience in this sort of thing. That gives me a better perspective of what I can and can’t accomplish. I can also assure you, whatever you might think or say about my partner, he would not have chosen that path. Experience teaches you patience and restraint… usually.”
“So by abandoning his partner, he succeeded.”
Solo nodded and handed him a glass of water. It was pure nectar. “I suspect you thought your partner was dead.”
“I did. I thought it was for keeps.”
“That’s Survival School,” Solo said. “Here we are teaching you how to put those skills to the test. No one, save your partner, was hurt in this exercise and that’s only because he froze up when he fell instead of relaxing the way he was trained.”
“You’re hurt? Really hurt?” Howie asked his partner.
Jefferies shrugged, smiling sheepishly. “Twisted my ankle a little.”
“Back to the matter at hand. I’m afraid you are all due for some classroom time. All except for you, Mr. Delquist.” Kuryakin held out an envelope to him. “That is your assignment to UNCLE HQ London. You will leave in four days.”
Howie looked from Solo to Kuryakin. It was all he dreamed of since he’d joined UNCLE. Then he swallowed and shook his head. “If it’s all the same, sir… sirs, I can’t. I’d rather stay with my partner.”
Jefferies started at that. “Howie, I can’t let you…”
“No, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did without you. I have to remember that alone, you don’t stand as much of a chance as you do with someone at your back. I’d rather have it be you than some stranger whom I am going to have to struggle to become familiar with.”
“I told you,” Solo muttered to Kuryakin. ”You owe me dinner.”
Kuryakin smiled and put the envelope back in his jacket pocket. “Very well, Mr. Delquist. You will need to report back here in four days.”
“Why four days?”
“It’s going to take that long for your partner to get back on his feet.” Solo waved his hand in front of his face. “And for us to fumigate this place.” To Linder, he said. “Next time, take off the boots before you come back into the classroom, Mr. Linder. The rest of you, we will see tomorrow in the alternative classroom.”
“Looks like you’re stuck with me,” Howie said to Jefferies. He offered his hand and Jefferies took it immediately.
“Can’t say there’s anyone else I’ve rather have at my side or my back… partner.”
Somehow, he couldn’t think of a nicer thing to hear.